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How Do You Get Better At Drafting Magic: The Gathering?


Booster Draft is by far my favorite way to play Magic: The Gathering. Booster Draft, and Limited play in general, requires players to be able to utilize their deck-building skills on the fly, as players build decks of 40 cards from booster packs. Unlike Constructed, where you build your 60-card deck before the tournament begins, Booster Draft requires you to not only build a deck out of a random assortment of cards, but to make precise decisions in short increments of time.

Before we dive into the nitty gritty of what makes a Draft master, let's take a step back and identify first - what is Booster Draft? In Draft, you sit at a table of eight players (minimum six) and are given three booster packs. In the first round of Drafting, you open your booster, select one card, put it face down, and pass the remaining cards in the pack to the player on your left. Once the whole pack is drafted you do the same sequence with the remaining two packs, with pack two being passed to the right. In this short time frame you construct a deck of at least 40 cards (around 23 spells and 17 lands, basics which are provided) and then play three rounds of matches.

While the concept of Drafting is pretty easy to wrap your head around, there are stark differences between a player who confidently puts up a consistent 2-1 or 3-0 record compared to a player who can't. Drafting tests not only your play skills, but how you understand deck composition.

Technique #1 - Understanding Deck Construction

Let's start with the basics. Understanding what an average Draft deck looks like will help you mentally shortcut easier during the Draft and deck-building process. On average, you want to play 17 lands and 23 spells. In addition to this, most decks want around 7-8 noncreature spells and 15-17 creatures, although this number can change based on your deck's archetype. Some decks require you to have a lot of instants and sorceries, and others rely on you having an aggressive gameplan with creatures. There is no set number on how many creatures you want compared to instants, sorceries, and other noncreature spells, but this is a good general rule of thumb.

It's also worth noting what kinds of noncreature spells a deck might want. For example, if you're an aggressive Red deck, you might want a card like Sure Strike. Sure Strike allows you to make favorable exchanges in combat, either removing a larger creature that blocks your smaller one, or removing two blockers with first strike damage. You can also get in extra damage by casting Sure Strike on an unblocked creature. However, if you're a slower Black deck, you'll highly value a card like Murder, since it can destroy most creatures your opponent will have access to. Removal spells are definitely a premium, since they are so flexible, but your deck will also have a variety of noncreature spells that are combat tricks, draw cards, or provide some other sort of value.

You want your cards to scale with the game, but you also don't want to lose to early aggression (or not have early aggression if you're a more aggressive deck). This means you want 4-6 2-drops, 4-6 3-drops, around 4-5 4-drops, 3-4 5-drops, and 2-3 6+ drops.

One trick that's helped me in non-competitive Drafts (like a RCQ or Grand Prix) is to organize my picks by mana cost when I Draft them. Like how you would lay out your picks on MTG Arena, I am constantly shuffling through my picks and organizing a blueprint of what my deck will look like. I usually keep my playables at the front of my stack of cards, and put cards that I don't think will make my deck in the back as options. While you can't do this in a competitive event, it's a helpful trick to help shortcut so you know how many cards of a certain mana cost are currently in your picks.

When it comes to what kinds of cards you want in your deck, a good rule of thumb is prioritize power, removal, and an overall theme or archetype for what your deck is trying to accomplish.

A lot of times you'll open a pack and the rare won't be very powerful. What do you do in this situation? While a newer player might just take the rare, you should look for a powerful signpost multicolored card that can point your Draft in a specified direction. If not, I always opt for a good removal spell or a creature that has decent sized power and toughness that can act as a win condition.

Here's an example of what I would call an A+ Draft deck:

This is from a Halloween event where we drafted one of my favorite sets of all time, Shadows Over Innistrad. While my rares were certainly powerful, I had great coverage in this deck. I had early plays in Thraben Inspector and Manic Scribe (Scribe being a win condition in its own right). I had great ways to slow my opponents' down in the form of Silent Observer and Stitched Mangler. I had cheap interaction in the form of Puncturing Light and Bound by Moonsilver. I luckily got a Highland Lake to pair with my Nahiri, the Harbinger, making my mana pretty fantastic (7 Islands, 8 Plains, 1 Mountain, 1 Highland Lake). Most importantly, I had great bombs like Drogskol Cavalry and Startled Awake // Persistent Nightmare, with Startled Awake // Persistent Nightmare pairing nicely with my other mill cards: Fleeting Memories and Manic Scribe.

