The Kitchen Table #176 – Abedraft Revisited, Volume the Second

Do you like playing Limited but want a chance to play different formats? Are you tired of the same old Limited matches? Welcome to Casual Limited! Feel free to have a seat and relax, because we’ve been here all day and we’ve just got started.

Do you like playing Limited but want a chance to play different formats? Are you tired of the same old Limited matches? Welcome to Casual Limited! Feel free to have a seat and relax, because we’ve been here all day and we’ve just got started.

Last week I wrote an article revamping my first article for this site. In those articles, I outlined how you can create a draft box out of cards you already own to create a new format that is constantly changing.

It seems like every draft format over the past forever has been skewed one way or the other. Coldsnap is typically all about the snow. In Ravnica you had to draft a guild (or three guilds) and you had to know which color combinations were in all three sets. In Kamigawa block you had to pay attention to legendary permanents and spirits and arcane spells. In Mirrodin you had heavy artifact considerations to make. Before that you had to worry about creature type and an all creature set, and before that, you had to draft your graveyard and a Black heavy set followed by a Green and White heavy set, and before that you had a gold/multicolor heavy block (for the first time) to draft in. It’s been a long time since you actually drafted a normal set, although the recent set is at least closer.

Of course, even now you have to worry about tons of cards out of their normal color and such, so even this format ain’t that normal. If you want to draft expansion sets, then it has been years and years since there was a “normal” format. You could draft the basic set, of course, but that gets old because they are all cards you’ve seen and their interactions are known.

Enter Abedraft. By building a box of cards from all eras of Magic, you create a draft pool that is virtually infinite in its diversity. You also create a constantly changing environment. Your box can be a set of all cards ever made, or it could be a pool that you created.

Last week we talked about how to create that cardpool. This week I want to write about things you can actually do with said cardpool. Some of the formats I am about to mention you may have heard of before, and others may be new to you. So, without further ado, let’s head into the meat of today’s article:

Abedraft Format #1: A Simple Draft

This may be the obvious choice, but I wanted to get it out of the way. The initial Limited format that most people consider when analyzing Abedraft is a traditional draft structure. As such, I wanted to discuss that structure in brief now.

First, without anybody keeping the cards, there are no rare-drafters. This makes drafting a pure draft, which many people really like, because then Random McRaredrafter needs a new strategy. This alone is often enough for purists to really like this drafting method. Obviously in the later years, other draft formats like money draft have also fostered a rare-draft-less environment.

Another interesting thing is that you get an opportunity to reviews the old cards with all of your secret knowledge intact. By secret knowledge, I’m not talking about spies or gurus, but instead about all of the accumulated knowledge that you have gained over the years, often by playing Abedraft itself. You have an idea of what works and how. You can find hidden combos that others may miss.

For example, in a recent draft, I grabbed a Red/Black deck that featured a Flowstone Armor, Serrated Arrows, Infused Arrows, Viashino Fangtail, and Plague Witch. Although the individual cards had some value, the combination of all of those withering effects and the Tim was really potent. All of those cards were passed through several players before I grabbed any of them. The three artifacts could have easily been taken by other players. I “opened” the Flowstone Armor but passed it for a Dark Banishing. Imagine how happy I was to get it back!

That’s the beauty of the format. You can use all of the knowledge that you have from years of playing Magic to help you analyze the cards and the situation.

Thus, the drafting experience is certainly similar to what you have done before, but certainly not identical by any means.

Abedraft Format #2: Rochester Draft

Rochester Draft has fallen by the wayside in recent years, which is a shame. To this day, Rochester Draft is my favorite Limited format. Since an entire pack is flipped up, everybody knows what you are drafting. If your deck is too powerful, they’ll hate draft you. You never need to worry about signal crossing, but you need to worry about everything else. The person who sits across from you is drafting his deck in front of you. You know you are playing him, so taking cards that will really hurt him is worth it.

