The Basics of Drafting: Common Errors

There are many questions people ask when they are having trouble in a drafting format. People get frustrated that no matter how hard they try it seems they can’t build a working deck. Since no one likes losing, this causes people to not want to play the format as a whole, but as long as you can play scrappy magic, anyone can draft well. In my experience, the top 5 causes of a deck failing are

  1. A Lack of  “Value” Cards

  2. Not Enough Fuel

  3. No interaction

  4. An Unbalanced Curve

  5. Mana Screwing

Although sometimes you may end up not finding every piece you want for your deck, there are ways to adapt and splash to help keep on track.

Value Cards

First things first: what defines a “value” card. Well usually it’s a cost : effect ratio. For instance, in modern a good player would run Lightning Bolt in a burn deck but not Lightning Strike. This super basic concept gets a little complicated when you are drafting. 2 mana for 3 damage in a draft is a solid card. So where do you draw the line? Where does an ability’s cost outweigh its effect? If you are short on creatures and see a creature on color, then for the most part, you will want it.  I will get more specific on current drafting sets in future posts. I’ll give a few deck types and a handful of common and uncommon cards I’d value in these decks. You can take that information and adapt it to what your deck needs.

Not Enough Fuel

The next thing that kills draft decks is lack of fuel. A.K.A. things that either let you cast more/bigger things, draw more cards, or just lead to a power play. They exist in all colors and in all card types. They either have synergy or generate more fuel such as Cantrips. Cantrips are any card the does something, then draws a card, and usually are a 1 or 2 drop. The purpose of this is to keep cards in your hand while you are casting spells. In this meta, one other option is scions. They are very versatile as attackers to ping, chump blockers, and mana sources. The best part is that they enter with other creatures so you get a tiny body extra with each card. The third main source of fuel is almost any permanent with a viable activated ability. Mainly, it’s a productive mana outlet without a card attached to it.

Lack of Interaction

The third common error is lack of interaction. It’s a basic concept where you have to remember that there will be another player across the table and some time his or her board state is gonna be better than yours. Use removal, counterspells, combat tricks, and damage prevention to stall or prevent your death so you can get to your win condition. It could be argued that a deck could work without interaction but that deck would have to be swift and would not be near as consistent unless you have great card pulls. Although you can get by without it, if you can get some protection grab it. Long story short, if your deck isn’t going to kill quickly, get protection to defend yourself from the decks that are.

An Unbalanced Mana Curve

The mana curve is a concept that is often overlooked by new players. The general idea is to create a bell curve around your average converted mana cost, but in a constructed format, that number is normally much lower than in a draft due to length of games. Normally you won’t hit turn 10 regularly in a game but that happens quite often in drafting so having low, medium, and high drops is key to a successful deck.

CMC 1 2 3 4 5 6+
# Of Spells (For 40 Card deck) 2-4 4-6 5-9 3-7 3-5 2-3

No one likes getting mana screwed. The helpless feeling of either drawing land 6 turns in a row or going to turn 12 with one or two lands and nothing to cast is far from fun. Sadly there is no way to prevent it 100% of the time, but if you balance your land properly you can make it much less likely. Most people know the ⅓ rule for how many land you should run, but what about a high or low curved deck? And in a draft is it still ⅓ at all? In the figure below I outline a general guideline to a drafted land base.

Adverage CMC 2.75 3 3.25 3.5 3.75 4
% of Land 37.5% 37.5-40% 40-42.5% 42.5% 42.5-45% 45%
# of Lands for 40 Card Deck 15 15-16 16-17 17-18 18 19

Also, multicolor (include colorless as a color) decks need that balanced as well so there is a way to find a mana balance to cast all the spells in your deck more often.

  1. Add all the colored mana symbols of each color on all the cards .

  2. Create a percentage of each the different colors in your deck.

  3. Then apply that to the number of lands you are running.

This system is tried and true but there are a few situations you should avoid:

  1. Don’t have only one land that can produce that color.

  2. Don’t splash one card of a color if it has double mana symbols or more.

  3. Don’t run five/six color (counting colorless) please I’ve seen it happen but I’ve never seen it work. Sorry.

I hope this very basic explanation of drafting has been helpful. In future articles, I’ll go into more detail of individual cards and perhaps give deck list examples of decks I, or a others, have won with.

Before that, I will also go into concepts such as B.R.E.A.D. and lay down general guidelines as to what makes a card better than another card in this format.

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