Running the draft at a professional event cannot really compare to your regular 8-man store draft, or even your 30-player FNM. Not only is there a pure scaling issue, there is also the matter of the professional atmosphere! There's a huge difference in staffing, the product is stamped, and the draft is called through a PA system. All this makes the jump from organizing (and dealing with) a large event draft portion a very different experience from a regular mid-sized draft.
In every tournament, time is an important factor and this is especially true in events which include a limited portion. After all, if you're not careful, the overhead can eat much more time of your clock than you would like, and this makes nobody happy. Luckily, various options are at your disposal to be as prepared as possible for this. This article will try to cover several ways to approach drafts at large events, to enable you to run this portion of the tournament run as smoothly as possible.
If you want to be well prepared before starting a draft at Nationals, on Day 2 of a Grand Prix or at the Pro Tour, the first thing you need to figure out is how to seat players at your tables for the draft. Don't forget that pods should never be larger than 8 people and most pods will contain 8 people.
Depending on the available tables and on the room setup, you may need to do some moving around before starting the draft! Having a plan for this is crucial because, if moving is needed, this is a very time consuming process.
If round tables are available, those are obviously great for drafting. Players will all have a seat that places them under an angle preventing accidental peeking. Additionally, if you have round tables, you're already certain that deck construction can take place at different tables, which will simplify logistics later on!
If you are limited to the use of rectangular tables, you want to make sure you count the length of the rows. It is a very good idea to allow at least one, but preferably more seats between two different pods seated in the same row, because this will prevent mistakes from happening during the draft. Compare the two setups below: in the top one, players might accidentally pass boosters to a drafter in another pod. The setup on the bottom does not have this problem (but uses more table space). If you don't have the space for empty chairs, use another form of separators between the pods to avoid confusion!
If your tables are smaller (as opposed to the long rows above), then you can make things a bit more comfortable for the players by giving them more space: just move two players per pod to the head of the table. Besides offering the players more space, this setup also has the advantage of decreasing accidental peeking. Compare the two setups below. Of course, you can only do this if your tables aren't too close together; after all, you don't want to hamper player and judge movement. The disadvantage of this setup is that you likely need to move chairs around before the start of the draft, unless you have enough tables to do the draft at a different set of tables. With a large judge crew this is doable however!
You can go even further with this idea and use two rectangular tables per pod to make an (almost) square table which gives you almost the same setup that round tables offer you. The downside of this is that you'll need to move around a lot of tables. This can lead to a loss of time and a bit of chaos. Additionally, having enough space between the rows to allow this setup isn't always a given.
- Find the decklists. If you don't find any (or don't have enough), you'll be really happy that you checked this a few hours before you needed them, so that you can still print some!
- Checking the presence of your (stamped) draft product. Do this at least two rounds before the draft starts (or the evening before the event if your draft is the first thing the next day). You want to be certain that you're not missing product, that the product is of the right sets if stamped (just check a few boosters) and that you have enough for all the players ... especially for the second day of a GP, this can matter! Stamping product is a very time-intensive process; don't underestimate the many, many hours that will be consumed just for stamping a few cards.
- Sort the product into draft pod allotments. You want to postpone this as long as possible, since you'll need a judge to guard the product once it's out of the boxes. Stamped product comes sorted in the box, but not in the way you need it! The figure below shows how the product is usually packed, and how you want to sort it to allow fast distribution.
- Figure out where you want to place the land stations. Or perhaps it's easier not to have any land stations at all and simply put land trays on the tables for deck construction? This will usually depend on the amount of lands you have, since dropping one box every X players means you need to have more lands than with a land station. It also depends on the staff size, since leaving the lands on each table is easy, but collecting it back can take more time.
If you're kind of light either on lands or in staff (or both), you may prefer to create 2 to 3 land stations where players can just grab their lands. In this case, the amount of land stations will depend on the space to create them and the number of players you have. Controlling player movement is key here: avoid crowd and congestion problems by having enough space in front of the land stations for players to gather. If you're not low on lands and staff, leaving some lands on the tables will make construction much easier for players as well as saving some player movement around which should speed things up.
- For large sealed deck events, not having land stations is by far an easier option since a lot of players will swamp the land stations near the end of deck construction, creating chaos. For drafts however, player flow is much more evenly divided and there are less players, so it's very feasible to use land stations, which offers additional benefits for decklist collection, as detailed below.
- As with land stations, you'll also need to think about your strategy for decklist collection. If you're using land stations, you can place judges at those – that way, players can hand in their list and get lands at the same time. Or you could put the judges near the pairing boards and require players to go to the correct name range and find the judge there – this leaves you with presorted deck lists. You could also just have a bunch of judges walking around collecting deck lists – this is riskier, as you might miss a few lists, but it's less confusing for the players. Just make sure you have a plan and that all judges are aware of that plan, because players will still ask all judges where to hand in their deck lists, even if you announced it!
