It’s been more than two and a half years since Grid Drafting and Tenchester Drafting were presented to the Cube community. For the uninitiated, these two formats were designed to avoid some of the problems attributed to small-player-number formats like Winston and Winchester. Both Grid Drafting and Tenchester continue to see play among Cubers (the former more than the latter), and continued play by community members has revealed ways each format could be improved.
The Tenchester format was designed as a for player draft format, with the intention to allow players to build high-powered focused cube decks. Its rules are fairly simple:
• Make 36 10-card packs.
• Lay out the first pack. The first player picks a card, then each player follows in turn. After all players have selected a card, discard the remaining six cards and lay out a new pack.
• The person who selected last in the previous pack selects first in this pack. Continue drafting in the same direction.
• Continue until all packs have been drafted.
Although I really liked the format when I first created it, my interest soured quickly. The problem? Tenchester Drafting, as originally conceived, took forever. With 4 picks each from 36 packs, the players had to sit through 144 total picks. This dynamic is okay for the occasional Rotisserie Draft, but it wasn’t ideal for the spirit of Tenchester Drafting. Besides, there were clunky rules about changing the rotational order that were a hassle to track, and the whole concept needed a redesign.
A community member found an answer.
Basically, there was no compelling reason to have the cards laid out on the table. Why not let each player hold packs like in regular drafts, and pass them around the table? With that in mind, I propose a new set of Tenchester rules:
• Make 36 10-card packs.
• Each player takes a pack, selects a card, and passes the remaining 9 cards to their left, continued until each player has taken a card from each pack.
• Then, pass the 6-card packs to the drafter who started with them. Drafters can then examine the pack’s contents before discarding them. (They do not select a second card from the pack).
• Each player takes a new pack, and the order of drafting is reversed.
• Continue until all packs have been drafted.
These updates maintain the spirit of the original format while alleviating its biggest flaw. The rules as presented above were written for a four-player configuration, but obviously can be adapted for other player counts. (For 5 drafters, for example, draft with 35 packs).
• Start with 18 packs of 9 cards.
• For each pack, lay it out in a 3×3 grid face up (just lay them out in order, don’t look at the cards and decide where each one should go).
• The first player takes a row or column.
• The second player takes a remaining row or column. Discard the undrafted cards (which will be 3 or 4 cards per pack).
• Alternate who goes first each pack.
Grid Drafting had a lot going for it. The drafting process is elegant and easy to explain, and since all information is public, the social dynamic of drafting with a friend works well.
One problem: the decks Grid produced were still fairly clunky. Not Winston or Winchester clunky, but clunky nonetheless. But how do we improve it?
The more I ran two-player drafts, the more I got the feeling that five colors is simply too many to divvy up between two players. Why not try removing one?
I wasn’t sure if it would work, and it’s hard to appreciate the difference until you see it in action.
Magic with 4 Colors
As initial proof of concept, let’s take a look at a couple of decks from the first two 4-color grid drafts I did.
What do you notice? They look like real Cube decks! These aren’t random piles, these are fully functioning archetypes!
After a few test drafts, I created an updated ruleset for 4-color Grid drafts. Modifications:
• Pick a color to omit from the draft, and remove all spells and lands associated with that color. This isn’t the place to dig into color identity issues, but I opt to still include cards like Tasigur, the Golden Fang if either green or blue are omitted from the card pool. You can remove these cards before shuffling, or replace them in the grid whenever one pops up.
• Make 16 packs instead of 18. With fewer colors, we require fewer picks to pull together a coherent deck.
As a last optional step, I make sure that each of the six shocklands are guaranteed to be in the packs. My Cube runs a high density of fetchlands, and I want to make sure each color combination has at least one fetchable land in the packs. (Note that this requires a bit of extra work for paper drafting. These days I Cube draft almost exclusively on MTGO, and have written a program that will create the packs for me automatically. I’ll discuss MTGO drafting in a future article, but for now, here’s an example of an automatically-generated 4-color Grid draft with black cards removed).
The 4-color grid draft format has some interesting properties: first, the draft has a very different feel depending on which color is omitted from the card pool. Secondly, with one fewer color, the players compete more with each other over cards. The average deck from this format seems to be two colors with a splash (give or take half a color), and so far there has always been some overlap between the two players in the color pie. Lastly, the mana bases are far more functional in 4-color drafting since it’s far easier to find on-color lands.
Let’s see a 4-color grid draft in action. As a warning, the list I’m running is non-singleton.
4-Color, Nongreen Grid Drafting in Action
My opponent Aston wins the roll and takes the right column.
The left column looks nice for a controlling build, but I’d rather keep my options open and take the column with the land. There’s an argument for taking Consuming Vapors and Badlands, but I think it’s best in the beginning to take 3-card picks to give yourself multiple directions to go.
The right column gives me a very aggressive angle to combine with my early Blood Artist, but I’m more inclined to follow the blue control cards from pack 2 and snap off two fetchlands for my deck.
