Table of Contents
- Table of Contents
- Deck Construction
- On the Play vs. On the Draw
- Land Ordering
- The 3 Board States
- Late Game
- Mana Curve
- Mana Base
- Tier Lists
- Format and Meta Evaluation
- Mental Fortitude, Complaining, and Tilt
- Trap Mythics and Rares
- Magic Terminology
Table of Contents
Hi! My name is Andrew Bridge, but you can find me on Twitch as Kingesquire. I enjoy complicated puzzles, language, and strategy. I started playing Magic in February 2021. In April 2022, I reached Mythic in limited for the first time and finished the month at #184. I finished #96 in May and on June 2nd I finally hit Mythic #1.
I have improved by reading articles, watching streamers and playing a lot. I want to share some of the things I have learned from playing, talking to other players, and interacting with streamers.
While there is variance, I’ve learned that there is a lot you can do in the draft and game play segments to keep improving.
Before you draft, do a little research and get an understanding of what the archetypes are for the format. Is it allied or enemy color pairs? Which archetypes are strong? Which archetypes are under-drafted? Oftentimes you can get a strong deck in an under drafted color pair if you can pick up some of the strong rare and uncommon cards.
Also make sure you are well hydrated and rested because Magic is a thought-intensive game, and even one little mistake can compound into a loss.
You have probably heard about the BREAD method for draft (Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, and Duds). I would add lands to this because I think it is important for staying open as well as reading signals on what people are taking. If your pack 1 pick 1 is full of duds and mediocre cards, a good land in your favorite color pair can be a good pick up. If you see a strong land card from pick 6 onwards it can be a strong indicator that color pair is open.
Tier lists are great for picks 1, 2 and 3. After that you are much less likely to see any highly rated cards. You might look at the pack for pick 7 and think it is full of duds, but cards in other colors may become a part of your deck, even if it is just a mediocre creature in another color. It can also show you what is cut and what is open.
If you see a pack 1 pick 1 that has 6 strong cards in a certain color pair, even if it is the strongest color pair, it might be a good idea to take the one good card that isn’t in that pair in the hopes that the table will give you an open lane. In SNC, I have taken a pick one Girder Goons when there have been lots of blue white cards in the pack and built a strong Rakdos deck. Being mindful of what you pass and trying to cut a color can lead to a powerful and less common deck.
I start looking for late picks around pick 4 to see if my lane is open and what is in the pack that shouldn’t be. Murder, Strangle, Inspiring Overseer, Echo Inspector, and Jewel Thief are some of the prime examples. You can also start looking for which commons are missing as early as pick 2. If your Pick 2 still has a rare and 3 uncommons you know that your neighbour took a common and if one color is missing than that is an extremely strong indicator.
You generally want to diversify your suite of threats and removal spells. If you have a deck full of 3 and 4 cost removal and face an opponent playing 10 two drops you are going to have a tempo disadvantage and may get overwhelmed. Different removal is best used against different creatures. Call In a Professional, Deal Gone Bad, and Whack are some of the most effective answers to shield counters, but don’t work against 5+ toughness creatures. Sky Crier is a good early threat but if you run too many of them and don’t have any ground blockers you will likely get outraced by your opponent.
Once you have drafted your strong cards in the first few picks it is important to pick up curve fillers. Since it is limited it doesn’t matter whether you “like a card” because sometimes you have to play cards to fill a need whether it is removal or a 4 drop. Your deck needs some way to win whether it is tempo, value, evasion, going tall, going wide, mill, or some other win condition. Getting a little bit of each into your deck can be good or you can go all in on one strategy.
While you are drafting you need to think of your gameplan or you might just end up with a bunch of random creatures with a few removals while hoping you get lucky in your draw order to win. If you have an Illuminator Virtuoso or two all of a sudden you want to prioritize Security Bypass or combat tricks that make you fly like Majestic Metamorphosis. The uncommon and rares you draft often give you guidance into which commons you should pick to complement them. If you pick up Metropolis Angel you want things that have counters, whereas if you got an Elegant Entourage, you want cards that put multiple bodies on the board like Rakish Revelers, Exhibition Magician, or instant speed creatures like Warm Welcome and Cabaretti Charm.
