(Metagame Archive) Draft Knights: Episode I

By Paul Ross

As threatened last week, this is the first episode of a new series exploring the Marvel Knights Booster Draft format. Booster Draft is both my and most other Sydney players’ favorite Vs. System format. Unfortunately, it’s also the format that has generated the least amount of writing so far, perhaps because it’s arguably the most complex.

The few articles I’ve seen have focused on valuing draft picks (for example, ranking plot twists from best to worst, or ranking characters within an affiliation), which is certainly an important fundamental. However, what fascinates me about the format is how such value systems warp and mutate over the course of 42 picks.

Is Midnight Sons still a first pick when it’s up against a rare powerhouse like Daredevil, Matt Murdock? What if you’ve already drafted two others? What if it’s passed to you during the second pack and you haven’t drafted a single Marvel Knights card so far? What if you’re drafting your third pack and have plenty of Marvel Knights cards, but also have holes in your character curve through which you could drive a truck?

There are no definitive answers to questions like these, but I think there’s tremendous value in exploring them. So I’d like that to be the theme of this column—no definitive answers, but plenty of exploration. At worst, it should generate some discussion. At best, it will make some players better drafters.

The idea is to tag along behind one of the better local players every two weeks and write down what happens. I’ll ask a few questions before the draft and then watch that player’s every move while he or she drafts and builds a deck. Those areas will be my primary focus, as I believe that many matches are won or lost before either player draws a card. I won’t be doing comprehensive match reports, but I will summarize the key plays of each round.

All that’s left to do is meet our guinea pig for Episode I—none other than Scott Hunstad, co-owner of Australia’s most popular Vs. website, http://www.vsparadise.com, and founding member of the team by the samename. Scott drafted with the game’s best on Day 2 of PC LA, where he finished literally just out of the money in 76th place. His current Sealed Pack rating places him in the top fifteen players in the world.

1. The Pre-Draft Interrogation

PR: What are the top five commons in Marvel Knights draft (first pick first pack)?

SH: In no particular order, Crime and Punishment, Marvel Team-Up, Midnight Sons, Blown to Pieces, and Hell’s Fury. Crime and Punishment would probably be number one.

PR: What’s your plan for each pack? What ratio of recruits to non-recruits do you aim for?

SH: I usually just take the best cards throughout the first pack and worry about curve and bolstering the blue later. I also try to stick with one affiliation in the first pack, which allows for some flexibility when you get that second pack bomb. This isn’t always an option, of course, but I tend to try to draft mono-affiliation decks with some splashes as required at a few drops (generally 5+). I try to go about twenty characters and ten other, whereas in Man of Steel (MoS), it was more like eighteen and twelve.

PR: Do you believe there’s an optimal curve? What’s your version?

SH: Something like this:

2-drops – 3
3-drops – 4 or 5
4-drops – 4 or 5
5-drops – 4
6-drops – 3
7-drops – 1

In MoS, I definitely wanted two 7-drops. I’m not quite sure why, but with Marvel Knights it seems that hitting the 7-drop isn’t as crucial as it was before. Perhaps that’s because there are a lot of fantastic late game effects, such as Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Battering Ram, and Masked Marauder, that allow you to take control even in the event of a lesser board.

PR: Anything else before we get started?

SH: It’s worth noting that in MoS, with half as many commons, you were that much more likely to get multiples of the same character at each drop. One of the strategies I employed with New Gods (my favorite MoS affiliation) was to take Fastbak over Izaya ◊ Highfather. While Izaya is arguably the better card in most instances, I found that if you went for Fastbak, you had a very real possibility of picking up four of him, thus giving you opportunities for one or maybe two power ups during the course of the game and turning your characters into pseudo-blue. With Marvel Knights we don’t have that luxury, as unless you’re the sole drafter on the table for whichever affiliation you choose, you’ll undoubtedly end up with around two of a character at max.

2. The Draft

The draft was held at the palatial http://www.sydneygamescentre.com on the evening of February 22. With each selection, I asked Scott to indicate his top three picks in order.

First Pack

1. Midnight Sons, Black Magic, Dr. Strange

2. Midnight Sons, Black Magic, Dracula’s Castle

3. Day of the Dead, U-Go-Girl, Eddie Sawyer, The Spike

As so often happens in the early picks in this format, the choice here was between a plot twist and characters of the same affiliation. Scott chose to add to his already impressive collection of blue.

4. Punisher, Executioner, Hannibal King, Hypnotic Charms

5. Face the Master, Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Iron Fist, Danny Rand

Scott later told me that he took his first punt here, choosing a powerful plot twist that his MK-affiliated team-ups would hopefully allow him to play, rather than the spectacular MK-affiliated 6-drop.

