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Part 2 – Understanding Draft Play
by Tim Kotula

Introduction to Booster Draft

Booster Draft is a popular Limited format in which players are seated around a table and choose the cards to draft for their decks one by one, rather than work with a random card pool. It is generally less expensive than Sealed Deck, but is also more challenging, requires better card analysis and, because you will be interacting with other players to build your card pool, an awareness of your surroundings. (If you are new to Limited formats, I highly recommend that you or your group begin with the Sealed Deck format and work your way up from there. Skip down for an explanation of Sealed.)

The Draft

When you begin, you will receive 3 booster packs from the current block. These boosters will vary depending on how much of the block has been released so far. As of this update (Feb 2006), you'd receive two Ravnica packs and one Guildpact pack. Each player is then seated around the table (assume you have 8 players**) in the following fashion:

8                2
7                3
6                4

Upon a signal from the judge (or whoever is in charge), each player opens their first booster (in this case, CHK), studies the cards for a few moments, picks a card and then passes the pack to the player on his or her immediate left. He or she then receives a pack from the player to his or her immediate right, chooses another card, passes left, etc. until there are no more cards remaining.

At that point, everyone opens their second booster (BoK, in this case) and picks a card, however the passing order reverses - players now pass to the right and receive from the left. Drafting continues until all cards are drafted. The third pack (SoK) is then opened and the order then reverses again, back to normal - pass left, receive right.

Once all three packs have been drafted, each player should have a pool of 45 cards. At this point, all players go into the deck building phase, which is essentially the same as Sealed Deck - min. 40-card decks, as much basic land as you need (see the tournament organizer for land), etc. At a sanctioned event, there will likely be a 30-minute time limit on deck construction. If you are just starting out with drafting and playing casual, I would advise omitting the time limit to allow new drafters time to sort things out.

Just a few 'rules of thumb' when building your deck...

1. Don't run decks larger than the 40-card minimum - by including unnecessary cards in your deck, you merely decrease your chances of drawing into your best, game-winning ones.

2. Don't run 4 and 5-color decks - this is a surefire way to lose a tournament. It's highly unlikely you will be able to draft & build a single-color deck. When you drafted, you probably got settled into a couple of main colors, so it makes sense to stick to those colors. Sometimes, you may want to make a small splash for a third color, which is OK. But don't build decks involving more than 3 colors. You should also avoid excessive numbers of spells with a double color requirement.

3. Don't forget your mana curve! You will need to determine the best ratio of lands for Color X : Color Y : Color Z, so that if you do lose a game, it was because you were outplayed and lost 20 life - not because you got manascrewed. Things to account for include how many cards of each color are in your deck, whether or not any of those cards have a double colored mana requirement and the color which your primary win condition is in. 17-18 lands combined with 22-23 creatures and spells is the generally accepted norm.

**Note: It is generally desirable to have the maximum of 8 players to draft as that is the sanctioned number, however I have casually booster drafted with as few as 4. Odd numbers also work alright and the above rules do not change.

Some General Tips...

   It can be very tempting, but avoid raredrafting (unless, of course, the rare is good in Limited). Sure, that Boseiju may be worth more than that Nezumi Cutthroat or Order of the Sacred Bell, but which one is more likely to win you the tournament?

   The remaining 17-18 cards that you drafted and didn't maindeck automatically become your sideboard, which you can access after the 1st game. Effective sideboarding can be important in Limited and can actually help you win a match you otherwise wouldn't. Sideboarding is covered in greater detail in the next article.

   Since you are only allowed to view the cards you've already drafted in-between packs, it's a good idea to learn to memorize what you've drafted, so you can make smart card choices. This will also help prepare you to learn how to read signals, which I've also saved for the advanced article.

I hope you found this article helpful. Good luck at your next Limited event!

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