Epic: Dark Draft

Epic BoxForeword

This article is an accumulation of my current thoughts on Dark Draft. (Re-rating of the cards for Dark Draft complete.) In general, cards vary in value throughout the dark draft. I talk about how and why.

(Glossary at the bottom of the article. Let me know if I should add anything to it.)

Dark Draft Structure

  • Each player is dealt 5 random cards face-down (a pack).
  • Each player picks 1 of those 5 cards and then passes their remaining 4 cards to their opponent.
  • Then, each player picks 2 of the remaining 4 cards and discards the rest.
  • This is repeated 10 times until each player has a 30 card deck.

You are not allowed to look at your drafted cards until you have your complete 30 card deck.

Implications

You will see 20 of the 30 cards your opponent has in their deck during the drafting process. But, since you don’t see the 10 cards they first-pick, it is difficult to accurately predict all 20 cards that they will chose from the 40 you pass them.

In addition, since you can’t look at the cards you draft or write down the cards in each pack, you have to rely on your memory, and there is a lot to remember.

Since Epic is filled with incredibly strong cards, you will open packs with jaw dropping power. For example, my most memorable pack was Sea Titan, Kong, Erase, and 2 irrelevant cards.

On the other hand, you can get a pack of 5 weaker cards. I don’t remember any specifically, but I would personally hate to see a Bellowing Minotaur, Dark Leader, Rally the People, Wolf Companion, and Priest of Kalnor pack.

The worst case scenario is if your opponent gets a 1 strong-card, 4 weak-card pack. For example, replace the Priest of Kalnor in the previous pack with Amnesia. If your opponent gets lucky like this multiple times and you do not, they could draft a better deck through no fault of your own.

Similarly, since the 100 of 168 possible cards that will be seen between you and your opponent are completely random (100 of approximately 216 once Epic: Uprising comes out), it is possible that a faction might be over- or under-represented. For example, if you first pick Raging T-Rex, it is possible that you won’t see too many more Wild cards in the future packs. This effect can be magnified if your opponent also decided to go Wild early and continually first picks Wild cards. Or, if you go Evil early and there is a lot of Evil in the pool, you can build a crazy strong deck (especially if your opponent isn’t going Evil, making cards like Necromancer Lord terrible for them).

Overall, I am a big fan of Epic Dark Draft (although I prefer Open Draft). For the most part the luck of the packs seems to balance out, but not always. This is an incredibly skill-intensive format because you need to consider what both you and your opponent are taking (card draw, burn/health gain, board clears, targeted removal, threat champions [reestablishing v establishing], loyalty/ally requirements, and strategy-dependent cards). While certain cards are overwhelmingly powerful/important (Amnesia/Heinous Feast) and one player drafting a significantly stronger deck is not uncommon, the format is intense and fun.

Overarching Strategies

DDTop6

Overview

I generally tend to gravitate towards a Sage-centric balanced deck when I dark draft. By balanced I mean I want solid distributions of board clears, targeted removal, threat champions (establishing, reestablishing, ambush, blitz), and card draw. I prefer to draft strong Loyalty/Ally independent cards early, and since Sage (and Wild) has some of the strongest generically powerful cards, I generally start in that direction unless some other faction grabs me early.

I also try to counter-draft my opponent heavily.

Almost entirely independent of what I am drafting I want in approximate order:

(That comes out to 4 Sage, 4 Evil, 5 Wild, 0 Good)

Distributions

While Dark Drafting, I currently keep track of 7 generic groups: board clears, card draw, burn/health gain, targeted removal (off-turn specifically), threat champions, faction commitments, and strategy-dependent cards.

The relative strength of an individual card in a group is dependent on the amount of other cards in that group that were already in the draft. Some groups’ value increase with fewer cards in the draft and decrease with more cards in the draft. Other groups are the reverse (value increases with more, value decreases with less).

For example, if you haven’t seen any board clears like Wave of Transformation, Plague, etc., a late-draft Apocalypse is a lot more valuable than it would have been earlier in the draft. Conversely, if you have already drafted Zombie Apocalypse, Raxxa’s Displeasure, Angel of Death, and Inheritance of the Meek, and you have passed Wave of Transformation, Divine Judgement, Stand Alone, and Time Walker, that same Apocalypse becomes less valuable.

Board Clears

(Less: Increased Value, More: Decreased Value)

DDBoardClears

Background

Board clears are important because they let you come back from far behind.

