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Attention to Detail #13 - Drafting RavRavGpt
by Jordan Kronick
February 28, 2006

Well it's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I'm finally back with some more AtD for you all.  Looks like I'm back just in time, too.  This week brings us the Magic Online release of Guildpact.  The most popular block in recent memory receives it's second set in digital form and the crowds go wild, as they say.  Most of you are probably familiar with the way sets are released in paper form, but you might not have experienced the sheer mayhem of an online release.

 

In paper form, sets get a Pre-Release a couple weeks before it's for sale.  For the past year or so, we've also had Release events to coincide with the set going on sale.  After that, there's a couple weeks of waiting before the new set is legal to be used in tournaments.  In the online world, there is no prerelease.  Sets go into the Magic Online store, and from that moment on are legal for use in the Standard and Extended tournaments.  Sometimes that doesn't mean a lot.  Sometimes it means that those who open their packs quickly have a huge advantage over those who haven't gotten the new cards yet. 

 

But opening packs is no fun.  Back when I started playing Magic, I would buy a pack and open it before I got my change.  I think those old Beta and Unlimited packs had some kind of addictive pheromone in them which was released when the seal was cracked.  But those days are long past.  These days we've got a much better way to open our packs.  We open them one at a time and draft in between.  To do less seems like a waste sometimes.  Well, unfortunately for Magic Online pack crackers, the sanctioned draft queues don't open until two days after the set goes on sale.  Whatever are we to do?  Well, the designers have given us a gift in the form of the Casual Limited room.  It's a small dusty corner of the Casual Games area which goes unlooked for almost the entire year.  But when, like now, there's a set that you can't draft anywhere else... well things get a bit busier.

 

Casual drafts work just like normal drafts.  The exception is that they don't cost any event tickets to enter (though you still need to provide the packs) and there aren't any prizes.  Most people end up rare drafting, since to pass your rare is a bit like throwing away the only way you can recoup some of your investment.  This can throw off a lot of draft strategies, but it's still a fun experience.  And there's no cheaper way in the world of Magic Online to get your draft fix.  Sure, in the end, you're not getting much that you wouldn't get by opening your packs.  There's a possibility of getting more than three rares if someone really doesn't like what they opened, but that doesn't happen much.  What you do get is experience.  People ask me all the time what the best way to learn how to draft better is.  I wish I had a better answer, but the quickest way to the top is practice, practice, practice. 

 

That's enough hyping of Magic Online features for one week, I think.  You may be asking yourself, “if this guy drafts so much, why doesn't he give us some real advice”?  Well, it's your lucky day.  And if you weren't asking that, you still get to hear what I have to say about drafting RavRavGpt. 

 

Firstly, I have to say that I really enjoy this format.  I liked RRR drafting quite a bit, and I was a bit hesitant to include Guildpact.  Ravnica is all about the guilds, and playing with one pack of Guildpact throws off the numbers a bit.  You've suddenly got two packs that give you four guilds to choose from and one pack to give you the other three.  Don't expect to be playing a two color deck in this format.  Or, if you do, be prepared to sacrifice a lot of utility.  Multicolor formats like Ravnica or Invasion before it are times when it's easy to find ways to make three (or more) colors work together.  As such, my first big stroke of tactical genius  when it comes to drafting RRG is to pay very close attention to your mana fixers.  I know this may seem like very elementary stuff, but trust me that many drafts have been won and lost based on color screw. 

 

Topping the list of the most important mana fixers in the block are the “karoos”.  For those who don't keep up with throwback Magic slang, “karoos” are the lands that tap for two colored mana and come into play tapped, while bouncing another land back to your hand.  I know that at first glance these things seem pretty bad.  Trust me, that what we thought about Karoo and the rest of the original cycle from Mirage.  Then again, we also thought Grinning Totem was a huge bomb.  The positive effect of these lands is twofold.  First of all, they give you access to two different colors of mana.  In a two colored Ravnica deck, this was fairly important but oftentimes you had plenty of fixing, and it was just icing on an otherwise quite large cake.  In RRG drafting, you'll most likely be trying to make a much larger cake, just to keep the metaphor going.  The second benefit of these lands is that they tap for two mana.  I know that seems fairly obvious.  Things that tap for two mana are better than things that tap for one mana, almost every time.  The bouncing effect of these lands complicates things though.  You're not going to be accelerating your board position by playing one of these lands.  In fact, due to the coming into play tapped, you could be setting yourself back a turn in terms of threat development.  What you're getting is long-term stability.  Have you ever drawn an opening hand with five spells and two land and said “if I can just draw another land in the few few turns, this will be a great hand”.  I know I've said that.  And, inevitably, you draw turn after turn of spells with no land in sight.  Now, if one of those lands had been a karoo, things would be much different.  Having one of these is like drawing two lands at once.  The presence of these lands in your deck will improve your odds of drawing a decent opening hand.  That's a lot of punch for a common land that there are going to be 10 of in the full block.

