The Turning Point in Booster Drafts

In every Draft, there is a turning point: the point when you solidify what archetype you’re drafting. It’s the point when you figure out your colors and what style deck you’re creating. It’s the point that shapes the entire remainder of your Draft and has the most influence on how successful your Draft ends up being. The timing of this point and the decision you make at that point is what your entire Draft usually turns on.

For starters, if this point is later than the start of pack two, your Draft is usually going to be a disaster. Perhaps you’re one of those people who has a talent for pulling together and playing three-and-a-half color good-stuff decks, but this isn’t a consistent formula for success in Draft by any means. Quickly and intelligently locking down your archetype helps you avoid wasting picks and helps you influence how good the next pack will be for you. In addition, it also should help you take advantage of what’s being passed your way.

I recently did three Return to Ravnica Drafts on Magic Online in the 8–4 queue to further explore this premise. The first one started this way:

Pack 1, Pick 1:

My Pick:

When there isn’t a gold card that’s a total bomb, I generally prefer to take the best mono-colored card because it can fit in more than one guild, thus increasing the likelihood that it will be used in my deck. After this pick, I’m already leaning toward Azorius or Izzet because I want to lock into my colors as soon as possible.

 


Pack 1, Pick 2:

My Pick:

Multicolored cards such as this one are excellent early picks because they can fit into any of three different guilds. Also, I generally find I can pick up expensive creatures late in the Draft, but it’s hard to have too many good, cheap creatures.

 


Pack 1, Pick 3:

My Pick:

Fire is clearly the strongest card here. Izzet and Azorius are still my primary options at this point.

 


Pack 1, Pick 4:

My Pick:

Not only is the Drake probably the best card in the pack, it still can fit either Izzet or Azorius, though it’s obviously better in Azorius.

 


Pack 1, Pick 5:

My Pick:

At this point, unless I see a very good red card before taking my next white card, I’m probably going to consider myself locked into Azorius. Many people might consider taking the Guildgate and perhaps playing three colors, but I strongly favor choosing a single guild in Draft. In general, I don’t like to increase the chances of losing to the luck of color screw. In this case specifically, Annihilating Fire makes a bad splash card because of the {R}{R}, and I like to maximize the power of cards such as Tower Drake anyway.

 


Pack 1, Pick 6:

My Pick:

I’m a big fan of drafting blue decks full of instants, and Inspiration gives me a great option when I’m keeping mana open for permission or a flash creature anyway. It’s still not too late for a surprise red card to push me into Izzet, though.

 


Pack 1, Pick 7:

My Pick:

Isperia's Skywatch would be fine here, but I like my decks to have way more 2-drops than 6-drops, and Skywatch isn’t amazing.

 


Pack 1, Pick 8:

My Pick:

I’m not sure if the Elemental is better than the Apparition, but at this point, I’m leaning toward seeing what I open in pack two to make my final decision between red and white unless I see something surprisingly good late in this pack.

 


Pack 1, Pick 9:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 10:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 11:

My Pick:

This pick was hard because I like Pyroconvergence and I’m not a big fan of Paralyzing Grasp, but I decided to stick with my plan to wait and see what happens at the beginning of pack two.

 


Pack 1, Pick 12:

My Pick:

Based on this pack and the last one, I might be able to expect better Izzet than Azorius in pack three, but given my picks so far, I have to go Azorius if it’s there in pack two.

 


Pack 2, Pick 1:

My Pick:

This pick is the penultimate nail in the Izzet coffin. I love Hussar Patrol in a deck with Cancel and multiple Inspirations. The only reason I’m keeping a crack open for Izzet at this point is in case I am passed a bomb for my next pick.

 


Pack 2, Pick 2:

My Pick:

In my mind, this is the turning point. I’m locked into Azorius now, and I’ve only wasted one pick on a red card.

 


Pack 2, Pick 3:

My Pick:

 


Pack 2, Pick 4:

My Pick:

 


Pack 2, Pick 5:

My Pick:

 


Pack 2, Pick 6:

My Pick:

This pick is what I consider the payoff point. It’s the pick where I realize I’m really happy I picked Azorius because I’m really happy with Dramatic Rescue as a sixth pick, and there’s nothing here for Izzet.

 


My deck turned out very solid:

In Round 1, I battled through two close games against a B/G/W deck only to lose Game 3 due to mana issues. After playing a turn-two Concordia Pegasus, I failed to draw an Island and didn’t cast another spell the entire game, while he had one of each land on turn three. Ah, Magic . . . I can only imagine how rough I’d have it if I were to go three colors.

My second Draft locked in faster:

Pack 1, Pick 1:

My Pick:

This pick wasn’t correct. I almost didn’t notice that my Draft was starting, and I rushed this pick. I should have picked the Azorius Arrester, and I passed a pack full of good black and red cards to help set up pack two for either Azorius or Selesnya. As it turns out, I was lucky:

 


Pack 1, Pick 2:

My Pick:

Even if I hadn’t just taken Ragemutt, I’d be tempted to take the Auger Spree because it’s clearly the best card in the pack. Since I did take the ’Mutt, I’m pretty much locked into Rakdos now. While it’s not too late for a string of good cards in another guild to take me off Rakdos, it’d be hard since it would mean wasting my first two picks.