If you are white blue you will likely pick up a few fliers, bounce and tap cards, and cheap creatures for a tempo game. Blue black generally wants graveyard recursion and mana cost variety to enable the graveyard synergies. Card advantage creatures are particularly strong like Corpse Appraiser and Inspiring Overseer, but Cabaretti has those as well in Rocco and Brazen Upstart (though not quite as powerful).
Ben Stark is one of the best streamers I have seen in talking through his draft picks. He goes into detail with each pick and explains why the card he is picking will synergize well with his deck. I think synergy is an extremely important key word when drafting because bombs can help you win games if you draw them but a synergistic deck will help you win consistently.
I was analyzing one of my builds today on sealeddeck.tech:
The breakdown of ratings is as follows:
- S: 0
- A: 0
- A-: 0
- B+: 0
- B: 1
- B-: 12
- C+: 6
- C: 2
- C-: 3
- D+: 1
Now there are some problems with this deck. Big Score is probably out of place. I would have liked something besides Sticky Fingers, Forge Boss isn’t really needed since I have so many 4 cost blitz creatures, and it could use more plays on turn 3. The average grade it would receive based on the rankings is about a C+. This deck went 5-3 and I made gems on it. I used to look at tier lists and see things ranked C or D and think wow I don’t want to put any of those cards in my deck. I would avoid them while drafting and avoid them while deck building.
I recently realized that nearly every card has its place. I think a better approach is a synergy guide because while tier lists can be good in a vacuum or for a pack 1 pick 1 situation, after that there are a lot more questions you need to be asking yourself when evaluating a pack for which card to pick.
If everyone at your table is fighting for the best Bant cards while leaving red and black wide open there is an opportunity to take a pile of “C” rated cards and make them work.
On the Play vs. On the Draw
In best of 1 (bo1), sometimes you will be on the play and sometimes you will be on the draw. This means you need to build your deck to win in both scenarios. Proactive spells and plays are stronger on the play like curving out high power creatures like Crooked Custodian and holding up counter spells. On the draw a better strategy might be to have early blockers with high toughness like Brokers Initiate and some efficient removal to regain board control. In best of 3, you are able to sideboard for this but best of 1 you just have to build your deck to be the strongest against all matchups and work as well under both conditions.
You need to understand how your deck is going to use mana. If you have a lot of counterspells you should prioritize a few instant cast spells or flash creatures so that if you are passing with a counterspell up and your opponent does not cast anything it does not strand your mana. Conversely, if you have a lot of early creatures that cost 2, 3, and 4 and no instants then you may consider not playing counter spells in your deck since you will likely be curving out and using all your mana.
The mulligan decision is tricky and can be a significant source of frustration if you get a few 0-1 land hands in a row. It is easier to feel ok doing a mulligan when you are on the draw, since you get an extra card before your first play.
Mulligans are very deck dependent and if you have mullliganed two or three times it may give you a higher chance to win to keep that one lander rather than give up yet another card. I keep nearly every two-land hand that I get as long as I have a play on turn 2, or a play on turn three if I draw any land.
If you have a two land hand and need a specific land to play a card on turn 2 or 3 I would likely mulligan unless I have 9+ sources of that land in my deck. And even then I think it is a judgment call.
Planning out your mana for the first 3 turns is very important especially if you are running multiple tap lands in your deck. Cards like Civil Servant and Body Dropper are important to play around, especially if you run multiple copies and do not have one in your opening hand.
If you have a Maestros Theater, a swamp, and a mountain in your hand it may be tempting to play Maestros Theater for island for a later blue card that you know is in your deck. However, I have done plays like this and regretted it on turn two when I was unable to cast my two color 2 drop.
Make sure you think about how you want to play your tap lands and if you have multiple tap lands in your hand whether you want to play two tap lands in a row to guarantee a 3 cost card on turn 3 or play a tap land into untapped for your two drop and gamble on drawing a third untapped land source for turn 3.
The 3 Board States
The three board states are:
- Being ahead where you have more or better creatures than your opponent,
- Being behind where you have less or worse creatures,
- And a board stall where the board is fairly even and neither party can attack.
