Sometimes a draft goes off the rails, and you just need to do something crazy to get things back on track. Drafts are inherently unpredictable, and even a skilled drafter can occasionally get to the end of the first pack and think to themself, “What the heck am I going to do?” Your card pool and the signals you’ve seen so far should tell you most of what you need to know about whether or not the deck you’re trying to draft will come together and what color you need to pivot into (if any), but occasionally those rare instances come along when the signals are a bit mixed and your pool has an equal number of multiple colors, and all you can do is shoot out in a completely different direction and hope it pans out.

That’s sort of what happened to me this time around.

P1P1

This pack is loaded with great cards, but Elusive Tormentor is just ahead of all the others. It’s an evasive attacker and almost impossible for the opponent to remove if you keep the mana open to transform it, on top of pulling blocking duty in a pinch if necessary.

I’d take Ulvenwald Mysteries as a close second, slotting easily into any deck with an average number of creatures; and it only gets better if you have other sources of Clue generation. The three green creatures in this pack are a tier below, but still very good.

P1P2

Unlike the first pack, this one isn’t quite as strong. There are some solid playables, but nothing that draws me in a specific direction. The only black card here is Crow of Dark Tidings, but even among middling cards in this pack, it’s the least exciting. Since my first pick plays well in any black deck, I decide to take the opportunity to grab Epitaph Golem in case I end up in a deck with self-mill, like GB. Most of the other cards here are all fairly replaceable; with the possible exception of Erdwal Illuminator. However, the fail case as a 1/3 flyer for 2 is pretty mediocre, and the ceiling on it can’t eclipse grabbing a key roleplayer for one of the stronger archetypes.

P1P3

Again, not a very exciting pack. The strongest cards here are Olivia’s Bloodsworn, Malevolent Whispers, and Wild-Field Scarecrow. Given that I already have a black card in my pile, I decide to go with the Bloodsworn, since it’s still a playable 2-drop even if I don’t end up in BR Vampires. The Scarecrow seems like the “safer” pick, being colorless, but it really only plays in control/delirium decks, which makes it far more narrow than it appears at first blush.

P1P4

Morkrut Necropod is a very solid black finisher, especially for delirium decks, but a 4th pick Angelic Purge is a signal I can’t ignore. I’ve seen the Necropod wheel before, and if I’m going to be in WB, I’d rather pick up the removal now so I don’t accidentally put somebody to my left in white instead.

P1P5

It’s hard to ignore Solitary Hunter and Watcher in the Web both still being in the pack on pick 5, but there’s every chance that this pack was green-heavy, just like the one I opened. I’ve not seen much black thus far, but I’m not ready to abandon my pick 1 just yet, and Ghoulcaller’s Accomplice is still a solid 2-drop.

P1P6

Another pack that’s light on black playables, and I’m seeing a more blue come through. As it stands, I don’t actually have a second color yet, but UB is pretty horrible in this set. I’ll probably see another Grotesque Mutation at some point, so I decide to take Harvest Hand, which has rarely disappointed me. As a creature that doubles as equipment, it can do a lot of work in almost any deck.

P1P7

This pack is stuffed with more blue cards, and there’s even a UB payoff card here. If I’m going to pivot, now’s the time. But at the last second I decide to jump on Crawling Sensation. I saw a solid green pack just two picks ago, and I already have an Epitaph Golem in my pool. With my experience with UB, I decided it was worth rolling the dice on green being open enough to pay off, rather than jumping in on the “sure thing”.

P1P8

I’ve already lost my chance to jump on blue, so I pass over the big, fat flier for mana fixing, hoping it’ll help me piece together whatever monstrosity I’m currently working toward.

P1P9

My original pack had 3 other green cards in it that were on par with Hinterland Logger, but since I’ve already jumped on green, I decide to take it and hope for the best.

P1P10

Since I just took a green card, I should have probably just taken Aim High, but with two good blue cards left in this pack I decide speculating blue on this late pick has a low enough opportunity cost.

P1P11

With no cards I want to play, I decide just to take a blue card for signaling purposes, hoping it’s not too late to jump into the color.

P1P12

Ditto for the vessel.

P1P13

And again.

P1P14

My last ditch effort to send a signal, knowing it’s probably not going to do me any good, as I’m pretty sure I didn’t send any good white cards to the left.

End of Pack 1

I’ve no clue what I’m doing at this point of the draft. Black looked pretty cut off, and I passed too many blue cards to expect much from the second pack. Green is probably relatively locked down, considering how many of the green cards were gone from the first pack I opened, and I don’t recall red or looking open either. That 4th pick Angelic Purge was a little odd, and Moorland Drifter came back around on the wheel, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I have the skeleton of some sort of Abzan Delirium deck, so perhaps if I focus on green and color fixing, I can manage playables somehow.

