Booster Draft FNM

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Hey, I'm a new player and I'm planning on going to my first booster draft on Friday. I was wondering if anyone could give me a heads-up on whats probably going to happen. I think I understand the basics of a draft, but it'd be nice if someone could give me some tips on drafting and whatnot.
When you arrive the site you will need to register to play in the tournament. There may be an entry fee to cover the cost of the booster packs and prizes, or you may be permitted to supply your own packs (this is rare). If you've never played in a sanctioned Magic tournmant or organized Dungeons & Dragons event before, you will need to join the DCI by filling out a simple form; you will be assigned a permanent DCI number.

At the start of the event, the organizer or head judge will make announcements of any special rules being followed. For example, he might announce that all the rares and foils will become part of the prize pool, or that "continuous construction" is not permitted, or that pairings will be done "cross-pod". Pay careful attention to these announcements, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you don't understand what they mean.

The organizer or head judge will then randomly assign seatings in "pods" of approximately eight players each. Proceed to your assigned seat promptly when directed. Make sure you have the correct amount and kind of boosters packs: this will probably be one pack of Dark Ascension and two packs of Innistrad, but it could literally be anything as long as everyone in the tournament has exactly the same packs.

When told to begin, you will open your first pack (probably Dark Ascension, but listen for instructions), remove the non-foil basic land or checklist card and the token or tip card, and make sure the remaining 14 cards are correct. If this pack contains one or more double-faced cards, you may be instructed to show or announce them to the other players in your pod, but in any case there is no need to try to keep them secret. The normal-faced cards must be kept secret until the draft is over: both the ones you open and the ones you take.

Looking at the 14 cards in your first pack, you will choose one to keep for your deck. You will also get to take this card home after the tournament, unless otherwise announced. If this is a normal-faced card, you must place it face-down on the table in front of you. If it's a double-faced card, you can place it in either orientation. You will then pass the remaining 13 cards to the player on your left, and take 13 cards from the player on your right. As before, the location and identity of double-faced cards is not a secret. Again you will choose a card to keep, and place it face down on top of the first card, in a single pile. You'll repeat this process until everyone's first pack is gone.

After taking some time to review your pile of cards, you will open the second booster pack and do everything again. This time, however, you will pass to the right instead of the left. All the chosen cards go in the same face-down pile, and it is very important throughout this process not to talk about what cards you've seen or what cards (or colours) you are picking, except for any double-faced cards, because this is considered cheating. Once the second pack is done, the third pack is opened and drafted the same way, except this time the passing is to the left again.

What sort of cards should you be taking? Typically, cards can be classified into the following categories, and should be prioritized in this order: cards that are amazing and just win the game (a.k.a. "bombs"), cards that can remove or neutralize creatures, creatures that are hard to block (a.k.a. "evasion"), creatures with interesting abilities, and whatever else is in your colour(s). You should normally be looking to focus on two colours, and should decide which colours to focus on based on the sort of good cards you see getting passed to you. You want to avoid sharing colours with the players adjacent to you on either side--but remember that actually talking about colours is cheating.

Once you've fully drafed a pool of 42 cards, you will retire to a table somewhere to construct a deck. While you can now show people what you've drafted if you want, it may make sense to keep your pool a secret from the other players in your pod, since they will be your opponents soon enough. You will have about 20 minutes to build a 40-card deck from your pool of cards, plus as much basic land as you like. Your finished deck will usually comprise 23 spells and 17 land, ideally with well more than half of those spells being creatures. The organizer will probably allow you to borrow basic land from him, but you might as well bring your own if you have some that you like. The other 19-odd cards that you drafted will form your sideboard, which you can use to alter your deck later, so hang on to them.

Depending on the culture at your store, it may or may not be usual for players to sleeve their draft decks. If the rares and foils are to become part of the prizes, then sleeving may be mandatory. If you're playing a valuable rare, you should sleeve your deck, unless you hate money.

Once everyone has built a deck and is ready to play, the organizer or head judge will announce pairings for the first round: this is the person who will be your opponent. You will proceed to your seat (which may or may not be assigned) and play a best-two-out-of-three series (called a "match") against him. You may change your deck after each game if you think it will improve your chances in the next game; this will often be based on the colour(s) of his deck, or any bombs you saw him play. After the match is over, the winner will report the results to the scorekeeper at the computer. Normally, you are allowed to change your deck before your next match as well if you wish; this is called "continuous construction", but there may have been an announcement at the beginning saying that this is not allowed; ask if you're not sure. If it's not allowed (which would be rare) you must return your deck and sideboard to their original configuration before each match.

