A Little Background
I'm an avid limited fan. Building decks? Great! Playing games? Even better! The sound and smell of opening boosters? Intoxicating! After a 15 year hiatus, I got back into Magic by drafting a couple of times with some friends and eventually going with them to a local FNM - and just so you know, drafting wasn’t a thing 15 years ago here in the Netherlands when I first played. Now that I’ve caught up with present time, drafting is great! You play new cards that aren't good enough for constructed, meet new people, and have a fun Friday night. It’s been a great way for me to ease back into Magic. And now that I’m up to speed with drafting, I’m in it for more than just the fun and friends. I'm in it to win it! And how do you do that? By drafting a real deck!
Up to a certain point, most limited decks have the same foundation. Your average limited deck consists of 15-17 creatures, 6-8 spells, and about 17 land. It also includes a combination of bombs, removal, evasive creatures, and decent fillers. Make sure you have a decent curve, and try to make your colors realistic. All of this is great in theory, but in practice it’s easier said than done. Building a tournament level deck takes effort! And the following tips can help with that.
Drafting is Teamwork
We all know those on-camera Grand Prix, Open, Pro Tour drafts, where it looks like everyone is somehow building a deck that could compete with your standard deck. They always get the cards they need, and their colors are just perrr-fect. Annoying, right? Well, they all know one thing you may not. Drafting is teamwork.
You may be sitting down with seven opponents, but once you're seated, your opponents become your partners. The best way to create a competitive deck is to make sure the people around you aren't doing the same thing as you! Duh, you already knew this. Yes, but how do you actually put it into practice?
Interpret the Signs
If everyone around you knows how to build together, everyone recognizes the signs. If you’re passing one of the best cards in a color, like Oblivion Strike in pack one, your neighbor should see that as a sign that you’re not in black, and it’s open for them to take. If they’re in black, you won’t be seeing any quality black cards coming back your way. While you’re focused on, say, taking red and green cards, your neighbors will have no reason to go into those colors. Now the colors you need are more likely to come back your way in pack two.
The Ideal vs. Reality
For this concept to work at its best, like it does for the on-camera Pro Tour drafts, everyone needs to be able to get into their lane. However, we live in a world where the new players at FNM makes it hard to do so.
When your opponents aren't too experienced at drafting, they might not see these signs. These players also may not be able to evaluate cards well enough, and end up passing colors they shouldn’t be passing. One of the colors you cut off in pack one ends up showing in pack two. Take that as a sign to consider the player’s experience. If you find your neighbor is a beginner, don't skip out on the great cards because you may not get your color anymore.
Time for a story!
“At a recent FNM draft (BFZx3), one of my friends was mad at the neighbor sitting on his right. The neighbor first picked a Rolling Thunder over a Drana, Liberator of Malakir but ended up taking all black cards immediately after. Sadly, my friend never picked up on that, stayed in black, and ended up with a mediocre deck. He didn't want to scrap Drana, assuming black would be open, but ended up paying for it. This leads us to another concept you should learn early on.”
Kill Your Darlings (Or Splash Them)
Sometimes you have to scrap your first pick. Drana, Liberator of Malakir is awesome. But is she really the I'll-play-nine-mediocre-black-cards-to-stay-on-color kind of awesome? No. That’s when you have to kill your darlings, or splash them. A double-color card is even riskier and has to be incredibly good to splash. There’s a real cost to compromising your mana. You need to be able to play spells reliably, and consistency goes a long way in limited.
Time For Another Story!
“Last week I first picked a Birthing Hulk pack one. It fits the criteria for a good first pick - serious power and toughness, hard to remove, and a fast clock. At the end of pack one, I had several good white cards, but only one other green. It was obvious that green was not open, so I switched to black-white in pack two and had the Hulk as my personal mascot. The choice to leave him on the side line came down to the fact that I had no real color fixing and had both double-black and double-white cards. This resulted in a consistent and reliable mana base.”
The greatest advancements you can make in getting better at magic is talking to other people about it. Ask the people at your local FNM about their picks and color switches, and see what you've missed. If you lost to them, it’s valuable to find out why and what influenced their decisions. If you did better and they’re asking for advice, teach them a bit about the teamwork in drafting and tell them to try again next week!
Good luck out there!