The Kitchen Table #175 – Abedraft Revisited, Volume the First

One-seventy five! Hello folks, and welcome to the 175th anniversary of my happy column. If I had the gumption, I’d look up what the special word for 175th anniversary is. However, I’d rather write about Magic than spend five minutes researching a word I’ll never use again. Besides, I used “gumption” in a sentence… I don’t think it’ll get much better than that.

One-seventy five! Hello folks, and welcome to the 175th anniversary of my happy column. If I had the gumption, I’d look up what the special word for 175th anniversary is. However, I’d rather write about Magic than spend five minutes researching a word I’ll never use again. Besides, I used “gumption” in a sentence… I don’t think it’ll get much better than that.

My last two months has been a pretty diverse selection of articles — A multiplayer playing format, an alternate deckbuilding format, highlander, deck doctoring, exploring Portal, looking at precons, and writing up some quick Planar Chaos decks. Considering the diversity of two last two months, I hope that you won’t mind if I decide to hit an old topic up today.

I’m going all the way back to my very first article for SCG. That’s right, its time for Abedraft!

Wait, you say that you don’t know what Abedraft is? Well, allow me to enlighten you.

The History

When I was in Charleston, WV back around the release of Tempest, a friend by the name of John Giroir decided to have a draft with packs that he created. He put them in envelopes and charged money for the draft, just like normal. This form of tournament proved to be very popular.

Everyone made packs for draft. The beauty of the packs was that you could get any card. There were commons going all the way back to Antiquities in these packs. Uncommons and rares of age were there as well.

We cut our teeth on these new packs of cards. Someone would make an all Sliver pack with a Sliver Queen in the rare spot, and then a bunch of slivers as the rest. Someone else (me) would open up a pack of Portal cards and add a card for the rules card and make that a pack.

Some people did not make good packs. I remember opening a pack with two Rolling Thunders. Everybody had their favorite archetype. My early favorite color combination was Green/Red. After all, beef wins, and removal allows beef to win. My favorite card was Endangered Armodon — this 4/5 common creature for four mana with no drawbacks at all, as long as I drafted my deck correctly.

I remember going to the Stronghold prerelease in Columbus and running the table I three consecutive drafts with nothing but five or six Armodons in each deck, with a few other beefy cards as well (like Mogg Bombers, Mogg Flunkies, Scaled Wurm, Skyshroud Troopers, etc). Nothing went in my deck if it would kill a precious Armodon. When I couldn’t go Red, I went Black and grabbed five Serpent Warriors to go with five Endangered Armodons. I didn’t play Black for removal, I played it for Hill Giants that cost one less mana.

The occasional Smite or Deathstroke is not going to stop a herd of beef.

This was the environment in which the created pack draft became my fascination.

We would open the packs up for fun and draft. We began combining created draft with Rochester Draft. It was a ton of fun to all chuckle at the same time at the cards that someone included. For months we Rochestered every weekend, making packs during the week.

Then I had to go back the Morgantown to school. I was only in Charleston for a semester as I had an internship with the state legislature. I went back to school, but I still had my fascination.

I tried to get people to play but they weren’t interested. One of the worst things you can do to condemn someone is to give them a love, and then take away any people to share that love with. I personally like MagicShop, and Middle Earth: The Wizards, and HeroScape. Want to know how many people in my playgroup like those things?

I figured that I would make people like the created pack draft. Instead of creating a bunch of packs, I taped the bottom of a large white cardboard box, I think it used to hold fruit, and I would throw cards into the box. There would be a large number of cards face up down, all scattered around.

I then introduced the large cardboard box to a few residents. When you wanted to draft, just stir the contents and grab fifteen cards at random. Rochester draft was our favorite. We would flip some cards, draft them, and then play having a ton of fun.

The three of us played four or five nights a week, for months. Sometimes we’d play decks that we built, sure, but invariably every night we’d draft and play.

It became known as Abedraft. We created a variety of formats around the box, including Shandalar.

I loved the format so much, that when I moved to Michigan, before I had even found a new playgroup, I wrote my first article to SCG about it. Now, obviously others have probably had the idea of drafting out of a big box of random cards. I don’t claim it as mine alone. Sure, I name it after me because there had to be some perk for writing. Note that I’m not claiming to be the most inventive Magic player ever…

The article wasn’t all that good, but the Casual Player’s Alliance did add it to their variants page (you’ll note that none of my other articles ever have, despite outlining numerous variants that they do not have in the database).

