Different ways of drafting the cube, and it’s effects on the decks produced (snappy!)

Hi guys,

When building your cube, you’ve got to understand that the quality of certain cards depends on what format you make. For example, in a winston draft, you see a much smaller segment of your cube, and therefore in order to ensure you can still build a variety of decks, there needs to be a lot of redundancy.

The general format will be that I’ll name the draft time, explain how it works, and then talk about how it affects your drafting and what kind of decks you get from it.

8 man, 3×15 draft (regular draft)

To perform a regular draft,shuffle your cube,get 24 15 card packs, and give one to each of 8 players around a table. Each player takes a single card from the pack, and passes that pack to their left. They then take a card from that pack, and so on and forth until all the cards in the pack have been taken. Then each player takes a second pack, and takes a single card, and passes it to their right, and make their picks like the first pack. The third pack is the same as the first pack, with rotation being clockwise.

You end up having seen a total of 360 cards, but a lot of those you’ll have seen multiple times as they circle the table.  This method of drafting is the same as used for ‘real’ non-cube drafts, and is considered the most skill intensive form of drafting. Because you see so many cards, you tend to get the (2nd) best decks from this form of draft, and there’s the most flexibility as to what deck you can make. Since you pick all the cards that go into your pool, you’re totally in control.  Midrange, aggro and control are all completely viable.

This is the most common kind of drafting if you have a group of players, and is usually what people evaluate their cubes by. If you intend to have a regular draft at a shop, this is the kind of draft I’d advise, since anyone familiar with limited play is familiar with this mode of drafting.

4 man 5×9 draft 

It’s the same as an 8 man 3×15 draft, except instead of drafting 3 packs of 15, you draft 5 packs of 9. This has the benefit of fewer late picks, since if you were to 3×15 with 4 guys, you end up with a lot of chaff left at the end, because there isn’t the depth of decks you get with 8 players. The general benefit is that you can still draft in a regular fashion, and you still get pretty good decks.

The entire draft pool is half the size of the 8 man pool. This means you see fewer cards, which makes ‘combo’ decks, like Reanimator and Tinker harder to draft, and it means you can’t force certain archetypes as easily.  It is, however, much easier to read and send signals, and it’s much easier to judge what kind of cards will table. Like 3×15, this is still the regular type of drafting, so it requires little explanation to new players.

Winston Draft

A winston draft is performed by 2 players. They take a shared sealed pool, usually either 90-120 cards, and sit opposite each other, the pool face-down to one side.  Then 3 cards are placed face down, in 3 seperate piles. One player then looks at the pile nearest the pool. They have a choice ; take the pile,or add a card to it and check the next pile. If they check the next pile, they face the same choice. On the third pile, their choice is to take the pile, or put a card on it and draw a random card from the pool. Once you’ve taken a pile or drawn your card, the other player does the same, until all the cards are taken.

If you found that explanation unclear, Mark Rosewater explains it perfectly in this video:

The power level of decks you get can vary. If you’re using a smaller pool, say 90 cards (hereafter referred to as small-pool winston), then it has a power level similar to sealed. The main difference is that you’re more likely to be forced into a 2 or 3 colour midrange deck in winston. In small-pool winston, it’s practically impossible to form a ‘combo’ deck, and it becomes hard to even draft an aggressive deck. This means if your format of choice for your cube is winston, you’ll want to support aggro a lot more than a regular cube, to ensure your drafts don’t turn into midrange bashing fests.

With a larger pool, say 120 cards, it’s much more similar in power level and consistency with 4 man 3×9 draft, the main difference being that since you’re seeing an even smaller pool, it’s harder to make aggressive or combo decks. The good thing is, it’s not so much harder that it’s impossible, and you should be able to make a decent aggro deck a lot of the time. If this is your format of choice, you’ll still want to support aggro a little more than a ‘regular’ cube.

The main idea to think about if you’re going to be winston drafting your cube a lot is redundency in the archetypes you support. Functional reprints are great for this, especially with key cards with Wrath/Day and Armageddon/Ravages. I’m not sure to what degree you’d have to increase redundancy, since you don’t want to spoon-feed your drafters, but it’s certainly a lot more, and you’d probably want to lose some of the more narrow cards, like Tezzeret or Entomb.

If you’re winston drafting, try to stick to 2 colours, and then maybe splash a third if need be. A lot of time I end up without enough cards to actually make a deck, get forced into playing 4 colours, and get trashed. Early on, watching what cards your opponent leaves might be a good signal as to what they’re not playing, but also, you can try and force them into an archetype by leaving them a crazy bomb for that deck.  For example, if you leave Jace TMS behind early on, your opponent will quickly take it and run blue. You can then draft accordingly.


Sealed is where you shuffle up your cube, and then take a chunk from it and make a deck from that. In conventional magic, those chunks are 90 cards, but due to the relative power level of cards in cube, 90 cards can actually make a pretty good deck. A lot of people have recommended that if you’re sealed-ing for a change of draft type, you should be making pools of 75. This reduction in card number means, like normal sealed, that you can’t choose whatever you want to play,and there might actually only be one or two viable decks from your pool.  Because of this, the lowest power decks are made in sealed.

