Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Keep-draft Vs Rare-draft in Melbourne


I've been playing Magic in Victoria for 13 years now. Over the years I've seen stores rise and fall and I've also noticed something else: a trend away from rare-draft towards keep-draft. I find this interesting. I'm going talk about the two different draft methods and come to some conclusions. Hopefully I can help you decide which you like most.

Description of the two draft methods:
I'm going to assume you know how the draft process works. The difference between keep-draft and rare-draft is just prize distribution but that has consequences which I will elaborate on.

Whatever cards you draft, you now own. Typically booster prizes are awarded to the players who go 3-0 or 2-1. How many boosters depends on the store.

At the end of the three rounds, all the drafters crowd around a table and put in all the rares, mythic rares and foils from the draft.
The player who came first in the draft gets first pick. The player who came second gets second pick and so on. Then it goes round and round until all the cards are gone. Stores can supplement this with boosters prizes. Booster prizes for rare-drafts are typically spread out more than keep-drafts due to better performers getting higher rare picks.

Single elimination is another method popular in the US, but boosters are cheaper over there and no stores have done it here, so I'll disregard it.

Which method gets used is up to the store.

A history of my experience drafting in the Melbourne area:
The first ten or so sanctioned events I ever played were rare-drafts at a store called Gaming Knights in Geelong. It was a cool old brick building in the city centre. It's probably a trendy cocktail bar now.
I have great memories of banter amongst the established players at the time and the pride I felt when it was finally I who had first pick. The acknowledging nods and raised eyebrows of surprise, yum yum yum I loved it.
I moved to Melbourne for University in 2006 (I could've stayed in Geelong but there was more Magic in Melbourne. No joke, it was a factor in my decision) and at the time there were three stores: Dungeon of Magic (Adam's still pluggin' away down there), Mind Games in the city and Card Heaven on Chapel st. Have you seen Zootopia in cinemas yet? The bunny riding the train into the city, that was me. Card Heaven was the store to play at. Draft nights went off! You'd walk into the store, put your name down and within fifteen minutes they'd call the draft. It was like that for hours, all rare-drafts.
Card Heaven got bought-out by an interstate investor and it slowly declined. Isaac Egan and Chris Evans were disappointed with this and stepped up for the community by opening their own store, Metagames in the city. Metagames felt like the common room at your university crossed with your mate's filthy sharehouse lounge room. There was a draft firing every day and draft nights were all-nighters where you'd fall asleep on the store's couch and wake up in the morning for a kebab. Once again rare-drafts were the norm.
After Metagames came about the current era of stores (2012 onwards). There are sooo many stores now. Magic is booming. I was curious, I called up a bunch of stores and asked what method of drafting they did:

Current (April 2016) Melbourne stores and how they draft

Melbourne is overwhelmingly a keep-draft city at the moment. Some stores I spoke to didn't even know what a rare-draft was. You can probably tell from my tone that I'm nostalgic about rare-drafts.

Now I'm going to run through the pros and cons of both methods.

In a keep-draft, if you're 0-2, there's nothing riding on the last match so players often drop or concede and leave with their cards. That sucks if their last round opponent actually wanted to play Magic.
In a rare-draft, there is prize incentive to win your last round, so there are much less drops, which is great.
If you do drop from a rare-draft, the store clerk or one of your friends can draft your rare picks. However, that person may not know which cards you want most, so there's extra disincentive to drop, which in my opinion is a good thing.

Prize structure
This depends on the store but the minimal and most common prize structure goes like this:

Prize: Draft picks

Prize: 3 boosters for first, 2 boosters for second, 1 booster for third and fourth

How good each prize payout is depends on the player base that the store is working with. When I say 'good', I mean good for the community and good for Magic in general.

The lower entry fee of a rare-draft is more appealing for lower income earners, e.g. university students, who make up most of Magic's player base. Lower entry fees are also more appealing to EVERY player now that I think about it; you get to play just as much Magic at the same competitiveness, for less money.

With keep-drafts, the store gets to sell more boosters per player, so the store makes more money per pod.
If you're a store in a remote location with a fixed number of players, then yes, hosting keep-drafts will make you more money.
Similarly, if you're a tiny store with low capacity, then keep-drafts will make you more money.
However, if you're a large central store, i.e. Glab and GG's, the appeal of cheaper drafts could potentially attract more players and therefore more money.

Hypothetical situation:
FNM draft at Glab, enough players for five drafts show up. 5 x 8 x $20 - wholesale = $800 - wholesale.
The next Friday, Glab switch to cheaper rare-drafts, enough players for seven drafts show up. 7 x 8 x $15 - wholesale = $840 - wholesale.
Now, how many extra players you would attract with cheaper entry is hard to estimate but you see my point. It's worth noting that more players means more players to teach their friends and bring them along, so it's exponential.

Rare-drafts are flexible. If a store thinks they'll get the same amount of players in regardless, they can simply add the extra $5 to the entry fee and chuck in supplementary boosters prizes, to sell more boosters.

I want Magic to be as accessible to as many players as possible and I also want stores to make lots of money. That way we have more stores to play at with better facilities and more PPTQ's.
With regards to prize payouts, to do a thorough comparison of the two draft methods is beyond the scope of this post. I'd need to work out the average value of rare-pick one through to rare-pick twenty four. Then compare those to the values in this nice article about Shadows over Innistrad.
To generalise, they're roughly the same value since you can sell/trade whatever you win. However, in a rare-draft you often have your choice of several medium rares, which means less trading/selling/buying to get the rares you ultimately need for constructed.

