Sometimes it can be hard to get four-to-eight people together in the same room at the same time for a Cube draft. Sometimes your buddy you drove to the PTQ with was inconsiderate enough to Top 8 while you and your other friend met round four in the 1-2 bracket, and now you’ve got a few hours to kill. Sometimes you just wanna play some Magic real quick but don’t have an entire draft pod worth of people on hand. Sometimes you just don’t have many friends.
But don’t fret! There is a bunch of fun ways to draft one on one, and today we are going to look at one of the more interesting ones I’ve come across called "Grid Draft." While I am not sure of its exact origins (and feel free to leave a nasty comment about how you invented it and never get any credit for your brilliant design in the comments), I’m sure it is a very fun and fresh way to draft your Cube.
Grid Draft is a shotgun wedding between the most commonly played two-player Draft format, Winston Draft, and the exceedingly skill-intensive, interesting, and antiquated Rochester Draft format.
To start, you are going to need to shuffle your Cube up nice and good and then pick nine random cards out and put them face up on the table in a 3×3 grid.
Select someone to go first, and then that player may take any row or column that he or she desires. Let’s say that Player 1 selects Sorrow’s Path, Wood Elemental, and One With Nothing. Then Player 2 may select any row or column of his or her choice—for example, let’s say Player 2 takes Burrowing and Tibalt. Once each player has picked their row or column, the rest of the cards are discarded, and you move to the next pack.
Repeat seventeen more times, then build your decks and play!
Grid Draft is very enjoyable because it is more skill intensive than Winston Draft, and it is also fun because you can cater your deck to try to match up well against your opponent. You see enough cards where you can for the most part draft an archetype you want, and while the decks won’t be as cohesive as they would be in a six- or eight-player draft, they are close.
Of course, the easiest way to get a feel for the format is to see it in action, and recently my buddy Dan Jessup and I sat down for an exciting and fairly representative Grid draft. My picks will be marked in blue, while Dan’s will be marked in red.
We used my Cube, which is designed very much with synergy and archetypes in mind. Typically, my Cube works much better in larger drafts of six or eight people, which allow you to see enough cards to really construct the deck you want, but it Grid drafts much better than it Winston drafts.
Your first few picks of a Grid draft are very important, as unlike Booster Draft your opponent will clearly see every card you pick and every signal you intend to send. While it can be right to cut at times, it is usually important to cooperate with your opponent to maximize the quality of your picks. If you both try to draft Mono-Red Aggro, not only are you going to be short on playables, but you will also be at the whim of whoever gets to pick first when the best mono-red cards are opened.
Our first pack was a fairly underwhelming one, and Dan elected to go the aggressive route with Reflecting Pool, Plated Geopede, and Stomping Ground.
I like to try to maximize both the power and flexibility of my early picks in a Cube draft, and Show and Tell is one of the most powerful things you can be doing. My Cube also has a significant artifact theme, with support for both the big mana artifact deck as well as more aggressive Affinity style artifact aggro, and Mox Opal is one of the best cards you can have in either of those decks. I picked up Regrowth, Show and Tell, and Mox Opal.
The remaining cards were then discarded and were no longer part of the draft.
Pack 2 was similar to pack 1 in that it contained some good cards but nothing that would really push your towards a certain deck, with the exception of Oath of Druids, a card that fits very nicely with my Show and Tell. Phantasmal Image, while not something that necessarily goes very well with those cards, is a powerful card regardless.
Dan elected to stay the aggressive course with a Wild Nacatl and a burn spell.
Here you can already see us settling into our archetypes. Dan had the first pick this pack and selected both a one-drop in a color he might play and a powerful card in Greater Gargadon. An important thing to note is that Dan saw me take the Show and Tell and Gargadon gives him a powerful card he can place into play for free and still play in his aggressive deck.
