MTG Tactics Drafting Guide
Magic: The Gathering Tactics Drafting Guide by bludex
For some time now I wanted to put together a drafting guide. This is a work in progress, so please bear with me. Let me give you some disclaimers up front. First of all, all of my picks below are my opinion and my opinion only. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the best MTG:Tactics player. I notice myself making really stupid mistakes all the time. However, I will admit that I am probably one of the most experienced drafters in the game, and would bet a lot that I probably have more drafts under my belt than anybody else. There will be a lot of people who disagree with my picks, and that’s fine. There are different strategies in drafts and they practically all work. I’m going to go through my general deckbuilding strategies first, followed by rankings of cards.
What are the benefits of drafting?
What are the benefits of drafting? Well there are plenty. For one thing, everybody is on the same playing field in a draft. It doesn’t matter what level you are, what talents you have, or how many cards you own. Drafting just requires you to have 3 packs and 20 gold.The prizes are also very nice. Half the people get at least 1 pack, and 1 person will receive 3 packs as a prize. Everybody gets to keep the cards they draft, and you usually wind up getting at least a couple hundred gold from the selling value of the cards you open. Another nice thing about drafting is if you’re an ace at the auction house, it’s worth it to take the 20 gold fee and just pick all the move valuable cards out of every pack. You’ll make much more gold than if you just opened the packs one by one. Anybody has a chance at going 2-1 in a draft too and getting a bonus pack.
How do you draft?
How it works is instead of opening up your packs as you normally would, you open up your pack and take 1 card from it, then everybody passes that pack clockwise around on a virtual table with 7 other players. So you’re first looking at a pack of 10, then a pack of 9, 8, etc. When the second pack is opened, the pack is passed counter-clockwise. The third pack is passed clockwise. At the end you have a pool of 30 cards, and you get to choose up to 4 each of 10 different promo cards. The promo creatures are the only ones worth paying attention to though (except maybe decaying hatchet if you happen to draft multiple drudge skeletons/ashbow skeletons). I try to build my deck so that I’m not using more than 4 of one type of promo creature. You need to build a deck of a minimum of 25 cards.
How many Colors?
This is widely debated, and it really depends on the type of cards that come to you. I will admit that I play 4 colors more often than anything, but will occasionally play 3 or 5. 2 is definitely not enough as it forces you to play too many promos or just general bad cards. With the way mana generation works, you get all the mana you need by turn 10. This makes making a colorful deck very possible, but you can still get easily screwed. My preference is to mainly draft 3 colors, but usually I wind up drafting 4 colors and devaluing double-color casting cards (like Pouncing Cheetah, Phantom Warrior, etc.) 4 colors can be risky, but I believe in playing the most powerful cards and just wearing away at your opponents weaker cards.
Creatures versus Spells
One thing you have to be very aware of during the draft is how many creatures and spells you are playing. Since there are only 12 slots for each, you can only take 11 different creatures (since you’ll save one spot for promo creatures). You can subtract duplicates from this though. If you notice that you are high on playable creatures at the end of your first pack, you may want to start valuing some weaker removal spells higher than new creatures. Same goes if you get a lot of removal early, you’ll want to start valuing creatures much higher. Generally I draft universal removal first (Doom Blade, Mind Control, Head of the Gorgon, Fireball) then I start drafting maybe the top 10ish creatures on my list below, then I start valuing medium removal (Pyroclasm, Bolt, Last Kiss, Soul Crush, Pacificism, etc.) You also want to be very careful how many Large creatures in your deck. I try not to draft more than 3 Large Creatures, otherwise they step on each other a lot and you have less opportunity to cast them.
Drafting Strategy #1 – Control the Sky
This is my primary method of drafting and playing, and that is basically choose fliers extremely high, and choose anti-flier stuff high too (Plummet, Giant Spider, Windstorm, and other removal). Once you have one flier that sticks, you can control where your opponent and their figures can move with zones of control, and you can flank everything on the ground and pick them off one by one. A flier’s evasiveness and ability to pick off troops on the ground make them incredible.
