September 22, 2015

My Favorite Draft Variant

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My biggest struggle as a Vorthos drafter happens after the last card has been selected and deck building has begun. I can't help but look around the table and dream about what might have been. In one draft, the guy on my left had the Pyromancer's Goggles that would have been perfect for my Chandra. In another, the gal on my right took the Evolutionary Leap that I could have used to make my Hitchclaw Recluse evolve into a Skysnare Spider.

For flavor-centric drafters, it's a problem of opportunity. When winning is your main focus, all you need out of each pack is a card that works well in your deck. When you're trying to tell stories, however, a single card can be the difference between a successful draft and one that falls flat. Even if I'm willing to take Evolutionary Leap over any other card in Origins, I don't have the chance to assert that preference if the drafter passing to me decides to take Leap over the other cards left in the pack.

Let's fix those odds a bit, shall we?

The most Vorthos-friendly Draft format I've ever played is called Auction Draft. It works like this:

The Rules of Auction Draft

  1. Each player brings either four or five booster packs to the draft. With three to five players, I recommend five packs per person. With six to eight players, four packs each will do. The more cards are in the pool, the more likely it is that obscure flavor combinations will show up. (Auction Draft can also be played with a Cube. If you do that, I suggest adding somewhere between 50 and 60 cards per person, depending on how deep you want each deck to be.)
  2. Open all the booster packs, remove the tokens/tip cards, and shuffle all the cards together. Try to shuffle the cards face down so that the contents of each pack remains a mystery. Put the (now very large) stack of cards in the middle of the table.
  3. Give each drafter $100 in "fun bucks." You may have to raid your board game closet for this. Monopoly money works well, as do tokens from basically any game that has a currency system. Scraps of paper with numbers written on them are also fine in a pinch.
  4. Find a fun object to use as a dealer chip. I highly recommend a plush Fblthp if you've got one of those, but anything colorful and cat-sized will do. (Note: Please do not use an actual cat.)
  5. Give the player who is going first the Fblthp. They will flip three cards face-up from the top of the stack. Bidding will begin on these cards as a single unit—the winner of the auction gets to keep all three.
  6. The player who flipped the cards is considered to have an automatic $0 bid on the stack. If no one else wants to bid on the stack, he or she gets to keep them for free. (This rule tends to matter more toward the end of the auction when most people have run out of money.)
  7. Bidding begins with the player on the dealer's left and goes clockwise. When it's your turn, you can either bid (any amount you want as long as it's higher than the current bid) or you can pass. Once you pass, you can't jump back in.
  8. Bidding continues until there's only one player left. He or she pays for their cards out of their $100 budget (money, once spent, cannot be reclaimed) and takes the three cards for their deck building pool.
  9. The dealer chip is passed clockwise, and the next player flips three more cards. Bidding starts again from the player on his or her left.
  10. This process is repeated until there are no cards left.

Confused? Let's try a sample round.

We're drafting Battle for Zendikar. I'm the dealer, and I flip a pack with Gideon's Reproach, Radiant Flames, and Breaker of Armies. You're on my left, drafting an Eldrazi ramp deck that wants to crush the Zendikari. We're also drafting with a fire mage and an elemental shaman.

You're up first, and you bid $1 on the pile. That Breaker of Armies looks like it'll be the perfect curve topper for your Eldrazi brood, and you'd rather your Eldrazi Scions not have to face down any Radiant Flames.

The fire mage bids $2—Radiant Flames would be very powerful in her deck.

The shaman passes—none of these cards fit the deck he's trying to make.

The choice comes back to me, and I bid $3—I already have Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in my pile, and I'd like to give him access to his reproach.

You jump the bidding to $5—Breaker of Armies is too much for you to resist.

The fire mage passes, having spent a lot of his money already on a pair of early Rolling Thunders.

Now it's just you and me. I bid $6, but once you go to $7, I bow out. There are still plenty of cards left, and I'm saving my money in case Stasis Snare shows up.

With everyone else out of contention, you add $7 to the growing stack of money in the middle of the table and take your three cards.

The Evolutionary Leap dilemma from earlier? It's not an issue in Auction Draft. If you're drafting with a bunch of competitive players, (in my experience, Spikes absolutely love this format) you'll probably be able to get most of the cards you want at a discount because the most flavorful cards in a given format aren't always the most powerful cards. That allows you to bid whatever it takes to get the key cards for your deck.

Glint | Art by Igor Kieryluk

Auction Draft is also a joy to play with other flavor-based drafters. It tends to become a cooperative experience, where each player will commit to a very specific strategy and won't try to prevent their friends from getting the cards they need. Bidding wars only pop up whenever a set of three cards contains multiple flavor home runs that go in different decks.

The only downside to Auction Draft? It takes a long time! Plan for the draft to take at least an hour, and it can go well beyond that mark if you draft with seven or eight people. If you've got a couple of good friends and an evening to kill, though, I can't think of a better way to spend it.

Increasing the Flavor

Once you've mastered the basics of Auction Draft, consider injecting the format with a little bit more flavor. I recommend adding a persona element to the draft that's similar to the old Vanguard format. Since each player has a default starting "salary" of $100, you've got a great mechanical tool that you can tweak in order to incentivize people to choose personas that would otherwise seem weak. Here's a few I came up with:

GideonStarting Salary $110. Piles cost you $1 less for each white creature they contain.

Gideon likes to fight alongside his friends. With a little bit of extra cash and some incentive, you can swarm your opponent with the most righteous army possible.

TeferiStarting Salary $90. You may look at the next nine cards in the stack at any time.

Teferi likes to know what's coming. With lots of future knowledge, you can stack your bids early and see if the cards you're looking for are going to show up. This is especially useful at the very end of the draft, when there are only a few piles left and you've got to decide between dropping the rest of your stash on what's on the board now or saving it for what's to come.

ChandraStarting Salary $110. Earn $1 every time you win an auction with your first bid of the round.

Chandra likes to be impulsive. This ability coupled with some extra cash encourages you to jump out with a really high opening bid on a stack of helpful cards.

Ob NixilisStarting Salary $130. You may not bid more than $5 on any one stack of cards.

Ob Nixilis is greedy and he wants to have all the cards for himself. With this demonic bargain, you'll undoubtedly end up with more cards than anyone else at the table . . . but you won't even be able to bid on any of the best bombs.

CromatStarting Salary $110. Auctions where each card is a different color cost you $1 less. Auctions with non-basic lands cost you $1 less.

I always want to draft five-color value decks, and Cromat understands my pain. Cromat is especially good in Cube Draft, where the quality of non-basic lands is better.

I recommend coming up with three personas for each person you're expecting at the draft, writing them up on index cards, and dealing them out in stacks of three. Allow each drafter to select one of the three personas they're dealt to take on for the duration of the draft. That way, everyone feels like they are able to take on a role they're happy with.

That's all for this week. Until next time, may all your top bids go uncontested.

-Chas Andres



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