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We at Draftsim love drafting: it’s in our name, after all! With this in mind, we wanted to share with you everything we know about how to draft on Arena. Our goal is to give you a wide range of information on the topic and give you a guide you can come back to time and time again whenever the need arises. Bookmark this page! (On second thought, does anyone still use bookmarks?)
We will be covering everything, from explaining what Limited and drafting are, to tips on how to build a draft deck on Arena, to our own personal tricks and sources. We hope this will give you a strong foothold and jumping-off point to become a better drafter on MTG Arena and a better player overall. So, without further ado, let’s dive right in!
What is Limited?
Let’s start at the beginning and go through what drafting is. If you are new to the term, here’s a quick explanation for you. Drafting is a part of a format called “Limited,” a format that shares the following structure:
- You do not decide what your deck looks like until you sit down to play; the contents of your deck are decided only by the contents of the packs you will be using.
- Your deck can be no less than 40 cards. You can build a deck with more than 40 cards, if you really want to.
- Your sideboard consists of anything else you have opened (in sealed) or drafted (in draft).
- With the exception of higher-level tournaments, you are free to reconstruct your deck between matches as you wish using any cards you have opened/drafted for that event.
- You may play any number of cards that you have opened or drafted: there is no “4-of” restriction in Limited play, so you can play as many of a single card you want!
- Basic lands are provided freely during deck construction. As a rule of thumb, never draft a basic land with no other special types or effects. There’s no reason to!
There are three primary ways to play Limited:
- Sealed Deck: You get 6 booster packs to build a 40+ card deck from. You open and keep all cards in those packs, which become your “pool.” Any number of players can participate in a Sealed Deck event, and Prerelease events can have tons of people!
- Booster Draft: Ideally played with 8 players in a “pod.” Each player received 3 booster packs, typically of the same set (in past years, two or even three similar sets may be involved). Please keep in mind that during the draft you are not allowed to talk, signal, or show your cards to other players*. After that there is a method all 8 players follow:
- You all simultaneously open one pack; remove any tokens, rules cards, advertisements, and/or art cards. Leave in all dual-faced real cards and any cards with a “Card Back” (if the back of the card looks like a real MtG card, leave it in). You may be instructed to remove the basic land, depending on the set.
- Look at your pack and select one card from it.
- Pass the remaining cards to the person sitting to your left. You receive cards from the person sitting to your right.
- Repeat the above two steps until there are no more cards left in the pack.
- Next, everyone will open a second pack. Again, remove any non-necessary cards.
- Pick one card and pass the remaining cards to the person to your right.
- This continues, again, until all the cards have been picked.
- Simultaneously you open the last pack, select a card, and pass the rest on to your left. Rinse and repeat.
- Once the third pack has been drafted, you will now have time to construct a deck of at least 40 cards.
- Cube: A special Limited format where someone curates a large, usually “singleton” custom draft format. The games are interesting, complicated, and often outright insane. Sadly, Arena currently does not (and hasn’t ever had) a “Cube”, but Magic the Gathering: Online (MTGA’s much-maligned step sibling) has cube fairly regularly.
*Depending on the environment in your Friendly Local Game Store, some idle chit-chat may occur, or celebration when a good/expensive card is opened. Feel it out!
Limited on Arena
Sealed and Draft are both offered nearly constantly on MtG Arena. The modes consist of All Play Modes and Arena Play Modes.
You can toggle between one and the other by clicking on the Arena logo in the top right of the pictures above. The difference between the two is that All Play Modes offers more options than Arena Play Modes. As of the writing of this article the modes included the following:
As you can see, there’s a ton of variety! For now, we’ll stay with the two types of drafting you can choose from: Traditional Draft and Ranked Draft (formerly called Quick Draft).
If you’re new to Arena, these two modes can be a little confusing. They both differ slightly from real life play, and even from each other on Arena. So, we’ve compiled an easy list for you of what each mode consists of.
- Best of 3 matches (BO3)
- Can only be paid for with gems
- Maximum play is 6 matches
- Keep playing until you reach 2 match losses
- Best of 1 match (BO1)
- Can be paid for with gold or gems
- Maximum play is 7 matches
- Keep playing until you reach 3 match losses
Each mode also gives different rewards for each match win that you get. For traditional draft it is set up as follows:
For ranked draft the winnings are set up like this:
As you can see in the image above, there are 1.X fractions of packs. What this means is you get 1 pack just for playing, regardless of your record. You also have a small chance at randomly getting a second pack, which improves with each match you win, but you’re not guaranteed a second pack until you’ve reached 7 match wins.