Later I would read an article by a certain Ben Bleiweiss. Reading that article gave me inspiration and a new purpose. I left behind Abedraft and began building the ultimate set of Magic. This question for Ben in case he reads my articles: Ben, do you still have your box? Love to hear about it in the forums!

I made a few design changes from Ben. For one thing, I elected to include a copy of a card for each time is was included in a set (with the basic set counting as one time, only if the card began in that set.) These cards are printed multiple times, and they count towards multiple sets, so in my opinion, they should make multiple appearances in my set.

Take Stone Rain, for example. In Ben’s box, there’s just one copy. In my box, there is one for every non-Portal appearance it has ever made (although just one for all of the basic sets). It’s iconic and important to include multiple times.

I also require that each card be that set’s card. That means I need an Ice Age Counterspell to serve as it, no other will do. I need a Weatherlight Guided Strike and a Legends Presence of the Master. That also means that I need the original version of a card, not a Chronicles or main set appearance.

In the case of an original main set card, I merely require that it have the original artwork, not necessarily be an Alpha or Beta version.

Like Ben, my cards cannot be foreign, because people should be able to read the cards they play with.

Because I play with commonality, I made a decision to include the promo cards from the early days of Magic as rares. (Sewers of Estark, Arena, Giant Badger, Mana Crypt, Nalathni Dragon, and Windseeker Centaur).

That was over four years ago. Where am I today? I’m missing maybe 250-300 cards. We draft and stuff in my playgroup from the box. Some people are really impressed with the concept and really like it.

Okay, so this is where I am today. Now, am I advocating, like Ben did, that you build a big giant box including one of every card ever printed? I might be, but if it’s your thing. However, I am advocating that you build an Abedraft — a nice box with cardboard from all sorts of sets.

For this article, I am going to italicize when you will need to make a decision. That way you can see all of the choices you need to make before making the first.

Building a Better Box

Before you build your box, you need to ask what sorts of card are going to go in it. Ben used a set of every card ever made, and most players can get closer to that than they realize. On the other hand, you can just build your pool, like I used to.

Are you going to build an Abedraft box with your own pool of cards, or are you going to have a Bleiweiss type pool with a set of every card ever made, or as close to it as you can get?

You can build your big box through several methods. For example, although I began tossing cards of all sorts into the fruit box, I ultimately choose to separate my uncommons and rares into separate, although obviously smaller, boxes. I appreciated the statistical variance created by having just one giant box, but I preferred a more relatable format.

You can go either way on this (whether talking about cards in a giant box like Abedraft or a set like Ben uses). If you decide to just toss everything together, you will get a draft dominated by the heavy hitters (read: rares).

See, over Magic’s history, the power level of rares has fluctuated widely. Many highly specific cards with limited usefulness are printed at rare. In Limited, these cards can be pretty awful to flip, but at least you only get one. Your draft is not ruined by flipping a Lace as one of your rares. However, it could be ruined by flipping three or four such cards.

On the other hand, rares have a lot of swingy cards. A lot of cards are deemed too powerful for Limited and therefore are moved to rare. Sure, you could flip crap like Laces, but you could also flip three or four format-warping cards as well. That’s a per pack ratio, so you could dominate the table with your rares or just curl up with your crappy rares.

Rares have too much variance. I’d rather keep to the 11-3-1 format. The beauty of keeping your cards separate is that you can always fix up 5-5-5 or all rare draft anytime. Once you mix up your cards, you are not separating them again easily.

Some people really care about this sort of stuff. I inspect every card before it goes back into the common/uncommon/rare section. A lot of players just don’t look that hard at cards with colored expansion symbols. Also, a lot of players don’t know earlier commonality, so they’ll just guess. They’ll often guess horribly wrong.

Therefore, splitting your cards by commonality may foster an environment that is readily understood. Just be sure to understand that it may require some diligence on your part to upkeep it.

Do you separate out the cards by commonalty or combine them into one big pool?

Another thing I did which I regret was to guide colors. I increased the flavor of colors by adding more commons of certain types to the set on top of a common set from all sets The Dark and on.

Here’s the problem with this plan. You can build your common base through one of two methods. Mix and math, as mentioned above, find the right percentages, and add cards that support a color’s theme until you have a solid pool. That’s fine.

