One in 11,000

Posted in Feature on October 25, 2010

By Dave Guskin

What do you get when you throw eight Magic players with something like eighty years of Magic playing experience among them into a room with 1000 cards on a table and another 10,000 waiting in the wings, and tell them to pick until their arms are sore and they have crafted a deck somewhere in between Constructed powerhouse and Limited bomb-a-thon? You get a Vintage Rotisserie draft, of course!

The Not-So-Secret Origin Story

In late July, a bunch of Magic players in New York discussed some interesting variations on draft formats. It was during that conversation that Chris Pikula suggested the concept of a Vintage Rotisserie draft—eight players do an epic draft of all 11,000 Magic cards until they each have a deck. To no one's surprise, this compelling activity has now become a phenomenon among long-time players. Tom Martell published an article about the initial set of drafts that took off using Google Docs to track picks. Many groups of Magic celebrities and their friends have performed many of these drafts since then, and this is the story of ours.

The core concept of Vintage Rotisserie is best summed up by Paul Barclay's reaction to his place at first position in a recent draft: "Looks like I'm about to open the best booster in the history of Magic!" Vintage Rotisserie is a truly alluring format to a long-time player like myself—where else do you consider the merits of Reshape (the backup Transmute Artifact) compared to the Mind Over Matter / Temple Bell combo compared to a wide variety of potential hate cards including Virtue's Ruin and Infernal Darkness? My eyes were filled with limitless possibility.

Infernal Darkness

To my surprise and delight, once my starry eyes returned to normal, I came to understand a more fundamental aspect of the draft: how will the other seven players, hungrily eyeing the same cards as you, proceed to pick their cards?

Previously at Wizards, some other die-hard gamers and I have done a few regular Rotisserie drafts—an already ludicrously involved activity. You can read about them using the links to the [right], starting with our first using the Lorwyn set. The craziest one I can remember was our twelve-person Team Rotisserie of the full Shards of Alara block. (Each team member picked from one of the three expansions, then the team built three decks from the shared pool and we played a full individual round robin.)

Kelly does a good job of summarizing in his Lorwyn Rotisserie article, but I'll include another summary here for ease of reference. A Rotisserie Draft works like this: you lay a particular set of cards out on a table, usually a single expansion. Gather eight players and order them 1 to 8. Player #1 then picks a single card on the table to go into their pool. Proceed with picks for players #2 through #7, then player #8 receives "the wheel," which means they pick twice—once for each direction. Then picking order is reversed and players #7 through #2 take their picks. Player #1 then wheels, and the draft proceeds until (a) every card is drafted, or (b) the players mutually agree to finish.

I enjoy the mental exercise of a Rotisserie Draft—which deck archetypes exist, given the cards available? How many of them will be fiercely contested? Greg Marques, as he notes in his article on Shards of Alara Rotisserie, enjoys making lists of important cards (bombs, removal, etc.) similar to how players agree upon pick orders for regular Booster Draft. Much of this logic became strained or just broke down completely when the set of available cards became all of Magic!

My first experience with Vintage Rotisserie came when Kyle Boddy started recruiting folks to participate in a draft with other Pacific Northwest players over Google Docs. I jumped in with only the barest sketch of what I wanted to do—I expected Time Vault would be underrated (I believe it is the card with the most raw power in Vintage) and wanted to build a combo deck around it. Sure enough, I was able to pick Time Vault up in 5th position after taking Mana Crypt first overall.

Time Vault
Mana Crypt

I quickly found that my rough sketch of a plan meant I didn't really know what cards I wanted as the meat and potatoes of my deck. I picked up some card draw over more important tutors and the remaining fast mana, which meant my deck was a bit unreliable. Also, since the lag time between picks ended up being substantial (we implemented a texting tree eventually to speed picks along), I didn't really keep a solid framework in my head the whole time. I ended up going 3-4 when we played out the matches in person; I found my performance respectable but worthy of improving.

