11/24/2009 LI: "Early Signals"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Limited Information, which goes live Tuesday morning on magicthegathering.com.

this is the first article i've read on signals that i understood in a concrete, specific way. i get the idea in the abstract but until now i had no clue how it was actually implemented in a real scenario.
this was a really boring article. all he did was drone on about the obvious.
this was a really boring article. all he did was drone on about the obvious.



Fine here's the non obvious marsh casualities isn't in that part of the uncommon run and I'm pretty sure nighthawk isn't either.  That looks like a tsunami actually, but I'm not quite sure.  Anyone want to help out on that?  When that's thrown in though the reason for not going black becomes less good.  Except when you consider spire barrage is a **** P1P1, and still a **** p1p2.  You go into red off burst not spire barrage.  Forcing mono red is not the call you'd rather be signaled into it.  So you take burst and ship hideous end to the guy to your left and shove him into black, while setting yourself up for R/w or R/g (machete is better here for white and  white is becoming underdrafted in 8-4'es however bombs put people in white)  Please note I would take a journey over either end or burst here and never look back due to knowing pack 2 would be stacked.  Same argument would prolly apply for gladehart, but heavy green is more awk than heavy white.
I actually bank on people saying blue is bad in Zendikar.  The more people that say that, the later I get my Into the Roils, Whiplash Traps and Umara Raptors (And Welkin Terns, Kraken Hatchlings).  I think a conversation between two 'high-calibur' players such as Luis Scott-Vargas and Steve Sadin about the color strength in Zendikar would be interesting, as LSV typically takes the exact same cards I would in the pack (you can watch him draft on youtube, it's a quick search) and he seems to enjoy UW (which is extremely versatile and powerful in this format).  Are red and black better colors?  In a vacuum, evaluating card for card, probably so.  However, you can't really draft a red/green control deck, or red/white, or black/white.  Blue/white gives you options.  Then again, this whole article was about how options were bad, so ymmv.
Good stuff there, Mr. Sadin. Most of it was fairly obvious, but still - it was a nice explanation of the theory behind signaling. Very useful for people unexperienced in drafting.
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Steve Sadin is simply wrong again.  Frankly I'm starting to question his skills as a drafter.


But even if the Disfigure doesn't get taken second (which it probably will), it is very unlikely that the next person will pass it as well. For that reason, you can safely assume that you will probably have to cut black pretty hard or else fight over it in pack 2 with (at least) one of your immediate neighbors. This is a strike against taking the Hideous End.



No, it's not.  You think if you suspect someone else is drafting black, then you should avoid it even if you get good black cards?  You can't safely assume they'll take Disfigure, and even if they do, they may not even PLAY it, and even if they do, that doesn't mean you can't play black too.  Trust me, you'll face a black creature eventually.

That being said, the majority of the time the person to your right will have taken a Vampire Nighthawk or a Marsh Casualties out of this pack.



Wrong again.  You can't assume anything like that!  People make crazy picks all the time.  What are you going to do, thinking now that the person on your left and right are both drafting black.  Are you going to pass them a Vampire Nighthawk or Ob Nixilis if you get one?  Are you NOT going to try to play black if you get those cards?

You take the Burst Lightning.



Despite the fact you think a neighbor is taking Spire Barrage.  That thinking was reason enough to keep you out of black, but not red?  Come on.

However, if you are going to do this, you have to be careful to understand the implications of what you are passing. The cost of passing a Hideous End and a Burst Lightning is much greater than you might initially realize. You see, by passing both a premium black card and a premium red card in the same pack, you are practically guaranteeing that you will have to fight over the two strongest colors in Zendikar in pack two. Doing this will greatly hurt your chances of getting gifts in either black or red in pack 2.



But you just got done saying one should avoid black at all costs once you see that Hideous End, so really you're only going to be fighting over red if you take a Trusty Machete in the 2nd pack over both Hideous End and Burst Lightning.  So there goes half of your rationale.

