Back to Basics – What's in a draft? by Matteo Orsini Jones

Back to Basics – What's in a draft? by Matteo Orsini Jones

I’ve never been one for cutting edge technology or up to date innovation hot off the press, but I have always had a certain penchant for draft and I am, if I say so myself, fairly good at it. Or, I used to be, depending on who you ask (Dan Gardner/Youtube). I though as a first article I’d stick to something safe; something with lasting value, that doesn’t necessarily apply to the latest limited format but rather limited as a whole – that way it might help the way you view the way you play and think in a more constructive way compared to telling you that Volition Reins isn’t all that good (which is an entirely format-based statement). A lot of the stuff I’ll say has been covered in my previous articles so if you want to find out more feel free to go and read those. Some of it might be a little basic to you, but I figured “starting at the bottom” would be a good way to go about it.

Pro tip #1: If it’s not a creature, a removal spell, or a card that wins the game in a few turns if unanswered, it’s probably not worth playing. This includes most lifegain cards and most stat pumping auras (card like Armoured Ascension fit into the “wins the game in a few turns” category) – sometimes they win the game, most of the time they’re card disadvantage.

Signals are an aspect of the game that’s often misunderstood or, to use a term I’m quite fond of, “over-thought”. Assuming you’re beyond the stage of “DURR PICK THE GOOD CARDZ” and looking to improve your game then you’re probably aware of signals and put some effort in trying to both read and send them. The thing is, signals are mostly misunderstood, often overrated and sometimes downright deathtraps. The whole idea of signals is based on a large amount of trust. Trust that the person to your left will take that 2nd pick Oxidda Scrapmelter as a signal, and trust that the person to your right will steer well clear of blue after passing you that second pick Mind Control. The thing is, they could have just as easily pocketed a Primeval Titan 1st pick and then taken a 2nd pick Foresee and not looked back.

Pro tip #2: Signals before pick 5 mean close to nothing. There might be multiple powerful cards in a pack that share a colour, there might be a money rare, or it might just be that the person to your right switched into a colour after shipping you the nuts rare because they then got passed the nuts in that colour.

I, personally, am quite a fan of “flexible drafting”, in which I take the best card in the first 4-5 packs regardless of colour. I figure this way I’m less likely to get trainwrecked because if the person to my right were in the same colour as my first pick then by the time I start to establish myself into a colour or archetype I’ll almost definitely have at least 2 strong cards from my first few picks that I’ll be playing. Now I’m not saying this is definitely the right way to go, and I know people who have success with blindly forcing a particular archetype, but what if you have a person like me to your right? I’m not sending any signals in the first few picks, so my general advice would be that you don’t try and read them. After pick 5 or 6 however you can start to get a good idea of what’s open, and that’s when I start to decide on which of my first picks I can build around. A 6th pick Revoke Existence is much more of a signal than a 2nd pick Myrsmith. Speaking of having me on your right, and in a slightly unrelated and very narrow situation of knowing the style of drafters around you in a tournament where it matters, I move onto my next pro tip.

Pro tip #3: NEVER. EVER. Discuss with somebody that’s going to be sat next to you what you’re going to draft. It’s always tempting to say “if we’re next to each other in the top 8 draft of this PTQ then I take blue and you take red – deal?”, but as soon as the other guy opens Jace all bets are off and your draft, as well as theirs, is just going to end up a mess.

I think that’s pretty much all I can say about signals without dedicating an entire article to the subject, which is something I’ve already done. The next subject I’m going to touch upon is that of situation-based card evaluation. Something I’ve always disliked is assigning arbitrary numbers to cards that denote their value, or listing pick orders of commons in a particular set, because these things are always completely situational and 95% based on what you’ve drafted so far, what the format is like and what you’re looking out for. Sure, you probably always pick Lightning Bolt over Lava Axe, but which is better out of Arc Trail and Embersmith? First pick first pack, most likely Arc Trail, but first pick pack 3 with 13 artifacts in your pile? A lot of the time you need to entirely overthrow any knowledge you have of what cards are good and bad in order to make the pick that’s correct for your deck.

Lets say you’re drafting infect and currently have 2 Grasp of Darkness, a Skinrender and an Instill Infection, with 9 creatures total, 2 of which are 2-drops. 3rd pick 3rd pack you’re faced with the decision of Grasp of Darkness vs Blight Mamba. Instinct and card evaluation tells you it’s the ridiculously efficient removal spell, not close, but a little thought about what makes your deck tick will tell you that the Mamba is by far the superior pick. Infect decks don’t win without a good curve, and a deck is exactly what you’re drafting here – not a pile of cards. You already have some good removal spells, but if the first creature you make enters play on turn 4 then it doesn’t matter how many of their creatures you’re killing because you’re not actually winning the game. If you have too many 4 drops and no removal, then take the Galvanic Blast over the Ezuri’s Brigade, and so on.