Live, from Renton

So when it came time in September for Brian David-Marshal to take his yearly trip from New York out to our offices in Renton to perform his duties as Pro Tour Historian, I was receptive to his demand that we organize a live Vintage Rotisserie Draft one evening that week. What? A LIVE Vintage Rotisserie Draft?

Our plan was straightforward, and not as crazy as laying out all 11,000 cards across some gymnasium-sized space. We would find enough contributors to get about 1000 cards on a table, and we'd choose the cards that seemed like they were frequently drafted from previous Vintage Rotisserie Drafts. It turned out the greatest contributor to the cause was also one of the individuals most interested in tackling the challenge of the format—Randy Buehler, former Director of R&D and Pro Tour Hall of Famer. Randy delved deep into his incredibly extensive collection and found about 90% of the cards I needed to do the setup.

With the seed of the idea and the necessary cards lined up, we merely needed five other players. In the course of casual conversation at work, I found that Aaron Forsythe and Worth Wollpert were both interested. Unsurprisingly, my partner-in-crime from our first Wizards Rotisserie, Mark Globus, was also up for it. Developer Zac Hill, Cube enthusiast and sucker for the high-minded strategy required for this endeavor, also claimed a spot. The last spot was claimed by none other than game designer Greg Marques, another champion of the Rotisserie format who had joined Zac and me in the PacNW Rotisserie from the previous month or so.

Ready, Set, Drafto!

We ended up commandeering one of the conference rooms at Wizards and laying out the cards in all their shiny-sleeved glory. Since we didn't get things started until about 6:30pm, after work, we mutually agreed upon the following rules to smooth things along:

Each player had 30 seconds to make a pick.
They could roughly describe the card they wanted, if it wasn't on the table, and other players would fill in the name. ("Uh, I want that counterspell that is like cantrip Force Spike for spells." "Disrupt!")
Each player had a few time outs of 1-2 minutes each for bathroom breaks or a quick Gatherer search.

With unexpected but welcome diligence, we kept to these rules pretty well and completed the draft of 60 picks per person in just under two hours. Sixty cards meant a small number of sideboard options for some drafters—I had about eleven slots and poor Mark Globus, with his Lands/Stax deck, had only four!—but overall everyone was happier to finish the draft in a timely manner.

We even had time for most of the games afterward, with Randy and Mark staying until about 1am to finish off their match, one of the few remaining. The rest we cleaned up over the course of the next few days at work. The final match in the Pit between Aaron and Worth, to determine 1st place overall, drew a crowd not unlike a feature match at a Pro Tour. I couldn't help but smile.

Eight Times the Fun

You can see the entirety of the draft in a Google Docs spreadsheet here.

Greg Marques: Necropotence

I started this draft with Necropotence, which I don't believe is a great first card, and certainly not first overall. If you are 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th, Necropotence might be a good first or second pick. It is certainly a powerful card, and it lays clear claim to black. In this format it seems that few players want to go into black as their main color, and a strong declaration like this might scare everyone else out entirely. My other two reasons for doing it are: I thought it would be funny and Jay Schneider told me that he predicted it would be Erik Lauer's first pick. While I don't actually believe that's what Erik would do, especially not in the first seat, I didn't have a chance to ask Erik directly.

My next picks were great, Demonic Tutor, Mind Twist, and Sensei's Divining Top, and on that wheel I made my first clear blunder with Vampiric Tutor. Now, that's a fine card, but I had been thinking about taking Dark Confidant ... and even took the Top to go with it, yet somehow screwed up in the moment. I still would have gotten it if Aaron wasn't stealing my cards (I don't even think he played it, he didn't run Dark Ritual either). I then took solid cards for a while, but my real problem was lack of preparation combined with the dearth of black cards actually on the table. I didn't have time to research black and all its possibilites, so I failed to find a myriad of cool combos, top-tier spells and creatures ahead of time. This could have been okay, because I was expecting fifty or more of the best black cards to be on the table. Sadly only about thirty of them were present. We picked on a thirty second clock so I didn't have much time to think and really no time to look anything up. This is why my picks get somewhat embarrassing near the end.