Honestly, Steve, you're just making assumptions way too early on what people will be drafting based on only 2 packs!  There are legitimate reasons to take Burst Lightning over Hideous End; either are fine picks.  But it's not because you think the guy on your left must have picked a black uncommon.  There are plenty of red uncommons he might have picked too -- Mark of Mutiny, Quest for Pure Flame, Unstable Footing, etc.
I actually bank on people saying blue is bad in Zendikar.  The more people that say that, the later I get my Into the Roils, Whiplash Traps and Umara Raptors (And Welkin Terns, Kraken Hatchlings).  I think a conversation between two 'high-calibur' players such as Luis Scott-Vargas and Steve Sadin about the color strength in Zendikar would be interesting, as LSV typically takes the exact same cards I would in the pack (you can watch him draft on youtube, it's a quick search) and he seems to enjoy UW (which is extremely versatile and powerful in this format).  Are red and black better colors?  In a vacuum, evaluating card for card, probably so.  However, you can't really draft a red/green control deck, or red/white, or black/white.  Blue/white gives you options.  Then again, this whole article was about how options were bad, so ymmv.



I think blue isn't bad but it's probably the hardest color to draft because you really need to get the right cards for it to work.  White has the same problem, but I don't think it's the weakest color in Zen.  However the UW cards do work very well together and I've played against many of those stalling UW decks in Zen limited to know they can be quite good when you get the cards to support it.  I've just found it very risk to go for in draft because sometimes you just don't get the cards.  BR is the easiest and most reliable draft strategy but then you have the problem that everyone is drafting it!

I've gone BW a few times and have done okay.  Green is probably the color in Zendikar I have the most trouble with; it has great cards that are a headache to play against, but evey time I draft it I usually lose because I don't have enough removal (it takes a while before you can Kick a Mold Shambler or Oran-Rief Recluse) or evasion.

Honestly, Steve, you're just making assumptions way too early on what people will be drafting based on only 2 packs!  There are legitimate reasons to take Burst Lightning over Hideous End; either are fine picks.  But it's not because you think the guy on your left must have picked a black uncommon.  There are plenty of red uncommons he might have picked too -- Mark of Mutiny, Quest for Pure Flame, Unstable Footing, etc.



I think you might be missing the point.  He started off the article with "...it's true that you can't know with 100% certainty what your neighbor to your right is taking...", which makes it clear to me that he's aware that it's impossible to tell.  Personally, I could see a lot of players taking strange things from that pack (Windborne Charge, Merfolk Seastalkers, Woodcrasher Baloth, etc.) depending on their inexperience with the set or if they're trying to force an archetype they haven't played yet, but in that case there's absolutely no way to deduce what our neighbor took and thus falls into the realm of "useless information."

What we're looking at here is a choice between two cards of different colors that are very close in value while we aren't already commited to a color.  If there are any strong indicators as to what color the missing card in the pack was, then that should help to inform our decision.  Odds are that the player didn't take a red card (I can't think of a red uncommon that is even close to the same power level at first pick as Burst Lightning; anything that comes close, like Inferno Trap or Punishing Fire, is just a less flexible Burst Lightning anyway) while at the same time there are at least two black uncommons I would take over both Hiddeous End and Burst Lighting.  It's by no means certain, but it helps inform our decision and, barring other factors like personal preference or knowing that your neighbor has an affinity for (mountains!) a particlular archetype, gives Burst Lightning a huge push over Hideous End.

I suppose that there are other factors that could go into this choice (Burst Lightning is easier to splash, for instance), but I think he wanted to highlight reading signals in this particular article, and it seems like a fine example for it.

I think you might be missing the point.  He started off the article with "...it's true that you can't know with 100% certainty what your neighbor to your right is taking...", which makes it clear to me that he's aware that it's impossible to tell.  Personally, I could see a lot of players taking strange things from that pack (Windborne Charge, Merfolk Seastalkers, Woodcrasher Baloth, etc.) depending on their inexperience with the set or if they're trying to force an archetype they haven't played yet, but in that case there's absolutely no way to deduce what our neighbor took and thus falls into the realm of "useless information."



Right, so we've established we can't deduce what the person on the right is taking after only one pick.  Now:


What we're looking at here is a choice between two cards of different colors that are very close in value while we aren't already commited to a color.  If there are any strong indicators as to what color the missing card in the pack was, then that should help to inform our decision.  Odds are that the player didn't take a red card (I can't think of a red uncommon that is even close to the same power level at first pick as Burst Lightning; anything that comes close, like Inferno Trap or Punishing Fire, is just a less flexible Burst Lightning anyway) while at the same time there are at least two black uncommons I would take over both Hiddeous End and Burst Lighting.  It's by no means certain, but it helps inform our decision and, barring other factors like personal preference or knowing that your neighbor has an affinity for (mountains!) a particlular archetype, gives Burst Lightning a huge push over Hideous End.



