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MTG drafting sounds like a really awesome way to play the game. I'd love to try it with some of my friends, but having to spent >5$ for each player every single time you want to play seems unnecessarily prohibitive.

How can I make MTG drafting work with cards I already have? The big issue I see is with the random selection of the starting cards. Do the boosters that are meant to used with drafting really contain completely random cards? How can I simulate their distribution? Should I have each starting set of 15 cards contain only cards from 1 set? How can I make sure there's a variety of cards (enough creatures, instant, and sorceries to keep things interesting) being used without destroying the randomness of selection?

I know not using boosters will take away a small part of the game, mostly the total randomness of what all the packs contain. I'm not looking for a perfect draft simulator, but as I have 3000+ cards I don't see why my group can't have >95% of the fun of drafting without having to buy new boosters every time.

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3 Answers 3

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There's a popular fan-made format called Cube where you create a set of cards and people pick them for their decks, either by assembling virtual "packs" by grabbing random sets of cards or (more rarely) picking them one-at-a-time from the whole set kinda like how teams draft rookie players in professional sports. Because you tailor the card pool to your group's needs, it's easy to create Cubes for unconventional formats like Commander (individual collection permitting).


If you're interested in having pack-based drafts that strongly resemble normal MTG Limited and Sealed, you can assemble your own packs from your personal collection, basically like Cube draft but with rarity. Here's a rough guide...

To my knowledge, the only thing that's truly fixed about boosters is rarity distribution (although you can get extra rares in a pack due to foils, or specialty stuff like double-faced cards or "hidden treasures"). There are some other correlations that arise due to how sheets are cut, but they're mostly at the box level rather than individual-pack level.

If you start with a fairly representative sample of a set and then construct cards with the same rarity distribution as regular MTG boosters, the laws of probability should ensure that you get a reasonable distribution of colors and card types in the vast majority of your packs (a few really skewed ones is acceptable or even desirable, just like you sometimes get really skewed "official" boosters). The easiest way to do this is just to create three big piles for commons, uncommons, and rares (/mythics) and make packs from them sight-unseen in the normal 1:3:10 ratio; you don't have to do anything special for the individual packs as long as your starting piles are at fair (e.g. if you collect certain colors much more heavily than others, make sure that bias doesn't filter into the big giant piles you've created). Ideally your big piles should be significantly bigger than the number of cards in any given draft; that way there's no guarantee that a particular card is bound to be in one of the packs.

The easiest way to create a coherent environment is to stay within a given block (set of 3-4 expansions). Playing a familiar block format will make it easier for players to evaluate cards. I don't think the extra effort that would be required to make sure your packs exactly match individual sets (like they do in "real" Limited) is really worthwhile -- if anything, I think you can have a more fun block draft if cards from the various expansions are mixed together across all three packs.

Of course, you can also vary (or just abolish) the rarity mix in order to create a very different play experience. I'm assuming other ways to alter the experience will come to you once you've tried this a few times. If you find yourselves wanting to fine-tune what goes into your card pool, look for articles on Cube drafting: the same principles folks apply to creating a Cube can be used to analyze what you're putting into the pool you draw packs from.

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+1 for mentioning Cube at the end there - surely a perfectly good answer to the question on its own, giving that it's a way lots of people enjoy drafting that doesn't entail buying new cards each time. Really there's no reason at all why draft should entail great expense all the time - apart from convenience, and the fact that people enjoy the novelty of playing with the newest set... –  thesunneversets Nov 6 '11 at 20:11
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For what it's worth, print runs do lead to some predictability at the pack level, but you have to have a really good memory to use it, and in any case I can't imagine how losing that predictability would have a negative impact on the draft environment. –  David Z Nov 6 '11 at 20:59

If you want to mirror official drafting as closely as possible - either because you are practising for a tournament or you are interested in experiencing the format as designed - Then here are the things that you should be aware of.

1. Magic drafts are booster driven

When a draft starts, you get 3 boosters, each of which has 1 rare, 3 uncommons and 10 commons. They also have 1 basic land which is sometimes replaced by a foil. High level tournament drafts remove the basic land or foil. For self built packs this should probably be done also (so 14 card packs)

2. Magic boosters all come from the same set

As you get 3 packs, each of those packs should be built entirely of cards from the same set. I.e. no pack should contain cards from more than 1 set.

3. Magic drafts use specific packs

Depending on the format you want to replicate, there are specific distributions of packs to be used. For example, if you want to replicate the first drafting format of a new block, it would be 3 packs of the first set of the block (e.g. 3 packs of Khans of Tarkir). Other formats exist that may be 2 packs of the first set and 1 of the second, or 1 pack for each set in a 3 set block. Some blocks have special sets which are drafted fresh (e.g. Rise of the Eldrazi was a 3rd set which was drafted as 3 packs of rise)

as long as you know what draft format you want to replicate and follow these rules, your draft should be pretty close to the intended distribution of cards. The reason for following these is that sets are created specifically with drafting in mind, and have comparitive power levels between colours and rarities which differ for different sets

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If you go on Amazon, you can find a box set of 1000 random cards for around $20, as well as a box of 500 basic lands (100 of each color) for around $15. Later this year (around Fall Break) I plan to host a Random Card Draft using these. Basically, I will shuffle them, separate them all by rarity, and dole them out into "packs" with each pack containing 1 rare, 3 uncommons, and 11 commons (I realize I've got an extra common in here, but we have the cards for it). I will then have a draft using these packs. By getting the cards in bulk, without caring for which set they are in, you can have a full 8 person draft with some pretty nice prizes for only about $5 per player.

My Prize Distribution (Using a Single Elimination Tournament): 1st Place: 256 Cards 2nd Place: 128 Cards 3rd + 4th Place: 64 Cards Each 5th + 6th + 7th + 8th: 32 Cards Each

1000 Card Link http://www.amazon.com/Magic-Gathering-Cards-Bonus-Rares/dp/B0017H86GA

500 Land Link http://www.amazon.com/500-Magic-Gathering-Islands-Mountains/dp/B00SG3PJGS/ref=sr_1_1?&s=toys-and-games&ie=UTF8&qid=1439325701&sr=1-1&keywords=500+basic+lands+magic

Note: I haven't actually tried this before, so I don't know how it will work. If you are concerned about the cards lacking synergy, you can create a few extra packs with 4 uncommons and 11 commons, and draft those with the 3 standard packs you created.

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Did you read the comments on that 1000 card link? I'd be very hesitant to buy, even if it is only $20. –  bwarner Aug 11 at 21:26
    
Don't do this, you almost certainly won't be able to split the cards by rarity defined in the answer. Bulk cards are almost always going to be disappointing. While a bulk 'cube' could work in theory, getting a playable distribution of cards in practice is going to be difficult or require as substantial amount of work. –  esoterik Aug 11 at 22:33
    
I can all but guarantee you that none of the rares pictured in that big pile of cards will ever end up as "bonus rares." You will get 100+ copies of Netter en-Dal, though. –  Alex P Aug 12 at 0:34
    
Your concern about lack of synergy is definitely valid. Cubes work because they're put together with some attention to what themes are going in, and also because they tend to include a lot of fairly good cards so even without synergy there's cool stuff going on. If you have random cards from across sets with close to the normal distribution of commons, it's not going to work well. –  Jefromi Aug 12 at 18:17

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