Demonic Tutor
Sensei's Divining Top

I had too many aggressive creatures and not enough cool spells, especially card drawing (I should have taken both Sign in Blood and Night's Whisper), and not nearly enough answers to non-creatures. Black doesn't have many anyway, but there are more I could have gotten.

My first match was against Worth's red deck. I was able to keep him at bay long enough to beat him negative with Abyssal Persecutor and then Faceless Butcher it post-combat in one of our games. In both of the other games he had Skullclamp and drew many extra cards. The last game was still quite close, and very exciting.

Zac's deck was, well, very Zacalicious. I thought I had him in the first game with an early reanimated Iona, Shield of Emeria followed by a Grave Titan, but he hit Island after Island, allowing his Veldaken Shackles to steal Iona, block Grave Titan and get back in the game. My army of Zombies wasn't enough as he started drawing non-lands, especially Painter's Servant and Grindstone. In the second I made a critical mistake, and he took advantage of my stumble to bury me in control cards.

Iona, Shield of Emeria
Grave Titan

I loved BDM's strategy in taking four merfolk lords, other powerful blue cards and a splash of white. Against me, however, his deck didn't love him. First game I had removal at the right times and enough creatures to finish the job. I was able to get out Grave Titan followed by a Consume the Meek in Game 2, wiping out his team in the face of my game-ending threat.

Against Randy I had a slow start and he Tinkered out a Darksteel Colossus quite early despite mulliganing to five cards. Game 2 I started off stronger, with a Sadistic Sacrament to remove the Colossus, Mindslaver, and Mind's Desire. The only remaining ways he had to kill me seemed to be Banefire, Braingeyser, Stroke of Genius, and Platinum Angel. A few turns later I played Negator, knowing he had Firemaw Kavu. I intended to sacrifice three lands and my Mesmeric Fiend, Diabolic Edict the Kavu and beat him down (I wasn't holding anything else) before he found an infinite mana setup of some kind. He had drawn the Banefire, however, and when I tried to Edict myself in response, he negated that. Down to one Swamp, I drew nothing while he found Platinum Angel and beat me to death with it. Perhaps I should have just held it and waited to draw something else, but I was worried he still had quite a few ways to combo me out if I left him alone too long.

Aaron demolished me. He had Sword of Light and Shadow both games (via Stoneforge Mystic), and while I sided in a ton of creature kill, I simply drew Swamp after Swamp in Game 2.

I'd be happy to do this again, and I intend to try playing more than one color next time!

Dave Guskin: Black Lotus

With my first pick as Black Lotus (after Greg's posturing pick of Necropotence), I had my eye on a storm deck the whole draft. Unfortunately, my inexperience with drafting storm, and my distractedness from running some of the logistics of the draft (timing picks and recording them when Matt Tabak left), meant that I missed some key components. For example, I had more than enough fast mana and far too little card draw. Another issue was that I didn't really know when to hold them and when to "fold" them, so to speak. My lines of play were kind of generated on the fly, which meant that I had a few times when I tried to storm out my opponent but whiffed, like with Ignite Memories against Aaron and by keeping Empty the Warrens in against Globus and his The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale (oops!).

I didn't win a match, hilariously, but I still had tons of fun. To me, that's the best part of this format: there's so many interesting interactions at play (literally everything from across Magic's history is fair game) that you can't really account for everything that might come up in a game, and that means you can still be surprised by combinations of cards you didn't see coming.