Pro Tip #4: Draft decks, not cards. Before making every pick consider how that card will affect your deck and your overall gameplan. Don’t rate cards purely on what they do, but rather what they do in your deck.

The same goes for cards that might fill voids present in your deck. An example I used originally in a previous article was that of picking up Leaf Arrows in Eldrazi drafting as a way of killing Dawnglare Invoker because that card was such that decks lacking hard removal would often lose to much worse decks purely because the other deck played Dawnglare Invoker and 8 mana. Leaf Arrow is just narrow conditional removal, and so not particularly great, but when the rest of your deck is really good but unable to beat an Invoker, it can be correct to take the Arrow 3rd pick or so.

Now to part from the actual draft process and move onto the gameplay. I’ll start from the very basics, and tell you something I’m sure you’ve heard a million times

Pro Tip #5: Play instants as instants. Ping your opponent at the end of their turn, not during your mainphase, and pump your creature after blockers have been chosen, not before attackers have been declared.

Yes, yes, I know you knew this already, but I still see people not doing this left right and centre. The main point is that you want to play spells when you have more information. If you attack first, you gain information when they block with their creatures or use removal to kill yours, and so make a better informed decision with your pump spell. When you wait until their turn to ping their 1/1 you gain more information when they make another creature, which may be a creature you’d much rather kill. Of course, there may be times when you’d rather do it while they’re tapped out, in which case do it during your turn, but basically think about when you’re doing something rather than blindly charging in. Don’t autopilot ping at the end of their turn, but rather do it because you thought about it and came to the conclusion that there are no realistic losses in giving yourself the potential for more information. This also ties in nicely with the next point.

Pro Tip #6: Play creatures in your second mainphase.

Whereas the last point was about gaining more information before making decisions, this one’s more about giving your opponent less information before letting them make theirs. If you tap out before combat and then decide on your attackers not only does it tell them that you have no tricks this turn, but also that you straight up have no tricks. If you attack with 5 mana up then any number of factors could lead them to subpar blocks, and on top of this if you think for a while before letting damage resolve and tapping out for a creature it keeps the illusion that you do indeed have something in hand. You should also be thinking about what you’re going to attack with the turn before, not this turn – the less time you think about your plays, the less an opponent can gain from what’s going through your head.

Pro Tip #7: Make plans during your opponent’s turn, not during your turn.

At the start of each of your turns, you should have at least a rough idea of what you’ll have achieved by the end of it. The card you draw shouldn’t help you make plans, but rather help you decide whether the ones you already had should change. One of my pet peeves is players who untap, draw their card, then tank for a while. They make a creature and ask for permission to resolve, which I grant, then go on to ask for permission to attack, which I also grant. They then move on to tanking phase number 2 and think for another 2 minutes about what to attack with. What were you thinking about the first time you hit the think tank?! These things should already be well planned and set out, not something you think about only the phase before. It’s basically impossible to improve as a player until you start understanding the importance of gameplans. Much like the concept of drafting a deck and not cards, in a game you should play a game and not cards. Each card you play should be not simply a card, but rather a part of the overall jigsaw. Making a 3-power creature this turn might seem better, but if the 1-power creature allows you to keep a mana up to kill their guy in their end step then untap, attack for a bunch and make a 4/4, then it’s probably much better to go for that. If somebody were to ask me what’s the most important thing somebody can focus on to get better, I’d say it’s the gameplan. Forget the gimmicks, the mind tricks, the bluffs, the reads, it’s all irrelevant when compared to the fundamental basics.

Pro Tip #8: Until you’re an actual master, don’t spend any large amount of time on trying to improve your mental game.

By this I mean trying to improve your poker face, your ability to pull off mind tricks, or your ability to get reads on opponents purely by body language. It’s just not worth your time when the advantage gained is so minimal, and a lot of players like to claim they’re much better at this than they really are. Most tells in Magic are gained from the way people play – the way they tap their lands, which creatures they play, and which phases they think in. These tells are nothing to do with mind tricks, but rather results of logical induction from the actions of your opponent, and the more you play the better you’ll get at gaining them without even trying. Experience is pretty much the best provider of tells because it gives you better and more confident knowledge of both the format and your opponent.

And I think that’s enough for one day, I hope that you have enjoyed this article and if you have then please remember to share it with your friends and also post your comments here.

Thanks for reading!


Please let us know what you think below...

Visit our Manaleak online store for the latest Magic: the Gathering singles, spoilers, exclusive reader offers, sales, freebies and more!

Magic The Gatherig Freebies Giveaways