Scott McCord is a former professional Magic player who made the Top 4 of Pro Tour Boston as a member of Slay, Pillage, Gerard with Jon Sonne and Gerard Fabiano. He also has reached the Top 8 twice in Grand Prix competition. He sits in 80th place in Total rating and has made infrequent Pro Tour appearances on that basis. He is also a long time friend of the Top8Magic crew and one of the best Limited players I have had to good fortune to play with and against over the years.
Despite a career that involves working with words and possessing formidable Magic skills, Scott has written very rarely about the game. If you have ever watched someone better than you play a game of Magic and wondered why they made the decisions that they did, this article should provide some illumination into the higher level thinking that goes on in a game of Magic. It certainly did for me.
I’m sitting around watching a draft game recently between a couple of friends. One of them, Steve, is playing a u/b deck and has just tapped uubb for a 3/2 flier. His opponent, Mark, is running r/w and attacking with a 2/2 flier. Steve declines to block and falls to 16. Mark plays a 3/3 and passes.
“Steve, why didn’t you block?” I ask.
“Pretty simple, I think; he’s got a 2/2 and my guy’s better,” he says. “But thanks for the advice; I hear you’re the ninth-best player by rating in the world.”
“I’m not even the ninth-best player in this conversation.”
“Sad but true.”
I’m looking at Steve’s six-card hand. He holds Living Tsunami, 2 Mysteries of the Deep, Bog Tatters, Bojunka Brigand, and Whiplash Trap.
Why should Steve have traded his 3/2 for a 2/2? The answer comes from a concept gleaned from chess: material vs. time.
In chess, aggressive players will frequently sacrifice pieces in order to gain positional advantage for a decisive attack. The last thing the aggressor wants to do is trade straight up without improving position, because doing so nullifies the sacrifice and gives him fewer tools with which to win the game. Magic often works the same way. The attacker has time; that is, positional momentum. The defender has material resources. Trading material decelerates the game and allows a material advantage to cancel a temporary time advantage.
In this case, Steve has a lot of potential material (the creatures and card advantage in his hand), but not a lot of time (his life total, lack of defense, a potential land shortage). He should be looking to trade creatures so that his cards in hand can take effect; Mark should be looking to avoid trading while pushing as much damage as possible. In other words, Steve should strive to make material advantage, and not time advantage, the game’s deciding factor.
Let’s examine some reasons and situations to consider when choosing whether or not to block: Read the rest of this entry »
I recently tweeted about having an Ally problem. I can’t seem to pass a Kazandu Blademaster and am always entertaining fantasies about white allies in the third pack. Seriously my last 5 or 6 drafts have all hinged on me either first picking or getting passed an early Kazandu Blademaster. I have been either blue-white or green-white allies — or all three — pretty much every time.
The green-white deck has paid off multiple times but it is just as often due to better non-ally cards than to the allies themselves — two different Rampaging Baloths have pulled out wins for two different “ally” decks. I decided not to draft a base white deck this time out and even had to pass a Blademaster in the second pack.
It ended up being a pretty odd deck with only 9 actual creatures and 6 enchantment based creatures — 4 Zektar Shrines and 2 Zendikons. I ended up leaving a handful of creatures in the board as well as my equipment in order to make the deck more of a all-in burn style of deck. With the Zendikons and Shrines both resulting in trample creatures I decided that I wanted to play with Claws of Valakut over the equipment in order to win the game in one or two big turns.
The deck performed beautifully and only dropped one mana flooded game en route to winning the draft. I certainly could have built the deck slightly differently but how about my draft picks? What would you have done differently?
2 Claws of Valakut
1 Zektar Shrine Expedition
3 Zektar Shrine Expedition
1 Goblin Bushwhacker
1 Shatterskull Giant
1 Spire Barrage
1 Searing Blaze
1 Highland Berserker
2 Skitter of Lizards
1 Goblin Roughrider
1 Plated Geopede
2 Crusher Zendikon
1 Torch Slinger
1 Inferno Trap
2 Burst Lightning
1 Deathforge Shaman
1 Welkin Tern
1 Runeflare Trap
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Claws of Valakut
1 Shoal Serpent
1 Kazuul Warlord
1 Quest for Pure Flame
1 Adventuring Gear
1 Hellfire Mongrel
1 Mold Shambler
1 Relic Crush
1 Shoreline Salvager
1 Explorer’s Scope
1 Goblin Ruinblaster
1 Khalni Garden
1 Sunspring Expedition
1 Magma Rift
1 Teetering Peaks
1 Trusty Machete
1 Smoldering Spires
Thanks to the instructions from Paul Jordan I was able to set up to do some “Drafting with…” entries. I am hosting them on this Google website because…well because. Actually I started doing them mostly for my local draft group and now they are all set up here so I figured I could just link over to them. This was my first attempt. I do not have the decklist but I ended up splashing black off of the Harrows and two refuges for a Mosquito and occasionally sideboarded Soul Stair Expedition. I won this draft and felt sheepish afterwards and attempted to draft a little more seriously in subsequent efforts.
This was a more straightforward draft than my adventures in Crabbing. I took Kor Skyfisher and got paid off for being, I have to assume, the only white drafter. I am not sure how to value Narrow Escape and Arrow Volley Trap at all. I really want the Escape and want nothing to do with the Trap in game one but I did side it in for game three against a red deck in round one.
This is a recent email that I received from Paul Jordan aka PJ, that I thought would be useful to all of you Top8Magic fans. The images did not come out in the post, but the original file is here: Draftcap Instructions.
Draftcap Instructions (Courtesy of Paul Jordan)
Creating your own “Drafting With” series is pretty straight-forward. All you need is Magic Online and your own webpage. If you don’t have a webpage, you can easily create one at Google, which is what I’ve done.
Creating your webpage
To start a webpage at Google, first make sure you are signed in. Then just go to More > Sites
Then click on Create New Site. Go through the steps, choosing your site name and URL and you’re done.
Recording drafts on MTGO
Go to Menu > Settings > Gameplay and make sure the box for “Enable Draft Recorder” is checked.
MTGO will record all packs and picks and put them into Documents > Games > Magic The Gathering Online > Drafts as text files.
Converting those text files
Go to http://www.zizibaloob.com/convert_images.html and paste the contents of the text file into the Image Converter box and hit Convert Draft. Now there will be 3 boxes on the screen:
Image Converter (where you pasted your text file contents)
Output (what you copy for future use)
Preview (what it will look like on your webpage)
Copy the contents of the 2nd box (output) onto your clipboard for the next step.
Adding a draft to your webpage
Back at your page in Google, click on Create Page. Enter in a page name and URL. If you’re going to be doing multiple drafts, you probably want a standard naming convention (draft_## or something like that) but it isn’t necessary. Once you have your name and URL, click Create Page. You’ll have a screen something like this:
Click on the HTML button on the top bar and paste the output from the draft converter and hit update. Now your screen should look like this:
You can now add comments, your decklist, or anything else. When you’re done, click Save on the top right of your screen. That’s it, you’re done.
Note – if you want to keep your decklist, you need to save it separately in MTGO during deck construction. To do this, when building your deck click “Save As” and save it as a text file. Then you can just copy/paste it into your commentary.
As a frequent Magic Online and Finkel draft participant, I was thinking that there may be some good material there to write about.
What would you all like to see in a post about Magic Online drafting and Finkel Drafting?
Let me know.