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Drafting Basics for Magic: the Gathering Arena

As you play more Magic: The Gathering Arena, you’ll find that there are two major formats that you can play in – Constructed and Limited. Each is unique enough that they’ll appeal to different types of gamers.

Constructed is a format where you’re using cards in your collection and building a deck from that pool. Standard and Historic are the two subsets of Constructed. Standard is a constantly rotating pool of cards, while Historic allows any unbanned cards from your collection.

Limited is a format where you build your deck on-the-fly instead of from your collection. Sealed Deck gives each player a set number of packs that they construct their deck from. Booster Draft has players picking one card at a time from a pack and passing it around for other players to build their card pool.

Today we’ll be talking about Booster Draft in Arena. How does it work? What’s the general strategy? What can I WIN? All of that and more, coming your way!

How Does Drafting Work?

When you initiate a draft, be prepared to act like you’re back in physical education class, picking teams for a game of kickball. Now, you can either do a Quick Draft, or a regular/Premier Draft. Quick Drafts allow you to draft against AI bots. There aren’t any timers, and you can take as long as you want between picks.

In a regular or Premier Draft, you’ll actually be drafting in real-time with other humans. I’d recommend starting with a Quick Draft your first time around, especially if you aren’t as familiar with cards in the set that you’re drafting. That’ll give you ample time to read through the cards and make an informed decision.

Once you start, you’ll be on Pick 1/Pack 1. You’ll select a card and then be presented with another set of cards to choose one from. Each time you pick, the next set of choices will have one fewer option for you. Eventually, you’ll be obligated to choose the only card remaining for the pack.

You continue this sequence for a total of 3 full Packs of cards. Any cards that you drafted are added to your collection, and you’ll be able to use them when playing a Constructed Format.

Once you have your cards drafted, your next task is to construct the deck that you’re going to use on your way to victory. You earn rewards based on how many wins you get before losing three times. After that third loss, you’re done. Collect your rewards and move onto something new.

Magic the Gathering Drafting, showing 14 cards to choose from.
Example of a Pack 1/Pick 1, showing the Draft interface on Arena

Drafting Strategy

So, how do you decide which cards to draft? There are several things that you’ll have to consider, and I’ll spend a little bit of time on each one.


No, we’re not picking up any artisanal French loaves today. BREAD is an acronym that can help guide you towards a winning deck.

  • Bombs: Cards that can completely turn the tide of a game or win it for you all by themselves. These are typically Rare/Mythic Rare cards, but keep in mind that Rarity doesn’t necessarily indicate ‘goodness’ in a Draft format. Also keep your eyes peeled for Uncommon cards, as these usually have an uptick in power level.
  • Removal: Anything that can get rid of your opponent’s threats. This could be a spell that destroys creatures, enchantments, or artifacts. Sometimes, removal is an ability on a creature card or an ‘enter the battlefield’ effect.
  • Evasion: Cards that can get through your opponent’s defenses. Most of the time, people view these as cards with the Flying ability. However, you’ll also want to look for the words ‘can’t be blocked by’ or cards that have protection from certain effects or colors.
  • Aggro: These are classified as cards that mostly just attack or defend. Their goal is to get rid of your opponent’s threats and punch through to damage their life total.
  • Duds: Cards that you aren’t going to play. Either they’re comparatively bad, don’t have synergy with your deck, don’t fit the colors you’re playing, or are just weak cards in general.

First Pack Picks

Remember that you have three packs of cards to work with. This will leave you with a total of 42 total cards, some of which could be lands. At the end of the day, you’re looking for around 23 playable cards.

When you are picking in your first packs, you want to be picking the best cards possible. Don’t necessarily worry about changing colors or picking multiple high-cost cards. As you near the end of the first pack, you can look at the cards you’ve picked so far. That will likely give you an indicator to what colors you might want to focus on in the later packs.

Second Pack Picks

In your second pack, you should be starting to solidify yourself in a specific color or two. In some formats where you have more lands that tap for multiple colors, you can even venture into three-color territory.

This is always a risk, as it is especially important in the Draft format to be playing cards every turn. If you’re missing your third color on lands, that’s going to be much more difficult to accomplish.

Also, you can begin to read the signals of the other players. If you don’t see any Blue cards heading your way, it’s safe to assume that other people at the table are playing Blue cards. That means your selection for Blue cards is going to be limited, and at that point you might want to consider switching to a new strategy. Constantly getting passed the same color usually indicates that the color is open and available.

By the end of your second pack, you probably shouldn’t be changing into another color, as you’ll only be able to get an absolute maximum of 15 more playables. The odds of those all being the color you want are incredibly slim. Stick to the plan!

Third Pack Picks

Once you get to the third pack, most of your picks are going to be obvious. Fill in the gaps that you have in your deck by following the BREAD convention listed above. Make sure you have enough multi-color lands, if needed, and prioritize your needs.

You should also be conscious of your mana curve. As I mentioned before, you ideally want to be using all of your mana every turn to stay on the curve. This means spacing out the mana costs of your cards so that you aren’t too heavily skewed in a single number. Having a bunch of powerful, fun cards that cost 6+ mana isn’t the way to go.

Take a look at this image showing an ideal draft deck mana curve, created by MTG Rocks:

When building your deck, this info-graphic also serves as a decent guide for you to keep in mind. You don’t want to have too many non-creatures in your deck, to make sure that you can keep up with board presence.

Use that deck and play matches until you lose three times. With each win, you go up on the Reward track, giving you better rewards to claim when you finally get knocked out. In order to ‘go infinite’, or keep fueling your initial draft investment, you’ll typically need to get 5-6 wins in your draft. It’s not an easy feat!

Draft Your Best Decks!

Hopefully this gives you enough information to equip yourself to get some wins during your next Draft event! It’s one of my favorite formats, as it forces you to really learn all of the cards in a set and get some experience with them.

We have about a month left with the current Standard Rotation before the next set releases. Then we’ll have a brand new set to draft – very exciting!

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