t was one of those big, crazy ideas where afterward you're never quite sure how it started... except actually I know exactly how it started, because it started in the public folder in Outlook that we use to organize our weekly Draft Club. (We're not actually a club per se—really more of a group, or maybe a pack, if you'll pardon the pun—but the Outlook folder is called Draft Club, and the name stuck.)
The idea? A Lorwyn Rotisserie Draft, in which eight players would draft an entire set of Lorwyn. And the beginning of it? Before the set had even been released:
From: Guskin, Dave
Posted At: Monday, September 17, 2007 9:41 AM
Posted To: Draft Club
Subject: Sept 20 draft: #1!
In for Thursday draft, of course. TPF?
Also, Mark Globus and I were talking about Rotisserie draft a little while ago, so I'd like to gauge interest for a Lorwyn Rotisserie Draft, probably for October 18th (or a Thursday relatively close to that). Basically, I would acquire a full set of Lorwyn, bring it to draft night, and rather than booster draft, we would draft the set in Rochester-fashion. Would want exactly 8 people, although if there was a TON of interest, I could try getting two sets and we could do 16. No product required on the part of participants, but you couldn't keep the cards.
The Right Recipe
Dave went on to link to an explanation of Rotisserie Draft from some ancient Sideboard Invitational coverage (Cape Town, 2001). I'll paraphrase it, leaving out all the bits about Cape Town and Odyssey and having sixteen players. If you're interested in those bits, click the above link. Go on, I'll wait.
Nah, just kidding, I won't wait. To hold a Rotisserie Draft, you'll need eight people and a large, preferably coherent bunch of Magic cards—traditionally, the complete contents of a large set minus basic lands. Randomly determine a pick order from 1 through 8. If you're feeling very strategic, you could even randomly determine in what order people get to pick their place in the pick order, but we leave that as an exercise for those with a lot of time on their hands.
Lay out your cards however you like so that everyone can see them. You're going to need a lot of room. We organized them by their collector numbers (which are sorted by color / type *, then title), but we later realized that sorting them by rarity, then collector number might actually be more useful. Your mileage may vary.
Starting with the first player in the pick order, each player chooses one card (which means, yes, that player 1 is picking from the entire set). When you get to position 8, that player will pick two cards (this is called "the wheel," or "you jerk, I wanted those," and it's the reason that position 8 might be the second best seat). The draft will then circle from player 8 back to player 1, who gets to wheel this time—and you go through the whole set like that. (If that explanation doesn't make sense, the table below may help.)
Yes, this takes a while. You will get bored. But you should probably be paying attention to what everyone else took, and it will really speed things up if each player thinks about his or her pick while others are picking. In our Rotisserie Draft, everyone was absolutely flawless about this, especially me.
The Sideboard coverage has this to say about planning and the relative value of commons and rares:
Normally in a draft, players concentrate on the commons, as they will compose the majority of the cards in the available pool. But in Rotisserie Draft, the rares are just as available as the commons and uncommons. Also different is the fact that the players know exactly what will be available during the entire draft. This allows them to plan ahead and prioritize certain cards.
This is apt analysis, and it's especially relevant in Lorwyn
, where multiples of key commons—Smokebraider
, Stinkdrinker Daredevil
, and Silvergill Douser
come to mind—routinely form the backbone of major draft archetypes. This time there's only one Silvergill Douser
in the whole draft... and very likely two players who want it.
As a side note, I asked Mark Rosewater why it's called Rotisserie Draft. He said that when he comes up with new formats for the Invitational, he tries hard to give them catchy, memorable names that people will use if the format catches on (as this one clearly did). The name came from rotisserie drafts in fantasy baseball, which allow players to pick from any player in the league. According to Wikipedia: "Magazine writer/editor Daniel Okrent is credited with inventing it, the name coming from the New York City restaurant La Rotisserie Francaise where he and some friends used to meet and play." So, as with many names, this is just one of those things that happened, like armored fighting vehicles being called "tanks" or automatons getting the name "robot."
