Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Draft Format Season Lengths

There are things you don't notice in Magic until you've been playing regularly for a while. One is the length of a given draft format season (i.e. How long have we been drafting this set?). Sometimes you just get tired of drafting a given format for various reasons. Maybe you're not doing very well. Maybe you just don't like the set that much. Maybe it's just not a set that rewards tons of drafting.

Looking at the release dates of the last 10 major sets (I'm excluding special sets like Modern Masters), here's an infographic showing the lengths of each live draft season:

I came back to the game and started drafting heavily right at the beginning of Innistrad, so I didn't realize how long we drafted it. It was an awesome set to draft and I was still learning, so fatigue didn't really set in.

But you'll notice that seasons for the last set in the year, usually the first set of a block, are the longest, by nearly a month in most cases. This has a few ramifications.

One, at least at my local game store, it means that the number of drafters wanes as the season wears on. Some people draft to get cards for Standards, and midway through the season they've either drafted, bought, or traded all the cards they need. Some people just get tired of the format. Innistrad and Theros are very rich draft sets, and I haven't gotten tired of Theros yet, but we've got nearly two more months of it. I think by the end of the year I will have gotten my fill.

Another by-product of the length of a season, at least for me, is how it affects my win percentage. I'm usually pretty early out of the gates. I listen to the LR set reviews before pre-releases if I can, and practice on sealed generators and/or draft simulators. I have a great win percentage at pre-releases and early in the format. But then something happens. Everybody else figures the format out. Halfway through the season, even the more inexperienced drafters have pretty solid card evaluation and know what the higher-tier decks are. A better player starts to lose equity, since one of the only areas they can gain an edge is during play.

I'm experiencing this right now. I'm on a horrible downswing in live play, getting completely blanked (zero wins) the last two weekly drafts at my local game store. It seems to be a perfect storm of drafts gone awry (weak packs, inconsistent signals, etc.), the weaker players getting stronger, and just some good old variance.

Last week, I lost all three of my matches 2-1, each deciding game super close. We also do within-pod pairings, meaning that we tend to get more pair-downs (2-0's playing against 1-1's), especially when people drop early.

My win percentage for Theros had been up around 80%, but it's now fallen to around 74%. Still good, but not killing it. In between those two horrible weeks at my LGS, I top-16'd a Pro Tour Qualifier in Austin, TX, getting 11th out of 154 players, and just barely getting knocked out of the top 8. So I know I'm still playing strong. But as the format slogs on, the weaker players have much more room to grow, and that's exactly what they're doing. Just means I have to try to improve proportionally, and try to eliminate even more of the inevitable mistakes in draft and play.

I also wonder if this season length is a happenstance, or whether Wizards does this intentionally for some reason. For drafting, and probably constructed, the game would probably feel fresher if they shortened the release cycles for the year-end sets. Or, they could try something akin to what they do on MTGO, reprint a flashback set to ease the fatigue.

It's kind of a shame. I think I'm going to get sick of Theros, but I think it's been a very fun draft format, so I don't want to run it into the ground. Long draft seasons should also be an opportunity to experiment with twists on formats (like back drafting), but those are likely to be even less popular than standard drafts. 

Ah well...buckle in for two more months of Theros, folks.

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