How To Evaluate a Card for Draft and NEVER Make a Bad Pick Again

What is the ‘best’ cardMagic: The Gathering Card Evaluation

There is a lot of pressure in trying to pick the “best” card when drafting. The truth is the best card depends on your goals and how deep into the draft you are. I will assume your goal is to win the draft and not to draft money cards or pull cards you can use in your other decks.

With that in mind, let’s say you’ve already chosen your colors; a card in line with those colors will be better for you than an off-color card that may be overall more powerful.

For example, if I am drafting Green/Red and am passed a Whitewater Naiads, I might not take it over the Golden Hind in the pack even though in a vacuum the Whitewater Naiads is a better card. Now if you open an off-color bomb, that’s a different story.

I wrote about what makes an off-color card good enough to depart from your chosen color and pick it here.

Back to drafting. At the beginning of the draft, when you open the first pack, how do you determine which is the best card? Remember, it is important to stay open during your first several picks – staying open means picking the best card regardless of color – until you settle into your colors, usually by pick five or so. The way you determine the best card is by having an evaluation technique that allows you to measure one card against another.

By the end of this post you will learn such a technique.

In fact, the card evaluation method I will share with you today comes from Brian Wong, co-host of the Limited Resources podcast (see episode 184), and I highly recommend you check it out. I like this method a lot because it covers all the bases. You want to look at a card and see how it affects the game in these four major scenarios: Development, winning, losing and parity (when the game stalls because both sides have a near equal board state).

Let’s dive in.

How is this card in development?

Development is when both players are building their board state.

The early turns when you are making land drops and playing creatures are considered development. A card that is good in the development phase is one that strengthens your position and sets you up for future turns.

For example, Sylvan Caryatid  is amazing in development because not only is it a 0/3 creature that can block your opponents weaker, early aggressors – thus strengthening your board state – but it also taps for mana which helps you play your more expensive spells sooner – which sets you up for future turns. Additionally, as an added bonus, it has Hexproof so it won’t fall prey to opposing spells. Since you can choose whether to block or not, this ability gives the Caryatid resiliency.

Another way to look at development is by asking “what effect will this spell have if I play it on time?” This is a good way to evaluate more expensive spells that don’t come out in the first few turns.

How is this card when I am winning?

When drafting, every card in your deck  counts. After running the standard 17 lands you only have room for 23 spells. They need to be the best. Cards that are only good when you are winning are known as “win-more” cards, and if this is the only situation where they shine, they have no place being in your deck.

On the flip side, cards that are totally worthless when you are winning aren’t great to have around either (but those are hard to find). It’s a fine line to walk and the best way to settle it is to see how the card performs in the other areas discussed here.

If the card is bad in all other quadrants but this one, it’s a win-more card and you don’t need it. If it serves a purpose in the other areas as well as this one, then go ahead and draft it.

For example, I think Mogis, God of Slaughter is a win-more card. If you are winning and your opponent is low on life and creatures, then Mogis is great. They will have to sacrifice a creature or lose 2 life, both of which are terrible (for them) and will close out the game quickly. However, if you are losing and your opponent has more creatures and life than you then Mogis is not going to save you. Your opponent can take the life and keep beating you or they can sac a chump creature and keep on beating you. Either way, when you are down, Mogis is not the best.

How is this card when I am losing?

You’ll know when you’re losing. You feel it in your gut when you look at the board and see you have fewer creatures and less life than your opponent and no answers in hand. When things go south cards that help you stabilize are a godsend.

On the other hand, nothing is more deflating than drawing a dead card that isn’t going to do a dang thing for you.

Cards that shine when you are losing are ones that have a massive effect on the board. Wrath of God effects like Fated Retribution are exactly what you want to see when you are getting bulldozed by an army. (But note that Fated Retribution is prohibitively expensive – due to its three white mana symbols and its seven converted mana cost – and I would probably never draft it.)

Cards with lifelink are really good when you’re losing. Chromanticore and Dawnbringer Charioteers fit this bill nicely. If you can cast one of these when you’re losing and then get in a few good attacks or blocks, you will see your life total start to rise and may even start clearing your opponent’s side of the board.

Bottom line: How much does the card affect the board? That is the litmus test to pass this criteria.

How is this card when the game is stalled (at parity)?

