How to Get Better at Drafting
Booster draft may be one of the most challenging — and is arguably the most fun — ways to play Magic: the Gathering. The format combines knowledge of a format and “metagame” (what types of strategies you can expect the most to play against) with on-the-fly deckbuilding and extremely varied gameplay that stands out in stark contrast from constructed formats like standard.
But it is a very difficult format to quickly become good at. How do you know which cards to prioritize during the draft? How do you know which colors are open? What are “signals” and how do you follow them during the draft? How do you decide which of two apparently equal cards are better for your deck? What about when you’re building the deck after the draft? While some of these decisions will become your 5% differentiator that makes you a better player, let’s look at some of the ways you can get the initial 95% of drafting down first.
Know the Cards
This may seem obvious, but it is an absolute requirement if you want to know a draft format. It’s a hard truth if you’re someone who only likes to draft casually (say once a month or something) but if you truly want to see improvements in your draft results, you need to become intimately familiar with all the uncommons and commons at the very least.
The best way to do this is to look at a spoiler site to get an overview for the set. For example, Mythic Spoiler displays every new and current set with a great layout that lets you see comparisons of similar cards side-by-side. Take note of the set mechanics — which ones are going on in each color? Which colors only have a dabbling of a certain mechanic while others are clearly “pushing” the theme? What colors have the best creatures? The best removal?
By analyzing these factors you’ll start to have a rudimentary understanding of the major (typically two-color pair) archetypes that provide all the texture to a draft format. Once you have an idea what each color pair is “trying to do,” you can start getting an idea for how to draft the cards for your deck.
Another defining factor of a format that will dictate how you play out the games are the removal and the combat tricks. Before going into a booster draft tournament, make sure to study a list of combat tricks (Eldritch Moon example) so you know which cards to play around in certain situations. Otherwise you will be sitting there like other novice players, staring at an opponent’s four untapped lands on your turn, wondering “what could he have??”
Read/Listen to Strategy Articles and Podcasts
Although limited is not as popular as constructed, there are several high quality places to get strategy advice in limited. Reading articles by pros will help you understand which archetypes are the best in the format, what cards you may be over or under rating, and what the relative draft pick orders are between different cards in the format.
By far the best place to read articles about limited is Channel Fireball. They typically publish an article about the current limited format at least every other day, along with draft videos by well-known pros who will provide commentary during their draft and gameplay. It’s like having an expert guide you through an entire draft end-to-end — you’ll learn a lot.
There is only one podcast that focuses exclusively on getting better at limited, and it is Limited Resources. Listening to the podcast is like a masterclass in limited. Co-hosts Marshall Sutcliffe and Luis Scott-Vargas embark every week on an extremely incisive and levelheaded journey through limited. They address common mistakes that players make and discuss what’s “going on” in the format on Magic Online.
Speaking of Magic Online, if you are extremely serious about getting better at draft, this is the place where you can draft the most. Whereas playing in person may offer the most congeniality and conversation, Magic Online has drafts “firing” (starting) 24/7 and you can always find a draft at your desired level of competition. If you are looking for volume of practice, this is the place to go.
One downside of Magic Online is that it can be very expensive, currently at $14 per draft. Some alternatives to drafting online exist like online draft simulators. These allow you to draft for free against “bots” that are programmed with pick priorities similar to real players. Of course, the quality of the draft is not going to fully match an in person experience, but simulators allow you to practice the process of drafting a lot and make you more comfortable with making draft decisions quickly. They also give you a good feel for how easy it is for certain draft archetypes to come together.
Play Some More!
And just keep drafting! I always get annoyed when pros recommend that novice Magic players “just play a lot of Magic” to get better, but this is a necessary side effect of trying to get better 🙂 Magic is fun, drafting is great, you should be doing it more anyway. Just make sure you practice intelligently — analyze afterwards how you performed, what could have been better, what you’ll focus on next time. Use the techniques above to direct your analysis and you’ll see yourself get better over time. Good luck!