Prior to the draft, we discussed theories and strategies at length. What was the very first pick out of the whole set? Was it a planeswalker? A Command? Was it better to first-pick a really strong signal of colors and/or tribe such as Timber Protector or Wort, Boggart Auntie, or would the drafters in front be better served by taking more open-ended picks that would slot into whatever decks ended up being available? For that matter, how important would tribal interactions be when proportionally there were fewer of those key commons, fewer changelings, and more ridiculous bomb rares?
I myself theorized that without the repetition of commons, and thus with lower numbers per player for every Lorwyn tribe, tribal interactions wouldn't play nearly as big a role as they do in Booster Draft. Instead, I figured, the draft would be all about windmill-slam bombs, splashy spells, and carefully marshalling what little removal was to be had (way, way less per player than in Booster Draft). Others said that tribal was still a contender, and that eight drafters who could watch one another drafting would settle out along the most natural lines: eight players, eight tribes. To that end, some were advocating the idea of taking objectively weaker cards that would constitute clear tribal signals (I suggested Thundercloud Shaman, my pick for best Limited uncommon in the set—yep, better than Shriekmaw). This might reap long-term advantage as everyone hurried out of your way, or it might end up with your awkward little tribal deck getting destroyed by the numerous bombs the other decks would bring to the table.
Amidst all this discussion, there was only one thing we could all agree on: in this singleton format, Twinning Glass was going dead last. And it turns out we weren't even right about that....
Firing up the Oven
We were chomping at the bit, bursting with theories, and more than ready to try our hand at this challenging and exciting format. Now all we had to do was cobble together a complete set of Lorwyn by the day before the actual release date. Those of us not fortunate enough to have access to the Big Bathtub Full of Magic Packs (I'm speaking metaphorically here; obviously nobody actually bathes in it) had to pick up cards at the Prerelease (where the nice folks who run the Seattle events give us Sealed Decks to use for gunslinging) and the Employee Prerelease (organized by the amazing John Grant, who makes sure that there's a full Sealed Deck tournament with prizes for all interested Wizards folks every time a set comes out). However, there aren't that many Draft Clubbers, and putting together a complete set of a large expansion so soon after the Prerelease takes some serious legwork (just ask a collector).
Fortunately, Dave Guskin stepped up to beg, borrow, or steal (okay, probably not steal, and in fact almost exclusively borrow) the 281 cards we would need for our Rotisserie Draft, largely by collecting commons and uncommons after drafts and keeping an eye out for the rares we still needed.
Strangely, the last two cards he tracked down were not chase rares at all: Thousand-Year Elixir and Colfenor's Urn. R&D let us borrow them from the card stockpile they had for playtesting, and we were ready to go.
On the Spit
Finally, the big day had arrived. The set was assembled, the theories had been tossed back and forth, the cards had been painstakingly laid out. Everything was ready.
Just one problem: There were nine of us.
Yes, through the usual expedient of telling three people they were the vital eighth drafter, we had overshot the mark. Those of you reading along at home should remember that careful planning can prevent this sort of thing.
We talked about randomly determining who would sit out—fair, but also entirely capricious. In the end, Draft Club hero and MTGO programmer Jason Radabaugh volunteered to step aside—and to record everyone's picks as they were made. There weren't any plans for an article at that point, and without Jason's careful recording, there probably never would have been (or, at the very least, writing it would have been a heck of a lot harder).
All laid out, the 281 (sleeved) cards of Lorwyn looked something like this:
Clockwise from left: stenographer Jason Radabaugh, me (looking delighted about something), Nik Davidson, and Alexis Janson.
We rolled off and got the following pick order (which also, conveniently, provides a list of people in the draft):
- Greg Marques
- Mark Globus
- Kelly Digges
- Paul Sottosanti
- Alexis Janson
- Lee Sharpe
- Nik Davidson
- Dave Guskin
Greg had the first pick. We all looked at the set. We looked at Greg. We waited. Okay, so it turns out this is pretty tough, huh? After a long pause, but not inappropriate given the magnitude of the choice, Greg grabbed Mirror Entity.
Mirror Entity is an undeniable powerhouse, and it has the virtue of fitting into multiple color combinations and any tribe. A fine pick by any standard, and while everyone had their theories, it's hard to call a pick wrong when the options are all five planeswalkers, all five Commands, all five Elemental Incarnations, and every other power card in Lorwyn. Mostly it would come down to preference of color and tribe... and Greg had boldly decided not to stake a claim, preferring to draft reactively. Given that everyone else would get two picks before he got another one, this seemed like a sound strategy.
