Take a group of Magic players and at one point or another, you will have had an argument trying to determine what the most skill-testing way to play Magic is. My unwavering opinion on the subject is that Team Rochester Draft stands head and shoulders above other formats. Oh, and it is a lot of fun, too.
For those of you (and unfortunately there are still many) who are not familiar with the format, here is how it works. You team up with two friends and are playing against another team of three. You are seated as follows:
Player B from one of the teams opens the first booster and lays it out on the table. Players have time to review the cards and then player B makes a selection. Player C takes a card, and then players from the opposing team get their picks. After that, player A takes two cards, and the opposing team picks up another three cards. Player C picks a card, then player B “wheels” two more, and players C and A from the opposing team pick up the remaining two.
This process is repeated with player C opening the next pack, opposing player A opening the pack after that, etc. Pack and pick order is similar to traditional Rochester draft, but that is where the similarities end.
In a regular Rochester draft, every player is your potential opponent. It is generally a good idea to cooperate with players sitting next to you, but there are limits to this. For example, you won’t pass a really good card in a color you are playing just to help out your neighbor. In this format, you are working together as a team. If a certain card would work better in your teammate’s deck, you are happy to pass it and take a weaker card instead. Likewise, you won’t hesitate to counter-draft a really powerful card you cannot use if the alternative is it ending up in your opponent’s deck.
The other major difference is that you will be playing against one opponent only. Player A will match up against the other player A, B against B, and C against C. And since all the drafting is done in the open, you know exactly what cards your opponent is drafting and can alter your strategy to counter his efforts.
Suppose that your first two picks were Cage of Hands and Soratami Mirror-Mage, and your opponent picked up two Nezumi Cutthroat. Suddenly blue-white does not seem as attractive anymore. It is not too late to switch—just abandon one of the colors for black, and as long as you pick up a fair amount of black creatures, your opponent’s top picks get devalued by a lot.
There are many nuances to this format that do not come up elsewhere. Suppose that player B opens the first pack and it features three really good blue cards. Often the correct play may be to pass all three to the other team. Either they will be forced to have two players trying to draft blue (and you usually want only one blue mage in this format), or they might be forced to pass two of the good blue cards to your player A, who will happily grab them. This will also allow you to take out the two best non-blue cards from the pack first.
While you must be a master of many archetypes in regular draft, this format allows you to consistently draft a specific archetype. You can specialize in a black-white spirit deck, or in red-green beatdown. Teams spend a lot of time figuring out how archetypes perform against each other so that they can position their players favorably against the opposing team.
Ability to communicate is an important skill that often sets good teams apart from the average ones. You are not allowed to speak during the draft, but you can point, wave, and otherwise pantomime to your teammates. Most experienced teams have developed their own signs to communicate many of the important messages you might want to relay to your teammates. My own team Illuminati (Shvartsman, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Justin Gary) has hand signs for everything from “Counter-draft this” and “I want this card” to “There aren’t enough creatures in my deck yet” and “I am ahead of the curve and so can spend more time counter-drafting.”
Once the drafting process is complete, you build the decks. You cannot share the cards, but you can give your teammates advice on how to best utilize the card they took. Players attending Pro Tour: Atlanta this month will be looking to play Team Rochester Draft—but not all of them will get to do so. First, teams will have to advance to day 2, playing the Team Sealed format.
Team Sealed is not quite as skill-testing as the Draft variant, but there is still plenty of opportunity for the better teams to outthink their opponents. In this format, the team of three players is given two tournament packs and four booster packs to work with. They share all the cards and must split them up amongst themselves, building three decks. This is harder than it sounds given just how many ways you can possibly build three decks out of an average card pool.
As the Pro Tour is going to be followed with a round of Qualifiers using this same format, I encourage you to give it a try. If you are a fan of either Rochester Draft or Team Booster Draft, you are going to find this an exciting new way to play the game. Although you should not expect to master it quickly, I hope you come to love Team Rochester Draft as much as I do.