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Drafting Like a Pro

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Have you ever had a Draft deck that made people say, “That’s like a Constructed deck?” Well, that should be the type of Draft deck you’re always aspiring to have. Many people are able to draft, build, and play decks that have good cards, good creature-to-spell ratios, good mana, and a good mana curve. That’s good enough to win a lot of games. Now it’s time to take your Draft game to the next level.

Most good drafters know how to draft a deck that plays like White Weenie or Red Deck Wins—a good curve of cheap, aggressive creatures with efficient removal and/or creature pump. In some formats, this is all that’s needed to be successful, and sometimes it’s even the optimal strategy. There are more keys to making your Draft deck like a good Constructed deck, however.

  • Instants
  • Using your mana early and late.
  • Mana sinks
  • Card advantage
  • Synergy
  • Standalone combos
  • Good mana

Instants

While most people understand the importance of drafting a lot of creatures, many don’t fully realize how important instants are. There are several powerful things you need instants for. The ability to play spells on your opponent’s turn is important—especially in Innistrad. You want the option of responding to the things your opponent does on his turn. In Innistrad, I love being able to play an instant during the end of my opponent’s turn when he’s chosen to pass in hopes of transforming a Werewolf. Limited sometimes comes down to a specific problem creature controlled by you or your opponent. Instants can often be the keys to either removing or protecting those creatures. Having the right instants also helps you own the combat phase. When you really blow out your opponent, it’s usually with an instant. Most importantly, you don’t want your opponent to be able to assume that you won’t be doing anything on his turn or during combat. Make his decisions hard; never let him feel safe when making an attack, a block, or any other play.

Use Your Mana Early and Late

Most people make good use of their mana on turns three through five; it’s the other turns that usually make the difference. Imagine your opponent goes first and plays a good 1-drop followed by a good 2-drop while you don’t play anything until turn three. Sure, you can still win sometimes, but that’s the kind of hole that’s really hard to climb out of. Perhaps even more often, games are lost by running out of gas. This is especially true in decks that have a low enough curve to take full advantage of the early game. In Innistrad, the ways I typically make my low-curve decks strong in the late game are with Flashback, card-draw, and/or Werewolves.

Mana Sinks

One of the best ways to use your mana in the late game is to play with a lot of things to sink mana into. This could include Equipment, Flashback cards, or various permanents that have mana requirements to do things. Werewolves are kind of like a mana sink for one turn, in that by not spending mana for a turn, you get an upgrade. Ghoulraiser and Make a Wish are other ways to keep your mana busy in the late game. Just remember the power level of these cards is much lower if you don’t have enough early game to precede them.

Synergy

One of the hallmarks of Constructed decks is synergy. This translates to Draft in multiple ways. One of the biggest signs of synergy is the emergence of extremely specific archetypes. In Innistrad, entire archetypes have emerged that revolve around specific cards: Burning Vengeance, Spider Spawning, Moonmist, and in my case, Feeling of Dread. These are cards that do little or nothing on their own, but that can become incredibly powerful when drafted into the right deck with the right synergistic support cards. The problem with many of these types of archetypes, such as Infect in Scars block, is that sometimes you don’t find the cards you need to fully realize the deck. This is one of the advantages to archetypes that don’t rely on as much on a specific card and that synergize with cards you can reliably pick up.

While I’ll take Feeling of Dread over almost anything when I’m drafting W/U in Innistrad, I think you can have success with the type of deck I draft without drawing one. I typically draft as many evasion creatures as possible: Spectral Rider, Invisible Stalker, and pretty much any flyer. I also take Curiosity, Silent Departure, and/or Think Twice when I see them. With card-draw and Flashback, I stay busy in the late game, and with fast, aggressive, evasion creatures, I can often roll over opponents whether or not I draw Feeling of Dread. If I do draw a Dread, however, I’m golden. I’m already making life hard for my opponent with my aggressive, evasion creatures, but shutting down the opponent’s two best attackers twice will typically be game over.

Standalone Combos

While synergy is important, consistency is also critical. The problem with cards like Burning Vengeance and Moonmist is that they’re so narrow. You need a critical mass of a specific card type—in this case Flashback cards or Werewolves—for them to be solid playables, never mind cornerstones to build a deck around. Combos like Curiosity with Invisible Stalker or Butcher's Cleaver with Invisible Stalker are more stable because each piece is good on its own in almost any deck. Cards like Curiosity, Feeling of Dread, Butcher's Cleaver, and so on are cards that, while they do little or nothing on their own, the thing the need you to play with for them to be powerful is creatures. Given that almost everyone is trying to play with at least twelve or thirteen creatures, these are a very stable form of combo card.

Even so, I hold Equipment, creature enchantments, creature pump, and so on to really high standards. The last thing you need is to draw a bunch of lands and creature enhancers but not enough actual creatures. It’s so important to have a high ratio of creatures to these potentially dead cards that the enhancers need to be of extremely high quality. I also have a preference for enhancers that rarely end up giving my opponent card advantage against me. Thus, cards like Spidery Grasp and Curiosity are better than Spectral Flight and Furor of the Bitten.

Card Advantage

One of the biggest keys to Constructed play is card advantage, and that’s usually true in Limited as well. Morbid and Flashback are two of the more common examples of card advantage in Innistrad. Other cards have card advantage built in, such as Fiend Hunter, Make a Wish and Curse of Death's Hold. Decks that are designed for total aggression can gain card advantage as well. If you can kill your opponent before he has enough mana to use his late-game cards, that’s another form of card advantage. Card advantage is gained by either increasing the power of your cards or decreasing the power of the opponent’s. If you deal with two of his cards with one of yours, that’s a good example of gaining advantage through your cards. If you make one of his cards dead, that’s another kind.

Good Mana

Having good mana is another way to gain card advantage and another way to make your deck more like a Constructed deck. The most obvious example of this is when you draft a mono-colored deck. While this rarely comes up in Innistrad draft, some formats lend themselves to occasionally drafting mono-colored, and it can be extremely powerful. When drafting Magic 2011, mono-Red decks looked very much like Constructed decks with their aggressive curve, creatures with Haste, copious amounts of burn, and synergies using cards like Chandra's Spitfire and Fire Servant.

Good mana is also relevant when pushing the color envelope in the other direction. If you’re going to play three or more colors, even if it’s “just a splash,” it’s critical to have the right mana to make it work. Innistrad helps out with cards like Traveler's Amulet, Caravan Vigil, Avacyn's Pilgrim, Ghost Quarter (if you use it on yourself), Shimmering Grotto, and some rare dual lands. In general, the fewer colors, the better. If you were building a Constructed deck, you wouldn’t play three colors without a lot of color-helpers and/or dual lands—this should be true in Limited as well. If you can’t cast some of your spells or if you draw too much mana, that’s negative card advantage. This is another advantage of playing with fewer color requirements—you can play with tighter mana.

 


 

While there are Magic players who claim to specialize in either Limited or Constructed, sometimes even choosing to completely ignore the other format, your Magic skill doesn’t necessary benefit from it. I’ve learned valuable lessons from both Limited and Constructed, and I’ve often applied lessons from one to the benefit of the other. When drafting, ask yourself what pick will help you make your deck more like a Constructed deck. This is important to keep in mind when developing your overall draft—plan and during construction as well.

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