The Essentials Of Moneydrafting: Understanding In A Modo Crash

Kurt Hahn had this to say about Tim:”The man is a money-drafter, so he knows what he’s talking about, and tells you. The only person on StarCity worth reading is a skinny kid from Ohio, but listen to him and your drafts can’t help but improve.” And hell, you wanna know the basics of money drafting? Tim’s gone toe-to-toe with guys like Baby Huey, PTR, Ed Fear, Ken Hsuing, Mike Turian, Alex Borteh, Chris Benafel, and Bob Maher… And occasionally comes out in the black. So listen to the man, willya?

This article is not about Magic Online; I just felt like naming an article that because it’s so darned clever. The idea struck me when I was feeling the existential anguish associated with waiting in my car while road crews cleared away the remnants of a truck crash on the drive home from GP Philadelphia. The article with the above title was originally going to be about how Morgan Douglass was screwed in the top 4 of the Grand Prix – but the window on such an article has passed.

Ah, screw it – I’ll mention it briefly.

Jeff Cunningham attacks with a Headhunter. Morgan blocks with a 1/1. Jeff says,”Damage on the stack”? Morgan agrees. Jeff then announces Vitality Charm with the caveat,”actually, before damage.” I don’t agree with putting damage on the stack and then taking it back off. The judge said there was something like a two-second rule where if you catch yourself in time, you’re allowed to take things back.

Four words about that: Ri. Di. Cu. Lous.

Morgan lost a match (he won game 1 and went on to lose game 3) because of a takeback that a judge allowed. That kind of stuff wouldn’t fly in a PTQ. Hell, it wouldn’t fly in the top 8 of a Grand Prix if the person doing it weren’t well-known and well-liked. Just something to consider.

All that babbling made me forget what this article is supposed to be about. It’s about money drafting.

Before I continue, give yourself two hippie-music points if you knew the reference in the title of the article.

Money drafting is the Cadillac of Magic. Players form into teams of two or three (or sometimes more), opens a pack, and booster drafts as usual. Afterward each team builds its decks together, and everyone plays each other player on the opposing team until someone has a majority of the wins (three in a two-on-two, which may have to go to a tiebreaker, or five in a three-on-three). The winning team splits the rares, and each member collects a set amount of money from the losers.

Some people – even pros – won’t money draft. They can’t handle the swings. But there are others, like William”Baby Huey” Jensen, who consider money draft the only pure form of Magic left.

I’m sure you can all figure out how to money draft. I even hope you can appreciate the effort I took in making the obvious Rounders allusion accurately. I had to actually watch the beginning of the movie.

What follows is advice and insight on the intricacies of money drafting. I’ll tell you what to do, what not to do, and recount some of my tales of success and/or woe in the money draft circuit.


One of the most important things in a money draft occurs before you even sit down to play: choosing opponents. Depending on your goal, there is a wide range of suitable adversaries in your quest for money drafting glory. If you want to make a lot of money, you simply look for the worst people foolish enough to put their $20 or $30 where their mouth is. These are the hardest drafts to find, since people who are likely to lose aren’t apt to go for money drafts.

Thus, you’ll probably be more likely to get into money drafts with those who you perceive to be equals. These drafts aren’t guaranteed money, but they are nonetheless a nice challenge; whoever is on top of his game that day will take it down. These sorts of drafts strike a nice balance between ease of winning and ease of finding opponents.

Finally, you can draft against pros. Unless you’re really good, you have to go in with the realization that there’s a good chance you are paying $20 to get a lesson on how to play the game. The positive side of these is that they’re relatively easy to get. Often at GPs or Nationals, I’d be unable to find opponents for a long time and finally just settle on drafting whoever would draft against me. This usually resulted in me drafting against name players, against whom I can actually hold my own.

Ryan Golden has a theory as to why I draft pros so much; he says it’s because I like to have the odds against me. For instance, I drafted with Tammy Ehrhart and Mitchell Tamblyn (a small child) against Finkel, Borteh, and Benafel at PT San Diego. We lost, but we put up a very good fight, losing a close 5-4. (Tamblyn 0-3ed). RyanG may be right, but I will never enter a draft I don’t think I can win. And more importantly, as mentioned, sometimes the quote-unquote”pros” are the only people who are willing to draft. And sometimes you gotta get your draft on.