Whilst I see no reason to make your cube specifically for sealed, if you did, you’d need a heck of a lot of redundency. Any sort of build-around card would get instantly scrapped, and every cube would be running Fyndhorn Elves, Llanowar Elves, Birds, Noble Hierarch, Arbor Elf and Boreal druid in some attempt to get some consistency.

When playing sealed, there are a few general rules. Generally, you start by sorting your pool into colours, and exclude any  sections which you have no chance with. For example, if you’re using a 90 card pool, and your only 3 blue cards are Vedalken Shackles, Calcite Snapper and Counterspell, you can be pretty certain you’re not playing blue. After that, tactics and strategies vary, dependent on who you ask. I tend to look for any bomb cards, Inferno Titan, any swords, Recurring Nightmare, or Meloku, and then build a deck which can play them most easily, and for greatest effect. Another tactic is to check which colour you’ve got most removal in, and play that colour, since removal is so key in limited. I would splash a third colour for removal, but I’d never build a 3 colour deck without removal.

Rochester Draft

In Rochester draft, a pack of 15 cards is laid out on the table face up. The first drafter takes a card from the booster, then the second drafter and so on til the last drafter has taken his/her card. That drafter then takes another card, and you continue in reverse order, and so on, until all the cards have been taken. Then, you bring out another pack of 15, and repeat until all the cards you want to use are gone. In general, this is 45 cards per player. At the beginning of each pack, there is a 30 second period in which everyone may view the pack, and then each player has to take their pick within a limited time frame (usually between 4 and 10 seconds)

Rochester drafting is deemed to be more skill-intensive than regular drafting, and as a result is the format of choice for Top 8s in Limited PTQs. This is because everyone else can see your picks, and can then hate draft you to bits, but also due to the time factors, since you have to think quickly. The latter can’t be helped, but the former can be minimized by playing nicely with your draft partners.  That being said, there is also an element of revenge in Rochester, and if you feel someone has hate picked you, hate pick them right back. Usually the hate-picking will stop there – if it doesn’t don’t get drawn into a hate-picking war, since then you’ll both end up with sucky decks, and that’s no fun for anyone.

There isn’t a real difference in cube composition if you’re rochestering instead of a normal booster draft. Decks are of comparable power level to the booster draft format decks (3×15 and 4×9). They can be weaker if there’s a lot of hate drafting.

Rotisserie Draft

Rotisserie is very similar to Rochester in a number of ways.  In a Rotisserie draft, instead of laying out a single booster, you lay your entire cube face up on a table. Hate picking aside, this allows you to try and sculpt the perfect deck. Here, combo decks come together easily, and it’s usually a huge blast for everyone.  I mean, how often do you get to draft that Boros aggro deck with Mox Pearl, Isamaru, Ravages, Armageddon, Goblin Guide and Umezawa’s Jitte?

Dependent on where you are and how many of you there are, different numbers of cards can be taken. When I rotisserie draft, I usually stop when everyone has 30 cards. This means my 360 cube can support a 12 person rotisserie draft, which is pretty cool. Another advantage of Rotisserie draft is that ‘build-around-me’ cards can be abused to their fullest.

The downside of Rotisserie draft is that it’s much more unfair on players who are newer to cube, since they don’t know what cards are in the pool. For example, if they’re making a n aggressive white deck, they might take Elite Vanguard, not knowing Isamaru is in the pool. This can be fixed by having a period before picks are made where everyone can view your cube. The other downside is that it requires a huge amount of space to set out your cube.

If there are 8 of you drafting a fully powered cube, the usual 8 first picks are: Tinker, Black Lotus, Library of Alexandria, Recurring Nightmare, Umezawa’s Jitte,Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Sol Ring.

Auction Draft

Auction draft is usually a 4 player drafting method with 45 cards per person.Each player is assigned a certain number of ‘points’, usually 100 or 200, which can be represented by poker chips or something.A player then  lays out 15 cards on the table, and makes a bid for a card from that pack. The next player can then either back out , or outbid the initial player. This continues round the table until three players have backed out, at which point the fourth player recieves the card. The next player then makes an initial bid for another card in the pack, and so on, until all the cards in all the packs are gone.  There is no advantage to having points left at the end of the draft, but some people play it so in the following matches, the person with more points gets to choose who goes first or second game 1.

It’s fairly similar to Rochester draft, but is a level more complicated with the auctioning process. There’s less hate drafting, but there is great competition for powerful, versatile cards.

Fact or Fiction/Soloman draft draft

This is another 2 person format. Pile up 90 cards in a central face-down pool. A player then takes a certain amount of cards from the top (usually 5 or 6), and seperates them into two piles. The piles don’t have to be even, and can vary from 1-5 to 3-3 in numbers. The other player then selects one pile, takes it, and then the other pile goes to the other player. Then the other player takes the next 5 or 6 cards and makes another two piles, and so on, until all the cards are drafted.

This format tests your knowledge of what cards are you in certain archetypes, how versatile they are, and involve a lot of signalling. There’s also judgment calls on how you can balance what you want and what your opponent wants between the packs. I tend to decide what I want, spread them out between the two packs, and then split my opponents stuff, so I can always get something for my deck.

Above is a possible split of 8 cards from Mirrodin block.


So far I’ve described 8 different ways of drafting your cube, so you should be able to find at least one which suits you and your group, and please remember how your cube and card performances vary depending on how you draft your cube,

Thanks for reading,



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