On the other hand, you can take a common set from various sets, toss them together and play from that. That’s a fine choice as well.

What I did, however, was to mix them. I took the common sets and then added cards overtop of that. This was a bad plan. This introduced bias into my cardpool. I’d advise steering clear of such problems and just picking a method.

We care so much about the common pool because it will make or break your draft. Commons are the most important cards in any Limited format, and it is even more evident when you create that Limited format on your own.

How do you build your common pool, by including sets or by tossing in cards with an eye towards balancing them?

When building your Abedraft, pay attention to your commons. They are the bedrock of your Limited format. I used to revel in finding the right percentage of cards. In Fifth Edition, which was when I began this, Blue was around two-thirds spells and one-third creatures. Green, was the opposite, ranking at two-thirds creatures and one-third spells. White was 40% creatures while Red and Black were half and half.

White’s numbers were skewed because Circles of Protection were printed as commons. They are no longer at that commonality, which gives it room for a larger number of creatures. The two colors that are really affected by the percentages are Blue and Green. Are these percentages still in play today? I decided to check Ninth Edition to find out:

Blue Commons: 13 creatures, 12 spells.
Green Commons: 16 creatures, 7 spells.

Okay, how did Green get two less cards than Blue. That can’t be right, let me check somewhere else.

Apparently that set has those random cards in its starter level product that count for the set. That might skew the numbers, so let me roll with Eighth Edition instead:

This time I came up with

Blue: 13 creatures, 11 non-creatures
Green: 16 creatures, 6 non-creatures

Or Seventh:

Blue: 11 creatures, 11 non-creatures
Green: 12 creatures, 10 non-creatures

Alright, Seventh looks more along what a few advocated for doing for a while. The recommendation was to make the pool an even split between creatures and non-creatures in each color. As we can see in Green, its power rests in creatures, at least in recent basic sets (or older ones like 5th). There is a reason that Green has historically been one of the most powerful colors in Limited. In many sets, Green has a lot more than a 50/50 split.

To reduce Green to 50/50 will weaken its one strength. Therefore, I advise ensuring that your own pool has a more creature-oriented selection from Green.

The changes to Blue over time in commons have made it more creature heavy, at the expense of its great spells. One of the things you realize when you play with cards from all eras is that you get cards from both philosophies, so sometimes you can draft the Blue control deck with Remove Soul, Counterspell, Undo, Spell Blast, and creatures like Wayward Soul. On the other hand, you might get the more modern control deck, with Merfolk Looter, Unsummon, Wind Drake, and Horned Turtle. The first deck is old school style Blue draft deck with an emphasis on good spells and a few key creatures. The other version is much more creature heavy, with tricks and evasion in high enough numbers to get through. (Yes, I know that I listed older cards for the nouveau Blue, I did that intentionally).

I’d still run Blue at around 40-45% creatures. White, Red, and Black I would leave at exactly 50/50. I’d up Green’s creature count to 60%. Those numbers seem fair to me.

What percentage of creatures to uncreatures will you have in your pool by color?

One of the things I did in my initial Abedraft was I kept out phasing (too complex for the children that would draft out of it), and both flanking and shadow (too powerful in environments that did not include them in large numbers).

In retrospect, I believe that was a flaw. Sure, Dauthi Horror can be good as an unblockable guy for two mana, but it’s very killable with its mighty one toughness, and Phantom Warrior is unblockable for three mana. It’s not like Dauthi Horror is so much more broken than Phantom Warrior.

As such, I’ve weakened on all three counts. Flanking is fine, phasing is fine, and shadow is fine. I’d even include Balduvian Shaman (which was previously the most exotic common and therefore removed from the process — but hey, it beats Fugitive Wizard or Merfolk of the Pearl Trident).

Are you going to censor any cards?

Now, once you’ve done all of that with your commons, you need to build your uncommon and rare pools.

In the past, I make sure my rares balanced out. I had a certain number of five-star, four-star, three-star, two-star, and one-star rares in each color. A Wrath of God might be a five-star card, whereas a Rune of Protection: Lands would be a one-star. Maybe I would have five of each in each color, or maybe I’d have a different breakdown. 3-8-8-4-2 was my previous breakdown.