 


Pack 1, Pick 3:

My Pick:

I’m not thrilled with any of these cards as a third pick—with the possible exception of Voidwielder—but I think Ogre Jailbreaker has the most upside for a Rakdos deck here.

 


Pack 1, Pick 4:

My Pick:

At this point, it will be tempting to draft Izzet Guildgates and Golgari Guildgates in addition to Rakdos Guildgates.

 


Pack 1, Pick 5:

My Pick:

This is the turning point of my second Draft. I’ve made five picks without taking a nonred or nonblack card, and three of my picks are almost definitely making the cut. Switching guilds at this point would probably be a disaster.

 


Pack 1, Pick 6:

My Pick:

While this is an empty pack for me, I can only hope it helps put the player on my left into Selesnya.

 


Pack 1, Pick 7:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 8:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 9:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 10:

My Pick:

These last two picks are the payoff point. Ninth-pick Dark Revenant and tenth-pick Grim Roustabout are great for Rakdos, and they give me hope for pack three. Once again, I was very happy with my deck:

This time, I won my first round easily. Unfortunately, I lost my Internet connection while waiting for the second round to start, and I missed the rest of the event.

The third Draft was my probably my best:

Pack 1, Pick 1:

My Pick:

This time, I made sure I was ready to go the moment the Draft started. I usually avoid first-picking gold cards unless they’re bombs, but I’m pretty sure Rakdos, Lord of Riots counts as a bomb.

 


Pack 1, Pick 2:

My Pick:

The Frostburn Weird is a solid card that can fit into Rakdos, but it is also fine in Azorius or Izzet.

 


Pack 1, Pick 3:

My Pick:

I could have gone on the Jailbreaker plan again, but not only is Izzet Charm much better, it’s starting to look as though I might be in more of an Izzet seat than a Rakdos seat. At this point, I’ve pretty much decided I’m drafting one of those two guilds.

 


Pack 1, Pick 4:

My Pick:

My hopes of drafting Rakdos are quickly fading as the evidence that I’m not in a Rakdos seat mounts up.

 


Pack 1, Pick 5:

My Pick:

If I were locked into Izzet, I’d take the Runewing, but I still have hope for Rakdos (the Lord and the Guild), and neither of these cards is a game breaker.

 


Pack 1, Pick 6:

My Pick:

This pick puts my decision off longer because it can fit in either deck.

 


Pack 1, Pick 7:

My Pick:

 


Pack 1, Pick 8:

My Pick:

I’m a big fan of Syncopate, so this is a big nail in the Rakdos coffin.

 


Pack 2, Pick 1:

My Pick:

After a dismal last few picks in pack one, I don’t do much better with my first pick in pack two. If I end up in Izzet, which seems likely, the Goblin Electromancer will be solid, but it’s not an exciting first pick.

 


Pack 2, Pick 2:

My Pick:

This is the turning point. The Mercurial Chemister is an excellent second pick and a great consolation prize for having to leave the Lord of Riots in my sideboard. I’m locked into Izzet now with only two wasted picks.

 


Pack 2, Pick 3:

My Pick:

 


Pack 2, Pick 4:

My Pick:

This is the payoff point. While I could snag a decent cheap creature here for a Rakdos deck, the Sphinx of the Chimes will be an excellent game ender for my Izzet deck, and it’s a terrific catch at fourth pick.

 


I think my deck turned out great:

Traitorous Instinct
Unfortunately, I ran into an archetype I’ve never seen before in Return to Ravnica Draft that was a pretty bad matchup. My opponent was playing a turbo-aggressive R/W deck. He played a 1-drop all three games, and he played Pursuit of Flight on it on turn two in two of the games. His deck was full of aggressive 1-, 2-, and 3-drops with Auras to enhance them, burn, and Traitorous Instincts.

Game 1, I stabilized at 2 life and came back from being down 22 to 2. Game 2, I thought I was going to stabilize at 3, but he killed me with an Annihilating Fire. Game 3 was looking as though I was going to stabilize at 5 or 6, but he forced me to lose my two best creatures with a well-timed Traitorous Instinct. While I was sad to lose, I was happy to learn a valuable lesson. My opponent demonstrated the value of unconventional thinking in Draft. He had drafted a focused archetype that ignored the guilds and made up for it by maximizing the power of cards that he could acquire as very late picks.

Despite failing to amass a horde of packs for my efforts, I was very happy with the decks I drafted, if not my finishes with them. Like any playtesting, it’s important to be able to evaluate your results by more metrics than solely by wins and losses, especially with such a small sample size. In all three decks, I had more than enough solid playables in one guild, I had a good mana curve, and I had a good mix of creatures and creature control. This was made possible by quickly narrowing my focus and thus avoiding wasted picks and sending good signals. At the same time, I was able to read my seat and make sure I could take advantage of what was being passed to me from my right.

In order to do these things the most effectively and to not end up with just an assortment of good cards in various colors at the end of your Draft, it’s helpful to identify when you’ve reached the turning point of your Draft. The turning point tells you when it’s time to lock in your colors and what those colors should be. Avoiding doing this too early or too late is a critical skill in Booster Draft. The next few times you Draft, be on the lookout for your turning point and see if that helps you end up with a better deck.