When evaluating a card for draft a good tactic is to think about how the card plays out in each scenario. The strongest cards will be good in all three scenarios. If you are playing a deck that does not have many two drops you will want cards like Night Clubber, Hostile Takeover, or Depopulate that can bring you back in the game from behind.
Watching Dafore and Ekil has taught me to take my time on turns and analyze the board state. You want to think about what your plan is, what your opponents plan is, how you can win, how your opponent can win, and how your opponent can stop you from winning. There are so many decisions to make each turn from setting stops and which lands to tap, to which creatures to attack and block with and which spells to cast.
In combat, it is important to consider the instant speed interaction that your opponent can cast. In general when you attack you want to be comfortable passing no matter what blocking configuration your opponent has done. Being the first actor is usually bad since it leaves you open to be blown out. Sometimes this means just attacking with your 3/3 into their 2/3 and waiting to see if they have a trick so you can blow them out with your removal spell. Sometimes this means swinging all and being comfortable sacrificing a creature or a few in order to get in a lot of damage. If the opponent is tapped out from playing something the turn before combat is easy, but when you both have a lot of creatures, cards, and open mana things get tricky.
Knowing the set mechanics is also important for when to use tricks. Should I cast my pump spell before combat, after declaring attackers, or after blocks have been assigned? In Neon Dynasty it was important to block if you were concerned about ninjas, while in Streets of New Capenna blocking is fairly discouraged due to the Quick-Draw Dagger and all the tricks. If you are running a conditional trick or card like For the Family it can be blown out by your opponent removing your creatures so you have less than 4 creatures when the trick resolves. It is important when running conditional cards to take your opponents responses into consideration while you are deciding which line to take. Most conditions are determined when the spell resolves, but a few count from when the spell is cast like Flame Discharge from NEO so it is important to understand how the card interacts.
There are a lot of spells your opponents could have when attacking like Kill Shot, Swooping Protector, Murder, and Torch Breath to name a few. It is good to try and play around what you think the opponent most likely has, but be careful not to psych yourself out and miss damage by putting them on cards they don’t have multiple turns in a row.
Deciding whether to block and when to cast your instant speed spells depends on the format, what colors your opponent is playing, whether you are happy with the on board blocks, and how much open mana your opponent has. To play at a high level, it is important to know all the instant speed spells that can be cast with the opponents open mana. You can determine all the potential spells your opponent can cast in combat.
Deciding what to play around depends on your life total, what stage of the game you are in, and the current board state. If it is turn 3 and your opponent has 3 open mana and is making an unfavorable attack, they likely have some sort of trick. If you think your deck can out value your opponent late game and you have a cheap removal and creature in your hand it might be advantageous to block and get the trick out of their hand so you can swing the tempo next turn. If your opponent is smart, they will likely be attacking with all or most of the mana untapped.
Pay attention to whether an opponent has played a land yet for the turn because even if they tap out and attack, they could play a land and cast a 1 mana spell post combat. I was watching a game between two great streamers when one attacked their Expendable Lackey into a Brokers Initiate. After blocks they played witness protection on the Broker’s Initiate and the leftover combat damage killed it.
Alternatively, if an opponent is making an unfavorable attack and has played a tap land or did not play a creature the previous turn, their hand may be full of interaction and not creatures. If you don’t block and they attack and are unable to play another creature, you could strand the opponent’s mana and gain a tempo advantage that way. It is a delicate balance to decide whether you want to try and get a trick out or strand their mana.
Once you have played out the first several turns oftentimes both players will have played out their hands, and you will start top decking. At this point it is important to think about how you will close out the game. You have likely heard people say “Who is the beat down?” That is an important principle but beyond that, you may have to look to sneaking in lethal by baiting your opponent into a trick or being over aggressive or even milling your opponent out.
There are some great players that calculate plays for future turns, and vocalizes them when they stream. This is very similar to chess where you look at the board state and count how many turns to lethal (checkmate) if the assumed plays are made by both sides. You can look at the blocks and attacks your opponent will make depending on how you attack in the current turn and whether to play your cards at sorcery or instant speed. Sometimes letting all or most of the opponent’s attacks go through and going to 1 health can be the winning line if you think your opponent does not have any damage from hand. Don’t forget to use your life total as a resource.
