When a Few Heads Are All You Got

Posted in Serious Fun on May 31, 2011

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

If you didn't know it already, Tom LaPille is a stand-up guy. While I had only some brief interactions with him at US Nationals in 2010, it's his work at sharing the Development side of things every week in Latest Developments that has made me a fan.

It was just the other week when I ran down a concise directory of busting booster packs to engage other players. What I didn't know was that Tom already had something Limited-related in the works for that week too, and introduced the world to Winchester Draft.

If there were a head-to-head battle between us, I'd call it a KO victory for the man behind the gilded gate. (Not that the Wizards of Renton always win.) Fortunately, we're on the same side of things: playing more interesting and fun Magic.

It was a little surprising to see several responses come through to me mentioning the desire for more ways to play with fewer players. While my local game store has the problem of too many players jumping into the fray, many of you make do with just a buddy or two. This can be annoying, but rest assured, there are ways to fight the too-few-players blues.

One way to play some Limited with fewer players is Solomon Draft, something that a few of you brought up.


Solomon Draft should serve you well as another part of a rotation of small-group drafts. Of course, if you're wondering how you can have three players draft Winston, Winchester, or Solomon, I can help you there too.

Winston Draft is perhaps the easiest to slip an extra person into. Once draft order is established, the additional person simply takes a turn after the other two, peeking at stacks and choosing whether to take or add to the pile. Winchester Draft works much the same way, except the piles are all public. With Solomon Draft, you'll have public piles and the player who drafted before you will provide the split choice for you.

Part of the beauty of these two-player draft formats is that they are so easily adapted to three or four players. Other than Group Game Draft, which emphasizes multiplayer action, it's in these types of formats that Limited can meet small groups.

Alternatively, if none of those four small-group draft formats strike your fancy there's a few more tricks you can turn to. The easiest (or toughest depending upon how lucky you are!) is to have everyone work with the exact same Sealed pool: Duplicate Sealed.


Duplicate Sealed may seem simplistic, but between just a friend or two the little choices made differently become incredibly exciting to discover. And if you take very different approaches with the same pool of cards, the social interaction of trying to see the other's perspective is easier than ever.

Of course, all this discussion about Limited formats is just a limited perspective on playing for two (or so). There are many ways to bring Constructed into small group play, and I'll share a twist on one of my favorite methods: deck swapping.


Deckslaver is a curious case where the normal rules of Magic simultaneously apply and are changed completely. While everyone will be looking to win the game, long-term planning requires a very different approach. How we choose to attack and block is certainly something that's impacted by the chance that we'll end up sitting somewhere else.

Many of you really enjoy the political side of multiplayer Magic, and this is a major wrench to throw into the plans of players who ignore that aspect. "No man is an island," as the adage goes, and to stay in the game you'll have to focus more on what other players are doing than necessarily which seat they happen to be in.

More specifically, three players games often run into the problem of "You and I are weaker, let's just bash the strong guy!" and it quickly degenerates into a race to being just a duel. Deckslaver makes this issue a feature by adding in some interesting decisions:

  • Do you take the "stronger" seat or stay where you wouldn't be a target?
  • If you're in the hot seat, do you switch out if given the chance?
  • Do you attack the player whose turn is next, or wait in case they switch to the more powerful seat?

There aren't right or wrong answers to these kinds of questions, even if we were looking at specific examples. The fact that these are new questions to ask brings a refreshing set of experiences to liven things up when it's just a small group again.

I know I had promised to avoid doing another rundown style article again so soon, but that so many of you asked about more ways to play with fewer players I felt today would better serve those in need. And speaking of results from polls, here's last week's response:

What do you think of the games covered in Serious Fun? (Today featured just such coverage.)
I love to hear and see game play! I want more details! 32.9%
The interesting moments captured are great. The detail level is fine. 49.8%
There is too much going on. A little less detail would be great. 5.9%
I don't like hearing about games. 11.4%
Total 100.0%

The overwhelming response is right in line with what I had hoped: gaming is fun, and that's where we need to be! And this idea, coincidentally (wink, wink), brings us to a poll for this week:


Take a moment to let me know, because next week we're jumping head first into Magic: The Gathering Commander previews! Join us then as I will be helping share the awesome and dancing in delight in the lead-up to getting down with all new Commander goodies! See you then!

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