ChannelFireball: Declassified Information

By: Jason Waddell

Today my latest ChannelFireball Cube Design article went online, covering a subject that is neither near or dear to my heart: card classification. Far too much ink has been spilled on this topic already, along with other perennial favorites like “why a draft environment should have aggressive cards”. Classification discussions have never been of great interest to me. In the early days of our now decrepit Google Groups page, Eric Chan started a thread on multicolor card classification that I didn’t have a whole lot to contribute to.

Ultimately my ideas on card classification are simply an extension of the Poison Principle. Drafting at its core is a competitive resource acquisition exercise, and to tune this dynamic you need to be acutely aware of the degree of competition that exists for various cards and effects in your environment. Sometimes the right card for the job is a narrower card that is sure to reach the drafter who needs it most. But by and large the bulk of any draft should be filled with cards that are useful to more than one drafter.

The task of tuning the demand for cards in your draft set is of course nuanced with no single right answer. When evaluating my own cube, I look for moments when I intentionally let the card I want most wheel over the cards I think other drafters will want. Am I consistently picking monocolored cards and letting gold cards wheel? Are there cards supporting a certain archetype that nobody else actually wants? If so, how many? Is the entire archetype mechanically isolated from the rest of my set?

This method of evaluation is a useful diagnostic for figuring out where the proportions or dynamics aren’t working as intended. Why is it important? Simple. If your packs are filled with cards that only you want, that means your packs are loaded with “dead cards” for the other drafters. I touched on this briefly in the article, but the corollary to ensuring that there are enough drafters competing for a given card is ensuring that there are enough cards for you the drafter to choose from. Drafting isn’t much fun when you have so few choices that the deck can be built on autopilot.

It’s for this reason that I railed against strongly promoting monocolor strategies in an environment filled with such a high density of multicolor support. To take some numbers, if we had a “core set” style draft with almost all monocolor cards, we would have about 70 cards from each color in a 360 card draft, and even then the standard is for players to build two-color decks. Cubes run in the ballpark of 50 monocolor cards per color. A monored aggro player, for example, has a few artifacts like Tangel Wire and Bonesplitter that they might be interested in, but also have no use for red control cards like Pyroclasm and Slagstorm. The pickings are pretty slim for such a drafter, not to mention the fact that their deck completely falls apart if other players are strongly in their colors.

Why would we promote monored aggro as a Tier 1 strategy in a set with the full ten guilds worth of gold cards. Imagine if one of full-block Ravnica’s top draft strategies was monored aggro. This would be an utter failure in design. As we’ve come to expect, these design flaws are at their most potent in various iterations of the MODO cube. All of which is a source of great frustration, considering how solidly Wizards’ retail draft sets are built. Normally I’d be content to take the easy-going approach and say “it’s fine, I don’t really play much online anyways”, but comically enough the MODO cube has had measurable impact on my paper cube. I’ve asked various local players to join in on the cubing action, only to be categorically denied, with players citing “horrible experiences with the Wizards’ cube” as reason not to join in on the festivities.

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