Dominaria Draft Primer

Posted in How to Play Limited on April 23, 2018

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

I know you've seen us before.

The group of Magic players huddled in a circle at your local game store, cracking packs and passing cards around in a circle.

We are drafters.

And you should be one too.

Seriously, Draft is easily the best, most fun, most interesting way to play Magic. Anyone who tries it out ends up falling in love, and I think you will too.

Maybe you're an old-school player who heard about Dominaria coming back and figured you'd pop back in to see what's been going on with Magic. Or maybe you've had a Magic deck for a long time but never really took the plunge into Draft. Or maybe you're a new player who hasn't tried drafting yet but are curious about how it works and whether you should do it.

Here's the thing: Draft is way easier than you think it is!

People like to make a big deal about the endless depth and complexity in Draft, but the truth is that doing a draft is easy and fun even for relative beginners.

Don't get me wrong, Draft is the deepest, most complex, and most interesting format of Magic. I mean, I've done a podcast called Limited Resources for nine years now that is basically only about drafting! So there's a lot there for sure.

But the truth is that while becoming super good at Draft is a lifetime endeavor, getting your foot in the door isn't that hard at all.

And that's what we're going to talk about today: taking your first step so you can start enjoying the best format ever.

Take the First Step

This is where everyone gets messed up.

You'll have someone at your shop explain to you that you'll be opening three packs of Magic cards, one at a time. You'll be selecting one card at a time from the pack, then passing the rest of them to the person on your left, for the whole first pack. For the second pack, you'll do the same, but this time passing to the right. The third pack will go left again, same as the first. They'll tell you that you'll then construct a 40-card deck using as many basic lands as you'd like, and maybe toss in a disclaimer about what to pick or not pick first.

You're smart. You understand all of this. And the little things you don't quite grasp, you know you'll figure out, and you'll get used to it all pretty quickly.

But then you realize the scary part.

You'll be sitting down, by yourself, with fourteen cards staring back at you, and you have to choose one.

What if I pick wrong? What if I screw this whole thing up and everyone is mad at me? How do I even begin to know what to choose? And then I have to do this again, and again, and again?

Forget it, you say. Too complicated, too much to figure out, I'll just stick to my trusty old mono-green Standard deck.

Honestly, I understand where you are coming from. It seems daunting to have to keep on making these decisions over and over again.

Heck, it seems downright exhausting when you think of it that way.

But I bring good news: it's not nearly as difficult as you think it is!

Here's the deal.

Yes, there are usually "correct" picks and "incorrect" picks, in an abstract sense. But the truth is that these picks aren't black and white like you might think. As long as you aren't completely off track, even a "bad" pick might be a card that is 80% as good as the "right" pick.

Which of these cards is "better"? How would you even know?

My point is that it's hard to go too wrong. And part of the fun of Draft is to explore and try new stuff anyway. If you can't make that big of a mistake and it's okay to try out new stuff, what do you have to lose?

Here's my advice for the first few picks of a draft: just take the cards that look fun and powerful to you. Maybe it's a splashy mythic rare, or just a cool common that you think is interesting. Maybe it's a removal spell for opposing creatures or a sweet flier or whatever.

Just pick the cards you think look sweet, and after a few picks, start trying to narrow things down to two colors.

Now, I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking, "Okay, sure, so one or two picks is fine, but I have to make so many of these picks in a draft! How am I supposed to navigate through all of those picks?"

Here's the cool part: the further you go into a draft, the easier each pick gets!

That's right, about halfway through the first pack, you're going to have started dialing in on two colors. From that point on, those are your colors, and the other colors in Magic need not apply.

So instead of looking at a pack with nine different cards to choose from, you are only choosing between two of them (the two in your colors).

After you get finished with pack one, you'll open pack two. Fourteen cards again, but this time only three or four of them are in your colors, and you can safely ignore all the others. Easy!

Again, I know what you're thinking: But someone said something about signals? What about this "BREAD" thing I've been told? What does cutting a color even mean?

Look, I'm not going to lie—there are a million different strategies and considerations that go into being a great drafter. But just getting to the point where you are ready to hear and understand those is much more important than trying to figure them out during the first draft of your career.

So don't worry about those things for now.

The Bottom Line

Here's what you should worry about:

Pick the cards you want to play.

Stick to two colors.

Play seventeen lands and 23 spells. (Yes, spells include creatures.)

Creatures are the most important thing in Limited, so make sure you play enough of them. Fifteen is a good number, plus or minus a few.

Here are some nice common creatures from Dominaria as an example:

  • Keldon Raider
  • Deathbloom Thallid
  • Cloudreader Sphinx
  • Mesa Unicorn
  • Baloth Gorger

The second most important thing in Limited is having ways to kill the most important thing in Limited. Make sure you don't overlook removal spells.

Cards like these are the ones you'll want to keep an eye out for:

A mana curve is something else people will tell you about, with various recommendations about how many cards of each casting cost you need to have to have a "good mana curve."

This is something you'll learn more about down the line, but the key when you are starting out is to just make sure you don't make the mistake of drafting a ton of expensive cards (four mana or more) and very few cheap ones. Make sure you spread it out a bit, and you'll be fine.

One more shortcut to keep in mind if you are having a hard time picking between two cards you think are close in power level: when in doubt, pick the card with the lower mana cost.

Let's say you are in black and white, and you are stuck choosing between these two cards in pack three somewhere:

If you get stuck here, just take the Aven Sentry and move on. Remember, no one pick is going to ruin your draft, so don't freak out even if you think you got it wrong.

Take the Leap

Every time I've seen someone get over the early jitters and jump into a draft, they've been fine. There's always more to learn about how to be the best drafter you can be, but for many, the hardest part is just trying it out.

It's been a big part of my life and my leisure time for a decade now, and I firmly believe that I am a happier person because of Booster Draft. It's one of the most fun and interesting activities you can put your brain on, it never gets old, and the ceiling is super high.

Trust me on this one—it's not as tricky as you think, and it's well worth the plunge.

Now go try it! And let me know how it goes!


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