Value is an important aspect in limited and it can come in various forms. Obvious examples are Corpse Appraiser and Inspiring Overseer because they are strong blockers and attackers and when you play them you get another card to replace them. Sam Black is known for drafting value decks and grinding out his opponent. Often when I see him win he has 5 or more cards in hand, while his opponent has no cards and an empty board with a high life total. The best value cards can be played on curve and replace themselves, but other can often be clunky or be more geared to late game strategies like graveyard recursion and board wipes.
Combat trick blow outs are another form of value that create a tempo advantage too. If a weak creature attacks into your strong creature and the opponent plays a pump spell and you counter it with Murder or your own pump spell that is a two for one and another form of value.
Draw spells and looting or rummaging effects can create card advantage which is quasi value and also important.
If you don’t have a strong late game, you will likely be trying to win on tempo. Cards that tap or bounce opponent’s creatures, creatures with enter the battlefield effects creating treasures or multiple creatures, and efficient removal can create tempo advantages.
It is important to evaluate cards not only for their strength but for their place in your deck. Sometimes I see players drafting an aggressive deck and they will put in an expensive removal or graveyard recursion spell. Although it may have a powerful effect, it doesn’t fit with the gameplan of the rest of the deck.
Cheap spells also help create tempo advantages. The earlier in the game you can start casting two or more spells a turn, the greater chance you will have a tempo advantage. Cards that cost one are great for this and can often be good enablers for more expensive spells down the line or even just stay back and chump block while you attack with evasive creatures.
Mana curve is often something people can be blind to while drafting. People see the power level of a card on a tier list and think they have to put it in their deck no matter what. Strong cards often have restrictive color requirements and a powerful Mythic that is sitting in your hand because you are unable to cast it is not going to help you win the game. One way to think about which cards to put in your deck is Magic Money Ball where each card has a certain win rate in your deck and you want to optimize the percentage to win the game. You might think that this means to play every mythic, rare, and powerful card but your lands are nearly half of your deck and each land contributes to your win rate as well.
When you put a card like Sanctuary Warden in a deck that is not base white the Warden may have a 70% win rate compared to a random card like Dapper Shieldmate having 55%. But if you have to play another two plains to make your lands work each Plains you put in over another basic land may reduce your chance to win by 5-10%. Maybe it is worth it and maybe it is not, you have to take your fixing, deck plan, and power level of the rest of your deck into consideration.
Tapped lands are pretty free to play up to 4 or 5 in Streets of New Capenna so that adds to the calculation. If you are playing 20 strong cards in your non land slots with 3 filler cards and your opponent is as well, but you have several non basic lands that can create a game winning advantage by letting you play your spells easier.
Most draft decks are creature based with the majority of the non land cards being creatures. It is important to have enough playable creatures at mana costs 2, 3, and 4. Sometimes a Chrome Cat can be better than a 7 cost rare or mythic if you don’t have enough creatures to play on turn 3.
Kyle Rose, TheHamTV, was streaming on Twitch and was drafting a strong GW aggressive deck in Streets of New Capenna. I said, “Wow, that must be a strong deck if you are not including Exotic Pets in it”. He told me that even though it was a great card, his mana base didn’t support it.
I often make the mistake of drafting or trying to fit “S” tier cards into a deck that doesn’t quite have the mana base to support it or has strong enough cards without it. Kyle is a great example of only playing cards his mana base supports and his win rate shows it. Although, he can be bribed to splash for example an Elspeth Resplendent in his BR sacrifice deck for the right price.
Often it is correct to play less powerful cards that fit your curve well and reduce the splash in your deck over off color bombs. If you really want to splash there are ways to do it with treasure generation, mana fixing artifacts, and tapped lands. Make sure your deck can support the splash and don’t overlook lesser played connive cards like Revel Ruiner and Psionic Snoop as ways to filter or just fill a place on the curve.
