I have never been good at Limited. It really doesn't matter what type of Limited format, either. I've done poorly in Sealed Deck prereleases. I often bomb regular drafts. Watching me Cube draft would inspire you to contact FEMA. Even my Conspiracy drafts aren't particularly impressive.
I understand the basics of each style of Limited. I believe my drafting failures lie in not being a great judge of what cards are good, and an inability to read signals. I don't tend to understand what cards are good in drafts until I've seen them played. I read signals in a draft worse than the blind read sign language. I've had so many drafts where I'm looking at the fifth pick of the second pack and realize that I still have no idea what anyone around me is drafting. Does the glut of green cards still in the pack mean that green is open, or the green cards are just lousy?
Admittedly, a way to solve this would be to just play more. Drafting a set more often gives you more experience and you'll start to see which cards are better, but I feel like I figure out which cards are good far more slowly than others. My friends always seem to have a handle on a format much faster than I do. So many times, I wish that I could draft with someone better than me watching over my shoulder.
Last week, I got to do just that: we drafted Conspiracy: Take the Crown as Two-Headed Giant!
Let me explain what our group did so you can better understand just what happened and why I am so excited to share this with you! We decided we were going to draft Conspiracy at our next Magic night, but ended up with six players. As most of you know, Conspiracy is a set designed to be played in a multiplayer format. With six players, this was going to produce two groups of three players, and this wasn't appealing to any of us. Three-player Conspiracy is fun, but it loses some appeal since melee and voting are much weaker mechanics with only two opponents. We looked at a single six-player game, but we've played enough to know that this can often result in a player losing simply because they run out of cards. It is one thing to run out of cards if that is someone's strategy, but quite another if you just draw through your entire deck. At this point, someone suggested a three-way Two-Headed Giant game, and we were sold!
Here's how it went down: each team sat together and opened a single pack to start the draft. The team would pick two cards from the pack, then pass it to the left, with each team taking two cards from a pack. The next round would be the same, but the packs would go in the opposite direction. Each team started with six packs, so for three teams (six players), 18 packs were drafted. Once all the cards were drafted, each team built two decks from the cards they drafted, then followed regular Two-Headed Giant rules. My experience has sold me on the idea of drafting in Two-Headed Giant as a way to introduce new players to drafting, or as a way to help a weaker drafter get better faster!
When someone is completely new to drafting, that first draft is very intimidating. Even if the new player is familiar with all the cards in the set being drafted, they likely haven't considered synergy between common cards. When I first started playing, most of my cards were from two sets, but I was still building just by picking what I thought were cards that were powerful in their own right without worrying too much how the cards interacted with each other. By the end of the first few drafts, the new player is still forming card analysis skills and certainly doesn't recognize if someone is cutting them from a particular color.
Adding a partner to the mix means the new player is getting help with all of these problems! An experienced player can look at what the new player picks and suggest reasons why another card is the better pick. The experienced player is going to recognize when a color is being cut and will understand when it is time to abandon an idea and try something else. The experienced player can also make the picks and explain why they chose the cards they did. Explaining why someone picks an evasion creature in a color you haven't drafted yet is okay (or not okay) after having drafted a pack of cards already, is a great way to teach a new player. They are going to learn a lot faster than they would just through trial and error.
This also worked really well for someone like myself who has experience but just isn't as good. I paired with Jesse for the Two-Headed Giant that night. Jesse is one of the better drafters in the group. While the first couple of picks were pretty obvious to both of us, I noticed my choices tended to diverge from his as the draft continued. I would continue to blindly push towards cards in the same colors, irrelevant of how good or bad the cards were, while Jesse would recognize good cards outside of the colors we had chosen, particularly when they fit what we were trying to do.
Our experience with Conspiracy cards didn't hurt our picks either. We recognized right away that melee creatures would be particularly good, since attacking one pair in Two-Headed Giant counts as attacking two people for melee. Two 1/1 flying Wings of the Guard with melee would be 5/5 flyers for two mana if you can attack both opponent pairs. Cards that drain opponents also work double duty in Two-Headed Giant!
By the end of the first pack, we had a solid start on a black and white deck, and we were looking at a second deck that could either be red and white or blue and black. That deck hadn't fallen into place yet, so we were fairly open to either option. Had I been selecting alone, I would have chosen black and white cards exclusively suffered from lower card quality.
Getting to hear Jesse's reasoning for choosing particular cards was very enlightening. When we had a chance to draft Weight Advantage in the third pack, Jesse's picks had set us up beautifully for it. Our decks shifted into a mostly black deck splashing white, and a white and blue deck designed to take advantage of Weight Advantage. The cards in the remaining packs seemed to land beautifully into these two decks. Jesse took any white cards that had a higher toughness while I splashed a few white cards that didn't benefit from what was happening in his deck. I would suggest the decks were things of beauty.
I have always understood the importance of being flexible in a draft; you want to be able to take advantage of the powerful cards when they come around later in the draft, and I always felt that I was doing that. But in reality, I haven't been keeping my options nearly as open as I thought and that became very apparent in the draft.
So, with all this newfound knowledge, and these amazing decks, we must have crushed our opponents into paste under our boots, right? The game certainly played out that way. Two early Wings of the Guard, along with two Garrulous Sycophants applied a lot of pressure early and quickly put our opponents to single digits while we sat at a haughty 33 life. We were drawing plenty of extra cards from the Monarch so even if some of our permanents were taken out, we had backup plans.
Then the Expropriate hit with two Ballot Brokers in play. We had seen the Ballot Brokers but nothing else that made taking them worth it. Our opponents took four permanents and still got four extra turns! The voting cards in Conspiracy: Take the Throne aren't about getting players to choose the option you want, but more about getting as many votes as possible to benefit from both aspects of a card! We fought the good fight, but our defenses broke down after the second extra turn, and we lost on the fourth. Expropriate wrecks even the best-laid plans!
I can't recommend Two-Headed Giant enough as a way to make new players into better drafters. Drafting with your friends is always good and a great way to learn. You can go over your picks at the end of the games and go over your build with your friends, but nothing beats the immediate responses you get drafting on a team with your friend. A learning opportunity where you get to do something fun with a friend? The entire experience is complete upside!