Last updated on August 5, 2023

Mindslaver - Illustration by Volkan Baga

Mindslaver | Illustration by Volkan Baģa

This whole time I’ve been led to believe that Draft is done one way: you get eight people together around a table, you all crack three packs one at a time picking the card you want from each, then pass the rest of the pack to your neighbor. Lather, rinse, repeat until everyone’s packs are done. Then you make a deck out of your bundle of chaff and have three 1v1 games among yourselves to crown the ultimate winner.

At the end of it all you get some packs as a prize from your LGS. If you’re playing with your friends at home then you might get to keep the cards or get some other reward for your noteworthy achievement. I’ve come to find out that this is a booster draft. It’s concise, makes sense, and the rules are straightforward. But there isn’t just one kind of draft; there are actually 15 (!) different ways to draft.

I feel like talking about all of them would be confusing so let’s just stick to one for today: the Winston Draft.

What is a Winston Draft?

Introduction to Annihilation - Illustration by Nicholas Gregory

Introduction to Annihilation | Illustration by Nicholas Gregory

A Winston Draft is a different way to play Limited with your friends (and enemies), invented by Richard Garfield himself. It’s a much easier and more accessible way to draft, and it’s a great teaching tool for newcomers on how to draft.

The Rules: How to Winston Draft

The Main Stack

Each player opens all three of their booster packs without looking at their contents to get things started. After removing the advertisement/token card, all cards from the packs go into a single face-down pile called the main stack. Just stacking them on top of each other is reasonable but shuffling is recommended.

The top three cards of the main stack are then placed face down on the table to be the first cards in three different short stacks.

Drafting Begins

Now drafting can begin. First, decide on a starting player who picks first. I suggest pistols at dawn.

That player (let’s assume it’s you) looks at the card in the first short stack. You decide if you want to take it or not. If so, you add it your library and then bring a card down from the main stack to replace the taken card.

If you decide not to take the card from the first short stack, take the top card off the main stack and place it on top of the card in the first stack without looking at it. Then you look at the second short stack and the same process repeats.

If you didn’t pick the card from the second short stack, the process repeats for the third short stack.

If you refuse the card from the third short stack, you add the top card of the main stack to the third short stack and then you have to draft the top card of the main stack.

Thank You, Next

The turn then passes to the next player who drafts their own cards, and then the next, then the next. This continues until all cards in the main and short stacks have been drafted.

Make Your Deck

Each player then constructs a 40-card deck using the cards they drafted plus basic lands. The player who drafted second decides who starts the match.

How Many Players Can Do a Winston Draft?

Prying Questions - Illustration by David Palumbo

Prying Questions | Illustration by David Palumbo

All you need to play a Winston Draft is at least two players, with a maximum of four.

How Many Packs Do You Need for a Winston Draft?

You need three booster packs or 15 individual cards per player for a Winston Draft.

What Sets and Cards Can You Use to Winston?

Winston Drafting is just like Booster Drafting in that you can have fun doing it with just about any set. I feel like the best bet is to either go completely wild with packs from sets that don’t make sense or to use one of the supplementary sets, like Modern Horizons 2.

My favorite experience was doing a pure chaos draft with four players who each had three packs from completely different sets, none from the same plane or block.

Can you Winston Draft a Cube?

The other nice thing about Winston Draft is that the cards don’t need to be directly out of a pack since you’ll be putting all of them in a big stack anyway. You can use a pile of any old cards that you and a friend have around, or a curated list that you put together like some packs out of a cube.

Was Winston Draft Ever Played Competitively?

Wizards themselves held some competitive alternative Drafts during the 2007 Magic Invitational. Winston Draft was among them. It started with a demonstration by Mark Rosewater and Jake Theis.

Why Would I Play Winston Draft?

Unexplained Disappearance - Illustration by Izzy

Unexplained Disappearance | Illustration by Izzy

A Winston Draft is a much more limited way to draft with less cards and even less people. I have a playgroup of around 10 people that like to meet up at least once a month to play. But having enough people to do a proper Booster Draft has impossible without hazmat suits and a Lysol shower in the current circumstances.