Now that we have listed the most common draft formats on Arena, let’s get into detail on some draft strategy basics.
Drafting Tips and Tricks
First, let’s talk about what you want your 40 card deck to look like. There is a sweet spot for the ratio of creatures vs spells, the amount of lands in a deck, and for the converted mana costs (CMCs). We’ve put it all down in a graph for you:
Your “Mana Curve” or simply “Curve” is a depiction of your cards spread out in piles based on their Converted Mana Cost. A typical draft deck should look somewhere close to this: Lots of 2-drops and 3-drops, with fewer and fewer cards on the outside of your curve. Of course you can play around with it a bit as you become more familiar with the cards, but usually you’ll want your deck to end up looking something like this.
When you’re preparing for a draft make sure to look over the set you’re going to be drafting, it will help you get familiar with the cards and what they do. Pay close attention to the commons and uncommons in a set. These are the cards you will encounter most, so knowing which ones to snap up and which ones to avoid beforehand can definitely pay off.
BREAD and butter
A great acronym to remember during a draft is BREAD, which stands for Bombs, Removal, Evasion, Aggro, and Duds/Dregs. While BREAD is a very blunt way to view drafting and has fallen somewhat out of favor as the years have gone by, it’s definitely a decent place for a newbie to begin learning how to evaluate cards. Remembering this acronym during your draft might help you make better decisions on what to pick and what not to. We will shortly explain all of them:
- Bombs. These are cards that have to be answered by your opponent. If not, you’ll quickly win the game. They are also cards you’ll want to prioritize picking in a draft. Think of cards like Cavalier of Night, Chandra, Awakened Inferno, Nightpack Ambusher, Voracious Hydra, Cavalier of Dawn.
- Removal. Your opponents will be playing a lot of creatures, so having an answer to them is crucial. Cards like Murder, Shock, Pacifism, Frost Lynx, and Rabid Bite will be your best friend when the time comes to deal with a creature. The key here is for removal to be efficient — ie cheap.
- Evasion. These are creatures that are hard to block and/or hard to deal with. Look for keywords such as Flying, Menace, Unblockable, Hexproof, Double Strike, etc. Here’s a few examples: Atemsis, All-Seeing, Yarok, the Desecrated, Ripscale Predator.
- Aggro. With this think of cards that are literally beaters. They will often win quick and fast. Think of the following: Scampering Scorcher, Lavakin Brawler, Audacious Thief, Centaur Courser.
- Duds/Dregs. There are the cards that are usually picked last and are more likely than not going to end up in your deck because they rarely impact the game and are too situational. In this category are cards like Duress, Tale’s End, Healer of the Glade, and Disenchant.
Things you also want to be on the lookout for are synergies between cards. For instance, a couple of great synergies in M20 are Lavakin Brawler and Goblin Smuggler, Corpse Knight and Raise the Alarm, or Warden of Evos Isle and Winged Words (or any other flyer for that matter). Synergies and “combos” can be the key to not only building your deck, but also winning you games.
Ranked draft (BO1) strategies
With ranked draft you only need to worry about playing one game in a match, so your picks have to be consistent with only your deck’s main strategy for those BO1 matches. There is no need to have a sideboard, so making picks based on that won’t get you very far as you’ll never have the opportunity to use them.
What you should be trying to build is a deck that can be the best it can be for that one game. This usually means you can leave cards like Duress and Tectonic Rift to the side. They have little impact on the game and are, more often than not, not useful enough often enough. Also cards that only work against specific colors, like Devout Decree and Aether Gust, have a slim chance of being useful. While the cheap costs and strong effects can be tempting, these are often just too narrow to be consistently effective. Of course it can happen that you happen to face an opponent with the right colors, but it is more likely these type of cards will rot away in your hand with you wishing you had something different to cast.
There are some exceptions to this rule: sometimes a particular format will have a strong enough showing of a certain kind of card that it can be worth it to put something you might otherwise sideboard in your main deck. For example: with the prevalence of fliers in M20, many green decks will want to have a copy of Plummet if they would otherwise lose to those creatures.
