he two most powerful, easy to put together, draft archetypes in Scars of Mirrodin Limited don't actually have much overlap. So if you want to go infect, you are going to have to go for it starting pretty early in the draft.
Similarly, if you want to go metalcraft, you are going to need to pick up a good number of artifacts starting in the very first pack.
For example: let's say that you started your draft off with a couple of good, but not amazing, artifacts—a Contagion Clasp and a Leaden Myr—then your third pick you have to choose between a Cystbearer and a Chrome Steed. What do you do?
If you know that you strongly prefer either metalcraft or infect, then you will have a pretty easy answer on your hands. But if you don't have a strong preference either way, and you haven't received or sent any signals that would tip the balance in one direction or the other—this is a really difficult pick to make.
As resurgent pro Eric Froehlich explained in his Grand Prix–Toronto Top 8 Bio that "The third pick of each draft when choosing to stay metalcraft or to go infect is the toughest."
Buried right beneath the surface of Eric's comment is the fact that he will tend to take artifacts (assuming there are no bombs or particularly enticing removal spells) with his first two picks. Then when his third pick comes along, he will have to decide which road he wants to go down.
Once you make your third pick and you take that Chrome Steed over that Cystbearer, you will want to follow that pick up with more artifacts, and more metalcraft cards. If you instead took the Cystbearer, you will want to snatch up as many infect creatures, and green and black spells that will help you poison your opponent to death, as you possibly can.
With your fourth pick you are going to want to take another artifact to go with your Chrome Steed, or an infect card to go with your Cystbearer.
But maybe you end up with a card, like a Tumble Magnet, that would fit into either deck very nicely.
Then with your fifth pick you get the choice between a very strong card for the deck that you aren't leaning towards (say a Corpse Cur vs. a Spellbomb if you took a Chrome Steed or a Rusted Relic vs. a Vector Asp if you took the Cystbearer).
Well, at this point it would be very easy to draft either metalcraft or infect. If I had the choice, I would probably take the significantly stronger card with this pick to put off making a decision for a bit longer (with the hopes that I will either get a very clear signal soon or open something that will send me in one direction or the other).
But if I do decide to keep my options open by taking the more powerful card in the opposite archetype, and with my sixth pick I again have a close choice between two, similarly powered cards—one of which would fit in nicely in an infect deck, the other would fit in nicely in a metalcraft deck—I will once again be back in the hot seat.
Is there a single right answer for these types of picks?
Not in the slightest.
Can your decision have a big impact on your draft?
Will your subsequent picks get any easier after you make your initial judgment call?
Only if you're lucky.
A Little Bit Too Colorful
Grand Prix–Toronto was only the second major, international tournament to feature Scars of Mirrodin Limited.
That means that a lot of the card valuations—and even the archetype valuations are still up in the air.
When eventual champion Jon Smithers was asked what the most difficult draft pick he had to make during the weekend, he said: "(I'm) not sure. It was hard to read the signals when trying to decide on a second color."
If you wait too long to commit to a strategy, you are likely to miss out on a good number of key components for your deck.
While that extra time spent waiting to commit will help your chances of getting some extremely powerful cards for your deck—that might not be enough to offset the many important, but less flasy, pieces you missed out on while waiting to decide what you were going to go for.
If you decide to go metalcraft, and you pick up a lot of cards that let you leave your (color) options open, then you might not have to commit to a second color until the second, or even the third pack. But note that the ability to comfortably put off making a decision on what color(s) you want to play can be made without significant repercussions because you have already made a commitment to draft metalcraft.
Similarly, in more traditional formats where artifacts are much less bountiful, you can put off deciding on your second color until you get very deep into the draft if you are able to commit heavily to a single color.
But even if you do decide to draft a metalcraft deck, you might find yourself struggling to figure out which colors you want to end up with.
This can be a particularly large problem when you start your draft off with a bomb, but you don't see many more good cards in that color.
There was a particularly good example of this when Brian David-Marshall covered one of Conley Woods's drafts at Grand Prix–Toronto.
In the draft Conley wound up shuffling around between colors for a good deal longer than he probably would have wanted to—but he just didn't get strong enough signals to convince him to go in any one specific direction until he got well into the second pack.