Drafting Strategy #2 – Run and Ranged
If I get a couple decent ranged guys early (Elite Archer, Ashbow Skeleton, Elvish Archer) I will continue to draft them highly and incorporate a strategy around them. By setting up an open pocket on the map with ranged guys, you can make the game very difficult for your opponent to approach you. You can win by timing them out, and just sending your ground troops and fliers while you stay in your nest of ranged. This is risky though if they can get on top of you fast or if they have fliers that can move around obstacles and get on top of your guys quickly.
Drafting Strategy #3 – Rush and Burn
I rarely do this strategy, but will do it if the right cards come. The strategy mainly works off of Forceful Rending and Deadly Flank, with an occasional Bolt, Lava Axe, or Fireball. When you get a couple of these spells early, you can start prioritizing movement spells like Shadowstep, Threatening Lunge, and Quickness. The promo cards fit into this strategy well too.
I’m going to divide this into two sections, one for creatures and one for spells. I’m also only going to be writing for now on commons and uncommons since that is what is contained in 90% of the packs. I’ll consider ranking rares down the line, but for now it’s important to be comfortable with the commons and uncommons. You also have to know that the order on this chart moves a lot depending on what colors you’re in. Any cards that have a double-color in their casting cost will be devalued if you see them in the third pack and you’re not in that color at all. Ashbow Skeleton and Cudgel Troll are very strong, but they’re not worth taking if they’re your first black or green card in pack 3. I’m going to be covering creatures today and will try and write one up on noncreature spells afterwards.
Top Creature Picks
1. Air Elemental – By far and away the best creature you could see, this guy single-handedly wraps up games if not dealt with quickly. High move, high initiative, a beefy body and it flies. The only thing wrong with Air Elemental is that it’s a large creature and requires 2 blue. Air Elemental is strong enough where even if you’re not in blue at all and you see one early in your third pack, I would hop right into blue. He’s THAT good.
2. Cloudchaser Eagle – Enchantment removal on a flying stick, this 2-for-1 can turn the tides on many games. There are plenty of annoying enchantments that see play in almost every draft game you come across. Mind Control, Pacifism, Entangling Vines, Forceful Rending, Deadly Flank, Courageous Oath, Oakenform, etc. Not only is destroying these enchantments powerful, but a 20/20 flier is always a great thing to have. He’s very easy to cast too at 3W and there isnt’ a single draft deck I wouldn’t play him in. I love this guy.
3. Thieving Magpie – If I was already heavy into blue and I had a pack with Cloudchaser Eagle and Magpie, I’d probably take the magpie. Magpie is incredible card advantage. Once it pecks at an opponent 2 or 3 times you produce an overwhelming advantage that is hard to come back from. 2UU is a hard price to pay though unless you’re already in blue, and I wouldn’t dive into blue if I saw one late.
4. Daggerclaw Imp – A staple in constructed, and he has the same status in draft. 6 initiative on a 30 powered flier for 3 mana? Sign me up every time. Black is a great draft color just like it is in constructed, and this guy is one of the main reasons why. His only problem is his frail body which makes him especially susceptible to weak removal like soul crush and weakness.
5. Razorfoot Griffin – I think some people will find it surprising how high I take this guy. I’m not the biggest fan of large creatures, but this guy absolutely controls the sky and there is no creature that can go toe-to-toe with this guy except for Air Elemental and Giant Spider because of the first strike. Super high move and initiative too. If they don’t have a removal spell, this guy wraps the game up pretty easily.
6. Voidmistral – 5 mana and heavy blue may look steep, but 30 power on a flier is always amazing. Combined with the 6 move and 5 initiative and you have a solid beater on your hands.
7. Goliath Brute – Another shocker to many as I frequently see this guy late in packs. He’s the first creature on my list without wings, and for good reason. This guy is an absolute truck. The damage this guy can dish out is unreal. 5 mana, 5 move, 5 initiative, for over 50 damage a swing every time. He may be large, he may be double-red, but there is little that can stand in the way of this guy.
8. Wind Drake – Cheap 20 power flier, easy to cast. He doesn’t look too exciting, but he has nothing but advantages for the price.
