Pretty basic guide to drafting and deck building.
Because its fun, most of all.
Why is it fun, you ask? Because you get to play cards you usually wouldn’t. Since removal is scarce, situational, or slow, you can play combat tricks, for example. You can play big, dumb green monsters and won’t necessarily get punished for it.
Also, unlike other formats, where rares and mythics rule, this format is dominated by commons, since you don’t really have anything else to work with, unless you’re very lucky. The huge variance in pools, which makes sealed a bit wonky, isn’t as big of a deal in draft generally.
Although each set is designed with a number of different formats in mind, those formats are prioritized. Draft is pretty high on that list. Actually probably the top of the list. So, the sets are first and foremost designed to be fun to draft. There will always be cards for standard, modern, EDH, and even legacy players, but WotC knows where their business is and they like you to draft, because that ensures you buy packs regularly.
Also, if you do buy packs regularly, you’ll get more out of them by drafting.
First, you need three packs. The usual draft format is based on what the last set released. The current format (as of this writing) is Journey Into Nyx / Born of the Gods / Theros. Before that, it was Born of the Gods / Theros / Theros and before that it was Theros / Theros / Theros. This way the format evolves quite quickly. Even though Theros is part of the format throughout most of the year (until M15 comes along, when the format becomes M15 / M15 / M15), there are regularly released new elements which change the format.
Also, note that you open the newest pack first.
As you open the pack, take out the basic land and the token and put them aside, unless the basic land happens to be foil, in which case leave it in the pack.
Then, pick a card from the pack and pass the rest of the cards to the player on your left. You’ll receive a pack from your right, from which you pick a card and pass it on as well.
After the first pack is done, continue with the next pack, but now the direction changes and you’ll pass to your right. The third back again changes direction and you’ll pass to your left.
You should take note not to mix the packs or the cards you’ve picked. For this reason, you should never have both in your hands at the same time. In casual and REL regular tournaments (meaning, the lowest rule enforcement level) it is allowed to take a look at your cards amidst drafting, but you should put your pack down while you are doing it.
Also, don’t pass more than one pack at a time. If there’s someone taking their time in the draft, see to it that there isn’t a big queue of packs. That’s an easy way to get them mixed up and clearing any mix-ups is very hard, so take the proper precautions, and just wait for a minute. Don’t be the moron in the draft who fucks up the whole thing up.
Basic Draft Strategy
You are making a 40 card deck, some of which are going to be basic lands (usually 17, but we’ll get to that later). You have a total of 42 picks, some of which are going to suck. Also, some of them will probably be wasted. You can add as many basic lands as you wish, and you can play more than 40 cards, but it isn’t recommended, unless you play against a mill deck.
Generally, you want to be in two colors. One would be better, but its very hard to accomplish and even if it was an option, it might be hard to identify as such. Sometimes you need to go into three colors, but that is not recommended. Splashing a third color might be a good option in some cases, but with the lack of dual lands in the format, there’s a good chance you’ll just color screw yourself.
Try to work with the people next to you during a draft, unless you know for certain you’ll play against them. Since you can’t tell anyone your picks, you can do this by leaving strong cards in a certain color in the pack to tell the guy on the left that you are not in that color. This is important, because you’ll be paid back in the second pack, when the people on your left will be passing to you, and hopefully the color or colors you have bottlenecked.
You should try to get a read on the guy on your right as well, but don’t read too much into the contents of any pack. If there’s a rare missing, you can’t really make any conclusions based on that. Almost no-one will pass on an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion just because the Wingsteed Rider will make such a strong signal. You just take the Planeswalker and hope you can make your case known later on. Also, many people just don’t consider signalling, so don’t put too much emphasis on it.
It might be worthwhile to have an idea of what your neighbors are playing in case you need to pass a bomb you can’t use yourself. That way you can prepare for the card in case you play against that player. However, don’t hatedraft (draft cards just so someone else can’t get them) unless the situation really warrants it (ie. you know for some reason that you are playing against your neighbor, or you just don’t have anything worth drafting for you deck in the pack).
You generally don’t want to first pick two colored cards, because they will tie you too much from the very beginning. However, if there are very strong cards, just go for it. You might have made a bad pick in the beginning, but that happens. On the other hand, if you go into those colors, two colored cards will generally wheel and you’ll get them as your ninth pick. If you don’t, someone else is probably in the same color combination and you should look into getting out of it.
Sometimes you’ll notice that a color just dries out and another is open. This is the hardest thing about drafting. When should you change colors? Remember that there might always be someone on your right making the same conclusion and switching colors.
Generally, if you just pick a color or colors in the beginning and just force it, you’ll come out with something playable. At least whoever’s in your left won’t be interested in the colors you are forcing during the second pack and you’ll generally cobble up something playable.
You should also see to it that you have enough bodies (creatures and spells that make creature tokens) in your deck. Depending on what you are playing, anything from ten to maybe 17 or 18 might be right. Its also good to have your creatures on a curve, just because you’ll sometimes get the god-draw and be able to get “free” wins.
These days, as WotC works more on the draft designs and are getting better at it, synergy is very important. Of course, you’ll need experience with the format to be able to identify them.
You can go into a draft thinking you’ll force a deck, but since you never know what the others are going to do beforehand, you probably shouldn’t and its better to just stay open to all possibilities when starting. After that, feel free to force based on your first pick or couple of first picks, if you feel like it. It might still miss, though.
Raredrafting is considered rude, but noone will fault you for drafting expensive cards in casual settings or small tournaments. Most of the rares are pretty bulk however, so don’t pick them just because you can. You’ll just miss some powerful commons and your chances at winning for cards valued at a few cents.
You should work to make your deck 40 cards. Some advocate 41 card decks, but there’s no actual proof that its a good idea. Quite the opposite, in fact. The usual number of lands in a deck is 17, but you don’t have to follow this rule. I tend to go with 18 quite often, usually because I like to draft expensive cards, but also because you need enough lands to produce each color of mana you need. If you need a land of certain color in your opening hand, you’ll need at least 10 sources in your deck (and even then you only have about 90% chance). If you need double of a color on turn 2, you need at least 14 sources in your deck (and again, that’s only 90% chance). Gladly, our old friend Frank Karsten analyzed this for our pleasure in his guide, so I don’t have to go through each variation here.
For this reason, its preferable to have a stronger color in your deck and only splash the other, and you don’t wont to stretch your manabase to try to cover a third color.
Remember that the rest of your cards are your sideboard, so you don’t need to take every eventuality into account. Remember to use it. Often slight changes in your deck can really change the matchup.
A Bit More Advanced
Once you’ve learned the basics, you’ll begin to learn about the peculiarities of each format. Some are faster than others, each color and color combination will have their own role in the format, colors are pretty balanced, but not that well and some colors will be better than others (but don’t let that fool you into forcing a color, because if too many people at the same table are doing the same, you’ll just end up with a weak deck), also there are some color combinations which will work better than others.
Usually WotC tries to design the sets in such a way that each color has different things to offer to different color combinations. For example, in Theros, if you combine white with red, you’ll want cheap creatures and a couple of tricks from white, but if you combine white with black, you’ll be more interested in the high toughness, slower creatures that will keep you alive long enough to stall the board.
Learning to identify these things will take time and experience, though. Also, you can’t always rely on getting to any of the archetypes, because its so relient on the other people at the table.
1. Have a strategy in your draft, but be flexible
2. Work with your neighbors, even if you can’t speak to them
3. Think about your curve and your synergies while drafting
4. If possible, know the sets you are drafting