8th Edition Draft Primer

8th Edition Booster Draft is, right now, easily the most popular format on Magic Online. I’ve been doing quite a few drafts myself and as there were almost no articles at all dealing with the format. I thought it is about time to write one.

Dark Banishing
The first thing I noticed when drafting and playing with the Core Set is that the power level of the cards is very balanced. There are no commons like Sparksmith, Timberwatch Elf, Pestilence or Wild Mongrel. The best common cards are Dark Banishing, Volcanic Hammer and Pacifism, but none of them are really unfair. There is naturally broken stuff like Wrath of God, Plague Wind, Hammer of Bogardan, Confiscate or Fodder Cannon, but there have always been and always will be game breaking rares and uncommons. Overall, I believe the format is the most balanced Limited format I’ve played since a long time. 7th Edition wasn’t all that much different, but there were still powerhouses like Corrupt, Counterspell and Prodigal Sorcerer which were removed in 8th Edition.

Those are the good news, but there are also some problems. The first problem is that the Core Set is labelled “Advanced Level” while all sets like Odyssey or Scourge are “Expert Level”. The difference is that there are only few complicated cards and a lot less tricks than in other sets. The only real combat trick is Giant Growth and there are fewer creatures with abilities than in other sets. Creature standoffs happen a lot in 8th Edition Limited and as I mentioned, few of the common cards are good enough to break through if that comes up and in such cases the player who draws the more powerful uncommon or rare will come out ahead most of the time. I usually try to draft decks that don’t run into that kind of situation if possible. Creatures with flying are important and if you draft green, a good general rule is to always take the biggest guy available. The other colors don’t have that many good blockers and a couple of big, green men can usually just walk over anyones defenses. White, blue and black all offer some form of evasion and only removal should be drafted over those creatures.

Rampant Growth

Key to splashing.

The next issue to watch out for is something I really missed in Onslaught Block: you actually have to pay attention in the draft again. If you draft the same colors as the player passing to you in packs one and three, it is virtually impossible to get 22 good playables in two colors. In Onslaught, that doesn’t matter all that much. If you have a green-red deck and end up having first picks like Sparksmith, Timberwatch Elf and a good rare in Scourge, you will end up with a good deck, even if the guy passing to you drafts the same two colors. You might have to run two or three off-color morphs, but the colors are deep enough that even that might not happen. Overall, your card quality obviously won’t be great but your first picks mean that you have three cards that can win games on their own and that is all you need. In 8th Edition, that just won’t work out. Three first picks like Dark Banishing, Volcanic Hammer and Lightning Blast are surely a great start, but they don’t mean that you have a great deck just by themselves. You will need solid cards to go with them and as there are a lot of mediocre commons, you won’t get enough good ones if your colors clash with your neighbour. Sure, you can just splash some stuff and that works pretty well if green is your main color as you have access to Rampant Growth and Fertile Ground, but if you don’t end up with any ways to fix your mana, three colors isn’t really viable as there are a lot of cards that require two colored mana and you will lose too many games to mana issues.

If you have a black first pick, for example, and then draft some red cards, but there just aren’t any more black cards in the packs passed to you, you should really consider to leave black. You won’t be seeing anything when it comes to pack 3. That also means that signalizing is a bit more important. If you pass a rather bad pack with a Pacifism, you might not want to draft white. Sure, it’s not all that bad if you share a color with the guy behind you. After all, he will steal your cards only in pack 2 and you will get the better cards in pack 3 again. But if you can avoid it, do it.

Before I am going to talk about draft archetypes, I’ll list the colors and the playable cards in order that I draft those cards usually.


  • Pacifism
  • Master Decoy
  • Diving Griffin
  • Aven Flock
  • Razortooth Griffin
  • Aven Cloudchaser
  • Angelic Page
  • Glory Seeker
  • Standing Troops
  • Redeem
  • Samite Healer
  • Crossbow Infantry
  • Healing Salve
  • Venerable Monk
  • Holy Strength

The other commons are pretty much unplayble. Suntail Hawk might be okay if you have a really aggressive deck, but I’ve never played with that guy so far. Crossbow Infantry, Healing Salve, Venerable Monk and Holy Strength are also emergency solutions, I won’t be happy if I have to run any of those. The other 11 cards are all pretty decent though. I am not sure if Aven Flock isn’t better then Diving Griffin as the flock rarely dies to anything but Dark Banishing but a power 2 flier for three mana with a useful ability is just very good. White is the best color in my book as it offers four good fliers along with one great removal card in Pacifism and another removal-like card with Master Decoy. Angelic Page and Glory Seeker are two excellent two mana creatures and Standing Troops makes sure that your fliers have enough time to go all the way. Damage prevention with Redeem and Healing Salve gives you at least some combat tricks and as there is almost nothing else, I run those more often then not. This combination of good fliers and removal makes White the best color in my book.


