Zero to Draft – The Intro

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Zero to Draft Series: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

I’ve mentioned in past articles that besides finance, my main interest in Magic is Limited play, particularly drafting. There’s something about the mix of strategic, creative, adaptive, and random elements that make Limited play more interesting and enriching to me than other formats. Magic is fun in nearly all its forms, but I’ve found my preference and I mostly stick to it.

A few years ago, before I rejoined the Magic community after a many-year hiatus, I was primarily a console gamer. I played a lot of games, but I did so at little to no cost through research, diligent deal-hunting, and arbitrage of sorts. When I started playing Magic again, I was distressed to find that I would have to shell out actual cash for gaming. But before long I discovered the wide world of MTG finance, and realized there might be another way.

Nowadays I like to think I’m a relatively shrewd trader and speculator. I still have a lot to learn—don’t we all?—but I’m working hard to consistently level up my perceptiveness and abilities. Still, I need to be realistic about my goals. I work a full-time job not related to MTG, so I’m not trying to make a living off the game. I’m just trying to play for free, or as close to free as possible (not that I am opposed to turning a profit, mind you).

Getting to the Point

With all of the above in mind, today I’m going to introduce a project on which I will be working for the foreseeable future. The guidelines are as follows:

1. I will draft (or play sealed, when available) at least once a week at one of the three LGSs in my town.
2. To maintain the purity of the project, I will keep all cards/money/swag involved separate from my personal collection.
3. I will track everything: money spent, trades made, bulk accrued, cards sold, decklists, etc.
4. I’m tentatively planning to end the project upon the release of M15. I reserve the right to extend it through rotation if there is still good content to be had, or to end it early if I find I could provide more value writing on other topics.
5. My goal is to draft for free. At the end of the series, I’ll weigh all of my expenditures versus the amount of cash and cards (valued at top buylist price on I’m holding when the series concludes.

I will consider the project a mild success if I can keep the cost of my drafts under $5 each. (The least expensive draft available in my town costs $12, so I’m looking to cut my draft costs to less than half the list price.) Anything over $5 per draft will be considered a failure. But the real goal is to spend nothing per draft, or even to turn a profit. For the series to be considered a SUCCESS with no qualifier, I need to hit that $0-per-draft mark.

I’ve never tracked things this closely before now, so I have a limited frame of reference to know how difficult this will be. Based on my memory of full-block Return to Ravnica draft, I think I can do it. For that format, I played in two prereleases, won some prizes in each, and managed to draft at least once a week with those and subsequent winnings through the release of M14. I didn’t track the cards I opened during those events, but I like to think that roughly a dozen drafts and two sealed pools left me with more value than the price of the two prerelease events.

The scale of this project is going to appeal more to financially-minded players than hardcore speculators. Given that my trade stock will be accrued slowly through Limited play, the deepest I’ll likely be able to go on any particular card will be a couple dozen copies at most. Another factor specific to players is that my success or failure in this project will be based on a mix of not only trading and speculating, but also on winning prizes. For professional retailers and investors, winnings aren’t really a consideration when calculating profits, but it’s a crucial element for those focused on playing as well as finance.

I know that Insiders subscribe to the site for financial information and not strategy. Although I’ll occasionally be sharing decklists, discussing interesting picks, and recapping exciting game moments, I’ll be keeping the series primarily focused on the financial aspect of being a dedicated drafter. When appropriate, I’ll also still be commenting on specs, formats, and shakeups outside the boundaries of the series. I’m not trying to work outside the niche this site serves, but I am trying to approach it from a new angle.


At this point I’d like to briefly go through the pros and cons of the draft options available in my town:


On Monday nights there is a comic shop in town that has unsanctioned $14 Swiss drafts with one pack per player (or, if the set is in high demand, one pack per three players) in the prize pool. These drafts attract anywhere from six to twelve players. The shop does not allow pack-ins and the prize payout is extremely flat. The atmosphere is very casual, so it’s a great place to trade EDH cards into Standard staples. However, the poor prize payouts, lack of ability to use packs or store credit for entry, and the driving distance (which is further than other options) make this the least attractive option during the week.


My regular LGS offers $12 eight-man single-elimination drafts with a 5/3 payout for first and second place, although players almost always split. The shop does accept pack-ins for drafting, which is one of the reasons it’s my favorite place to play. The environment is also the most competitive in town and often multiple drafts fire in an evening. The only downside is that many attendees aren't really interested in trading on Tuesday nights.


