How I Used to Draft and Why It Was Awful
by Terence Jason Dorman
Despite my success in the National Limited Championships this past Gen Con, it is well know that I have always been a rather poor Limited player. Constructed has always caught my eye as far as personal preference goes, and nearly all the games I grew up playing didn't have a Limited aspect. In fact, before I started playing The Spoils, I had never played in a draft tournament.
Even when I did start drafting, though, I never took it seriously. I loved The Spoils and played hard to earn my way onto the non-existent cruise, but I never took the time to learn how to draft or build proper sealed decks. My focus was entirely on my Constructed decks, a focus that certainly hindered my growth as an overall player.
I didn't begin to take drafting seriously until I started playing World of Warcraft competitively in April of 2011. To be a top player in WoW you have to know how to draft as many events combine both constructed and draft formats. As such, I had to learn how to draft.
While I am still not positive that I know how to draft, I definitely know that I do a much better job now than I did two year ago. What did I change? Well, first let me tell you how I used to draft and why it was awful.
DO NOT DO THIS
What I am about to tell you is 100% true and is 100% the worst way to draft. Before any Spoils tournament, be it First Edition or Seed, I would decide what two trades I felt like playing that day. All joking aside, my drafting thought process was “I feel like playing Arcanist/Rogue today.” I would then sit down at the table and draft an Arcanist/Rogue deck, regardless of whether or not it would be any good.
As you can imagine, this rarely worked. I did manage to steal a couple local tournament wins here and there, but my overall drafting win rate was definitely below 50% (probably somewhere in the thirties, to be honest). I was always playing what I wanted to play, though, so I can say that my fun rate was in excess of 100%.
The problem with this drafting method is that it takes nothing into consideration. It does not account for the number of players in the pod, who is next to me, what format we are drafting (in the case of Spoils, First Edition vs. Seed), what the power cards are, etc. None of this mattered to me and that was certainly my first problem.
The other major problem with this drafting method is that it completely ignores signals. Signals, in drafting, are clues you can pick up from looking at the cards in the pack you are passed to figure out what people near you are picking. Not seeing any Arcanist cards? Good chance the guy who passed you the pack is plucking them for himself (which would be a real problem for me if I was feeling Arcanist/Rogue on that particular day).
Learning how to spot signals is a major component to drafting and it cannot be ignored. I can't even say for sure if I have figured it all out yet, but I know just being aware of signals was a big step in improving my drafting game. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power,” and spotting signals certainly accrues you more knowledge.
Another major problem with my former drafting method is that I NEVER considered switching gears during a draft. Switching gears (or whatever other playgroups may call it) is changing the trades of your deck to account for the signals you have seen.
Let's look at the example above in which the player next to me is drafting heavy Arcanist. Even if my first couple of picks consisted of Arcanist cards (and maybe one or two “bomb” cards), it would probably be a good idea for me to switch gears because I am unlikely to see any more quality Arcanist cards and, if I stick with Arcanist, my deck will suffer because of its lack of powerful cards.
Knowing when to switch gears is a tricky talent and takes a while to master, especially since it does not come up every draft.
The last major problem (there were plenty of minor problems, trust me) with my initial drafting style was that I had no concept or care for the curve. The curve, in simple terms, is the balance of costs within your deck. In general, you want to play a three cost card on turn one, a four cost on turn two, a five cost on turn three, etc.
My drafting method would completely ignore this idea, instead just picking what I considered to be the best cards for the two trades I chose to play that day and passing the rest. I would often find myself with decks that were heavy on high cost characters (and therefore no presence in the early game) or decks that had only weenies and no threats at the end of the game.
To remedy this problem, always try to be aware of the costs of the cards you are drafting, that way you can optimize your resources and always have something to play on your turn, especially during the first few turns of the game.
How Do You Draft?
While these aren't all of the ways my drafting method was bad, they certainly are the heavy hitters. Fixing these issues over the course of a dozen drafts very quickly improved my skills as a drafter, and I know they can for you too.
What other strategies do you use for drafting? I obviously didn't cover every aspect of drafting in this article, so feel free to comment in the forums about different ways in which you draft The Spoils.