 

So what's a good number of these lands to play in your draft deck?  Well, I would love to give you an upper limit.  However, it probably shouldn't end up mattering.  As long as you're making intelligent picks (don't go taking a Golgari Rot Farm over a Putrefy), you're unlikely to get an overabundance of these lands.  That being said, I wouldn't run more than three of them in RRG drafting.  As wonderful as it is to see one of these and a basic land in your opening hand, seeing two of them and no basics in sight is a terrible feeling. 

 

It's important to think ahead in an RRG draft.  Suppose you're playing an RRG draft.  You get some very decent Selesnya (white/green) cards.  As the pack is winding down, you're still quite happy with your color choice.  But there's some dry picks, anyway.  Well, it's times like these when it's important to look ahead to pack three.  There are two directions to go in with a Selesnya deck, once Guildpact opens.  Either you can look to adding red to the deck in the form of Gruul cards or you can look to adding Orzhov cards for a bit of black magic.  Which direction you want to go with the deck can have a great bearing on your picks in the first two packs.  Gruul decks are quite aggressive.  Orzhov decks play for control.  If your Selesnya deck is full of Watchwolves and Moldervine Cloaks and things of that nature, you might be happier trying to attach red to that in order to maximize your threats.  If you've got a Vhitu-Ghazi and a Selesnya Guildmage, you might want to pick up some Orzhov cards and play for the long game.  That means more than just picking black cards or red cards though.  The Gruul/Selesnya deck has a third guild associated with it.  That's the Boros of course.  So while you're picking your great Selesnya cards, it's important to be on the look out for decent Boros cards as well.  The same goes for the slower deck.  The Selesnya and the Orzhov are joined by the Golgari in this case.  When building three-color decks in RRG draft, I like to make my colors fairly even.  It makes the mana base much easier to manage.  If you end up with only two red cards, you're going to have to include some mountains, but the questions of how many and how useful they will be become harder to answer. 

 

It's important to note that not every three color combination is created equal.  Some of the guilds, even though they share a color, don't share a sense of purpose.  Obviously the trifectas of Boros/Selesnya/Gruul and Orzhov/Selesnya/Golgari work very well together.  The Gruul and the Boros are the two most aggressive guilds.  The Selesnya and the Orzhov are two of the most controlling guilds.  But what happens when you try to mix only two guilds, with no third guild to fill in the holes?  Well, it causes problems.  Let's look at a common mistake I saw at the prerelease.

 

That mistake is the unfortunate combination of Dimir and Izzet.  The two guilds share a color in blue.  And Blue/Red/Black was possibly the most dominating color combination in Invasion draft.  It stands to reason that the same sort of confluence would occur in Ravnica, right?  Sadly, no.  The Dimir may suffer the most of any guild with the inclusion of Guildpact.  The strategy of attempting to deck your opponent with only two packs to provide Vedalken Entrancers simply isn't going to work anymore.  That leaves the Dimir with a lot of underpowered cards in the draft format.  And if you combine them with the Izzet – who are already at a slight disadvantage compared to the Orzhov and Gruul – you start to run into problems.  Both Guilds have a ton of answers and a real problem coming up with efficient threats.  The black removal in Ravnica is some of the best that has ever shown up in a single set.  Darkblast, Last Gasp and Ribbons of Night are all incredibly strong.  If you combine this with the strong blue and red removal provded by the Izzet, you can keep your opponents creatures down to a bare minimum.  But what are you going to kill them with?  Unless you managed to pick up a Moroii or something rare from the first two packs, you're going to be short for ways of killing the opponent once they run out of creatures.  Sometimes all that removal can be too much of a good thing.

 

As the Magic Online release events begin to ramp up, I'm sure to be coming up with a lot of specific strategy for putting all this elementary knowledge into play.  If you've never drafted before, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of the new set.  Level playing fields for new players are hard to come by, but the release of a new set is one of the best available.  There are five colors and seven guilds among them to play around with in RRG drafting.  I advise experimentation.  There's a lot of room for customizing Ravnican decks to your own playstyle, and some of the guilds are quite adaptable.  Find something that works for you, don't just take my word for it.


 

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