Now, this wouldn't be a problem if your deck is full of good artifacts that could form the foundation of any deck (especially metalcraft decks ...). Going into the second pack Conley was lacking the mana Myr, the Chrome Steeds, and such that can serve as the core of a good metalcraft deck regardless of what colors you end up playing.
Conley eventually committed to blue-red when he got passed a bunch of Riddlesmiths and Volition Reins way later than he should have.
Conley Woods's Draft #1 Grand Prix–Toronto
Scars of Mirrodin Booster Draft
So while Conley wound up with a pretty excellent deck that featured a total of three Volition Reins, three Riddlesmiths a Sword of Body and Mind and a Koth of the Hammer, it wound up being a little bit slow—certainly slower than Conley would have wanted it to be.
Could Conley have avoided the problems that his deck wound up facing? Maybe, maybe not.
While there are almost certainly some things that Conley could have done differently in this draft—judgment calls that could have gone different ways, or slight mis-picks that could have been avoided with a few more weeks of experience (yes, even the top pros in the world can benefit from more practice)—there isn't necessarily a particularly good reason why Conley would do anything differently if he were inexplicably put in the same position again.
If Conley hadn't opened a Koth of the Hammer in his first pack (something that no doubt seemed like a good thing at the time for Conley) he likely would have wound up with a stronger, more focused deck. He wouldn't have taken a second-pick Turn to Slag and he wouldn't have felt the need to waffle between a bunch of colors in order to find the best way to support his bomb.
Following Through on Your Commitment
Waffling around between two potential deck types—or between several different color combinations—for too long can leave you scrambling for cards at the end of the draft.
But sometimes it pays to hold off for a little while before committing to any one thing.
You want to wait to see what is going on around you, and if you don't have any particularly enticing reason to go for any one strategy, then it can pay off in spades for you to wait. Who knows? You might end up getting passed three Volition Reins.
But at the same time, there's a lot to be said for going after something and then sticking with in.
I know a lot of players who are willing to force infect or metalcraft beginning with the very first pick of the draft. The players who I know who have been able to pursue these types of bullheaded strategies successfully tend to have a very good understanding of the format and a very impressive ability to follow through on their commitments.
For example, while I mentioned earlier in the article that I would go for the significantly stronger card when faced with a pick like Vector Asp vs. Rusted Relic in a deck that is already (a little ways) on the way to infect, a truly committed player who believes strongly in forcing infect would pretty much never make that pick.
Does that mean that there is one right way to draft the format and one wrong way to draft the format? Well, maybe depending on the people that you're drafting with—but certainly not when you sit down for a draft on Magic Online, or in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour Qualifier, or at a new store with seven players you've never seen before.
No, in those types of situations you need to weigh the pros and cons of committing very strongly to a strategy—pushing players nearby out of it and picking up all the spoils for yourself (but potentially getting cut off / not getting the pieces that you need/ not getting many chances at anything too impressive)—versus leaving your options open and waiting to see what the other players at your table are doing (but potentially scrambling for cards late if you didn't get enough of a good foundation for your deck early on while you were shifting between multiple different strategies).
Changing Things Up (a Little Bit)
You might start your draft off on the road to metalcraft, but then end up with a red-white beatdown deck that features a small artifact subtheme (perhaps to power up your Glint Hawks).
Or you might start off drafting infect, but then end up with a more straightforward black-green midrange deck.
These types of deviations don't tend to arise from a lack of conviction or a lack of follow-through—but rather from card availability, or very clear signals that you come upon while trying to follow through on your earlier picks.
Don't be afraid to take your deck in a slightly different direction than you might have intended it to go, especially if you are already into the second pack.
Once you are a couple of picks into the second pack (maybe a little bit later if you are metalcraft—or a little bit earlier if you are a more straightforward two-color deck) then you really need to make sure that you end up with a good deck.
Sure, you can still make some speculative picks in the second, or even the third pack. But above all else, if you didn't end up with too many playables for any one deck in the first pack then you need to make sure that the majority of the cards you take will end up in your final deck. Otherwise you could find yourself in a very bad situation when it finally comes time for you to make a deck out of the forty-two cards that you've drafted.