Hello everyone! Welcome to my first article about drafting magical cards of goodness. This will be a biweekly (every two weeks) column which focuses on improving our draft game. I will be tackling four different types of articles as we progress.
First will be articles like this one, which cover general draft strategy. These articles will cover general and often introductory skills needed to succeed in any level of draft from FNM to day 2 of a limited grand prix. Second will be deep dives into specific skill sets like signaling, counter drafting, and when to abandon your early picks to change your plan of attack. The third type of article is going to be set-specific, detailed reviews with archetype breakdowns. I think the archetype breakdown articles will be the most common of these as many authors do not cover this topic sufficiently, in my humble opinion. The final type will be draft videos – where I will attempt to implement these skills.
Enough of that overview of this series of articles, let’s get into today’s topic: Draft 101. We will be covering the BREAD and butter of magic draft theory. I know for many of you, that you have a good grasp the basics of drafting, but I urge you to keep reading. I have some observations regarding basic theory which I believe to be the crux of many drafter’s losses in current drafts.
So, I was at a draft a few weeks ago, and I mentioned BREAD to some players. They had no idea what I was talking about. This reminded me that information can be lost, and those new players may not know how to seek out the knowledge that has been circulating for decades.
For those who don’t know, the core principles drafting magic are easy to remember due to the acronym “BREAD” which stands for Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, and Duds. This is the essential pick order while drafting. If you see a bomb in a pack, you take it! If you have to choose between removal or an efficient creature BREAD will tell you to take the removal every time.
A BOMB is any card which has a tremendous impact on a game. It can not only help close a game where you are ahead, it can help you catch up from behind. Bombs are usually rare or mythic creatures or spells. They are usually easy to identify, but occasionally people misidentify bad cards as bombs because they have “splashy” effects. I will discuss this more in detail in a later article.
REMOVAL is just as it sounds. It removes a threat from the opponent. The best kind is unconditional removal that will kill any creature/permanent.
EVASION is any creature or effect that allows a creature to attack through blockers. Common examples are flying and trample.
AGGRO are basically creatures that are efficient for their casting cost. This is also an important idea because your curve is SO important in draft.
DUDS are everything else. Realistically, this is where you want to pick up very situational removal like artifact and enchantment removal or a spell that kills flyers. Basically, these are your sideboard cards you will want to keep in mind between games to improve your match up against a particular opponent.
BREAD is all fine and good, and in most circumstances, it should be followed. The problem is that draft formats these days do not look anything like the formats of yesterday when this acronym was first created. In older draft formats creatures were crappier and removal was better. This lead to bombs being bombier (suck it, grammar police) and to regular old ground pounders being miserable. Basically, you would never pick a creature over a removal spell unless it was a bomb. This is no longer the case. Don’t believe me? Ask some professional magic players like LSV and Sam Black.
Nowadays, significantly more emphasis is being placed on casting cost and efficiency over the actual BREAD acronym. Cheap creatures that would fall under AGGRO are often much better than some of the EVASION creatures. Many of those same cheap creatures have such a powerful effect on the game and are so cheap, that expensive awkward removal is just not as good as it used to be. In fact, a removal heavy deck will often struggle against a smooth aggressive curve.
I am not saying that one should not generally follow BREAD. I am instead advocating to pay extremely close attention to your curve. Often you will need to pass on a removal spell to grab up your third two-drop to make sure you have early plays. This is even true in a more controlling deck. There are going to be many topics we cover discussing how to weigh cards during a draft depending on the format, what is in your pool, what signals you are receiving and other variables.
So what other things are important to know to improve your draft game? Signaling, forcing, metagaming, and education are all very important. There are other things, but these are some basic skills that I believe one should start with to improve their draft game.
SIGNALING is the information that can be discerned from the cards that are or are not passed to you. It is also the information you give to the player next to you by passing particular cards to them. If a player to your right is passing you great white cards through the first pack, it is most likely a signal that they are not in white. Also, if you are passing lots of premium black cards to the player to your left, you should probably bet they will not be passing you many black cards in pack 2.
FORCING is the act of predetermining an archetype or color you want to play and making it happen no matter what happens during the draft. This is rarely advisable, but there are certain circumstances where I like to do this. In particular, if I am at a low experience level draft table, I will often pick my favorite color combination and force it. The reason why is because you cannot rely on the signals being passed to you. I would not recommend this strategy before improving your game. The reason I bring it up this early in the series is because I believe many players will open an awesome rare of a certain color, and then FORCE that color ignoring the signals being sent to them. They often end up in a three or more color deck that does not work.
METAGAMING is exactly the same as it is in constructed magic. There are many archetypes in a draft format that are viable. Some are better than others against the field. Some are good against the popular archetypes. This is very set specific. This is also an area that has changed considerably lately. It used to be that one archetype would last through the block, but now the archetypes often get flipped on their head with the release of the second set in these smaller blocks.
EDUCATION is when you make me pancakes. Sorry, I had to check if you were still paying attention – (I’m not sorry. Have you ever had pancakes? They’re delicious). Education is the most important and easiest thing you can do in preparing your draft game. You need to know the cards in the set, the common strategies, the holes in the curves of each color, what cards are common to multiple archetypes, and of course learning play patterns.
There are a few more fundamentals that I would be remiss if I did not mention. Most decks should have between 15-18 lands. Almost never play more than 40 cards. You should have between 14-17 creatures. You should have 2-4 removal spells. Combat tricks are WAY better nowadays than they used to be. Now that creatures are so important – combat steps and sizing have become very important. Your curve should be just that – a curve. Line them up. You shouldn’t have eight 3 drops in most decks.
Obviously, there are many more subjects to be covered, which is why this is a series. Many of the above topics will be covered in a deep dive article. I will also try and be clear when using these skills during draft videos. I hope this helps you, and you enjoy the new site: Landdropgo!