This is a deck that fires on all cylinders: a balanced curve, removal spells and roadblocks, powerful bombs and win conditions that don't require attacking. With excellent win conditions my high toughness blockers and removal spells help slow the game down to the point I'm able to turn the corner and win with either Drogskol Cavalry or Startled Awake // Persistent Nightmare. I'll be honest, you won't end up with a deck this powerful on average. However what's important to note during the drafting process is understanding how you want your deck to look by the end.

In Mike Flores' article, "Picture This,'' he discusses the idea of creating a visualization of what you want a given game of Magic to look like at the end when you are victorious. Mike states, "Basically what you want to do is create a clear picture of what the universe is going to look like at the end of the game."

To apply this to drafting, once you have an idea of the archetype or kind of deck you're drafting, create that visualization. What cards do you want to end up in your deck? What's your curve look like? Asking these sorts of questions during the Draft can help you find the pieces you need to make your deck a winner. While you won't always get the dream deck, you can certainly try.

Technique #2 - Staying Open and Reading Signals

One bad habit you can learn from playing too much MTG Arena is pack distribution. If you've ever read a Mike Flores article on this website I'm sure you're aware of his claim as the best "Midnight Hunt Limited Player." While a bold accusation, Mike's statement comes from the fact he was able to hit high Mythic rank on Arena leveraging wins in Quick Draft. Being able to understand how bots take cards lets Mike essentially draft the best deck in the format, Dimir, every single Draft (okay he did tell me he drafted Simic at some points - Revenge of the Drowned was just that good in that format). Even in eight player Drafts on MTG Arena, you don't play with other people in your pod - your opponents are still totally random.

When drafting in real life, whether it be FNM or your RCQ top 8, you need to know you can't always draft the best deck. If everyone at the table knows that Rakdos is the best color pair in the set you're drafting, chances are you won't be able to draft it! Even more likely, you'll have players fighting over the color pair leaving the table with not one good Rakdos deck, but maybe two or three middling ones. How can you leverage this?

The fact of the matter is the worst color in the set is still going to find its way in someone's deck at the end of the Draft. Do you think that no players ended up in Green at Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar when they knew it was the worst color in the set? Of course not! A huge strength you can learn in Drafting is when to move into the weaker ranked colors and how to find the cards that will give you an advantage, even against the player that has the busted Rakdos deck.

Another example, for posterity. I did a Murders at Karlov Manor Team Draft recently where our team opened far weaker rares than our opponents. Our opponents had an Ezrim, Agency Chief, an Axebane Ferox, Alquis Proft, Master Sleuth, Aurelia, the Law Above, and a Hide in Plain Sight. While my team did have an Ezrim, we were incredibly far behind in terms of rare power level. However, while our backs were against the wall the entire way my team clinched victory, finishing the match 5-4! How on earth did we get there?

The answer? No one at the table drafted Black cards. No one, that is, except for me. With Black being the decided "worst" color in MKM, due to its lower power among the colors in the common/uncommon slots, every other player at the table opted not to touch it. It makes sense to some extent - two players had Ezrim, another with Axebane Ferox, one with Aurelia. However, this gave our team a way to even out the playing field.

At the end of the Draft I sat with 3 Soul Enervation, 1 Extract a Confession, 1 Slice from the Shadows, 2 Suspicious Detonation, 1 Blood Splatter Analysis, 1 Murder, 1 Undercity Eliminator, 1 Galvanize, 1 Toxin Analysis, and a Worldsoul's Rage as another removal spell/win condition. I also had two copies of Homicide Investigator. I was able to keep my opponents' threats entirely at bay. I did lose a close match to the Jeskai player who had Detective's Satchel in both games I lost, which definitely stacks up poorly against one-for-one removal. However, in the other matches against Green decks, I was able to basically destroy every creature my opponents' put into play. My deck lacked the raw power, but because I leveraged my Drafting skill I was able to tip the balance in my team's favor.

The point of this story is to show you that no matter what players' biases are any seat a Draft table can be a 3-0 seat, if you know how to leverage your skill, deck-building knowledge, and mastery of the set. The times you get to Draft the busted Dimir deck in Midnight Hunt are exceptional experiences, but it's more important you know what to do when that option isn't on the table.

