One of the most fun and interesting ways I’ve leveled up as a player is by chaos drafting. Chaos drafting, without a doubt, is my current favorite way to play Magic: the Gathering. Chaos drafting is a variation on booster draft, where players draft random booster packs from various sets. The rules differ from different playgroups and stores, but the heart of chaos drafting is every player having three separate standard 15-card draft boosters to crack (no un-sets).
Ideally, chaos drafts should include standard draft booster packs from various points in Magic’s history, but for the sake of cost and product availability most chaos drafts utilize recent standard sets or speciality sets like Modern Horizons or Mystery Booster for play. The idea of chaos drafting might sound uninteresting for some. On the surface there are some drawbacks to drafting with multiple sets – two reasons being less card synergy and weaker decks overall. However, there are secret hidden decks that exist in chaos draft which you can pinpoint if you know your stuff. Let’s dive into what makes a chaos draft deck “good.”
In Los Angeles we have a pretty robust Limited scene, and on average I draft at least twice a week. Luckily, one of the stores near me, Odyssey Games, runs chaos draft on Monday nights, and our Limited group house drafts a few times each month. When I’m not playing a competitive event, chaos draft is how I like to spend my time playing paper Magic, and I’ve learned quite a bit from it. It’s been a great outlet for me to be casually competitive, when I’m not on the RCQ grind.
Strategy #1 – UBx Control
By far my favorite chaos strategy is none other than Dimir Control. Honestly, winning by not attacking is some of the most fun you can have in Magic. This strategy essentially revolves around a couple important key aspects, but it to easily break it down your main goal is to kill all of your opponent’s threats, draw cards, and present a game-ending threat that they can’t deal with. This can be in the form of an evasive attacker, mill, or some sort of repeatable life loss effect.
Here are the key card effects you want in this archetype:
- Card draw
- End-game threats (evasive creatures, mill, life loss)
- Graveyard recycling
- High-toughness blockers
One important thing to note about this strategy is sequencing. You have a lot of control over how you build your deck and the order in which you’ll draw your cards. Scry and draw effects help you dig deeper into your deck, and help close the gap once your opponent runs out of resources. It’s important to know when to use your hard removal spells and when to use your life total as a resource. You might end up taking a couple of hits from a 2/2 because you’d rather use your terminate on their 3/3.
I also like to look for graveyard shuffle effects like Clear the Mind or Witness the Future as ways of recycling threats and removal spells. Since your goal is to out-grind the midrange and aggro decks it’s important to pick up ways to have late-game resources your opponents won’t have access to.
Strategy #1.5 – Black Control
While I love drafting blue cards in general another strong chaos strategy is just to draft all the terminates! I love casting removal spells and running my opponents out of gas, so sometimes I branch away from blue if it isn’t open and draft other removal spells in red and white. The Mardu Bloodtithe Harvester Doomforetold deck is one I’m especially proud of since it has a lot of synergy for it being a chaos deck.
Anyway, while I’d love to draft control every chaos event I play in, you unfortunately can’t always be that in control of your fate.
Strategy #2 – Boros Aggro
While I prefer not to draft this archetype it’s one that I end up in from time to time. Boros Aggro is actually a pretty strong archetype in chaos because you can leverage people trying to do crazier things by drafting all of the best two-drops in the draft and finding the good combat tricks and removal spells. You want to be able to overwhelm your opponents fast, since you have less access to card draw effects and repeatable ways of gaining value.
One real benefit of drafting aggro is that the cards will be easier to pick up in the drafting portion. Since chaos is less about synergy there are sometimes packs with “dead” cards in them. What I mean by “dead” is cards that rely on other cards from their set to be good (one example being lessons from Strixhaven). The overall point of this is that decks in chaos draft are often clunkier and have worse mana than an average regular draft deck. Aggro decks can really take advantage of these strategies since aggro cards are easy to come across different draft boosters.