Dark Draft Value

Every deck should have at least a few board clears in draft/limited formats. Since decks aren’t super fine-tuned, it is likely that you will get behind on the board at some point. If you don’t have board clears, it is unlikely that you can come back from far behind. In addition, if you opponent figures out you don’t have board clears, they can over-extend as much as they want, since they know you can’t punish them.

For this reason, if you haven’t drafted board clears yet in the draft, you want to. The later in the draft it gets before you see a board clear, the more valuable that board clear becomes. If it is around pack 7 and I only have 0 or 1 board clear(s), I would easily take an Apocalypse over Flame Strike/Lightning Strike/Raxxa’s Curse/Wolf’s Bite.

Further, if it is late in the draft and I have only passed 0 or 1 board clear(s) to my opponent, I would happily counter-pick the only board clear in a pack. Even if I already had 4 or 5 board clears, if I can prevent my opponent from 2nd-picking any board clears, I will. This is especially true for board clears because most of them are “or draw 2” cards. Since “or draw 2” is a strong effect by itself, I’m not punished for over-drafting board clears. **See Counter-Pick Section below**

Finally, if it is late in the draft and I have drafted 2+ board clears and passed 2+ board clears, each future board clear becomes less valuable. However, they are still generically highly valuable cards.

Other Community Views

Card Draw

(Less: Increased Value, More: Decreased Value)

DDDraw

Background

Card draw is incredibly important for every deck in Dark Draft. If you can’t/don’t draw cards, you won’t be able to play as many 0-cost cards, and you won’t be able to spend your gold on your opponent’s turn every turn they do (unless you have enough recall cards).

Dark Draft Value

Therefore, if you get late into the draft and you don’t have many cards that can draw 2, every card that can draw 2 (or recall) becomes more valuable. If you have a lot of card draw already, you can bypass cards that are weaker or out of faction but have a draw 2 effect, Dark Offering or Secret Legion for instance. If you don’t have a lot of card draw, those same cards become a lot more appealing, in a desperation sort of way.

Also, if you have passed very few cards with the ability to draw 2 cards, each of those cards become more valuable as a counter-pick. If your opponent can’t draw consistently and runs out of cards in hand (especially if you help with cards like Psionic Assault for discarding), that is great for you. I have counter-drafted draw cards to great effect in previous drafts. This does become weaker as a strategy if you don’t have significant threat champions or removal backed by Amnesia/Heinous Feast though; You can’t win a game exclusively by drawing cards.

Emphasis

While I do not have a ton to say about card draw, it is the distribution I generally spend the most time thinking about during a draft. This is the most important aspect because without sufficient card draw, every deck will fall apart. It is possible to have sufficient card draw without actively drafting it, but it is also possible to neglect card draw by focusing too much on situationally strong non-draw champions (Ice Drake, Lurking Giant, Avenging Angel, Infernal Gatekeeper, etc.).

Burn/Health Gain

(More: Increased Value, Less: Decreased Value)

DDBurnHealth

Background

Burn/Direct Damage (damage that can target a player) is strong because it can finish off a player or be used as removal.

Dark Draft Value

Burn

Unlike board clears and card draw, Burn becomes more valuable the more there is in a draft. Flame Strike and Lightning Storm are always strong because 6 or 8 damage is strong to finish off an opponent or to use as removal. Forked Lightning, Rain of Fire, Hunting Raptors, Strafing Dragon, etc. do not reach the 6 damage threshold and therefore aren’t as valuable for removal. In addition, just one of those effects isn’t as likely to make an enormous difference in a game. If you have multiple of those effects, they do become a lot more frightening (unless your opponent has health gain).

For example, if your deck’s only burn is Forked Lightning, you still need to get your opponent down to 5 health to win the game with burn (as opposed to 8 with Flame Strike or 12 [6+6] with Lightning Storm). If, however, you also have Rain of Fire, you only need to get your opponent down to 10 health to win with burn. Throw in Flame Strike and you can burn down an opponent from 18 health, hitting once with Steel Golem for instance. The more burn you have, the greater your threat of burning out your opponent.

Therefore, if you pass 1 or 2 burn cards, even weaker cards like Forked Lightning become incredibly dangerous to give to your opponent, and you should seriously consider counter-picking them. You can also assume your opponent will at least first pick Lightning Storm or Flame Strike if they come across it (unless you see it yourself of course).