Related to picking opponents wisely is picking teammates wisely. The best teammates are people you know fairly well and who you can trust to make the right picks and plays. Sometimes two people, even though both are skilled, simply do not mesh well as money draft partners. But in any case, I wouldn’t advise you to team with someone you don’t know, as they could be either completely awful or in on some sort of fix with your opponents to take your money. Be wary of the latter, particularly if the amount of money in question is fairly large.


This brings me to my next point: Making sure your opponents aren’t cheating. You’d be surprised to find out that, especially among the better-known players, there is a high degree of honor and trust. I don’t know why I never have to be worried that a certain pro isn’t cheating against me – whether he’s just an honest guy, or maybe he feels there’s no need – but I’m usually not too concerned about it.

As an example, I recently witnessed a draft between Brian Davis and Ben Stark. Davis offered his deck, and Ben started to shuffle. Davis, incredulous, asked,”You’re shuffling me?” Stark responded,”Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot this was a money draft,” and promptly stopped shuffling, opting instead to simply cut.

Despite this honesty, it’s best to be on your guard. There are some people – even”name” players – who might look for easy outs against a sucker. A simple rule of thumb in selecting a draft is”when in doubt, sit it out.” If you don’t think you can trust a certain set of opponents, just don’t draft them. Try to find out opponents’ names if they seem suspect and find someone who knows about them to give a character reference.

If you choose to draft against shady people for some reason, you may want to hire a spy of some sort to keep an eye on the opposition. Have someone you know watch the opponents open their packs so you know they aren’t adding cards. This isn’t recommended, as your opponents will likely think you’re trying to cheat. As mentioned, if they’re the kind of people you think you have to spy on, chances are that you shouldn’t be drafting against them to begin with.

If you have no reason to believe your opponents are suspicious, you still need to be careful. In general, do what you would do under normal tournament circumstances. Make sure they shuffle adequately, keep track of each player’s life total, monitor cards in hand, and so on. During the draft itself, keep track of the cards you see. If you don’t see a single Sparksmith in a draft and one of your opponents has five of them, something’s probably not right. This is also just smart drafting; you need to be paying attention to what’s in each pack if you want to draft the best deck possible anyway.


Try to remember as many cards in each pack as possible. This will not only serve as protection from people who may be gettin’ their add on, it will help you to make the correct picks based on what your partners and opponents are likely to see.

When picking cards, you obviously want the best cards for your deck. But you also don’t want your partners to get screwed; your winning the draft depends on their success. First, try to control the color flow to your opponents. If your opening pack has, say, Slice and Dice, Centaur Glade, and Rorix Bladewing, first of all, well… Good beats, folks.

Second, even if you want that Centaur Glade, you can’t take it. If the guy you’re passing to sees those insane red cards, he’ll take one and your unwitting partner will take the other; this will lead to your teammate getting cut off. I would probably just go ahead and take Rorix since it’s the best card, even though you don’t know whether your adversary will take Glade or Slice.

If you’re truly masterful, you can take the Slice and Dice. Your opponent will probably be more than happy to take the dragon legend, and you’ll be cutting him off while your teammate gets a very good card anyway. This is, of course, an extreme case that’s not likely to occur, but its principles apply to many situations.

As far as passing Rorix goes, except on rare occasions, this is a Bad Thing To Do. You never want to give your opponents insane bombs that your teammate can’t deal with, unless you’re fairly certain the opponent either a) won’t take it or b) would be hate-drafting it. I’d hate to have to explain to Kenny Hsiung or whoever why I passed our otherwise-inept opponent a Visara the Dreadful… Although I’m sure in Kenny’s case, he’d ship the Visara and then laugh about it when we lost because of it.

So hate-drafting is good as long as you know who you’re hating from… If the card you’re hating is good enough. Needless to say, don’t hate a Soulless One when you need the Spitting Gourna for your deck. That’s just foolish.