In this format, Rochester Draft becomes a lot of fun. Some players will have to read the funky cards that you flipped over. Everybody gets a chance to laugh, criticize, or lampoon the rare that gets revealed. This draft format is innately fun, and Rochester Drafting it seems like a natural fit. You are combined Casual Limited and multiplayer visible draft. They are each other’s lobsters.

I’m not going to spend too much more time on this format. We’ve got some funky formats coming up soon, and I want to get to them. Besides, Rochester is a fairly well known format, so there’s only so much you can say about it.

Abedraft Format #3: Multiplayer Abedraft

This is sort of a side format. In this format, you are going to play multiplayer after you draft. As a result, your valuations of cards change. Cards like Terror and Counterspell, while still good, are much less so, while cards like Unnerve, Disenchant, and Dwarven Demolition Team are increased in value.

The basic principle is simple. The more players you are facing, the more likely they are to have a specific type of card that your limited removal can hit. Take the aforementioned DDT (Dwarven Demolition Team). If you are playing one player in a draft, what is the likelihood that this one player will have even drafted a wall, much less decide to play it? It’s probably not that high. However, if you are going up against four or five players, then the likelihood that DDT will have tasty targets increases. This is true for tons of permanents from flyers to non-basic lands to artifacts and enchantments. Those cards rise in value.

Meanwhile, cards that are normally golden with a one-for-one trade like Counterspell are weakened because your opponent’s are outdrawing you every time. Four opponents mean that they draw four cards every turn, when you draw just one. One-for-one trades, while still helpful in a pinch, aren’t as good.

Of course, some cards are just better in a multiplayer format. Unnerve and Cackling Fiend, for example, force all of your opponents to discard, thereby making them better in group games. Just a few weeks ago, someone first picked Congregate, which I won’t quibble with, since in multiplayer that one card is often like three or four Time Walks. That’s the beauty of this format.

As you keep reading, you’ll note that some formats will be more multiplayer friendly that others. Certainly the aforementioned formats are fine in a multiplayer setting.

Abedraft Format #4: Backdraft

In this format, you draft the cards, and then hand them to your opponent to build a deck out of, while they do the same for you. The idea is to draft the worst possible deck.

This is the only format where a Mudhole is a first pick guaranteed. Things you want to avoid are creatures, no matter how bad, and removal. It’s fine to load up on combat tricks like Giant Growth and Infuse if you skimp on the creatures and the removal. Other cards, like Fact or Fiction, depend on the quality of the deck in order to be good. If all they have is crap, then it doesn’t matter how much they dig into their deck. On the other hand, if you were 15th picked a broken card like an X spell, then you’d best be leaving the Fact or Fictions for someone else to take.

Please note that although the first two formats mentioned above are compatible with the third, this one really isn’t. Sure, I guess you could hand your draft to the left or some such, but it’s probably a pretty poor choice on a regular basis.

One of the things that makes Backdraft so interesting is that there is often a lot of crap in Abedraft from times of yore. Flip over something truly “special” like Mana Matrix or Delif’s Cube and just amaze yourself at what used to pass for acceptable cards. Cards like these are the foundation of a good Backdraft. (One irony of the format is that a card with the same name as the format, Backdraft, is a good choice to pick first or at least early. Backdraft the format makes Backdraft the card good.)

As a variant of a normal draft, Backdraft is simple enough to comprehend so I’ll move on to another draft format.

Abedraft Format #5: Anaconda Draft

My second favorite draft format after Rochester Draft is Anaconda Draft, which has also fallen out of favor recently. When is the last time you’ve seen a store do an Anaconda Draft? (Seriously, post in the forums. I’d love to know if your store has done one in say, the last year or so.)

In Anaconda Draft, you begin by drafting like normal. At any time you can put back into the pack a card you have already drafted in order to take an additional card, and you may do this as many times as you have cards.