High Tide
Night's Whisper

A great illustration of this was in my very first game against Mark Globus: he had me dead on board with Karn, Silver Golem and a bunch of artifacts, and I had Mind over Matter in play. I drew Timetwister off the top, thought for a moment, then shrugged and rolled the dice. Seven new cards seemed way better than dying! In my new hand, I found High Tide and Night's Whisper, but no looping engine or storm spell. I used the remainder of my cards to generate the necessary mana, using Mind over Matter, and found a Chromatic Sphere on top. The Sphere converted into one new card: my last pick Conjurer's Bauble. I put Timetwister back on the bottom of my deck, hunting for one last card ... and found the one I needed: Temple Bell! The Bell meant I could use the remaining cards in my hand to loot my entire deck until I retrieved the Timetwister at the bottom. Seven new cards meant I would have enough mana to do it all again, and thus I could generate infinite mana and infinite storm, and Timetwister infinitely until I found a storm spell to kill him.

Temple Bell

Sure, I then got locked out by Mark's Smokestack, outplayed by Aaron's use of his Survival engine, messed up my storm and anti-countermagic strategy against BDM's Fish, and failed to utilize infinite mana from High Tide / Palinchron against Randy and then got run over by Colossus. I got pounded by Worth's Goblins (unsurprisingly) despite twelve Goblin tokens of my own, and outdrawn and outclassed by Zac's mono-blue monstrosity. Even while losing all those matches, I was having a blast, and I wouldn't trade that for any number of match wins if I had to be miserable while doing it.

Of course, there are always future Rotisseries for having fun AND winning at the same time!

Mark Globus: Sol Ring

I drafted mono-grief: a stax deck with Strip Mine / Wasteland-Crucible of Worlds combo, backed up by various flavors of Sphere of Resistance. Overall, I had a blast playing it, though found myself a little low on finishers. I ended up 2-3 before leaving for vacation.

Match 1: Dave Guskin

I won a tight match. Dave won the first game after going infinite on a Temple Bell / Mind Over Matter to finish me off with a big Tendrils of Corruption. Games 2 and 3 I locked Dave up with a Smokestack.

Match 2: Aaron Forsythe

We split the first two games and the third one was tight. Aaron is land light while I have The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, but no pressure. However, as I start to assemble more lock down pieces, Aaron finally finds his land and then Survival of the Fittest-recurs every orangutan in the book to crush me.

Match 3: Zac Hill

I kept loose hands while Zac's draws were gas. He had countermagic for the few threats I found, and I quickly scooped. La.

Match 4: Randy Buehler

This match was all about my Chalice of the Void. In Game 1, I cast Chalice of the Void for two and Randy Negated it. I brought it back with Academy Ruins and set it to two again. This stopped his Power Artifact from landing on his Basalt Monolith, so his Demonfire could only knock me to 1. Karn, the Silver Golem and his friends then killed Randy. Game 2, I again had the Chalice of the Void for two, but Randy didn't have the Negate.

Match 5: Worth Wollpert
I expected Worth's Goblins and burn to quickly roll over me, but I put up a good fight taking one game with a Stacks lock. Game 3 was close as well, but Worth had too many Blood Moons.

Overall, it was a blast and I look forward to another one!

Randy Buehler: Ancestral Recall

Randy posted a more detailed report on his blog, The Thinking Gamer, here.

I went 3-4 in my first of what will hopefully be many Magic Vintage Rotisserie Drafts. I did the thing I normally do with any new game—I charged ahead and made a bunch of mistakes, but saw a lot of them about five minutes later and I'm now eager to play again.

Ancestral Recall
Mox Jet

I had the 4th pick and I showed up fully intending to draft a creature deck, but I felt like Ancestral Recall was clearly the right pick in that spot. I see the format as having an obvious top three cards (Sol Ring, Black Lotus, and Ancestral Recall) and somehow one of them was still on the table 4th, so I took it. It's still a plenty flexible card, anyway, so I would definitely make that pick again. For my second round pick (13th overall) Tinker was still on the table and I couldn't imagine that there would be much competition for the Darksteel Colossus. I figured my already at least slightly blue deck should just have an "Oops, I win" combo included (plus I liked the way this all set me up to draft the various blue tutors) ... so I took Mox Jet. (!?) Like I said, the thirty-second shot clock plus no prior experience means these drafts are full of mistakes. Moxen are really good, and I don't think it was bad to take that one there, but I saw how consistently great Tinker was during my matches and I now believe if you're already blue and/or artifact-y that it's probably better than all but the Mox Sapphire. Of course, Tinker came back to me six picks later so I wound up with the best of both worlds.