Health Gain

If you do pass burn, health gain becomes a lot more valuable. Drain Essence is always incredible in draft since your opponent is almost guaranteed to have a 1-cost card with 9 or less defense, but Second Wind (also strong), Inner Peace, and potentially Angel of Light can become better if your opponent has the ability to burn you out. (Unfortunately for Angel of Light, it does break to Lightning Storm.)

Conversely, if your opponent doesn’t have burn, I would much rather draft a more threatening/effective card than either Inner Peace or Angel of Light. However, health gain can occasionally be an aggressive play. For example, if you know you are going to gain 10 health from your Angel of Light in hand, you can let a Juggernaut hit your face instead of trying to chump block it or use removal like Banishment or Inheritance of the Meek off-turn. In addition to gaining a net 1 health for the turn, you also get a 5/6 airborne champion in play, and you can use small, 0-cost removal like Wither to finish off the Juggernaut on your turn.

Overall, if you pass a burn card in draft, make sure you watch just how much more you pass for the rest of the draft. I was punished very heavily and lost in top 4 at Origins 2016 when I completely ignored the burn in the pool. After learning that lesson, I first picked Drain Essence/Forked Lightning/Second Wind in addition to picking up Inner Peace in top 4 at Gen Con 2016 after passing Strafing Dragon, Hunting Raptors, and Rain of Fire. I won that draft even though he also first picked Flame Strike and Flash Fire (he didn’t take the Raptors).

Other Community Views

Targeted Removal (Off-Turn Specifically)

(Less: Increased Value, More: Decreased Value)

DDTRemoval

Background

This is the distribution I value higher than most other people I talk to. This is also the distribution where I get to defend Chomp!.

Why Targeted Removal Is Great

chomp

I value targeted removal higher than most other people I know. I could (and probably will eventually) write a whole article just about targeted removal in Epic. It already features importantly in my Epic: Limited – Get Ahead, Stay Ahead article. For the way I prefer to play, gold-value in play is the most important aspect of the game. Targeted removal helps you maintain it.

Ideal Board State

In Epic draft/limited formats, my ideal board state is to have exactly 1-gold worth of value in play to my opponent’s 0, at the start of a turn. That 1-gold worth of value could either be 1 champion with 6+ defense or multiple tokens such as from a Demon Breach. From this position, you win the game unless your opponent spends a gold (or multiple 0s) to stop you, since you can attack and then pass every turn.

Preventing the Ideal Board State

Targeted removal early in the game prevents your opponent from getting into this position. They play a threat like Triceratops, and you answer by Chomp!ing it. Even though your opponent is up one card from the exchange, they have not established the ideal board state. If you draw 2 cards instead, they have established the ideal board state. Kong and Sea Titan are 2 of the best cards in draft because, for 1 gold, they both remove your opponent’s ideal board state and attempt to establish it for yourself.

Maintaining the Ideal Board State

Once a turn starts with you having the ideal board state, your opponent is forced to answer it or start taking damage. If they answer by clearing your board, you can play out a new 1-gold worth of value that they can’t answer that turn with a gold. If they play a champion, you can use targeted removal to remove it without affecting your champion(s) in play. On the other hand, if you don’t have targeted removal and only have board clears, when your opponent answers by playing a champion, you can only clear the board instead of maintaining your ideal board state.

For example, in a lot of my constructed decks I have found the best way to deal with an opponent’s Sea Titan in a control deck is to force them to use their own board clear. In these decks, targeted removal is generally light with a reliance on high-value reestablishing champions and board clears. However, once they land a high-value reestablishing champion, I can frequently disrupt them long enough to get 2-value worth of gold on the board (with evasion like airborne). Since they can’t use targeted removal on these new threats, they are forced to board clear me, taking their Sea Titan with it (although they will probably get it back with a Corpse Taker).

Exploiting the Ideal Board State

If your opponent removes your 1-gold worth of value on their turn, you can answer with an ambush champion (Draka’s Enforcer) to immediately regain the ideal board state. If your opponent removes your 1-gold worth of value on your turn, you can answer with a blitz champion (Djinn of the Sands). If your opponent draws, you can answer by drawing as well.

Conclusion

Targeted removal helps you maintain an ideal board state to enable you to deal damage to your opponent. If you can maintain an ideal board state, individual value from exchanges is less important; while ahead, 1 for 1s are great for you, 1 for 2s are fine within reason. Feel free to ask questions or disagree in the comments below.

