One of the (many) reasons Limited is by far my favorite way to play Magic is all of the moving pieces happening during a draft. The thrill of cracking the first pack and the possibility of opening a sweet rare you haven’t played with before. The rush of reading the correct open colors and being rewarded in pack 2. The discipline to pass up on a strictly more powerful card for something that fits your deck or curve better. The decision points truly are endless and there is so much happening at every step of the way. Today, I want to talk about a concept that I think is rarely touched on: making picks to invest in the future of your draft.
As a drafter, you should absolutely be making picks based on what has happened in the past. This can be interpreted in the immediate sense of a specific draft, taking into account what you should take out of a pack based on what you’ve already seen or passed and what you’ve already drafted. It can also be interpreted in a broader sense, taking into account your experiences and the experiences of those you trust with certain cards to dictate a pick order. But did you ever stop to think about how the picks you make are going to have implications on the future of your draft?
Let’s start with the big picture. There is a widely understood heuristic that if you have the choice between two similarly powered cards, you take whichever of the two is cheaper. There are two reasons this is a great rule of thumb: your curve will be better which means your deck will be better AND it gives you more options in the future of the draft to take an expensive spell. Faced with a choice between
Honey Mammoth and
Essence Symbiote early in a draft, I think the clear winner has to be the two-drop. Even though, in my mind at the moment, the Elephant is more a powerful spell, the number of 6 drops I can reasonably run in a deck is low. If I take up one of those slots this early, I run the risk of not maximizing my curve and potentially being forced down the road to pass up on some even better top-end to ensure my deck can affect the board early in the game.
Mana fixing is a category of picks I would also put under the concept of big picture draft investments. Sure there are times when you open a powerful bomb that asks a lot of your mana base. Maybe
Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt or
Nethroi, Apex of Death, or you’re interested in getting the alternate cost on
Mythos of Illuna or
Mythos of Snapdax. You’ll probably be on the lookout for
Evolving Wilds and
Farfinder right off the bat. But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the powerful, splashy bomb doesn’t come until pack 3? If you don’t take mana fixing before you see those cards, you won’t ever have the opportunity to include them in your deck if you see them late in the draft. Cards like
Farfinder, dual lands,
Migratory Greathorn and
Humble Naturalist have immediate implications on the power of your draft but also are investments in the future of your draft. Green decks in this format are especially interested in splashing because of how weak the color is on its own.
Theros Beyond Death is an extreme example of a format where this concept was incredibly important. So much of that format was about opening or getting passed bombs and ensuring that your deck could cast those bombs. Ending your first pack with a couple of
Traveler’s Amulets and
Thrill of Possibilitys was a fantastic place to be because of the huge future potential of that draft. Many of the rares in that set were windmill slam first picks that giving yourself the opportunity to be able to pick those cards and include them in your deck even as late as pack 3 had huge upside.
Being able to splash a bomb or some removal isn’t the only way to invest in the future of your draft. Think about a card like
Whisper Squad. I know the secret is certainly out by now about how strong of a card this is. And it’s not the type of card you should be trying to wheel. It is a card worth taking early and staking a claim for. Why? Because it opens up so many avenues as the draft progresses. First off, once you have the first copy of
Whisper Squad it makes all future
Whisper Squads you see sky rocket in value. There are many inherent synergies in black that it enhances. It plays well with
Mutual Destruction, and
Bastion of Remembrance. It gives you chump attack and chump block fodder for
Lurking Deadeye. It’s a 1-drop to get back with
Call of the Death-Dweller. Outside of black it gives
Weaponize the Monsters fuel, gives you some go-wide in a Humans deck, and gives you something to do at instant speed in a draw-go deck. On its face, it may just be a 1/1 for one mana, but it provides so much more for you if you think about how many cards it bumps up in value if you draft it early.
There are a lot of cards in Ikoria that have this subtle yet very real impact on your draft.
Forbidden Friendship is a card I have only recently come around to seeing the power of and it’s partially because of how it improves my future picks in a draft. It provides multiple bodies making every sacrifice outlet I see better. It provides a cheap non-human making every Mutate creature I see better. Now
Of One Mind is a more appealing card to me. Cards that care about spells being cast or existing in the graveyard like
Sprite Dragon or
Spelleater Wolverine get better. The list goes on and on!
Investing in your future is sort of like taking the enablers before you see the payoffs, except the key here is that you’re looking for flexible enablers. The enablers that have synergies within their own color and also across multiple color pairs.
Durable Coilbug is another great example. It has sacrifice synergies, it’s a good Mutate target, but also has tiny synergies with looting or rummage effects like
Cathartic Reunion. 1 mana cyclers are great early picks because even if you don’t get there on a full out RW cycling deck, you still might end up with a
Valiant Rescuer or
Prickly Marmoset and want some ways to enable them. And they’re also just often great on their own. Every black deck is thrilled to have a copy of
Memory Leak. Sometimes you win the game by casting
Frostveil Ambush to get in those last few points of damage, and sometimes you cycle it to give your
Spelleater Wolverine double strike or add another counter to
Ominous Seas. An early
Essence Scatter increases the value of future counterspells and, in turn, the value of anything at instant speed. The more options you have to use your mana on your opponent’s turn, the more you can leverage your play skill and force your opponent into a guessing game of what to play around. Limited formats are chock full of cards like this, you just have to identify them and recognize the value they add to your draft’s future.
Making early picks for flexible cards that have multiple applications in the format will keep you open to a wider range of decks. This allows you to find the exact right lane for your seat as well as keep the potential to maximize the most powerful cards you see. Ikoria continues to impress me with the variety of archetypes and synergies that it has to offer and I look forward to continuing to explore the set with you all. Until next time, Happy Drafting!