9. Elite Archer – Not only does he have the highest power of any ranged character in the game, he also has the highest move and the highest initiative, not to mention one of the best ranges as well. In some cases I will take this guy higher than the fliers mentioned above. My only gripe with ranged characters is their ability to get locked down in melee range. But if used effectively, Elite Archer single-handedly takes down games if he can’t be answered quickly.
10. Ashbow Skeleton – 20 power, ranged, and regeneration is a very deadly combination. You can setup some really nasty tactics with this guy and he’s incredibly annoying to effectively deal with. The only disadvantage he has is that he requires you to be very heavy into black.
11. Cudgel Troll – I don’t draft this guy often, but that’s only because I’m not in green all that much. If you’re heavy into green though, this guy is the best thing you could ask for. 40 power on a recurring body is quite hard to deal with, and he’s got great power and ability for only costing 4 mana. I usually see this guy late and wish I was I heavier into green.
12. Berserker of Bloodridge – You might be able to tell, I love big dudes with high initiative, and this guy is no different. Great card.
13. Elvish Archer – 20 power ranged for 2 mana is insane. The frail body is his only problem but you certainly get what you paid for.
14. Halberdier – While weak to cheap removal, this guy is a powerhouse and is tough to deal with other than removal because of the first strike. 7 initiative means he gets in for 60 quite frequently too. This guy is one of my favorite ground creatures to play.
15. Prodigal Pyromancer – Speaking of favorite creatures, this guy is really nasty if hidden behind a wall early. Slap on a Dig In or an Oakenform and you have yourself a really cheesy combo that I admit I have [Removed for Content] off many people with.
16. Zombie Grunt – 40 power, 6 initiative, 4 mana. Need I say more?
17. Enormous Baloth – The biggest non-rare you can get, and his legs take him far. The only downside is his high mana cost.
18. Pouncing Cheetah – For someone who can get in for over 50 at only 3 mana you’d think I would rate this guy higher. The problem is, he has very harsh mana requirements, and his body is a little on the weak side. Not to mention he loses a lot of his spice once he gets too close to an opponent.
19. Phalanx Rhox – Big guy, high init.
20. Clockwork Griffin – The fact that he weakens himself after every move and/or attack is really annoying. Still, he’s a flier that can turn pretty beastly if left alone for a few turns. Edit: Now that I think about it, I would move this card close to the #15 spot.
21. Talon Hawk – Yes, Talon Hawk. He’s tiny, but I love wings on things. Even if there isn’t many targets for him without getting counterattacked out of the sky, he’s great for setting up flanks and doing zone-of-control tricks. High move and high init too.
22. Ripper Hatchling – This guy would be so much better if it wasn’t for his awful, awful initiative. Still, he flies so he ranks high.
23. Stoutbark Protector – I know there are going to be tons of people out there who disagree with me on this one. I very commonly get this guy 8th-10th pick. His special abilities rarely come into play, but the fact is he is 30 power on 6 initiative for 4 mana. His major flaw is the fact that he only has 2 move, but you only play this guy when you’re right on top of your opponent anyway so the move is moot.
24. Elvish Lyrist – Ranged unit who can take out enchantments for only 1 mana. Great card!
25. Obsidian Golem – I originally thought this guy was crap, but after losing quite a few games to him, I had to start giving him more credit. He is just too annoying to kill without the right tools (ranged, removal). He’s also useless once the opponent has outmanuevered him around a corner because he just doesn’t move far enough.
26. Giant Spider – 6 init and he brings down fliers. Beefy body too.
27. Fiery Hellhound – Excellent lategame assassin, but very difficult on mana early on.
28. Sacred Lancer – You’d be surprised how often this guy’s special ability comes into play. Yes, he can take down fliers if your opponent is silly enough to position his creatures in such a way where the flier is the second mob he hits.
29. Phantom Scoundrel – Red is very popular in draft, so the pro-red is often relevant.
30. Iron Grappler – This guy plays some nasty tricks and can lock down creatures easily be repeatedly defending.
31. Vampire Soul-Channeler
32. Child of Night
33. Elvish Warrior
34. Sorcerer of the Unseen
35. Embermage Goblin
36. Lone Wolf
37. Goblin Piker
38. Coal Stoker
39. Drudge Skeleton
40. Sly Trickster
41. Phantom Warrior
42. Galeforce Mage
43. Black Knight
44. White Knight
45. Llanower Elf
46. Vampire Aristocrat
47. Knight of Valor
48. Samite Healer
49. Raging Goblin
50. Dauntless Soldier
51. Shambling Zombie
Feel free to question me and disagree with my choices. I’m not certain on a lot of these as well, and believe many of these picks are situational depending on what kind of deck you’ve already drafted.
