Two-Player Draft Formats, by Katie Roberts

Exploring variants of Winston, Grid and Trash drafting for two-player Limited fun.

Face down drafting Magic: the Gathering cards

Hey everyone!

It’s been a while since I wrote about Magic, and I’d like to share with you the two-person Limited formats that I’ve been having loads of fun with.

You might already know some of them, or be a seasoned two-person Limited player, but I hope this article gives you some additional ideas when cracking open your booster packs.

I live with my partner Adam, who is also a Magic player. We love to play Limited, but it can be impractical to gather friends for a draft at short notice. So we play a lot of lesser-known two-player Limited formats. We also love Constructed, but there’s only so many matches of Storm vs. Elves before you stop playing and start comparing opening hands to work out who would have won.

After I wrote the breakdown below, Adam added his thoughts and additional insights – you’ll find these in italicised quotes throughout.

Booster packs from Ixilan, Rivals of Ixilan & Core 2019

Winston Draft

Uses 6 booster packs.

Winston draft may be the best-known two-player draft format.

Aaron Forsythe covers the format comprehensively in his article for Wizards of the Coast, which I’d highly recommend.

The basic premise is drafting cards face-down from three piles.

It’s interesting because – unlike regular draft – you can take multiple cards at once, but usually only get to do so when both you and your opponent have already declined most of them (read: they’re a pile of jank). You have to weigh up the benefit of having multiple mediocre cards against the unknown potential of the single card in the next pile. You get to see the cards your opponent has declined, creating an opportunity for signalling. The decks tend to end up less consistent than regular booster drafts – pivoting into a different colour late-ish in the draft can still work out okay. Or maybe I’m just bad at draft!

We’ve been Winston drafting since Amonkhet, so have played through quite a few draft sets.

Just as the Limited environment affects our strategies and priorities in a regular booster draft, it also affects the experience of Winston drafting. One fun thing with two-player casual draft formats is how naturally they lend themselves to tweaking the house rules to improve play experience. On Adam’s suggestion we have experimented with slightly different variants of Winston draft, which has led to some pretty cool improvements:

Face-up Winston draft: “We had a go at playing Winston with no hidden information in order to increase the strength of signals in the format. It didn’t actually change much – we both ended up skating between colours and snapping up anything good that appeared, and were more inclined to hate-draft than stay out of each other’s way. It was a fun variant though, and mixed up the experience.”

Evolving Wilds (RIX)
Evolving Wilds

Addition of Evolving Wilds: “Winston draft decks are often three or more colours out of necessity – your draft pool usually ends up looking like half a Sealed pool at the end. To help rein in how high mana-fixing must be picked, we tried giving each player two copies of Evolving Wilds. Well recommended outside of sets with already abundant fixing (such as the Ravnica sets), where you’re already expected to be in three colours.”

Grid draft

Uses 162 cards.

In a grid draft, you shuffle up 162 cards (9×18) and lay out 9 of them face-up in a 3×3 grid.

Player one takes all the cards from any row or column, then player two does the same (depending on the cards that player one took and which cards player two wants, player two might end up with only 2 cards, not 3).

The remaining cards are discarded (nobody gets to play these) and 9 new cards are laid out.

Player two is then first to choose.


Signals are free information in grid draft.

No card is hidden, so you always know what your opponent takes and might therefore play. This is nice because you can deliberately avoid clashing on colours if you want. Or stare down your opponent over your stack of gates as they pick up Gatebreaker Ram. Whatever works.

Adam says: This format is mainly designed for Cube, but there’s no reason you can’t do it with any old pile of cards. Opening 12 booster packs will give you enough cards, or you can take a reasonably colour-distributed pile from your collection and shuffle it all together.”

random cards

Trash draft

Uses 180 cards.

This one was Adam’s creation, and I think it’s incredibly neat.

In his own words:
“Shuffle 180 or more cards, make 18 packs of 10 cards, and give 9 packs to each player. You’re going to be drafting these in pairs, passing them back and forth, similar to a normal booster draft.

“Each of you takes a pack, looks at it, and picks one card, face-down. Then you pass the remaining nine cards to your opponent. When you’re passed a pack of nine, you take two cards, and set two more aside in a ‘trash’ pile, also face-down. Pass the last five cards back to your opponent again. From the five cards they pass you, take two, and trash the rest.

“Repeat until you have 45 cards each. Put the trashed cards back in the box and build decks as normal.”

The idea behind this format was to try to simulate the guessing game of signalling.

You don’t actually know which of the four cards your opponent’s removed that they’ll actually be playing. It turned out the format has a lot of neat cat-and-mouse interactions – you can send very strong signals if you want, try to manipulate or bluff your opponent, and so on – as well as feeling much more like a normal draft than the others do.”

To summarise:
• Open a pack of 10. Your opponent does the same.
• Take one card, and pass the other 9.
• Take 2 cards, and trash 2 cards. Pass 5 back to your opponent.
• Take 2 cards, and trash the rest.
• Repeat.

Face down drafting Magic: the Gathering cards

Which two-player draft variant is best?

Honestly, all of them.

There’s also more two-player draft ideas out there, so definitely go searching. Just as we learn what constitutes a ‘good’ deck in regular retail draft, it’s fun to do the same through a selection of two-player draft formats. If you think something would improve deck consistency or fun factor, absolutely do it. Like me, you might learn bits about game design on the way.

Speedy deckbuilding

Here’s one that I haven’t done for a while, but loved when I was new to Magic and had a small collection that I was eager to use.

Set a timer for no longer than an hour, take a shoebox of cards each,* and build the first thing that springs to mind. The aim is to play the imperfect 60-card pile that was formed before you had time to worry about whether your opponent has 34 copies of Persistent Petitioner to your 27. I wouldn’t call this Constructed, it feels like Limited, and is intended to essentially be scaled-up Sealed.

*With an approximately equal colour balance and power level, of course, because sensible design underpins even the silliest of games.

We have also done timed Commander deckbuilding, which was super fun. Psychologically I find it a little easier than speedy 60-card deckbuilding. Defining a Commander before you start building avoids the first 15 minutes wondering whether to play Simic or Rakdos, though you could pre-define colours before building time-limited 60 card decks too.

Rat Colony (DOM)
Rat Colony

It’s an exact hybrid between sealed and kitchen-table Magic.

I love it for the pure joy of playing with random Shadowmoor cards alongside Hour of Devastation, and the unique interactions that arise from it. Plus, as long as you have a pile of commons, it’s free. It’s definitely not for people with carefully-sorted collections though. You’ll be finding Rat Colonies among your Counterspells for yeaaaaars!


I hope this short article has given you some inspiration for casual two-player Magic! If you play other casual Magic formats or have preferred variations on two-player draft formats, I would love to hear about them. You can reach me on Twitter at @K_J_Roberts, and Adam on Twitter on @SonofMakuta.

Two-Player Draft Formats, by Katie Roberts
Katie Roberts explores fun Limited formats for two-player Magic: the Gathering drafts.

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