The Tuesday-night shop also has FNM drafts, which are basically the same deal except you can’t pack in to these. The upside is that there is a parallel Standard FNM and between the two events, there are plenty of trading partners.

A third LGS offers a second option on Friday night. This shop offers $15 Swiss drafts with one pack per player in the prize pool and payouts down to either fourth or eighth place, based on attendance. The shop does not accept pack-ins, but you can save your winnings in their system and use those for future entries. The $15 price is the most expensive in town, but the shop has a stamp card that gets you a free draft for every five you enter, which makes the higher price easier to swallow. The atmosphere at this shop leans toward casual, but there are a few strong players that frequent these drafts. Only about half the players in a given draft have or bring a binder, so trading is hit and miss.


Given these options, I’ll do most of my drafting on Tuesday nights. Sometimes I may decide I want a longer experience or a chance for a bigger payout, and on those occasions I’ll go play the Swiss draft on Friday night. The Monday-night drafts are really only appealing as a change of pace and are something in which I'll rarely participate.

At $12 each, I can do eight drafts for $96. Conveniently, the pre-order price for a box of Theros is $90, which after tax comes to $96 and change. There are nine draft sets in a box, so by pre-ordering one, I could get a draft for free. Every time I squeeze an extra draft out of my expenditures, the more I increase my odds of making this project a success. So I’m clearly buying a box for drafting purposes.

Unfortunately, there’s not really a prerelease with a high upside in my town. There are two options: a $30 Swiss tournament with an extremely flat payout (i.e. two packs per player in the prize pool, but every player gets at least one pack at the end) and a $25 four-round tournament that awards ten packs for 4-0, with lesser payouts down to 2-2. With past releases, there has been an option for a Swiss with cut to top eight and more top-heavy prize support. With the last few sets, however, the shops here have aimed toward appealing to the casual player by flattening payouts.

This definitely makes the goal of this project harder. Winning 24 packs or more at a prerelease (not unreasonable when prizes are kept mainly in the top eight or sixteen) would set me up for more than a month of drafting. But as is, the max I can win from a $25 entry fee is ten packs. This is a pretty low upside when I'm trying to start a slow bleed that will last for over a month, but it's what I have available.

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to all the drafting I’ll get to enjoy in this project. And one of my not-so-secret shames is that I love record keeping, so I'm even looking forward to all the note taking I'll have to do. Join me next week when I recap my prerelease experience and have had a chance to see Theros cards in action. If you have tips, observations, or questions, let me know in the comment section.

@dbro37 on Twitter

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Danny Brown

Danny is a Cube enthusiast and the former Director of Content for Quiet Speculation.

View More By Danny Brown

Posted in Drafting, Finance, Free, Trading

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18 thoughts on “Zero to Draft – The Intro

  1. Danny you must be living in Alices’s Wonderland! You got 3 (!!!) LGS in your town and they do Magic Tournaments during the WEEK??? OMG This MUST be heaven!

    I like your Idea of “going infinite” with paper Magic, in Europe this would be doomed to failure right away. Not only is the cheapest draft I know $16 (12€) aditionally I have never seen the opportunity in a Game Shop to bring your own product. Whats even worse: After the draft is over there are NO Boosters in prize Pool but the rares get picked. Your performance in the draft would be directly linked to your financial outcome since the first after swiss gets to pick first.

    I am not sure if I got this right: you plan to trade only with your drafted stuff right? Since the majority of draft junk cards are close to worthless I would suggest either selling them on ebay as a Lot or buylisting if its possible.

    What you also should keep in mind is the fact that over all limited rounds take longer than constructed rounds. People from a Standard tournament are always finished earlier with their rounds what will give you only a small time window to trade with them.

    I wish you good luck with this project, and let us hear about your progress.

    1. Just as a note: swiss rounds in limited are the same length of time as swiss rounds in constructed. Single elimination has no time limit.

      112. Match Time Limits

      The required minimum time limit for any match is 40 minutes.

      The following time limits are recommended for each round of a tournament:

      • Constructed and Limited tournaments—50 minutes

      • Single-elimination quarterfinal or semifinal matches—90 minutes

      • Single-elimination final matches—no time limit

      The following time limits are recommended for Limited tournaments:

      • Sealed Deck—20 minutes for deck registration and 30 minutes for deck construction

      • Draft—30 minutes for deck registration and construction

      • Team Sealed Deck—20 minutes for deck registration and 60 minutes for deck construction

      • Team Draft—30 minutes for deck construction and registration

      • Multiplayer Draft—40 minutes for deck construction and registration

    2. While there are other shops that work like yours at least in The Netherlands I am familiar with at least 2 locations locally that I can draft at that work at around €10/draft AND put a booster in the prize pool per player (and you can bring your own 4 boosters too). One of those actually takes place on Monday evenings.

