This past week, I had the privilege of sharing a ten person pod with Hipster’s own Hunter Slaton. Those who read his article know that he had a less-than-pleasant experience. I was looking forward to another match against the talented Limited master, but unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards. He and I shall cross swords another time, if not at the store, then in Team Draft League.

How did I fare? I was two seats to Hunters’ left, so I was seeing most of the cards he was seeing and almost all of his signals. My experience, and deck, were very different, however. Why?


I may not be a better Limited player than Hunter (though I’ll do my best to best him each time), but I have a lot of experience drafting in nonstandard ways: pods with six people or ten people, unusual draft formats (like older sets, all-small set drafts, and chaos drafts), multiplayer (like Conspiracy and Group Game Draft), and drafts with primarily newer players. I know a bunch of tricks to navigating these kinds of drafts, and would like to share them for when you’re next in one.


Six Person Pods are the most common nonstandard draft; they are the format of team drafts, notably our Team Draft League and the drafts in Team Limited Grands Prix. In a six person pod you can expect:

  • A lower power level (since fewer packs are opened). Generally, this leads to decks playing more colors and splashing more often.
  • Packs wheel more frequently, so you will be able to wheel more cards (since fewer people are drafting). You’ll even be able to double-wheel your opening pack.
  • Good signals, and an easier time reading them (since you have to keep track of fewer packs and get to wheel packs more often).
  • An archetype or color combination is more likely to be completely undrafted.

In a six person pod, I want to be acutely aware of signals and commit strongly. If one color combination or archetype is open, I’ll know very quickly and jump in it. Once I make a decision, I want to stay the course for the rest of the draft (if possible; I’ll jump ship if I’m not getting anything or something else is painfully open). Waffling too long about what to draft comes with a giant risk: you might not get enough playables to make a deck.

Borrowing 100,000 Arrows

Ten Person Pods tend to happen because of event overflow: too many people joined an event and it’s cruel/financially poor to not let people play when they want to. In these, you can expect:

  • A higher power level (since more packs are opened). Players will generally not have problems getting enough playables.
  • Terrible signals. When you wheel your first pack, there are only four cards left in it.
  • Clumping. Likely because of the bad signals, clumps of adjacent players tend to go into the same archetypes. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, but seems to happen in every large draft I’ve been in.
  • Powerful cards go late. Some strong cards are going to invariably be opened far from the clump of drafters that want them.

In a ten person pod, I want to take the best cards that go late. I don’t worry much about signals, since everything is getting drafted somewhere at the table. Accordingly, I’ll do one of two things: commit strongly to a single color and remain open to whichever color (or colors) is most egregiously open or commit to mana fixing and take every great card that comes.

In last week’s draft, I did both. I took a P1P1 Archfiend of Depravity and took only black cards and dual lands (lots of dual lands). At the beginning of Pack 2, I was fairly certain I was going to be in Sultai. Then, I got a P2P4 Crackling Doom and went, “Yeah, I can splash red and white.” From then on, I just took dual and tri-lands, bombs, and powerful morph creatures. Here’s what I ended up with:

The Terrible Ten

Creatures (12)
Qarsi High Priest
Typhoid Rats
Ainok Guide
Icefeather Aven
Sultai Emissary
Abzan Guide
Efreet Weaponmaster
Snowhorn Rider
Sultai Flayer
Archfiend of Depravity
Avalanche Tusker

Spells (10)
Trail of Mystery
Abzan Ascendancy
Abzan Charm
Crackling Doom
Smite the Monstrous
Utter End
Weave Fate
Reach of Shadows
Dead Drop
Lands (18)
Frontier Bivouac
Mystic Monastery
Nomad Outpost
Opulent Palace
Sandsteppe Citadel
Polluted Delta
Scoured Barrens
Blossoming Sands
Jungle Hollow
Rugged Highlands
Swiftwater Cliffs

This deck was disgusting. Qarsi High Priest is filthy with Abzan Ascendancy. Tri-lands went late and I snagged each and every one of them. All in all, I had a blast. And I did well, too.

future sight

If you’d like to read more nonstandard draft strategies, I’ve already written about chaos drafts and Conspiracy. That said, I’d be delighted to expand upon them or expound other formats, such as more Flashback Drafts and Group Game Drafts. If you’d like to see more, if you have your own story that you’d like to share, or if you disagree with me, then please do so in the comments. And, as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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