Technique #3 - Knowing When to Splash and Take Risks

Another key technique to master while drafting is knowing how greedy you can be with your deck-building. In the new era of Play Boosters, rares show up more times on average than in past Standard sets. You used to only be able to see two rares max per pack - now it's up to five! What this means on average is that you have more liberty to splash higher impact cards that aren't in your main two colors.

Here's a deck I won the Top 8 of a Dominaria United RCQ with. While my deck was decidedly Orzhov, I was able to pick up a few key dual lands that gave my deck the extra oomph it needed. While my deck only had one rare, in the Valiant Veteran, picking up an Adarkar Wastes and a Sacred Peaks in the Draft let me better utilize Heroic Charge and Stall for Time. In a deck with no other Blue or Red cards, it would've been too risky to include an Island or Mountain. However, speccing on the lands early in my Draft gave me incredible value by the end of it. I sometimes like to speculate on dual lands in early packs, especially when the pick isn't exciting, so I can leverage the chances of me opening or getting passed a bomb or powerful card that I can splash.

When it comes to splashing cards there are three types of cards I look out for when drafting my deck.

  1. Dual lands - Similar to the example above, dual lands help facilitate easier splashes. For example, if you draft a Vraska, the Silencer in your OTJ Rakdos deck, you'll want to pair it with Festering Gulch or Bristling Backwoods. Even a Jagged Barrens would be a great help. If you don't have any of these common dual lands, you have to rely on playing basic Forests, which might hinder your Black and Red mana. One of these dual lands means you'll only have to play two Forests, and two Green dual lands means you'll only have to play one Forest. If you're splashing a third color for one to three cards, I like having at least three sources of that color's mana available.
  2. Artifacts - There are usually ways to facilitate mana fixing through various Artifacts or cards that make treasure tokens. Prophetic Prism is a perfect example of this, and it's an effect that shows up in most Standard releases. This is a card that actually replaces itself and gives you a great source to facilitate your splash color.
  3. Green fixing - Ramping and fixing mana is unique to Green's color identity. Most sets will have some sort of common or uncommon in Green that adds mana of any color, or searches your library for basic lands. A lot of times I'll draft Green as a base color and splash three other colors, since having multiple ways to fix your mana can make your draws pretty smooth.

One of the basic lessons you learn as a Drafter is that your deck should be two colors, sometimes, but not often, splashing a third. More experienced drafters know that this isn't the case at all, and it's actually more plausible to draft three or more colors than you think. With so many cards making treasure, dual lands showing up as commons in every other Standard set, and various Artifacts and Green cards facilitating mana, you can actually be more ambitious than in past sets.

As a quick rule of thumb:

  • Splashing 1-3 cards in your third color: minimum three sources
  • Splashing 4-5 cards in your third color: four or five sources

You also want to make sure to be careful not to get too greedy with your splash, as there is a limit. It's hard to splash cards that have two pips of its color in its mana cost, if you're splashing it as a third color. For example, it's pretty egregious to splash Incinerator of the Guilty in your Azorius MKM Draft deck. You'd need five or six ways to facilitate Red mana for one card, but you wouldn't want to hurt the integrity of your Blue and White mana base.

With so many powerful rares being printed in sets nowadays, plus Play Boosters having sometimes three or more rares, it's imperative that your deck is the strongest it can be. Don't be scared to splash a third or fourth color if you have access to the fixing and it greatly increases your deck's power level - but also be careful and know the limits of what your deck can actually cast with the mana fixing you have available.

Technique #4 - Set Knowledge and Mastery

While your play skill may be top notch, you won't be able to leverage it if you don't know a set inside and out. When I first started playing Limited more competitively, one streamer who really inspired me to understand a set was Darkest Mage. Darkest Mage, or Michael Jacob is one of the original MTGO Twitch streamers. A former US National champion and Team Worlds champion, Michael Jacob cemented himself as one of the best, if not the best Sealed players across MTG.

One play pattern I noticed when watching his streams was the fact that he played around everything. From combat tricks, to haste creatures, he could accurately call what card an opponent was representing. This helped put him in the strongest position possible in a given game to not get two-for-one'd or lose to any sort of topdeck.

