The Art of Eight-Man Drafts

Posted in NEWS on July 21, 2009

By Wizards of the Coast

After a short glimpse at the Judge articles, one would realize that there isn't anything on eight-man drafts, Why? Because they are so easy! We all know them and we've all judged them, but what happens when you have lots of them, let's say 100 in a single day? Two hundred? In this area of the world, giant GPs happen more and more often.

Eight-man drafts (EMDs) are usually the place where a less experienced judge will make his début. The casual atmosphere will make him feel comfortable and the increased amount of calls, relative to tournaments back home, will reward his time. EMDs are useful to more the experienced judges as well, because most of the time young judgelings will require guidance. Though the most important thing is that EMDs require organizational skills, or else chaos will end up winning. This article will try to sum up my experience in this area so far, as well as introduce how the system usually works.

Picking the place

The first and easy choice is a designated place that would stand out from the rest and will have enough tables for our drafts. If this place is close to the Public Events stage, then we have our space. Unfortunately other tournaments must take place at the same time and the Public Events HJ may not be able to find such a space, so most of the time we have two options:

Option A

A big space that will be far from the stage


When eight players have signed up with the scorekeeper, he prints the tournament, with the names of the players, draft seating, and the pairings. It's practically identical with the single-elimination Top 8 paper at a PTQ. Notice that the name of the tournament contains a unique number that depicts how many EMDs have occurred that day. Usually we refer to a specific EMD through that number so it is pretty important.

Afterwards, the paper ends up at the hands of the Fetch Judge. This judge is responsible for gathering the eight players, a task that might require calling people through the microphone. At the next step, the Fetch Judge walks to the Draft Area and delivers the paper, the product, and the players to Draft Judge A or B, whoever has the fewer drafts. The Fetch Judge is also the one who gives out the prizes directly to the players, or indirectly through the Draft Judges.

The Draft Judge is responsible for seating the players, explaining the procedure quickly, helping them with drafting and logistics. The tournament paper stays with the Draft Judge so the players won't know their next opponent. This reduces the possibility of cheating. Experience has taught us that players will forget to report their results. Try devoting one or two sentences on this subject before you start the draft. An experienced Draft Judge can handle up to eight or ten drafts. When a draft is finished he either hands out the prizes or points the Fetch Judge to the players.

The Draft judge is responsible for his space. Although his first care is answering calls, he should also collect the opened boosters and trash in general, push in chairs, and clear space for his next draft. Whatever he needs, he communicates with the Fetch Judge.

Printer problems are something that we don't usually see, but we must be prepared for them. At those times the scorekeeper will just give to the judge eight names and the name of the tournament. The Draft Judge must make random seatings and the respective pairings. Usually there are two rules: players play their opposite and they can't play any of their neighbors till the final.

Option B

A smaller place close to the stage at first, switching to option A at the peak hours


In this option, the procedure is more or less the same as option A with a vital difference: there is no Fetch Judge. The one and only Judge is responsible for everything. He is mainly a Draft Judge (with all the above responsibilities) who also gathers the players and distributes prizes—although the last one might be done by the Public Event HJ or another designated judge. There is no need for a Fetch Judge as the stage and the draft area are close enough and the judge can watch the drafts and gather the players at the same time. In this option, the judge can handle six to eight drafts. If there are two judges, they will have the same responsibilities. If there are too many players, they should organize two separate areas.

The challenge in this option is switching to option A. Usually when the available space is about to run out, the Judge should communicate this to the Public Events HJ. He will be responsible for locating the next area and to find another Draft Judge. Ideally, the original judge will act as a Fetch Judge. At the beginning, there won't be a prize issue as all the new will be new! The Fetch Judge will thus have the time to keep an eye at the front draft tables. At some point, another Draft Judge will be needed and the Fetch Judge should be the one to communicate this to the Public event HJ.

Comparing options

At first glance, option B appears preferable. Fewer judges can handle more tournaments, judges won't walk large distances, and prize distribution seems an easy task. The Public Events HJ will evaluate things, as with just a glance, he will be able see the volume of EMDs. Furthermore, in option A, players won't be gathered easily, as they will be going to the draft areas to watch their friends playing.