The final situation you must consider is when you and your opponent have a fairly equal board state.

This is characterized by neither side being able to successfully attack into the other. Either most the creatures will trade in the block step or no significant effect will occur (as when a bunch of 2/4s swing into a bunch of 2/4s) leaving the active player open to attack on the next turn. No one wants to attack in these situations so the game is drawn out.

When this happens, you need something to turn the tides. You need to somehow get around your opponents’ forces by removing or evading his or her creatures somehow. You could also deal direct damage to your opponent, but this is only effective if you have successfully reduced his or her life total low enough in the early game.

Most cards that help you when you’re losing are good in a parity situation as well. However, Wrath effects aren’t as useful because, generally, it’s beneficial to preserve your side of the board.

Scourge of Fleets is a fantastic card when at parity because parity usually drags the game out long and you will have plenty of mana to cast it. When you do, you will remove a portion of your opponent’s army, giving you the opening you need to swing in and put the game in your pocket.

Tie it all together

Now let’s take a look at three random cards (one from each set in Theros block) and see how they hold up in all four quadrants.

First, Xenagos, the Reveler – Theros.

Development – PASSES – Xenagos comes down on turn four and immediately gives you either more mana or a creature, both of which improve your board state or set you up for the future.

Winning – PASSES – If you’re winning and you cast Xenagos, he gives you more mana or more creatures, which helps you win more.

Losing – FAILS – Depending on how far behind you are, Xenagos may be too little, too late. More mana or a creature is nice, but if you are being overrun, then one satyr won’t do the trick.

Parity – PASSES – With the ability to pump out a 2/2 haste satyr every turn, you should be able to turn the corner on your opponent. Then the mana can be used to cast game winning spells from your hand.

Xenagos

Overall, Xenagos, the Reveler is a great card and definitely can find a place in your deck.

Second, Siren of the Silent Song – Born of the Gods.

Development – PASSES – The Siren is a 2/1 flier that comes down on turn three. Also, if left unanswered, it will have a serious effect on your opponent, as they will watch cards be lured away from their hand to their graveyard by the Siren’s silent song.

Winning – PASSES – If you’re winning, then throwing down the Siren is just another nail in the coffin. It will be one more thing your opponent has to think about and defend against.

Losing – FAILS – If you are behind, then this Zombie won’t redeem you. It will last all of one turn and chump block one of your opponent’s creatures. Not an exciting draw when you’re down.

Parity – PASSES(ish) – If you can fly over your opponent, then this winged monster might do the trick. If your opponent can block fliers, then it might not be enough unless you can tap it another way.

Siren of the Silent Song

While not a hands down winner, there is definitely room for Siren of the Silent Song. I would draft it and look to pressure my opponent early.

Third, Hydra Broodmaster – Journey Into Nyx.

Development – PASSES(ish) – At six converted mana cost Broodmaster does not come down early. However, it definitely strengthens your side of the board if you play it on time, especially if you are able to activate its Monstrosity ability on the following turn.

Winning – PASSES – If you’re winning, the Broodmaster won’t stop you.

Losing – PASSES – Not only will this put the brakes on your opponents’ attacks (unless they have evasion), but on another turn, you can summon more creatures to either start blocking or attacking.

Parity – PASSES – If you are stalled, this hydra will bring seven smiles to your face. You will have a force to be reckoned with on the board, and will soon have little baby forces to be reckoned with.

Hydra Broodmaster

Great pick! I would not pass up Hydra Broodmaster because of the raw power it brings to the field. Without some kind of answer, your opponent will quickly be gobbled up by this monster.

Conclusion

The best card depends on what phase of the draft you are in, but generally speaking, it is a card that performs well in the following situations: development, winning, losing, and parity. Now you know how to rate a card in these areas and can decide if a card should take one of your precious 23 slots.

Of course you cannot do this analysis on every card in your pack while you’re drafting. Therefore, it is best to prepare ahead of time and evaluate the cards in a set before you sit down so you know where they line up.

Thanks for reading. I hope you use this knowledge to win more drafts. I’d love to hear about your experiences below.

To finish I want you to think of someone you know who could improve their card evaluation skills . . . have them in mind? . . . okay, share this article with them so they can gain the knowledge you just received.

See you next time.

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