A Beginner's Guide to MTG Booster Draft

Kyle Massa
March 05, 2018
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Love opening Magic: The Gathering booster packs? Love building decks? Love playing complex games? Combine those three and you get Booster Draft, one of the most enduring and fun Magic formats around.

But like any deep Magic format, things can be a little tricky for beginners. If you've never drafted before, you've come to the right place. In this article, I'll break down exactly what a Booster Draft is, how to do it, and how to be successful. Let's get started!

The Draft

In the drafting portion of a Booster Draft, your goal is to build the best deck possible from the cards within your given packs. That's it!

Here is the TLDR version: 

  • To start the draft, three to eight players sit down at a table.Each player receives three Magic booster packs. When everyone's ready, open your first pack, select any one card from within, then place that card face down in front of you. This is your first pick. This card and any others you pick during the draft are yours to keep. 
  • Pass the rest to the player on your left. The player on your right will pass the rest of their cards to you.Now take your second pick from among the cards you've been passed. 

  • The rest of your picks follow the same procedure—take one card, pass the rest. When no one has any cards left, everyone opens their second pack and repeats the exact same process. The only difference here is that you're now passing to the player on your right.
  • For your third pack, take one card and pass the rest to the player on your left once again. When all the cards are taken, each player should have a stack of at least 45 cards before them.

 

To start the draft, three to eight players sit down at a table (preferably a round one). Each player receives three Magic booster packs. When everyone's ready, open your first pack, select any one card from within, then place that card face down in front of you. This is your first pick. 

Though it might seem daunting, the first pick is easier than one might think. You're trying to make the best deck you can, so simply select the best card in the pack. This card and any others you pick during the draft are yours to keep. Pass the rest to the player on your left. The player on your right will pass the rest of their cards to you.

Now take your second pick from among the cards you've been passed. Again, you're usually just taking the highest-quality card from those remaining in the pack. You might want to take something that matches the color of your first pick, but that's not essential at this stage. If you see something good, take it, no matter what color it is. Pass the rest to your left.

Same process with your third pick, though now you'll want to pay closer attention to colors. Are there five green cards left in the pack and only one white card? If so, the person to your right might be drafting white, but not green. This is one of the keys of Booster Draft—do your best to identify which colors are being drafted and which aren't. Building the best deck possible usually means taking cards of a color no one else is interested in.

The rest of your picks follow the same procedure—take one card, pass the rest. When no one has any cards left, everyone opens their second pack and repeats the exact same process. The only difference here is that you're now passing to the player on your right. Continue to pay attention to which colors seem most open and draft them if you can. The best decks in Booster Draft are often exactly two colors, so do your best to find the most open two-color combination.

For your third pack, take one card and pass the rest to the player on your left once again. When all the cards are taken, each player should have a stack of at least 45 cards before them.* Now onto deck building!

(*Note: You'll usually have exactly 45 cards (three boosters times 15 cards in each), but in some cases you'll have more. That's because some packs include randomly inserted foils, which essentially add an extra card to the pack.)

Deck Building

One of the most satisfying parts of Booster Draft is discovering synergy between cards. That's a fancy way of saying you find cards that function better when paired together. Synergy can come in both obvious and subtle forms.

Let's start with the obvious. In Rivals of Ixalan Draft, imagine you've picked a Legion Lieutenant. The potential synergy here is pretty obvious: If you play a Legion Lieutenant, you probably want as many Vampires in your deck as possible.

But what about the subtle? For example, also in Rivals Draft, Mark of the Vampire and Soul of the Rapids make an excellent pair. That's because one of the chief downsides to Mark of the Vampire is its potential card disadvantage. If your opponent kills the creature which you've attached the Mark to, you lose both your Mark and that creature.

However, since Soul of the Rapids has hexproof, it's much more difficult (almost impossible, in fact) for the average Booster Draft deck to remove it. So if you attach Mark of the Vampire to Soul of the Rapids, you've got a whole lotta rhythm going on. Both of these cards make each other way better.

Though you should be aware of these synergies while drafting, some of the most surprising moments come during this stage, when you realize you have a synergy you weren't aware of. One of my favorite moments of Booster Draft was when I discovered Aviary Mechanic plus Mortuary Mire in a Chaos Draft. So much value!