  • Nantuko Disciple
  • Spined Wurm
  • Craw Wurm
  • Giant Growth
  • Trained Armodon
  • Moss Monster
  • Giant Spider
  • Horned Troll
  • Rushwood Dryad
  • Grizzly Bears
  • Canopy Spider
  • Vine Trellis
  • Fertile Ground
  • Rampant Growth
  • Naturalize
  • Giant Badger
  • Lone Wolf
  • Wood Elves

Nantuko Disciple
Green is easily the deepest color. Only few cards aren’t playable but having the likes of Giant Badger, Lone Wolf or Wood Elves in your deck isn’t really exciting. One Naturalize can be okay, but I usually don’t run it maindeck. There are only few common targets but there is some broken uncommon stuff that you have to deal with, so picking up one copy at some point is a good idea. While the two best commons are clearly the Disciple and Spined Wurm, it becomes more difficult afterwards. Craw Wurm moves behind Giant Growth if you already have enough big creatures or if green looks like it is going to be your secondary color. In that case, Trained Armodon moves down the list as well as you can’t really expect to have double green on turn 3 with anything less then 10 forests. Having at least one of either Giant or Canopy Spider in your deck is also really important as otherwise it is very tough to race flyers. If you don’t have any of those in pack 3, Giant Spider should be picked over Trained Armodon and Canopy Spider is usually a better pick then Horned Troll.

I’ve rarely seen a format where big green creatures are as good as in 8th Edition draft. If you have one of the three mana accelerators to play a turn four Spined Wurm and follow it up with a Craw Wurm, your opponent just loses most of the time as there are only few creatures big enough to block them on their own and there isn’t all that much removal around.


  • Aven Fisher
  • Wind Drake
  • Unsummon
  • Coastal Hornclaw
  • Remove Soul
  • Dehydration
  • Mana Leak
  • Boomerang
  • Horned Turtle
  • Sea Monster
  • Coral Eel
  • Inspriation
  • Merchant of Secrets
  • Sage Owl

Aven Fisher
While both red and black have better individual commons, blue is deeper and that makes it the third best color for me. Inspiration, Merchant of Secrets and Sage Owl are the only cards I really don’t like running, I am happy to have all of the others in most of my decks. Sea Serpent is usually quite bad in blue-green but if your opponent happens to play with islands as well, it becomes the MVP. Coastal Hornclaw is also a lot better then it looks on paper. Usually, you don’t have a way to use your lands later in the game and a 3/3 flier is enough to rule the sky. Both Remove Soul and Mana Leak are excellent while blue offers a surprisingly good creature base with a Hill Giant and three good fliers and even has one removal spell with Dehydration.


  • Volcanic Hammer
  • Shock Troops
  • Shock
  • Hill Giant
  • Lightning Elemental
  • Balduvian Barbarians
  • Lava Axe
  • Ridgeline Rager
  • Sabertooth Tiger
  • Canyon Wildcat
  • Goblin Chariot
  • Goblin Raider
  • Panic Attack

Volcanic Hammer
Red had three really awesome cards, but then the quality decreases a lot. The blue equivalent of Hill Giant comes only in 6th place, while the original easily comes 4th. And the cards behind Lightning Elemental aren’t really great with the exception of Lava Axe. Useless in some decks, it can be great in others. If you either have a really fast deck or a lot of direct damage, it will win you a couple of games you couldn’t win otherwise. But all the cards behind the Axe aren’t really exciting. The Tiger looks good on paper but in reality, there are two common toughess 4 creatures (Horned Turtle, Standing Troops) and that leaves him as a useless attacker a lot. Ridgeline Rager was really good for me several times but sometimes you just don’t have the mana available and it becomes a bad Gray Ogre. If I draft red, I usually have either white or preferably green as a main color and just splash for the removal spells and maybe a few creatures.


