My drafting group has a few hardcore players like me who have been playing magic for a while. We've memorized almost all the commons and uncommons in the sets we're drafting (usually Innistrad or 2012), know a lot about how to win at drafts, know the good archetypes, and have a bit more deck-building experience compared to some of the other people we'd like to add to the group. The new people know the mechanics of the game and have played enough to know how to build a decent deck, but I'm worried that the rest of us will have a significant advantage that takes away from everyone's fun.

What handicaps can be used when drafting that give a weaker player about an equal chance at winning while removing as little of the fun as possible? Obviously we'll coach them a bit about the techniques we've used that have been effective, but until they're completely up to speed I don't want them to be annihilated and quit. Should we give them a handicap during the actual draft, like an extra few picks from another booster after the draft is over, or a handicap during the actual games? What handicapping techniques have you used that work well?

  • As written, this question seems to me to be asking for a discussion on house rules, which is not the ideal format for such a question. If the underlying question is "How can we fit less experienced players into drafts?", is that significantly different than the existing question on booster drafts? Commented Dec 28, 2011 at 18:20

6 Answers 6


To be contrarian: in my experience, if you're adding a sufficient number of new people (which it sounds like is the case here), I'd encourage not handicapping them at all. My recommendation would actually be to start not with drafting but with some form of sealed-deck play (maybe a simple three-round league or the like), so that the new players have fewer decisions to make and can learn what the core elements of a limited deck are. Once they understand the essentials of limited then just let them loose on a draft - the experienced players may well run the table, but the newer players should still be able to have interesting games with the experienced drafters and excellent games among each other (this is why you need a sufficient number of new people), and IMHO the (slightly) 'deep-end' approach (along with some measure of coaching, post-draft analysis, etc) is the best way to get truly interested players motivated to get better.

One plausible alternative, though, that might be worth looking at is some form of team draft/sealed, where each of the new players is paired with a more experienced player that they can directly watch, talk with, and learn from; 2HG is a tough format to draft (as opposed to playing sealed with), but it's a great and underutilized choice for this sort of thing.

  • 2
    +1 For Sealed. It's a much better introductory limited format, because of the lack of hidden information.
    – deworde
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 8:38
  • 1
    +1 Again for Sealed. This will introduce newer players to the limited pool deck construction without the added mini-game of hidden information, known archetypes, or even learning to adjust when you aren't getting you're colors. If the players/event runners are open to it, the more experienced players are even allowed to help the newer ones construct from their pool, instead of competing during the drafting rounds.
    – L.P.
    Commented May 17 at 14:42

Generally, I agree with Steven, the best thing to do is to coach them, but not give them an explicit handicap of any kind. That way they will learn how it is really done. Of course they will lose more often than they will win, but booster drafts are a bit more random than Constructed so they may win some as long as they know the basic rules, and anyone learning a new game should expect to lose a lot before they start winning.

With that said, if you really want to give them a handicap, you can use any of the nomral ones used in casual games as long as everyone agrees who counts as new and who counts as experienced. For instance:

  • Give the new players 25 life instead of 20
  • Give the new players a starting and max hand size of 8 instead of 7.

I've done both of those before when playing against new players (though one or the other, both is probably a bit much). Other options that I've heard of but haven't tried myself include letting the new player start the game with a basic land of their choice already in play.

And one I've never heard of anyone doing before but would probably work nicely for a booster drafter is let each of the new players start with an extra booster that is not drafted and just theirs. It would give them a fair bit of additional flexibility in deck construction and protect them somewhat from poor draft choices without affecting the actual matches directly.

Edit: I've never tried it, but the more I think about it, the more I think giving the new players an extra non-drafted booster is the way I would do a handicap in a casual draft. It won't affect the actual gameplay and you don't have to remember past the initial drafting who counts as new and who is experienced.


One big component of drafting is teaching them some of the basics. Check out my question and the answers here for what you could teach them: What are good strategies for booster drafts?

Another big component of draft is simply knowing what’s out there. If you’ll be drafting Innistrad, there’s nothing better you could truly prepare them with than to crack open a box of boosters (maybe even some pack wars) to get them familiar with what’s available in the set. Knowing what’s in the draft will give players a significant increase in deck building ability than going in cold.


It sounds like your newer players' disadvantage will be mostly in the deck creation phase of the draft. I suggest handicapping the experienced players in this phase.

  • Impose a time limit per pick on the experienced players
  • Impose a time limit for deck creation after the draft on the experienced players
  • Give the new players more flexibility around side boarding between games
  • Consider increasing the minimum deck size for the experienced players, this will force them to include more of their weaker cards.

The idea is to make it harder for the experienced drafters to build a great deck, without having to impose house rules on the actual games. It also has the added benefit of pushing the draft skills of these players even further.

  • 1
    What does "Give the new players more flexibility around side boarding between games" mean? Are you talking about sideboarding between matches? The phrase for this is "continuous construction". You can read about it here.
    – Rainbolt
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 18:30

You could consider giving the less experienced players some extra commons and uncommons of their color. As in, finish the draft as normal, and then let the less experienced players freely choose some commons or uncommons in the set and add them to their deck. This would raise the quality of their deck without being overpowering. You can adjust the handicap by changing how many of these cards they can add, and/or how strong these cards are (e.g. for a really inexperienced player, give them common removal; for less inexperienced players, give them an infinite supply of filler 2-drops).

(Warning: For serious players, this promotes bad habits.)


most handicap systems handicap permanently, 1 less card, 1 smaller hand, 5 less life etc. this usally can be majorly detrimental. also most effects are to clunky -1 card may be too little, but -2 too much mainly as the effect is permanant.

I suggest a delayed return to normality. in my example your draw is behind (nearly-it moves to the end of the turn) 1 turn, your hand size is X smaller, decreasing by 1 each turn until the handicap has faded. at this point the draw delay is removed. as its granualer you can have multiple players with multiple hadicaps and the handcaps can shift to adjust for skill/deck improvement.

I havent tested it too well but i believe that the max rating is likely 10 more than the weakest player. above 7 the negatives level off a little.


1)Each player/deck combination has a POWER rating. Starting rating is 0*

2)High POWER ratings indicate better players and/or decks.

3)when a game is won, if any losing player has zero POWER increase your power by 1/3 of number of players beaten, rounded up. Otherwise all losing players decrease thier POWER by 1**


1)calculate your game handicap:minus the lowest POWER of the people playing from your POWER.

2)all players draw the largest off 7 or the highest handicap.

3)Mulligan as needed.

4)shuffle you hand and deal your handicap amount into a seperate pile(your handicap location or HL)

5)As long as there are cards in an HL the maximum hand size is equal to the largest off 7 or the highest handicap.***

6)during your draw phase if you have an HL you draw one less card and move one card from your libray to your HL****

7)at the end of your turn, after discard, draw two cards from your HL.

NOTES *Ratings are for deck\player so if a deck changes hands or is significatly altered POWER is reset.

**this means +1 power for 2-4 player games,+2 for 5 - 7 player +3 for 10 - 12 player etc.

***In high handicap games, the max hand size change does not apply, in the turn of the player who clears thier HL as the discard phase has passed.

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