Dark Draft Value

For the most part, I want as much targeted removal for myself as possible, and I want to give as little as possible to my opponent, within reason. Just like board clears, the less targeted removal you have the more valuable targeted removal becomes, and it is a strong distribution to counter-pick.

At times, I have over-valued targeted removal to the point of not having enough threat champions, but I still do value targeted removal more overall.

Other Community Views

Threat Champions

(Less: Increased Value, More: Decreased Value)

DDThreats

Background

Threat champions in the simplest sense are champions that pose a threat and must be removed.

Dark Draft Value

Once again, the less you have the more valuable they become to draft. I have never tried to lock my opponent out of threat champions, but I have underdrafted them on multiple occasions.

Faction Commitments

*Special*

DDLoyalty

Background

Some of the most powerful effects in Epic are Loyalty 2 and Ally effects. For this reason, basically every deck focuses on at least one of the four factions (alignments). In dark draft I usually focus on 1, rarely 2, never 3+ (although some ally effects like Smash and Burn, Inner Peace, and Psionic Assault don’t need a strong faction commitment to run).

Dark Draft Value

I personally believe that Sage is the strongest faction generically, followed by Wild for dark draft. Evil is incredible, if you can get a lot. Good requires the most synergy to be highly valuable; therefore, it is the weakest in dark draft.

I like to start drafts by taking generically strong cards first like the cards at the top of the article in addition to Erase, Urgent Messengers, Djinn of the Sands, Triceratops, Lash, etc. If I see a strong Sage loyalty card, especially when it was passed to me, I immediately commit to Sage. If I see a strong Wild or Evil card, I consider committing to those factions. There are no Good cards that would make me commit to Good early, except for possibly Noble Unicorn or Revolt.

Once you commit to a faction, or possibly 2, every card of those factions become more valuable, and every card with a different faction becomes less valuable. Similarly, if you expect your opponent has committed to a faction, cards of that faction become more valuable to counter-pick.

In general, I would still value the cards at the top of the page higher than cards of the same faction. However, if I thought I was under 10 of a faction I committed to, I would possibly pick a card from that faction over one of the cards from the top.

Other Community Views

Strategy-Dependent Cards

(Take Them All/Counter-Pick Key Pieces)

DDBacks

There are 2 dark draft strategies that are both difficult to build and extremely powerful. The reason these strategies are difficult to build is because they rely on drafting a significant number of very specific cards. However, if you can draft enough of those cards, the synergy between them is difficult to overcome.

I’ve hidden these strategies in case you would rather not read about them and their counters.

Dark Draft Value

When I see some of these cards pop up, I occasionally chase the deck to various levels of success. If you go for the deck, each card becomes essentially must first pick. This can be incredibly frustrating if you get a pack with a critical card and Sea Titan for instance, since if you don’t take that critical card it won’t come up again that draft.

If I don’t chase the deck, I make sure to watch just how much of it I pass to my opponent. I am more than willing to counter-pick a critical strategy card if I even suspect my opponent to be chasing one of those decks.

For the most part, I wouldn’t generally recommend chasing them in a tournament, but they are definitely fun to chase in casual dark drafts. If you do chase one and get lucky, you might just crush your opponent, but that is true about getting extremely lucky with any deck.

Counter-Picking

Overview

Counter-picking/counter-drafting is either:

A) Drafting a card so your opponent can’t draft it
or
B) Drafting a card to actively counter your opponent’s deck

For example, if you suspect your opponent is going for a Human Token Swarm strategy, you could counter-pick a Revolt so they don’t get it. Or, you could counter-pick by drafting Flash Fire/Wither/Blind Faith.

Dark Draft

Counter-picking is generally secondary to building your deck as strong as possible. It is better to play to win, than to play to not lose.

That being said, I love counter-picking.

Dark draft isn’t the most conducive format for counter-picking because you don’t know exactly what your opponent is taking, and you can only counter-pick on your first pick of each pack. This means that you could “counter-pick” a card your opponent wouldn’t actually want, and you would waste your first pick in the pack to do it. For example, if you counter-pick Revolt when your opponent isn’t going for human tokens, you just took a draw 2 in Good on a 0-cost card as a first pick, ouch. But if your opponent is going human tokens, they won’t be able to second pick the strongest possible card for their deck.

When I do counter-pick, I occasionally try to snipe strategy-specific cards, but usually I try to disrupt my opponent’s distributions. If I notice that I haven’t passed a lot of cards that can draw/recycle, I’ll take Bitten over Helion, the Dominator even if both my opponent and I are probably going Sage. Few board clears have been passed? I’ll take that lone, off-faction Apocalypse even if it means I pass both Triceratops and Strafing Dragon. These examples are contingent on the rest of the draft, but if I think I see a way to severely stunt my opponent’s deck without overly hurting my own, I’ll take it.

