Thursday, 16 April 2009

The fundamental rules of drafting - #3

By Jim Marlow

Hey everyone,

Well i really hope this series of articles is useful for anyone looking to improve their drafting skills, and this article will address the last of my 7 fundamental rules of drafting and give a brief summary.

If you have any questions or comments about this series of articles, i would really appreciate your thoughts, either at the end of the article, or emailed to me at, or even just talk to me at a WNM.

So these final pieces of advice about drafting are really just some final thoughts that should help cover all elements of how to become a successful limited player. Although these final 2 rules are aimed at a less experianced level of player, i believe the points raised in this article are often overlooked by people who are more experianced.

Rule 6) Building your deck and manabase

A draft deck, in my opinion, should never, ever, be over 40 cards. I have once or twice played the elusive 41st card or more, but in reality it is never worthwhile, throws the amount of mana needed off balance, and reduces the chances of you drawing the best card(s) in your deck.

Most of you will know the basic rules of deckbuilding, but here they are in case you dont know/have forgotten or are unsure. (all are subject to some change, it will be explained later)

- a draft deck should have 17 lands and 23 spells
- around 14-15 creatures, with 8-9 non creature spells
- try to draft on a mana curve, with a range of spells with different converted mana costs.

Obviously these are not set in stone, but if you remember these basic guidelines it should stop you from diverging too far from this.

However, it is fine to play a deck with 15 or 16 lands in it, if all of your spells have a very low converted mana cost, or if you have lots of mana accelerants. Also, you may wish to play 18 or more if you have lots of spells with high converted mana costs, or if you a lot of different colours in your deck.

The same rule applies with the creature/non creature spells. I tend to aim for around 15 creatures, but sometimes when playing a 5 colour deck, for instance, my deck may only have 8 or 9 creatures, but plenty of removal, cantrip or accelerants.

Building your manabase is almost as important as picking the mana fixing for your deck during the actual draft, because of course if you dont have the land, you cant play the spells. There are a lot of considerations to make when building your manabase.

Some people have very serious mathematical ways in which they choose the number of each type of lands to play, but i do not. Im probably building my decks slightly wrong but i will go through the processes of how i determine my manabases.

1) count the number of mana symbols in each card.

I count each mana symbol in the corner, plus those in the activated abilities i intend to use (you may only plan to use 1 of a battlemage's abilities to avoid a splash for example).

This gives you the a basic proportion for the number of lands you need of each type.

for example 10 white symbols, 4 blue symbols, 3 green symbols can roughly translate to 10 plains, 4 island, 3 forests.

After this i then look at when i need the man for these spells, meaning that despite having the 10 white symbols, these might all be for 5 and 6 mana spells, with all my green and blue requirements being for 2 and 3 mana spells. I would then adjust the numbers of lands to suit the costs of my spells and the colours based on costs, although i still need a high number of plains, i will have drawn more cards by the time i will be looking to play the spells with higher converted mana costs.

After this i factor in the mana fixing i have picked up in the draft, for example my panorama's might fetch 2 of my colours, meaning i can count it as a blue and white source, but i may need an extra forest for example.

This is a pretty rough guide, but once you have a basic proportion of the lands you need you just need to tweak it based upon the time at which you intend to play each spell, and the fixing you have, and you cant go far wrong.

Rule 7) Hate Drafting

I thought i would mention hate drafting because it is certainly relevent in certain, very isolated occasions, but on the whole i do not really advocate hate drafting cards.

Hate drafting is basically taking a pick out of a pack which you do not want someone else to have, over choosing a card for yourself.

The only time i really see hate drafting as relevent is round about the time of the 9th to 11th picks, where an elusive good card may have stuck in a deep booster and which you may take over the random other chaff in there because your not going to play it anyway.

However, even in this situation, especially in pack 1 where you hope to solidify a draft strategy, i would prefer to take an on colour card in order to not send mixed signals to the person drafting to my left.

