Drafters’ Corner: The Art of Reactive Drafting

Hi everyone! For today’s article, I will be talking about how to draft reactively, rather than proactively. (Full disclosure: I stole this term from SirRhino who mentioned it in our podcast talking about draft.) I know the current draft format has been extremely controversial, with some players really hating it and others finding it extremely fun. My impressions of it haven’t changed much from my initial takes, which you can find here.

As someone who is really enjoying the current draft format, I have been talking to a lot of other people about their views on the format and my biggest takeaway is that the current format really rewards reactive drafting. As tribal synergy is significant and fixing is very limited, I feel that being able to read and move into the correct draft lane is very important and lends you to draft a very powerful deck.

Reactive vs Proactive drafting

In broad stroke, drafting styles can be distinguished into reactive and proactive styles. In proactive drafting, you generally have a very strong preconception of what faction or sort of deck you want to draft by the first few picks, or maybe even before the draft even begins. You actively and aggressively pick cards in your chosen faction to “cut” it pack 1, and hopefully because of that the chosen faction will be open in pack 2 direction.

In contrast, reactive drafting involves going into draft with zero preconceptions. You generally just pick the strongest cards in the first pack, while keeping an eye on what factions seem open and what factions seem cut. You only really move into your final faction pairing around the middle of the second pack and most of your deck would come from the last two packs.

Core Rules of Reactive drafting

1) Never get married to any of your early picks

This is the first, and the most important rule of reactive drafting. For your early picks, you generally want to just pick the strongest cards in the pack (independent of their factions). It’s not unusual to end up with a card in each faction for your first 5 picks! Don’t worry about that! Just focus on getting the best cards while trying to read what is open

Remember, you are picking up 48 cards in the drafting phase, but you only need 27 cards in your final deck. Even if we assume the last 3 cards in each pack is stone-cold unplayables (which isn’t neccesarily the case, especially if you read the signals properly), that still gives us a buffer of 9 cards! Picking 35 good cards in 2f isn’t as good as picking up 27 better cards in another faction, which is what we hope to achieve by staying open.

2) Stay open with your early picks

Dual faction picks have dropped heavily in my pick priority, despite their average power level being significantly higher than most mono-faction cards. This is because I value being able to move between factions with my initial picks very highly. Since I generally don’t settle on a faction until pack 2 and the fixing is extremely limited in this format, these dual faction cards generally end up being played very rarely( ~15% of the time by my estimate).

One trap that players commonly fall into is assuming that they are in a faction right after the first pick. For example, after a p1p1 Valkyrie Arcanist, some players might have the mindset that picking a Whirling Duo is the same amount of commitment as picking a mono-fire card, e.g. Stonescar Sawed Off. That isn’t the case, because there is still a reasonable chance that Justice could end up being cut, in which case Whirling Duo would not make the deck, while Miner’s Musket could go into any Fire decks.

3) Signal reading is of the utmost importance

Reading signals is probably the hardest thing to do in draft, and it is a skill that took me months to learn and develop. The basic idea of reading signals is really simple, you just look at the cards that you were passed and try and guess what factions the drafters before you are in. Based on this information, you can then position yourself such that you don’t overlap with the previous few drafters and hence get passed all the good cards in your faction.

To me, signal reading feels a lot like a optimization problem where each pack that you see adds a new data point and nudges you towards a certain conclusion. Now, the question becomes how do you interpret the information from each pack?

  1. Each pack has at least 1 mono-faction card in each faction
    This is the core rule that really enables us to make most of our deductions. Because each pack must contain 1 mono-faction card in each faction, if a pack is missing cards from a faction, we can tell that the drafters passing to us are most likely picking cards from that faction.
  2. Rare drafters are a thing, so missing rares are not a good indication
    One thing to be very careful about when drafting is to be aware of whether the person passing to you is rare drafting. This should be pretty obvious because you will be getting passed zero rares. The important thing to note when there is a rare drafter along the chain is that signals become slightly more muddled. For example, a pack without any mono-fire cards could just mean that the only mono-fire card was the rare and was snapped up by the rare drafter, rather than fire being cut.
  3. Understand the relative power level of cards in each faction
    Now, this is probably the most important factor in reading signals, and something that people often gloss over. As the relative power level of cards in each faction is different, cards of similar power level being left in the pack could indicate different degrees of openness. For example, let’s say its p1p2 and a common was taken and the pack has Ageless Sentinel, Slushdumper and Spiritblade Stalker as it’s best remaining cards. Just looking at this pack, I would think Primal is probably the most open faction currently, despite the cards being of comparable power level. This is because there are no commons in Primal that I would even consider picking over Slushdumper, while Valkyrie Arcanist and Frontier Confessor are reasonable justice p1p1s and I can see taking Trail Maker for a time p1p1. It’s important to know how the card places in terms of pick order within the faction, because this allows us to have a better guess of what the previous drafters have picked.