When I started drafting magic about a year ago during Kaldheim, I was so thankful to have tier lists from different streamers. After drafting for a few months with my friends, I started to rely even more heavily on tier lists while I was drafting. I could easily identify the strongest cards in a pack and this set me up well in Strixhaven for Temur spell piles and Orzhov aggro. Rarely I would trophy and sometimes I would go 0-3. I thought – oh well, that’s just the variance of Magic. At that time I was free to play and only drafted a few times a week because I would often not make my gems back.
Basically you need a way to not get run over in the early game before your deck can execute its game plan. This is where the danger of tier lists comes in. If you get to pack 3 and have been drafting expensive cards the whole game and all of a sudden realize you don’t have any early game, you might panic a little bit. You get to pack 3, pick 7 and see a halo scarab or chrome cat. If you pull up the 17Lands data or look at a tier list and see that it only has a game in hand win rate of 52.4% or is ranked D you might say to yourself I don’t want to lose I am not going to put that card in my deck.
Synergy and curve are two very important aspects that the tier list will not help you with. On the tier list I am looking at, Sewer Crocodile, Speakeasy Server, Pyre-Sledge Arsonist, Capenna Express, and Demon's Due are all ranked D. If you have a good graveyard deck, can go wide, have lots of treasures or tapped lands to sac, have 3 power creatures, or have a Queza, Augur of Agonies or reason to draw in black respectively these cards can help you win the game.
Tier lists are great for helping you evaluate which card to take Pack 1 Pick 1 but after that you need to evaluate which card is best in your deck and not just in a vacuum.
Format and Meta Evaluation
Understanding what defines a format is extremely helpful when drafting and improving your win rate. Streets of New Capenna is a pretty fast format and is defined by the commons. Inspiring Overseer, Jewel Thief, Echo Inspector, Girder Goons, and Strangle are good examples of this. Neon Dynasty was more centered around uncommons while Crimson Vow was focused on rares.
Two drops are always important but in SNC it is even more so. Raffine's Informant can be taken over many uncommons and a decent amount of rares for example. In other sets a 2/1 looter for 2 is ok to good, but in this set it is great.
Another great example is Star Pupil in Strixhaven and Iron Apprentice in Neon Dynasty have wildly different power levels. It depends on the synergistic support the rest of the set lends to the card. The artifact synergy in Neon Dynasty boosted the power level of Iron Apprentice compared to the relative lack of counter synergy in Strixhaven.
If you are drafting blue white in SNC and have a choice between Raffine’s Informant and Celestial Regulator, one is a payoff and the other is an enabler for putting counters on creatures. In this deck you want cards that give or have counters (Raffine’s Informant and Back-up Agent) and cards that have an extra effect or payoff if you control a creature with a counter (Exotic Pets, Celestial Regulator, Metropolis Angel, Falco Spara, Pactweaver).
Then you ask yourself about your curve. Do I have enough 2 drops is a very important question in this format. Now you can cheat a little bit and a “2 drop” can actually be a 1 drop, or a removal spell, or a counter spell, or in a rare case a bunch of tap lands to gain life.
So often I hear people say “I hate that card” and I am guilty of it too. After drafting a lot of while blue I didn’t really like Dapper Shieldmate. I also used to not like Pacifisms, since they didn’t cancel out passive effects often and people could still sacrifice the cards for casualty or other value, or use them to fight and get value. Some people hate Paragon of Modernity or say Stimulus Package, Buy your Silence, or Capenna Express are unplayable.
I realized that there are advantages and disadvantages to each kind of removal. Sorcery speed is usually cheaper and more powerful, Pacifisms have anti-synergy if you have effects that make the opponent sacrifice a creature but are great against graveyard recursion, exile effects are usually expensive, flat damage spells are weak against pumping combat tricks, etc.
Capenna Express and Stimulus Package can work well if you get the right synergy pieces like Pyre-Sledge Arsonist, or even just a lot of Gathering Throngs or other 3 power creatures to crew the Capenna Express. Not many ground creatures can attack past a 6/6 body, even with a combat trick. Even Jackhammer might have a place in Jund if you are running Goldhound, Cabaretti Initiate, or Revel Ruiner. Equipment is pretty great with menace or first strike already on the creature.
