A fantasy draft is like checkers, a fantasy auction is like chess. You've heard the comparison a thousand times by now. Rather than beat down that same point, let's head to the chessboard and get you ready.
There's no one specific right way to successfully navigate an auction, and every league has its own nuances and unique flavor to it. That disclaimer out of the way, this is basically how I do it:
The Opening Rounds: You're basically looking to do two key things here: drain your opponents of money (hopefully buying players you don't want anyway), and gain information).
Your early nominations will often be big-ticket players that you don't want to roster this year. It's also wise to go to a position you've already covered; if you wind up snagging Drew Brees(notes), any other Top 10 quarterback would be a good name to toss out.
As for gaining information, that's the more subtle part of the first hour or so. Track what positions are getting bid on more or less aggressively than you expected. Compare the prices of similar players who are already gone. See if you can pick up on any habits of your opponents. Do they chase the players they go after? Do they stick with late bidding if they're pushed a lot? Do they only bid on players they seem to want? How do they handle confrontational bids?
I don't have a set strategy as to how much bidding I want to do in the first third of an auction. I'll scoop up decent values if I see them. If the room seems like it's in a spending frenzy (this usually happens in leagues with a lot of new auction players), I'll tend to hold back. If it's a more-experienced group, you have to be ready to at least price enforce in the early part of the proceedings. There's no formula at play here - at least not for me; I don't believe in letting an algorithm pick my roster. I'm basically trusting my gut feel and my experience.
I know a lot of owners who think it's clever to try to steal a cheap sleeper in the early part of the exercise. In my experiences, that seldom works, for two reasons: one, everyone still has money and won't feel bad trumping a bid, especially if we're still talking about someone less than $10; and two, no one has checked out yet mentally - you've still got a room at full attention. Maybe you'll have success with this strategy, but I haven't.
The Middle Rounds: Here's where you need to think about shaping your roster, and need to be cognizant of the changing dynamic of each position pool. Tiering is particularly important at this time; you never want to be caught in a "need to have" position over the last good thing.
Most of my purchasing tends to come in this pocket - I'm looking for a time where I can make my buys without the entire room competing against me. At this portion of the auction, some teams will have cash flow problems, while other teams will have no need to chase the current position on the board. So long as you don't want too long to get into a buying flow, you often get the best values here.
If there's one owner in the room with considerably more money than everyone else, you need to be cognizant of his needs at all time; treat him like the big stack at poker. Try to find players you think he might be waiting on; you're probably not going to get them anyway given the financial inequality, so let's work on getting him down to your financial level.
The Endgame: I think it's important to make sure you save some financial flexibility for the endgame, and I prefer to avoid having $1 players (or completely running out of overbid money) if I can avoid it. There are a two logical reasons for this:
- The burden of the nomination is a real bitch when you have no financial leverage. If you mention anyone good, your buck gets run over. If you mention a stiff, you're stuck with him. It's very difficult to find the right pocket of player who is good enough to want but not so good that you can't land him. Avoid this situation if at all possible.
- The auction will become torture if you run out of leverage soon. Now you're just watching the proceedings (which really aren't fun if you aren't a viable candidate to buy anyone), and then every 10 minutes or so you announce a player that you probably don't want or can't get. I know it doesn't sound terrible on paper, but in the war room, it's like a trip to the dentist, a slow, cruel death.
Some other ideas for the endgame:
- When you get close to completed, shape the potential bids of your final few players. Say you have $13 to spend on four guys - fiddle around with how you might be able to spend this. You could go max on a $10 player and take three singles, or maybe a $6-3-2-2 split, or $4-3-3-3. Take your prospective skeleton and see if it might fit some players remaining on the board.
- Be ready to jump in with your overbids; this is the one time of the day where that really matters. If you only have $2 to spend on one last player, be ready to throw out that $2 when a good name comes out for a buck.
- Analyze the financial situations of the other teams; this is the time where it's most important. And don't be afraid to let someone win a player in the second half of the auction if you think that cash drain will put them in a negative financial spot for the rest of the day.
Other General Ideas (not necessarily limited to auction strategy)
- Don't bother getting in bidding wars over kickers and defenses; the scoring at these two spots is largely dependent on team context and strength of schedule and will fluctuate greatly from season to season, month to month and even week to week. But if you are going to acquire a pet defense or kicker, try to find someone with a late bye week, so you're not forced to waste a roster spot acquiring a second fringe position early in the season.
- It's fun once in a while to throw players out to the bidding out of sequence; a handcuff before a primary back, say. Have fun with those early nominations. Runaway-buzz players are also good targets to throw in the first hour.
- When you see a big-ticket item that you know you don't want or need, there's your bathroom break. Sometimes I'l make a nomination with this purpose in mind.
I'm sure there's 100 other themes we could talk about. Let's take this to the comments.