Now you just contradicted yourself.  If you can't know with > 50% certainty that the person on the right took a particular color, then you can't on your pick go back and use that as a basis for picking a certain color.  The person on your right could be any color, and one pick does not inform your decision sufficiently to say "they're probably in black, so I'll pick red".  Furthermore, EVEN IF YOU KNEW THEY WERE IN BLACK, that's not a reason not to pick Hideous End over Burst Lightning.  What if they go black/red?  What if you run up against a Hellkite Charger/Shoal Serpent/Sphinx?  Both cards have their strengths, and it's way too early to be picking one over the other based on some questionable signal from a couple of packs!


I suppose that there are other factors that could go into this choice (Burst Lightning is easier to splash, for instance), but I think he wanted to highlight reading signals in this particular article, and it seems like a fine example for it.



After only one pick, it's a terrible example.  Because one guy has a Marsh Casualties and another guy has a Disfigure, you think that means you shouldn't try to play black and should try to play red?  It's just as possible that the two guys on your left have Hellkite Charger and Kazuul Warlord, and you're passing a Spire Barrage.  OMG, you better say outta red at all costs!

I think blue isn't bad but it's probably the hardest color to draft because you really need to get the right cards for it to work.  White has the same problem, but I don't think it's the weakest color in Zen.  However the UW cards do work very well together and I've played against many of those stalling UW decks in Zen limited to know they can be quite good when you get the cards to support it.  I've just found it very risk to go for in draft because sometimes you just don't get the cards.  BR is the easiest and most reliable draft strategy but then you have the problem that everyone is drafting it!

I've gone BW a few times and have done okay.  Green is probably the color in Zendikar I have the most trouble with; it has great cards that are a headache to play against, but evey time I draft it I usually lose because I don't have enough removal (it takes a while before you can Kick a Mold Shambler or Oran-Rief Recluse) or evasion.



I agree, U/W has been pretty strong for me.  There are a lot of early drops, a lot of evasion, and a lot of tricks to push past blockers.

It seems like the problem with all of the colors other than red and black is that they really need to be open for you to actually assemble 22 cards at the end of the draft as they aren't even remotely as deep or powerful. 

Blue is probably my third favorite color to draft in the set as, despite not being particularly deep, it has some of the best common cards (Raptor, Tern, Roil, Whiplash Trap, Eel) and can work well alongside any of the colors.  I've done well with R/U, B/U, and W/U.  I've only drafted green twice so far, and I pretty much avoid green unless I get some of green's bombs early, so I haven't had a chance to try U/G yet, but it looks solid if the cards are comming your way. 

White is a color I like if it's open, but it's tough to pair it with anything but R or U as a lot of the best white cards encourage you to play heavy on your plains (Windborne Charge, Sanctifiers, Steppe Lynx, Aeronaut, Blademaster, Narrow Escape+Journey) and black pushes you towards heavy swamps (Lacerator, H End, Crypt Ripper, any sick black uncommon) while G/W only works if someone is passing you the juice.

Now you just contradicted yourself.  If you can't know with > 50% certainty that the person on the right took a particular color, then you can't on your pick go back and use that as a basis for picking a certain color.  The person on your right could be any color, and one pick does not inform your decision sufficiently to say "they're probably in black, so I'll pick red".  Furthermore, EVEN IF YOU KNEW THEY WERE IN BLACK, that's not a reason not to pick Hideous End over Burst Lightning.  What if they go black/red?  What if you run up against a Hellkite Charger/Shoal Serpent/Sphinx?  Both cards have their strengths, and it's way too early to be picking one over the other based on some questionable signal from a couple of packs!



I don't think that I have, actually.  In a world as full of chaos as a Magic draft, it's tempting to simply not think at all.  If nothing is certain and anything can happen, what's the point, right?  Personally, I don't subscribe to this view.  There are a finite number of things that can happen and there are certain assumptions that we can make about our neighbor's pick.  We might very well be wrong, but to completely ignore what information we can deduce just because we don't have x-ray vision would be intentionally handicapping ourselves.  Magic is a game filled with hidden information, whether it's figuring out what trick an opponent has in hand or what that opponent might topdeck or, yes, even what card the player to your right took from a pack, and just because we might intuit that information incorrectly, doesn't mean that we can't gain value from trying.