A good way to keep track of what a set has is to scour the card image gallery and make a spreadsheet of what instants or flash cards are in what colors. One way I've done it is to make a folder structure of the card images, that way I can commit both the card's effect and art to memory. This is also very helpful when you're drafting on MTGO or MTG Arena, as a little cheat sheet to help you in games. Once you have the memorization down you'll be able to mentally shortcut faster and deduce what tricks your opponent may have waiting for you.

Set memorization will also assist you in the deck-building process. Back in November of 2021 I made Top 8 of the Crimson Vow 1,000 person Limited event in Las Vegas. Crimson Vow was a pretty bomb-heavy set, with Red and Black being the most powerful color combination. You can imagine my dismay at opening my janky pool with NO bombs at the beginning of day one. How was I able to claw my way to a finish that spectacular?

While I didn't have the raw power, one thing my pool did have was a strong Naya aggro deck, with lots of removal. I opted to build an aggressive humans deck, relying on Torens, Fist of the Angels and various cheap White aggressive creatures, paired with Red removal spells like Abrade and Rending Flame. Crimson Vow has decks that can be categorized into two schools of thought: build around your bombs or go aggressive and pack as many removal spells and combat tricks as possible.

In the Draft that led me to Top 8, I opened a Halana and Alena, Partners. Knowing this to be one of the best rares in the set I aggressively drafted every Red and Green card I saw, so as to best justify my position in the Draft. I luckily ended up in Gruul, and was able to clinch my spot in the Top 8! While I did open a pretty great rare to lead my Draft, I wouldn't have been able to get to that point without having correctly built my Sealed deck and navigating myself to a 9-2 start up until that point.

When learning a new Limited format it's imperative to have this sort of memorization down. It not only will help you play around what tricks your opponent may have in their deck, but you can also more accurately pick up on hints based on your opponents' play.

Technique #5 - Practice and Learning from Mistakes

At the end of the day, to truly level up as a Magic player, I wholeheartedly believe you have to come from a stance of wanting to truly learn and be humble. When I first started drafting, I was terrible! I had no clear concept of how to draft a balanced deck, and it was intimidating to put my skills up against veteran players. Drafting is a learned skill, and while it may not come easy, you're going to be able to leverage your skill the more practiced and disciplined you are.

Taking all these techniques into account will help you hone your skills. For example, if you understand the core archetypes of a set, which themes are stronger than others, then you'll be able to mentally shortcut when you pick cards during the Draft. This can save a lot of mental energy and help you remain less nervous and more focused.

For example, when I Chaos Draft, I have a tendency to draft Blue-based control decks. One of the strengths I have as a Limited player, is that I know what types of cards make up a good Control deck, and I know what signals to look out for in a Draft. It's not only knowing how to draft Counterspell and Terminate, but knowing when to pick the right card that will ultimately make my deck the strongest it can be. If I have enough Terminates, I'm going to look for end-game threats, like evasive flyers. If I don't have any ways to draw cards I'm going to prioritize looking for a Divination effect.

When it comes to actually drafting and playing events, always aim to come out of the event a better Magic player than when you started. A big pill to swallow is that you are going to lose. Probably over and over. Some weeks you'll feel like you did everything right - draft well, open powerful cards, play tight - but you'll still end the tournament an 0-2 drop.

The idea is not to get discouraged during these times. No matter what bad beat you get hit with, the most important thing you can do in the face of adversity is to find lessons to be learned and ways you can improve overall as a player. Whether it's understanding the current set better, learning to manage your life total better, or making more disciplined draft decisions, there's always an avenue to learn something, always a skill to better perfect.

Get better players to watch your matches. Draft with better players! Write down mistakes you make. Use third-party apps to review Draft logs from your MTG Arena or MTGO Drafts. Get better sleep, eat better, exercise more if you can. There are so many small tweaks you can make to overall improve your mental and physical game at Magic. Do whatever is in your power to make it so you make that right pick in the top 8 of your RCQ, or play correctly around the exact combat trick your opponent has in hand.


Overall, Drafting is an incredibly difficult skill to master. It tests your decision making, deck-building, and play skill. You have to learn to make quick choices on the fly from the moment you open your first booster pack, to the final turn of the last game you play in round three.

While Drafting may be a daunting skill to master, there are lots of ways you can perfect your game and increase your overall mental efficiency. The goal is to not lose any percentage points during any area of a Draft. By utilizing these techniques, and finding what works best for you via trial and error, you'll find your path to Draft mastery.

Happy Drafting!

-Roman Fusco

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