From this question and from experience at a local shop, when there are 14 people who want to draft at Friday Night Magic then they are split into 2 pods, 1 pod of 8 and one pod of 6. Anecdotally, I have noticed that the larger pod tends to have the better decks. One reason I can think that might account for this is that the card pool is bigger, so more specialized cards that only go in very specific decks (for example: Rise from the Tides in a spell heavy deck) are more likely to make their way to the person who needs them. Are there any advantages to being in a small pod? Is there a clear total strategic advantage to being in the 8 person pod over the 6 person pod?

Note: I understand that within a pod there is no advantage, I'm curious about what potential advantage there would be in games between people who drafted from different pods.

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    Unless a particular set has viable alternate strategies like Mill, one would generally expect the 6 person pod to be more likely to produce a dominant deck since there's a high chance of someone being the only player in a particular color. – Affe Sep 20 '16 at 19:53
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    My local shop always preferred to keep the pods separated during playtime. So that you're not playing against people whose decks were drafted form a substantially superior/inferior card pool. I believe this is how the pro tour always does it, too. – Alex P Sep 20 '16 at 23:00

The number of players in a draft certainly affects the draft, but the effect is symmetrical; all players are affected similarly.

One reason that 8 players is optimal is because the pairings work out perfectly; no one is going to get paired up/down.

From your opening pack you get:

  • the 1st, 7th and 13th pick in a 6 person draft
  • the 1st, and 9th pick in an 8 person draft
  • the 1st, and 11th pick in a 10 person draft

In a smaller draft the signals are clearer, you see the same pack more times. Correctly reading the signals is rewarded with more information about what cards might wheel (come back around to you).

In a larger draft the signals are weaker, you see more packs, but less picks per pack, nothing worthwhile wheels in a 10-person pod. In an 8-person pod, wheeling cards is rarer than in a 6-pod, but still happens occasionally.

Is there a clear total strategic advantage to being in the 8 person pod over the 6 person pod?

No, if anything the advantage goes the other way; a 6-person pod will favor the players who read signals the best. The large the pod the more it favors card-evaluation skills. Different skills are rewarded differently depending on the pod size.

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    This answer only mentions draft meta strategy, and you seem to discount the simple effect that a larger card pool provides broader card selection, as mentioned in the question. – murgatroid99 Sep 21 '16 at 2:33

I largely agree with esoterik's answer, however would like to elaborate on the strict number advantage, which I feel is the more accurate analysis and describes the inherent differences between player numbers in the format better without making assumptions about their skill level (which is how I read the question).

Basic Analysis of the Draft Format

The entire draft format is based around the principle that each player picking one card at the time yields better results than simply building a deck out of a set number of packs. This is demonstrated in the Sealed format providing six packs (so, twice as many as in a draft), yet requiring the same deck size in the end.
This is because you get to scroll through each pack, taking the card that works out best for you, while passing the rest, whereas in a Sealed event, you have to scrap a large portion of your pool because it's not in your color(s), the cards are simply unplayable, or you have way more than you'd like to play (also caused by the twice-as-large pool size).

This means that regardless how many cards are left for you to pick from, you always get to pick the single best cards, after each pack ending up with the 15 best cards from every hand instead of just 15 random cards from any booster pack.

Having more packs at the table results in more valueable individual picks

In a draft format, because you're looking at packs you've seen before, the total number of different cards you see changes with the amount of players. Since more cards mean more choices, in theory each player will get a better hand, as they get to choose their best 15 cards out of a bigger total number of cards.

Assuming a 15-card pack, these are the total amount of cards every player gets to see over the course of the draft:

  • 8 Players: 276 cards (15+14+13+12+11+10+9+8)*3
  • 7 Players: 252 cards (15+14+13+12+11+10+9)*3
  • 6 Players: 225 cards (15+14+13+12+11+10)*3
  • 5 Players: 195 cards (15+14+13+12+11)*3
  • 4 Players: 162 cards (15+14+13+12)*3

More players in a pod will draft more Rares/Mythics

There's a certain ratio of Mythics to Rares (to my knowledge, it's about 1 Mythic in 8 packs, which we'll use as an example ratio, regardless whether it's accurate). A pod with 8 players will therefore have an average of 3 Mythics (24 total packs), while a pod of 6 players will only get 2.25 (18 packs). Whether this affects the overall quality of decks depends on the actual cards drawn, but since Mythics are arguably stronger cards than rares most of the time, this is a fair assumption.