In terms of card types, the usual split for a Draft deck looks something like this:

  • 40 cards
  • 17 lands
  • 15 creatures
  • 8 non-creatures

Some players are tempted to play more than 40 cards. Resist that urge! Having exactly 40 increases your deck's consistency and improves your chances of drawing your best cards. 

Let's take a second to talk about mana curve. This is an essential Magic concept which applies to Booster Draft and every other Magic format you'll find. The gist: Good decks are designed in such a way that you're very likely to spend all your mana each turn. Decks with solid mana curves often play two-drops on turn two, three-drops on turn three, and four-drops on turn four with relative consistency. If you successfully use all your resources every turn, you're likely to come out victorious. This is known as having a good mana curve. Here's what a standard one looks like:

  • One-cost cards: 0-2
  • Two-cost cards: 6-10
  • Three-cost cards: 4-6
  • Four-cost cards: 3-4
  • Five-cost cards: 2-4
  • Six-cost cards: 0-2
  • Seven-cost cards: 0-2

This is just a baseline curve to get you started, not an absolute rule. If you can make a better deck by breaking the mold, go for it!

When building your deck, you might be tempted to add a third color. It's usually a mistake to do this, because most Booster Draft sets do not provide the mana fixing needed to play three colors. You'd need a few lands that add multiple colors of mana, plus artifacts or other cards which help you find additional colors. So as a baseline strategy, stick to your two-color combination. There is certainly such a thing as splashing, where you include one or two cards of a third color, but it's an advanced technique and probably not advisable for beginning drafters. We can cover that topic in a later article.

Last thing: If you're playing at your local store, deck building usually lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. That time can fly when you're making tough decisions, so watch the clock!

Gameplay

Once everyone's decks are complete, it's game time! For the first round, each player is randomly paired against an opponent. Feel free to sit down, say hi, introduce yourself. Magic players are usually friendly, articulate people, so don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. Decide who's going first (usually by rolling dice), then start playing.

Players play a best-of-three-games match to determine the victor. Simple enough. If you're playing at your local store, just make sure to keep an eye on the clock—in-store tournaments are always timed, with 50 minute rounds being the standard duration. As long as you're playing at a reasonable pace, you'll have no problem finishing the round on time.

Don't be afraid to spend some of that time on sideboarding. This means altering your deck between games to adapt your strategy to your opponents'. Remember, your sideboard in Booster Draft is the entire stack of cards that you drafted but did not include in your main deck. Between each game, you may swap out any cards in your deck with any cards in your sideboard.

Example: Your opponent cast The Immortal Sun in game one. Lucky opponent. You should probably bring in your Naturalize against this player so that you can destroy their Immortal Sun.

But that's not all. When sideboarding, concentrate not just on what needs to come in, but also what needs to come out. For instance, let's pretend you've drafted a Vanquish the Weak. In game one, you determined your opponent is playing a dinosaur ramp deck, meaning their most impactful creatures have well over three power. You might consider swapping out Vanquish the Weak for a big blocker, since you likely won't find enough targets to justify its presence in your deck.

Once you've completed your first round (with a victory, I hope), you'll be paired again for the next one. Most Booster Drafts run with Swiss pairings, meaning you'll always be paired against players with identical records to yours, if possible. Play proceeds in this way for three, four, or sometimes five rounds, depending on how many players joined your draft. Finally, the player with the best record wins a prize (usually more booster packs or store credit)!

There you have it. You've completed your first Booster Draft.

Parting Thoughts

Booster Draft is one of the best ways to play Magic. It's complex, full of interesting decisions, and always compelling. There's nothing quite like ripping into that first pack for the first time or watching a deck come to life right before your eyes. Booster Draft is awesome, and you should try it.

If you're interested in drafting at Flipside Gaming, join us at 1 pm on Saturdays in East Greenbush or 6:30 pm in Clifton Park. We can't wait to see you!

Kyle Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living in upstate New York with his fiancée and their two cats. When he's not writing, you'll find him down at the East Greenbush Flipside store jamming booster drafts. For more of Kyle's work, visit www.kyleamassa.com or follow him on Twitter @mindofkyleam. 

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