6. Iron Fist, Danny Rand, Mind Over Matter

7. Elektra, Assassin, Vivisector, Myles Alfred, Grandstanding

8. The Spike, Shang Chi, Carrion

9. Orphan, Guy Smith, Never Give Up, Glory Hound

Those were four solid additions to his curve. The relative quality of the X-Statix cards available on the 9th pick “wheel” demonstrate that Scott’s probably onto a good thing dabbling in their affiliation.

His last five picks in order were Advance Recon, Dead Weight, Titanium Sword, The Darkhold, and Falling Stars.

Second Pack

1. No Rest for the Wicked, Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Missed Drop

2. Daredevil, Matt Murdock, with daylight second

3. Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Meltdown

Spidey finally made the cut after being passed over twice for blue.

4. War Wagon, Orphan, Good Guy, Saint Anna

5. Bloke, Day of the Dead, Glory Hound

6. Elektra, Agent of the Hand, Dracula, Lord of the Damned, Doop, Forward Observer

Scott later told me that this was his second punt—he again chose a powerful card that would only be playable if his Midnight Sons shone. He also admitted that choosing Bloke was a lapse, as early MK drops would be far more important than other affiliations for fueling his Midnight Sons.

7. U-Go-Girl, Tragic Teleporter, Mysterious Fan Boy, Out of the Darkness

8. Caretaker in an otherwise unexciting pack

9. Elektra, Elektra Natchios, Iron Fist, Danny Rand

10. Shang Chi, Blackheart, Carrion

There was very pleasing quality from the last two packs, which had already done a lap around the table. However, Scott still had plenty of work to do with his eighteen remaining picks—Elektra was only his second 3-drop, U-Go-Girl was only his second 4-drop, Spidey was his only 6-drop, and he had yet to draft a 7-drop.

His last four picks were Sharon Ginsberg, Titanium Sword, Reaper, and Scarlet Witch, Eldritch Enchantress.

Third Pack

1. Dagger, Hell’s Fury, Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow

2. Luke Cage, Street Enforcer, U-Go-Girl, Eddie Sawyer, Doop, Forward Observer

3. Punisher, Jury, Moon Knight, Mind Over Matter

Scott wasted little time in bolstering his 4-drops, but he later admitted that Moon Knight’s boost almost certainly made it a better pick than Jury’s potential for powering up Executioner and doing tricks with equipment.

4. Orphan, Good Guy, Blackheart

5. Brother Voodoo in an otherwise unexciting pack

6. Brother Voodoo, Sluk, Meltdown

Scott not only solved his 3-drop problem, but he scored a power-up, as well! Now, if he could only get one more 6-drop . . .

7. Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow over Tryks

Dudes are so lucky.

8. Meltdown, Venus Dee Milo

9. Deposed, Cloak, Child of Darkness

10. Doop, Forward Observer, Drive-by Shooting

11. Tryks in an otherwise unexciting pack

Scott all but gave a little “woot” at these last two picks, both of which were to star in his deck over the next couple of hours. His final three picks were Micro-Chip, Mikado and Mosha, and Dead Weight.

3. The Deck

1-drops: Dagger, Doop, Forward Observer, Tryks

2-drops: Caretaker, Iron Fist, Danny Rand, Shang Chi

3-drops: 2 Brother Voodoo, Elektra, Elektra Natchios, Orphan, Guy Smith

4-drops: Luke Cage, Street Enforcer, Punisher, Jury, The Spike, U-Go-Girl, Tragic Teleporter

5-drops: Daredevil, Matt Murdock, Elektra, Agent of the Hand, Elektra, Assassin, Punisher, Executioner

6-drops: Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow, Spider-Man, The Spectacular Spider-Man

7-drops: Orphan, Good Guy

Equipment: 2 Titanium Sword, War Wagon

Plot Twists: Day of the Dead, Face the Master, Meltdown, 2 Midnight Sons, No Rest for the Wicked

The curve was near-perfect, needing only one more 6-drop to exactly match his ideal template. There were not as many plot twists as he would have liked, but he was happy with the quality of those that he had.

The all-important 30th card was Meltdown, beating out Deposed and Bloke for the title and making Bloke the only “wasted” high pick of Scott’s entire draft.

4. The Matches

First round opponent: Minga

Scott lost the toss and received evens. He kept his first hand of Doop, Forward Observer, Shang Chi, Punisher, Executioner, and No Rest for the Wicked.

Scott dropped characters on turns 1 through 4 (with a bonus Titanium Sword on Shang Chi), and Minga matched him on turns 2 through 4.

Turn 5 wasn’t optimal for Minga, who was forced to bounce Centurious to bring the costly Zarathos into play. Scott’s Daredevil, Matt Murdock was a more than adequate match.

Scott had no 6-drop, but a boosted Elektra Natchios plus Caretaker filled the gap nicely. Minga rallied with Asmodeus, but Daredevil was able to swing up the curve to take him out. The constant erosion from Doop and the Sword took too great a toll on Minga’s endurance, and Scott’s strong board position did the rest.