Mental Fortitude, Complaining, and Tilt
I had a nice win streak lately followed by a bad loss streak and was thinking to myself what happened? I was tired, tilted, and sure I wasn’t doing anything THAT incorrectly. So many things can contribute to losing and it is easy to blame external factors so you don’t have to take responsibility and confront the ugly truth that you probably played some part in you losing. Yes, there is variance and luck, but there a lot of things you can control in magic starting from before you even press the button to join the draft as I mentioned in the Pre-Draft section.
People having bombs in their deck, getting mana screwed, flooded, or not drawing what you need when you need it are all part of Magic. And guess what, if you have played enough games you get the same luck as everyone else. Yes, bombs are powerful in every format, but the game is a puzzle to solve and you can win without Mythics or Rares in your deck. The best players have consistent win rates over 70% in best of three and over 60% in best of one over a large sample size and no card is unbeatable.
Expensive bombs like Sanctuary Warden, Titan of Industry, Dreadfeast Demon, and Avabruck Caretaker, cost 6 or 7 mana. Often times when I see people complain about losing to them, they are in a board stall, top decking cards, and slightly behind on board. The opponent plays a bomb, the player throws up their hands, and if they don’t concede on the spot they start complaining and cursing about how that’s the only reason they lost. If that bomb instead were a 7/7 for 7 they probably would have lost the game too.
The reason you lost is probably either an earlier misplay or ten, bad deck construction, or sometimes there’s just variance which is a part of the game. If you are concerned about bombs you can include witness protection, buy your silence, murder, counterspells, bounce spells, or other cards that deal with the particular bombs you don’t want to lose to. Properly constructed tempo decks can often decide a game before the opponent can get the mana to play their bomb.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself when playing. If you feel yourself getting hungry, tired, or angry you know what to do.
The bottom line is if you want to learn and improve don’t blame bad luck or variance, just think about how you can win next time.
Trap Mythics and Rares
Be wary of what I call trap cards that are usually Mythics or Rares that can be tempting to pick early but are actually weaker than a fair number of uncommon and common cards. Angel of Suffering, Ognis, the Dragon's Lash, and Lord Xander, the Collector are examples.
They look strong and can be conditionally powerful if you have the right deck for them, but if you draft them pack 1 pick 1 and force them into your deck you are often doing yourself a disservice. Especially the 3 color rares picked early can cause you to want to force a color combo rather than staying open and if you don’t get the right mix of enablers and payoffs for the rare or mythic cards in your deck then you may be better off playing a Halo Scarab.
If you are still reading this article, you probably know that a plain 2/2 creature that costs 2 mana is called a bear in magic terminology. The card this refers to is Grizzly Bears from Alpha that was a 2/2 for 1G.
I was thinking to myself while drafting today that a useful exercise is to ask myself what kind of bears do I have and what kind of bears do I want. “Which bear is best?” Do I want a bear that puts a counter on itself, a shape shifting bear, a bear with an enter the battlefield or death trigger, or just a bear with an ability I might not even activate like Tavern Swindler.
Sometimes the extra point of toughness from a 2/1 to a 2/2 can be very relevant. Don’t overlook creatures that are less powerful as curve fillers because you’d often rather play a suboptimal creature on curve than leave your mana open because you don’t have any 3 drop creatures.
Girder Goons? 5
Taplands? 2-4 in 2 color tempo 4-5 in three colors, up to 8 in multicolor madness
Great 2 drops like Civil Servant? 9
Great 3 drops like Jewel Thief and Inspiring Overseer? As many as you can get
It depends, but for a baseline I would say 8. If the card on its own is stronger maybe less, if the card is pretty weak on its own without the synergy maybe a little bit more.
I would avoid best of 3 at first because of the sideboarding process and reward structure being more punishing for new players. Quick Draft is an inexpensive way to get started and you can take as much time as you need on each pick. Looking up articles on the format you are playing in, powerful archetypes, strong commons, and trying to force a color pair based on the first rare or strong card you open can work well for a new player.
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