If stores allow full return value on boosters for entry, that's a whole other story.

If you care to share your local store's prize structure in the comments, please do.

If you're playing a keep-draft and you finish your last round early, you can leave.
For rare-drafts, you need to gather everyone back together at the end, which takes longer if it's a loud busy spread-out store. Then everyone has to put in their rares. Most times there are a couple crappy rares which people forget in their sideboards. Those must be found before proceeding. Then the rare-draft itself takes another five minutes. With regards to logistics, keep-drafts are a little better.

Rare-drafts are at risk of people being dishonest. If a player opens a rare and takes it first pick, they're the only ones who know it's in the draft and could easily swap it for a lower value rare before playing. Rare-drafts only work if everyone in the draft is trustworthy.
Once I was drafting triple Kahns of Tarkir and passed a Wooded Foothills. Lo and behold, it wasn't one of the twenty four rares laid out at the end. "Where's the Foothills?" I proclaim. A young kid 'found' it in his sideboard and put in in the middle. I regret not scolding him more at the time cause that's were you gotta stamp that shit out.

Play experience
Rare-drafts definitely offer a better play experience.
In keep-drafts, any card worth money is taken first pick. This has many adverse effects:

  • It effectively decreasing the number of cards in the draft, making it harder for everyone to build decks.
  • If you take a valuable off-colour rare and pass a good on-colour card, that sends other players bad messages about which colour you're in. They may go into your colour and make both of your decks worse.
  • Players miss the opportunity to try niche strategies which are only enabled by some rares.
  • If a rare is taken just for value and not for a deck, not only does the drafter who would've actually played it lose that exposure, all their opponents do to.

If you're drafting in day two of a GP with thousands of dollars up for grabs, you aren't going to take the off-colour planeswalker pack three. You're going to take the best card for your deck and so is everyone else. If you play rare-drafts rather than keep-drafts at your local store, you're going to be much better prepared for GP's. I want to see Melbourne players get better at drafting.

A ladder to climb
At the end of a rare-draft, all the players gather round the same table and the standings are read out. Where you finished in the draft is acknowledged and communicated to your peers. This creates an extra reward for the players who did well but more importantly it gives the players who are trying to improve, something to strive for. You get recognition for doing well.
In a keep-draft, you walk up to the counter after the final, report your result and the clerk hands you your boosters. The clerk will almost always give you a "3-0, nice" but it's not the same. Then you walk out the door whist other matches are still going.

Sense of ownership
As evident by the recent change to sealed deck registration, players in general prefer to play with the cards they open.
I learnt to draft by rare-drafting. I never developed the 'I opened this, this is mine' attachment, which many players have.
This attachment is a barrier to rare-drafting making a resurgence.

I think rare-drafting is better for the community than keep-drafting. I tried to not be biased. I may have failed in that.

Thanks for reading. If you'd like to try rare-drafting, ask your local store if they've considered it.



  1. I totally agree.

    When I first started playing it was at Metagames and the Rare drafting aspect was awesome. I was a walk in for my first draft and was playing with IsaacEgan, Jeremy Neeman, Andrew Atkinsin, and Daniel Unwin.

    One point you did not touch which is tired into the "ladder" is that rare drafting lets lesser players see how the better players evaluate cards at the end. Sharing knowledge can only lead to better practices as a whole.

    The second point is the much greater sense of community with Rare drafting. Round 3 of a keep draft has each match finish and those players go onto doing something else. A Very unceremonious ending to 3+ hoursoffun. In a rare draft, players stay to watch the other games (or at least stay in the store) and getting everyone who competed together as a group is awesome as you find out how everybody did, have a chat, share stories, and complete the draft as an event. It's much cleaner and really leads to a better community vibe.

    1. Yeah good point about the rare-draft being like a bookend to the event.

      Players often stay around to trade after the rare-draft too since they see who got what.

  2. I think you missed an important factor: the feel bads from opening the money mythic and not going home with it. The sense of loss and even the fear of loss is a much greater motivator than potentially winning something.

  3. I think you missed an important factor: the feel bads from opening the money mythic and not going home with it. The sense of loss and even the fear of loss is a much greater motivator than potentially winning something.

    1. I acknowledged this directly in the "sense of ownership" section. It is real. I've found that players who learnt to draft by rare-drafting, don't believe the cards they open are theirs until they win them at the end, whereas keep-drafters feel whatever they open, they now own.

    2. Sorry didn't read that bit that way.

      Another way to look at the finance is to wonder what a cash limited person will do differently. Will they draft only 75% as often? Or will they draft much less often and spend that money else where? And what portion of the customers are money limited?

    3. Sorry didn't read that bit that way.

      Another way to look at the finance is to wonder what a cash limited person will do differently. Will they draft only 75% as often? Or will they draft much less often and spend that money else where? And what portion of the customers are money limited?

    4. Sorry didn't read that bit that way.

      Another way to look at the finance is to wonder what a cash limited person will do differently. Will they draft only 75% as often? Or will they draft much less often and spend that money else where? And what portion of the customers are money limited?

    5. Yeah, it's interesting. Someone is more likely to try their first draft if it is $15 rather than $20. After the first draft Magic kind of grabs people and they play as often as they can for a year or so. If 'as often as they can' is a lot, then they can burn (or invest, depending how you look at it) through their expendable income. How long it takes them to burn through it depends on the price of playing. That's one case anyway.