If there were a greater despairity in power level between the cards in question or if our first pick were black, red, or white, then our decision would be easy and, though we might make a note that our opponenet is likely in black, signaling wouldn't be a concern with this pick.  That isn't the case.   The cards--in a vacuum--are pretty much even in terms of power and our first pick was an artifact that would work equally well alongside either card, so we need to take into consideration factors that are usually of less concern, which is what reading a pack this early on usually is: a lesser concern.

In this case, reading the pack for what is missing gives us more than a 50% shot at figuring out which pick would be right.  It's far more likely that we'll cut off from black (multiple uncommons that are better than Hiddeous End) than red (no uncommons that are better than Busted Lightning) and knowing that is crucial to making a decision that is this close.  A novice player or the player switching colors or, even worse, a novice player switching colors might change things, but we don't have access to that information yet and we have to work with what have.  Burst Lightning definately gets the nod over Hideous End for that reason.

Wrong again.  You can't assume anything like that!  People make crazy picks all the time.



Technically true, but pretty irrelevant.  It's correct at this point in the draft to assume that the people around you are competent.  If it turns out that they aren't, it should be relatively easy to draft a good deck anyway.  And so, assuming a reasonably competent player, there's a very short list of uncommons that can be chosen over Burst Lightning and Hideous End.  Most of them are Black cards.  That should push you away from taking the Hideous end.  Steve is exactly correct at this point in the article.

In this case, reading the pack for what is missing gives us more than a 50% shot at figuring out which pick would be right.  It's far more likely that we'll cut off from black (multiple uncommons that are better than Hiddeous End) than red (no uncommons that are better than Busted Lightning) and knowing that is crucial to making a decision that is this close.  A novice player or the player switching colors or, even worse, a novice player switching colors might change things, but we don't have access to that information yet and we have to work with what have.  Burst Lightning definately gets the nod over Hideous End for that reason.



And that's my point, I don't think you have a > 50% chance of being right by assuming they are drafting black.  Furthermore, the fact they are drafting black is no reason not to draft black, or by that logic you shouldn't draft red either, because as I pointed out, there's just as much chance the people on your left are drafting red.

Wrong again.  You can't assume anything like that!  People make crazy picks all the time.



Technically true, but pretty irrelevant.  It's correct at this point in the draft to assume that the people around you are competent.  If it turns out that they aren't, it should be relatively easy to draft a good deck anyway.  And so, assuming a reasonably competent player, there's a very short list of uncommons that can be chosen over Burst Lightning and Hideous End.  Most of them are Black cards.  That should push you away from taking the Hideous end.  Steve is exactly correct at this point in the article.



No, he's exactly wrong.  Assuming everyone agrees with what you think is the best choice to draft is not the way to draft.  There are MANY POSSIBILITIES for the missing uncommon.  It's WAY TOO EARLY to be believing it to be a strong signal.  EVEN IF IT IS, it's no reason not to draft black.  Luckily for Steve, both Burst Lightning and Hideous End are fine picks, so it's not a big deal.  But it's going to be pretty dumb when he passes Vampire Nighthawk and Ob Nixilis to avoid black, while the people on his left are also drafting red, and he finds himself with a mediocre green/red deck because he decided to keep himself out of black way too early.
The print runs analysis is beyond me, so I'll take the word of others on that.

Steve's right though on avoiding black.  It's not essential that you do so.  Black is even deep enough to handle two adjacent players.  (Though not three.)  But given increased likelihood of neighbors in black, and a red pick with no loss in quality, you take the path of least resistance.  Just because it's not a guarantee that doens't mean you should ignore the odds.

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  Furthermore, the fact they are drafting black is no reason not to draft black, or by that logic you shouldn't draft red either, because as I pointed out, there's just as much chance the people on your left are drafting red.



You are not drafting in a vacuum.  What your opponents are drafting should influence what you take, because it will influence what is available to you in the future.  If the player on your right is drafting Black, Black cards become less attractive because you are less likely to see more of them in the future.  On the other hand, the people on your left matter less.  They don't pass as many cards to you and you have much more influence over what they end up drafting.

edit:  messed up my quote tags.  Oops.
EVEN IF IT IS, it's no reason not to draft black.



Furthermore, the fact they are drafting black is no reason not to draft black, or by that logic you shouldn't draft red either, because as I pointed out, there's just as much chance the people on your left are drafting red.



