Before you start reading, please understand that I am by no means a professional Magic player. I am a 1700+ rated Limited player with a large amount of experience in Core Set drafting. My opinions should not be taken as fact, but they are instead meant to provide a starting point for new drafters, or some fresh insight for more experienced drafters. I welcome all feedback in the comments section, positive or negative, as I will be using these articles to improve just as much as you will.
Drafting is far and away my favorite format of Magic. It provides a new, exciting, and different experience every single time. No two drafts are the same, and each provides unique opportunities to make yourself a better player, and especially a better drafter. I will be writing a series of draft reviews of the Magic 2011 Core Set, and when it comes out the Magic 2012 Core Set. While it may seem strange that I am not writing about Scars block drafting, that decision was made for a very specific reason. Core Set drafting is simpler, and as such, provides me with more opportunities to discuss the fundamentals of putting together a good draft deck. To be a serviceable drafter in any format, you have to understand some key points, and there are no sets better than the Core Sets for plainly demonstrating them.
I will be doing an in-depth evaluation of the critical picks that form the strategy for my deck, and will be making smaller comments about the subsequent picks. Please let me know how you like the formatting, as I am always open to suggestions.
If you are already a high-level drafter, you can stop here and move onto the picks, otherwise, keep reading.
Above, I mentioned that there were a few keys to understanding how to draft well. In order of importance (obviously, in my opinion), these are:
a) Card evaluation/Discipline
This is THE essential skill for drafting a good deck, as it allows you to make crucial decisions between cards that invariable end up determining the direction and quality of your deck. Being able to determine which card will fit your deck better, or which card will give you the potential to build a better deck determines your ability to draft a good deck, and as such, it is a skill that must be practiced and honed by anyone wishing to become a good drafter.
Generate a plan and stick to it. Be disciplined. The worst draft decks come from drafters who do not know what they want to do. If you see a card that is off-color or does not fit your deck for some other reason, stop for a second and ask yourself if it is really worth manipulating your deck over. Some people get swayed by big creatures, others by tricky spells or their favorite colors. Be aware of what tends to pull you off of your planned path, and make sure you notice if it starts to happen, so you can correct and have a coherent deck.
Some examples of this in action can be found in Pack1;Pick1, Pack2;Pick1, and Pack2;Pick3
b) Set Knowledge
Understand the set you are drafting. Know the ins and outs of every card. Understand key interactions you are likely to see, and any combos you are able to pick up. Be aware of what cards could hinder you while playing your deck, and try to make sure you have answers for all of them. Know which colors are strong and which colors are weak. Understanding this allows you t o plan your draft accordingly, knowing which colors are likely to be heavily drafted, and which colors you might be able to pick up some late value out of. This comes from a lot of practice and cannot really be learned any other way. Read the spoilers, read draft reviews, watch draft videos, and in general, just spend a lot of time looking at the set.
c) Signaling/Signal Reading
This is key to being able to build a high quality deck. Being able to look at a pack, and know what the person/people in front of you took out of it helps immensely in knowing what direction you should take your draft. Sending good signals in packs one and two is hugely important in getting the cards you want in packs two and three. Obviously, the signals you send in pack one effect pack two, and the signals you send in pack two effect pack three. This is exhibited very well in this draft, as I feel I read the signals I was being sent very well, and adjusted my deck accordingly.
d) Color Cutting
Cutting off your color goes hand-in-hand with signaling. Making sure that noone to your immediate left or right is in your colors is critical to drafting a high quality deck. Cutting off your colors is a very good way to do this. Examples of this can be seen throughout pack one.
Pack 1 pick 1:
This pack is interesting for a few reasons, and I think it leaves us with a very distinct decision to make about the direction of our draft. Obviously, the first pick never locks you into any color or archetype, but it is the highest value pick you get to make in the draft, and thus, you should always try to make it count. This pack is pretty weak, as there are only three, maybe four, cards that I would consider an acceptable first pick. Unfortunately, all of those lie in two colors, making it impossible for us to cut a color out of the pack.
Card Evaluation: The four cards I am looking at are Garruk's Packleader, Corrupt, Protean Hydra, and Quag Sickness. Quag Sickness is obviously the weakest of the four, and thus is not the pick. While Protean Hydra may seem good, I have found it to be quite underwhelming in the drafts I have played it in, and as such, shy away from taking it early. That leaves us with the Packleader and Corrupt. I would rate these cards at about the same power level, as one generates card advantage and the other is removal, both of which are staples in limited.
Set Knowledge: Since both cards are of a similar power level, the decision really comes down to what kind of deck you want to play, what you think everyone else will play, and the rest of the cards you think you will be able to get for your deck. I know green is pretty weak in M11, and is only really saved by its "bomby" rares,or which there are none in this pack, where as black is very solid and has a much higher average card quality, thus I chose Corrupt.