P2P1

Well, this pack is… interesting. It’s tempting to just grab the Dead Weight and try to snap up as many black cards as I can in this pack. But my pool is scattered between multiple colors, and I’ve no idea if that gambit will pay off. Throwing caution to the wind, I decide to just go for broke and slam the strongest card in the pack.

P2P2

I know focusing on green was my original plan, and Vessel of Nascency is very good, but how can I possibly pass up the best removal in the set after I just blew a pick on another white card?

P2P3

Is… is this really happening? I get a third fantastic white card in a row. My original gut feeling that I didn’t put anybody to the left of me in white seems to be paying off.

P2P4

Foul Orchard would be a great card for my Abzan Delirium plan, but I at this point I feel like I should just snap up every good white card I can get my hands on while the color’s flowing. If I can get 10-ish playables out of this pack, I should be back on track to having an actual deck. I decide to pick up Reaper of Flight Moonsilver, a card that plays in any white deck.

P2P5

This pack is a little weaker, but I’m not unhappy with an Inquisitor’s Ox. It’s a card that does an amazing job on defense, and can pose as an offensive threat once delirium is turned on.

P2P6

With Harvest Hand in my pool, I’m windmill slamming Avacynian Missionaries. It sucks passing up an equipment in the same pack, but chances are I’ll see at least one other piece of equipment I can grab between now and the end of the draft.

P2P7

Unfortunately, I can’t take this equipment either. With my low count of playables, I need to take Dauntless Cathar. But since it’s one of the best 3-drops in the set, I’m not too bothered by it.

P2P8

I need 2-drops at this point, but Unruly Mob just doesn’t play well in this set, outside of token-heavy decks. Apothecary Geist is still a solid card, though, and evasion is pretty important as a win condition in delirium decks.

P2P9

I have to pass another 2-drop, because my deck is also lacking in removal. Silverstrike is a great card for blowing out offensive combat tricks, and plays well in both control decks and aggro mirrors.

P2P10

I’m not entirely sure Inspiring Captain will make my final deck, especially if I end up being more control-oriented, but it’s the more likely than Ethereal Guidance.

P2P11

Normally Survive the Night is a little clunky, but after struggling so hard in the first pack, I’m glad to see a combat trick that I know I’ll likely play.

P2P12

I still haven’t decided I’m going to play green yet, so I take Vampire Noble as a potential playable if I end up in black instead.

P2P13

Cheap combat tricks can do a lot of work, so I like that I can grab one this late in the pack.

P2P14

I’m not really worried about signals anymore, and I still haven’t decided on my second color, so another 2-drop will help if I end up going with blue.

End of Pack 2

My hope is that I end up in green, to pair up with all the white I picked up in the second pack. I could end up in black or blue instead, but blue isn’t really a delirium color, and black doesn’t have much in the way of 2-drops, which is the biggest weakness in my card pool, currently. With so many white cards, it looks like I can probably get away with only a handful of cards in my second color, but I’ll need to decide what that color is quickly in pack 3 so I can figure out how my deck is going to fit together.

P3P1

I’m tempted to grab Tenacity, but hurting for 2-drops as I am, I have to just snap up the Hinterland Logger. With two green 2-drops, I’ve decided to push green as my second color.

P3P2

I’m not sure how easily I’m going to get delirium turned on at the moment, but even if it just sits as an 0/4 wall all game, Moldgraf Scavenger will help shore up my 2-drops. I should note that I also considered Cryptolith Rite for the chance to push full Abzan colors, but I don’t really want to waste a spell slot on color fixing that doesn’t replace itself, or help me activate delirium.

P3P3

With the only spell worth taking being Watcher in the Web, I decide to grab a dual land. Splashing for black is still on the table, and unlike the previous pick, Foul Orchard doesn’t take up a spell slot in my deck.

P3P4

I still need ways to turn on delirium, and Vessel of Nascency fills that slot beautifully.

P3P5

As much as I’d love to take Fork in the Road to help me splash black, I only have 3 creatures in my 3-slot. Since I’m pushing delirium anyway, Paranoid Parish-Blade serves as a decent enough creature on its own, and becomes beastly when delirium is active.

P3P6

Between being a delirium deck and having an Avacynian Missionaries I want to be able to activate consistently, I decide now is one of those times I’ll actually want Shard of Glass for my deck.

P3P7

It’s tempting to take a second Silverstrike, but aside from being uncertain how well they play in multiples, I still need more 2-drops. This makes my third Hinterland Logger, so my early game is starting to have a bit of punch.

P3P8

Although I wouldn’t mind the pig horror on the top end of my deck, Thraben Inspector helps shore up my early game a little more and lets me dig into my deck, which is going to be important with the bombs I have available.

