Vector Theory: ONE Big Problem

Ben Fischer • March 10, 2023

The people have spoken! Phyrexia: All Will Be One is… not great. Why has the crowd turned against the Phyrexians? We can easily see what went wrong using Vector Theory.

Things usually fall into place about a month into a new format. Everything from the speed of the format to the best cards and decks are easily available to the average drafter. ONE is no exception (pray you open a sweet rare and get passed plenty of on-color one-drops), but there's a different issue that we haven’t seen in a while: people are already done with the set! I’ve seen discussions around the Internet ranging from casual FNM drafters to hardcore limited fanatics- people are much lower on this format than most in recent memory.

Just think of those poor blue players!

There are plenty of reasons to cite for this relative lack of interest, including game-resetting bombs, a repetitive draft environment, and one of the fastest formats of all time. While these are all valid marks against ONE, but I believe there is a sneakier problem with the format that can be best explained using Vector Theory.

Another recurring complaint I’ve heard about the format is that the draft is “too on-rails.” This is a problem I’m familiar with- I was told the same thing about the first version of the Draft Chaff Cube. Drafters said that they would take a powerful card early, then simply “lock in.” The presence of mono-colored cards that appear to be valid picks, but were actually deep into only one vector direction made the draft simple to navigate. Sound familiar? This exact idea was even discussed on the most recent episode of Limited Resources, where they used the language of “secret gold cards” to describe this phenomenon.

Depiction of how it feels opening your 10th Mirran Safehouse of the format.

I recommend using Vector Theory to explain this draft problem more effectively. We can simply say that not enough cards in the set have the cross-vector applicability that we are used to having in modern limited sets. For example, let’s look at a group of cards: Mandible Justiciar, Veil of Assimilation, and Orthodoxy Enforcer. These cards very clearly point in the same vector direction, with very little room for deviation. Here’s another less obvious, but equally tight group: Offer Immortality, Sheoldred’s Headcleaver, Blightbelly Rat. Looking at the full set, it’s easy to find similar “packages” in other colors and even across rarities. Try this yourself to hone your Vector Theory skills!

The presence of too many vector-specific cards, and too few with cross-vector application, can lead to a draft that feels as if the choices are obvious. Imagine it’s the middle of pack 2, and you’re well-established in Green-White toxic. You have a choice between three green two-drops: Copper Longlegs, Predation Steward, and Branchblight Stalker.

Maybe “choice” isn’t the right word for this! It’s very clear that you should take the on-vector toxic card. If you encounter scenarios like this enough times, you might feel like you had less agency in the way this draft played out than normal (not a fun feeling).

If you look at a list of green two-drops in DMU, you’ll find similar cards such as Snarespinner and Yavimaya Iconoclast, but the difference here is that their power is not pointing as strongly in a particular vector direction, giving them more cross-vector applicability, and making draft scenarios like the one above feel as though there is more player agency.

Head over to 17Lands to see how the data backs this hypothesis. As fellow limited chafficionado @Ratafia pointed out to me, it makes perfect sense that cards like Chimney Rabble, Contagious Vorrac, and Furnace Strider are performing well. They have relatively less vector direction and have their power located in their vector strength (raw stats and abilities) instead!

We called this one being great over on the Draft Chaff Pod!

Vector Theory can be used to point out another problem in the format: the presence of a handful of super-bombs and tons of seemingly useless rares. I’m going to make the bold claim that drafters enjoy playing with cool rares in their decks. This set has more non-vector rares than any I can remember in recent memory. Mindsplice Apparatus? Conduit of Worlds? Of course you didn’t do well- your took a pack 1, pick 1 with a home in the format, and you didn’t! And the rares that do have cross-vector applicability on account of raw power level, such as The Eternal Wanderer or White Sun’s Zenith, lead to feel-bad moments as well.

I’ve been pretty harsh on ONE here, so I’ll end with a disclaimer: This is not the worst set of all time! And, if this is your favorite set to draft, don;t let anyone convince you otherwise. Limited draft and gameplay has been fantastic in the last few years, so the occasional 5/10 set doesn;t bother me very much at all. The nice thing about modern Magic is that we never have to wait too long for a new limited set to release! Personally, I think I’ve had just about enough of ONE, and am going to refocus my time and thought elsewhere in the Magic community. If you’d like some suggestions on other ways to spend your time before March of the Machines, check out the latest episode of the Draft Chaff Podcast. Happy Drafting!