Signaling: Leaving both the Packleader and the Hydra in the pack sends a very clear signal that green will be open.
Color Cutting: By making this pick, I am passing good cards in green and black, unfortunately I cannot cut the playable black cards out of the pack entirely, and will have to make a conscious effort to do that from now on.
Pack 1 pick 2:
Pretty weak packs so far.
Card Evaluation: This pack really only has two options. Quag Sickness and Scroll Thief are both good cards that fill the same roles as the two final options in the last pack, just in a lower cost bracket. Blue+black is a deck I love to play in this format, but Scroll Thief is not the kind of card I will commit to a second color for, especially with the second pick in the draft.
Set Knowledge: Not too much to say on this pick.
Signaling: This does send a signal that we are drafting black, since all black cards will be gone from this pack after we pick. Passing the Scroll Thief is a weak signal that blue is open. The amount of green cards left also continues to signal that green is wide open.
Color Cutting: While this may mean that black was drafted ahead of us this pack, it also means that if we grab any decent black card we see, we can cut off black and get all the cards we need coming back to us in the next pack. Notice that Quag Sickness is the last black card in the pack, which means we should now be able to effectively cut off black.
Pack 1 pick 3:
This pack once again has two options, Sleep or Doom Blade, and the same reasoning applies here as it did in the last pack. On color removal is great, and Sleep is not a card I am willing to commit to a second color for. The Doom blade is also a pretty good signal that black is open at this table. Keep in mind, that signals like this seems pretty obvious, but it always helps to remember that the other people drafting may just be clueless about the cards, and have actually been drafting bad black cards, meaning black could be more closed off than we think at this point.
Pack 1 pick 4:
There is nothing in this pack I would be willing to go off color for, and Gravedigger is a very efficient on-color card, and I think it is the obvious pick here. Note that we have passed decent blue cards in each of the last three packs, which means we can make an assumption that blue will be cut off coming back on the next pack, and as a result we should try to shy away from picking blue as our second color until we have more information.
Pack 1 pick 5:
Two more good, tempting blue cards and another very solid on-color removal spell. Essentially the same decision we have had to make the last three packs, and the outcome is no different this time.
Pack 1 pick 6:
Well, black finally dried up, but not before giving us a whole bunch of goodies. There are three or four options here. Bog Raiders is an option, although not an appealing one, and since I think I could pick on up just about whenever I want to, I am not going to grab this one. Excommunicate is good, as is Shiv's Embrace and Fling. I like Fling a lot, but since I have no creatures at this point, I am not sure how usable it will be. Shiv's Embrace is a very powerful card, but very hard to splash into our currently mono-black deck, and as such is not my choice. That leaves me with Excommunicate and Unsummon. I chose Unsummon because I like blue more in M11 than I like white, even if I don't end up playing it, it still cuts of some blue from the guy next to us, who is almost certainly drafting it. I know I said stay away from blue until further notice, but this hardly commits me to a color, so I think its a safe pick.
Pack 1 pick 7:
I think I made a mistake on this pick, and in retrospect on the last pick as well. Seeing this pack, I would love to grab the Excommunicate out of both. Seeing as I picked the Unsummon though, Excommunicate looks less attractive in this pack. While Ice Cage is a good card, and the one I picked, I think Nether Horror was the correct pick, as I am not committed to blue yet, and I have no on-color creatures. The Ice Cage pick is defensible but wrong.
Pack 1 pick 8:
Solid black cards keep coming, and I will be happy to keep taking them. Getting a Specter with the eigth pick is a pretty good signal that black is open. It is an efficient 2/2 flyer that generates card advantage, and if played in the right situation, can really swing the tide of a game. Definitely the pick here. Note: Nightwing Shade is also good, but I think the Specter is far and away the better card.
Pack 1 pick 9:
Pseudo-removal is a color I might be playing picked over essentially nothing. In general, I do not play Duress in draft decks, unless I need to sideboard it in against Overwhelming Stampede or a similar game breaking non-creature, non-land card.
Pack 1 pick 10:
Mana fixing over nothing. I always try to grab at least of one these for my decks, as I really does make a difference.
Pack 1 pick 11:
Nothing really to say about the last few picks. Grabbed a few creatures I might play if I'm short on playables.
Pack 2 pick 1:
This pack is pretty stacked. Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Prodigal Pyromancer, and Obstinate Baloth are all very, very good cards that are unfortunately, not in our color(s). Seeing all these playables in red and green means I know at least five of the cards that will be picked ahead of the cards in my color, and since I think there is only one other player at the table drafting heavy black, I should wheel one of the two black creatures. As a result, I take the Azure Drake to attempt to cut off blue to my other side, and grab a very solid flyer in the process.