You have to get creative to play limited at all. In the past, we’d each bring some boosters and have a chaos draft, or someone would buy a box and we’d all chip in for it. The former is still a good way to get some limited play in with a smaller group of players.

Winston vs Booster Drafting

This is where things get weirder than Booster Drafting. With a much more limited card pool comes much more limited choices. Finding specific synergies is even more of a gamble than if you were seeing most of the contents of 24 packs. Strategy needs to come from what you know rather than what you draft. Let’s look at the main differences between the two Drafts.

You know the basics of the contents of at least picks 1 to 4 of each given round in a pod of eight players for a Booster Draft since you see a good chunk of the commons and uncommons, maybe a rare. In a Winston Draft you don’t know the contents of each pack, but you do get to see the bulk of the cards in the main stack as the drafting goes on.

And while you might be able to identify what’s wheeling in a Booster Draft, you don’t know who’s taking what cards from those packs. You know exactly who’s taking what cards from the stacks in Winston Draft unless they happen to take a short stack that’s one card deep.

Another difference is knowing your opponent. Since you’re facing off with just one other person you probably already know their preferred play styles and what they’d rather draft towards. You may know this info for a Booster Draft but trying to cater your choices based on seven other play and draft styles is a bad idea.

Winston Draft Strategies

Strategic Planning - Illustration by Donato Giancola

Strategic Planning | Illustration by Donato Giancola

How do you use this knowledge? You can see the cards you drafted (hopefully with a color combination in mind) and you kind of know a good chunk of what cards your opponent drafted sine you both see most of the same stacks. So you should be able to physically build one deck and theoretically build another. Knowing what your opponent has allows you to build toward any contingencies that might come up, especially if you’re playing with packs that have clear synergies.

Let’s focus on your deck first. Since you’re drafting by stacks rather than individual cards for most of the drafting process you likely have a fair bit of color disruption going on. Truth be told it’s not uncommon to have a 4-color or even a 5-color deck when doing a Winston Draft. If you were lucky and pulled enough cards from a guild or a wedge to make something work, congratulations! You probably have very little to think about when building your deck. But if you didn’t hit the jackpot then you’re going to need to do some work.

Similar and Complementary Themes

You’re going to get some odd things unless you only focus on certain synergies while drafting. There’s still typically some method to the madness. Look for keywords and abilities that help one each other.

You have several aristocrats that drag themselves to the guillotine and some unearth/recursion enablers? You know have a sac deck. Things in that vein.

Artifacts Are Your Friends

Since most artifacts don’t care what color mana you use they should almost immediately be put in your deck. Sure, you might end up with Voltron Solitaire, but it’s better than hoping and praying for the Mountain you need to show up.

Watch the Pips

The entry to midrange cards only needs a single color pip to be cast other than powerhouse mono-color builds. Since you’re most likely playing with several colors, being able to use any of them is a godsend.

One Begets More

If you can grab cards that have several good effects that trigger from a single casting that just means you don’t have to root around for two different spells. The same goes for token generators. Having a triggered or even single-spell method to get more than one of something out on the field is always better.

Interaction is King

Being able to counter or destroy something your opponent puts out almost always puts you ahead since struggles can be had on both sides of the table, even if it makes you mana poor. Interaction is important in Booster Draft, but it can seriously be a game changer in Winston Draft.

2-for-1 Color Deals

If you’re using packs that could include dual or tri-lands, split mana values, or even Phyrexian mana, don’t be afraid grab and use them. Giving yourself options to work with makes the match much, much easier.

Wrap Up

Zur's Weirding - Illustration by rk post

Zur's Weirding | Illustration by rk post

Winston Draft has been an interesting addition to my line-up these last couple years. It was nice to come back to it in fully vaccinated fashion in 2021 after a lot of digital play in 2020. I miss the busy-ness that comes from a full Booster Draft and really look forward to being able to play more in 2022. But I also think having Winston in my back pocket to roll out more evenly-balanced games after some Commander trounces is nice.

Do you have some alternative drafting stories? Do you some other tips to navigating this new limited world? Let us know in the comments below or find us over in the Draftsim Discord.

That’s all from me for today. Stay safe and healthy, and wash your hands!

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