Evaluating Draft in Top Cut

patrickhobanHello everybody! I’d like to start out with a big congratulation to my friend Chris LeBlanc for winning his second YCS this weekend in Philadelphia. He piloted a Madolche deck through the swiss rounds and Top 32 cut before constructing a draft deck to finish out the final three rounds of the tournament. The draft for Top 16 and on is exactly what I wanted to talk about in my article today. We’ve now had 5 YCSes with this system, which gives us plenty of data to evaluate.

Good Players Are Winning

People can say how terrible draft is for top cut or praise its merit, but the first five YCSes under the system have established a very good precedent; the good players are winning. Two of the five most recent YCS winners, Chris LeBlanc and Alejandro Vivaldo Reyes Suarez, are former premier event champions. The other three of the five most recent YCS winners, Christian Georges, Tom Mak, and Denny Yu, have all topped multiple other premier events. Established players are winning under the system, which is a difficult thing to argue against.    

Best Decks Don’t Necessarily Win

If someone has a deck that is over the top and better than every other deck in the entire tournament, it seems logical to conclude that they should win the tournament. While it’s not entirely guaranteed that this will happen if constructed is played throughout the entire tournament, it’s a lot more likely to happen than it is if draft is played in the top cut. There is a de-emphasis on the work they did before the tournament to make the best deck.   I think YCS Atlanta proved to be a very good example of this. This was the first event I piloted Mermails with [ccProd]Reckless Greed[/ccProd]. I firmly believe that this build of Mermails was better than any other deck in the room of that tournament. Throughout the entire tournament, I only lost 2 games until I got to draft, and then was knocked out playing a deck other than the one I had put tons of thought into when forced to draft a new deck in top 16.   The following weekend, I had not revealed my deck list and played the exact same main, side, and extra deck at the ARG Circuit in Charlotte and won the tournament, losing only one match with Mermails over the course of both tournaments. The difference was that top cut of the Circuit was constructed instead of draft. It seems very counterintuitive to have the best deck in the tournament, but not win the tournament.


End of match procedure in top cut is unnecessary with or without draft. It is designed to make the tournament end in a reasonable amount of time. It’s very important when you’ve got 1000 matches going on at a time, but the tournament isn’t going to be greatly held up by any one of eight matches being allowed to conclude in their entirety.   This problem is magnified by the nature of draft. Many of the cards your opponent plays, or even you play, may be unfamiliar to you. This will often result in having to read and reread certain cards, which run down the clock, and then victories are won where they should not have been.   Now you can say this was a lack of preparation on your part and that you could have better prepared to know all the cards and would not have had to read them if you had done so. Well, the problem with that, is that even if you take it upon yourself to know what every single card in the set does, there is absolutely no guarantee that any given opponent will have done the same. They may spend a great deal of time reading your cards, which will also result in more matches going to time.   Over half of the matches in Atlanta’s top 16 went to time, including mine, where if it had not been time, I would have won over Christian Georges. I briefly spoke with one other player in top 16, who would have also won if they were not in time.

Decreasing Time for Draft Picks

You are given one minute to select one of the fifteen cards in your first pack and time gradually decreases until you only have ten seconds per pick. There is a great flaw in this. You’re going to know what the best cards in the set are. You’re going to know which cards are the best and the first couple of picks are going to be easy picks. It gets a lot more difficult to decide between one of five cards that are less than optimal with only 20 seconds, especially when there is a greater chance that you’ll be unfamiliar with some of them.

Preparation is Expensive and Difficult

Lets say you decide to play test for the top cut and want to conduct a draft. It’s going to cost each player $20 to buy the Battle Pack kit. Even if you’re willing to spend the $20, how likely is it that you have 7 other friends who are also willing to spend $20 and commit several hours to drafting? Trust me, I tried; people are unwilling to make this commitment. I had to improvise and have 4 people spend $40 and build 2 decks each.   It’s certainly logical for people to not want to play test either. Who would need to play test for it? The people who think they have a good chance at making the top cut of a YCS. If they don’t think they do, they have no incentive to make such a commitment. Since you’re going to need the people to be there to draft, they’ve got to be people from your locals. Do you have 7 other people that go to your locals who are confident in their ability to top a YCS and are willing to make this commitment?  I didn’t.