The easy thing this is used for is taking multiple good cards from a pack in your colors when you open it. If you are drafting Blue/Green and you open a Phantom Monster and an Exile, you won’t have to choose when to take, you can grab them both by tossing in any card you’ve already drafted.

At first, it seems like an easy format to get your head around, but it isn’t. There are numerous Anaconda Draft strategies. For example, you might want to cut off a color in a pack so that no one else will be drafting it. Or you might decide to change colors in the second pack when you open up a pack with some serious Blue goods. Toss your adequate Red stuff in for these hot Blue cards. Then the player next to you sees these Red goods. He passed those cards your way last pack, so what does that mean? Someone downstream with Red may see these solid Red cards and grab them all by tossing in their chaff.

Of course, you can also grab extra cards by tossing chaff that isn’t chaff. I remember once first picking a Might Sliver and a couple other cards in the second pack after taking an early Muscle Sliver in the first pack. Then, someone passed the bad Hivestone. I let it circle while taking good cards, and then grabbed the Hivestone late. Then, in the third pack, I opened another sliver (Can’t remember which one, but it wasn’t great or anything). I grabbed that sliver, tossed the Hivestone in, grabbed something good, and then watched as the Hivestone circled again, and took it at the next opportunity. No one knew its value to me, so I was able to use it in a later pack to essentially get a free good card.

Anaconda draft really messes with signaling, but it is very generous if you get your signals wrong, because you will have a chance to slide into something better for your deck. It’s also forgiving of the “bad pack.” We’ve all cracked a bad pack, or had a bad pack passed to us early. We end up taking a much weaker card and then sighing inwardly. In this format, that’s not as big of a deal. You can use the crappy card to toss into a pack with better goods.

One of the beauties of Anaconda Draft in combination with Abedraft is that it has some of the same interesting combinations that Backdraft has with Abedraft. Namely, the quality of the cards, or lack thereof, can really be funny when combined with the Anaconda Draft. After all, putting the Lifelace, Chimney Imp and Price of Progress into the draft again and taking out real cards that have some value is a lot of fun. If you get stuck with a card in the first or second pack, don’t worry, because you will stick someone else with it. Sometimes you’ll see the very same card in all 45 picks, and it’s really funny (It goes 15th in one pack, gets sent back in during the first pick in the second pack, makes it to 15, then repeats in the third pack). It becomes the mascot of our draft for a few weeks (“Better hope you don’t open up another Timesifter, Bob!”)

Abedraft Format #6: The Auction

I went back to Charleston for a few months to take an internship with the Senate. While I was there, I exposed the local players to the Abedraft boxes, and an auction format. The auction became so popular that the locals referred to the auction itself as Abedraft, not to the collection of cards.

Limited format auctions work simply. You grant each player a certain number of points – say 100. Then you reveal cards equal to the appropriate number of cards per person (three packs worth, which is one rare, three uncommons, and eleven commons). Then you simply go one card at a time. A player reveals a card, then if there is no bidding, that player gets the card, otherwise it goes to the highest bidder.

This will usually result in some players having more cards than others. That’s fine, as long as everybody can build a deck with what they have.

Now, there are two ways you can do the auction. In the first way, you flip up every card and then have someone choose a card to bid on. Thus, all 45 cards per person are flipped and then the person with the highest roll on a die selects a card. If no one bids on that card, then they get it. Otherwise the card goes to the highest bidder and then the next person chooses a card.

With this version of the format, you have perfect information. As such, you can plan ahead and know exactly what is out there. However, your group can’t be much larger than four or so for you to use this version.

A sub-version has everybody flip their first pack at once. Then the highest roller chooses a card and the auction goes through the first pack entirely before going through the second, and then the third. This sub-version introduces a degree of randomness to the first and second packs, because you won’t know what’s flipped. Because the number of cards flipped is reduced by a third, a larger group can handle this.