Next up was Mark Globus, who also opted not to commit to a tribe, instead taking the first of the planeswalkers: Garruk Wildspeaker. Though tribes were still theoretically wide open, Mark pretty firmly pitched his tent in green, a color likely to be underdrafted during the early run on red and black removal. Moreover—and this is hindsight talking here—his clear intent to go green might just have claimed two tribes at once, keeping others out of Elves and Treefolk because they weren't sure which one he'd be fighting them for. And of course, this pick wasn't just about color preference—Garruk is absolutely nuts.
(Don't worry, I won't do this for all 281 cards. I would never skip a chance to present information in a gigantic table. But trust me, each player's first pick deserves some analysis.)
The third seat was unlucky enough to have me in it, and there were still 279 cards left. To say I was baffled was an understatement. I'd discussed all the possible first picks, of course, but the marshmallowy softness of theory had been skewered on the long pointy fork of reality, and was now roasting on the fires of—anyway, terrible metaphors aside, I had no clue what to do. After mulling it over for (I'm told) roughly a day and a half, I settled on Chandra Nalaar.
There were three things going through my head:
- Planeswalkers are insane.
- Red has two of my favorite tribes: Elementals and Giants. (What's that you say? Only one each of Smokebraider and Stinkdrinker Daredevil? Hmmmm.)
- Planeswalkers are insane. Also, red has removal, and I'd really like to grab some of that early. Chandra certainly qualifies.
These three things eventually gave way to a different line of thinking:
- I'd really better pick something before they all kill me.
Point 2, as you might pick up, was not especially well thought-out. More on that later.
In the fourth seat was Paul Sottosanti, who is well-known around the office for his strong preference for Merfolk in Lorwyn Booster Draft. Bucking some expectations, Paul snapped up Profane Command without much deliberation. Hard to argue with that.
Next up was Alexis Janson, who first-picked Ashling the Pilgrim. I wasn't clear at the time whether she was attempting to claim Elementals, but she told me later that she would have been happy with either Elementals or Giants. Ashling was her pick just based on raw power and aggression, and her plan regardless of tribe was to grab removal and eschew a heavy tribal theme in favor of a low curve, stealing two-drops from various tribes as necessary. Ashling, while probably on a slightly lower power band than the prior first picks, has the benefit of being rather more aggressive.
Of course, this meant that Alexis and I were going to have to sort out pretty quickly who was doing what with red.
Next up was MTGO programmer and longtime DCI judge Lee Sharpe, who grabbed Austere Command.
The Commands offer two kinds of versatility in the early picks of a Rotisserie Draft, each slotting into any deck of the appropriate color and no doubt finding some way or another, out of six possible permutations, of helping that deck out.
As the draft proceeded, the spectacle drew a crowd of interested onlookers. In addition to the drafters, can you spot Randy Buehler, Aaron Forsythe, Devin Low, Brandon Bozzi, Ryan Miller, Matt Place, and Ken Nagle? (Hint: You can't see all of their faces.)
The first six picks had been two planeswalkers, two Commands, and two creatures, and both of the creatures were selected for powerful, game-altering effects rather than any kind of tribal plan. The power cards were getting thinned out with no tribal signals in sight, and that meant that the time was ripe for a few drafters at the end of the lineup to start the "creature type matters" parade.
Nik Davidson made a really bold pick of Wort, Boggart Auntie, making it basically impossible for anyone else to profitably go into Goblins. Unfortunately for him, Wort's two best Goblins buddies, Tarfire and Nameless Inversion, are good in any deck that can pay for them, so he'd have to move fast to snap up the removal before mopping up the rank-and-file Goblins at his leisure.
Dave Guskin, in the enviable 8-spot, saw his opening, grabbing Wydwen, the Biting Gale and Mistbind Clique on the wheel, making it really impossible for anybody else to go for Faeries.
At the Table
And all that? That was just the set-up. There were still 270 cards on the table. And speaking of tables, here's that gigantic one I promised you. You can see the order the cards were picked in by following the arrows, reading gray rows left to right and white rows right to left. You can also see each player's picks in order by reading down the appropriate column, but I'm guessing you figured that part out on your own.