This is why I love head to head drafting so much (Open Draft more than Dark Draft). Directly countering your opponent’s deck as they build it feels great. Then, it feels even better when I exploit it in the match. Even when I’m wrong, trying to do it is exhilarating.

Conclusion

Dark Draft is a format that requires a lot of concentration to do well. Cards are consistently changing in value throughout the draft, and being able to accurately judge the value of cards is a challenge. I love that challenge.

Glossary

  • Pack: The 5 cards dealt to a player at the start of a round
  • Pool: All 100 cards seen between both players during the draft
  • Burn: Damage that can directly target a player (Flame Strike)
  • Bounce: Return a champion to hand (Erase)
  • Removal: An effect that removes an opponent’s champion from play by banishing it (Banishment), bouncing it (Erase), breaking it (Bitten/Flame Strike), or taking control of it (Turn).
    • Targeted Removal: Removal that can affect one or more specific champions. Frequently has the word “target” in the text (Bitten/Lying in Wait)
  • Board: All of the champions in play
  • Balanced Deck: A deck with a reasonable mix of board clears, targeted removal, threat champions (establishing, reestablishing, ambush, blitz), and card draw
  • Off-turn: An effect that can be used on your opponent’s turn. For example, Apocalypse can be an off-turn draw 2, but it can’t be an off-turn board clear. Wave of Transformation is an off-turn board clear.
  • Gold and Card Advantage: A gold advantage is achieved by more efficiently using your gold than your opponent to get more champions into play. A card advantage is achieved by more efficiently using your cards than your opponent to have more cards in hand.
  • Over-extending: Putting more champions into play than needed to win the game.
    • Playing Into: Making a play that an opponent can directly exploit. For example, if you over-extend by putting 3+ 1-cost champions into play, you are playing into an opponent’s board clear (since their board clear can allow 1 gold to remove 3 gold)
    • Punish: To exploit a risky play made by an opponent. For example, if Player A plays a blitz champion that doesn’t draw a card (Rampaging Wurm) when their opponent, player B, still has their gold for the turn. Player B can punish player A by playing an Erase. This nets player B +1 card in hand for the turn while Player A gained nothing.
  • Slow: An effect that can only be played on your turn, not during an attack: champions without ambush (Kong)
  • Over-drafting: Picking too much of a specific distribution to the neglect of one or more other distributions
  • 1 for 1: Notation for determining the value of a trade by cards. If I play Chomp! on your Lurking Giant, that is a 1 for 1 trade since I used a card to remove one of your cards. If I play Psionic Assault, that is a 2 for 1 trade because I used 1 card to make you discard 2 cards. If I play Dark Offering targeting my Kong to break your Triceratops and White Knight, that is a 2 for 2 trade because I used 2 cards to remove 2 cards. etc.
  • Control-type/high-value deck: This type of deck tries to win a long game by relying on consistently making slightly favorable trades. Instead of applying pressure, these decks efficiently remove your pressure until you can neither apply pressure nor respond to their minimal, high-value pressure (Sea Titan).
  • Locking them out: Preventing your opponent from performing a specific action. If you have a Steel Golem and I play Plentiful Dead every time it attacks so I can chump block, I am locking your Steel Golem out from damaging me. If I have an Elara, the Lycomancer in play that you can’t remove, I can transform 1 champion a turn, locking you out of keeping a valuable champion in play.
  • Chump block: To block with a champion that can’t break one or more attacking champions to prevent you from taking damage to your health. Frequently the chump blocker breaks.
  • Face: Your health total. I let the Rampaging Wurm hit my “face” (deal damage to my health total).
  • Counter-pick/Counter-draft: To draft a card specifically so your opponent can’t draft it or to draft a card to answer a specific goal of your opponent’s deck. For example, if my opponent is going for human tokens, both Revolt (if you first pick it) and Flash Fire would be counter-picks.
  • Dig: To try and get a specific card from your deck into your hand. This is frequently accomplished by drawing as many cards as possible. Arcane Research and Mist Guide Herald are also considered digging because you look through a bunch of cards from the top of your deck and select one. Playing multiple 0-cost cards just to recycle (Spike Trap outside of an attack for example) would be another example of digging.

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