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Introducing Augmented Draft

Warning! This is a Magic: The Gathering-related post, so those of you not interested in my random hobby need not read further. (Well, not much further, since I ended up putting a writing update next. For those wondering, I’m currently doing the last revisions on Firefight—sequel to Steelheart—and working on the sequel to The Rithmatist. I’m still planning to start Stormlight Three, Stones Unhallowed, late summer. Follow along on the progress bars!)

As many of you know, I like to play Magic at conventions, and drafting is my favorite format. Drafting does a good job evening the playing field, and the one-on-one games tend to go quickly enough that I have a chance to play against a lot of different people. It’s really nice to be able to do something with readers other than sit across a table from them and sign their books.

We commonly set up a drafts as one of my events at a convention—and come Westercon this July, I’m going to make certain I’m doing at least one draft. Lately, I’ve been looking for a way to make these games a little more unique and fun. During a previous tour, I brought Archenemy and played games with fans after signings—challenging them to gang up against me. That was a blast, but wasn’t very balanced, and got old fairly quickly.

And so, I’ve been developing a new format, and we’re going to be trying it out at my convention appearances during the next year. (In the next twelve months, I should be making it to Calgary, London, Minneapolis, Kansas City, the United Arab Emirates, Avilés Spain, Atlanta, New York, Chattanooga, and Washington D.C. at the very least.) The goal is to do a standard draft—but with a twist. I’m calling it Augmented Draft, and I sure wouldn’t mind the help of Magic players out there to help me refine the format.

The great news is that Wizards of the Coast is going to be sending me prizes to give away at these Augmented Drafts, so we should have a very fun time.

The Pitch

I’m very excited about the draft-altering cards from Conspiracy (see them here on the Wizards site) which came out last week. I’ve heard a lot of people wishing they could do something more with these cards after playing a draft, and I was planning to add a few to my cube. However, traveling to conventions with my cube is next to impossible—the cube is too big and far too valuable. Beyond that, I really like drafting the new Magic sets when they come out, and conventions are one of the places where I get to do this. What I wanted was a way to do the newest sets, but add a little bit of cub fun to the draft.

I started thinking about how [card]Dragon’s Maze[/card] replaced the basic land with mana fixing, and how Conspiracy is replacing the land with a draft-altering card. It seems like it would be very possible to mimic this effect in any draft by just tossing out the land and replacing it with a random card from a cube designed for the purpose. This would require building a “mini-cube” of about sixty to seventy cards, which I could then bring to drafts. When everyone opens their packs, they toss out the basic land and then draw a random card from the mini-cube to add to the pack. (And if the set we’re drafting already has a land replacement built-in, we would just add a card anyway and have sixteen per pack instead of fifteen.)

I think the idea has a lot of potential. Using the Conspiracy draft-altering cards is one way to go, but that seems only the beginning of where Augmented Draft could go. One could build a mini-cube full of mana fixing and see how a draft format changes when you make playing four or five colors viable. You could build one full of favorite “build-around” cards that would benefit from common mechanics (mill, lifegain, defender matters) and see if you can build [card]Spider Spawning[/card] or Walls.deck in Theros. Stick a few “creature type matters” cards and all the changelings together, and see what tribes are viable in a set when they have extra support.

Obviously, this isn’t something to do with every draft. But for me someone like myself looking to add spice to drafts, I think this fits the bill. Having a few mini-cubes lying around could help keep formats from going stale—and if you’ve been thinking of building a cube, but are daunted by the scope of the project, putting together a sixty card mini-cube for Augmented Drafts could be a good way to start.

The Problem

The idea is not without its wrinkles. The biggest one is sleeves. If I’m going to bring a set of sixty cards to a draft and add them to the packs, will I take them out of the sleeves for drafting? If so, they’ll get worn over time, and become marked cards anyway. So it might be best to a stack of sleeves to be used in play by those who didn’t bring their own. It’s kind of clunky, but I’m not sure if there’s a better way. (Perhaps someone reading has a suggestion here.)