Click on each player's name to read his or her take on the draft, as posted in our shared folder after the fact. We didn't have a well-organized tournament structure—play was as-available that night and over the next few days—but people also shared their records and some game stories.
When all was said and done, we reached a few points of consensus about the format:
- This took way too long. The draft portion of the event took two and a half hours, and that's hardly optimal for a Thursday night. However, it went much faster as the draft went on. Part of that was certainly the picks getting easier (though mine didn't feel any easier until the very end—remember, 75 cards is still a lot to choose from), but I think part of it was us getting accustomed to thinking about our picks during downtime and having first, second, and third choices ready in case the cards we were hoping for got picked. If we'd budgeted a whole Saturday for this event rather than a Thursday night, it would have been much more relaxed.
- Seats 1 and 8 seem stronger than the others because they get to wheel. However, our best records came from players in the middle, and there's no elegant way to move the wheel without hobbling someone else. In the end, we've mostly agreed that the system works the way it is.
- Rotisserie Draft is fun! The decks are really powerful, and we got to play with the themes of the set and see them pushed in different directions than they are in Booster Draft (where you're statistically rather more likely to wind up with doubles of Smokebraider, Mulldrifter, and Æthersnipe than to draft Profane Command, Dread, Doran, the Siege Tower, and Timber Protector in a single deck). Playing Limited with so many rares—and, relatively speaking, so few commons—leads to whole different challenges and rewards. And, as Noah Weil pointed out in one of his early Limited Information articles, it's also a way to get more familiar with the rares in the set in order to better evaluate them when you see them.
- With as much drafting as we do, putting the set together was easier than you might expect. (Easy for us to say, of course, since Dave did most of the work.) Best of all, all 281 cards made it back to their rightful owners.
- Even though we did end up with eight moderately tribal decks when all was said and done, the process of getting to those decks was an interesting one—much more interesting than the game of "Okay, who wants to be Faeries?" that we'd worried about. (You could say the same about Lorwyn Booster Draft, actually, which is never divvied up cleanly.)
- Rotisserie Draft is hard. We're all quite certain we picked suboptimally at some point or another, and some of us feel our whole strategy was flawed. With so many cards to choose from, a "perfect" Rotisserie Draft would be a tall order. Of course, picking it all apart afterward was part of the fun. You may want to consider skipping that portion of the event after checking it against your definition of "fun."
The plays were crazy and the games were tremendous fun, but in the end my mind is still stuck on the draft. I keep replaying it in my head, wondering where I zigged when I should have zagged. And the number of options for each player at any given pick is staggering. I'd be curious to hear your take... What did we do right? What did we do wrong?
And that central question of armchair Rotisserie: What's your first pick?
Special thanks are due once again to Nik Davidson, Mark Globus, Dave Guskin, Alexis Janson, Greg Marques, Lee Sharpe, and Paul Sottosanti for drafting and for sharing their recollections (and pictures!). Accolades are also due to everyone else who contributed cards to the Lorwyn Rotisserie set and didn't get to participate: Eric Berglund, Alan Comer, Ken Nagle, Mike Turian, and Brian Tinsman, with additional help scrounging up commons and uncommons from the Web Dev team (Cort, Cara, Roya, and Don). Most importantly, a billion megaprops (that's a thousand billion props, for those of you keeping score at home) go to Jason Radabaugh for not only contributing cards to the draft set but recording everyone's picks, which yielded the pick table, an easy way to get the deck lists, and a whole lot of interesting analysis. A special tip of the hat also to Ken Nagle, who typed up Jason's notes for us.
* Collector numbers are sorted by color / type in the order white, blue, black, red, green, multicolored, hybrid, split cards, artifacts, and lands, with some wacky exceptions for "timeshifted" cards, monocolored splits, and other (mostly Time Spiral–related) oddities. Bearing in mind that blue is abbreviated as U and multicolored as Z for some reason, you can remember all this by the handy mnemonic "WUBRGZHSAL, and sometimes one or more Ts and additional Ss somewhere in there."
Or, on second thought, you could really just look at the collector numbers.