Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Shadow Era: Advanced Drafting

Last week, I went over some simple drafting techniques and etiquette for those new to the format. Today, I'll go over the official formats as described by Wulven and then expand on some draft strategies from the week before.

Wulven has announced three different formats for sanctioned limited events, two draft and one sealed. The two draft formats are as follows:

1. SIX packs (minus the hero and code) drafted, 30 card decks with normal restrictions
2. EIGHT packs (minus the hero and code) drafted, 40 card decks with normal restrictions

The sealed, called Meltdown, is where you open four packs and build a 30 card deck without any class or faction restrictions. So you can have a Feedback, Tidal Wave, Earthen Protector and Shadow Knight all in the same deck if that's what you pull. As fun as this may be for some, this article is about the two draft formats.

Now, both draft formats are exceptionally LONG draft periods, which may scare some players away. For example, the typical Magic: the Gathering or World of Warcraft TCG draft is a mere three packs passed, and that can easily take half an hour or more. Due to the rarity distribution of allies in Call of the Crystals, it was deemed just too difficult by the dev team to build a deck with faction restrictions and enough allies at the same time with such a small pool of cards. This is the reason for such a high number of drafted packs, and it changes things a bit from how you might be used to drafting in other games.

In 6-pack, minus the hero, you'll open 14 cards per pack. In the end, each player will have a pool of 84 cards, but you have to use barely over a third. In 8-pack the number is even higher, where 112 cards are in your pool and you'll be using 39. This means that there is an EXTREMELY wide margin of error for players, as well as plenty of room for sending signals and hatedrafting, which I'll cover below.

Hating and Signaling

In last week's article I mentioned that part of drafting is being able to figure out what your neighbors are playing by what they're passing to you. Well, there's a lot more to it than that, and it's called sending signals.

When deciding what card to take, pay close attention to the cards left in your pack. Take a look at what they're most likely to take, or if there's plenty of cards to support one specific faction or deck. You can 'send signals' to your opponent, hinting to them what you're playing and what they should play whether that's the truth or not. By manipulating your opponent into taking specific cards, you can deny them what they want later or make sure they pass cards that you want to take at some point down the road. Of course, there's always a possibility that the other player realizes you're doing this and specifically hatedrafts against you, so be careful of being too obvious too many passes in a row.

Hatedrafting is the other technique that comes as a result of signaling. At its most basic, this is when you take cards you aren't going to play over cards that you could just because it would be too dangerous for another player to pick it.

Some power cards such as Tidal Wave, Mind Control, or Plasma Behemoth may be victim to this whether or not you've been involved in signaling, but knowing what your neighbors are playing can help your hate picks far more effectively.

For example, if your 4th pack rolls along and you're passed a Shadow Knight, but you know both yourself and the person you're passing to are playing human decks, you can actually feel safe passing the Knight. Odds are, the person you're passing to will end up hatedrafting it instead, which means that you can feel free to take whatever else you want out of the pack with a fair amount of confidence.

Now, because so much of your card pool will be unplayed, you have ample opportunity to hatedraft. Many packs you'll have nothing you really want to play, which means you get to focus on denying other players the cards they want. This is very important. Even if there's a card in your pack you COULD play in your deck, if you have enough cards already for that cost or purpose, passing it both lets you deny and confuse your neighbor. There gets to a point in every draft when you're no longer taking cards to make your deck but cards to improve it, and always keep in mind not just what you CAN play but what you WANT to play. If you're passed an Aeon and a Here Be Monsters, you don't have to take the HBM just because you're working on a shadow deck. If you're not going to play the card you take, it doesn't matter whether or not you could.

The End Result

Fundamentally speaking, playing in drafts are a bit different than constructed gameplay. Because decks are less optimal and less consistent, there's both an unexpected element and playing with plenty of sub-par cards. The basic elements of most any draft deck are as follows:

Bombs: These cards decide games by themselves. Plasma Behemoth, Raven Wildheart, and other board-dominating allies fill this category. Draft them highly.

Removal: Any card that can deal with a bomb. Mind Control, Crippling Blow, and Assassination are decent examples. Almost as important as bombs, but slightly less so only because winning the game is generally better than not losing the game.

Acceleration: Any card that can help you get to your bombs and removal quicker. This includes everything from Tome of Knowledge to Cobraskin Wraps. Draft these third, since having more bombs/removal is just as valid a way to get more of them.

This is the easiest way to help you prioritize what card to take in each pack, as well as how to build the deck and play the games.

Once you have some more experience, you might want to start drafting 'archetypes'. As opposed to just taking the best card from each pack, drafting an archetype is when you force a specific strategy from the cards available. Some simple archetypes and important cards are below, but try to come up with your own!

Shard Rush: Now, while this deck is named after Shard of Power, Shard doesn't necessarily need to be a part of the deck. War Banner serves a pretty effective substitute. Ideally you want to be playing Zaladar (or possibly Elementalis, depending on preference), but Ter Adun and Logan Stonebreaker are also fine choices, depending on your access to weapons. The goal of this deck is to swarm the board with cheap allies and, instead of bombs, finish up with a sea of pump abilities like Bloodlust.

Key picks:
Shard of Power or War Banner
Extra Sharp
Fire Snake
Spark (elemental version)
Bad Santa

Remember that Evil Ascendant will ruin your day. When nothing else strikes your fancy, hatedraft this card as much as possible, as well as other cards like Tidal Wave or Arcane Burst.

Burn, Baby, Burn: With this deck, the goal is to go straight to the dome with burn, everything from Fireball to Special Delivery. You want to keep up pressure and keep the board empty with multi-target burn or shadow abilities. Eladwen and Nishaven make excellent choices depending on if you need single-target or sweeping removal more. Majiya is also an option if you're low on Tomes of Knowledge, or if you're simply passed some really good shadow cards. Engulfing Flames and Poison Gas make excellent choices to deal with opponents that either stall the game or play so many allies you won't have a chance to burn the hero to death.

Key picks:
Lightning Strike
Tome of Knowledge

Amber Pain: Because weapons are so high on the rarity curve, it's fairly hard to build a consistent deck that revolves around them. However, this means that if you're lucky enough to open a Jeweler's Dream or two, you can expect to get passed plenty of support cards like Master Smith and Reserve Weapon to make a very deadly warrior. If you're getting enough Berserker's Edges or shadow cards that it's worth playing another hero, that's fine too. However, I feel like much of the time Amber is the optimal choice.

Key picks:
Jeweler's Dream
Rusty Longsword
Reserve Weapon
Master Smith
Zoe Silversmith
Lily Rosecult

Nope.Priest: Playing control decks tend to be difficult in limited where consistency is difficult and tempo is easy, but SOMEBODY has to be taking all those priest cards. Zhanna Mist has the highest natural survivability of any hero, which means she automatically puts all opponents on a turn clock. Can they kill you before they run out of cards? Good question.

Key picks:
Tidal Wave
Book of Curses
Tainted Oracle
Healing Touch
Priest of the Light

As one last tip, I must mention that you should never get too attached to what you're drafting. Taking a Crippling Blow in your first pack does not mean you have to play a warrior. You don't have to decide what hero you're playing until it's time to build decks, and it's important to remember that. Whether 6-pack or 8-pack, Shadow Era drafting is a long process and anything can happen. One pack does not a deck make.

Best of luck in your drafting, and most importantly, have fun!

Boweh out.

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