You appear to be arguing that your neighbor's decisions should have no impact on your own.  Are you sure this is what you want to be saying?
Heres my little rant about draft walkthroughs again. Fine with strategy, but for gods sake spice it up with a wlakthrough now and then.
Before there was walkthroughs in almost every limited information artcile, no there are none and i have gone to channelfireball instead where LSV makes great video walkthroughs.
So please please please, do a walkthrough cause the drafts in the weekly draft viewer are often so horribly bad that i cant stop laughing.

No, he's exactly wrong.  Assuming everyone agrees with what you think is the best choice to draft is not the way to draft.  There are MANY POSSIBILITIES for the missing uncommon.  It's WAY TOO EARLY to be believing it to be a strong signal.  EVEN IF IT IS, it's no reason not to draft black.  Luckily for Steve, both Burst Lightning and Hideous End are fine picks, so it's not a big deal.  But it's going to be pretty dumb when he passes Vampire Nighthawk and Ob Nixilis to avoid black, while the people on his left are also drafting red, and he finds himself with a mediocre green/red deck because he decided to keep himself out of black way too early.



This is why I am certain that you're missing Steve's point (and the point I, as well as others, have been trying to get accross in my forum responses).

Specifically:

Luckily for Steve, both Burst Lightning and Hideous End are fine picks, so it's not a big deal.



This is the only reason you're looking hard at what this pack is signaling to you.  No matter what, you're ending up with one of the best cards you could possibly draft in this set.  You have information available to you (a missing uncommon and the presence of the two best commons in the set).  You should use this information to your advantage. 

Either your neighbor took a non-red card (and there is a strong indication that the non-red card was black) or your neighbor doesn't know what he/she is doing.  Those are the only two reasonable possibilities.

In the first case, there is a very good chance that taking Hideous End is the wrong choice and that taking Burst Lighting is the right choice.  I'd say 70% in favor of the burn spell as there are so few non-black uncommons that even come close to being better than these commons and no such red uncommons.  And 70% is a conservative figure. 

In the second case, the choice is still 50%. 

Not only would I rather assume that the player is competent than incompetent, but, regardless of this added information which indicates you should take the Burst Lightning, when the individual is incompetent picking Burst Lightning still gives you better odds than betting red on a roulette wheel.  In the first instance Burst Lightning if right a vast majority of the time.  In the other it's still no more wrong than picking Hideous End.

Sure, the player might have (wrongly) taken Mark of Mutiny.  The player might get passed Hellkite Charger in the second pack.  The player might have his head blown off by a speeding metor.  Does that mean you should willfully ignore what is likely?

But it's going to be pretty dumb when he passes Vampire Nighthawk and Ob Nixilis to avoid black, while the people on his left are also drafting red, and he finds himself with a mediocre green/red deck because he decided to keep himself out of black way too early.



That would be pretty dumb.  But he didn't imply that.

The Article:

"Additionally, you should be looking to stay away from black at all costs. Even if you see a good black card fifth pick and you start thinking that you are getting a signal, you're probably wrong. Odds are, that pack was just particularly strong and the player to your right happened to have a more attractive pick for his or her black-X deck."

He isn't talking about a bomb like Ob Nixilis or Nighthawk.  He's talking about when you don't see much impressive black for two packs and then a good black card like Disfigure or a Surrekar Marauder or a Vampire Lacerator shows up in an otherwise unimpressive pack.

Wrong again.  You can't assume anything like that!  People make crazy picks all the time.



Technically true, but pretty irrelevant.  It's correct at this point in the draft to assume that the people around you are competent.  If it turns out that they aren't, it should be relatively easy to draft a good deck anyway.  And so, assuming a reasonably competent player, there's a very short list of uncommons that can be chosen over Burst Lightning and Hideous End.  Most of them are Black cards.  That should push you away from taking the Hideous end.  Steve is exactly correct at this point in the article.



No, he's exactly wrong.  Assuming everyone agrees with what you think is the best choice to draft is not the way to draft.  There are MANY POSSIBILITIES for the missing uncommon.  It's WAY TOO EARLY to be believing it to be a strong signal.  EVEN IF IT IS, it's no reason not to draft black.  Luckily for Steve, both Burst Lightning and Hideous End are fine picks, so it's not a big deal.  But it's going to be pretty dumb when he passes Vampire Nighthawk and Ob Nixilis to avoid black, while the people on his left are also drafting red, and he finds himself with a mediocre green/red deck because he decided to keep himself out of black way too early.

