The basic principles of drafting are becoming more complex as R&D’s skill in design keeps evolving to provide better Limited experiences. This is even more true now that Wizards of the Coast decided to move away from core sets, which were the easiest way to play Draft. The usual “pick removals and bombs” 2-colors strategy, while sometimes viable, can’t be universall applied when every block will be themed from now on. Themes means synergy, where you build around something, rather than just draft red and green cards and play Giant Spiders next to Shivan Dragon and Giant Growths. In this article, I will use Battle for Zendikar references, since I expect our Limited future to look similar to this set.

Know the Archetypes

Back in the day, it was common that a great player would retire or take a year break from Magic, then randomly come back and crush a core set draft without even knowing what’s in it. That’s because the archetypes were determined during the draft, and no matter what’s in them, if you drafted the combinations of colors that had the highest raw power level you couldn’t go wrong.

Now, if you don’t look at the spoilers, you will have a hard time knowing which color to pair your Kalastria Healer with. In fact, you might even think it’s horrible since you have no idea how many Allies there even are. This should be level zero. Even before starting your first draft, have a good look at the spoilers and memorize what the color combinations are trying to do. If you don’t, you could risk taking Nettle Drone, and then a good white card, only to realize there are zero devoid cards in that color once it’s too late.

The Keys to a Successful Draft

Raw power

Even though sets are getting more synergy-focused, you want to start with a card that has raw power and that you would likely end up playing no matter what your deck is trying to do. In 2015, that usually means a good removal spell. What’s the best way to break your opponent’s synergy? Killing it. Many things could be considered “removal” but I’m going to make it clear: do not first pick Stonefury or Demon’s Grasp. While those are in fact removal spells, I mean efficient ones such as Complete Disregard, Outnumber, and Gideon’s Reproach.

A card I would be willing to pick up over these is Eldrazi Skyspawner.

Not only is this raw power in that the rate on this card is ridiculous, but it’s also evasive and synergistic, because it produces an extra body to go alongside Swarm-Surge-type effects, it ramps, and it is devoid. It does everything. The last few sets have been incredibly well designed so that the rares wouldn’t be brainless first picks (aside from Fate Reforged), mostly because they cost infinite, and we have relatively aggressive and tempo-based formats. Nonetheless, some uncommons are at an insane rare/mythic-level of power, such as Rolling Thunder.

You’d love to start with a rare or mythic, realistically you start with a great uncommon, and if all else fails, go for those power commons I talked about. I don’t mind starting the draft with a phenomenal multicolored card such as Drana’s Emissary, Resolute Blademaster, or Roil Spout. Your rating on multicolored cards should correlate with the ratings you have on those color combinations. For example I believe GB is not good, so I’m not going to start my draft with Catacomb Sifter even though the card is better than Resolute Blademaster in a vacuum. But remember, don’t dismiss a color combination until you have enough data on it.

BEWARE: Imagine your pack has Rolling Thunder, Touch of the Void, Outnumber, and Gideon’s Reproach. In this situation, I hear this argument: “pick Gideon’s Reproach so you won’t have to fight over the red cards later.’’ You are feeding the people to your left, most likely, they will have to quit red since you’ll be taking the best red cards from two of the three packs. This theory only makes sense if there is no clear difference in power between the lone white card versus the three red ones.

Stay open

I’ve been using the “pick the best card out of every pack” strategy for years and it rarely fails me. There is some hyperbole here—if you have 6 white and 6 red cards, don’t take Ruinous Path.

For instance, Pack 1 Pick 1 you took Drana’s Emissary. Pack 1 Pick 2 you are passed these:

Even if those creatures all fit well into the BW archetype, they are replaceable, and if the archetype ends up being open, I will get them late. Grab the Touch of the Void and stay open, be willing to give up the Drana’s Emissary.

Let’s take a look at another possibility, assuming we have the same first pick as last time. Pack 1 Pick 2 you are passed a pack with these:

Clearly Touch of the Void is a better card, yet, the margin between the two is small enough that if you factor in that Drana’s Emissary is a wasted pick if you end up red, it’s just better to take Sheer Drop. If you replace Touch of the Void with Rolling Thunder or simply don’t have anything as good as Sheer Drop in this pack, I don’t mind moving away from BW. Here’s a sample start of my drafts in Battle for Zendikar:

I started with Drana because it’s insane, then I was passed Outnumber—a very good card, and RB is great. The next card is Sludge Crawler, which I took over some other slightly better green and white cards since it fits perfectly in RB, but I’m not too worried since I can also play Sludge Crawler in basically any deck.

Then, nothing for my colors. Clutch of Currents is in the 4th pack though—I can still be UB. Then some okay red, blue, black cards, but nothing I ever want to take that early. Retreat to Emeria is in the pack, it’s completely off-color, but it’s a stellar card, I assume the people passing to me are not in white at this point, so I take it. Halimar Tidecaller is the 6th pick, which is quite late for such a powerful card. Then afterward, as expected, I see decent white and blue picks, I even wheel a Kor Castigator that was in pack 1. I settle into UW for pack 2 and get rewarded for being open with a late Roil Spout.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next week’s part 2!