PV’s Playhouse – Draft Fundamentals

When we make a draft video here on Channelfireball, we generally try to talk about most things that cross our minds, but we can’t really talk about everything that we think, especially since sometimes we are not actively thinking, but merely applying stuff that we know through repetition. Even when we do think and talk about it, we are usually tied to what is happening at the moment; I might talk a bit about hate drafting when an opportunity presents itself, but it will generally not give a detailed explanation about the general concepts of hate drafting while I’m in the middle of a draft. This article is about general drafting,. In the videos made by both me and the others, many of these concepts apply, but we do not always talk about or explain. With the influx of draft videos, this feels like the perfect moment to talk about draft theory.

Most things I will talk about, just like in any theory article, you have probably read already if you’ve been following Magic articles for a while, but I think it’s very worth it for the people who have not read those things already.

Analyzing the packs:

When you look at your pack, you should do those things in order. First, you should look at the entire pack and find the most powerful card (or the card you are more likely to pick). Then, you should try to figure out what card the person next to you is going to pick. You can never be completely certain, because it depends on their personal preference and on their first pick (for example, Azure Drake is better than Cloud Crusader, but anyone who has first picked a white card will take the Crusader, and you cannot know that), but you should be able to narrow it to a couple options. Then, do the same for the person next to him – basically select the two next most powerful cards, and consider that the people in front of you will probably pick those two cards and how that might affect your future picks.

After that, you should look at how many pickable cards there are. If there are more than 7 left, that means you are going to wheel one, and you should count and see what are the 8th, 9th, etc best cards. What you are going to wheel might change your pick, or it might change your future picks – if you know you are wheeling Inspired Charge for example, that might be an incentive to go white aggro; if you are wheeling Maritime Guard, you know you don’t have to rush to get early drops. You should also take note if there are many cards in one color – in that case, it might be that you will wheel one of them rather than a worse card in another color, because there might not be enough people interested in those cards.

The next thing is to take a mental note of relevant cards that you are passing. By relevant, I mean instant removal, mass removal, Giant Growth effects, Threatens, etc. As the draft progresses, it becomes easier to do this. Generally you will not think much of “I passed p2 Giant Growth!” because you have no clue who has that Giant Growth, but if you pass, say, four Giant Growths, then it is very likely that your green opponent has at least one, and if you pass a card such as Fireball or Pyroclasm and the guy right next to you turns out to be red, he very likely has those, and it is important to know. For that reason, you should probably try to memorize the name or the face of the person you are feeding.

It is also very relevant to look at the number of artifacts and enchantments you are passing, so you know you have to pick Naturalizes and Solemn Offerings, as well as ways to target your guys if you passed multiple Ice Cages, Safe Passages if you passed a lot of Corrupts and Pyroclasms, etc. With certain cards, you can never be sure – for example, the draft might easily have 10 Mind Controls and you might not have seen a single one of them, because they were all first- and second-picked. However, if the draft has 10 Ice Cages, you are going to see most of those (unless there is a maniac aggressively picking all of them), and then you should take note of that and pick Unholy Strength higher than you otherwise would, for example.

After that, you are going to get a pack. The first thing you do is to scan the rarity of the cards in there, so you can see what the person picked. This will give you information about his picks – if there is an uncommon missing and a Doom Blade in the pack, for example, you know the guy probably picked Air Servant, Serra Angel, Fireball, or Mind Control (at least those are the uncommons I pick over Doom Blade). There is no black uncommon that is better than Doom Blade, for example. If they picked a common, then it is probably Foresee, though it could perhaps be Blinding Mage or Lightning Bolt depending on their preferences. If there is a Fireball in there and an uncommon missing, it is very likely that they picked a blue card. After that, you just repeat what you did for pack 1. If you are into those things (and I’ve never done that, though I cannot really give you a satisfactory answer as to why), you can also memorize print runs and try to use this when you get the pack.


Though signaling is an important part of drafting, it is usually overrated by people that are okay and trying to get to the next level. Much like liking certain movies and songs or having a certain opinion about something will make you look “smart,” paying attention to signals will also make you look smart, and I have heard multiple times people complaining that “it is bad to draft in this table because people don’t know how to signal.” In my opinion, signals are “tiebreakers” – you do not base your draft around signals, and you do not care much about sending them.

In a draft, you pass two packs to a person, and one to the other – that means you control the person you are passing the first pack to. If you had to first pick Frost Titan and pass Mind Control, they will be forced out of it. If they are not, then they will only pick blue in one of the packs, which is not that big a deal. Many times I’ve seen people pick a much worse card because there are two or three good cards in a color, and I think that is wrong. For example, in a pack with Doom Blade, foil Doom Blade and Lightning Bolt, I will still pick the Doom Blade, even if the person in front of me is going to go black as well (though I pick the normal one, not the foil, so that they know you might have picked a regular Doom Blade; If they see a Doom Blade in there with a common missing, there is nothing that is going to convince them that you picked a black card first. Signals are overrated, yes, but if given the choice you would rather just be cooperative and help them understand what is going on, at least for the first pack).

What you should try to do, more than sending signals, is reading signals, but again that is not what the draft is all about – I’ve found that most of the time people’s preferences are very different (for example, you might think sixth pick Infantry Veteran is a sign, but maybe the person before you is white and thinks Wild Griffin is better), and packs are also weird sometimes (with 5 good cards in one color) that you cannot rely on signals to do the drafting for you. Sure, you should pay attention to them (and this is why I recommend looking at the rarity of the card they pick, etc.), but knowing which colors they are does not mean you cannot be on those colors, just like passing a color does not mean you can’t be in it.

