Hi everyone! For today’s article, I am going to talk about how to evaluate cards for draft. Card evaluation is one of the trickiest business around and it becomes even harder in Set 3 due to the synergistic nature of bond and ally effects. If you haven’t had a chance, I would strongly recommend reading this previous article on the vanilla test and quadrant theory before you continue, since I will work off that foundation.
The vanilla test generally serves as a very good rule of thumb to follow. If you only take away 1 thing from this article, let it be this: Stats are much much MUCH more important than text. Obviously, there are exceptions, but as a basic guideline, this is a pretty good rule of thumb.
Example: Unseen Agent
Unseen Agent is probably the best example of a card to illustrate the importance of stats. A lot of newer players really like to pick this card highly, simply because of the text Unblockable. However, this card completely fails the vanilla test. The 1/1 statline matches up extremely poorly against the average size of 2/2 for a 2 drop. Sure, this card could help push through a board stall, but 1 damage a turn is hardly something to write home about. As always, there are some decks that could consider running Unseen Agent, especially if you have powerful weapons such as Beastcaller’s Amulet, but in most cases, this card is pretty bad because of it’s poor stats.
How does this card impact the board?
Another aspect of card evaluation is thinking about how said card can impact the board. The board impact is a pretty abstract concept, but you can think about it in terms of how much attack and health you are placing on the board, whether there are any powerful summon effects and if it is able to weaken the opposing board.
Example: Talon of Nostrix versus an off-color Stranger
In most cases, both cards would trade for a random X/2 on the opposing side of the board. So, at first sight, it seems as though these two cards are basically equivalent. However, Talon of Nostrix has an advantage in that you can choose which unit to target. This allows you to remove the most problematic 2-health unit on the board, such as Sand Viper or Tinker Overseer. The ability to target units with Talon of Nostrix allows it to have a bigger impact on the board, and thus, make it a better pick.
Example: Archive Curator
At first glance, a 1/4 for 4 seems like a very poor rate, making this card a dreadful performer on the Vanilla test. However, Archive Curator is argubly the best Set 2 common, and this is because it does so much when it enters the board. Firstly, silence is a very powerful ability in draft. Not only is it able to act as a pseudo-answer to fliers, it can also remove annoying abilities like Quickdraw, Deadly. On occasion, you can even highroll and silence some essentially text-only cards, like Deranged Dinomancer or Stormcaller. Secondly, a 1/4 flying body just stops so many flying threats cold. It bounces most powerful fliers (Valkyrie Arcanist, Memory Dredger, Roosting Owl), while also threatening to eat common 1 health fliers, such as Pteriax Hatchling or Vainglory Patrol. Just imagine in the case where you are staring down 2 Valkyrie Arcanist and 1 Vainglory Patrol while the ground is completely stalled out. A single draw of Archive Curator can completely halt the entire air force by silencing 1 of the Arcanist and bouncing/eating the remaining fliers.
What is the best/worst/average case scenario for this card?
One of the reasons that I really enjoy set 3 draft is that the introduction of Ally/Bond effects as well as tribal synergy makes for a very interesting draft experience. These mechanics introduce a huge variability in how well a card performs in a deck, and being able to accurately quantify the variance is key to accurately evaluating the card. To do so, I often like to think about what the best/worst case scenario is and what I expect the average case to be. It is also important to consider how likely each scenario is and not be lured in by an overly optimistic outlook. For example, imagine a 6 cost card that says: Roll 2 dice, if you get exactly 2 6s, you win the the game instantly. Otherwise, this card does nothing. While you have a chance to instantly win the game, the chance is tiny, a measly 3%, whereas 97% of the time, this card does nothing. It’s easy to see that despite having such a busted best case scenerio, this hypothetical card is just not worth running.
Triggerman provides an excellent example for how to evaluate cards with huge variability. There are 2 parts to Triggerman’s text. Firstly, it has the bond ability, so you can often play him on turn 3 if you have a turn 2 gunslinger. Secondly, if you are able to equip it with a weapon, it gets an additional +2 attack. So, how do we evaluate this card?