      Personally I’d feel your shop charges way too much. €4/pack is indeed a normal resell price for boosters, but they will pay somewhere around €75 per box so a little under €2.10 per pack. It would seem that they could easily throw in a booster, or reduce the cost of the draft somewhat (though of course we don’t know what their other costs are).

      I am not an avid drafter, but I have more often heard of drafts like Danny describes than I have of ones that seem as expensive as the one your shop hosts. It might be you who is in the more rare situation (something I hope for you improves!).

  2. Quick question in regards to frame of reference. When you say “Pack In” that means you can bring your own packs and not pay, correct? So when you purchase your box at $96 and only use those packs for your Tuesday night drafts you have to pay nothing out to the shop right?

    Just making sure I didn’t miss an entry fee or something to offset their cost of not selling you anything to participate.

  3. Couple things:

    -The push for flat swiss payouts for prereleases is incredibly frustrating, if you open nothing of value you can not even flip your packs to cover entry fee.

    -The only shops worth playing at are the ones that prize support can cover your entry fee(tuesday nights, fridays as well if you can take store credit). Its up to you whether you want to push for splitting top two every time or try to net some value. Personally I would rather take the covering of my draft than net the +/-3 dollars.

    -Swiss for single is a huge time sink for very little payout.

    – The free draft card nets you a swiss version of your primary draft location. 3 packs+1 prize=$12, with $3 to the store, for every 5 drafts you get a free draft. So they net 0 if you draft consistently but its a payoff by players not using their frequent draft cards. The monday night draft gives the store a guaranteed $2 for every draft, and with a flatter payout than 5/3 you can not even make your draft cost back.

  4. I appreciate the article. I have been doing something very similar for months now. I have a group of friends who like to draft so any winnings I have from other tournaments I use to draft with them. They basically do Pack In tournaments with no official sanction; the prize for their tournaments is largely based on attendance but we always ensure that the winner takes 4 home to use next time.

    It is neat that you are using your experiment to see if you can actually make it cover the cost or part of the cost. I just fold the cards into my collection and speculation.

    As far as prereleases go there are 3 places to play in the general area though 2 of them are a 30 min drive. One store is switching to a flat prize structure for this prerelease and the rest give out a box or boxes to first then divide the rest of the packs based on attendance. I refuse to play at any store not offering a box for first for prerelease. May just be spoiled but that is what I have come to expect.

    If you have time FNM or simply other tournaments in general may be a place to gain packs to cover drafting (from reading though it seems like you would rather just draft; others may wish to use this strategy). Though for your experiment you would likely have to use your whole card pool to get constructed decks together to use. Another alternative would be to assume you can borrow any of the other cards that you own (outside of the experiment) for your constructed play.

    If anyone else is trying to draft for free I would recommend not opening the packs you win and trying to get a group either at the local store or at a friend’s house where you can put those packs to use drafting. Seems like common sense, but some people desperately need to open packs while I have found mostly disappointment in opening packs unless they are for draft.

  5. Wow, either your stores suck balls or mine are awesome. Tuesday drafts at my LGS are $12, Swiss, and slightly over 1.5 packs per person (although a very flat payout – an eight-man pod is 3-2-2-2-1-1-1-1). That’s the best in town but there are three or four other stores that are 1 pack per player but anywhere that charged more than $12 or paid less than 1 pack per player would be driven out of business due to the heavy competition.

    Sadly nowhere in town does pack-ins but given our other advantages, that’s okay.

  6. Just as a quick Note Daniel: I am perfectly informed about the Time length of a round. (L1 judge) What I was talking about is the actual time NEEDED to finish a Match. You will find out easily that the average time during a Standard Tournament that the Players need to finish their match is lower than in limited. This will influence the time he has left over during a round for trading negatively, assuming he is playing to win and not conceding in order to trade 😉

  7. I run a local draft in my area every Sunday. Event is 3 rounds, 2 packs per win. Entry is $15 (CAD) or $5+4 packs. To provide some reference, typical retail for a box in Canada is $120.

    I’m curious how this compares.

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