Say for example that around 12th pick i am drafting naya and get a pack with a cloudhearth drake, an obelisk of naya and a load of other off colour chaff. The obelisk is semi-playable, but it will probably be in my sideboard. The drake is much better, and i dont want to get beaten around the noggin with it by an esper guy, but if the guy to my left sees the obelisk, particularly if he is in jund, he might question whether i am in naya and may pick some of the white green or other naya cards i would otherwise recieve in pack 2.

Of course, you may not want to pass it if you have put the person to your left into esper, but still, you have to question how strong you think your signals have been through the first pack, because the drake is only 1 card, but if you get a further 2 packs of solid, above value picks through the draft, your deck will end up better.

Another question is hatedrafting bombs, for example what does the esper drafter do with his pack 2 flameblast dragon or broodmate dragon etc. In my opinion, unless there is anything at all relevent in the pack (very unlikely), just ship it. There is always an answer for any problem you pass to your left, and most likely in the same pack, so it really doesnt matter if you pass the broodmate if you take the resounding silence, or the flameblast if you pocket the oblivion ring. Even though its pack 2, it doesnt mean people know what shard both you and they are in yet, so you still need to signal, and passing these bombs reinforces your signals and, assuming you get passed good cards too, means everyone will have better decks, which is always awesome.

So basically hate drafting is something to consider doing, but for me its really a last resort, because i always think there is something more productive to be done with each draft pick.


Well those are the fundamental rules of drafting. Hopefully armed with these people will be able to improve their level of drafting and their overall game. Of course, these are only the basics, and as i have found, there is a huge number of articles and other writings across the web, and i would reccomend reading as many as possible if you wish to become a better drafter.

Drafting is after all, a very relative excercise, and there are many ways to be successfull at it.

I hope you have enjoyed these articles, sorry for the length of each one, i tried to be concise but there is sadly to say quite a lot to learn, particularly for the more advanced techniques.

If you have any questions, queries, alternative opinions, or anything you would like to say about the 7 rules i would love to hear it.

I hope to see everyone at the next WNM, i just hope i dont do really badly because then i would look like a massive tit.

Anyway, hope to see everyone at the nationals qualifier this saturday, so see you then and next week will be the report from the tournament and the beginnings of my judging career, including some questions i asked riki hayashi about judging

Until then,


As always, feel free to comment on anything about this article, or anything unrelated to magic whatsoever. If you would like to contribute to the TLM blog, please email any ideas, articles, pictures or anything else to


  1. On Hatedrafting in S/S/C, and soon to be S/C/A:

    Is the possibility of (early) hatedrafts even that relevant, given that:

    If you have some U/W/b (Esper) cards from pack one, then open a broodmate, couldn't that be the legitimate start of a 5 colour draft deck? Not how I normally do things, but... Maybe something to think about, i.e. start taking the best card regardless of colour and all of the fixing you can muster. I ask mainly because I've never intentionally tried to draft a 5c draft deck, I have just ended up in them when things have gone wrong/when I'm sat to the left of Kitchen.

  2. Good articles Jim. It hits the point home about my own problems I have in drafts, namely using the review period effectively, picking cards just because they are good for removal and just hatedrafting in general.
    All things considered I find it really easy to get flustered in drafts and need to work on keeping a level head if I'm to make good picks.

  3. I definately think a broodmate pick is legitimate in pack 2 to move towards 5 colour, and even if not to splash in an esper deck. I just think that its the decks with fewer colours and more synergy that tend to work better than 5 colour good stuff in the current format.

    I kind of regret writing the articles when i did though, because i think Alara reborn may make 5 colour style decks awesome, and i think it may revert to the old shadowmoor style draft of picking all the bext cards you can, and figuring out a manabase later.

    Its really hard to write about draft because the 'rules' are all relative to format, and how people draft in your group, and so i think any pick can be justified to be honest, and if you get results with it, then do whatever works for you.

  4. Also, cheers for the feedback John, im glad you enjoyed the articles, im just sorry they were so long, but its hard to be any more brief than i was because draft is such a dynamic format, i guess that's why its so much fun.

    I had to include something about the review period, because when i went home to draft people finished one booster and just opened the next, and this made me realise how much i missed the review when i didnt have it.