Color Distribution

While the number of packs scales with the amount of players (for each player, there's 3 packs), there are always five base colors in Magic, which players will need to negotiate between. In a pod of five, that averages to one color per player, six is close to that ratio, however for 8 players, this means that more colors are being necessarily shared.
In reality, every player is likely playing multiple colors even in smaller pods because it's unrealistic to be the only person in a specific color. With more players, however, more people will inherently be interested in any color.

This is the only factor that doesn't clearly favor a bigger number of players, however it's also the most insignificant one, as it's an intended concept of Magic The Gathering to have multiple colors in a single deck, and editions that need it will provide mana fixing.

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    I'm confused about the "more mythics" logic. Doesn't each player have the same average chance of ending up with a mythic? (3 / 8 = 2.25 / 6) – Alex P Sep 21 '16 at 18:12
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    But better odds that at least one player will have a Mythic that's actually a limited bomb they can play and not like, Conflux, or some three color card they get on pack 3 that's three colors they haven't touched. – Affe Sep 21 '16 at 18:21
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    @AlexP The Mythics paragraph was a direct response to the questioner's "the larger pod tends to have the better decks". Each player will have the same chance of getting a Mythic, but more Mythics will be opened in total at the 8-pod table. They also don't necessarily divide equally or get passed, which means that in theory, a single deck could reasonably contain 3 Mythics in an 8-player pod, and only 2.25 Mythics in a 6-player pod. The same applies to Foils, generally, but their rate is rather insignificant - in general, all of this is a factor, but not as decisive as the paragraph above it. – TheThirdMan Sep 22 '16 at 7:09
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    Foils don't actually matter when looking at deck strength in a draft though, in fact they can very slightly hinder your deck, as an opponent who has seen your hand and seen a foil copy of a card, then sees a non-foil copy after, gets information they wouldn't have if both copies were non foil and impossible to tell apart. It's the same idea behind playing one art of basic lands, they have no way of knowing if that mountain you just played is the one they saw when they did a thoughtsieze since they look identical. – Andrew Dec 30 '17 at 15:52

There are various benefits to being in a larger pod when card diversity / redundancy / synergy is rewarded.

For example, in a set that contains Timberpack Wolves, you can achieve a stronger deck by vacuuming-up several Timberpack Wolves, and it is more possible to vacuum-up many copies of Timberpack Wolves in a larger pod. In the set Coldsnap, there were numerous "collect me" cards whose power level scaled proportionally to the number of them that you drafted eg: Surging Flame. In a small pod, you are likely forced to draft a few copies of each of a few "collect me's," whereas in a larger pod, each player can specialize in taking many copies of a single "collect me."

Another possible example would be if a block supported 3 different possible mechanical themes per guild. In smaller pods, you would essentially be forced to take whatever is in your colors, would have little control over which mechanics you end-up with, and would get a piece of each of 3 different themes. In a larger pod (especially in a very large pod, which doesn't happen), there could be one player in your guild drafting one theme, another drafting a second theme, and a third player drafting a third theme. So each player's deck would be more thematically specialized, and would benefit from greater synergistic specialization.

It is also sometimes the case in draft that you want to draft something different than you drafted before. For instance, you may only want 4 total 4-mana spells in your entire deck. So if you take a 4-mana spell early on in pack 1 and then shortly later you get a choice between a 4-mana and a 3-mana spell, you may prefer to take the 3-mana spell to avoid having too much of your 4-mana slot already filled very early, and too little of your 3-mana slot filled by this point. A similar example would be that good draft decks tend to have about 14-15 creatures and 8-9 non-creature spells. So if you end-up taking a few non-creature spells early in pack 1, then you have a so-far-imbalanced draft pool, and will be obliged to pick a creature over a non-creature in the near future to correct your course. In a smaller pod, you are essentially slated for taking whatever cards appear in your colors, often tabling everything you declined to pick the first time; and if there is a mana cost imbalance or a creature / non-creature imbalance, it is harder to steer back to a proper balance. Whatever you decline to take 3rd pick, you can hardly avoid taking 9th pick.

In some ways, drafting in a smaller pod is pretty similar to sealed. In a draft, you want to take the card you need the most and decline having the next best option, so you are truly exercising selection. In a small draft pod, you are taking the best card in your colors, and almost certainly wheeling the third best card in your colors; so it's barely a choice at all. This is less applicable in sets that support few multi-colored cards and few themes. In a set that supports 5 guilds, when you're drafting in a 5-person pod, and there are few mono-colored cards and many 2-color cards, you are highly likely to draft exactly everything in your guild, i.e. you end-up taking exactly what you are given.

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