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The Zen Art of Drafting

Initially I had been planning to write an article about the lessons I’ve learned while drafting set one and go over advice for those looking to maximize value while drafting; with Shattered Destiny (set 2) quickly approaching, I expect many players’ interest in drafting to be reinvigorated. However, I quickly realized that in order to do so I needed to lay some groundwork. Rather than go over nuanced plays involving Time Ripple or Call the Grave, I’m opting to start with a much broader approach. While honing your technical skills is important, we ought to start off by building a strong foundation in order to avoid developing weak play habits.

Much of what I am about to address might seem like common sense to veteran players. I get that, but hopefully those of you already operating at a highly competitive level can still benefit from this list of pointers.

Ascetic Aspirant

Don’t Give Up:

This is probably the most important one of them all and yet I see people do it all the time. Your opponent might have just murdered your best dude, landed a huge threat of their own onto the board and rapidly turned the game around. GG, onto the next game, right? Wrong! I’ve had countless opponents concede to me when they had drawn 5 shards in a row, while little did they know my hand was equally as dismal. As soon as you feel like it is time to concede stop yourself from doing so and play one more turn. It might seem like you have no outs left, but chances are that you just don’t realize what they are. Which leads to our next lesson…

Kismet favors those that plays to their outs:

Whether you’re about to win or on the brink of defeat, the ability to recognize your optimal lines of play (and the likelihood of drawing into them) is going to be critical if you want to improve. Once you are able to start figuring out what your opponent’s outs are you will be able to take your game to a whole new level. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

-“If I do ____ now, what are my opponent’s options the following turn(s)?”

-“What if I am wrong?”

-“Am I about to be blown out?” Followed by, “Even if that is a possibility, do I have any other choice?”

Respect your opponent:

Moreso, respect their ability to still win the game especially when you are ahead. Everyone makes mistakes, but relying on your opponent to make one in order for you to win is only setting yourself up for disaster.

On analysis paralysis:

Really this comes down to, “Don’t over-think things.” When you start to do so it is going to be harder to recognize where things went wrong. Running down your clock to contemplate a play that doesn’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things is not going to help you. Learn to recognize these unimportant moments so that you can save yourself from mental fatigue when things get real.

Timing and reaction:

Moving into the realm of combat tricks and counter-magic, in set 1 draft it was frequently the right call to play directly into your opponent’s quick actions during the early turns of the game. Trading an ineffective troop for their Wild Growth that might have otherwise killed your bigger dude later in the game is the kind of play you want to be making. The same is true for them using an aura early: You’d rather have it on their vulnerable weak troop than a spellshielded Boulder Brute beating you in the face later. Finally, if you are going to make a play during your opponent’s turn but are concerned that they might be able to protect themselves, it is usually best to make that play during their fourth or fifth turn. This is often when people begin to utilize their strongest troops and by making them dedicate resources to something else they are more likely to start stumbling.

Committing early vs keeping your options open:

While drafting I tend to heavily commit to a shard very early on. Every draft is different—that’s what makes them so much fun—but in general this is what I lean towards. By doing so you are going to improve the quality of your second and third pack. On the flip side, I often find myself playing a variety of cards spread across 3-4 shards (it is much easier to pull off than most people realize). By highly valuing threshold fixing and keeping your options open early you are often going to be able to pack your deck with many high-powered cards which crop up during packs 2 and 3. There is a fine line between knowing when to go all in on a specific strategy and knowing when to remain flexible; don’t get stuck drafting one specific strategy or else many opportunities will pass you by.

Be realistic, but don’t be afraid to experiment:

Improving in draft is all about experimentation. You need to learn first hand how to value each individual card in a variety of situations. Taking risks on cards you’re not sure about is something that you are going to have to do at some point or another, so do this as much as you can early in a format’s lifespan and it will pay off in the long run. However, once you have moved past that point be very careful when you grab a powerful card which doesn’t actually belong in your deck. I catch myself and many others being baited by high-powered rares which we don’t wind up playing when we could have otherwise snagged an equally strong playable common.

Focus primarily on the 23 cards which are going to make your deck:

For nearly every draft I’ve played in, 23 cards was the magic number (which leaves room for 17 shards). During pack one you should be narrowing in on a general archetype. Whereas towards the end of the draft you should start asking yourself “If I take ____ then what will I cut to make room for it.” Don’t forget about your reserves either, as cards like Turbulence, Reversion, and Nature Reigns might not always be maindeck viable but having access to them in games 2 and 3 can be quite the boon. Consider grabbing them over cards which are likely to be cut from your maindeck. Finally I am going to address “hate-drafting,” a term which describes the decision to grab a card which you have no intention of playing but want to deny anyone else the opportunity of using. I consider hating to be a pretty high-level move; if you’re not already doing extremely well in most of your drafts then my best piece of advice is to just pick which is strongest for your deck. The likelihood of being paired against the player who gets the otherwise “hated” card is pretty small, and then they might not draw it. With that said, hate-drafting is a tool which can sometimes be utilized early on in a given pack—just be particularly careful to consider what you might be missing out on yourself.

Set time aside & don’t play while you are tired or preoccupied:

If you are too tired or preoccupied to be focused on the game, don’t be surprised if you aren’t able to play optimally. We’ve all been in the zone of “just one more draft,” but that draft may very well take you another 3 hours. 2:00 AM might not be the best time to fire another one off. If you’ve had a long day and just want to relax by enjoying Hex there are always no-stakes or lower-stakes ways of doing so.

Learn from your losses, don’t give up (redux):

Making mistakes is part of the learning process. Don’t be discouraged by the times you are defeated in the first round—it is only natural that this happens from time to time. Remind yourself that this isn’t Chess. Hex is a card game and while it does involve quite a bit of skill it also involves a modicum of luck from time to time. Catching bad beats can be rough, but never forget that victory could be just one draw away.


The Transcended

~May your prizes always contain a primal pack.

Funktion became active in the Hex community very early on as one of the first people producing Youtube content. Funktion made top 8 of the July HexTCG Pro Series, and can be caught in draft queues at all hours of the night. You can find him on Twitter Twitch & Youtube

2 Comments on The Zen Art of Drafting

  1. very solid article. The point about “Kismet favors those that play to their outs” is essential and, imho, could be described more clearly for people not familiar with TCGs or probabilities at all.

  2. Playing to your outs is how you play any card game, TCG or otherwise.

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