Because of the positive response to the "When Decks Go Bad" article featured a couple of weeks ago, I decided to revisit the topic of bad decks sooner rather than later. It seems there are many people out there who get perverse joy out of creating truly despicable decks.
No, not that Backdraft...
So, what do you do after you've constructed a truly smelly masterpiece? Why, you start drafting to make a new one!
Draft It Backward
Have you ever heard of a first-pick Aven Trooper? Have you ever been disgusted by a fifteenth-pick Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor? Have you ever noticed that players to your left are drafting green--so you force the color anyway? If so, you've probably been backdrafting.
As the name implies, Backdraft is just like regular Booster Draft--only backward. Take the Odyssey block, for example. You sit at a table with (ideally) seven of your friends and open your Odyssey booster pack. Instead of picking the best card, which you'd normally do when your DCI rating is on the line, you pick the worst card. (In memory of last week, consider Life Burst if it's available.) Then you pass the remaining cards to the left.
Continue this process until everyone runs out of cards to pick. Then you open a Torment pack and do the same thing, except you're now passing to the right. When that's done, begin passing the Judgment boosters to the left.
You then take your full set of drafted cards and give them to a randomly selected player. Each player then tries to make the best deck possible out of what he or she got. You can have folks hang onto their card pools the whole night, or exchange decks after each match.
Draft It Really, Really Backward
Of course, the conventional rules for Backdraft don't really consider how far you could go. After all, if we're going backward, let's go really backward . . . and consider one or more of the following adjustments.
Draft Judgment first, Odyssey last. In the Odyssey-Torment-Judgment draft I described above, we kept the natural order of packs. There's no real reason to do this--in fact, there's no real reason to draft a complete block at all. Draft Alliances, Mirage, and Prophecy for all I care. Just be aware that if you draft Tempest - Torment - Urza's Saga, you'll likely have one to two really good black decks crop up.
Pass the opposite way. Instead of passing left with the first pack, right with the second, and then left with the third, why not go the opposite way (right-left-right)? Or come up with a crazy scheme of your own: for the first card, pass across; for the second card, pass right; for the third card, pass two to the right; for the fourth card, pass left; fifth, pass two to the left; sixth, keep; seventh, start the cycle all over again. For heaven's sake, if you do this, make notes to keep track of which pick you're on!
Play backward. With this method, otherwise known as "universal Transcendence," everyone starts with 0 life. Instead of wanting to bring your opponent's life total from 20 to 0, your goal is to raise your opponent's life total from 0 to 20. To do this, you have to assume that a Transcendence is on the board for both players for the duration of each game. Or, as a variation, every creature is enchanted with Spirit Link--except for Phantom Nishoba, which drains 1 life from you for every point of damage it deals to your opponent. It's up to you if you want cards like Life Burst to make you gain life or lose life.
But set aside the variations for now. Which strategies should you pursue in conventional Backdraft?
Limit Your Own Options
Making bad decks in Limited can be as hard as making good decks. (On the other hand, it can also be frightfully easy. I've been drafting bad decks for years, often without meaning to.) After all, you still need to know whether a card is good or bad--and why. You need to have a sense of which colors, overall, are weak and strong in a particular block, and how those strengths can change from set to set within a block. And it wouldn't kill you to be able to read signals from players on either side of you.
Doing things backwards can be more difficult than you think...
So you've busted open that Odyssey pack. How do you make your first pick?
Tip #1: Draft black early. It's almost a given that you'll be drafting all five colors in equal proportion. Odyssey will be your best opportunity to pick up bad black, because Torment is too good, and all of the "high" picks in Judgment (where black is just plain awful) will be too scarce (since black has a low card count in that set). So establish yourself by picking up those Zombie Cannibals now!
Tip #2: Don't shut off a color too soon. Unless you need to fill your five-color palette, you should try to let one card of each color pass to the next person. Not only will this force you into a bad card choice, but you'll also give the person next to you a poor signal--and you do want to help him or her build a bad deck, right? Then he or she will return the favor in Torment. That's the kind of cooperation that all the great players use; why shouldn't it work in reverse?
Tip #3: Don't rare draft. Sure, you might get lucky and pick up a Shrine; but then again, you might pick up a Call of the Herd without thinking, and then your deck will win for sure. Bad drafter . . . bad, bad drafter!
Tip #4: Seek out the coveted double - colored-mana cards. Again, because you're building a five-color deck, this strategy is especially devastating to the player who ends up with your deck. Even an ugly pick like Faceless Butcher (that you were forced to take fifteenth, I assume) won't be so bad if it stays in hand for lack of a second swamp.
Of course, triple - colored-mana cards are even scarier to play. I wouldn't say Overrun is bad in any format; it can be a first pick here, too, if you avoid green for the remainder of the draft (good luck).
Tip #5: Beware the color-fixers. The "sack"-lands, Eggs, and other mana fixers will help smooth out your deck and attain threshold. None of that for us! The last thing we need is for the deck to be able to play that Atogatog we picked up early on. (Actually, in all seriousness, the Atogatog gets pretty good in Backdraft. If nothing else about this article alerts you to the horror of this format, that ought to do it.)
Given the topic of this article, I couldn't generate a deck list for you all this week. So instead, I'm passing on a reader email regarding last week's column, in which I hinted in passing that infinite combos involving poison counters were not yet possible. That may not be completely true. Colin Durkin got me thinking.
Take your poison creature, whatever it may be. Put Quicksilver Dagger on it. Bring out Mind Over Matter . . .
While technically not capable of producing an infinite number of poison counters--after all, you lose when you can't draw any more cards--you can certainly supplement this strategy with Feldon's Cane or something similar. Add Serpent Generator and Gaea's Cradle, and you actually probably do approach the possibility of infinite poison counters . . . or at least enough to finish off any indoor table, which is the point.
The following deck is certainly worthy of a column about questionable decks and formats! But if it goes off, it should be pretty funny. I actually feel invested enough in it to include some utility in the form of Nullmage Advocates.
I stuck to the Type 1 Banned and Restricted Lists--thus, only one copy of Mind Over Matter and some other cards. On a related note, Feldon's Cane is no longer restricted in Type 1, by happy chance.
Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.