Suppose, though, that the pack you open has nothing of consequence for your colors but has a Mistform Skyreaver. If there’s a decent chance it would be used against you, take that Amugaba! If, however, there is nothing in your colors, but there’s a Cruel Revival and a Sparksmith, don’t do any hating. If you hate one of the two, your opponent will simply get the other, leaving neither of the good cards for your teammate. When to hate is tricky and comes with experience, but in general, you’ll do it a lot more than you would in a regular booster or Rochester draft.

Here’s an anecdote of a time where I was out-drafted: The teams are myself and Mitchell Tamblyn against Matt Urban and Ed Fear; I’m feeding Ed. The pack I open has Firebolt, Morbid Hunger, and Patriarch’s Desire. Since we’re in the peculiar circumstance of drafting Odyssey block, with its uneven colors, I know that the second pack (which gets passed in the other direction) is heavy in black. If I take a black card, Ed will take the other and cut me off in Torment. However, if the only two good cards Ed sees are black, he’ll have to take one and risk getting cut off in Torment, or he’ll have to take a suboptimal card. Thus, I determine that Firebolt is the right pick. The next pack I see also has Hunger and Desire, and I ship them both along. As it turns out, though, Ed was keen to this game as well and took green and white cards over the good black cards. In the end, Tamblyn was the one who bit and took the first black card, and Urban took the other one behind him; I think Ed was the only green player at the table.

A final note about the process of drafting itself. It would probably be to your benefit that, you actually know how to draft before you’re willing to essentially bet money on your spellcasting ability. If you play a Crafty Pathmage or an Elvish Pathcutter against Neil Reeves, you’ll be soundly ridiculed before your money is taken from you.

So there you have it: If you’re going to money draft, pick opponents wisely, take precautions against your opponents cheating (even though they probably won’t), and draft wisely. This all may seem intimidating, especially if you don’t have the money to throw around – but to be honest, money drafting is the most fun I have at any big event. It’s something to do when the night before the tournament, or the night of the tournament, or after the tournament, or… You get the point.

If you don’t have the competitive instinct in you, you can always toss a 5-color Magic deck together…but who wants to do that?


All things considered, I’m probably lucky to have broken even in money drafts. It’s partially my fault for not backing down from more difficult drafts. It also sucks knowing going in that I’ll likely have to go 2-0 or 2-1; rare is the draft where I can let my partners carry me to victory. I’ve gotten better at finding good teammates recently, though.

I’ve had some tales of woe and some success stories; this section will showcase some of the latter, since I remember them more vividly, and they make for better anecdotes. This list is in chronological order, and is not conclusive; not making the list were the time Tammy Ehrhart and I 3-0ed Murray the Mauler and Jeff Cunningham (generally, Canadians aren’t known for their money drafting prowess), the earlier-mentioned near-win against all odds, the time where I got four Wild Mongrels and my teammates each had two or three insane rares of their own, and several more…

1) Craig Curtis/me vs. Kenny Hsiung/Alex Borteh

This one makes the list because it was my first real attempt at money drafting. I had been interested in giving it a try and had heard”Sooo… draft??!!!” one time too many and wanted to hush Kenny up. Which I later found out was impossible to do.

Borteh and Hsiung, to my knowledge, were very good, as they had some drafting experience and never seemed to miss a PTQ top 8. Borteh had a nice, albeit three-color deck featuring Breath of Darigaaz, and Kenny managed to draft two different types of assassins. Curtis’s deck was horrible, and I really don’t remember anything about mine. All I remember is Borteh’s lack of aggressive play leading to my team’s 3-0 win. Forgive me if the details are a little fuzzy; this was an all-Invasion draft that happened two years ago.

2) Kenny Hsiung/me vs. Stephen”Christopher” Miller/x

It’s the end of day 1 of Grand Prix Tampa, and I’m exhausted; I also feel nauseated. This is in part because Tammy, who I’d been so used to manhandling when we”fought,” had just thrown me around like a rag doll. I was always weak, but before then I’d always at least had the weight advantage.

Anyway, I really wanted to get some sleep before day 2. Kenny found a draft against really good people (don’t remember who) and I declined. Next, he found Jon Becker – a relatively easy draft. I considered it, but in the end was too sick and tired to want to crack the packs. Ten minutes later, Kenny came back and pointed a few tables back to some guys I’d never seen and said,”Those guys want to draft for $30.” I took one look at them and, amidst Kenny’s laughter, take some packs out of my pocket and walk over to their table.

