Luck of the draft? No, not exactly…

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Amongst all trading card games, constructed deck tournaments by far outnumber sealed deck tournaments. Rulebooks for games are typically written with constructed deck play in mind, and constructed deck tournaments are generally the tools that determine world champions. Unfortunately, constructed deck tourneys are not necessarily the most even playing field. Typically power players and those with the most expendable income dominate the biggest tournaments rather than the most skilled players.

To counter that trend and to add some spice into the tournament scene (not to mention increase sales for the retailers!) Decipher has worked hard to make sure that .hack//ENEMY has a booster draft format that is more balanced. Some will argue that booster drafts still aren’t an entirely level playing field because not everyone has equal opportunity to all the cards, and to an extent, this is true. However, drafting ignores the “higher level goes first” rule which automatically evens out the field of play significantly, plus there is no other tournament format for the game that puts such an emphasis on mental prowess and knowledge of the game and cards like booster drafting does. Combine those arguments with the fact that draft games only play to five score points, and the result is that draft tournaments are often won and lost in the draft itself. Having a good understanding of the cards and how they work is not only important to card selection but it’s also the one variable that you can control completely. This guide is intended to help weed out those cards that can make (or break) your Epidemic draft.

General Information

One of the keys to a good draft is keeping a mental tally of how many cards of each type you have already drafted. Unlike building a constructed deck, you don’t get to keep referring to which cards you’ve already selected, and a draft full of actions or high-power monsters, or having too few playable monsters often leads to defeat. Having both judged and participated in many drafts, this is a safe and effective draft breakdown:

4 PCs
6-7 Items
22-25 Monsters
1-2 Actions/Events/Grunties (maybe)
9 Throw-aways

These are by no means fixed numbers, nor are they the only way you can win in draft. However, the above is an approximate breakdown that many winning drafts have followed.

The PC count can easily be reduced to three, and possibly even two, with the new PC fetch rule in draft. Two PCs can be dangerous, though, if you fetch for the first one and it gets taken out immediately. There’s probably no need to increase your PCs beyond five (unless you’re working with an uber PC/axeman strategy which will be discussed later). I’ve seen item counts as low as four and as high as nine win, so there’s definitely room for some flexibility there. Actions, events, and Grunties are the most expendable of any of the card types by far. The two most critical card counts you must be aware of while drafting are monsters and throwaways. Playable monsters win you the game, and if you don’t have enough of them drafted (regardless of the type), you’re most likely not going to win. Throwaways are the cards that you know you won’t be able to play, either because they simply don’t fit into your strategy or you won’t be able to meet their To Play requirements. Typically the strength 9, “Spot 6 _____” monsters fit into this category by default, along with many of the rare cards. Since you will draft 44 cards and you have to play 35 of them, you never want to be stuck with more than nine throwaways.

What Works Well…

PCs/Items

Oftentimes, the items you draft early will determine the PCs you look for, or vice versa. For that reason we include them in the same section.

The three PCs that tend to work best in the draft are John 2.0, Nova 2.0, and Flare 2.0. John is a free-play two strength PC. He has no text and he’s destiny one, but having the ability to play him immediately is great. Nova is just slightly more difficult to play, requiring you to discard two cards of the same element, but that’s not usually too hard, particularly if you’ve drafted your monsters with any sort of theme. This allows you to cycle your deck more quickly. Nova also plays with Zero Katana, a destiny 4 sword that nicely counters Nova’s 2 destiny and works well with the water monsters. Flare is, well, huge. She’s only 1 destiny, but she cycles your deck with her To Play requirement and she allows you to score two monsters from one fight making storable monsters more worthwhile. Her complementing weapon is Cat’s Blades, another water item, at destiny 3. Finally, if you are fortunate enough to pull Natsume 2.0, take her! Four monsters isn’t that difficult to find in draft, and we all should know just how important her text can be by now!

If you’re a destiny freak, then the Nova/Zero Katana combo is definitely what to focus on. If you draft a lot of water monsters, then pair up Nova with Flare. Otherwise any combination of the three PCs and their weapons will work well.

Monsters

The three elements that tend to work best for monsters an all-Epidemic draft are water, wood, and thunder. The fish of Epidemic are what make water dangerous in this set. Starting with Sky Fish School, the To Play requirements are the same as its smaller counterpart (spot one hidden card) but it gets a boost in strength. It only has a 1 destiny, but it’s also storable which, when combined with Flare, is a reasonable trade. Assuming that one of your Sky Fish scores and you can spot another water symbol in play (possibly a Noble Grunty or one of the water weapons), Star Eater is a great card. Not only can it be used in conjunction with Star Fish School to help counter its game text, but Flare will let both of the monsters score, and Star Eater’s reward makes him rather vicious. It’s not quite as destructive as the Cyclo Sharks of Contagion, but it still sets back your opponent one turn. Pop in an Arrow Fish School or two to flash some power and use its reward, then follow up with Big Eyes, a 4 strength, 4 destiny beast in draft. The other monsters set it up, though, because of its spotting requirement, so remember that Big Eyes can be a liability if you draw it too early.