Card Evaluation: After seeing this pack, I think I can commit to blue as my second color for sure, and start picking accordingly. I could pick Mind Rot here, but I think the Drake is the better card, and the better pick.
Set Knowledge: I know blue has solid creatures, like this Azure Drake, to pair with my large black removal suite, thus I can confidently move in on blue as my second color.
Signaling: Seeing all these playables in red and green means I know at least five of the cards that will be picked ahead of the cards in my color, and since I think there is only one other player at the table drafting heavy black, I should wheel one of the two black creatures.
Color Cutting: Blue will be entirely cutoff after me this pack, which means I should get whatever I want in both of my colors in the third pack.
Pack 2 pick 2:
After seeing this pack, I think I can commit to blue as my second color for sure, and start picking accordingly. Blue will be entirely cutoff after me this pack, which means I should get whatever I want in both of my colors in the third pack. I could pick Mind Rot here, but I think the Drake is the better card, and the better pick.
Pack 2 pick 3:
This pick was a toss-up. Foresee is a great card, but Quag Sickness is on-color removal. Nothing else really stands out, and I have trouble making myself pass card draw spells. I think this pick is absolutely 50-50, so I went with the card I like to play more.
Pack 2 pick 4:
There is a lot of good red going by, so I think whoever is drafting red at this table is going to have a pretty stacked deck. Nightwing Shade is the pick because it is an on-color creature, and I am currently running pretty short on those.
Pack 2 pick 5:
This pack must have been full of some really good stuff for a Rise from the Grave and an Armored Ascension to make it this far. Rise is obviously the pick for my deck.
Pack 2 pick 6:
On-color deck filtering over nothing.
Pack 2 pick 7:
While I only have one Bloodthrone Vampire to abuse it, Reassembling Skeleton is the pick here. It blocks well late in the game, when you have a lot of open mana every turn. The amount of red going by is starting to worry me. At this point, it is a bit too late for me to dive into it, so I will have to hope that it is getting split up, and not all ending up in the same persons deck.
Pack 2 pick 8:
Maybe blue was more open than I thought. This is huge value for the eigth pick, and I wouldn't hesitate to snatch it up. Viscera Seer could also be a good option to go with the Skeleton from the last pick, but I don't think it beats the Owl.
Pack 2 pick 9:
I get to redeem myself from the Ice Cage over Nether Horror pick from the last pack, and make the correct decision this time. I picked nothing of note in the last few packs, except for cutting out a few fat blockers that could get in my way.
Pack 3 pick 1:
There is so much good blue in this pool! I don't think the black cards are even in consideration with this pick. While Azure Drake is a very good creature, I already have two, and Jace's Ingenuity is an awesome, awesome card, and it has to be the pick here.
Pack 3 pick 2:
More awesome blue cards! The Sphinx is the pick. Its an efficient, flying beasty that brings the beats. I expect some of the black cards to wheel out of this pack.
Pack 3 pick 3:
Black is very, very open still. Nantuko Shade is awesome and I don't think there is much to discuss here.
Pack 3 pick 4:
This deck is getting really good, really fast. Harbor Serpent is not a good pick here, because blue is not my main color, and I doubt I will ever control 5 Islands at any point. Could be good sideboard against blue, but the Drake is a much better all-around pick. I would expect the Rotting Legion to wheel, as it is a very underrated card.
Pack 3 pick 5:
Necrotic Plague is a good card, but I don't think I can abuse it how I would like to, so I grabbed the Cancel.
Pack 3 pick 6:
More removal. Sixth pick Assassinate is really awesome. Nothing I really want to search for with Diabolic Tutor to make it worth taking over removal.
Pack 3 pick 7:
A lot of good black cards to choose from, I think Sign in Blood is the pick because it generates card adavantage or provides a way to squeeze in that last little bit of damage to finish someone off.
Pack 3 pick 8:
Goes well with my Skeletons. Nothing else really in here.
Pack 3 pick 9:
Could take the Unsummon, but I need creatures.
Pack 3 pick 10:
This card is really underrated, and if comes down on turn two and goes unanswered for a turn or two, provides a huge life swing.
Pack 3 pick 11:
On-color beasty over nothing.
Pack 3 pick 12:
It did wheel, and I'm taking it. The Legion fills out my top end, and provides a good beatdown once it hits the table. No more cards worth mentions in the last few picks.
This draft went very well in my opinion. I ended up going 3-0, and winning the 8-4 pod. The removal I managed to pile up in the first pack absolutely overpowered every one of my opponents, and the blue flyers manage to power through for the finishing blow.
I hope you found this informative, and I will try to continue to do them regularly. As I run out of things to say about the Core Sets, I will begin writing articles about Scars drafting or other sets that anyone wants to see me do. Please leave your opinions or comments on my picks/commentary in the comments section and I will address them all as they come. I look forward to your feedback, and I will try to improve my drafting just as much as you will yours.