In Honor of Magic 2014: The Eight Worst Draft Formats of All Time
Who’s for the Game?
Here’s a sobering idea: With the rise of New World Order, the Modern Magic card, for the most part, is designed with either Limited or Constructed in mind.
This neat dichotomy fails to explain away cards like Savageborn Hydra, Hoard-Smelter Dragon, or Pack Rat, which exist solely to ruin games of Limited and depress the cracker of prize packs. It also doesn’t account for smash hits like Hindervines, Restore the Peace, or Showstopper, which depress the cracker of drafting packs.
“M14’s weakness as a draft environment is at least partially due to a raging Staff infection.”
So things aren’t quite that bad. They’re worse! Sets like Modern Masters come out, and the draft aficionado wonders why the other sets aren’t as good as Modern Masters, and Modern Masters isn’t as good as it could be.
“In the event of Constructed, I’m a hostage.”
Abolish the Draft
Take heart, though! It used to be that nobody drafted anything, ever. The lack of Limited in Magic’s early history severely worsened its development. Think of it this way: what are ninety percent of commons doing in every set, except as draft fodder?
“I could design worse when I was seven.”
So drafting was born. Mirage-Visions-Weatherlight was the first block you could actually draft, but Invasion-Planeshift-Apocalypse was the first block where Limited was directing the design — the first Cube, if you will. Some claim Limited begins with MVW, others with IPA — in the interests of not running out of terrible draft environments, I’m going to start with MVW and work my way down the list.
8. Old core sets
I imagine these drafts were as often dodged as those for Vietnam, but maybe (as in Israel or South Korea) there was no way of avoiding them. These sets were absolutely massive — up to 449 cards in Fifth Edition, which we looked down upon, as spoiled children — and filled with unplayable cards; your chances of cracking a Birds of Paradise in one of those fin-de-siècle boxes was about as bad as that of getting a Liliana in a box of Innistrad.
Redeeming aspect: With all those white-bordered lands running around, you could just grab a stack and ghetto out your Constructed deck of choice. If you drafted Alpha, there was some chance of getting value.
Cube lesson: Cut cards like Vizzerdrix.
7. Lorwyn block
Drafting tribal is about as uninteresting as you’d expect. You were screwed if you didn’t get a tribe, not all the tribes were good, and the curve was often surprisingly high.
Redeeming aspect: A surfeit of activated abilities repelled new players, leading to the worst commercial downswing in Magic history.
Cube lesson: Tribal(ism) is the cancer of Africa.
6. Magic 2012
Basically Magic 2014 without much removal. Once, I won a draft with only three card types. Aggro is supported here, though, which is more than I can say for the Modo Cube.
Redeeming aspect: During summer 2011, I was forced to find something else to do with my Friday nights.
Cube lesson: Go easy on the enchantments.
5. Scars of Mirrodin block
“I’ll choose to draw.”
“Yep, sounds good, I’m about ready to do something else with my evening.”
“No, I’ll be on the draw.”
Redeeming aspect: The storyline makes it more likely that Wizards will print Komeback to Kamigawa before Scars of Mirrodin Redux: The Second (Psychic) Surgery. Also: Glistening Oil, fracking, etc.
Cube lesson: Heed the Poison Principle; support aggressive decks; cut Swords.
4. Magic 2014
While games of M12 were like ripping off a band-aid, games of M14 are the slow and exquisite torture of being digested by a self-satisfied Blue mage or Sarlacc. You’d think they’d’ve learned from their design mistakes …
Redeeming aspect: … even if they didn’t, you can learn!
Cube lesson: Vary and limit your removal; support aggressive decks.
3. Masques block
Back in the 20th century (my younger readers will find this hard to believe) card shops were even worse than they are now. Their interiors were dirty, their locations remote, their life-spans the stuff of Rousseau or Sierra Leone, their proprietors hucksters of a Jerry-Lundegaard variety. I was 11 years old when Masques came out, and not even I would buy much of it. Underpowered? Check. Tribal? Check. Bad color balance? Check.
Redeeming aspect: Misdirection has cool art?
Cube lesson: Do everything differently.
2. Urza’s block
Before there was Blue in M14, there was Black in Urza’s-block draft.
Redeeming aspect: Though billed as the “Enchantments Cycle,” Urza’s block was actually centered around the slightly less dumb card type of Artifact.
Cube lesson: Balance your colors; don’t lard your format with a terrible third set.
1. Avacyn Restored
More than enough ink has been spilled on AVR’s Limited suckage — I’ve never seen a format yield so easily to a simple mathematical analysis — but I’ll just say that if I wanted to play a format with awful color-balance and a high curve, yet such a steep power curve and lack of removal that the games ended within the frame of a few spells cast by each player, I’d play the Modo Cube.
Redeeming aspect: To be fair, the individual cards are by and large wonderful, but that makes AVR all the more disappointing — so it headlines the list!
Cube lesson: Design with people over the age of four in mind. (Ahem, Modo Cube.)
Thanks for reading!