How An Auction Draft Works: Beginner’s Guide

Last Updated July 12, 2021

Table of Contents

How An Auction Draft Works

Have you ever seen a real life auctioneer at work? An item is brought to a crowd's attention, a short description is given, and then... "The bidding will start at __ dollars." Bidders place bids by raising a paddle or shouting out their bid. In a virtual environment, like on eBay, a bidder will type in their bid and click a button to lock it in. As the price goes up, bidders drop out, until eventually no one seems willing to place a new bid. Then it's "going once... going twice... SOLD!" and the high bidder wins the auction.

Auction drafting in fantasy sports works the same way. A player is put up for auction and then all participants commence free-for-all bidding until the price is high enough that no one is willing to place a new bid.

Player Nominations

Players are auctioned off one-at-a-time, and the order is determined by nominations. Nominating is the act of choosing who is the next player up for auction, and draft participants usually take turns having that privilege. You might call that Round Robin Nominations and it's the most prevalent method used on the mainstream fantasy websites

Drafty Tip: Drafty replaces Round Robin Nominations with what we call Freeze Tag Nominations which uses a queue system. Draft participants can queue up a player for auction at any time and are then put on a cooldown before they can nominate another player. This format keeps the draft moving by eliminating the downtime in between auctions while preserving the fairness of letting everyone have a chance to nominate.

Auction Draft Bidding

Auction drafting in fantasy sports works the same way as bidding in an estate or auto auction. A player is nominated for auction by a draft participant. That participant claims the opening minimum bid, and then all participants commence free-for-all bidding until the price is high enough that no one is willing to place a new bid. The auction ends when time expires, and the player is added to the high bidder's roster.

Auction Time Limit

To keep things moving, auction drafts limit the time participants have to place bids. 30 seconds is a common time limit, though each league may vary. In most settings, the timer will reset to 10 seconds if a new bid comes in just before time expires in order to preserve a fair outcome to each auction.

Tip: Do not try to place a last-second bid thinking you might trick the draft into giving you the winning bid. You might lag out, and even 100 milliseconds could mean you miss out entirely. Even if your bid is accepted, most drafts will reset the timer and all you will have accomplished is wasting time. It's not worth the risk; if you want a player, bid with confidence often and early!

Exclusive: Drafty provides a More Time Plz button that will add 10 seconds to the timer at any moment, usable once per participant during each player auction. So if you're facing a tough decision and time is running out, give yourself a little buffer and mash that button!

Pros and Cons of Auction Drafts

Con: "Auction drafts take too long"

Naysayers often assert that auction drafts take too long, and they're not wrong. A traditional auction draft can last 3-5 hours for a standard redraft league. Most of the downtime comes from:

  • Turn-based nominations between every auction
  • Later auctions that garner no bids but must go the full timer duration
  • Pee breaks

Drafty Tip: We've engineered an auction draft room that removes wasteful downtime, making your draft about 40% shorter than other draft sites. How do we do it? With several small innovations such as the aforementioned Nomination Queue that replaces 10-60 seconds of downtime between every single player auction. That's 45-90 minutes saved with just one change! Our draft analytics indicate that on average, a standard redraft league (12 teams, 15 players rostered) can expect a runtime of \~2.5 hours.

Pro: "Every team has a shot at every player"

In a snake draft format, a team drafting in the back half of the 1st round knows that there are 3-5 players who they have no shot at acquiring for the upcoming fantasy season. Those top players will assuredly come off the board in the early first round.

By contrast, every team in an auction draft can bid on any player. Whoever wants the player the most, will win that player and pay the price (literally).

Pro: "The constant action is more fun"

Constant action is more fun than waiting for your turn, especially in large leagues when you have a snake draft pick near "the turn" of a round. In such cases you'll make 2 picks quickly and then wait 10-20 minutes before you get to do anything again.

