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I know that doing a booster draft can be somewhat complicated, because to really be good you need to know a lot about the set you're drafting (or be really good at evaluating cards quickly) and to pay attention to signal cards.

Besides going into the whole complicated strategies of knowing the set and paying attention to signal cards, what are some relatively simple/basic guidelines for drafting?

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If you don't already, go watch some drafts on channelfireball.com. LSV in particular is one of the best Limited players in the world, and his draft videos are usually brilliant examples of how it should be done. Free, too! –  thesunneversets Oct 1 '11 at 11:09
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

"BREAD" is key, but there is another technique that helps a lot in most Limited formats:

Draft archetypes, not colors.

The theory behind "drafting archetypes" is that a great Limited deck, like a great Constructed deck, is defined by the power, consistency, and efficiency of all its cards working together rather than any individual piece by itself.

In a not-just-for-"hardcore"-players environment like FNM, many of the players will be rather busy just trying their best to follow the "BREAD" rules and color-signal to their neighbors. They'll often be drafting cards based on individual perceived value, leading to a field full of "good stuff" decks (individually strong cards with little synergy between them). "Good stuff" decks tend to suck; a reasonably focused deck -- almost independent of the specific focus -- can trounce them. That's what you're trying to draft: not just a color combo with a few bombs but a full concept like "infect aggro", "blue/white flyers", or "reanimator".

Pick a game plan early. Pay close attention to your mana curve. Choose colors based on what has the cards you need and don't be afraid to switch if the well runs dry. Rare-draft a nice mythic if you really want to (you'll likely have more than enough depth in your colors to make up for it), but don't get caught up taking cards just because they're "powerful" individually.

Homing in on cards that complement each other lets you get enormous value out of what would otherwise be middling cards or last-pick trash. Even if you don't see a single powerhouse red bomb or choice red removal card, a steady trickle of aggressive red 1-drops and 2-drops is a solid basis for an aggro deck.

Drafting archetypes still involves signals. Watch especially for enablers. Some of the most obvious examples are tribal "lords" like Rakish Heir and Lord of Illusions. Others are build-a-deck-around-me combo-ish cards like Gutter Grime and Past in Flames. Conventional wisdom is that these cards are all rather weak because it's hard to get enough cards to make them work, but consider that you're likely to see hundreds of cards as the packs make their way around, and many of the cards that complete your deck are likely to be passed as "dregs". Being able to pass a card that you know will win games for you and have it come all the way around back to you is an amazingly rewarding feeling.


The trade-off is that it's hard to really be good at drafting archetypes without spending time learning a particular Limited card pool. Unlike the easier fundamentals, your Zendikar-block archetype drafting skills won't necessarily translate into Innistrad-block archetype drafting skills. Still, it doesn't take an inordinate amount of time to learn the basics -- it's mostly stuff you're already aware of if you're making constructed decks or following new set previews -- and the benefits are sizable.

Basic aggro decks are the easiest archetypes to draft. You can often do well in a draft just by making a deck that's faster than most players'. High-synergy aggro and aggro-control are the next step up in difficulty, because you really do have to know the specific card pool well to hit the critical mass of key cards for your deck. Straight-up control decks are trickier just because the cards you want most are the much-desired "Bombs" and "Removal", but most sets have lots of chronically undervalued control cards like Geistflame and Steel Sabotage.

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You asked ghoppe for "the generals of bombs and efficient spells". I'll try to add my 2p worth, taking that as a starting point for the answer.

The thing to remember about all Limited formats is that decks aren't going to end up anywhere near as finely tuned as constructed decks. This goes doubly so for Sealed Deck, where you just have to reduce the clunkiness of your pool to manageable levels, but even in Draft you generally aren't going to end up with anything incredibly synergetic or finely tuned: four turn kills are pretty rare!