Top Spell Picks
1. Fireball – Absolutely the most powerful card in draft period. Rares and Mythics included. This card can turn a mediocre deck into a powerhouse. Seriously, it is absolutely overpowered in draft. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a completely dominant board position but get blown away with a fireball. I’ve started to plan for fireball when I see my opponents having red mana and my life getting in the range of their available mana. You will absolutely splash this whenever you see it. The only thing you should take over it is a valuable rare/mythic. That rare would have to be worth at least 100g for me to consider taking it over fireball.
2. Mind Control – Fireball single-handedly wins games, but Mind Control gives a devastating switch in the tempo of the game. Mind Control on the right target will turn the tides on the grimmest looking of drafts. Mind Control is a staple in blue constructed decks, and it’s an even bigger staple in draft. Even with the double-blue casting cost, I would never skip out on playing this card, even if it was the only blue card in my deck.
3. Doom Blade – Cheap, universal removal, no questions asked. It’s nice for it’s ability to take out practically any creature, even while defending.
4. Lightning Bolt – Again, cheap universal removal, and the most valuable non-rare you can get on the auction house. Doom Blade is better since a bolt isn’t as effective until a creature makes a move. It doesn’t outright kill defenders.
5. Pyroclasm – It can be argued that pyroclasm is better removal than lightning bolt since in many situations it can take out multiple creatures. It’s pretty much a tie I’d say between bolt and pyroclasm.
6. Head of the Gorgon – Universal colorless removal. I usually hold this back in my hand instead of casting it outright. I like it to be a surprise, and don’t want to run the risk of it getting naturalized.
7. Last Kiss – Solid cheap removal.
8. Pacifism – Is practically removal, but watch out for cards like Naturalize and Aura Finesse. Enchantment removal is rarely played, but when it is played, you could be in serious trouble thinking you’re safe. Look for green or white mana.
9. Ray of Command – Ray can single-handedly steal games just like Fireball and Mind Control. I would rank it higher, but it’s the type of card that really capitalizes when you are behind in the game, which is a place I usually try to avoid. Still, it can get you out of many ugly situations and pull victories out of nowhere.
10. Plummet – It’s practically doom blade since your DB usually hits the things with wings anyway.
11. Windstorm – I’ve lost many a draft to Windstorm. Can easily take out 2 or 3 fliers at once with this. The only reason I didn’t rate it higher is it can be very mana intensive to use effectively, but being able to use it out of LoS of your targets is epic.
12. Banner of Hope – You can do some pretty nasty things with this card. It’s best used as a surprise (where you cast and activate in one turn). You can turtle yourself and a few of your creatures behind a corner, and as your enemy approaches, play your banner, activate, and they usually can’t get far enough away before your creatures come out for a counter-assault.
13. Courageous Oath – Anyone who has played against a skilled player with an Oath on their planeswalker knows how frustrating this can be. Any ground creature with <25 life is not safe if they’re ever not defending within 2 spaces of a planeswalker.
14. Oakenform – This buff can be game altering if played early. If you don’t have a type of spot-removal ready (such as doom blade, plummet, pacifism, entangling vines), putting this on almost any creature will cause major issues. I’ve been torn to shreds by turn 2 goblin piker turn 3 oakenform before.
15. Soul Crush – Very underrated removal card, not only can this pick off any defending 10 toughness guys, but it takes care of 20 and 30 toughness guys pretty quick too. Excellent answer to annoyances like ashbow skeleteon and cudgel troll.
16. Time Ebb – This card gets harped on a lot for just being an expensive unsummon, but sometimes it’s really worth it to pay an extra 2 colorless mana to skip their next draw. Not only is this flat out 1-for-1, but it’s a good tempo swing too. It’s also very useful if their creatuers have some annoying enchantments on them to reset them.
