A Beginner's Guide To Auction Drafts

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 then place bids by raising a paddle or shouting out their bid. In a virtual environment, like on eBay, a bidder will enter their bid and click a button to lock it in. As the price goes up, bidding slows, 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 all participants commence free-for-all bidding until the price gets too high, and when no one else is willing to place a new bid, the high bidder wins and the player is added to their roster.

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 (following a snake or round-robin format) having that privilege in between each auction. 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's called a Nomination Queue or Nomination Cooldown. 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 auctions moving by eliminating the downtime in between auctions that exists when a single draft participant is given 60 seconds to choose the next player.

Auction Draft Bidding

Auction drafting in fantasy sports works the same way. A player is nominated for auction by a draft participant (usually in a round robin fashion) for a minimum bid, and then all participants commence frantic bidding until the price is too high for anyone to outbid the high bidder. When no one else seems willing to place a new bid, the auction ends and the player is added to the high bidder's roster.

Auction Time Limit

To keep things moving, auction drafts typically have a time limit per player. 30 seconds is a common time limit, though some people prefer to start with more time.

To avoid a chaotic rush to get the last bid before the timer expires, a good auction draft site will have a built-in reset so that any new bid placed under ZZ seconds will reset the timer to ZZ seconds.

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, and if your bid takes, 99% of drafts will reset the timer to 10 seconds and you'll end up just wasting time. It's not worth the risk; if you want a player, bid with confidence.

Drafty Tip: Drafty will reset the timer to 10 seconds for any new bid coming in under 10 seconds. We also provide an exclusive More Time Plz button that will add 10 seconds to the timer at any moment, usable once per auction per participant.

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 take care to speed up the draft in several small ways, such as the aforementioned Nomination Queue that replaces 10-60 seconds of downtime between each auction. Small changes can shave off up to three hours of draft time. Some of our mock drafters have noted that they can complete 100 auctions in under an hour, so if you have 12 teams drafting 20 players each, your total draft time on Drafty is reasonably expected to be less than 3 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). Many auction drafters make the mistake of thinking they MUST HAVE two top 10 players to compete, and that's simply not true.

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.

It's more stressful too, but this is professional sports we're talking about...

Basic Strategy

In this section, I'll 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 for many 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 bid price 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 average price as your rough guide if you don't know what you're doing. If your site doesn't provide the average price, 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 Todd Gurley AND Darren Waller (this is written in the 2020 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.

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 features. 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 real auction draft.

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 average auction value, 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. If you can create a budget for yourself, it might help you avoid overbidding when the draft 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 features. 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.

Offseason Time Wasters

Quick Pick

Fast-paced and addictive, this rapid fire pick'em game makes you the rankings expert, and your decisions affect Drafty player rankings in real-time.

Player Rankings

Drafty player rankings are based on real-time community input, so the rankings reflect the authentic preferences of real fantasy drafters like you.

Mock Drafts

Drafty auction drafts feature a one-of-a-kind autobid feature with overbid protection, live chat, celebratory confetti, and zero downtime.