As for wood monsters, Thousand Trees is where it starts. It’s only a 1 destiny plant, but it’s storable. Play the little guy to the portal first turn, then bring it out on the second turn with Mad Grass Patch. Together these two make a strength 3 combo that can make your opponent sacrifice a card. Alternatley, instead of attacking with them, go ahead and store both of them, then bring out Hungry Grass Patch, pulling Thousand Trees along with it and this will grant you the possibility of making your opponent sacrifice two cards in one turn! Storing the monsters also clears the way for Temple Knight – another ideal monster for Thousand Trees to partner up with (see Temple Knight’s text). With wood’s ease of play and the sacking abilities, it’s always an element to watch out for.

Thunder rounds out the big three for monster themes. Once you’ve got a PC slapped down (to meet Hell Box’s To Play requirement), Mimic and Hell Box get the machine started. Play Mimic first, then follow up by storing Hell Box. Then use Killer Box in conjunction with Hell Box to set up the possibility of destroying your opponent’s cards. Thunder also has Fiend Menhir Gallery which can be splashed into any monster side because of its pulling ability and this is perfect to help counter the various low destiny cards associated with drafts – it effectively increases the strength of any monster by 3.

Actions/Events/Grunties

The only real favorable cards in this group are the grunties. If you are using one or two primary monster elements, it’s not a bad idea to draft one or two of their corresponding grunties for the purposes of destiny, spotting, and cycling. If you use them in your deck, though, don’t rely on them. They’re great for draft deck support, but weak as a primary draft deck strategy.

What Doesn’t Work…

PCs

Tim 2.0 is a free play but at only 1 strength he’s probably not your best pick. A definite no-no is Grid 2.0. His text is rather negligible, and his To Play requirement is a bit too prohibitive in draft play. Similarly, Crim 2.0, Balmung 2.0, and Black Rose 2.0 are probably bad choices to include in your draft deck. They’re better used as one of your throwaway picks.

Items

Any of the level 3 items might be better left alone unless you know you already have their corresponding PCs and level 1 items. At the same time, if you pull one of the level three items in your first pack then that might just tell you the direction you want to go with your PCs and other items.

Monsters

Avoid all the rare monsters as they will likely be unplayable. Also, avoid darkness monsters. Their To Play requirements tend to be too risky for draft play, and the fact that Ectoplasm Haunt has no victory point and is a 1 destiny…well that just hurts.

Actions/Grunties/Events

Avoid Grunty Events if possible. They’re not all terrible picks, but they take up deck space and often take too long or too much “luck of the draw” for them to be useful. Also avoid the Bony Grunty. Again, its usefulness is limited and the destiny is poor.

What to Watch For…

The “dark horse” of Epidemic drafts seems to be the Axeman/Item/Demon deck. Inevitably someone pulls one of the extra-rare demons or a Subaru 2.0 and decides to build their deck around it. The concept is to load the deck with Nekoski 2.0 and other random PCs, multiple axes, various other items, and demons. The breakdown is definitely different, usually sporting about 6-7 PCs, about 10-12 items, and the rest of the slots filled with monsters. Nekoski is this set’s Benkei since he can come into play as a strength three PC, which also allows you to cycle three cards on the next draw. With a PC set up at strength three, a player might have enough time to store smaller demons to play the bigger one. Or you could simply attack with the demons straight-away and hammer your way to 5 points. Either way, this combination tends to be one that slips past many players. If you pull one of the big cards in the first two packs, or if you notice that you’re getting a lot of demons and items passed to you, you might take advantage of those cards rather than pass on them yourself. The destiny of the Axemen tends to be poor, but the strength of the Axemen and both the destiny and strength of the demons tend to make up the difference.

A Final Thought…

If you remember nothing else while you are drafting, remember this: work with what you’ve got. You can have an idea of what you’d like to draft and how you want to build your deck, but in a draft you never know what cards you’re going to have to select from. With that in mind, don’t force something if it’s not there. If you prefer wood monsters but you seem to keep getting earth elementals, run with them. If you can’t put anything consistent together, that’s fine – learn to play with a rainbow deck. Don’t be afraid of what you’re not used to. Build the best deck with the cards you’re given, then play it to its maximum ability. You’ll only become a better player because of it, and you just might win the tournament when all is said and done.

Happy drafting, and good luck!

Scott Goodrich is a Level 4 DGMA judge and a long-time RPG and TCG player, favoring .hack and the Final Fantasy series. He is currently working in the management track at a credit union in Phoenix, Arizona, maintains a bachelor's degree in English and Secondary Education, and enjoys football, volleyball, and distance running.

Last Updated: Sunday, August 01, 2004