Another way to do the auction is to flip up cards randomly. This version best represents an actual draft, where you do not know much beyond what you have already seen in the draft thus far. In this case, you are all leaning on luck. If you run out of dough early, you have to hope that a great card isn’t flipped in your colors.

I find that the last format tends to reward the player who holds their money too much, allowing them to snipe the good stuff that is revealed late. As a result, I prefer either of the face up formats.

In these formats, you are operating with a lot of healthy information, and can make more informed choices. There’s a ton of strategy involved. For example, I would always lead with one of the best cards in a color, but not the best card itself. Something that would could not easily splash, but had to commit to the color to play. Maybe it would be something like a Shower of Coals or an Hour of Reckoning. I would nominate that card, and then steer clear of the bidding. People want to get a color, and they want to get powerful spells. There is a tendency for them to overbid for the first few cards, so I give them cards to do that with. Hour and Shower of Coals are both great spells, but they aren’t worth spending a large chunk of your money on. I rarely spend more than 12 or so on anything, except the top spells in that color, and even then, I won’t spend too much. Flip a Damnation, and I might go to 15, but that’s about it.

There is a strategy involved and it changes based on what cards are flipped. I like having the cards face up, because it reminds me of Rochester Draft. Rochester Draft has a lot of things going for it with the Abedraft collection, including having everybody see the cool obscure or old cards at the same time. It’s a shared experience that is a lot of fun, and hard to duplicate. A face up auction and Rochester are about the only ways to do so.

Consider an auction the next time you have some cards sitting around, or better yet, if you have built your own card pool last week. It’s a nice change of pace, and the strategic decisions are similar enough to draft so that you are not left abandoned while being dissimilar enough to be a new experience.

Abedraft Format #7: Shandalar

I first wrote about Shandalar in my second article for this site. I wrote about it again last year. This is a good opportunity to give it another plug in a useful location.

Shandalar is a casual format / league thing that tries to recreate the playing experience in Shandalar, the Magic: the Gathering game developed by MicroProse and Sid Meier back in the 90’s.

In that game, you would begin with a lousy group of cards that you could only loosely refer to as a “deck.” I remember once getting a deck with a Celestial Prism, a single Island, and an Island Fish Jasconius as my only Blue card (which costs three Blue mana). You then had to slowly build your deck up through winning or losing ante, buying cards at villages, and coming across random spots on the ground.

This was a campaign game with an overland map. You had to move about the land, completing tasks, establishing mana links, collecting crystals and such. As you did these tasks, you had to fend off the minions of five evil Magic Overlords. These minions would duel you with their own deck. Each of these decks were a theme deck built around the person playing the theme. For example, an Ape Lord played a Green/Red deck that had, among other cards, Kird Apes. The Green/Red creature could follow you into Mountains and Forests in the game, but into the other three land types.

The large number of foes could be staggering. Each color featured numerous foes with mono-colored theme decks. The Nether Fiend had a Lord of the Pit/Nether Shadow deck, while the Goblin Lord featured Goblin King and the in print goblins.

As you adventured, winning or losing ante, you came across villages, which would have a random four or six cards at the start of the game that you could buy, but were never replaced. You also came across random places in the game that might give you a card at random, or may have a duel over a large hoard of cards (three or so), might have a bazaar where you could buy cards, and so forth.

Later you could delve into dungeons and try to get the unique cards, like the Moxen or a Balance or even a Black Lotus and an Ancestral Recall.

They even had a twelve card set called the Astral Set that included cards with a random factor. My favorite is Necropolis of Azar, although most probably liked Whimsy*.

The essence of Shandalar was its organic nature. Over time you got to see your Magic collection and deck evolve, and it was a wondrous thing. As such, my friends and I created an environment using the Abedraft cards to recreate Shandalar.

Now, I’m not going to go into too much detail here. After all, I wrote an article on this topic just a year ago or so, as I linked to above.

