I wanted to touch on some draft theory today and look at the concept of hate-drafting in Hex. If you’re not familiar with the term, hate-drafting is the concept of denying a potential opponent a powerful card by drafting it in preference to a card that may help your own deck. We’ll explore the pros and cons of hate-drafting and see how Hex’s 17 card packs affect commonly held beliefs about it.
Arguments against hate-drafting generally focus on the fact that denying one of your opponents a card is unlikely to positively impact your own tournament. If we assume we play all 3 matches, there’s only a 3 in 7 chance that we’ll play the player that we affected and that they may not even draw the card when they play us. The logic used value additions to our own deck that we will use in every game we play over subtractions from our opponents’ decks that we may not even see.
This logic certainly seems valid and in general it’s not worth handicapping your own deck to negatively affect another deck. Let’s consider where we draw the line, however. If there are absolutely no cards that can help our deck in a pack, it certainly makes sense to take the most powerful card remaining. By doing so, we deny it to others and can possibly even use it ourselves if our draft changes course. If we accept this as true then there must be a line we can draw that can suggest when it is correct to take a card that doesn’t directly benefit us. That line falls right around the replacement level card.
Baseball and hockey use a statistic called WAR which stands for Wins Above Replacement. It attempts to define how many wins a team will achieve with player A in the lineup compared to the easily substituted replacement-level player B. Think of your draft deck as a team of 23 players. Not all of these players are all-stars. Many are simply replacement-level cards that may or may not make your final lineup in any given draft. They are easily acquired late in packs and are counted on to do their mediocre jobs so that their all-star teammates can shine. Let’s see how this plays out in reality.
You are on the 4th pick of a Primal/Primal/Armies draft. Your first three picks are leading you towards a Wild/Diamond health-gain deck, but you’re not committed just yet. You are given the choice between a Young Seer, a Wrathwood Sycamore and a Transmogrifade. Most players would take one of the two on-shard cards and defend the choice by pointing to the fact that they both make their deck better. I would suggest that both Young Seer and Wrathwood Sycamore are replacement-level cards for the health-gain deck and as such the pick should be the Transmogrifade. Here are some reasons why:
- The power level of Transmogrifade is much higher than the other two cards and neither Wild card is worth more than a replacement-level card.
- It’s early in the draft and this is a strong signal that Sapphire may be open. Even if we later find that it isn’t, it’s easily splashable.
- By taking the most powerful card, we deny it to our opponents at no real risk to ourselves, even at pick 4.
By the time we finish our draft, we will have selected 51 cards. Of those 51, we will be putting around 23 into our deck and leaving the remaining 28 in our reserves. The WAR value of cards 18-30 are going to be remarkably similar and due to this we should feel more comfortable drafting powerful off-shard cards, especially in packs 1 and 2. Add to this the multi-shard nature of Primal/Primal/Armies draft and the penalty for picking the most powerful card at any given point is far less than the potential reward of either being able to use it ourselves or deny it to an opponent who has a focused deck.
There are other reasons to be watchful outside of your chosen shard as well. Consider your archetype and be wary of answers to the problems you intend to give your opponent. If you play Fiona Honeyfinch, aggressively target Crimson Bolts and Gale Forces that you see. Similarly if you run Yotul Mogak, understand that you will have basically no answers to constants and as such you should consider (and after Armies of Myth, I can’t believe I’m saying this) taking that Gossamer Tears or Rally of Kings away from an opponent who could use it to devastating effect on you.
I hear you asking, “Aswan, how am I supposed to know what a replacement-level card looks like?” Unfortunately, it’s not a simple answer since each draft archetype values cards differently. A Midnight Spiritualist in a five-shard deck can be amazing, while in a two-shard deck it’s merely replacement-level fodder. As a rule of thumb, if the card actively addresses your deck’s theme, synergizes with several other cards and/or has better stats than the average card of its cost, you should be taking it for your deck. If none of the cards in the pack meet these criteria, or they do but can be easily replaced later, consider taking a card that you really don’t want to see on the other side of the board or could possibly offer a big effect when brought in from the reserves.
Be careful in going overboard with shunning replacement-level cards, however. You do still need to make a cohesive deck and if the bulk of your draft consists of “screw you, Vennen player” and “all the removal in every shard shall be mine” cards, you’re going to have a bad time. As you draft more and get a feel for what cards are available when, you should be able to make better decisions about what the overall highest value pick should be at any given time.
If you are new to drafting or competitive play, consider heeding the conservative advice and stick to drafting cards that go with your deck’s theme. If you feel comfortable with how the current format plays out and have a good feel for what cards are easily replaced, take aim at those cards that can’t be easily replaced by your opponents and I’m confident your draft success will increase.