A Comprehensive Guide to Chaos Drafting
Chapter One – the What and the Why
Chaos Drafting. Of all the – no doubt countless – players out there reading this article – which they, also without a doubt have been eagerly awaiting for months – at least one probably doesn’t know what the heck that even is. To be more precise, it is almost certainly pretty much exactly one, since between it having been a regular fixture at the GP side-event stage for years now and the occasional article on the topic, you would have to find a rather large boulder to live under, to never have heard of this unorthodox drafting environment.
For me and the rest of the group of limited players that make Wednesday evening drafts in Berlin such a nightmare for people who hate losing while not being willing to admit they should improve at magic, it has a special significance. Toward the end of every limited format we get bored of the current environment and take out our Nemesis and Planeshift packs. The time it takes us to get tired of an individual format varies of course – with Avacyn Restored, the chaos season started after 3 weeks, when the first players stopped coming to regular drafts, while we only got in one or two drafts in between Innistrad and Dark Ascension. As such we get to draft it twice a week for several weeks four times a year, and it is therefore the single most discovered „format“ in our group, while at the same time being the most diverse, flexible and unpredictable.
Well, now that we got rid of the one guy who doesn’t know what chaos drafting is, let me quickly explain the What: Chaos drafting is like regular drafting, just instead of three Khans Boosters, you use one Core Set Ninth Edition pack, one Saviors of Kamigawa and one Dissension, while the guy next to you, instead of three Khans drafts one Alara Reborn, one Nemesis and an Avacyn Restored, and Mister I-got-all-the-moneys two on the left cracks a Worldwake, a Tempest and an Urza’s Saga. Ideally you use 24 different packs including a good mix of recent and really old Expansions. Even more ideally all of the boosters belong to a single person, who charges the rest of the table the average cost of the packs used times three, you then randomize who gets to open which pack and use rare picks as prizes.
Now one question – as weird and absurd as it sounds to me – might be immediately obvious to you: Why the heck would I want to pay more money to play an irrelevant casual format I will never get to play at a real tournament, in which people end up with random non-synergistic piles of garbage? Erm, well, that is a bit harsh, and I would have preferred if you had not put it so bluntly, but I guess there is a legitimate question somewhere in there.
With that in mind, let us explore the Why and a bit of the Who. As in, who would I need to be, to have a legitimate interest in finding out all there is to know about chaos drafting.
While I think that everybody can enjoy chaos drafting to some degree, there are a few hurdles you should really be aware of before jumping into a draft shouting “wheeeeee” on the top of your lungs: the need to read every single card in every single pack can be really tedious, and the sheer number of different cards, the incredibly varied power level between Sets and the fact that there are no obvious synergies for you to orientate yourself on can make assembling a good deck a daunting challenge. The first chaos draft decks players new to the format draft are frequently truly a pile of steaming garbage, which can make for a bit of a frustrating experience. Accentuating that is the fact, that you really need to know your card prices, or not care about picking money cards at all, or you will hate yourself for not taking that Cabal Coffers on pick 6 or even just that retarded Liliana’s Caress on the wheel (not to speak of passing casual rares like Sliver Legion). Taking all that into account I can understand if you would rather just stick to drafting a regular format, as God, or rather Wizards intended you to. That is, as long as you do not draft more than maybe once a week, and do not exceed twenty drafts per format. I believe the players who will get most out of chaos drafting are those that have been drafting for a long time – and as such know many, if not all of the Sets present at the table at least to some degree, and either play so much that the current format has gotten boring, or so little that they are not willing to take on the extreme disadvantage of drafting an already explored limited format, while being the only one who knows none of the cards or interactions.
The obligatory warning out of the way, lets focus on the truly cool aspects of chaos drafting.
1. Discovering random synergies is really fun, or as our British friends would say: totally bloody wicked! (I do not guarantee that any British person would actually say that!)
In chaos drafts you get to create unholy marriages between cards that should never have met outside of a kitchen table. Or even on a kitchen table, or, for that matter, a school table (or school floor, or hospital table, or tree trunk, or University Mensa table, or.. well, I suppose I made my point). They can range from whacky – Proliferating Filibuster Counters on your Azor’s Elocutors like a champ or powering out a random off-color superthreat like Worldspine Wurm or Progenitus with Riptide Shapeshifter – over cute – supercharging heroic dudes with Flickering Ward type cards – to truly comboliscious like combining a Vizkopa Guildmage with an Exquisite Blood. Often you will not even notice the random synergies between cards in your deck until you actually draw them, and sometimes it will even give you a cool idea for a deck.