17. Weakness – The most effective killer for daggerclaw imps and halberdier, for one mana this spell outright kills anything with 10 toughness, and makes most other creatures much more managable to deal with.
18. Entangling Vines – It’s a little expensive and doesn’t do anything against ranged classes and still forces you to take caution when entangling melee mobs. Still, it’s green’s only type of “removal” spell and thusly should be a solid pick.
19. Naturalize – You’ll be hard up finding a draft match where you won’t be using Naturalize. There are many devastating enchantments and artifacts in draft and naturalize effectively 2-for-1s opposing pacifisms and vines.
20. Aura Finesse – I’ve pulled some NASTY stuff with this card before. It is such a major tempo swing to move pacifism/vines/weakness off one of your guys and put it on one of the enemies. I’ve also stolen oakenform too. The problem with Aura Finesse is it can’t target the enemy planeswalker, so it can’t deal with any oaths/flanks/rendings on your opponent.
21. Forceful Rending – Constructed powerhouse, you can setup some really mean tricks and end drafts pretty quickly with this card.
22. Deadly Flank – see 21.
23. Hymn to Tourach – While a bit harsh on the mana cost, a 2-for-1 is a 2-for-1.
24. Overrun – Even more harsh on the mana cost, but if you somehow managed to piece together a solid green deck, this card can wrap up games pretty quick if you have a sizable army.
25. Zombify – The surprise value on this guy is pretty sweet. Nobody expects to get creatures summoned at their feet when you’re across the map. He’s effectively a 2-for-1 since you usually only cast him when you’re able to kill a creature, and after that creature is dead you’re left with a solid 20/20 beater!
26. Necrotic Plague – I’ve joyously last-picked this card many times. Yes, it’s expensive and very situational, but removal is removal.
27. Dig In – Combos nicely with your ranged guys, especially prodigal pyromancer. Also is a cheaper white form of entangling vines.
28. Rod of Ruin – I used to think this card was garbage, but with the right tactics it could be pretty useful. If you’re far away in an open field, it makes lots of 10-toughness guys hard to approach you.
29. Unsummon – Unsummon only provides card advantage on a mind controlled, pacified, dug in, or vined one of your creatures. Otherwise, it mainly serves as a tempo swing so you can get an opposing creature out of the way.
30. Holy Strength – This card turns any medicore creature into a royal pain at the cost of one white mana. Slap it on a Halberdier or Daggerclaw Imp and watch your opponent groan.
31. Giant Growth – Good for surprising a defender.
32. Regeneration – Makes your annoying creatures a little more persistent.
33. Inspiration – 2 for 1!
34. Sign in Blood – 2 for 1 for 20 life!
35. Grasping Vines – Hey, sounds awful, but any answer to fliers can be really useful.
36. Guided Strike – +10/+0 and First strike until end of turn isn’t that useful, but the cantrip goes a long way to making this card good!
37. Quickness – I value movement spells a lot lower in draft than I do in constructed. Movement spells are usually only good for setting up quick kills or getting out of quick kill situations. Unless your opponent has drafted tons of rendings/flanks, you usually have a lot of time to move around your creatures and position yourself fine.
38. Shadow Step – see 37
39. Threatening Lunge – see 37
40. Stun – It’s pretty much a red pacifism for annoyances like elite archer and ashbow skeleton.
Basically every other non-creature spell in the game I wouldn’t play over a promo creature.
Top 25 First Picks
Here is a list of my top 25 first pack first picks. If I had a first pack that had every common and uncommon in it, this is the order i’d pick the cards in if they were available.
2. Mind Control
3. Air Elemental
4. Cloudchaser Eagle
5. Doom Blade
6. Thieving Magpie
7. Daggerclaw Imp
8. Lightning Bolt
10. Head of the Gorgon
11. Razorfoot Griffin
13. Last Kiss
15. Ray of Command
16. Goliath Brute
17. Wind Drake
18. Ashbow Skeleton
19. Elite Archer
20. Cudgel Troll
21. Beserker of Bloodridge
22. Elvish Archer
24. Prodigal Pyromancer
25. Clockwork Griffin