The drafting part went well enough, but the playing was something else. Christopher’s teammate lost to Kenny, but Christopher himself was pretty lucky. And annoying. It is customary in money drafts to inform your partners of the progress of games, including information on any game-breaking cards the opposition may have… But Chris’s comments were like”I’m at fifteen but I think I have this one” and”He’s got an Aquamoeba” and other such irrelevant nonsense. Needless to say, I lost. Then I beat the hapless partner while Kenny lost to Christopher.

This led us to the all-important tiebreaker. We agreed that I should play, despite my poor luck in playing tiebreakers, since I was white/blue and Chris was red/green. After a quick pep talk from Kenny, I did what I should have done the first time I played – gave Christopher a sound, sound beating. We ended up getting the $30, albeit with more effort than it really should have taken. Christopher has refused to draft me since then.

3) Craig Curtis/Kenny Hsiung/me vs. Chris Benafel/Liz Lempicki/Mike Turian

Not really much of a back story to this one; it took place at Regionals, as the majority of us attended without playing in the main even for various reasons. My deck was very good, sporting about every red and black removal spell imaginable. I beat Benafel the first game, and was in control the second game, but it slowly started slipping away. His Balshan Collaborator threatened to end the game within a turn unless I drew something… And I successfully topdecked my way out of trouble, as I tend to do against Benafel, but I had some fun slow-rolling it. I walked away to the sound of”Tim Aten is the luckiest guy!!”

Unfortunately, my teammates both lost the first round of the draft. The second round, I beat Liz while my teammates struggled once again. Benafel taunted me about the possibility of my going the dreaded”3-0 ship,” whereby a person doesn’t lose a match but still has to pay. Sure enough, both Curtis and Kenny lost again, bringing the record to 2-4.

We had a bit of a rally round 3, with me defeating Turian and Kenny winning a game against Liz before having to play a round of Regionals. I finished Kenny’s match for him, and it was tied up. Curtis pulled through with an all-out aerial assault against Turian’s green/white and we had won the draft. We came back from a 2-4 deficit, and I went 3.5-0 (since I got half of one of Kenny’s wins). This, naturally, couldn’t have made Kenny happier; I busted my ass getting a majority of the wins for the team while he did virtually nothing. He finds that kind of stuff amusing. Of course, he can also laugh for days about the joys of”hooks and her,” but that’s another story.

4) Mitchell Tamblyn/me vs. Brian Lynch/Melissa DeTora

This draft was all about the packs and decks. You’ll hear a lot of people use unnecessary superlatives. It seems like a grand majority of gamers has had not only the”BEST DECK EVER OMG” (TM) but also the”WORST DECK EVER OMG” (TM). Well I’m here to tell you that all these people are wrong, for the worst packs and worst decks ever were in this very draft. Cartographers were going as early as 4th simply because they were the best remaining cards in the pack.

I guess it’s important to note that this was one of Lynch’s patented”drunk drafts.” Because he was so inebriated and because the packs were so bad, it took him upwards of three minutes for some picks.

When the dust settled and the smoke cleared and all was said and done and the fat lady sang and that was that, Lynch had the best deck – albeit a three-color one. The other three were all pretty bad. I was running a spicy red/green dish that featured Kamahl’s Sledge, the at-the-time-maligned Ember Shot, Petradon… And since I didn’t have enough cards to round out the deck, eighteen lands and a splash of blue for Compulsion.

Mitchell didn’t fare much better, as he was running a green/white piece of garbage that included multiples of Aven Trooper and had Animal Boneyard as one of only two or three noncreature spells. He had another Boneyard in the sideboard that he sided in against DeTora. I managed a 2-0 in part by color-screwing Lynch, and DeTora suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of Tamblyn and his Boneyards. By the time the draft was done, it was around six in the morning, so I didn’t sleep before day 1 of Nationals. Needless to say, I would end up opting not to play in day 2 as I was out of top 8 contention.

