How To Play Magic: the Gathering Draft

Drafting is a great format for entry level play and veterans alike, it gives all players a functioning deck without the advantages of having spent a fortune on their collection. It’s also a great way to try out a new set, grab some great new cards and get more from your average pack of random boosters.

Furthering our long, drawn out series on how to play, here’s how to play one of the more enjoyable Magic styles of play.

The Format

The “buy-in” for a draft is usually three booster packs of fifteen random cards, average price of about £10. Everyone sits around a table, everyone opens one of the boosters they brought, picks a card from it and passes the rest to the left. This continues until the pack is depleted, then everyone moves onto their second pack, passing in the opposite direction, and again with the third, at which point everyone should have a collection of forty-five cards, from which you build a deck of forty or more cards which includes the basic land cards you’ll need to add.

Classic Wizard
Classic Wizard

With this deck you play a basic bracket, players pair off, play best of three, winners move up until one remains. In most cases everyone walks away with the cards they drew in the draft (more often than not handing back the basic lands contributed by their benefactors) but I have also played in instances where the draft cards are laid out for everyone to choose from, winner picks first, then everyone else in descending order.


In practically every draft the first card you pull from your first pack will be the rarest, and why not, they’re usually the most potent card in any deck, and the most valuable. More importantly it often helps you to determine a few things about the deck to come, starting with the colour or colours you’ll pick next – that is assuming you get a card that gives you those choices so neatly, I’ve been in drafts that have given me colourless artifacts or the all-colour Chromanticore, leaving me none the wiser.


The remainder of the first pack you’ll tend to do one of two things, base your picks on the colour of your first pick or focus on the card text and what strategies it might help you formulate. Nothing wrong with grabbing a bunch of colours if they build a great deck and that gives you a little freedom too. It’s worth bearing in mind that while your picking a few specific colours so is everyone else, and if there’s someone in the mix grabbing the colours that you want, or a few of the packs have a bad balance of colours you could end up with some junk cards. That’s why you only need about thirty or so of the cards you draw to make your final deck of forty.

Your second pack you have a choice, go for the rarest again if you’re just out to grab some good cards, or if you’re trying to make your draft deck competitive then chances are you’ll find something from the uncommon or common cards that suit your current collection better. Other people are making that same decision, and you may find other rare cards being passed over that suit you perfectly. Of course you’ll also end up with a collection of miscellaneous dregs that fit nothing.

Advantages of Drafting

Collectable Card Games are the epitome of a pay to win, the bigger your collection the better your cards, and the more likely you’ll be able to put together a vicious deck. In a draft no one can depend on having a greater stockpile of resources to win, you only have what’s in your hands, the only advantage a veteran has is knowledge of the game and a particular mindset that makes them more likely to pick complimentary cards, and build a better deck from the end result.

Keyword Hell making Joel learn to be humble! Our friend Dave joins us in a Three For All (my own term. So original)
Keyword Hell making Joel learn to be humble! Our friend Dave joins us in a Three For All (my own term. So original)

Drafting from a single set means your cards will generally allow for a narrow selection of tactics unique to the particular plane’s story, while this can make some cards restrictive when building a deck made up from a full collection, in a draft it means you’ll end up with fewer conflicts. To take an example from the recent Zendikar block, a single Ally card is pointless on its own, but together they can make for rather potent combinations.

At the end of it all you walk away with a semi-functional deck that can be turned very easily into something with real clout. For beginners that makes for a quick and effective introduction to the game and gives them a fair playing field in which to learn and refine their knowledge; for veterans it’s a challenge that leaves them with a new base to build from, and turn a box of scraps into a weapon of war.

Full points if you spot the film reference in that last line.

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