Okay, what a pack. There are arguments to be made for nearly every configuration here, but I’m drawn to the middle row and middle column. I believe that Ludevic’s Test Subject is criminally underrated, and given that he’s leaning aggro, I’d love an early blocker that doubles as a win condition.
Grave Titan is a major haymaker, but I’ve received the good fortune of finding my Cube’s other Delver of Secrets nestled up with its best friend, Brainstorm, and Brainstorm’s best friend: a fetchland.
The Thought Scour temps me, as it combines perfectly with my Jace and Brainstorm, and can even be used to clear away an unwanted card in response to a Delver reveal. I’m almost certain Aston will take the right column, so there’s an argument for taking the middle row to keep Aston off Mother of Runes. I opt for the middle column, but I’m still not sure it’s the correct play.
I’ve gotten rather fortunate here. In our 8-player drafts, the Brainstorms typically get taken by 3-5 different players, but with Aston seemingly shying away from blue, he’s given me access to another one. I don’t get the feeling that the cards that he took were of incredibly high value to his deck, and here might have been a chance for him to hate draft, but I’ll take the cards if they’re given.
This pack has a lot going on. Sphere of the Suns, Sphinx’s Revelation, Day of Judgment, and Jace, Architect of Thought are all high priority targets. In these kinds of decks, I’m always wary of overloading on 4-drops, and unfortunately I don’t have the option of taking Jace and Sphere together. So far my color commitments are fairly undefined with a smattering of white and blue cards to support my primary blue spells. Sphere helps my fixing, while taking Day of Judgment and Student of Warfare serves to combat and cut off Aston’s white aggressive angle.
(But I wouldn’t fault anyone for taking the bottom row, middle row, or right column.)
I really wanted the bottom row, as Fettergeist is the perfect card for my creature-light build against his aggro cards. Even without the Fettergeist, Vampiric Tutor and Conundrum Sphinx further push the top-of-library theme of my deck. There’s an argument for the Steam Vents, but that’s fairly speculative compared to the guaranteed value of the Conundrum Sphinx.
Okay, I wasn’t lying when I said this was a non-singleton Cube. That said, a typical Grid draft with my Cube would only expect to see 2 Brainstorms, and here come numbers 3 and 4. This one picks itself.
Way back in pack 1 I took a Badlands to keep myself open. In pack 12 it pays dividents. Bonfire of the Damned is insane in my deck, and even if I play no other red cards, I am perfectly set up to trigger miracles on demand. My picks contain 3 Brainstorms, a Vampiric Tutor, and a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The only question is whether to snag a fifth fetchland or deny my opponent access to a second Wasteland. If I’m dipping into a third (or fourth) color, I need my mana to work, and him getting more land destruction hurts me more than me getting additional fixing.
Scroll Rack would add to my bounty of cards that manipulate the top of the library, but I already have a bounty of library manipulation. What I need are ways to get on the board against his deck.
This one also picks itself, and the red splash is looking more and more promising.
Options galore. The initial knee-jerk reaction is to take the left column, with three on-color cards. Memory Lapse and Tezzeret’s Gambit are fairly marginal, and my highest priority cards are Vampire Nighthawk and Watery Grave. My deck is loaded with sources of life loss (Dark Confidant, Vampiric Tutor, Bitterblossom, Phyrexian Arena, Serendib Efreet), and is facing down an aggro deck. Yet, I am primarily blue/black and have yet to get a blue/black fetchable as a target for my fetchlands. I could see the left column, middle row, or middle column as viable options, but ultimately the deciding factor is: what do I deny Aston?
Here’s what I assembled, Grixis Miracles:
The viewers in my stream were giving me grief for playing Temporal Mastery and Dark Confidant in the same deck, but with the curve otherwise topping out at 4, I think it’s collateral damage I’m willing to accept. The mana base was a bit optimistic. I had four fetchlands that could grab Badlands, and a Sphere of the Suns, but my opponent played Wasteland and Avalanche Riders. Casting my first red spell was generally a non-issue, but I probably should have included a basic Mountain in the main to protect myself from Wasteland.
We played two close matches, with me coming out ahead 2-1 in each.
Highlight of the Night
I find myself in the following board state:
End of turn, I Vampiric Tutor for Brainstorm. Cast the Brainstorm in my main phase, finding two lands and a Falkenrath Aristocrat. Put back Bonfire of the Damned with Temporal Mastery on top of it, and steal Soulfire Grand Master.
Next turn, I miracle Temporal Mastery and play Falkenrath Aristocrat, attacking for 6.
On my extra turn, miracle Bonfire of the Damned for 5, gaining 15 life off of my stolen Soulfire Grand Master.
In a later game…
Many Cubers have never seen Ludevic’s Test Subject in action, but it’s pretty spectacular. In the above image, it has spent the whole game fending off the opposing Thalia, and right now looks fairly unassuming with a single counter. But from here I am already set up to flip it next turn. You don’t have to invest a lot into the card until you’re ready to flip it. Try it!
As always, thanks for reading!
Jason’s Cube Draft Discussion site: http://riptidelab.com/forum/