5) Mitchell Tamblyn/ptr/me vs. Brad Swan/Jordan Berkowitz/Max McGuffin

I don’t remember too much about this particular draft except for my deck: I’m pretty sure this was the draft where Matt Rubin heckled poor Tamblyn (and by”poor,” I actually mean”well-deserving”, which you’d know if you know Tamblyn) relentlessly during his match against Big Guffs.

“Are you &%#$ing stupid?””What kind of moron Syncopates a Think Tank?””Nice pants, Tamblyn… Were you planning on hiding in a blue jungle?” Even better, when we went to IHOP later, Matt continued his ridiculing of Tamblyn’s hair, beverage selection, and so on.

I have this habit of digressing; I think I may have some form of attention deficit disorder. It would explain why I end up doing the crossword in class so much of the time. (Just kidding, Mom!! Ha ha ha.) I was talking about how good my deck was. My first pack featured Master Apothecary – one of my favorite rares from Odyssey. From there, I figured I’d try to force white a little bit, and I was practically mono-white going into pack 2… Where I opened Angel of Retribution. Then I got passed Major Teroh. Then I got passed another Major Teroh. When I open pack 3, a rare Incarnation is staring back at me, and I put my newfound Glory in my pile.*

So my deck ended up being entirely white except for a Narcissism and several forests to support it, featuring three first-pick bomb white rares and some more passed white rares. I didn’t do much in the way of losing since my deck wasn’t really fair, and we won the draft without much difficulty.

6) Craig Curtis/me vs. Bob Maher/Dave Williams

Yes, I know I said it was only going to be 5, but I just remembered this one. Its conclusion was too good not to mention. Curtis’s deck is putrid and four colors, without a”splash” per se. I was a decent red/black, Williams was a bad green/black, and Bob had a very nice blue/white.

Overtly, I am a stupid, stupid man… But subconsciously, I must be some sort of genius, since I realized afterward that it was brilliant to feed Bob a great blue/white deck if I was snatching up Cabal Torturers and Caustic Tar and other nightmare cards for blue/white. Since this portion of the article is running long, I’ll just summarize by saying that the rusty Williams went 0-2 and I beat Bob with the Caustic Tar that Williams said he didn’t see (but I actually discarded it against him during one of the games). After the draft, Bob went to his dad who was sitting nearby and asked him for $20 to pay me with.

Test audiences who read this report before you got to see it indicated that the last section may make me come off as arrogant. I assure you that I lose quite a bit, too. I’m just not going to look fondly back on drafts like:

  • The time in Milwaukee where Geddes and Ben Stark tried to tell me how to draft and I ended up 0-2ing with a horrible deck
  • The time Jeff Cunningham (a Canadian, for those of you keeping track at home) and I got 3-0ed by Bret Herring and Modhead
  • Another draft against Bret Herring and Modhead (and Adam Levy) where I went 3-0 but still had to pay
  • …And many more!

Good luck in all your money drafting endeavors. If you have any comments or good money draft stories, or you just want to tell me what a moron I am, e-mail me at [email protected].”Expiry Dates” is a Joydrop song and”10:24″ is a reference to Incubus’s”Warning” video. I’m sure you don’t care, but I always want to know where the hell people come up with some of these moronic e-mail addresses.

And even though this isn’t really a tournament report, if you thought I was going to let you get your precious article closure without props, slops, and weird song lyrics, you were sorely mistaken.


  • Matt Rubin: Along with Kenny and ptr, one of the three funniest gamers and an overall good man
  • Antonino: Do I really need a reason?
  • Morgy: Hewwo.
  • Kenny Hsiung: So her?
  • Anton Jonsson: So hair?
  • Mike Aten: For helping me win the GP trial by going 5 colors


  • Ryan Golden: Try being nice for a change, you maniac.
  • Mike Aten: You too.
  • Magic Online: I think anyone who’s played knows why.

LYRICS (all Joydrop this time)

  • “There goes the gravy train.”
  • “This is the worst kind of wasted.”
  • “I sometimes wanna die.”

Tim Aten

Captain of The Scum of the Earth on MODO

* – I know. I’m a huge dork. Let’s move on with our lives.