Shandalar the Format features several key components:

1) A minor draft. This is a draft of two packs. The lower number of packs represents the poorer quality of the card pool at the time and in your deck. You then begin to play

2) Ante. You always play for ante. If you win a match against someone else, (not a game but a match) in addition to the ante, you get one random pull from the commons pool. This was represented in the game by you regularly winning multiple cards in ante. The winner of the evening gets a random pull from the uncommons pool.

3) The meta-draft. At the beginning of each Shandalar session, the players Rochester draft a number of cards equal to the number of players times three. The player with the lowest standing the previous play sessions gets to go first in the next meta-draft.

4) The addition. Once per gaming session, each player may announce that they are adding any one common of their choice to their deck. I can add a Lightning Bolt or a Counterspell or whatever to my deck.

5) The put back. This was created to make the card pools manageable. At any time, a player may put back five commons, five uncommons or five rares to get a random pull from that pool.

As you can see, the deck evolves over time, often in new ways that we may not have expected. Aggro becomes control, combos are discovered, and the format stays fresh. Check out the article I mentioned above, it goes through a sample Shandalar draft.

Abedraft Format #8: Magicshop

I saved the best for last. Like Shandalar, I wrote about this format in my second ever article, and then revised it in 2003. Here is a quote from that article I want to make sure you read:

I would revise that statement today to read that I have never come across a better environment than Shop. Everybody has a Magic playing experience that they think of as their best. Maybe it was in your first month playing, or when you won your first tournament, or when you got your Pro Tour pin at a qualifier.

For me, my best experience was playing Magicshop. As such, allow me to introduce you to the best playing experience I have ever had.

Magicshop shares some features with Shandalar. Games are played for ante and the format is sort of a league for casual players. However, there are many differences.

You will begin with five packs of random from the cardpool. Then you will need to use your cards to build a sixty-card deck. That’s right – sixty cards, not forty. It really stretches your deck out. At any time you may mulligan your cardpool. If you lose a ton of cards in ante or your get the suck, feel free to mulligan and start over.

After that, you will need to keep track of your money. Every time you win, you get at least a buck. Every time you lose, you get fifty cents. You also get a point for winning.

It’s possible you’ll get more or less money. As people gain points for winning, you’ll quickly see who the harder players are or who has the better decks. In order to give you an incentive to play them, we create magic formulas.

If a player has a lot of points more than you, you should get more than a buck for winning, right? You should also get more than a single point, right? In Shop, you are rewards for the big take down. If that person has at least ten more points than you do, then you get an extra dollar and an extra point for knocking them down.

My format used to have more formulas than that, but I’ll keep it simple for now. You may desire to tweak those numbers over time.

Points are used to show the difference between players. Money is used to buy more cards. $3 can be exchanged for another “pack” of cards to be added from Abedraft to your pool.

When I originally introduced Magicshop in my second article, it was using an Abedraft cardpool, but in its other article it talks about levels and various card packs you can buy and whatnot. When using this format with Abedraft, ignore all of that, fun though it may be. You just focus on winning those antes and getting more cards.

With that, another article comes to a close. I hope that you enjoyed this venture down Memory Lane as well as reading about eight formats from the common to the esoteric. Hopefully you built a cardpool last week, and are now ready to try out some of these formats. If not, then my next hope is that seeing these formats will encourage you to build your own cardpool. If you do, I suspect you will have as much fun as I and many others have had over the years.

Until later,

Abe Sargent

* – Necropolis of Azar was a Black enchantment that would get husk counters when a nontoken creature you controlled went to the graveyard. You could spend some mana to remove a husk token and make a Gravespawn token with a random power between 1-3 and a random defense between 1-3 and Swampwalk. Whimsy was a sorcery that cost two Blue mana and X. It would do X number of special effects. A special effect was any effect coded into a game, so one set to three could be a Lightning Bolt, a Healing Salve, and a Greed activation. You never knew, and it was a ton of fun.