Judge Briefing: communication with the judges
All this preparation and all these measures you've been thinking of are great, but it will all come down to nothing if the people involved don't know by heart what they are supposed to be doing. Many things need to be done at the same time, and if one of them fails, all the others will be delayed or bogged down. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It can't be stressed enough how important it is that communication among judges is in time and as extensive as needed. Remember that in a large draft you'll probably have a large staff: this requires a judge meeting, or team meetings at least. Making a little document before the tournament always helps, but the meeting to will help judges refresh their memory (as well as make sure nothing was misunderstood). To repeat: the most precious resource you have is time. Make sure that you do as much as you can to save it.
Draft logistics and player movement
You've sorted product, you found deck lists, and your tables are set up. Your draft can start! Right? Well, there are a few things left to do!
For one, you still need to put the product on the tables. Note that you want to clear the area of players while distribution is being carried out, just to prevent product from magically disappearing from the tables or getting moved around. Unless you lack both time and manpower, you'll want to put the boosters in the correct spot on the table, rather than leave a single stack of 24 boosters per table. This will help players find their seats and will diminish confusion. While you're distributing product, you should also be putting the small in-pod seating sheets on the pod tables. These show each player in which seat within the pod he or she should sit. Unless you know players are really used to this and will be able to sort their seatings on their own (and even if this is the case), you may want to have a judge check on each table that the seating has been done correctly, checking the positions of each player. Again, this depends on staffing.
Additionally, you need to figure out how you're going to let the players move around the room. This may sound awkward, but it is actually worth thinking about! The less often players need to move around, the more time you'll save. Also, if players need to walk around with their drafted cards between the draft and deck construction, you want them to have as little contact as possible, to avoid cards getting dropped or lost, or players talking about their decks, etc.
The most important parameter here is whether you have enough tables to do the draft and the deck construction in different areas. If you can, you'll be able to avoid a few problems:
- You can put the deck lists on the deck construction tables before or during the draft. Players won't need to carry them around (so they cannot lose them) and they won't have to wait (which would be the case if you can only distribute them after the draft).
- You can make the players leave their draft seats in batches of pods, and have them walk to their deck construction tables in small groups. If you have fewer people moving around at the same time, there's less risk of them talking or losing cards. The figure below illustrates this way of seating.
A variation of this is to have players leave their draft seats in batches according to their draft position. This is accomplished by asking each player on position #1 to go to construction tables 1 and 2, position #2 to tables 3 and 4 and so on. This variation is pretty risky: when players see a lot of players standing up all around the room, they'll stand up even when it's not their time to do so. In no time everyone will be standing up, chaos will ensue, and you'll have no way to stop them.
- There's no need to reconfigure or (quickly) clean the area. Table numbers and pod numbers can be placed on different sets of tables, chairs won't need to be moved, there won't be any leftover booster wrappings from the draft on the tables where players are building their decks, etc.
Regardless of whether you have two areas or just a single set of tables, there are still a few choices you need to make:
- Will you hold a player meeting before the draft? In the likely event that you will, will you have the players sit down in their deck construction seats or will you have them move to the pods immediately? In some cases, the former is the only viable option; for example for the first draft of a GP Day 2, where you need to find out which players are present and which players are absent (and therefore shouldn't be put in any pod). There are advantages to using the deck construction tables: you can instruct players to remain silent before they know who they'll be drafting with, and players won't be fumbling around with their boosters too soon. However, it requires an extra movement of all players in the tournament. Often, at professional events, players are knowledgeable enough about the proceedings to know what they can and cannot do but this may not be the case everywhere: if you have the option, then holding the player meeting with players in their pods is just the faster and better method but sacrificing some time in order for a more clear meeting is an option not to underestimate.
- How and when will you distribute deck lists? Will you put them on the tables for deck construction or on the draft tables? If there are two areas, this problem is easily solved, but if you are using the same set of tables for draft and deck construction, you need to consider your options.
- How do you expect players to find out where they'll be building their decks? If you use the deck construction tables for the player meeting, the players should already know their table number. However, with a draft in between that requires focus, most will have forgotten their table number. Having them write it down on their (predistributed) deck list and asking them to take their deck list with them for the draft is one solution ... but not necessarily a great one: deck lists will be forgotten or lost; it's probably better to ask players to remember their seatings and, when the draft is done, repost the meeting seating in case someone has forgotten his table number or just wishes to double check his memory.
Another solution, which you can use if you hold the player meeting at the draft pods (or no player meeting at all), is to put seating sheets on each pod, containing only the names of the players in that pod. Note that there is currently no reporter software that supports printing seatings this way, so this needs to be done manually by the scorekeeper! If the names of the players in the draft are known beforehand, this can be done quite easily with some Excel magic. The advantage of using seating sheets per table is that players will not all move towards the pairing boards at the same time to find out where they'll be building their deck. If your scorekeeper is up for the challenge, this is a definite winner! Be sure to distribute these papers while the players are drafting the third booster, meanwhile removing all other paper (like the in-pod seating sheets!) from the tables. When the draft is done, you can simply announce through the microphone that the players can find their table numbers for deck construction on their table. You can then start moving players in batches.