In addition, sets designed by Wizards are carefully playtested—and so throwing in something like a lot of dual lands could completely break a format in half. Worse, building a mini-cube full of powerful cards could “over-bomb” a format, and risk making it unfun. (Of course, some playgroups may love the idea of everyone opening an extra bomb rare each pack.) Finally, it seems like a poorly balanced mini-cube could reward only one play style, to the detriment of others.

I think overcoming the problems will be worth the effort, but obviously this format won’t be for everyone. For now, though, I’m going to be bringing one of the following mini-cubes with me to my convention appearances over the next year. At each event, we’ll probably run two pods (groups of eight) with one group drafting straight, no alterations, and the other playing Augmented Draft—then I’ll solicit feedback on what worked and what didn’t.

So come see me, play with the mini-cubes, win some prizes courtesy of Wizards of the Coast, and help me figure out how to make this format better!

CUBE #1: Conspiracy Mini Cube (60 cards)

This is the most obvious of the three mini cubes I’ve built for testing. I’ve started simple, adding all of the “draft changing” artifacts and conspiracies from the set, included in a 1-rare, 2-uncommon, 4-common distribution. This means that in a given draft, two of each common will show up, one of each uncommon, and half of the rares. (But, of course, because it’s randomized, we could get four of a given common and none of another.)

With playtesting, I foresee adding in a few more of the fun rares and dropping quantity on some of the commons if they end up going last pick fairly often. But we will see how it plays.

(34 Conspiracies)
2 x [card]Advantageous Proclamation[/card]
1 x [card]Backup Plan[/card]
4 x [card]Brago’s Favor[/card]
2 x [card]Double Stroke[/card]
4 x [card]Immediate Action[/card]
2 x [card]Iterative Analysis[/card]
4 x [card]Muzzio’s Preparations[/card]
2 x [card]Power Play[/card]
2 x [card]Secret Summoning[/card]
4 x [card]Secrets of Paradise[/card]
4 x [card]Sentinel Dispatch[/card]
2 x [card]Unexpected Potential[/card]
1 x [card]Worldknit[/card]

(25 Creatures)
1 x [card]Æther Searcher[/card]
2 x [card]Agent of Acquisitions[/card]
1 x [card]Canal Dredger[/card]
1 x [card]Cogwork Grinder[/card]
4 x [card]Cogwork Librarian[/card]
4 x [card]Cogwork Spy[/card]
2 x [card]Cogwork Tracker[/card]
1 x [card]Deal Broker[/card]
1 x [card]Lore Seeker[/card]
4 x [card]Lurking Automaton[/card]
4 x [card]Whispergear Sneak[/card]

(1 Land)
1 x [card]Paliano, the High City[/card]

CUBE #2: Good Fixin’ Mini Cube (66 cards)

Here is a stab at the dual-lands mini-cube, which can turn any draft format into a multi-color set! I feel that that adding good fixing risks help control decks more than fast decks, so to compensate I added in the painlands—to give aggro decks access to fixing that control decks won’t want—and wastelands to help the one and two color decks punish those who stretch their mana base. With playtesting, we’ll see if some fulimator mages or other nonbasic land hate is needed to help balance things.

3 of each guildgate
2 of each “painland” like [card]Sulfurous Springs[/card]
1 of each Ravnica block shockland
1 x [card]Maze’s End[/card]
4 x [card]Wasteland[/card]
1 x [card]From the Ashes[/card]

CUBE #3: Mini Uncube (72 cards)

With the uncube, I wanted to be careful to include a wide variety of silver-bordered cards that would complement a variety of playstyles. Some aggressively costed creatures with silly drawbacks, some build-around-me cards, some fatties, some bizarre randomizing effects, and some skill testers. I stayed away from the “gotcha” mechanic and its cousins, as well as cards that felt too powerful ([card]Frazzled Editor[/card]) or discouraged fun gameplay. Any card that seems like it will inspire a chuckle, or one that changes the game in an odd—yet strategic—way, was top on my list for inclusion.