You can do this with your rares with no problem, especially since you have a low number of rares. Your uncommons are more difficult to do that with. I recommend creating an uncommon pool and then have someone other than you go through and pull out the five most powerful cards in each color. You don’t want your uncommons burdened with the uber-broken Dauthi Embrace, for example.

Sure, you can jus toss your uncommons together and move out. However, if you are like me, then you enjoy creating this pool. You enjoy reading the percentages of cards over time, figuring out what percentage of your uncommons should be artifacts and gold cards, and so forth.

Okay, you should be done building your uncommon and rare pools, typically following the same philosophy you used for your commons.

How are you going to build your rare and uncommon pools?

Reasons Why You Should Build the Abedraft

Below I’ll list the reasons why you should do all of this.

1). It’s CASUAL LIMITED. This is a selling point that I used all the way back in my original article. This is a casual friendly form of Limited. Will tournament players enjoy the unusual cardpool? Of course they will. I mentioned how much fun we had at tournament with “create a pack.” However, it costs no money and you can play it as much as you want. That’s an amazing Limited format.

You can play this as often or as little as you desire, and you can build a box from your leftovers from packs, crap rare binders and whatnot. If you don’t have enough cards for an Abedraft, then don’t fret, because your playgroup almost certainly will.

2). It will make you a better player more quickly. I have seen players play multiplayer and slowly get better. I have seen players play in tournaments and get better at a solid pace. And I have seen players play Abedraft regularly and get a lot better quickly. In the pantheon, I think that multiplayer and other casual formats often times do not punish lazy play or lazy deckbuilding quickly enough.

If you play a game regularly, you should be getting better at it. Playing Abedraft will make you sharper much more quickly. Why Abedraft as opposed to other drafts? Other forms of drafting are good at getting your skill up, that’s true. However, they have two major flaws that Abedraft does not have.

First, they have an established environment that is already known. If you read the articles, you can discover what pros feel are the best bets from 9th-9th-9th or Ravnica Block Draft. Drafting then becomes a matter of recitation, with occasional but not common changes.

Second, once you figure out something in a normal format, it remains true. If I figure out how good Carven Caryatid is, or how bad Opal Caryatid is, then I remember that for the format. It stays the same, so there is nothing to redeem or make obsolete either card. Once I learn that one card is better than another, then it will almost always be true.

However, in Abedraft, that is no longer the case. Sure, there are autopicks like Fireball. If you see a Fireball then you take a Fireball. There are also going to be the occasional 15th picks as well. Rune of Protection: Land is not getting drafted early because it cycles. Unless you get an Astral Slide or Lightning Rift, when it raises in value significantly. That proves my point. Nothing in Urza’s Block raises the value of RoP: Land beyond a 15th pick, but it could be a higher pick with these cards printed years later.

3). You get to play with cards that you would not normally get to play with, otherwise. An example I gave in my original article is Rootwater Alligator. An example I might give today is of Living Airship or Scarwood Bandits.

There is nothing wrong with these cards. They are perfectly serviceable. Yet, they join the thousands of printed cards that are neither too good, nor too bad, neither too flavorful, nor too specific to be played. These cards simply don’t get played.

All of my Magic writing career I have been an advocate for the hordes of cards out here like these. (As you can see here or here, for example.)

This is just another opportunity to play around with cards that may be new to you. It’s a lot of fun!

4). This may be a corollary to the above. By playing with this vast diversity of cards, you will learn them better. This has several benefits. By learning the cards, you’ll find gems for your decks. Maybe there was a card that would be perfect for a deck you are building, but you had never even heard of it. Maybe a card inspires you to build a deck. The goal is to learn about older cards and make them yours.

There are other benefits to knowing these cards. It will make you a better Mental Magic player overnight, that’s for sure. It will also make your highlander deck building, when you want to build in as much redundancy as possible, better.

Plus, when you play Magic themed Circle of Death, you’ll be prepared.

5). After you build the pool, you can name it after yourself. Instead of Abedraft, it can be Whatzitdraft.

6). Because that way you will be able to fully understand next week’s article. Next week will be the second half of this article. I will go over formats you might want to try out with your pool. After all, if this article is a revamping of my very first article, then shouldn’t the next article be a revamp of my very second one?

And that’s a good place to close this article, actually. In about five minutes, I’ll begin writing the second half of this article, because I want to tackle it while it is still fresh in my mind. I’ll see you soon.

Until later,

Abe Sargent