As for my pick, Angel of Despair is an excellent card to Show and Tell or Oath of Druids up, but the more important pick is me choosing the Overgrown Tomb over the Diabolic Edict and Sunscape Familiar. I knew at this point I wanted to be blue and green and hoped to get a shot at a Eureka or maybe some fast mana and a Tooth and Nail. I also knew that the best tutors in the Cube are in black, which makes splashing black and therefore making sure I have the fixing for it a very high priority. These sorts of "set up" picks are extremely important in Cube drafts.
An awful pack for me. I figured if I ended up with a Shelldock Isle or something I might want the Expedition Map and Icy Manipulator isn’t awful.
Dan got a few one-drops that pushed him more into white.
Well, this pack certainly made up for the last one. Getting Show and Tell, Oath of Druids, and Eureka in the first five packs was extremely fortunate and enough to make me want to move all in. I was now looking for a few tutors, some card draw, and some big fatties to put into play. Of course, however, Dan saw all my picks, and my intentions are pretty face up on the table.
Dan stayed the Naya Aggro course this pack, but one could certainly argue that he could have hate-drafted the Eureka from me.
Another good pack for both of us. Grave Titan is one of the best fatties in the Cube at any mana cost and almost unbeatable, and Meloku is no slouch either. Dan, however, gains a very solid out to my Oath of Druids in Kami of Ancient Law.
One of the realities of two-player drafting is that there will usually be a color or archetype that is completely undrafted; there will certainly be drafts where that middle column would be an amazing one.
Dan picked up a one-drop, while I got a Daze and maybe some sort of backdoor Crucible of Worlds / Horizon Canopy action.
This pack would prove to be one of the defining packs of the draft.
I picked up an extremely powerful card that is amazing off Eureka in Karn Liberated and a Temporal Spring to buy me some time if needed.
At this point, Dan had collected a nice little bunch of aggressive Naya cards; however, his only really useful green card was Wild Nacatl. Dan saw two of the best black cards ever printed and recognized not only their power level but how good they would be against my combo deck and made a high risk/high reward speculative pick instead of the somewhat obvious pick of Call of the Herd and Firebolt.
Black would give him the disruption to help stop my combo, and while he had no other black cards at this point, he had ten more packs to accumulate them. These sorts of speculative picks are very important when drafting a Cube and in other synergy-based formats.
Pretty easy pick for Dan, while I picked up another excellent boom boom and a Prismatic Lens I may or may not want.
Here, at the midway point in the draft, I felt I was a little behind, but part of drafting a combo deck is knowing that it’s possible you will never assemble what you need. However, the power level payoff is often worth it.
Sign me up for another boom boom and one of the best possible in Griselbrand.
Dan picked up another card that is very good against me in Swords to Plowshares.
I think this is a spot where Dan drafted the cards instead drafting for both his deck and my deck. While Ajani Vengeant and Restoration Angel are phenomenal Magic cards, they are both fairly midrangey four-drops in a situation where he knows he will be playing against a combo deck. I think this is a spot where he would really prefer the aggression of Cloistered Youth and the disruption of Hokori, Dusk Drinker.
I essentially got nothing but a land for a color I don’t want to play.
Another pack that offered me very little. I was beginning to get concerned I will not have enough playables.
Dan picked up a Lightning Helix.
This pack had a little more going on.
When I saw the Jace, the Mind Sculptor and that I was not going to have the first pick this pack, I was a bit annoyed, but Dan elected to take cards for his deck rather than hate draft. The Jace would not be backbreaking against his very aggressive deck and does not really directly aid my combo in any way.
I picked up the Jace along with another reasonable fatty in Protean Hulk and some mana acceleration if I want it.
This pack was a tough one. It is extremely important to maximize your mana fixing in Cube drafts, as it really defines what you are able to play. I decided I wanted the dual in my colors and to cut Dan off from the disruption of Molten Rain.
However, given my low number of playables, I might have been better served by taking the Frantic Search and Time Spiral even if they’re not fantastic in my deck. The dual was in both my main colors, and we only had four more packs for me to pick up a fetchland.