Similarly, Aerial Assault will serve the same purpose for red players. You really need to have a good idea of what’s common enough in the format to deserve a slot in your deck, though, and occasionally these cards will still be a dead draw.
You want to prioritize having cards that are strong in a wide variety of decks, something that becomes a little more nuanced when you’re doing a traditional draft.
Traditional draft (BO3) strategies
When you’re playing traditional draft, you have to think about picking cards for your sideboard next to building a great deck. You’ll be playing best of three matches (BO3), so now cards like Fry and Noxious Grasp can become much more interesting. After game one, they can be just the push to tip the scales in your favor, because you’ll have the information of what the opponent is playing and can adjust your deck accordingly.
The same rules still apply for your main deck. You want a deck that is resilient and smooth. This means that cards like Dread Presence and Lavakin Brawler are still great picks as they have a lasting effect on the board and have to be dealt with one way or another. The difficulty becomes balancing your main deck and your sideboard. Sometimes you’ll have to let a great sideboard card slide in favor of a great card your main deck can really use. Or even the opposite!
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider. A lot of it comes down to practice, and the ability to not give up or abandon your goals to get your grip on drafting. To help you along your path we’ll be giving you a few general tips right now.
How time and timers matter on Arena
Another important thing to know about Arena is how they deal with time. Time for a draft, time in a match, and length of a match. Let’s start with drafting time. If you’ve drafted in real life or on MTGO, you probably know that there is a time limit (or, in paper, simple pressure) for you to make a pick. This works a little different on Arena.
On Arena you draft against bots, just like on Draftsim. The MTGA bots are patient and don’t mind waiting. They have nowhere to go anyway, so there is no time-limit. Read the cards, or read a book, it doesn’t matter. When you’re ready to make your pick the bots will be there waiting. This gives you a great opportunity to look through the cards you’ve picked, check for synergies, weigh your options, so take advantage of it and take your time.
And if you’re really stuck on a pick, you can always ask your friends or the Draftsim Discord for advice.
Within a BO1 match there is also no clock, as there is in MTGO, for instance. Instead they work with an hourglass symbol that shows you how many ‘time-outs’ you have. When you make quick decisions in a game and pass quickly, you’re saving time, literally. You will get more hourglasses and have more time to make decisions later when you might need it.
When you’re in a match and you are taking a long time for the first time, a line will appear in the middle of the playing field. This is one of those hourglass ‘time-outs’ that has started for you. It will keep appearing, even as you pass through phases, for as long as you’re not making decisions quickly. Once you’ve made a certain amount of reasonably quick decisions the line will disappear again.
It looks like a fuse (or rope) that is slowly burning up from right to left. If you have more than one, you can use them all. But when you don’t have any left and it runs out, your turn will auto-pass to your opponent. If you do this again you automatically concede the game.
As long as you make reasonable decisions and don’t take overly long you should have no trouble completing games. So there’s no need to worry, just play at a decent pace and don’t prolong the game unnecessarily.
Disconnecting during a draft or a match
If you happen to not feel like drafting, or disconnect during a draft, don’t worry. Arena remembers where you were in the draft or between matches and once you get back online it should start where you left off.
During a match this isn’t the case though. If you happen to experience connectivity problems you will start using your time-outs. Once they’ve run out, you will start auto-passing as mentioned above and eventually lose the game and/or match. So, as long as you are in-between matches you are safe from anything happening to where you were, but during a game disconnecting does have repercussions, e.g. you losing the game or match.
Chess clocks were introduced for BO3
As of May 2019, you now can run out of total match time in a BO3 match. Please see here for more details.
Arena Bots, and How They Draft (Generally)
Now that you know you’re drafting against bots, it seems like a good time to mention that drafting against the Arena bots is very different than drafting against actual humans. The reason for this is that the bots make different picks and seem to have certain preferences for some cards, or even colors, and disregard others almost always. This allows you to make picks and even build decks that most likely wouldn’t happen in real life.
The trick is to get to know which cards get past the bots and which always seem to get snapped up by them. With every set this is a new puzzle. So far, for M20 this has meant that weird decks like “Heart-Piercer Bow Tribal” have become very viable choices to force draft.