In fact, I’ve found that, in some drafts, one of the best things you can do is move to the color of the guy who is feeding you. For this to work, you need to be almost mono-colored at the end of pack 1, and the color has to be abundant, to the point where, even if you were picking cards of that color every pack, you were not able to cut it completely. Let’s say, for example, you picked mostly blue in pack one, but still passed a lot of good blue cards, because there were too many of them. In this case, for your second color, you might consider the color in which you didn’t get a single card pack one.

The reason for that is that you know you are getting good blue cards pack three (since the pack flows like pack one), but you will be severely depleted in pack two (because you passed good blue cards). This means your second color has to give you a lot of good cards in that pack two – you don’t really need it in pack three, since you will be taking blue goodies (and this will very likely work, since no one on your right will be receiving blue colors if you are not, and if you are, then you don’t really need anything from a second color). The best color for this is, then, the color that was completely cut in pack one – since you didn’t see any of it, then the person you were feeding (and the people after him) did not either, and the color will likely flow your way, in the direction of the guy on your right, who hoped he would get it all by cutting it savagely in pack one. At this point, though, he is powerless to stop you from getting them.

Hate Drafting

Hate drafting is, much like signaling, overrated. A lot of people hate draft too much, and they say things like, “I can’t pass [card]Inferno Titan[/card]!” to justify it. In my opinion, it is better to just pick the card you are going to play. The reason for that is that you play that card in all three of your matches, whereas there is a less than 50% chance you will play against the card you didn’t hate, and even if you do that, it is only one match. I will usually pick a strong sideboard card over a much better card in another color, too.

The real moment to hate draft is not your first pick when you see a bomb, but later on, when the hate drafting costs you nothing or very little. Of course, there isn’t going to be a bomb in the pack with 7 cards left, but there are cards that are not good but overwhelming against an archetype, and those should be your target. For example, if you are the person with 10 [card]Ice Cage[/card]s, then it might be more important to hate the [card]Unholy Strength[/card] than the generally better [card]Barony Vampire[/card]. Cards that you should take in mind to hate in M11 are, for example, [card]Plummet[/card], [card]Stabbing Pain[/card], [card]Solemn Offering[/card], [card]Naturalize[/card], [card]Celestial Purge[/card], etc.

Another point is that, in some situations, you do not want to hate draft at all, because the card is decent but not good against you. If you have zero fliers in your deck and you are not green, and you have the choice between [card]Plummet[/card] and basic land, take the basic land. By doing this, you give the green deck some help beating the deck with fliers, and, if they happen to be main decking the Plummet, it will be terrible against you. A card like [card]Bog Raiders[/card] is much the same – if you are not black, just don’t hate it. There is a chance they will play it main (and then it will not be good against you), and there is a chance they will beat a superior black drafter for you with it (though for that to work you have to win your other matches – it kind of backfires if you lose and get paired versus the better deck).

Pick orders

Whenever a new format arises, people always come up with certain pick orders. Like the pirate code in Pirates of the Caribbean, though, you don’t have to follow them – they are merely guidelines. In general, pick orders by color (or just pick orders with all the cards) are good for the very first picks, but pretty bad later on, because it all depends on the deck you are drafting and what you already have. If you are into pick orders, what you should do is have an archetype pick order – that is much more helpful because, after all, you don‘t draft a color, you draft an archetype, and most of the time you will be faced with a decision between cards of different colors anyway.

I remember in San Juan, for example, I didn’t really know how to draft the format before I got to our “beach house.” Then I would ask Gabe Walls, Ben Stark, and Luis what their pick orders were for certain archetypes, and it would teach me a lot more about the format than a color pick order, because I could tell they changed drastically – Heat Ray, for example, was way ahead in the pick order in the Eldrazi deck than in the BR deck, and Guard Duty was much better there than in the levelers deck, and so on – this helped me not only with the actual picks but also with the understanding of the different decks in the format. It is important to know that even archetype pick orders are not set in stone, though, and it all depends on what you already have, what you are passing, etc, but, if you must have a pick order, do it by archetype, especially in a format such as Scars with all the artifacts and the synergy.

I think overall, though, the single most important thing is that you have to draft a deck, and not cards. In some formats this is very true (Rise, Scars), in others not so much (but still true – M10, M11), but you should always have that in mind – no card is just “better,” it all depends on your deck. I have found out that certain stories are particularly powerful in my mind, and help me remember certain concepts – for example, whenever I start a tournament badly, I always remember how Julien Nuijten started his Nationals 2-3, then won all his remaining matches to finish 3rd, make it to Worlds, and then won Worlds, so I know that even if your start wasn’t good, you can still win (though I guess now I can think of myself in San Juan too, with all the starting 0-2 and whatnot).

For limited synergy, I always think of a certain Draft Pro Tour (Nagoya if I recall correctly) in which Richard Hoaen, one of the best Limited players at the time, top 8ed the tournament with a deck that played 14 lands, a Chrome Mox, and had Platinum Angel in the sideboard. I like this because it kind of shows that you really draft decks and not cards- Platinum Angel is generally a very good card, Chrome Mox is generally unplayable, and 14 lands is unthinkable of, yet he was very likely correct in it. I guess the moral of the story is, next time you see a Platinum Angel, take a moment to think about it – maybe that particular deck you are drafting would just rather have the Chrome Mox.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this (and that I haven’t repeated myself too much), see you next week with a GP Sydney report!



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