Most of the time, when I sit down to draft, I’m sitting in front of a computer playing MtGO. I know that many of my readers probably share the same experience. On occasion, I’ll go to FNM or ship out to the nearest GP, but those are infrequent occurrences. So when I do, I tend to notice the ways my experience there differs from my experience playing online. No, I’m not talking about the added social component or the slightly more disgusting bathroom on site than in my home (although those do come up), I’m talking about the functional differences in the game I’m playing. The last one is especially interesting for reasons I will get into. Here are the notable differences I’ve noticed between drafting on MtGO and real life.
We’ll start off with the least relevant one. Obviously, having Masterpieces in the format rarely comes up. But it might make a difference when you’re picking between two lines that both win you the game, except one loses to, say, Force of Will. In paper Magic, if you’re really trying to optimize your play to account for the tiniest probabilities, you have to stop every time and think about what Masterpieces your opponent might have. Online, you have the luxury of saving that mental energy.
Your drafted cards are always visible
During a draft, there’s a lot going on. You have to remember which cards you’ve passed and which cards you’ve taken, all while focusing on your plan and making pick decisions. It can be really mentally taxing to keep track of all that. Luckily, on Magic Online, your picks are always visible, so you have one less thing to keep track of. This also lets you do cool things like building your curve in real time and keeping track of how many creatures you’ve drafted. For people like me whose minds get crowded really easily, this means that your decks will generally be more optimized when you draft online.
Explicit time limit
When you’re drafting in person, unless you’re at a higher REL, you have the luxury to take a little while to make a particularly difficult pick. Online, you’re always checked by the clock, so you need to be particularly mindful of how much time you’re taking every time you look at a new pack.
Basic Lands at end of pack
By far the difference that has the biggest impact on strategy is this one, and it’s one many online players don’t pay much attention to. When you open a pack in paper, the first thing you do is remove the basic land from the pack- it’s not drafted with the rest of the pack. For some reason, this differs from the way drafts work online, and the basic land stays in the pack. How does this impact strategy? Sometimes, near the end of a pack, there are no cards in your colors, and you either have zero or very little chance of ending up switching to one of the colors available in the pack.
In those situations, it is sometimes correct to take the land. It doesn’t help your cardpool to have it in there, but it sends a clear, 100% signal to the person you’re passing to that no, you have zero reason to take this card, which means you’re probably not in that card’s colors. If that player was on the fence before, they might be pushed to commit to that color in hopes of getting rewarded the next time you pass to them. That’s why this tactic only really works at the end of pack 1; by the end of pack 3, the draft is obviously already over, but also by the end of pack 2, you will have no more chances to pass cards to that specific player, so they will have no incentive to try to move into that color.
Drafting online remains a very similar experience to drafting in person, and many of these differences rarely come up. Still, Magic Online provides a more organized drafting experience at the expense of not being able to physically interact with other players. Whichever one is better is up to you.
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