White (12 cards)
[card]Knight of the Hokey Pokey[/card]
[card]Staying Power[/card]
[card]Look at me, I’m R&D[/card]
[card]Cheap Ass[/card]
[card]Frankie Peanuts[/card]
[card]Mesa chicken[/card]
[card]Fascist Art Director[/card]
[card]Ladies’ Knight[/card]
[card]Prismatic Wardrobe[/card]
[card]Circle of Protection: Art[/card]

Blue (12 Cards)
[card]Loose Lips[/card]
[card]Richard Garfield, Ph.D.[/card]
[card]Greater Morphling[/card]
[card]Magical Hacker[/card]
[card]Carnivorous Death-Parrot[/card]
[card]Fowl Play[/card]
[card]Avatar of Me[/card]
[card]Double Header[/card]

Black (12 cards)
[card]Infernal Spawn of Evil[/card]
[card]Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil[/card]
[card]Vile Bile[/card]
[card]Mother of Goons[/card]
[card]Tainted Monkey[/card]
[card]ZZZyxas’s Abyss[/card]
[card]Bad Ass[/card]
[card]The Fallen Apart[/card]
[card]Phyrexian Librarian[/card]
[card]When Fluffy Bunnies Attack[/card]

Red (12 cards)
[card]Blast from the Past[/card]
[card]Yet another Aether Vortex[/card]
[card]Strategy, Schmategy[/card]
[card]Pygmy Giant[/card]
[card]Goblin Tutor[/card]
[card]The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service[/card]
[card]Hurloon Wrangler[/card]
[card]Curse of the Fire Penguin[/card]
[card]Spark Fiend[/card]
[card]Goblin S.W.A.T. Team[/card]
[card]Orcish Paratroopers[/card]

Green (12 cards)
[card]Old Fogey[/card]
[card]Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental[/card]
[card]Symbol Status[/card]
[card]Fat Ass[/card]
[card]Monkey Monkey Monkey[/card]
[card]Squirrel Farm[/card]
[card]Mine, Mine, Mine![/card]
[card]Elvish House Party[/card]
[card]Elvish Impersonators[/card]

Colorless (8 cards)
[card]Giant Fan[/card]
[card]Chaos Confetti[/card]
[card]City of Ass[/card]
[card]Water Gun Balloon Game[/card]
[card]Bronze Calendar[/card]
[card]Ashnod’s Coupon[/card]
[card]Toy Boat[/card]
[card]My First Tome[/card]

Multicolor (4 cards)
[card]Ass Whuppin[/card]
[card]”Ach! Hans, Run!”[/card]
[card]Meddling Kids[/card]

A Final Word and a Request

We’re going to start there, though eventually I’d like to build a Mistborn-themed mini-cube. This would require me to pick existing Magic cards that I feel represent characters or concepts from the books, then get them altered by a talented artist to depict the characters. That way, we could play any draft set with a few Mistborn running around as well. For this, I’d like to hear your suggestions to help me decide which cards to pick! Feel free to email me, but do keep the following guidelines in mind:

Existing Magic cards only. (Not ones you’ve made up.) I’d prefer to use cards Wizards has already playtested for this idea, as the mini-cube already has power-balance issues.

Speaking of Power balance, try to make the cards good in draft—but not overbearing. Stay away from [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] or [card]Pack Rat[/card], and instead look toward strong but beatable cards like [card]Jace Beleren[/card] or [card]Mirri the Cursed[/card].

Look for cards that will play well in any set.

I’d love to hear your suggestions here, or on this thread on the forums.

In addition, if any of you build mini-cubes of your own, I’d love to hear about your experiences playtesting them and doing Augmented Drafts. What’s your work-around for the sleeves issue? How many cards do you find optimal in a mini-cube, and what styles of mini-cube have you tried?

As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to drafting with you in the future!!

Brandon Sanderson

|   Castellano