As such, you're just aiming to produce a deck that's a pretty good Magic deck. That's where the BREAD mnemonic comes in. What are the fundamentals of a pretty good deck? (i) Cards that take over and win the game very quickly if left unanswered - those are the BOMBS. (ii) Cards that stop the opponent's bombs from taking over and winning the game. That's the REMOVAL. Those are the two pillars. Beyond that, you want cards that are going to slowly chip away at the opponent even when you're in a bit of a stalemate situation. Those are the cards with EVASION, that can't be blocked, and any EFFICIENT cards that can net you card advantage over the course of the game, and win wars of attrition that way. No one would say that Divination was "a bomb", but if you and your opponent have nothing much else going on, Divination is exactly the sort of card that you need to maximise your chances of winning a top deck war.

Modern Magic is, alas, way more bomb-centric than it used to be, because Wizards likes to boost sales by having slightly overpowered Planeswalkers and monsters in the rare and mythic slots. As an example, look at the way that every modern Magic set has a dragon which basically reads "if you untap and attack with this, it's pretty much impossible for you to lose the game". Obviously you don't want to pass cards like these if you open them, if at all possible, but equally don't underestimate the value of cards that deal with them. The likes of Pacifism and Doom Blade may not be as flashy as your rare Angels, Demons and Dragons, but they still deal with them on a one-for-one basis, and are essential for your game plan.

Apart from all that basic how-to-win-Limited-games stuff, the key to good drafting is just to understand how passing to the left, then to the right, then to the left again works. In the first pack, you need to be taking care to notice what your right-hand-opponent (RHO) is passing to you, and what you're feeding to your LHO. If you first pick the aforementioned rare red dragon, but never get passed another red card, you have to take that as a signal, and not get obsessed with fighting for red. Likewise, it's often an excellent first pick, if the best, third best and fourth best cards in a pack are, let's say, white, and the second best card is black, to take the second best card. The players downstream will be fighting over white, while you stand a good chance of cutting off any good black that would otherwise pique the interest of your LHO for the whole of the pack. This will almost certainly result in you getting fed much better black cards in pack two, as your LHO will hopefully have settled on different colours for his deck.

If you can cooperate with your neighbours' signals, you should be able to produce a good or excellent Magic deck, and hopefully go on to win the draft by dint of your play skills. If you fight with your neighbours, your job will be much harder! It's always funny to watch draft videos where a stream of amazing cards in one colour go past the drafter, and they can't pick them up because they've committed to another direction. If your stubborn pride and/or sheer inability to pick up on the signal that a colour is open until it's too late mean you're feeding your neighbours a deck that is much more broken than the one you're drafting... you're making your life much harder than is ideal! Try not to fall into such a trap.

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I've done really well in events with just a low curve and a card like Thalia or Galvanic Juggernaut as my best "bomb," so they're definitely not required. I think the real value of bombs is that they compensate for a lot of sloppy deckbuilding. With Jace, 2x Hypersonic Dragon, and Mizzium Mortars in my RTR sealed pool, I could stuff the rest of the deck with all kinds of random durdle cards -- cards that were mainly weaker than my opponents', but good enough to get me to my bombs -- and still win a whole bunch of games. –  Alex P Oct 29 '12 at 15:25
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Evan Erwin has an interesting article about learning to draft on Star City Games.

He uses an acronym BREAD to remember the order you should be picking.

  • Look for Bombs
  • Look for Removal
  • Look for Efficient spells.
  • Look for Aggro (1-3 mana creatures to get in the early damage)
  • Take the Dregs.

I'd modify his acronym and make E also stand for Evasion. It's good to find creatures with flying, or "cannot be blocked" abilities… even if it's Trample, to get through creature stalemates.

  • Pay attention to your mana curve. You generally don't want to end up with a deck of 4+ mana cost spells and no low mana spells or a bunch of aggro creatures with no finisher.
  • The 4th - 5th pick is likely the best pack to see what colours seem under-picked. If there's a card you're surprised to see still in the pack, you may want to go that way.
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what's the generals of bombs and efficient spells? –  DForck42 Oct 1 '11 at 18:13
    
A bomb is something like: Wurmcoil engine, Garruk, Sword of fire and ice or Phyrexian Rebirth. Efficient spells could be: Sky eel school, Darkslick Drake and the likes. –  AndSoYouCode Nov 1 '11 at 16:26
    
This is a great starting point, but be aware that some creature-light formats would probably change this to BARED ;-) –  Hyppy Jun 13 '12 at 23:24
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