How to Draft in Magic the Gathering

We've all been there. Maybe you're looking at your deck after a booster draft, wondering how you got so many awful cards in so many different colors. Maybe you thought your deck was great until you got stomped three rounds in a row. Heck, maybe you did well and you don't know why! Booster draft is a complex, intricate format unique to Magic: The Gathering and mastering it takes a lot of practice. But, there are a few easy steps you can take to up your draft game and succeed, whether that means crushing an FNM or spiking a GP!

Before the Draft

Wait, you have to do things before the draft? Well, if you want to succeed, absolutely! There are some easy steps you can take and helpful resources to consult long before you rip open a booster pack. Here are a few:

Review The Set

It may sound silly, but it's important to know what cards you're going to be cracking once you start drafting. Spend some time before the draft looking at the set online. What are the best cards in the set? What cards do you never want to put in your deck? What cards are confusing, or hard to evaluate? How good is the removal in the set? What instant-speed tricks might you run into during a game? Asking yourself these questions before the draft lets you save precious time and mental stamina during the draft so you can focus on reading signals and making a coherent deck. (But, more on that later!)

Read (Or Listen To) Set Reviews

If you don't have time to review the whole set yourself (or you want an expert's opinion) you can consult various websites to read about the set. Many pros (like Luis-Scott Vargas and Frank Karsten on ChannelFireball.com) write articles dedicated to analyzing every card in the set and ordering them based on how early you should pick them. Limited Resources is an excellent podcast hosted by LSV and Marshall Sutcliffe that analyzes every card in the set in detail from a limited perspective and can offer valuable insight into the mechanics of a set, the individual cards, and what you can expect to see in a draft.

During the Draft

All right, you've done your research and you're reading to crack some packs. Now you're sitting down, opening your first pack and... what now? Well, here are a few steps you can take during the draft:

Make a Strong First Pick

When you tear open a pack, chances are one or two of the cards in it will stick out from your set reviews as particularly powerful. These cards (often called "bombs" for the way they obliterate limited games) are a great way to start the draft, but so is quality removal. With that in mind, though, remember...

Don't Be Afraid to Abandon It

Even if you open a powerful card in the first pack of the draft, remember that your goal is to make a whole deck, not just pick a bunch of good cards. If you don't find other cards that don't work with your first pick, that's okay! Which leads us to our next step...

Try to Stay On-Color

It's tempting to just snap up every good card that gets passed to you but remember you need a functioning deck. Try to stick to playing two colors (unless you're drafting a set dedicated to having more than three colors in the average limited deck) or even one color. You can use your first, (hopefully) powerful picks to guide you towards that, but remember to...

Read Signals

This one is tricky and takes a long time to master, but it's so important to successful drafting. When someone passes you a powerful card, that usually means something. Why would that person pass you that awesome removal spell? Most likely, it's because they aren't in the right colors for it. This is valuable information; now you know that person is not playing that color.

Why is that important? Well, consider this: If you and the person next to you are both interested in the same color, there will be fewer cards in that color for you both. If you both, for instance, want to draft a sweet red deck, there will be fewer good red cards to split between you two. On the other hand, if the person passing to you wants to draft a good green deck but not a red one, they're going to pass you all of the strong red cards. Now you both win! Figuring out what cards other people want at the table is an important way to figure out what colors are the best for you to be drafting and will make your decks considerably stronger. But, even if you figure out the colors that are open and stay in them, you also need to remember to...

Draft a Curve

That's right, even after all that, there are still important decisions to make while drafting. You see, even if you know what color or colors you are drafting, you will probably run into moments in the draft where you have to choose between multiple cards you want. It's important at these junctures to remember to draft a deck with a good curve.

What's a curve? A curve basically ensures that at any given point in the game, you will have a spell to cast. That means you have an appropriate amount of cheap spells for early in the game as well has powerful, expensive spells for the late game, and some medium-costing cards to cast in the middle of the game. While it's tempting to slam six-drop after six-drop when you're drafting because they seem powerful, remember that you need to be able to cast cards in the early part of the game too! This will make sure you don't get run over in the early game and give your deck enough power to last in the late game. Essentially, good drafters know how to make their decks appropriately balanced.

You can probably start to tell why drafting well is so difficult sometimes. The Booster Draft format is incredibly complex, with many different tensions to keep in mind. You want to try and stay one or two colors, but you must make sure those colors are open. You must have powerful cards for the late game, but you must also have cheap ones to cast earlier. You have to know what cards in the set are amazing, but also when to give them up for other ones.

And even after all that, there's still more! Once you've finished the draft, you still have to play the games. There are a few steps to remember after the draft to ensure your success:

After the Draft

Analyze Your Deck

After the draft you will probably take a look at your deck and finalize what you want to play with for your matches. Make sure to make wise decisions about your curve and identify your deck's strengths and weaknesses. Is your deck fast? Slow? Does it have good removal? Evasive threats? Can it apply pressure? Make sure you know these things before you begin playing so you can assess your decisions in-game better.

Remember What you Passed

Keep in mind the cards you passed during the draft. Did you pass a nasty dragon? That means someone is probably playing red. Did you have to pass a stellar removal spell? You can bet that someone else at the table snapped it up. Remember these cards, because if you play in pods you will probably see them again.

Analyze Your Opponent's Deck

Once you start playing, ask yourself the same questions you did when you made your deck. What does your opponent's deck do well? What is it bad at? How can you capitalize on those weaknesses and protect yourself from their strengths? Remember that after your first game you can use your sideboard, an often underappreciated tool in Booster Draft. If your opponent had a huge flier, maybe you can bring in a spell that destroys those. Did they have a bunch of small, cheap creatures? Maybe you have a creature with a big butt that didn't make the cut at first, but will shine here. Make sure you understand your opponent's deck so you can make good decisions while playing against it.

Assess Yourself

After everything is said and done, don't be afraid to look at yourself the way you looked at your deck. What did you do well? What can be improved? Did you do well, or poorly? What decisions did you make (or didn't make) to get to where you are? Remember to be compassionate with yourself - drafting well is really difficult, even for pros! But, if you analyze your performance after the draft you can find the things you need to improve on and do even better next time.

Does that sound like a lot of work? Don't be intimidated! Booster draft is difficult but deeply rewarding to those who practice and perfect it. Follow these steps and, above all, remain mindful of all the decisions you make during the draft. Every choice you make should have a reason! Don't be afraid to experiment and to fail, as that is a natural part of the learning process. Just keep these tips in mind the next time you draft, and you'll be that much closer to being an expert at MTG Booster Draft!

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