4) Be flexible in your picks, don’t hesitate to switch things up

All the packs are being picked by humans, and humans sometimes force a faction very hard, and other times, decide to pivot for absolute zero reason (or maybe they read the same signals as you, but was just slower to move in). Moreover, card evaluation is very subjective and sometimes, a bomb being passed is simply because the previous drafters undervalued it rather than the faction actually being open.

Thus, it is very important to be willing to pivot and move into a different faction if your picks start to dry out and other factions start to open up. Remember, you only need 27 playables for your deck, so wasting a few picks in another faction is not the end of the world. Don’t fall for the sunk cost fallacy and continue forcing a cut faction because you picked 5 cards in that faction.

Getting Better at Reactive Drafting

So now that you know how reactive drafting works, how do you get better at it?

1) Slow down and THINK!

“People play fast because they think it makes them look cool. You know what is better than looking cool? Winning.” – Amnesiac

This is one of my favourite quotes about playing card games and in draft, the same can be said for the drafting phrase! I’ve seen a lot of drafters see a card in their faction or something that catches their fancy and immediately slam it. This is not a good idea because you can easily miss out on more powerful cards in your factions and also potentially miss signals from the pack. Thus, even when the pick is extremely obvious, it often pays to simply spend a minute or two to look at the entire pack and try to see what factions are cut and what factions are open. Even if they don’t affect the current pick, this knowledge can be useful for informing future picks.

2) Take screenshots of your packs for reference

In a similar vein to the previous point, I’ve found taking screenshots of the packs as you are picking through them to be extremely helpful. This allows you to “flip” back to previous packs and look at what seems to be more open when deciding your current picks. By settling on a faction pairing that is open in both directions, you can ensure that you end up with very powerful playables. Moreover, given that some of the most powerful cards in Set 3 are dual-faction, you get heavily rewarded for identifying the correct faction pairing (as opposed to previously when you can scrap by on spotting 1 open faction in each direction).

3) Review your picks at the end of the draft

Another step that I found extremely helpful is to sit down with my final deck and look through the packs that I’ve received. This helps me to spot whether I’ve missed a signal somewhere and perhaps should have been in Stonescar instead of Xenan. Or perhaps I saw a single good Justice card and misintepreted Justice to be open. By reflecting on what went right and wrong for each draft, it helps you to be better able to make sense of signals that you see in future packs.

4) Don’t hesitate to ask for help!

This is the most important step in getting better! I know that Set 3 draft, or even drafting in general, can be very daunting and without sufficient experience/knowledge, it’s very hard to make sense of all the signals! I definitely recommend popping into #draft in the Eternal Discord if you are feeling overwhelmed. Even for experienced drafters, it’s good to get a second opinion and perhaps other players could spot something that you missed.

 

Conclusion

The large card pool for Set 3 draft, together with rare drafters and people forcing Justice/Yetis, definitely makes for a more difficult drafting format. It is definitely harder to get a handle on this format, so don’t be discouraged if you end up with a pile for your first few drafts. Keep at it! I feel that as you get better, the format will appear to be much more rewarding because drafters are often forced to hard commit to their factions (due to the lack of fixing). Thus, if you are able to read your signals properly and position yourself correctly, you tend to end up with ridiculous payoffs such as a p4p9 Iceberg Warchief or a p3p11 Awakened Student. As always, let me know what you think on the reddit thread and see you around in draft!

May you always find your lane,
Flash2351

 

One thought on “Drafters’ Corner: The Art of Reactive Drafting