Booster Drafting Basics – MTGO

Booster Drafting Basics - MTGOThere are many ways you can play Magic: The Gathering. I’ve tried many, but the one that’s keeping me up until 4am every other day is the Booster Draft.

In this article, I’ll try to cover every basic aspect of this tournament. I’ll be referring, at most times, to the online version of the game, but both are basically the same.

Introduction – Why I started playing MTG Booster Drafts

I have played MTG and MTGO many, many, many times. When younger, I played MTG with friends, in a very casual way. When playing with friends was no longer a possibility, I was forced into MTGO. As you should know, its basically the exact same game, one digital, one physical. Playing online, with digital cards, has advantages and disadvantages, which I’m not gonna go through right now, except for a specific one: When you start playing Magic: The Gathering Online, you’ll be playing against many players around the world, and will end up facing amazing expensive decks. No matter what your skill is, you won’t be able to beat those decks with your starting cards. Yes, maybe you can build a very neat, smart, dynamic deck with cheap cards, but it’s not gonna get you to the finals of a constructed championship.

So, when you start playing MTGO, you have to make a choice. You’re either going to have to sink deep into the game, and spend time andmoney to build yourself a deck worthy of being used in a tournament, or you’ll be forced to play completly casually. I’ve tried the later one, and was not satisfied with it. It’s nice for a while, but it’s not challenging at all, since you’ll be always playing different people, and it doesn’t really matter if you win or lose.

Still, I didn’t feel like jumping into the world of expensive decks and big-prize tournaments. Why? Not only because of time constraints, but also because it’s a commitment. You can sepend time and money building a strong deck, that will be useless in a year or so. So, if you want to get into that level and stay there, you’ll have to be up to date with every card being released and every build being used, and be willing to rebuild and recycle your decks every once in a while. And that’s a commitment I was not willing to make a year ago, what led me to giving up on MTGO (for a while).

Needless to say, MTG is not something that you can just give up. It stays with you. Probably because it’s (arguably) the best game ever made, and very likely the most addicting one. So, a few weeks ago I started watching people playing online – on streams and youtube. That’s when I stumbled across this guy, Peilla[1], who uploads, among other things, videos of himself playing MTGO Booster Drafts. It was not the first time I heard about this sort of tournament, but it was the first time I saw how it actually worked. I was thrilled. The result? I watched all of his MTGO M13 Booster Draft videos – which add up to about 10 hours of video – in a couple of days and, on the following weekend, I played and won my first Booster Draft championship =D. [2]

But what’s the difference between a Draft and a Constructed tournament? It’s simple: In a constructed tournament, the players use the decks they already own, with cards of their collections. In a draft, on the other hand, players have to “bring” sealed decks or boosters, and they’ll build the decks to be used in the tournament with the cards they choose during the drafting process. This means that, in a Draft tournament, you’ll be counting solely on your skills, and luck, of course. Every player in the tournament will have the same starting conditions. That’s what’s so attractive to players like me, who do not own a strong collection. It doesen’t matter if your opponent spent $500,00 building some overpowered planeswalker deck. He won’t be able to use it. Every player will build his deck when the tournament starts. Plus, you’ll play a different deck every tournament, what makes it even more exciting, at least in my opinion.

How Drafting works?

A Draft Tournament requires the players to bring or acquire sealed packs to be able to join. As the tournament starts, the players will open the packs and pick cards to build the decks they’ll be using for the rest of the tournament. More specifically, a Booster Draft requires a player to bring at least 3 sealed boosters. After drafting using those 3 boosters, each player will end up with 45 cards. A booster draft may have various numbers of players, but the online ones usually go with eight.

When the tournament starts, each player opens one of his 3 booster packs, choose a card, and pass the other cards to another player. On MTG, you pass the remaining 14 cards to the guy sitting on your left, on a circle of people. On MTGO, you don’t have to worry about that. Just pick your card and the program will pass the cards to the following player. As you pass your cards, some other player will pass the remaining 14 cards from his booster to you. You’ll pick another card, and pass the cards again. This process will repeat until every player has 15 cards. Then, you’ll all open another booster, and the process begins again. Same with the third booster.