No, he's exactly right at this point in time. The bolded part is what's important. The assumption that both our neighbors drafted black cards serves not as a strong basis, but simply a little push for choosing between two cards that are roughly equivalent in power for this one pack.

From what I understand, you are not disagreeing with the Burst Lightning pick, but much more with the idea that we should avoid black entirely from this point on, no matter what black cards we get passed. But what you don't get is that it's not what Steve is really saying. I must admit that he shouldn't have said "at all costs" because that can't be 100 % true : OF COURSE he will switch to black if he gets passed the best uncommon in the set, a bomb rare, or an other Hideous End. He's not that dumb. But that is extremely unlikely. What he's saying about avoiding black is only that after picking Burst Lightning, you should not be tempted by a mild black signal, such as a good common creature, if there's anything on par with it in colors that seem more open.

He isn't talking about a bomb like Ob Nixilis or Nighthawk.  He's talking about when you don't see much impressive black for two packs and then a good black card like Disfigure or a Surrekar Marauder or a Vampire Lacerator shows up in an otherwise unimpressive pack.

Disfigure is top-notch removal, which can be used as a combat trick against creatures with more than 2 thoughness, so it would indeed be a very strong signal 5th pick; the other two are fine examples though.

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Disfigure is top-notch removal, which can be used as a combat trick against creatures with more than 2 thoughness, so it would indeed be a very strong signal 5th pick; the other two are fine examples though.



I agree on the power of Disfigure.  It keeps you from packing up your tiny men and going home whenever a Kraken, Recluse, Sanctifier, or Scorpion hits the table.  But in my experience a lot of black drafters aren't picking it high enough and there have been a lot of times where Disfigure hasn't been a good indicator of whether or not black is open.


  Furthermore, the fact they are drafting black is no reason not to draft black, or by that logic you shouldn't draft red either, because as I pointed out, there's just as much chance the people on your left are drafting red.



You are not drafting in a vacuum.  What your opponents are drafting should influence what you take, because it will influence what is available to you in the future.  If the player on your right is drafting Black, Black cards become less attractive because you are less likely to see more of them in the future.  On the other hand, the people on your left matter less.  They don't pass as many cards to you and you have much more influence over what they end up drafting.




Of course the players on the left matter less, but my point was that you have to consider them too.  Remember, part of the logic was that passing Disfigure left meant someone on the left would take black, so even less reason to take black.  But that's also a less reason to take red.  So, let's not go overboard with that.

Now, getting back to the right, as someone else pointed out, Zen is strong enough for two adjacent to draft black.  Furthermore, I still contend completely that you have insufficient basis based on one pick for a > 50% belief that the person on the left is drafting black.


You appear to be arguing that your neighbor's decisions should have no impact on your own.  Are you sure this is what you want to be saying?



No, I'm saying a guess as to the first pick a neighbor made at the very beginning of a draft should have no impact on your own.

This is why I am certain that you're missing Steve's point (and the point I, as well as others, have been trying to get accross in my forum responses).



Sorry, I'm not missing your point, I just don't agree with it.


Either your neighbor took a non-red card (and there is a strong indication that the non-red card was black) or your neighbor doesn't know what he/she is doing.  Those are the only two reasonable possibilities.



Reasonable or not, they are not > 50% probabilities.


In the other it's still no more wrong than picking Hideous End.



Wrong, in "the other", he picked red, which means you shouldn't be in red just as much as you shouldn't be in black in the first possibility.


Sure, the player might have (wrongly) taken Mark of Mutiny.  The player might get passed Hellkite Charger in the second pack.  The player might have his head blown off by a speeding metor.  Does that mean you should willfully ignore what is likely?



You take these statements out of context, so you don't understand why they are indeed just as likely in context as what was being discussed, which was that a player on your left got passed a Disfigure so that's another reason to avoid black.


But it's going to be pretty dumb when he passes Vampire Nighthawk and Ob Nixilis to avoid black, while the people on his left are also drafting red, and he finds himself with a mediocre green/red deck because he decided to keep himself out of black way too early.



That would be pretty dumb.  But he didn't imply that.



Yes he did.  He flat out said it.  You're missing the first sentence:

"Additionally, you should be looking to stay away from black at all costs."


He isn't talking about a bomb like Ob Nixilis or Nighthawk.  He's talking about when you don't see much impressive black for two packs and then a good black card like Disfigure or a Surrekar Marauder or a Vampire Lacerator shows up in an otherwise unimpressive pack.



