Drafting in magic is an important part of any tournament, and players concerned with winning Top-8 drafts should definitely spend time studying each format from a limited perspective. A lot goes into being a good limited player; knowing the cards in the format, understanding their power level, knowing the draft archetypes, ability to switch colors mid draft, and a healthy dose of luck. To be successful at switching colors during a draft you need to know the power level of the cards in a set and have an idea of what signals are happening during the draft.
Signals are important because switching colors is a scenario that arises often in drafting. Players to either side of you could be cutting your colors and you aren't getting passed any more sweet in-color cards, or you see a strong color open that you weren't drafting already, and picking it up could significantly increase the power level of your deck, and your chances to win overall. In order to adapt to both of these situations you need to understand the subtleties of drafting signals.
Signals are cards that convey information about what people are drafting in a color and/or archetype. They can vary in strength from the ridiculously strong ‘I was just passed a pack rat’ to the weak ‘Stain the Mind is tabling.’ You have to consider what signals you are sending (I.E. what cards you are passing) and what signals you are receiving (I.E. what cards you are being passed) in order to effectively switch colors.
Let's consider the following pack 1 pick 1 scenario from Origins.
Herald of the Pantheon
Acolyte of the Inferno
Aven Battle Priest
For me, this P1P1 is Tower Geist. Card advantage is very important and flying gives it a bit more power longer into a game then something like Acolyte of the Inferno.
So taking Tower Geist we have to note that there aren’t really any strong cards in blue being passed, and we are passing some strong cards in green and red and to a lesser extent black. So people to our immediate left will see signs saying green, red and black are potentially open and blue is not. This can set us up for good blue cards being passed to us later in the draft while giving us a solid pick 1 card.
We are passed the following for Pack 1 Pick 2.
Chief of the Foundry
Boggart BruteMage-Ring Bully
There are some fairly strong cards being passed to us. Claustrophobia, Suppression Bonds, Wild Instincts, and Aspiring Aeronaut are all very strong commons in their respective colors. Our P1P1 Tower Geist is looking good as there are strong blue cards coming our way. For this pick I am slamming Claustrophobia and going HAM into blue. After our pick, we are going to send players to our left signs that white and green are open (Suppression Bonds and Wild Instincts as pick 3 or later is a strong sign that their respective colors are open or the power level of a pack was crazy good), red is probably open, and black is still up in the air.
This process of determining what signals you have been sent, and what signals you will send after your pick, should be repeated for every pick of the entire draft. Through packs 1 and 2 you should keep your eye out for strong cards that are out of your current colors. A general rule of thumb is that seeing one strong sign could just be a strong pack that has a lot of powerful cards, but if you are passed a second really strong sign that a color is open (especially if your color is running dry) then you can jump into that new archetype or color.
Switching colors in a draft is not an easy thing to master, and it takes a lot of experience and practice to know when to jump into a color and when to let it sail by you. Of course you could be a Magic Hall of Famer and that wouldn’t stop the FNM pod you are in from randomly forcing whatever color they want and ignore every sign you send and receive. So relax, have a good time, and don’t forget to blame your packs if you end up with a bad draft deck.
What tips and methods do you use while drafting for knowing when to switch colors? Start the discussion in the comments below.