This is because the bots seem to let slip past them a lot of the cards that are needed for these decks to become very viable, which would not happen in real life. Some of the synergies represented in these cards is something people tend to pick up on and will not get passed in the numbers that have been seen on MTG Arena.
The point to all this is that you can take advantage of these weird swings and turn your deck from mediocre to amazing by figuring out these ‘defects’ of the bots. One way to do this is to try your own hand at it as you draft, another is to keep an eye on the web to what people are posting to get a whiff of what both bots and humans alike are up to on Arena.
Arena Economics 101: The Cost of Drafting
You might have noticed by now that we’ve mentioned both gold and gems as ways to pay for drafts (and other formats) on Arena. So, what does that entail? How do you get gold? How do you get gems? Let’s address this now.
Gold and Gems
Gold is MTG Arena’s way of rewarding you for your achievements. These can be:
- Match wins
- Completing quests
- Event prizes
By collecting gold you can play Arena free of cost, as most normal things can be paid for with gold e.g. ranked drafts, booster packs and events.
If you’re someone who likes to enter special events, gems are your friend. Gems can be collected by:
- Buying them
- Winning events
- Collecting redundant rares and mythic rares (you can read all about that here)
Gems will get you all the things gold can get you, plus they get you into certain events gold can’t get you into, called gem only events, like special events and traditional draft.
Sealed is also one of those gem only events. As with both forms of drafting, it differs a little from real life sealed. We’ve put together a quick summary for you on sealed.
- Best of 1 match (BO1)
- Can only be paid for with gems
- Maximum play is 7 matches
- Keep playing until you reach 3 match losses
If you’re planning on collecting gold on Arena to pay for drafts, there is an optimal system to follow. The first 4 matches of each new day will get you the most gold, after that your rewards reduce quite quickly and become less efficient. Assuming you win 4 matches a day and also complete one quest, you will roughly rake in between 1050 and 1750 gold. This means you can do a draft about 1 or 2 times a week depending on where you land on the gold scale each day.
While you do receive gems for winning matches and events, it is definitely not as much as gold. So, if you’re a player who wants to participate in more than 1 or 2 drafts, or other events, a week you have the option to buy gems. Below are the current prices for gems.
If you want a pro tip from us, we suggest buying the $99.99 pack of gems. Even if you have to save up to buy the 20,000 gem pack, we recommend you do that. It will save you the most money in the long run, both in your wallet and on the events. “Why?” you ask? We’ll show you.
Here’s a quick calculation of how much gems cost between the 750 pack and the 20,000 one:
At 750 gems: $0.00675 per gem ($4.99 / 750)
At 20,000 gems: $0.00499 per gem ($99.99 / 20,000)
This means that if you buy the 20,000 pack instead of the 750 pack, you save (20,000 / 750) x $4.99 – $99.99 = a little over $33.
With that information, we can now also compare it to the gem prices set for events on Arena. The first price will be the price when you buy 750 packs of gems. The second price will be the price when you buy the 20,000 pack of gems.
Traditional Draft: 1,500 gems (1,500 x $0.00675 and 1,500 x $0.00499) = $10.13 – $7.49. You save $2.64
Ranked Draft: 750 gems (750 x $0.00675 and 750 x $0.00499) = $5.06 – $3.74. You save $1.32
Sealed: 2,000 gems (2,000 x $0.00675 and 2,000 x $0.00499) = $13.50 – $9.98. You save $3.52
Should I Play Limited Events, or Just Buy Packs?
As you get more familiar with Arena and are considering building decks and building your collection, you are faced with an interesting question. Should you draft more to get the desired cards, or buy packs?
A general rule to use is ask yourself what it is you want. Do you want to build a certain standard deck requiring certain cards? Then it’s probably better to buy packs and start looking out for wildcards. There are silver ones for uncommon, gold ones for rare, and mythic orange colored ones for mythic rares. You can trade in wildcards for any uncommon, rare, or mythic that is available on Arena at any given point. This way you can build the deck you want and use wildcards to get the missing ones.
If, on the other hand, you just want to collect cards, then drafting is the way to go. You’ll get to see a great variety of cards during one draft and can pick and choose to your heart’s content. You won’t see any wildcards in a draft, so if you want something specific, you’ll either have to get lucky and open it, or get enough gold and gems to convert into packs for wildcards.