2. You learn a lot about “basic limited”
This is especially worthwhile now that we will no longer get to draft core sets, which I must admit I rather liked, despite the fact that they were almost invariably a bad balancing act trying to juggle the interests of vastly different groups of players resulting in a random mess of garbage that pretty much everybody hated except for myself and a few other madmen/madwomen.
The fact that you do not have a common theme between the boosters you draft and no obvious synergies that draw you into certain color pairs and specific archetypes, means you have to resort to drafting solid basic archetypes like UW skies, BG “creatures and removal”, colorful goodstuff/control decks or red aggro. Of course the colors do not force you into a certain direction quite as strongly as they might in an established format, so it could just as well be UB or BW skies, RG “creatures and removal” and white aggro, but my point stands: you draft solid decks instead of super synergistic ones. That is of course something that will get boring after a while (or would, if it weren’t for the sweet sweet random synergies), but it is also something many players cannot do properly and something you really really really should be capable of. Knowing how to draft all of the solid, basic, traditional limited archetypes” is a skill that is not that easy to acquire drafting recent sets, but that knowledge can act as a blueprint to any future environments. It will give you a huge edge in the beginning of a format, and is an enormous boon when it comes to salvaging drafts gone horribly wrong.
3. Chaos drafts tend to be a bit slower and more forgiving to mana problems
This may sound like a fancy way of saying: the card quality is lower (and if I would be honest, I would not deny that at all), but it is still something I really enjoy. In most of the recent limited formats synergy and/or the quality of individual cards has been so high that arithmetical card advantage has increasingly been taking the back seat to, well, not stumbling. And with back seat I mean not even in the same room anymore and with not stumbling I mean hitting relevant spells at every point in the curve while not missing land drops or flooding out too badly. The far greater quality of low drop creatures makes stumbling even a little bit instantly lethal, and games much faster and more tempo oriented. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It also means you can win with mulls to four on the back of one or two good creatures for example. But it does take away that special feeling of two-for-oneing someone, because, as long as you still have a big dude, who cares?
It also completely changes the dynamics of playing removal. In slower, grindier formats, it was an absolutely essential skill of identifying the correct point to use your removal spell. Usually that point was when your opponent played a silly bomb you could not otherwise handle, and not a second earlier. With the increased speed, life points become more precious, and oftentimes you just kill the first thing that moves in order not to lose the initiative. Again, different is not worse, but I for one enjoy grinding out an advantage over many turns, drawing a card here, getting a two for one there and then ultimately overwhelming my opponent with card advantage instead of smashing his face in with a big guy on turn 3 or 4 because he didn’t play a creature on turn 2.
Both styles of formats have their merits, and neither is strictly better than the other. But they are vastly different. And different is awesome, because it requires you to switch between the play styles and keeps you from going to auto pilot.
4. No two chaos drafts are alike
This is really the main attraction. All chaos drafts are somewhat similar, but they are all really different as well, depending a lot on the packs used. There are endless combinations, resulting in very different game dynamics. It is not a format you can truly learn, resulting in fairly even grounds between novices and veterans.
Chaos drafting is not for everyone, but if you play a bunch of limited and you resent the fact that playing a Divination is so bad after your opponent went t1: two-power-dude into t2: three-power-dude into t3: pump + small dude, then you should really give it a shot. Actually, you should probably just give it a shot in any case. And with a shot I obviously mean several, because it is a bit like cube in that regard: the first time is frustrating, the second is kinda cool but mostly frustrating, the third is cool because you feel you learned something, but, honestly pretty frustrating and the seventh has you hooked so bad you are willing to sell both your kidneys for the next shot.
In future article(s) I will go into the logistics of setting up (semi-) regular chaos drafts locally, some general rules to evaluating cards in the context of drafting chaotically as well as talk about a lot of random questions like the merits of play vs. draw or analyzing which boosters influence the experience in what ways. I might also write a pick by pick and play by play report on a chaos draft, if there is interest.
If you have any questions, you would like to have discussed in this series, please do hit me on twitter or in the comments. Any feedback, advice, or trolling is also appreciated.