Auction drafts can be more stressful because of the constant action, but that's where mock drafts come in handy to take the edge off come draft day!

Auction Draft Strategy For Beginners

In this section, we will discuss some basic strategy for novice auction drafters, to avoid ruining your team if you don't know what you're doing. Especially for a startup dynasty auction draft, you can really devastate your chances of competing for several years if you spend irresponsibly.

Avoid overspending early

A novel idea, right?! But seriously, even in veteran drafts, overspending is very common especially early in the draft. Resist the urge to engage a bidding war. If your fantasy site provides the average auction value (AAV) for a player, use that as a guide and try to stay under that amount +10%. Don't blow half your budget on one player, it will hamstring you later on.

Target mid-range players

The result of early overspending is that usually, mid-range RBs and WRs can be acquired at a discount. Again... use the AAV as your rough guide if you don't know what you're doing. If your site doesn't provide an AAV, find a player rankings site that does.

Is Christian McCaffrey worth 45% of your budget? Maybe for a year or two, but for that price you might get Clyde Edwards-Helaire AND Josh Jacobs AND TJ Hockenson (last edited during the 2021 offseason). Three players for the price of one, and they're pretty good players, is typically a safer way to approach an auction draft when you're new.

Don't wait until the last second

Most draft sites will reset the timer to 10 seconds when a new bid comes in with time nearly expired. So trying to be sneaky is an easy to miss out on a player completely. Be smart - bid with confidence!

Use +1 bids instead of a manual bid

Most sites allow a manual entry for your bidding pleasure, so you can enter an exact amount and jack up the price quickly to assert your dominance. This can be fun, but is not fiscally responsible. If you throw down a bid of $47 when the current winning bid is $15, you risk overpaying for that player. If no other team was planning to bid past $27, you've blown $20 of your budget that you didn't need to spend.

Exclusive: Drafty is the only place you'll find an Auto Bid button, which will automatically bid for you up to a defined target bid. Toggle Auto Bid on/off as you wish and never overspend!

Dynasty Rookie Auction Drafts

An auction draft presents some unique challenges for commissioners of dynasty leagues. Making rookie drafts fair can be a real barrier to choosing an auction draft format. There needs to be some advantage given to last-place teams over the champions' bracket, but there's no clear best way to go about it.

In a future article, I'll discuss some Rookie Auction Draft configurations that might work for various league types.

Mock Draft For Familiarity

Auction mock drafts are important to ensure that you're familiar with draft room mechanics. This familiarity is critical to keeping your blood pressure down during your real draft.

But that's really the only advantage to doing mocks for auction draft prep, because your player preferences and your leaguemates' whims are going to severely influence the flow of your league's draft day.

So if you're looking for a plan of attack to use on draft day, your best bet is to find some player rankings that include each player's AAV, or else create your own. Creating your own might be better advice for an experienced auction drafter, but just like in personal finance, it's important to identify what are your priorities and define your limits ahead of time. If you can create a budget for yourself, it might help you avoid overspending when the drafting emotional high is upon you. It only takes two bidders to create a bidding war, and that's a quick way to blow up your draft budget.

TLDR Summary

  • Fantasy auction drafts typically work the same as a real-life live auction. One player is auctioned at a time, teams engage in free-for-all bidding, and the team willing to lay down the most money by the end wins the player to their roster.
  • Auction drafts are widely regarded as more fun than a snake draft, but commonly rejected because of their perceived complexity and duration. Every team has a chance to win any player, but managing one's budget is important to finishing the draft with a competitive squad.
  • Basic strategy for first-time auction drafters is to avoid overspending early, because bidding wars are common for the most popular players. Targeting mid-range players is where value can be found without paying the premium for a player who happens to be in the top 10 this year.
  • Practice on your fantasy site's provided mock draft software to make sure you're comfortable with the draft room mechanics. You don't want to miss out on Draft Day because you tried to place a bid with 1-second on the clock and lagged out.
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