One of the many reasons I love limited so much is that it’s new every time. Every draft is its own unique and beautiful little snowflake that will never be repeated in exactly the same way. The randomness of the booster distribution and the whims of the players (or bots) in your pod will create a once-in-a-lifetime draft experience. As a format matures, the community as a whole comes to some agreed upon conclusions about card evaluations and archetype strengths. Once we’ve moved beyond the initial few weeks of a format’s lifespan, the thrill of the unknown of cracking those three booster packs becomes less mysterious and more rote. I enjoy it all the same, but there’s nothing that beats the excitement of trying to figure out a new format on the fly. Luckily, Magic Online has stepped in and brought back a fan favorite that has only been released digitally once before: Chaos Drafts.
For those who don’t know, a Chaos Draft consists of 24 unique boosters from sets that span across all of Magic’s history. For MTGO, the full list of boosters being used can be found here. This is a daunting list of sets and for folks newer to Magic, it may seem like an overwhelming task to sit down and evaluate so many new cards under the constraints of a draft timer. Much like Cube, I think Chaos Draft is an important experience to level-up your skills as a limited player and would encourage any and all players to try their hand at it at least once. Whether you choose to participate in a Side Event at a local GP, or to jump in one of the queues on MTGO in the next week and a half, hopefully this primer will give you the confidence to dive in head first.
I must give full credit to a friend from my LGS and frequent participant in my twitch chat, Duncan Hewes, for coming up with this fantastic acronym for Chaos Drafting. I’m sure at one point or another you’ve come across BREAD as an introductory way to evaluate cards for limited. I learned it as Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, Dregs. Basically, the idea is to take cards that fit in that category in the order of the acronym. This of course quickly goes out the window as you move through the draft and have to start drafting for curve, mana considerations, synergy, and a load of other categories to make your deck functional at the end of your 45 picks. For Chaos Draft, because it is a slightly different beast, a different ordering is appropriate. Here we’ve got Bombs, Fixing, Removal, and Everything Else
I imagine if you’ve found yourself poring over the internet for written MTG content and you’ve come across this article, you have an idea of what I mean by “bomb.” For me, a bomb is a card that can change the state of the game for a single player (move them from being behind to being at parity, or from parity to being ahead) and will win the game on its own if unanswered.
Hydroid Krasis, and
Biogenic Ooze are all cards from Ravnica Allegiance that quite clearly embody this category.
Within RNA there exists the possibility that you will have access to ways to deal with these bombs, but they are very much game-warping cards. In Chaos Drafts the power level of the cards you will see fluctuates greatly. In a more modern set the creatures will be pushed, but the removal may be overcosted. And vice versa for a set released over a decade ago. A set may have planeswalkers at rare, another may not even have them at all. And another set may be chock full of color hosers like
Rune of Protection: Blue or
Slay. Looking especially at some earlier M sets (7th or 8th Edition) all the way up to the Masters sets, you will see a wide range of depth of playability in just a single booster. That is why it is important to grab a bomb when you see it and try your best to play it. Which brings us right along to the next part of B FREE.
Chaos drafts are often very tricky to navigate because signals are all over the place. Not only are there going to be packs of cards that are new to you, but you can expect the same to be true for your neighbors. Not everyone’s evaluations are going to line up in the same way that they might for Ravnica Allegiance. As such, you might find yourself pulled in a number of different directions early and often in these drafts. Which is okay.
I think you should be maximizing your drafts for power level. Ensuring that the most powerful cards you open and get passed make their way into your deck is one of the keys to Chaos Drafting. The most reliable way to do that is to draft fixing highly. If you’ve been drafting a fair amount of RNA, you’ve probably got a good sense that guildgates are high picks in that format. Any variations on Guildgates,
Shimmering Grotto, Signets, Lockets, Cluestones,
Rampant Growth, and other ways to smooth out your mana base are going to be very strong picks in Chaos. Your playables are sometimes going to be spread thin depending on what packs you get passed (and when in the draft you see them), so taking fixing highly will allow you to play your best cards more of the time. For this reason, I have found green and blue to be the two strongest colors in Chaos Draft. The former because almost every set offers a way at common to search up a basic land from your library and put it into your hand or into play. And the latter because card draw and filtering allows you to see more of your deck to increase the probability you will see your better cards and your ways to cast them.
Much like our discussion of bombs, I imagine you know that your removal spells are among the most important in your limited decks. In a format where the delta between your best and worst cards in your deck is so huge, you want to make sure you have the tools to shore up any holes in your deck your opponent may be able to exploit. Creature size is generally smaller in Chaos (outside of the bombiest bomb creatures.) Utility creatures like
Merfolk Looter or
Prodigal Pyromancer and small flyers are some of the best you can get, so your removal doesn’t have to be unconditional, but it would nice if it was flexible and efficient.
Masters Sets and older formats are going to be where you’ll have the chance at some of the best removal in Chaos Drafts, but keep your eyes peeled for it wherever it might be. If you get enough fixing, you can play all the removal you get your hands on.
To lump the rest of the kinds of things you should look out for in Chaos Draft into “Everything Else” is a bit unfair. I do like that this emphasizes just how important Bombs, Fixing and Removal is. But once you get past that, here some specifics to looks out for.
It is very difficult to build a dedicated aggressive deck in Chaos Draft. Many packs will be quite shallow and older formats tend to have much more powerful spells than creatures. Both of these make drafting a good curve with enough creatures quite hard. As a result, most decks are going to be value based mid-range decks. Any value you can generate from a single card is going to put you in a good position to be ahead.
Leeching Bite are just a few cards that come to mind that I’ve had the chance to play with the past few days that illustrate this idea.
I’m not talking about Build Around material cards here. I don’t expect to see a card like
High Alert in Chaos and be able to build a deck around it. But I am hoping to find strong synergies among my cards. I had the pleasure of playing
Vithian Stinger with
Baleful Eidolon to create my own repeatable
Terminate on a stick.
Vedalken Dismisser and
Nephalia Smuggler can combine to lock your opponent out of the game indefinitely. Even less game breaking synergies like
Trollbred Guardian with
Vigean Graftmage can make for a deck that is greater than the sum of its parts, which is just the kind of combination that you’re looking for.
The possibilities are endless! Which is what makes Chaos Draft both incredibly daunting and rewarding. But I honestly believe that the pros far outweigh the cons. While these drafts are available on MTGO, I highly recommend trying them out for the first time. Get out of your comfort zone and B FREE among the Chaos that these events have to offer.