Unless the tournament is being played as a single-elimination, which is rare at FNM, you will be assigned an opponent in round 2 and round 3 as well, and each of those matches will also be played best-two-out-of-three. You will be paired against other players with similar records: winners play winners, losers play losers. Each round usually lasts about an hour. There will be at least three rounds of play, but perhaps more. At the end of the tournament, the winners will be announced and the prizes distributed. At minimum, there will be FNM promo foils for the first and second place finishers, and two more promo foils given to two other players chosen at random. If you paid an entry fee higher than the normal cost of three booster packs, there should be other prizes as well.

That may well be more information than you needed, but I hope it's helpful. Feel free to ask for clarification or any additional information!
DCI Level 2 Judge WPN Advanced TO RPGA Herald-Level GM
Thanks! That was really helpful! So, the basic strategy for drafting should be to decide what two colors to draft within your first few picks, and then just nab the best cards you can for those colors as it continues? And how do you avoid drafting the same colors as the person next to you, wouldn't that really just be luck? Or I guess you can pay attention to cards you're given in a pass and see what they left behind.
Yes, that's basically right. Obviously on your very first pick you will have no idea what colour your neighbours are in (unless they open and quickly take some bomby double-faced cards), but after a few passes you will notice that some colours are looking better than others. If you get passed a high quality red card on the fourth pick, it's likely that no one on your right is in red, and that red is "open". Buuuuut, if you've been passing high quality red cards yourself, there's a good chance the player on your left is in red, so the pack that goes in the opposite direction will likely have its red cards "cut".

Another thing to consider is that not all picks represent the same level of commitment. If you draft an artifact, you are probably not commiting to any colour. Similarly, a card like Doom Blade represents a much smaller commitment to black than does a card like Crypt Ripper. The Doom Blade can be profitably "splashed" in any colour deck by adding a couple of swamps, but the Ripper requires a serious majority-black deck in order to have much value. So, if you can keep your commitment relatively low during the first few picks, without passing up any really good cards, you may be better off. Once you can see which colours are more available than others, it's more reasonable to make a commitment.

So, in order to draft very effectively, you need to be mindful of every card that you've seen, and every card that you've passed, and to whom. You need to think about what the players on your left and right side are probably thinking and doing, based on what you've received and what you've sent. To an extent, you can influence their behaviour by sending "signals" using the cards in the pack; for example, you might pass a really good blue card as a signal that screams "blue is open for you". This is one of the reason why draft is considered very skill-intensive.

For your first draft, it's probably not worthwhile to think too carefully about signaling and whatnot, as it comes with practice. In fact, much of that analysis is worthless unless you can quickly and correctly perform card evaluation on the cards you see. For example, if you think Chimney Imp is good just because he's hard to block, you may wrongly conclude that black is open (flying is normally a good form of evasion, but he costs waaaay too much mana).
DCI Level 2 Judge WPN Advanced TO RPGA Herald-Level GM
Ok, that makes a lot of sense! Thanks for being so helpful! Your advice will make FNM tomorrow a lot more enjoyable since I'll have a decent idea of basic strategy and whatnot.
I highly recommend checking out some draft videos (I enjoy ChannelFireball.com's, and those guys are really great players).  It will really help you learn what some of the pros think of certain cards and archetypes.

Check out the Limited section of the forum.  We rate various cards, run through some practice drafts and discuss other topics in that section.  It can give you an idea about what the average to above average player thinks about when they're drafting or looking at the cards.

Finally, check out the Limited Information columns on the dailymtg site (off Magic's main website).  That's a weekly column focused on discussing topics about the limited environment and can be helpful for finding certain combos and other strategies.
I just got back from the draft. I drafted blue/white and went 0-3 hahaha, but I had fun and all the players were really helpful. This is what I ended up playing:



In hindsight, probably should've drafted werewolves because my pod had a ton of good werewolves. I also probably should've drafted more creatures. But, blue and white had the best pulls in my first few packs so thats what I had to go with.

Glad to hear you had fun! Your drafting will definitely improve with time.

I won't comment too much on your deck (unless you really want to hear it), except to say that I agree it needed more creatures and fewer non-creature spells! And I'll pose this question: Did you notice any cards sitting in your hand a lot, or not really having much of an impact on the game when you did cast them?
DCI Level 2 Judge WPN Advanced TO RPGA Herald-Level GM
Artful Dodge sat in my hand a lot. I probably shouldn't have drafted that since most of my creatures had a way of evading. Other than that, once I got the other cards on the field they did help a bit. I don't think I ever drew Thought Scour.