I actually put Balance in my mono red and it did win me a game, but I also lost my second game in the finals because I was short a land. – I actually had a fetch in play that was there to get my plains, but with my plains already in play it was a dead card. If it just been a flush of mountains I would have won with my disintegrate. But Balance is a pretty loose example – it’s practically Power and you won’t have the opportunity to draft a bomb that solid very often. (Fireball is one that’s been reprinted enough times to bring up. And yes, I would splash for that. But that’s an exception, not the rule.)
One of these cards is not like the other….
Corollary: Pick your archetype early, and stay in it.
In short, the basic archetypes for Chaos are:
Aggro (weenies, removal, individual and mass pump, discard if applicable)
Stompy (efficient, undercosted fatties)
Ramp (early elves and mana fixing into huge monsters)
Control (removal, counters, discard, turtles, late game finishers)
Rock (Fatties + removal, with an emphasis on card advantage)
Tempo (usually blue based aggro/control, with an emphasis on bounce or removal – essentially get a creature down, and deny your opponent attack and steps by bouncing, tapping, or killing opposing creatures, so that your creatures can go all the way)
To be honest, I’d be happy with a deck of any single color (even mono green) as long as the archetype was clear. But jumping in early and staking your claim is foremost – cutting out a color from a pack if you can goes a long way. You don’t want to switch colors just to get a slightly better card. If I’m already heavily into green and my choice is between a late pick Llanowar Elf and a late Doom Blade, I’d probably stick with the elf – Taking that Doom Blade might makes your deck better given the cards that you’ve picked, but if you’re clearly passing black and cutting green, you’re that much more likely to end up with more solid green picks (or even a bomb) on the pass back. I’d rather have options in my deck building rather than cobble together a deck that is half decent and half horrible because I sent bad signals.
If, however, there really isn’t a compelling pick for your deck, you’re not going to send a bad signal, or it looks like your original color is drying up, then by all means take Doom Blade.
Theory 2: Quality at common goes out the window in a chaos draft
… Though it’s not as bad as you might think. It’s not all a bunch of 1/1′s for 3 out there. Actually it’s for the same reasons as listed above. There are going to be a ton of creatures at Common that are meant to be role-players in a synergy deck that just get worse when you take their set away.
the 2/2 for 2 (the grizzly bear!)
the 2/2 for 2 with a drawback (usually in red or black)
the 2/2 for 3 (the grey ogre or scathe zombie, usually bad enough now to get an ability)
the 1/4 for 3 (the horned turtle)
the 2/2 flyer for 3
the 3/3 for 4 (the Hill Giant)
the 3/3 flyer for 5 (most recently sky-eel school. But wizards has gotten better at hiding them – in Shadowmoor it was Merrow Wavebreakers- In Dissension it was Helium Squirter, in Lorywn it was Plover Knights. My personal favorite “flyer” is Elven Riders :D
So why the Hill Giant? Because at its commonality, it’s consistently the best power and toughness for its cost. And there are a lot of them out there. Yes, you’re going to draft creatures of all shapes and sizes and powers and toughnesses, but at Common, which is where the majority of our bread and butter creatures are going to be, toughness and power usually max out at 3 unless you’re Green. Regardless of what archetype you’re in, stalemates start to occur, (or break down) when you start hitting this size of creature. If your deck is all speed and gas, you want evasion and removal to get past these monsters. If you’re the heavy, you want acceleration in order to plop down your big guys and outrace the speedy deck. And if you’re both at the same class and hit a stalemate, you’ll do better if you have more Giants to throw away, vs. waiting for that bomb, removal, or evasion.
Speaking of stalemates:
Corollary: Overcosted removal is still removal, and overcosted evasion is still evasion.
Drafting a deck full of removal or evasion is still a great plan, if you can manage it. But even if you’ve accomplished building a great deck, you need to carry that momentum into the battles themselves. Which brings us, finally to:
(A Mike Flores Classic)
In short, know what your role is going into the game. If you’re the aggro deck, then choose to play first, and try to end the game as quickly as possible. You generally want to utilize your removal in a way that will maximize damage dealt. If your opponent has a creature that slows you down (like a wall), calculate whether you want to just get it out of the way in exchange for dealing more damage in the long run, or whether you want to save your removal for a true threat. Can your opponent wrath you? Maybe you want to get in there asap. Could your opponent play a big dragon that you can’t deal with? Maybe you just want to swarm around the wall and save your removal for when it really matters.
If your opponent has the capability to race you, evaluate the board state – given what you’ve seen, can they beat you in a straight race? Can they kill you before you kill them? If not, then get your guys in there. Take whatever they give. Don’t save guys to chump unless you’re about to die. Do the math! Your chump block could be dealing damage!!
If you’re an aggro deck that’s been outclassed by bigger threats, don’t give up. We’ll get to that in a sec.
If you’re the “control” deck (i.e. the other deck is more aggro then you), or your deck isn’t consistent, or you don’t have enough information about the other deck to know what to do, choose to draw first – your plan against the other deck is to exhaust them of threats and leave them in topdeck mode while you still have threats. Your life is a resource. Don’t chump block unless they’re about to hit you for lethal damage (or might be threatening lethal damage with pump spells or direct damage)
If your path to winning isn’t obvious, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost.
I’ve been watching so many players just sort of give up mentally before they’ve actually lost the game. At this level or play, they understand how to win and are engaged in the game for as long as they are ahead – but if they reach a stalemate or fall behind they lose interest or just give up “because the game was already over.”
This is usually far from the truth. Start trading creatures, wear them out, picture what you need to draw in order to stabilize or even win the game.
If you can’t figure out how to beat your opponent, keep a steady head. Remember that your opponent still needs to figure out how to beat YOU. If you can make that process as difficult as possible, force bad trades, use tricks to win in combat, kill evasive creatures that can go all the way, then you can still win it.
And with that I’ll finish up. I hope that some of this strategy is useful to whoever reads it. Questions/comments/vehement disagreement is welcome.