All in all I felt like my deck was "almost good." Like I said before, I still think my first twenty picks were mostly reasonable. The problem is that I then decided to fill things out with cantrips (so I could thin the deck and draw my tutors/broken cards more often) and random mediocre artifact mana (figuring this would let me play some of my expensive cards even without broken things going on to cheat them into play). It turns out that neither one of these plans actually works. The opportunity cost of spending my time cycling through cards like Spellbombs and Baubles was way too high, and Signets just don't provide enough mana acceleration to play things like Stroke of Genius or Mindslaver for any real value.

Arcbound Ravager

Instead of going all-in on the broken elements of my deck, what I should have done was to have a plan B that was capable of working on its own. I think I could have built an artifact-creature aggro deck with stuff like Arcbound Ravager, Atog, Megatog, Su Chi, Juggernaut, Myr Enforcer, etc. This would provide plenty of fuel for Tinker and Metalworker if I drew them while also giving me game in my other draws. Attacking and blocking would have been very relevant to pretty much all of my losses and my Covetous Dragon was quite good in several games, so I know that basic strategy can work well.

The other thing I messed up at the end of the draft was just forgetting some basic picks. I should have drafted artifact removal at some point and I just plain forgot. Rack and Ruin crossed my mind at one point, and it was still undrafted at the end of the draft, but somehow I found myself losing to Mark Globus's Chalice for two ... twice ... with no way in my entire deck to even bounce it for a turn so I could play out Grim Monolith plus Power Artifact for infinite mana. I also should have drafted Inkwell Leviathan as an alternate Tinker target (I would have won Game 1 versus Globus with a quick Tinker draw, but he answered with "Crop Rotation for Maze of Ith"). Finally, I definitely should have placed a high premium on Muddle the Mixture as it's the only way in my colors to tutor up Power Artifact, but it just never even occurred to me until BDM drafted it in round 41.

Inkwell Leviathan

Despite constantly kicking myself for all the mistakes I couldn't see until five minutes too late, I had an awesome time. This is a really fun format for anyone who's been playing Magic long enough to know most of these cards, and I don't think anyone has really figured out how exactly it works yet. We know some stuff now, sure, but if everyone starts drafting beatdown decks then being the one clever combo player, or the one heavy artifact player, should be absolutely amazing. Plus, in addition to having quite an interesting draft format, the games tend to be really cool too. Highlander decks make for lots of diverse scenarios without nearly as much degeneracy as normal Constructed Magic.

Mostly I just hope I get to do this again really soon.

Aaron Forsythe: Time Vault, er ... Survival of the Fittest

Got Time Vault first, and it quickly became clear that at least four people were going blue, so I didn't really want Tezzeret. I figured I could go white-black with a bunch of control cards and tutors and get my combo together, so I took Balance and Yawgmoth's Will. Randy took Voltaic Key—I guess I didn't prioritize it highly enough—so suddenly I felt like I needed to try for something else broken and took Academy Rector and Yawgmoth's Bargain. Maybe I could make that deck, but it was looking bad because Greg was snapping up the black tutors.

Then it dawned on me that no one was taking any green cards. I figured the deck I could make that used green and still incorporated as many of my early picks as I could was Doran-Survival. I took the Survival of the Fittest parts early and left Doran, the Siege Tower for later. Once I had a plan, I started drafting essentially an EDH deck, which I have a good bit of experience building, so I understood how to mesh utility and redundancy in a singleton format. I had to use about ten picks on mana-fixing lands—more than anyone else—so I needed my other cards to be as impactful as possible against the field. I ended up with tons of toolboxes—Enlightened Tutor for a bunch of stuff, Survival of the Fittest for stuff, Knight of the Reliquary for stuff, Stoneforge Mystic for stuff, Eternal Witness and Sun Titan for stuff. I could find the right cards and reuse them.

