Guide: How to Curve the Perfect Magic: the Gathering Draft Deck
Are you a beginner at Draft? Do you find yourself having trouble in limited format events? You’re not alone. In Standard events, many players can succeed by mastering a deck already developed and tested by other players. One of the struggles of Draft is that you have to build the entire deck yourself. This means you need to choose the number of lands, mana curve, number of creatures, and spells.
I’ve constantly noticed players make rookie mistakes in Draft, such as running too many high converted mana cost cards, which leads to them being out tempoed by opponents. In order to help players better understand what makes a good Draft deck, I’ve analyzed Top 8 Draft decks from many recent GPs to see what characteristics they have in common. Here’s what I’ve found:
#1- The Mana Base
Most people assume that 17 lands is the right number for Draft, and they aren’t wrong. An important thing to note is you should almost never run 18 lands. In fact, only 3% of decks that were in the Top 8 at GPs ran 18 lands. Here’s how land usage was broken down in winning decks:
42% of decks ran 16 lands
55% of decks ran 17 lands
3% of decks ran 18 lands
It seems like decks that opted for 18 lands might have lucked into the winners bracket, because so few decks are successful at that quantity. The biggest mistake you're probably making with your mana is running too many. When you finish your deck you should be asking yourself, do I run 16 or 17 lands? Analyzing winning decks further here’s what I found:
If you have 3 or less cards with CMC 5 or greater, run 16 lands.
If you have 4 or more cards with CMC 5 or greater, run 17 lands.
If you feel compelled to run 18 lands, you need to lower your curve instead.
The median land count is 17 lands.
#2- Creature Count
The biggest mistake I see made by new players is not running enough creatures. Durdling around with spells is usually going to cost you the game. There are a few Draft archetype exceptions to this, but that only applies to specific Draft builds for more advanced play. Here are the characteristics of creature counts in winning Draft decks:
75% of successful decks ran 15 or more creatures
Over 72% of decks ran between 15 and 18 creatures
The median creature count is 16
Moral to the story, you should try to run about 15 to 18 creatures in your Draft deck. It should be no surprise that this strategy is successful. Unlike Standard, limited does not have access to a sufficient number of efficient removal, which makes control strategies largely ineffective.
#3- Non-Creature Count
Although creatures are the best strategy to success, you’re going to need a healthy number of spells. The majority of spells should be removal and combat tricks. Combat tricks let you push through damage and destroy opponent’s larger blocking creatures to gain an advantage.
67% of decks ran between 7 and 9 non-creature spells
Only 6% of decks ran 5 or less non-creature spells
80% of decks run less than 10 non-creature spells
Ideally, you should be running about 7 to 9 non-creature spells. This is enough to deal with your opponent's threats and attack through large blockers. The disadvantage of running 10 or more non-creature spells is that your hand can get flooded with cards that do nothing without a creature in play to utilize them.
#4- Curve Part 1 - Zero to Two Converted Mana Cost
Many people describe certain Draft formats as slow or fast. That can often be the case as certain mechanics make games go longer than normal or go quicker. However, regardless of what turn the game ends by, winning Draft decks tend to still run a good number of low CMC cards. Even in a slow format, two mana cards are one of the most important and most utilized spots on the mana curve.
85% of Draft decks ran 7 to 12 cards with CMC 1 to 2
40% of decks ran 10 or more cards at CMC 1 to 2, while only 12% of decks ran 5 or less
In 52% of decks, two mana cards are the most common card in the mana curve (42% of decks had the three mana spot as the most common)
The median number of 1-drops is 2, and the median number of 2-drops is 7.
Overall, it’s better to run too many low curve cards than too few. The sweet spot is about 9 cards at CMC 1-2.
#5- Curve Part 2- Three to Four Converted Mana Cost
This is the bread and butter of a Draft deck. Cards in this range are able to go over the top of low mana creatures or block your opponent’s smaller stuff. These cards are easily castable on curve as 3 and 4 mana should be achievable on time.
The median number of 3-drops in a deck is 6.
The median number of 4-drops in a deck is 4.
Try and keep the combined number of 3 & 4-drops to about 9 to 12 cards. It’s generally better to run more 3-drops than 4-drops. Some successful decks even had all 3-drops and no 4-drops, but no successful deck had less than four 3-drops.
#6- Curve Part 3 - Five Converted Mana Cost and Greater
If you think of a Draft deck as the food pyramid, this is the use sparingly part of your deck. These cards are haymakers, but should only exist in limited quantities. Running too many of them will leave you with an unplayable hand as your opponent beats you down with their efficient mana cost creatures.
85% of decks ran 5 or less cards at 5 CMC or greater
40% of decks ran exactly 4 cards combined at 5 to 6 CMC
28% of decks ran zero cards at 6 CMC or higher
The median number of 5-drops is 2.
The median number of 6-drops is 1.
Ideally, you should run no more than 5 cards at 5 CMC or greater. Two or three 5-drops and one 6-drop is the ideal curve for most Draft decks.
I hope this guide has helped you understand how to curve your Draft decks better. In order to make this information more accessible, I've created a few visual graphics that you can save and use as a reference.
Your deck is almost never going to be an exact match to the ideal curve. You can only draft what you're passed and sometimes the cards just don't line up. That's ok. When building and drafting your deck, try and keep your combined mana curve in the below range so that your overall tempo remains strong.
When drafting, you need to know what you have in the important spots of the mana curve. For instance, you're going to need at minimum five 2-drops and four 3-drops for a successful deck. Try and keep these minimum mana curve counts in mind as you draft so you don't fall short when drafting is over.
To every rule there is an exception. You can draft a successful deck that ignores all of these recommendations; however, this curve and Draft guide is a starting point for how you should ideally curve your deck. If you’ve found yourself struggling in Draft, curving your deck properly will greatly improve your win rate. Once you've mastered the basics, you can begin to break these rules and see where you can bend them to your advantage.
What Draft strategies have you successfully implemented? How do you like to curve your Draft decks? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!