The first rule of drafting is to build a deck. On the surface, you need approximately 22-23 playable cards and 17-18 lands.
It is a deck in the sense that it is 40 cards and you are going to play Magic with it. Duh. But in a more abstract sense, your deck also has to be a “deck,” meaning that it needs an identity and should be good at something. You don’t build Constructed decks by simply selecting 40 solid playable spells, adding mana, and calling it a day. You have control over the spells you select from a huge card pool and the option to labor over one choice versus another.
I’d argue that in Limited, the way you build and select your decks are just as important as Constructed. The key difference is that you have much less control over which cards you have to select from because the cards are opened at random. The same way that you want to maximize the number of direct and indirect synergies between your cards in Constructed, you should always be looking to make these connections in draft as well.
One way that people tend to think about drafting is to take the “best card available.” You might create a rating scale and assign each card a value 1-10 and then try to make a deck by picking the best card in your colors out of each pack. While it is helpful to evaluate how good cards are, much of a card’s value is derived from its ability to synergize.
OK, some cards also have a lot of synergy with being 1000% better than every other option, but generally speaking, context is important.
The Major Archetypes
There are three “MAJOR ARCHETYPES”:
The usefulness of most of the commons and uncommons is derived based on how good they are at facilitating these archetypes.
I tend to focus less on what colors I want to play than which archetype I’ll be able to get in which colors (depending on what I’ve picked so far and what appears to be most open).
- Support: There are lots of cards with the “support” keyword on them and they work really well together. The key is that this deck wants lots of aggressive, low-cost creatures, and a top-end that focuses heavily on putting support +1/+1 counters onto them and attacking.
- Wastes: These decks capitalize on taking the <> symbol cards, or cards with activated abilities that require <>. The good news about this deck is that it takes quite a bit of setup and so people not highly invested in <> will likely leave some gems in the pack for you.
- Allies: These decks focus on the synergy between having lots of cards that are Allies. The “cohort” and “raid” abilities stack up when you have lots of things that trigger them.
I consider these the “major archetypes” and actively look to draft them because they are the most powerful and supported mechanics in two of the three packs (meaning you can reliably get enough of them to build a deck).
Some of the colors have good cards for multiple archetypes. For instance, there are lots of good Allies and support cards in GWR. Prioritize the cards that go into the archetype that you sense is most open.
My understanding of the format is that in order to have a great draft deck, you almost need to be doing one of three things: support, Allies, or devoid. If you are not heavily invested in at least one of these areas, my experience has been that the deck is below average.
Sure, you can open a Gideon, get passed a Gideon, and have a deck that goes 3-0, but the fact of the matter is that your 2x Gideon deck would have been better if it fell into one of the archetypes.
Look for signs that an archetype is open in a particular color. A late Blinding Drone, Ondu War Cleric, or Saddleback Lagac are all great signs that an archetype is open and you should seriously consider moving in on it.
I also know this strategy is viable because it helped me to be successful in archetypes that were believed to be basically unplayable.
UG is not a very highly regarded color combination. I’ve had success in the archetype multiple times online simply because I prioritize support and <> cards, and build a deck with a lot of synergy. The colors matter much less than building the best deck with the available archetypes.
The Minor Archetypes
There are several “MINOR ARCHETYPES.”
Most of these are keywords from Battle for Zendikar and since you get half as many cards from these sets, it is much harder to get a dedicated deck around them. Surge is a little bit weaker to build around than the other Oath of the Gatewatch keywords, so I don’t typically build around it except in a supporting role.
Let’s take a look at a couple of the decks that I drafted from the PT:
Draft #1: RW Ally Equipment
I would describe this deck as an Ally deck with an equipment support theme.
I got passed 2 Stone Haven Outfitters and I put them to fantastic use. The card is absurd when you have enough equipment support because it makes all of your creatures big enough to trade in combat and then “draw a card.” It’s also an Ally to help enable my cohort creatures.
My super endgame was to have these two cards in play at some point. Every turn, you can attack and return a Plains to return any creature from your graveyard to the battlefield. Value.
Draft #2: GR Support Landfall
I opened Mina and Denn, and quickly moved into RG support and prioritized cheap, efficient creatures and support.
Commando is great because it shines with +1/+1 counters. 3 power and first strike is very good in this format.
It worked out favorably that GR had lots of great 2-drop landfall creatures in the last Battle for Zendikar pack. It turned out that I had several high quality landfall cards from pack 1 (Embodiment of Fury and Mina and Denn) and so it made perfect sense for me to heavily prioritize picking more landfall cards to play into this strategy.
Don’t get hung up on specific cards. Instead, focus on building decks. Stick to the archetypes and it’ll all come together.