Counter Drafting 101

Greetings again, Yugi-pals! I’m back this week to discuss what I consider the most difficult concept in drafting – counter drafting. Before I begin, I want to acknowledge a comment left on my last article. Somebody mentioned that Konami does not specifically mention drafting on the Battle Pack: Epic Dawn product page. While this is true, the set was designed for seal play. It would not be unreasonable to pick up some packs and draft with friends! I really cannot express just how fun drafting is - everyone should give it AT LEAST one shot. Now, let’s move on to the subject at hand.

For those of you that don’t know what counter drafting is, here is a short definition that we’ll work with (note: this is a BASIC definition – counter drafting can become an incredibly complex topic as you play against more skillful players):

Counter-drafting is the act of drafting a card with the primary intention of preventing other players from drafting it for themselves.

Now, there are two major reasons you will want to counter draft. First, you may want to eliminate a card that is detrimental to your strategy from the pool of cards available to your opponents. For example, if you are playing a stall deck full of cards like Gravity Bind, Waboku, and Wall of Revealing Light, you DEFINITELY do not want your opponent getting his hands on a Royal Decree. For this reason, you may choose to take the Royal Decree that is in the pack you’re choosing from to make it harder for your opponents to beat your stall strategy. Obviously, you have little intention of playing the Royal Decree in your deck, but you very clearly benefit from none of your opponents having it in their decks either.

The second reason you can choose to counter draft is to remove a card that seems especially synergistic with a strategy you suspect one of your opponents of running. Let’s say you are a few packs in on drafting the new Battle Pack: Epic Dawn (BPED) set. The full spoiler list for the set is not out yet, but there are a few confirmations, including many of the powerful monarchs we’ve seen in the past, including Caius, Raiza, and Mobius. Now, back to our hypothetical draft. You’ve noticed that there have been a few monarchs in the packs you’ve opened, but chose not to draft them for yourself, instead opting for a different strategy. Now let’s say you open one of your final packs and the almighty Treeborn Frog is staring back at you. Even though Treeborn Frog may do nothing for your strategy, you KNOW whoever has been drafting the monarchs is going to have the stupidest smirk on his face if that awesome amphibian gets passed to him. What should you do? Counter draft it, of course! Don’t let your opponent have the satisfaction of having such a strong card for his strategy. Sometimes it is better to remove a power card like Treeborn Frog from the pool than it is to choose a card that makes your deck a little bit better.


Counter drafting can be tricky. There is a right time to do it and a wrong time, and deciding which situation is which during a draft can make all the difference in you winning gloriously or losing tragically. Here’s a rundown of what to avoid:

  1. ECD (excessive counter drafting): ECD is exactly what you think it is – counter drafting way more than you should be. It is important not to get carried away with the concept. Choosing to counter draft too much can cause you to completely miss the opportunity to solidify your own strategy. In another TCG I played, I once played someone whose deck seemed completely mish-mash – there was no clear strategy and it seemed like a lot of his cards weren’t working together. I asked him after our game what he was playing. He mentioned that he was trying to build a certain archetype, but ended up losing focus when he saw a lot of cards he didn’t like and didn’t want his opponents to have. This forced him to have to play some of those cards in his own deck because he hadn’t drafted enough cards to complete his strategy. A prime example of what ECD can do to a person.
  2. Misreads: Another thing you all must be careful about is misreading your opponents’ drafting strategies. You’re only effectively counter drafting if it’s countering someone. Recall the example I gave earlier about the monarch player. If you take the Treeborn Frog in an unsuccessful counter draft, and none of your opponents ended up drafting a monarch strategy, all you’ve effectively done is given yourself one less turn to strengthen your strategy. You countered yourself! The way to avoid this is to pay attention to what cards are disappearing after you’ve passed them. BPED packs have 5 cards per pack, so if you are drafting with 3 other people, you’ll end up seeing the last card of the pack you started with each round. If you opened up a monarch in your pack, and that monarch is the last card that ends up coming back to you, you may be able to start assuming monarch control is not a central strategy among your fellow drafters. It’s important to pay attention to what cards get passed to you because it tells you what people DIDN’T pick, which may be just as useful as knowing what they did pick.
  3. Jumping the gun: This last one is one I hope is not a reoccurring theme among drafters, as it makes very little sense to me when I see it. Jumping the gun is essentially counter drafting too early. This means you think you are counter drafting, but you really don’t know what the card you’re choosing would be countering. The prime example of this is if you don’t yet have a strategy, or are still in the early stages of drafting one. How can you know drafting a royal decree is a counter draft for your stall deck if you haven’t seen or drafted any stall cards yet? You can’t! It is one thing to have a strategy in mind before starting the draft; it is another thing entirely if you think your strategy is DEFINITELY going to come through. You cannot possibly have any knowledge of what cards are going to exist in the pool of cards in the draft beforehand unless, of course you are psychic, in which case please contact me – I have a ton of ideas that’ll make us rich! I’d leave my email address, but if you’re really psychic, you should know it already.

A Short Digression

I mentioned at the beginning of the article that I was using a basic definition for counter drafting. I think it is only fair to explain what I meant by that before concluding the article. Counter drafting can become more complex as you and the players around you become better at drafting in general. Sometimes you actually can “jump the gun” and effectively counter draft. The purpose of this would be to steer away your opponents entirely from drafting a certain strategy. You may do this because you feel a certain strategy is very dominant, but not one that fits your playstyle (therefore dismissing the drafting the strategy for yourself). By counter drafting certain cards before everyone gets a chance to see it is in the draft pool will trick your opponents into thinking it isn’t a viable strategy to go for this draft. For example, you may see a lot of discarding effects like Don Zaloog, Robbin’ Goblin, etc and just not want to deal with that at all. If you take a few of the better discard power cards, your opponents will likely become discouraged towards playing that deck at all. What you are essentially doing is giving your opponent a puzzle that is missing some of its pieces. They won’t bother to take the time to put the puzzle together if they feel all the necessary pieces aren’t there. Your counter draft effectively prevents an entire deck from existing in the draft tournament. This is just one example of how counter drafting can get more complicated. The mind games sometimes seem endless!

Counter drafting is probably one of the hardest concepts to master in draft, but it is also one of the most beneficial. Properly counter drafting can give you that extra edge that is the difference for your deck running smoothly and/or your opponent’s deck combating yours a little less effectively. In summary, make sure you are counter drafting for a reason – either to hinder your opponent’s strategy or to keep your opponent from hindering your strategy, avoid counter drafting excessively, make sure your reads are accurate before making the choice to counter draft, and do not jump the gun! As our knowledge of the BPED set broadens, and we begin to start drafting, we can have a better understanding of what cards we don’t want others to have and what cards we know to look out for as cards that are absolutely amazing in the format.

If you feel like I missed anything, or you feel you learned something useful by reading this article, sound off in the comments below! I love to read your responses!

Until next time,

Play Hard or Go Home!

-Tej Trivedi

Tej Trivedi

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