Well, in the best case scenerio, you would be able to bond this card out for 2 or 3 power and equip a weapon on him. This makes him a ~2.5 power 5/3 quickdraw. That is a pretty ridiculous rate to have on a card, probably something like 3.5 on the tier list. Moreover, Triggerman having quickdraw also makes him one of the better weapons carrier since it can leverage the increased attack better. In the worse case scenerio, you are unable to bond him out, nor do you have a weapon for it. This card is now just a 5 cost 3/3 with quickdraw, which is a very poor rate for a unit, so ~1.5 on the tier list.
Now, what about the average case? Well that is obviously deck dependent, but lets think about what if you were only able to activate either/or, but not both. Bonding it as a 2.5 power 3/3 quickdraw is a good rate, as is paying 5 for a 5/3 quickdraw. And that is what makes Triggerman a pretty good pick. While it has a pretty poor fail case, all you need to do is to activate either conditions and this card becomes worth it. Moreover, if you are able to activate both, the card becomes very powerful. Thus, if you have the right support, it is often worth playing Triggerman.
How likely are you to pick up support for this card?
Now, by the middle of pack 4, we know 90% of our deck’s constitution, and by then, it is easy to see whether you have enough support to play a certain card. To go back to the Triggerman example, if you had 5 cheap gunslingers and a few good weapons, Triggerman is easily a top-tier pick. However, what about at the beginning of the pack? That is a much tougher question to answer, and a lot of it depends on what the general draft population favors, as well as the overall support present in the set. You generally only want to speculate on cards with good support present, and avoid cards that can rarely achieve their best case scenerio. Well-supported tribals (yetis, gunslingers and dinosaurs) are often likely to get there, while the weaker tribes (grenadins, curses and unseen) rarely seem to come together.
Example: Yeti Windflyer vs Scrap Hound
Take the comparison between Yeti Windflyer and Scrap Hound as an example. With the high density of yetis in Set 3, as well as a reasonable number of common yetis in Sets 1 and 2, Yeti Windflyer is often going to be a 2/2 flier in most primal decks. In contrast, there are only a few grenadins in Set 3, and next to no grenadins in Set 1 and 2. This means that you are rarely going to be able to activate Scrap Hound for +5/+5, making it a much less supported card than Yeti Windflyer. This is also why Yeti Windflyer is a much higher tier pick than Scrap Hound early on. Of course, if you ever do manage to live the grenadins’ dream, Scrap Hound would easily be amazing in that deck.
How does this card synergize with what your deck is trying to do?
Another important aspect of draft decks is its synergy. I’m not just talking about simple Tribal synergies, but rather how well your deck comes together to execute its game plan. If you were an aggressive deck, cheap fast spells such as Torch, Pummel would be great in your deck, as would weapons because they are pseudo-charge units. Bounce effects such as Teleport is also extremely powerful since you are the player applying the pressure. In contrast, such cards are much weaker in a slower, controlling deck because you are unable to capitalize on the tempo gain from bounce effects.
It is important to figure out your gameplan as you draft, because a weaker card that synergizes extremely well with your game plan could easily be the pick over a more powerful card that is antangonistic to your deck’s strategy. There are also often some subtle multi-card synergies that are both looking out for, such as deadly units+Icebow, inflitrate effects+Levitate/Cobalt Acolyte, weapons/Emerald Ring+Valkyrie Militant.
Example: Copperhall Shieldman
In a vacuum, Copperhall Shieldman is not a good card. It is a 3 drop that has 0 attack and does little but delay your opponent’s aggression. It is unable to trade with anything, and if you have good attacks, your opponent can instead just hold back his units and this card contributes nothing to the offensive. Thus, this card would be a very low tier pick in most decks.
However, all this changes when your deck is heavy on fliers. The delay on opponent’s aggression is now amazing since fliers are often understated as compared to ground units of the same cost. Having Copperhall Shieldman allows your weaker fliers to race the ground aggression effectively. Your opponents also don’t have the choice of simply holding back his units to block since most of your attackers fly. Thus, Copperhall Shieldman actually becomes a pretty decent to good pick in flyer heavy decks.
Well, card evaluation is definitely a very tricky business, which is why it is often helpful to think things through and take your time with each pick. It’s important to consider what sort of role each card plays, and how well your deck comes together as a whole. Hopefully the examples I gave would help you better understand the intricacies. As always, comments are welcome on the reddit thread!
Superior Evaluation leads to Superior Decks,