Yes, later in the quote he's talking about that. But in the first sentence, he IS talking about that.  If he doesn't really mean "stay away from black at all costs" then he shouldn't say so.  But he has to, in order to justify his rationale for staying out of black based on one guess.
No, he's exactly right at this point in time. The bolded part is what's important. The assumption that both our neighbors drafted black cards serves not as a strong basis, but simply a little push for choosing between two cards that are roughly equivalent in power for this one pack.



And it is my contention at this point in time it's too early to modifying your picks based on guesswork that the guy on your left would have picked what you would have picked.  Even reasonable players can disagree.  One only needs to look at the drafts on the website for magic online to see plenty of examples of odd picks.  Heck, in his very article, Steve has people telling him they would have first picked blue or colorless!

From what I understand, you are not disagreeing with the Burst Lightning pick, but much more with the idea that we should avoid black entirely from this point on, no matter what black cards we get passed. But what you don't get is that it's not what Steve is really saying. I must admit that he shouldn't have said "at all costs" because that can't be 100 % true : OF COURSE he will switch to black if he gets passed the best uncommon in the set, a bomb rare, or an other Hideous End. He's not that dumb.



Sorry, but I have to assume he really means what he wrote.  If I'm going to start guessing he doesn't really mean "at all costs" then I can just as easily guess he doesn't really mean "take Burst Lightning over Hideous End".



Wrong, in "the other", he picked red, which means you shouldn't be in red just as much as you shouldn't be in black in the first possibility.



Well, I guess if you want to take statements I made and put them in a context that I haven't even posted about, feel free. 

Since there's obviously some confusion, I suppose I should my case as clear as possible.

In my experience Hideous End has been approximately as good in my black decks as Burst Lightning has been in my red decks.  Black has been approximately as good a color for me as red in this format.  I prefer red slightly more as it can work with just about any color, but black as a whole is more powerful.  In a vacuum, for me, both picks start out at a wash.  50/50.  At this point I'd look for just about anything that gives one an edge over the other.  Since they're about even on power level and Trusty Machette works well in both red and black, the fact that a rare was not taken from the pack gives us at least a place to start. 

In one instance, the player to our right is competent and there are really only a few cards that player would take over these two.  If Vampire Nighthawk or Marsh Casualties was the pick that means Hideous End is a worse pick here.  If it was Living Tsunami, an experienced player is probably trying to force U/W or possibly U/G.  The player might go into black or red if the packs don't offer up some spicy blue, but that's not a certainty.  If it was Trusty Machette, it indicates that the player is waiting to see what's open.  In this case half the time Hideous End is hands down the wrong pick and the other half of the time neither pick is clearly right or wrong.  In addition, while most good players will always pick Nighthawk or Casualties here, only a handfull of good players would take the Tsunami or the Machette.

If the player is not a competent Zendikar drafter (which is what "the other" referred to when you didn't insert it into a contex I never referred to) there is no indication at all as to what that player took.  It could have been any number of cards and so there is no additional information.  It's still a 50/50 chance for each choice to be right.

Overall, there are more situations where Burst Lightning is the right choice and thus would make it the stronger pick overall.

Think of it this way.  You have the option of flipping a coin and either winning $1 if it lands in your favor or winning $1.50 if it lands in your favor.  Which option would you take?  What if the second option were only $1.25?  Or even $1.01?  Even a small ammount of EV can push this pick one way or the other.

Perhaps you favor black so strongly that you are willing to pass up a card that is just as good as Hideous End while potentially fighting your neighbor for the same color.  Personally, I don't think that black is so much stronger than red that you should be looking for a fight that you could easily avoid by taking the Lightning.


Sorry, but I have to assume he really means what he wrote.  If I'm going to start guessing he doesn't really mean "at all costs" then I can just as easily guess he doesn't really mean "take Burst Lightning over Hideous End".



Writers prefer strong language over passive language.  And that doesn't just mean cursing.  Usually when they write something like "at all costs" they don't literally mean "even if someone is threatening your grandmother at knifepoint" or "even if you are passed the nut high of best uncommon or a bomb rare in the color."  Simply writing "you should be looking to stay away from black" sounds pathetic and passive while:

"Additionally, you should be looking to stay away from black at all costs."

actually gets the message accross that you don't want to potentially fight two neighbors for a color unless it's absolutely clear that at least one of them has no interest in the color.