On the other hand, in the second option, EMDs might end up too close. The casual environment of EMDs usually translates to very enthusiastic screams of joy or unhappiness which might cause some disturbance to scorekeepers and the judge station in general. The main concern about the second option, though, is the switching areas. Seems pretty easy when you read the process, but several things might go wrong. The judge might not notice quickly enough that there is not enough space. The Public Events HJ has several tournaments in mind and EMDs can't attract all his time and attention. Available judges are sometimes hard to find, at least not on time.

Summarizing the above there are not easy or absolute choices. Each tournament setting requires different strategy.

Things to Notice

All the EMDs are zone drafts. Each player is a separate zone that has the cards he picked in front of him: on one side the packs (may be more than one) to be passed to the next player, and on the other side, the cards that he hasn't still seen. The unopened booster packs are part of the zone as well. The zone drafts are untimed.

We should not forget that the REL is Regular, so we should have a more relaxed environment, but the Magic Tournament Rules still apply. In order to survive at this thin line, try giving the players a warm welcome, but be emphatic that their eyes should stay at their cards. If you have the time, watch the first one or two picks.

A problem that hasn't been solved yet is deck construction. After drafting, players often like to move to different tables for construction to keep their picks secret. This option is not available to EMDs due to space constraints and because the judge will lose track of them. Constructing together will decrease the cheating possibility as well. Almost always, players will construct their decks at the same table they drafted. The good thing is that players usually play the opposite guy, so during construction they will be sitting far from each other. That's only for the first round.

Sometimes we are understaffed, so we might end up with one judge and sixteen tables! At those terrifying times, we gather the players, sit them down, explain the procedure, and point to the land station. The difference is that we give the tournament paper to one of the players, hopefully the most responsible one, so as to fill in the results and inform the table about the pairings. Then we run to the stage to get the next draft started. Fortunately, this seldom happens. My "worst" memory is the usual suspect, Worlds Paris, when I was standing in front of the microphone for eight straight hours, getting tournaments from the scorekeepers, gathering the players and forwarding everything to the Draft Judges. These judges had to walk 200 meters to find an empty table. After a brief talk with the players, they had to head back to the Public Events Stage to pick up the next tournament. When I had free time I was preparing product for the next drafts, handing out prizes, and cleaning up the trash. It was really my best day in the judge corps!

At some point you will have to hand your tournaments to another judge. That might happen due to your shift ending, having a break, or just being reassigned to another task. Having a global system will help this transition, as the other judge will know what to expect. Staying organized at all times seems vital as well.

Despite all the "dos" that this article contains, there will be times that you will have free time. Perfect; ask for feedback from an experienced judge (usually the Fetch Judge) or just chat with fellow zebras in order to feel part of the community. If you are an experienced judge, take advantage of your free time to step away from the tournament for one minute and try to find improvements, challenging this very system in the process! Lastly, all these inexperienced judges are provoking you to mentor them, right?


  • Keep all the tournament papers together with the help of a dossier. This way you won't lose them—I accomplished that at my first GP—and they will be carried easily.
  • Order the tournaments either chronologically or geographically. If you order them chronologically then you can answer to the question, "could you give me draft #4?" within three seconds. In geographic order, the respective question is, "I'm sitting at this table, who is my next opponent?" Choose the method that suits you best.
  • Make a small map on the bottom right corner of each paper, depicting your area, the table of the specific draft, and a spot for orientation, usually the Judge station. When you deliver your tournaments to another judge, the papers will have all the needed info, unless you have my drawing (dis)abilities.
  • "Stealing" some empty table numbers and writing the tournament number might be another way to go, although you have to be consistent—something that may not happen in the chaotic environment of public events.
  • After the first round of a draft, we have four remaining players, and after the second, only two. So normally neighboring drafts can be grouped in just one table after the first or the second round. This will result in more controllable areas and an economy of space.
  • Always have an extra table ready for a new draft and remember empty tables attract binders and casual games. Try persuading those players to move somewhere else.
  • Read Ute's article about giant and tiring tournaments.


If you are a young judge, you will have a guide when the time comes to face multiple EMDs and be informed: the more EMDs you have, the more exiting your tournament will be. After a certain point you may forget that there was even a main event. They are that rewarding! The chaotic atmosphere is waiting for you to master it. Feel the energy of the Public Events and you will love it! For the judges who have experienced the above, don't forget to pass on your knowledge and, of course, to find improvements. To probe further on side events, read George M's introduction on Public events. Hopefully this article will help you. Thanks for reading!

George Trichopoulos aka trioctopus
L2 Greece