Second round opponent: Adrian

Scott lost the toss and received evens. He kept his first hand of Doop, Forward Observer, Caretaker, The Spike, and Midnight Sons, and then drew perfectly into Brother Voodoo and Spider-Man.

Unsurprisingly, the first four turns went Scott’s way. He hit his curve on turns 1 through 4 (including the painful Doop, Caretaker/Midnight Sons opening), while Adrian only managed to do so on turns 2 and 4 and had to play an under-dropped Werewolf by Night on turn 3.

Then Scott encountered his first major snag of the tournament—Adrian dropped Blade, The Daywalker without the assistance of a team-up, while Scott didn’t even have a character he could play. Fortunately, Brother Voodoo came to his rescue, allowing him to discard all but Spider-Man to refuel his hand. He drew a Luke Cage, Street Enforcer, which was far from terrible considering his lack of previous options, and he also set himself up with Orphan, Good Guy.

Spider-Man came down on the next turn wearing a Sword, and Adrian under-dropped again with Anarchist, Tike Alicar. When the dust cleared after combat, Scott was ahead 11 endurance to 3, and ruefully showed me the 30th-card Meltdown in his row that had almost been a Deposed. If it had been the latter, Scott’s Punisher, Jury would have been able to break through Werewolf for the win, rather than having been held at bay by Blade.

It was on to turn 7. For the first time, Adrian’s Nightmare came swinging for Scott’s Orphan, pumped by Black Magic. Scott replied by powering up and playing Day of the Dead to bring about the much needed mutual stun. Subsequent attacks took his endurance below 0, but he had the foresight to pay 3 for Luke Cage while he could. In the final attack of the match, Luke swung back against the Werewolf, and despite the latter becoming a Moving Target, he did enough breakthrough to win by a single point of endurance.

Third round opponent: Paul

Scott lost the toss and received evens. He kept his first hand of Shang Chi, Luke Cage, Street Enforcer, Elektra, Assassin, and Midnight Sons.

Both players hit their 2-drops, but Scott stumbled slightly on turn 3 with Shang Chi and Doop. However, the game lurched violently in Scott’s direction a turn later, when Paul could only manage a Roscoe Sweeny in reply to Luke Cage.

Paul regrouped with The Russian, but Scott trumped him again, using Midnight Sons to bring Elektra, Agent of the Hand into play for the first time that night.

A fine defensive drop from Paul on turn 6—Jaime Ortiz ◊ Damage—was not enough to keep him in the match. Scott dropped a Sword onto Spidey and swung Elektra into The Russian, secure in the knowledge that she would also be capable of taking down Jaime if Paul switched defenders.

Fourth round opponent: Kongy

Scott lost the toss and received evens. He mulliganed his first hand of Orphan, Guy Smith, Punisher, Jury, Titanium Sword, and Face the Master, but drew an atrocious replacement with no drops below 4.

This game featured a less than optimal start for both players, with Scott missing his 3-drop against Sluk and Kongy missing his 4-drop against Luke Cage. Scott continued the beats on turn 5, pitching Dagger to retrieve Midnight Sons, which then enabled Elektra, Agent of the Hand. Kongy, on the other hand, under-dropped with The Spike, which predictably ended the turn in the KO’d pile.

There was an enviable choice for Scott to make on turn 6, and he opted for Natasha Romanoff ◊ Black Widow over Spider-Man. In reply, Kongy finally hit his curve with Zeitgeist before making the play of the night. With Elektra swinging into Zeitgeist, Kongy reinforced with Sluk, then KO’d Sluk targeting Zeitgeist, who was in turn able to activate to stun Natasha. Scott was left with two stunned characters on his own initiative.

After dropping Daredevil, Guardian Devil to Scott’s Orphan, Kongy was in a position to shoot for the win on turn 7, but Scott had a trick (or possibly a Tryk?) up his sleeve. When Daredevil swung into Orphan, Scott discarded Tryks, forcing Kongy to Mind Over Matter Zeitgeist back into his hand to push through the endurance loss. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time, because it dropped Scott to -1, while Scott’s counterattack only brought Kongy to 7.

However, the 30th-card Meltdown, much maligned only two short games ago, appeared sensationally to keep Scott in the game. His turn 8 play of Spider-Man and Caretaker trumped Kongy’s replayed Zeitgeist, and powering up Orphan as he swung into Daredevil earned some bonus style points.

5. The Conclusion

It was an entertainingly eventful evening with which to begin the series, with two of the four featured matches won by just 1 or 2 endurance points. Congratulations to Scott for winning 4-0, despite losing every coin toss! He told me after building his deck that he’d be vying for the even initiative, so it was fortunate that all of his opponents assisted him in that endeavor.

With this being the first outing for this column, I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you have to give. Let me know if there are any other areas you’d like covered, pre-draft questions you’d like asked, and so on. Please send any comments to vsrules@gmail.com. We’ll draft again in two weeks!

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