An Addendum to my Winchester Experience
I have drafted now with the rest of my Innistrad boosters, this time with basic lands available and with 3 boosters for each player, as is the suggested norm, and I identified an issue with this format I wasn’t aware of before: I assumed that, depending on the drafters’ strategies, both drafters would either end up with awkward, clumsy three-colored decks (if they hatedrafted a lot), or both would be able to assemble 2-colored decks, or maybe 2-colored decks with a small splash (if they concentrated on strengthening their own decks). I found out, however, that it is entirely possible that due to imbalances in the packs’ color distribution and the fact that sometimes, when new cards get added to the piles, a pile accumulates good cards of one color, one player might end up with a streamlined 2-color deck, while the other has to go for a deck with classic sealed deck mana distribution (meaning being forced to play three fully used colors)! We analyzed that draft and concluded that this matter was out of the drafters’ hand – it was just one player repeatedly presented with good choices in his colors and the other unable to do anything about it, neither able to fight for these colors, nor to draft a competitive deck himself. That was pretty frustrating, because I thought that winchester worked in such a way that it mitigated a skewed card distribution – which it actually does, but only pertaining to the average power level of the drafted cards: Imbalances in color distribution can even become magnified, leading to a situation where two drafters making competent choices will end up with decks on wildly different power levels.
That is simply unacceptable, since it flows in the face of everything I feel 2-player draft should be about! It is certainly an issue which neither backdraft nor solomon draft presents. Something has to be done! From the top of my head, I can think of two solutions:
1. Use 4 boosters per player. This will have two effects: Reducing overall variance due to the larger number of cards, and probably enabling both players to draft a 2-colored deck. Issues with this solution: It is largely untested (although I did already winchester with a total of 8 boosters, but that was for landless play), it requires two boosters more (duh), and it doesn’t completely solve the issue at hand, just help to make it come up less often and reduce its impact.
2. Let the player whose turn to draft it isn’t add the new cards to the piles after looking at them in a way he choses (but still 1 card to each pile). While this solution is untested as well, I’m convinced it will solve the issue at hand nearly perfectly (only in extremely rare circumstances might a thoroughly skewed distribution still cause problems), allowing players to balance out the available draft piles. This does, of course, add an additional skill to the draft process, but more importantly, it takes away one of winchester’s greatest advantages by taking a LOT more time. (Also, it feels differently, integrating elements of solomon draft – incidentally, if you’d allow completely free distribution of cards, you would end up with a slight variation of solomon!)
Another way to mitigate this issue is to use a cube prepared specifically for winchester draft, ideally being as large as or at least not much bigger than the pool of actually drafted cards to ensure an even color distribution. That doesn’t help, of course, when you intend to winchester draft with the box of boosters you just bought…
Speaking of which: After opening all boosters, I’m pretty frustrated. I got neither a Liliana, nor a Garruk, nor a Snapcaster Mage. My most expensive card is a Geist of Saint Traft. Even if I manage to sell all cards I do not need for their generally accepted value, I will be worse off than if I had just bought the cards I wanted as singles. This is a bad, bad experience for me, because I expected the purchase of a booster box to be more cost-efficient than buying cards directly – which had always been the case in the days before mythic rares. Granted, just opening one of the big three singles from that set would probably have tipped the scales, and my loss is someone else’s gain (undoubtedly, the contents of some boxes will easily be sold for much more than a box’s price), but with Mythic Rares, buying boxes has become some kind of a lottery. Sets always had money rares, but the discrepancy in value between them and the “crap rares” has become too extreme now. That Innistrad box has just officially become the last booster box I’ll ever buy.