After my last post, it occurred to me that some of the terminology used was unclear, and many people have never drafted at all. So, today I’m going to go over how a normal draft works, and what some of the variants are.
A standard draft goes like this; you show up, pay the entry fee, and take a seat at a table(for large events, seating is randomly assigned), and you receive three packs, often all from the same set, though late in a block, it is common to draft one pack from each set. Each player opens a pack, removes a card from it for their use, and passes the pack to the left, face down. Do be careful not to place a pack of cards on any other stack of cards, as this causes confusion. Repeat until out of cards, then do the same with the second and third packs(passing right, then left respectively). In many areas(including central MD), it is traditional to remove the tokens and non-foil lands before selecting your first card. If the token is one you want, just keep it, if not, toss it in the center for someone else to take. Cards are only passed around a single table, even if it is a multiple table event.
Once everyone has their cards, each player constructs a 40 card deck. In addition to the drafted cards, any number of basic lands may be used. Normally, the store will have a supply of loaners or freebies if you didn’t bring any.
Most drafts are three rounds in length, though particularly large tournaments may add additional rounds. Pairings are assigned randomly initially, then semi-randomly for following rounds to prevent any pair of people from playing twice. If there is an odd number of people, a random person will receive a “bye”, which means they do not play in that round, but automatically count as winning that match. Each round consists of a “best of three” match between the two players, and winnings are typically distributed at the end of the final round. Distributions vary widely between stores, and are typically listed for an eight person draft(known as a “pod”) in order of placement(as determined by total number of match wins, with ties being determined by game wins). For instance, 6/1 would indicate 6 boosters for the first place player and 1 for the second, with no prizes for the other six. Sometimes, additional promo cards or boosters are drawn for randomly as door prizes.
Single Elimination - As normal, but instead of winners being determined by total number of games, the loser of each match is eliminated, and placement is determined by how long you avoid elimination. Elimination is used heavily at larger, prestigious tournaments.
Swiss - As normal, but instead of formal placement calculations, a smaller prize is paid out for each match win. This is considered a good structure for those new to drafting, as they offer a much better chance for a modest win and more playtime for the entry fee than elimination structures.
Rochester Draft - Instead of passing the cards around the table, only one booster is opened at a time, and is spread face up on the table, so cards picked are public knowledge. Deck construction and play is unchanged. While much slower than other draft formats, it can be a good way to teach people the art of drafting.
Four Booster - Instead of passing cards around, you simply crack four boosters, then continue as normal. Variants of this exist with sealed deck play, etc.
Now, after all that is said and done, it’s not nearly so complicated as it may appear. If confusion exists about what to do in a draft, just ask those around you. Your fellow players and the tournament organizer are normally happy to help you, and you’ll be cracking packs and playing in no time!