Don't forget: at some point during deck construction, preferably as soon as possible, you'll need to set up land stations (unless you're placing land trays on the tables). You should have figured out where to put these during your preparation. Make sure you regularly check whether enough lands of each type are present. Manning the land stations is a good idea – and required if you're collecting decklists there.
Having judges present for collecting decklists as soon as deck building has passed the first few minutes is generally a good idea, because some players will be done very quickly. Make sure your judges are instructed to be consistent! You could have them check for player names or the presence of basic lands for example, but make sure that they do it for either everyone or no one. Checking the presence of names is of particular importance and you may really want judges to be checking if they are on each deck list. Once again, your ability to do this will probably depend on the size of your staff. Don't forget that once a deck list is handed in, it is considered final. Changes cannot be made anymore. Some players may want to verify what they registered however; if you have the time and manpower to find their list, this is good customer service. Stay with the player however, since, again, his deck list is final after it was handed in.
The draft itself
During the draft, the logistical challenges disappear for a while and most judges should concentrate on watching how players are drafting. One judge (not the head judge!) should be calling the draft, while the others are on the floor.
Make sure that you have a few extra packs ready to swap for faulty packs, also make sure that the judges carrying those packs are spread over the floor and are attentive! Other judges should know who's in charge of carrying these packs in case something wrong happens, so it can be solved as fast as possible.
It's important to know and to remind judges that once a pack has been started on a draft, the draft itself should not be stopped in case something goes wrong, unless it happens at a large amount of tables. A judge should go to that particular table as soon as possible, figure out the problem, solve it and keep that table going on itself. This may be done rejoining the general draft times one or two picks late (this works well if not much time was lost solving the problem, even if you're taking some seconds out of the table in each pick) or, if the delay was too high, the judge should carry that particular table draft times. In any case, the judge managing the microphone should make sure every table is ready before continuing to the next step in the draft process. The most common problems are players grabbing the wrong pack (e.g. opening booster C when asked to open B), players seeing the pack has an abnormal rarity distribution (e.g. rare missing, too many uncommons, etc) and some kind of error during the draft itself (e.g. a pack has fewer cards than it should). The first two kind of errors are usually easy to solve and will probably delay the draft only a few picks. The third might be more difficult to discover as well as solve. Whatever happens though, don't have your judges shout, "stop the draft!" when there is a problem at a single table.
It's important to prevent cheating. Sometimes players will accidentally glance over another player's cards in an uncontrolled eye movement, but sometimes players will cheat and check out what their neighbors are drafting in order to gain an advantage. Vigilance amongst the judge crew can help here. If one judge has spotted something potentially fishy, it's a good idea to put another judge on it, so that he can verify. This verification not only gives you multiple opinions, but also multiple witnesses in case someone is indeed cheating! If you are suspicious of someone, try to see that player's eyes. The best way to do this is to be at a rather large distance from the table (as to not get noticed), and to crouch so that your eyes are at the same height as the player's, or lower. This provides a much clearer view than when you're standing upright. Remember: judges should be looking at how players are drafting and not at what they are drafting.
The most crucial moments, where players tend to look the wrong way are:
- directly after picking up their drafted cards for review between packs;
- near the end of that period;
- basically anytime when they have make their pick and their neighbor hasn't yet; and
- when a player still needs to make his or her pick and the player to their right is currently picking.
Make sure you are attentive at those times. Also, take into account that once the second pack is going around, the benefits for peeking are only marginal.
Again, you have a few options. You can have each judge watch one or more tables, or you can have judges roam freely in the draft area. You could also use a combination of both. Having a designated judge per table ensures good coverage for every table at all times, whereas roaming judges will not constantly be watching all tables. Roaming judges however can more easily swap between who they're watching and will rise less suspicion with the players if they are indeed checking out weird behavior.
If you have come to the conclusion that a player is actually peeking, informing the HJ is the way to go but by all means, let the player end the draft as if nothing happened, since you don't want to affect other players' drafts. Once the draft is over, the HJ has a clear path to start doing his thing.
One final thing to remember is not to be overzealous here. Most players are smart enough not to peek. Keep your eyes open, but try not to see things that aren't there.
Drafts at large, professional events can be a logistical nightmare if you're ill-prepared, but with some forethought and a healthy doses of common sense, you'll come a far way in making things run smoothly. Again, good preparation, fluent communication, and fast reflexes will be the stars of this portion of a tournament. We hope that this article has been of some help to those of you who find themselves in a position charge of such a draft!
Damian Hiller and Jurgen Baert