Unplayable Cards

There are a lot of exceedingly subpar cards in the draft themselves. Have you read [ccProd]Playful Possum[/ccProd]? If not, please do. Then come back and tell me why on God’s green earth is that card realistically supposed to be part of a top cut draft? I understand the Battle Pack 2 is based on tribute summons and the idea is to kill itself, revive it, and then tribute it, but in no way is that a realistic game plan. That card is absolutely terrible and has no business in there as it has no actual applications. It’s not an exception either. Take some time and read through the cards in Battle Pack 2, especially the expansion set. Plenty of them are utter garbage. A draft needs to be constructed where every card is playable and you chose ones that work well together. Currently, it’s use what playable cards you got and some unplayable ones too because you didn’t have a choice since there were so many.

45 pick 40    

The above problem is greatly magnified by the deck size limits. When you have drafted your deck, you will have 45 cards in front of you. You have to build a 40 card deck from those 45. You will certainly draft more than 5 unplayable cards and several other subpar ones that are only slightly better. There is no deckbuilding in this. You’re taking your 45 card deck and cutting the cards that absolutely cannot be used because they were passed to you at the end and you didn’t have a choice but to take them.   A much better solution to this would be to have 45 cards drafted and pick a minimum of 30 to build a deck from. This gives the player a lot more options and they are able to cut bad cards more effectively.

Potential Oversights

Battle Packs are in circulation for about a year each. That means that top 16 will be playing the same format for a solid year.   When I went to Worlds this year, Dan joked about how unplayable Dragons would be under the September ban list and that they would be impossible to play. As it turned out, the babies were banned, [ccProd]Super Rejuvenation[/ccProd] was banned, and Dragons went on to become the most dominant deck in the history of the game that format, despite Konami’s clear intention of killing them. This was an oversight on their part.   There is a great risk of oversights for draft if the formats are going to last a year. Oversights in constructed such as [ccProd]Return from the Different Dimension[/ccProd] surviving the September list can easily be corrected with a ban list just four months later. They’re a problem for a short amount of time, but you can fix them easily. With draft, if they were to make an oversight, they would not be nearly as fixable.   Look at [ccProd]Treeborn Frog[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Gorz the Emissary of Darkness[/ccProd] from Battle Pack 1. They were both incredibly overpowered and gave whoever drew them an edge that was almost impossible to come back from. They were definitely oversights in the first Battle Pack. If there were a card like this in the upcoming Battle Pack 3, we would be stuck with them for a solid year for every top cut of a YCS which could ruin the YCS. It’s essentially like having Return be around and saying they can’t ban it for a year even though the card shouldn’t have ever existed.

High Possibility of Cheating

The last issue I have with the draft is the high possibility of cheating in top cut. Now certainly, there’s always a possibility of cheating and I’m not saying that constructed is without this possibility, just that the nature of draft increases the likelihood.   Now they have judges watching each pod to make sure players do not switch cards they are supposed to be switching. For this part of draft, I’m fairly convinced that this is a fairly effective measure at preventing cheating. The problem is what comes next. After you have your 45 cards, they send the players off on their own to build their 40 card deck, sleeve, and write their deck lists. Since the packs were just opened, there is no evidence of what card was or wasn’t pulled in the packs. It is scary to think how easy someone could swap a Playful Possum that was drafted with a [ccProd]Memory of an Adversary[/ccProd] that was in his or her pocket with no check to prevent this.   There is also a very high potential for collusion in top cut. Players are randomly seated in two separate pods. If two friends sat next to each other, they could essentially pick one of them to win the YCS and agree to a prize split where player one passes player two all the best cards instead of drafting them for himself. Then player two has a significantly better deck than everyone else in the YCS and is easily able to win.  There’s no real check on this as who’s to say they didn’t’ want to take Memory of an Adversary as a first pick? I know I got cards I would have taken 1st pick every time passed to me on my 5th pick when I was in top cut. You can’t put a check on people being stupid.


While the results seem heavily indicative of a good system, there are plenty of things that need to be improved upon. A lot of these come from my personal experiences with the draft, so if you’ve got other experiences that could further expand on this, then please leave a comment with your interpretation of draft. I hope that Konami decides to listen to these suggestions, as there is a lot of potential for creating a fun and competitive draft environment in top cut. The Circuit Series comes to Washington, D.C. on May 31st - June 1st, 2014, click the picture below for all the details! Until next time, play hard or go home!


Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

Patrick Hoban

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