Where will those cards and sets go when Rotation hits?
So, what happens on Arena once a set rotates? Great question! It is fairly simple, arena follows the same rules as standard. So what’s legal in standard is legal on Arena. As new sets come out, they will be added to Arena as well. Once each year, after the fall set releases, the four oldest sets in standard rotate out.
This means that when Throne of Eldraine was released, Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019 rotated out of standard. The cards are no longer available for standard on Arena, but they are available for a new format type exclusive to Arena called Historic.
With drafting it’s a little different in the way that you cannot draft all the sets in standard. Usually you’re able to draft the last two sets released. Right now this means you can draft Throne of Eldraine and Core Set 2020. There are special events that let you draft other standard sets, though, so if you’re a fan of that make sure to keep an eye out for those.
One of the best things you can do for a draft is practice. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that all costs money! We’re here to tell you that that’s not true. We’ve created a draft simulator on our site that lets you draft all the way back to Dragons of Tarkir. Not only can you draft as much as you want, you can also see example pick orders and tier lists on our site. This can help you improve both your drafting and decision making about which cards are the best picks and build-arounds.
Here is a list of each Arena set that is available on Draftsim, a link to where you can draft each set, and a link where you can see the pick-order/tier list for each set. May it help you hone your drafting game well.
Current MTGA Standard Sets
Older “Historic” Sets
Draftsim also has an extensive library of (very fun) older sets that were released long before Arena was created. You can check out the complete listing here.
Draft helpers and other tips
Another great tool to use are draft assistants for Arena. These are mostly fan-made trackers obtained from in-game logs and external sources. They can help you get more insight into drafting, what choices to make, and become a better player overall. Here’s a link to the helpers out there right now.
Of course we’re partial, but the best one that you can integrate into Arena is Draftsim’s own Arena Tutor. It is easy to use, turn on, or off, and, best of all, it uses Draftsim’s ratings to dynamically guide your picks based on what you’ve already drafted! It is a great tool to have on during drafting and enables you to make better picks from your packs.
An Arena draft using Arena Tutor
If you want some more help grasping the basics of Magic, you can also check out the Learn More section of Arena itself. It gives you links to great articles especially written for beginning players and can help you get your head around the great game that is Magic the Gathering.
There are also a couple of great sites to check out and keep on the lookout for whenever a new set releases. These are articles on draft picks and set reviews. Some of my personal favorites come from Channel Fireball. The LSV limited set reviews are a great jumping off point for getting into a new set and can give you an easy and well thought-out first look of newly printed cards.
When it comes to draft picks I’m very much into Frank Karsten’s articles. His latest one can be found right here. He uses a lot of information from other sites, including our own, to make a great pick-order and tier guide. Like our own pick-order and tier guides, this can really help you get to know top cards quickly.
As the format gets more developed and people start to discover deeper draft strategies, Ryan Saxe’s articles on Star City Games are an excellent place to go to get cutting edge draft tech and analysis.
If you want improve both your drafting and deckbuilding, check out Draftsim’s Twitter account Limited Decklists. Every day, the account shares undefeated draft and sealed lists from some of the best — and most hardcore — drafters in the world. Many people also include their draft logs so you can follow along pick-by-pick to see what you would have drafted yourself.
Last, but not least, we want to touch upon watching other greats in the game draft. This can also be a great tool in helping you become a better drafter as you can see what the pros pick and usually find out why. Follow MTG streams on Twitch or YouTube channels like Channel Fireball, Magic the Gathering, Ben Stark, and Magic the Gathering Esports to find great content on Arena drafts to continually up your game.
Be sure to check out if your favorite players have channels out there that talk about drafting on Arena. If it’s a person you love to see play, you can pick up a lot of things from them on how to get better by watching them do their thing on their channel. Keep exploring and you’ll find there is a lot out there to help you become the best you can be.
With that, we have come to the end of our guide to make you a better drafter on MTG Arena. We hope you enjoyed the read and, most of all, have found it helpful.
If you like this guide and our website, and would like to see more epic content like this in the future, you can support us right here. We appreciate it a ton, because there’s nothing we like more than providing great articles and software for you and for the game we all love to play.
See you next time!