In the end of the drafting process, every player will have 45 cards, which he’ll use to build his deck. Basic lands do not count. The game provides you with as many basic land cards as you want, to use in your deck. Player usually build 40 card decks, so he’ll have a higher chance of drawing the best cards. Usually, decks with 23 non-land cards and 17 land cards are built.

After every player has built and submitted his deck, the matches will start. The number of matches and the prizes differ in each kind of Booster Draft.

The Three Booster Draft Formats – 8-4, 4-3-2-2, Swiss

The name of the format is related to the prize. There are other formats, but these are the most played ones on the Online game. Each one requires 8 players, for the tournament to begin. The entry fee is usually one of the three following options:

  1. 14 tickets
  2. 3 booster packs + 2 tickets
  3. booster-drafting package (you can buy on the online store)


You should ALWAYS use the second option.
– Why?
Because both the 1st and the 3rd cost around $14,00, while the 2nd costs around $11,00.
– What do you mean?
On the online store, a ticket costs $1,00, the booster costs around $4,00 and the booster-drafting pack costs around $14,00.
– So what, the second option still costs $14,00.
True, IF you buy it all on the online store. You should buy 11 tickets on the store, go to the classifieds, and get 3 boosters for around 3 tickets each. Usually, you can easily find a booster that costs $3,99 on the online store, for about 2,9 tickets. (Also, you could save even more by buying tix directly from a dealer, like MTGO Traders [3]).
– Well, I don’t mind spending an extra $3,00, as long as I’m supporting WoTC.


This is a single-elimination tournament. Only the finalists get prizes. 1st place gets 8 boosters and 2nd place gets 4. All other players get nothing. This is the most risky but, at the same time, the most rewarding format.


Just like the 8-4 this is a single-elimination tournament. Unlike the former, this rewards anyone who gets past the 1st match. 1st player gets 4 boosters, 2nd gets 3, 3rd and 4th places get 2 boosters each. Compared to the 8-4, the 4-3-2-2 is less risky, but less rewarding.


Unlike the other two formats, the name of this one has nothing to do with the prize. Actually, I’m not sure why it’s called Swiss. Also unlike the other two formats, this one is not single elimination. Every player plays every match and gets 1 booster pack for each win. This is the format I would recommend to any beginners. Not only you’ll be able to play every match and get more used to drafting, but you’ll also find weaker players to compete against.

Also, opponents with equal results are matched against each other. So, if you lose the first match, you’ll face one of the other 3 players who also lost the 1st match. In the end, one player will always get 3 boosters, four players will get 2 boosters, one player will get 1 booster, and one unlucky dude will leave empty handed.

I haven’t played in a while / I’m a complete noob

If you’re either a noob in the game, or you’ve been away from MTG for a while, you shouldn’t jump into drafting right away. In both cases, I’d advise you to play casually until you get the hang of it. Of course, play standard, since most booster drafts happen in standard.

If you’re a complete newbie to MTG, it may take a longer time to be apt to start drafting. You should first learn the basics of the game. Then, after hundreds of matches, you should come back to this article to finally be able to start drafting.

If you’re getting started with the online version of MTG – MTGO – you should play at least fifty matches casually, so you’ll get used to the subtleties of the system. There are many matches you’ll lose because you didn’t know you had to configure the system not to skip a step, or something like that. Let it be a casual match.

If you’re used to MTGO, but not up to date with the new releases, then you should also play some standard casual matches, just to catch up with the new cards and combos.

In any case, newbie or rusty, it would be helpful to watch someone else drafting. I want to post some videos of myself drafting, but since I haven’t yet, I’d strongly recommend you watch the m13 booster drafts uploaded by Peilla [1]. You’ll learn and also have fun.

Basic Drafting Strategies

There are many important issues to consider, when picking cards. First of all, don’t feel tempted to pick cards that are good in constructed matches. Some of them may be good by themselves, but a lot of them are only good when used in combos with other cards that you’re probably not gonna have the chance to pick.

First of all, pick all the BOMBS you can. By bomb, I mean a card that by itself will be game ending in your favor. Maybe a very powerful but costy creature. You have to keep in mind that you won’t be facing the same decks you would if you were playing constructed. You’ll be facing weaker decks, so you’ll be more likely to be able to cast a high cost spell. Bombs could be any sorts of spell, actually. Maybe some X direct damage, maybe some OP enchantment that will severely limit your opponent. What matters is, if you see a card that, on battlefield, would be able to win you the game, you should probably pick it.