  • Dark Banishing
  • Vicious Hunger
  • Gravedigger
  • Dusk Imp
  • Severed Legion
  • Looming Shade
  • Deepwood Ghoul
  • Giant Cockroach
  • Drudge Skeletons
  • Ravenous Rats
  • Coercion
  • Mind Rot
  • Serpent Warrior
  • Spineless Thug
  • Unholy Strength
  • Scathe Zombies
  • Raise Dead
  • Nausea

A lot of playable cards, but a lot of junk as well. I won’t be happy if I have to run any of the cards below Drudge Skeletons. Sure, they are fine and Coercion and Mind Rot can be great at times, but overall they just aren’t good enough. Looming Shade can be better then Vicious Hunger if you are almost monoblack but with less then 12 swamps, I’d leave him where he is right now. Overall, only one truly great card and not very deep, easily the worst of the five colors.

But as I mentioned before, the commons are not cards that win games on their own in this format. You can’t really rely on rares, but in a format where you draft with three identical boosters, you should see some of the good uncommons in your color. The previously best color, white, got the shaft here as the five Circles of Protection are uncommon and otherwise the quality in white isn’t that great either. All other colors have bombs though.

Red takes the top spot here. The best card is Blaze, followed by Orcish Artillery, Pyrotechnics, Lightning Blast and Pyroclasm along with some pretty good creatures like Lesser Gargadon. The only problem is that both Blaze and Pyrotechnics are excellent cards to splash, so you usually won’t find anyone willing to pass those.

Blue beats out black for the second best color, but it’s quite close. Confiscate, Air Elemental, Puppeteer, Thieving Magpie and Concentrate are a bit better then black’s Primeval Shambler, Nekrataal, Sever Soul, Ambition’s Cost and Diabolic Tutor. The Tutor drastically gains value if you have something powerful to fetch. The format is definitely slow enough to give you plenty of time get and cast whatever broken stuff you have.

The bottom two slots for uncommons go to green and white. Green has some really fine creatures. Spitting Spider, Living Terrain, Llanowar Behemoth, and Hunted Wumpus are all quite a bit better than the common creatures, but they aren’t as devastating as the red, blue or black cards. White is easily the worst with only Angel of Mercy and Chastise being excellent. Staunch Defenders, and Wall of Swords are good, but not great.

Color Combinations

If you just look at the commons, green-white should be the best deck. There are also no common creatures around that could destroy this color combination, like my all-time favorite creature that should never have seen a printing machine – Sparksmith. But the more powerful cards are clearly uncommon and if you want to maximize your chance for game breaking cards, any combination of blue, red and black is the way to go. You really don’t want to go into a draft with a set color combination in mind as you won’t end up with enough playables more often then not.

Green-x usually works quite well…

The bad uncommons in green and white mean that I usually don’t like to go that way. White-red, white-blue, green-red and green-blue are by far my most favorite combinations. Green-x usually works quite well as well. The idea is to draft a green base and splash cards like Dark Banishing, Pacifism, Volcanic Hammer and powerful uncommons. If you draft this deck, you have to pick Rampant Growth and especially Fertile Ground a lot higher. You should still take the really good creatures over it, like Spined and Craw Wurm. Trained Armodon is not that great in this deck as you usually can’t run more then 9 forests. The common order for this deck is:

  • Nantuko Disciple
  • Spined Wurm
  • Craw Wurm
  • Giant Growth
  • Moss Monster
  • Fertile Ground
  • Rampant Growth
  • Giant Spider
  • Trained Armodon
  • Horned Troll
  • Rushwood Dryad
  • Grizzly Bears
  • Canopy Spider
  • Vine Trellis

Shock Troops
There is only one combination I really dislike – black-blue. Whenever I drafted this or played against it, I felt that the creature base was just not good enough. Both colors have a lot of spells, but don’t offer you enough creatures that can actually win the game if you don’t end up with a high number of uncommons and rares. It’s certainly not awful or undraftable, but I don’t really want to go that way. Black-red can have the same problem, but if you end up with a lot of removal, your creatures don’t have to be all that good. The combination of Gravedigger and Shock Troops alone is good enough to make this work on its own though.

A good rule in this format is probably to just draft the colors you feel the most comfortable with, as long as you don’t get cut off. Every color combination definitely works and is good enough to win a draft with. But there is one final rule that I believe most people on Magic Online follow anyway: Rare draft! Most rares are better then commons anyway and with the current 4-3-2-2 payout, picking rares goes a long way towards drafting for free…

Have fun and rip those Birds and Wraths!

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