P3P9

Fortunately, I get paid off by getting a Pumba of my very own!

P3P10

There’s only one card in my color here, and I take it on the off chance that I’ll need it out of the sideboard.

P3P11

With only two pieces of equipment in my deck, I decide to take the scarecrow, which can help me enable delirium, over the Inquisitor.

P3P12

I’m actually pretty happy about this vessel wheeling. Another enchantment in my deck will help activate delirium, and there are a lot of matchups where the extra fliers will help me close out a game.

P3P13

With no cards in my colors, I decide to cut the card that might actually get played against me.

P3P14

Ditto for Invasive Surgery.

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Final Deck

Here’s what I ended up with.

My final pool isn’t very defensively-oriented, and my delirium payoffs are relatively minor (outside of Descend Upon the Sinful), so I sideboard the Crawling Sensation and Epitaph Golem, opting to run a more aggressive deck. Since I still want to get delirium turned on, I decide to run Shard of Broken Glass; since I also have fliers and an Avacynian Missionaries, the normally low-impact card becomes a niche roleplayer in this deck.

I’m sure it looks odd that I’m running so many forests in a deck relatively devoid of green cards, but with my entire 2-drop slot populated by green creatures and a double-green creature at the top end of my curve, I simply can’t afford to not draw into my forests at any given part of the game. Additionally, I only have two double-white cards in my deck, and they both cost 5+ mana to cast, so I don’t feel particularly stretched only running 9 plains.

Match #1

Match #2

Match #3

The deck I ended up with this time is something I like to call “Turbo Delirium”. Most delirium decks are control-oriented, and push a longer game to guarantee they can grind out value with their delirium payoffs. Turbo Delirium is an all-out aggro deck like the WG Humans deck, but instead of relying on human synergies and payoffs, it activates delirium as quickly as possible to punch through the opponent’s defenses with some of the more aggressive delirium payoffs; Paranoid Parish-Blade and Reaper of Flight Moonsilver are two that I made good use of in this deck, but I’ve also had great experiences with Topplegeist, Obsessive Skinner, and Inexorable Blob.

Admittedly, the draft itself was nearly a trainwreck of epic proportions. I clung too tightly to my first pick, which kept me from moving into blue, despite multiple signals. By the time I was willing to jump in, I’d put at least one person to my left in the color, which meant I was going to get cut heavily in pack 2 if I decided to jump into blue anyway. That normally isn’t too much of a problem, but I didn’t have a second color to fall back on for playables, which means my second pack would have been completely dry as I fumbled around for a second color. I would have ended up heavily picking mana fixing and playing 3 colors to try and cobble together enough playables for the deck by the end of the draft. My switch into white seems almost serendipitous, between opening Descend Upon the Sinful and getting passed an entire pack’s worth of solid white cards. Even though opening the bomb was lucky, moving into white was always an option in pack 2, when taking the signals into consideration. I took the only white card that came my way that would make somebody think white was open from the right, which means nobody on my left is going to cut white; and with Moorland Drifter left in the wheeled pack, there’s a strong chance that there’s only a single white drafter at the table. Since I’m already considering picking up a bunch of mana fixing and going Abzan colors, there’s no reason not to take advantage of the situation my seat is in and just pick up every white card that comes to me during pack 2.

These trainwreck drafts are interesting, because they leave us in a position to try new things that we’d normally avoid outside of the first few drafts of the set. There’s no official name for the technique I used today (Backdrafting, maybe?), but it capitalizes on one of two possible conditions at the end of pack one: I’m deep in a single color and haven’t committed to a second color yet, or I have a trainwreck pool that couldn’t possibly get any worse. Either of these situations also requires that I’ve seen the targeted color be completely cut off from the right; since I’ve not seen the color make it to me, that means the drafters on my left haven’t either, which all but guarantees that the color will flow liberally during the second pack.

Drafting usually works best when the drafters collaborate with one another; signaling what colors they’re not in and following proper pick orders means that the other drafters around you stay out of your colors, and everybody’s deck is better as a result. But these trainwreck situations require a complete change of tack, often cutting off another drafter from their colors to shore up your own deck.

Knowing how to spot these edge-case metagame moments when they arise can get your draft back on track. If it looks like your draft is going off the rails, don’t be afraid to try something different. It could fail completely, or it could be your own personal level-up moment; either way, It’s better than playing it safe and losing anyway!

A photo of Jason Clem Jason Clem

Jason Clem has been playing Magic on and off since Mirrodin, but only found his love of Limited after playing a few months of Hearthstone. After rejoining the Magic Master Race, he created Draft Factory in hopes of creating an analysis and step-by-step breakdown of a format often eclipsed by Constructed discussion. Jason also has a soft spot for JRPGs and will emphatically deny that CLANNAD made him cry like a little girl.