So you want to go to Friday Night Magic....
Last week I went to Friday Night Magic. It was the first Kaladesh draft, and instead of our usual ten or so regulars the store was packed to the gills - we had twenty-two. We are a small location, so for us that was like all the players. Sitting across from me was someone that hadn't drafted in a long time (if ever). She was doing an OK job keeping up, and no one was giving her a hard time, but you could tell it was like drinking from a fire hose. A lot of information all at once. It felt like this was a good topic for an article - maybe someone will connect with this through "The Google" and it will prepare them for their first night - or give them the courage to go. Strap in, we are off to our first FNM.
When you arrive at the store on Friday night you will need to register to play. If this is your first time playing you will be given a "DCI Number" This stands for "Duelist Convocation International" which is a remnant of Wizard's earliest days of organized play. What is important is you have just been given you Wizards of the Coast "social security number". This number will forever be associated you and will track every organized match you ever play. For you it is an indecipherably long string of numbers, so try and keep the card the store gives you in a safe place - don't even try and memorize it. For me it is a small number under 2000. Part of the benefits of being old and playing since Beta.
There is a fee to play. It's usually the cost of four booster packs. Three to draft and one for the prize pool. This means that even if you come in last you will still be going home with a minimum of forty-five cards.
Eventually the start time for the draft will come and the organizer will divide you into "pods" (unless there is a very small number playing). A "pod" is simply a subset of players randomly assigned into a group to allow the draft to go faster and be less confusing. They will tell you a table or seat to sit in (depending on the size of the venue). Find your place, pull up a chair and relax.
When the draft begins, crack your first pack of cards and fan through them. You will be choosing one of these cards and then passing the other 14 to your left. This is an important time in your draft because your first pick can choose the direction of your deck. Nothing is set in stone, of course, but here you have a clean slate to choose a card you really want to play, without worrying about its color, casting cost or type. Your choice can go in a few directions here - and none of them are really wrong. It all depends on what you want to get out of Friday Night Magic.
Pick a card to "build around". This is for the players that like a deck building challenge. They like to try and force one of the new set mechanics as the focus of there deck. This usually means they are drafting one of the uncommons as their first pick of the night. Most of the time I fall into this group.
Draft the rares. This is for the players that are collectors or those that play casual formats outside of FNM. They want to guarantee they get all the value out of the packs they purchased and bringing home any rares they open (or are passed to them) is one way to do that. Rares tend to be splashy, expensive mechanics that have value in formats like Commander or Cube, so they may "sacrifice" a draft pick to pull the rare for its long term play value in a deck they already play. I'll admit it - if the set is really new or I pull a really juicy rare, I'll do this on occasion. The collector just gets the better of me. I enjoy this though, so there is nothing wrong with that.
Draft to win. For some Magic players, Friday Night Magic drafts are the only format they care about and card value is secondary to the win. That's a completely legitimate goal and these players tend to draft the card that is the most powerful card in the pack regardless of rarity. In later picks they will value the cards they need for their build over all others - even if it means passing the next player a Mythic bomb. These players tend to be deeply knowledgeable about the current set and card interactions and feel any "value" they sacrifice will be made up by their share of the prize pool. This isn't my thing. I get as much enjoyment coming in at the bottom then scoring prizes at the top. I am not the normal player tough - a lot of folks love the adrenaline rush of the "big win".
All of these groups have different goals and come together to have fun. For your first draft I would look for a "build around" card. It doesn't even really have to be one with a complex mechanic. Pick something you understand then choose cards that are similar or cards that you think would work with it. This is what deck builders call "synergy", and you will get better in recognizing these relationships as your exposure to Magic and drafting increases.
So now you have selected your first card. Pass your pack to the left and prepare to be handed the pack from the player on the right. Sometimes the player will hand it to you, but more often they will place it face down next to your play space. Don't touch this pack until you pass the one you are choosing from. Packs will continue pass around the table and get smaller as that round progresses. Try and keep your card selections to one or two colors - this will make building your deck a bit easier. As the packs get smaller your choice will also be a bit limited in the end, so don't panic if you have to pick a random card. At the end of the round count your cards and make sure you have 15. If you don't, speak up so a judge or the organizer can figure out where the problem lies.
When all the cards are in new hands and you have the correct number of cards, everyone in your draft pod will open the next pack at the same time. Choose a card and pass the pack to the right. The pack is passed in the other direction just in case the person who was passing to you in the first round has chosen the same colors or archetype that you did. This way you also get "first chance" at these cards before your neighbor. In the third and final round you will pass back to the left.
OK, you have 45 cards. Now What? It is time to build a deck - and fast. You have 30 minutes to construct a 40 card deck, add land and sleeve your cards (if you desire). This is why it is important to have had a "plan" of some sort when you draft.
Here is the good news - everyone is under the same constraints, and no one has a perfect deck. Sort your cards by color and casting cost and focus on the strengths of your draft picks. If you drafted a bomb mythic rare in blue but the rest of your cards are red and green don't force the single card. Sleeve it up and tuck it safely away for your Commander deck later. Keeping your deck design simple is your best bet in a limited format.
When you build a deck there are a lot of variables, but here is a good place to start.
- 18 Land
- 17 Creatures
- 5 Spells
These are guidelines and not rules. They can be adjusted a little, and you can go over 40 cards if you just can't cut card forty-one from the deck. What these guidelines will do is keep you from being mana screwed and give you a reasonable number of creatures so your battlefield isn't empty. As you draft more you will get a feel for when you can bend the numbers for better results. Stick with this for now and get ready - it's time to play!
The organizer will now run a computer program that randomly pairs you up with another player for the first round. Each round is the best of three games and have a time limit of forty-five minutes. At the end of the round one of you will report your results to the tournament coordinator who will enter them into the computer. You are then paired with your next opponent based on your record. This way, you are playing people who have had similar results. The number of rounds varies by the number of players, but a typical night is three to four rounds. Eventually the standings will be "locked" by the computer and prizes will be awarded to the winner and sometimes second and third place depending on the individual organizer or store owner. They have some discretion here.
Hopefully after the draft is over you have had a lot of fun. Friday Night Magic isn't supposed to be a high stress gaming tournament. It is more of a learning opportunity and a celebration of the game where more knowledgeable players help new players learn the ropes.
After an evening of FNM, I usually take my draft picks home and set them aside. The next day I look at all of them without the constraints of time and try and analyze where my drafting or deck construction could be improved. Even though i never have a "play to win" goal, I manage to learn a little something every time I do this - even if it is just a better understanding of the newest set mechanics and card interactions.
Drafting is my favorite Friday Night Magic format, but it does take some getting used to. For new players, it can be social and game anxiety all rolled into one - so be kind to your fellow players. If you stick with it though, you will build some great friendships that will last a lifetime. Hopefully this has at least answered some of your questions and lowered the barrier of entry just a bit. Until next week, always draft that mythic, and enjoy Friday Night Magic!