Survival of the Fittest
Knight of the Reliquary

I beat the artifact decks with tons of Monkeys and Vindicates, Zac with Choke and Treetop Village, BDM and Greg with pro-color Swords. I got lucky to beat Worth—I should have taken Armadillo Cloak and Loxodon Hierarch over Behemoth Sledge and Elspeth, Knight-Errant, but my very late Engineered Plague showed up twice (once via tutor).

Zac Hill: Time Walk

I went X-1, and it was easily some of the most fun I've ever had playing Magic.

I drafted a mono-blue control deck with a Painter's Servant / Grindstone kill. I think I had the best deck at the table, but I'm not known for my humility. Heh.

time walk

I realized from the first couple of these that trying to string together too much synergy doesn't work out very well; you're just too easily disrupted, and too inconsistent to beat a solid plan. The second draft I did I went mono-red, and I liked it a lot. However, I was irritated that I needed to spend early picks on cards like Mutavault, Mishra's Factory, Strip Mine, and Wasteland. For this draft, I experimented with going mono-blue and not needing to spend a single pick on land. That way, I could draft four to six sideboard cards for every match-up, and tune my build very specifically for Games 2 and 3. This paid off, for example, against Worth, when I locked him out of the game with Force Spike on his turn one Mox into a second-turn Chill.

Or getting Randy with Bribery.

Brian David-Marshall: Mox Sapphire

You can read a little bit about Brian's experience in his column, The Week That Was, here.

mox sapphire

Despite the fact that he needled me to get the draft together, Brian failed to send me a report on his performance. I was quite impressed with his ability to draft a coherent Fish deck—I had considered it in the past but decided there weren't enough "reasonable" Merfolk to fill out the curve, and it seemed like the deck had some severe weaknesses. Brian neatly solved both of these problems by adding a second color, white, and taking enough disruption that he had sufficient game against both the control and the combo decks.

I think if he had taken the Enlightened Tutor before Aaron snagged it, his sideboard bullets would have skyrocketed in effectiveness. Other folks stole more of his hate than I think he was hoping, and it showed a bit in his post-sideboard performance.

I can still remember the grin on his face when he pseudo-wheeled (in 7th position) Merrow Reejerey and Lord of Atlantis.

Worth Wollpert: Mox Ruby

I know for a fact that Worth had his partner-in-crime Chris Pikula on the phone during part of the draft, getting advice on which sweet red cards to draft. Since Worth was the only aggressive red deck at the table, he had free run of many cards and of course, all of the Goblins.

mox ruby

Worth's a busy man, but he had these quick notes on our draft, in the styling of Peter King from Sports Illustrated:

1. I think I loved the thirty seconds thing. I actually don't think I would ever do one of these now without it, knowing what it does for the pace/feel. Email draft sounds like torture to me.

2. I think it would be awesome to have more cards on the table. We could use the Bridge (the executive conference room at Wizards) probably—the table is giant.

3. I think I would be happy to turn my money into pizza.

4. I think the wheel is the best seat in the house, and I don't think it's very close.

5. I think Dave is awesome for organizing this all.


6. I think Zombie Chill still wrecking Deadguys after fifteen years, or whatever, is both sad and appropriate. Also, $#?! that card.


And that concluded our crazy evening of drafting all the Magic cards. Randy, quite happy with the experience of Vintage Rotisserie, has kindly loaned his cards to the cause to entice us to run more of them, and his plan worked: since the draft described above, we have run two more on the weekend including more Wizards all-stars like Mons Johnson and Paul Barclay, and local Seattle Magic players Jonathan Loucks and Joe Timidaiski. I'm sure we'll be running more in the future—I'm not sure this format will ever be fully explored!

Thanks for reading, and if you would like to check out other Vintage Rotisseries (including the other ones done by us, live at Wizards), here are some links to their associated Google Docs:

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