During the first pack, you usually should keep your options numerous. Don’t limit yourself to a single color or two, during the first pack, unless you have a really good reason to do so. On the other hand, you should, most of the times, keep your final deck at two colors at most. So, by the time you get to half of the second pack, you should have already made your color choice.

Think about easy combos to make. For example: you have already picked two Mark of The Vampire. You should be inclined to pick any Tormented Soul’s that pass by. At the same time, if you’re planning on building a black deck, it might be a good choice to pick Mark of The Vampire, because it’s very likely that someone will pass you a Tormented Soul or another card that would go well with Mark of The Vampire. And here’s another good point: There are cards that just go well in many situations. Others go well in very specific situations. So, when you’re still picking your first cards, you should give priority to those cards that go well with everything, because you don’t know what’s gonna come next.

Another fundamental element is means of elimination. In case your opponent casts that 10/10 flying creature with trample, you must have a way to deal with it. That’s why you should always have a few cards like Terror or any creature destroying card.

Direct damage can be a fine weapon. It is useful for both getting rid of those annoying little creatures with OverPowered abilities, and winning you the race – killing your opponent before he kills you. On draft matches, many times you’ll find yourself in a situation where you can’t deal with what your opponent has on the battlefield, so you have to find a way to kill him before he can stomp you with his almighty, untouchable creatures. Direct damage – always a fine choice.

Another thing you should pay attention to is mana cost. I like telling the game to sort the cards by mana cost, during the drafting stage. Try not to go with too many high cost cards. You should have 1 mana cards for a quick start, a few high cost bomb cards, that could be game deciding, and a good amount of 2-3-4 mana cards.

Also, try to get a good number of creatures. remember that you’re not playing standard, and you’ll probably not going to succeed in making some crazy combo that involves no creatures. Creatures are, most likely, the main source of damage and control in a Booster Draft match. And even if they are not your main source of damage, you still need them to defend from opponents creatures, because you can be sure they will have tons of them.

Finally, when building your deck, don’t try to get fancy with the lands. Don’t go with too few or too many. It’s very likely that you’ll not succeed. A standard choice would be 17 lands and 23 non-land cards. Anything distant from that should be dangerous.

Things to keep in mind

  • Always write down the number of the tournament you’re participating in. Right as you join. This makes it possible or easier to complain about any sort of issue you had during the tournament. I’ve never had any problems, though.
  • Pay atention to the CLOCK. I lost a won match last weekend because I did not pay atention to the clock. You have no idea of how frustrating that is. I have this dumb habit of dragging the exiled cards box over the clock. Don’t do that.
  • Don’t pick the cards for their value. Well, that’s not written in stone. Of course, if you get a $40,00 planeswalker on your third pack, PICK IT, even if you’re not going to use it on the tournament. What you don’t wanna do, though, is let temptation make you pick $2,00 – $3,00 cards instead of cards that would be really useful in the tournament. It’s tempting, of course. But if you think about it, you’re paying $11,00 to join the tournament. Unless your cards add up to that value, which rarely happens, it’s better just to let that $2,00 card go and pick a bomb that would get you to the finals.

FAQ – More like doubts I had when I first started

  • What’s the prize? Depends on the format. On MTGO, you can click the name of the tournament, and the game will open a browser with all the information you need.
  • Do I keep the cards I draft? In most cases, YES. Except for ghost tournaments. Those are cheaper to get in, but you don’t get to keep the cards. In 4-3-2-2, Swiss and 8-4 you do get to keep your cards.
  • What does “Last Game Length” mean, exactly? It shows the time that the player (with the lower clock) had left to play when the last game ended. It does not show the duration of the last game played.
  • I’m playing swiss. I’m done with my 3rd match and want to get my prize. Is there a way to get it before the other matches end? I don’t think so. If there is, please let me know. =P
  • Can I join many tournaments at once? It is possible. You shouldn’t, though.
  • If I join a tournament, and decide to leave before it starts, do I get my entry fee back? Yes.
  • Can I watch the other matches, while I’m waiting for the next round to begin? Nope.

[1] Peilla’s Youtube Channel
[2] Swiss Win Screenshot
[3] MTGO Traders Website

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