Key card effects:
- Good one and two-drops
- Burn spells
- Combat tricks
- Ways to remove big threats (Oblivion Rings etc)
I’m not the biggest fan of Boros because I like having more agency and control over my games with removal spells and card draw effects, but that doesn’t make it a bad strategy in chaos. Boros can really take advantage of a pod where a white or red-based aggro shell is open while the other players are fighting for the more midrangey cards in other colors. You can heavily punish multicolor decks that draw the wrong half of their deck, and your draws will be smooth most of the time since you’ll have such a high velocity of similar cards (aggressive creatures, removal, burn/combat tricks).
Strategy #3 – Green-Based Ramp
Green-based ramp is one of the trickier decks in chaos to draft, but it’s one where you can benefit off having access to powerful cards you pick in multiple colors. Essentially, during the drafting process you’ll focus on picking up cards like Green-based mana fixing effects, ramp cards, and dual lands. If you start a draft with decent fixing you can in turn pick up single mana pipped multicolor uncommons and rares in various colors. You want to draft cards that are good value that can replace themselves, especially when about half of your deck will be lands and mana effects. You benefit off drafting bomb rares that will inevitably get passed to you.
- Dual lands
- Midrange uncommons and poweful rares
- Repeatable sources of value
- Reach creatures and lifegain/defenders
- High power and toughness creatures
Green Ramp is actually one of my favorite decks to draft in chaos because I love how open it leaves you during the drafting process. This is especially helpful when people at your table pivot colors – with enough fixing you can just pick up good cards in every color as opposed to be locked in two.
Strategy #4 – Azorius Flyers
The last solid chaos draft archetype I really like is Azorius Flyers. Azorius is a deck that revolves around drafting tempo cards. Your ultimate goal is to win games by attacking with flying creatures while keeping your opponent immobilized. You can draft various removal effects, card draw, and evasive creatures to pull the rug right out from under your opponents.
- Flying/evasive creatures
- Freeze/Stun effects
- Card draw
- Cheap, effecient removal
There’s not a whole lot to add here, Azorius Flyers is one of Magic’s most iconic limited archetypes. Your main goal is to stick evasive threats while at the same time not losing – simple, really. Joking aside, you want to out-tempo your opponent, especially if they have a clunkier deck than yours. Flying creatures have great backup in cards that stun your opponents creatures, “pacifism” effects, countermagic, and good defenders on the ground. Additionally, you want to replace your stun effects with new ones, so card draw effects are also important – Of One Mind being a prime example that fits in perfectly with colors that have humans and non-humans alike for a nice discount.
Why You Should Chaos Draft
Overall, chaos drafting is a specially unique limited format that challenges you to be a better drafter. In chaos you’ll learn to recognize patterns in drafting even across various sets, to put together a trophy-winning deck. Looking back at a lot of my 3-0s I can attribute my success to not just drafting around themes (control, ramp, etc) but finding hidden strategies in the designs of cards from various sets. Whether it be using a blood token to madness in a card from Modern Horizons 2, or utilizing a rogue creature from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty with a payoff from Zendikar Rising, you can find overlapping synergies in a pile of random packs.
Doing so will help you become a better drafter overall in tournaments where it matters. In regular drafts you’ll be able to spot cards that work together in packs and know what to try and wheel and what to take to make your deck the best that it can be. Chaos drafting almost feels like solving a Rubix Cube. You’re presented with a random puzzle every time, but with the right thinking skills and finding connecting patterns, you can solve for what the right deck your seat is supposed to draft, in face of a total random assortment of cards. Formats like various cubes are similar to chaos and provide a challenge akin to chaos, but I find chaos more stimulating because the power level and types of cards you’ll see will vary wildly from draft to draft.
At the end of the day, chaos is a fun, challenging way to improve at limited in a low-stakes environment. I like the idea of having a different deck week to week (even though my decks usually end up in a certain two-color combination…). Next time you think about drafting at your store maybe float the idea of running chaos instead of whatever is the most recent standard set – you just might end up liking it.
Thanks also to friends Vincent Bi and Bradley Schlesinger for some of the trophy decks shown in this article. Catch ya later!