Definitely a rough one. Dan picked up one of the best disruption spells he could get in Armageddon and one of the best planeswalkers to go with it.
I couldn’t complain too much, though, since I finally got myself the tutor I was looking for. Finding a use for Dream Halls was a long shot but worth the speculative pick. Definitely made me wish I had taken Time Spiral last pack.
While I certainly started this draft running hot with the packs, I cooled down considerably. I got in two nice cuts here and picked up an Urban Evolution that will likely make the deck.
Dan took the plunge and picked up the black dual land he wanted to go with his Dark Confidant and Thoughtseize, which will not make things easier on me.
If there was any doubt Dan could play black, it’s been erased. Two more dual lands put him well into the black, while I get a single dual for my tutor.
The draft certainly started with for a bang for me and ended with a whimper of two more duals to round off a deck with not enough playables. I’d likely need to splash both black and white.
Dan picked up another solid disruption spell and a Skullclamp for good measure.
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Path to Exile
1 Expedition Map
1 Prismatic Lens
1 Oath of Druids
1 Memory Lapse
1 Detention Sphere
1 Temporal Spring
1 Show and Tell
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Icy Manipulator
1 Urban Evolution
1 Karn Liberated
1 Protean Hulk
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
1 Sundering Titan
1 Grave Titan
1 Angel of Despair
1 Underground Sea
1 Tropical Island
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Treetop Village
While I had a very solid core, I was three or four playables off a very good deck. I had to splash for white as well as black, which both hurts my mana base and has me playing cards I don’t really want to play, but I had no choice. Given my deck’s inconsistencies and the speed and quality of Dan’s disruption, I was not extremely optimistic.
1 Student of Warfare
1 Mother of Runes
1 Elite Vanguard
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Stromkirk Noble
1 Hellspark Elemental
1 Kami of Ancient Law
1 Dark Confidant
1 Tidehollow Sculler
1 Restoration Angel
1 Flametongue Kavu
1 Siege-Gang Commander
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Lightning Helix
1 Sudden Shock
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Ajani Vengeant
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1 Marsh Flats
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Windbrisk Heights
While Dan’s deck was fast with many good weapons versus me, I didn’t think he should have included Flametongue Kavu despite how good it looks in the deck.
Game 1 saw things go exactly to plan.
I resolved a Eureka on turn 4 on the play and put into play Protean Hulk, Karn Liberated, and two Islands. Dan put in an Elspeth, Knight-Errant and a Flametongue Kavu. After I removed Elspeth with Karn, I cast a Phantasmal Image off of my two Islands and copied my Protean Hulk. When the copy died and I searched up a Grave Titan, that was enough to prompt a concession.
Game 2 saw me on a mulligan to five and Dan on a mulligan to six. I died rather quickly with a hand full of fatties.
Game 3 was much of the same, as my deck stumbled against his fast draw backed with Armageddon.
Game 4 was another ugly affair, where a Tidehollow Sculler kept me down long enough to put me out.
The games had not gone very well for me; aside from my deck’s general inconsistency, I was having trouble putting together my combo. My deck was lacking in more combo search like Ponder or Preordain, card draw, and tutoring.
Game 5 finally saw me with a good hand, and I Vampiric Tutored for a turn 3 Show and Tell.
I placed my Griselbrand face down on the table, feeling pretty good about at least getting to 2-3 in games for the set. We flipped our cards, and down came Greater Gargadon to join the pressure he already had on board. I fought the good fight, but in the end the Kami of Ancient Law prevented me from ever using Oath of Druids and I died an embarrassing death.
The best part of all of this is that the entire draft and five games took around an hour. Grid Draft is fun, quick, and rather enjoyable.
As you can see from this draft, you can draft all different kinds of decks and work hard to draft a deck that is prepared to beat whatever your opponent is putting together.
Give it a try!
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