Winston Draft 101

Hallie Santo Limited

This Wednesday is Valentine’s Day, which often means one thing for partnered Magic players: Two-Headed Giant tournaments. But what if you and your sweetie would rather have a low-key night in than go out to the card shop? Fortunately, there are plenty of other fun formats made for two players, including one of our personal favorites, Winston Draft!

Winston Draft is a two-player draft format developed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield. To set up the draft, open six booster packs and shuffle the contents together to create a single stack of 84 cards. Then, lay out the top three cards of the stack to form three single-card piles. Don’t worry – the piles will get bigger (and smaller!) over the course of the draft.

The first player will start by looking at the card in the first pile. They have two options: take the card and replace it with a card from the main stack, or place a card from the main stack on top of that card and move on to the next pile. If they take the card, their turn is over; if they don’t, they repeat the process until they’ve taken a card or run out of piles to look at. If the player doesn’t want any of the cards in the piles, they take the top card of the main stack and their turn is over.

(Did we lose you at any point? If you’d like a visual explanation of how Winston Draft works, our friends at LoadingReadyRun did a pretty excellent job in this recent episode of “Friday Nights.”)

Let’s say Player 1 goes through all three piles, decides she doesn’t want any of the cards, and takes the mystery card from the main stack. Her turn ends and it becomes Player 2’s turn. Now there are two cards in each pile for Player 2 to potentially look at. He has access to cards that Player 1 doesn’t know about, and he knows which cards Player 1 chose not to take.

Over the course of the draft, both players will take advantage of hidden and available information as they decide which piles of cards to take and which to pass up. They’ll also need to consider how many cards are in a pile when they make their choices. A pile that starts with a narrow sideboard card may be neglected as the draft goes on, and more useful cards may pile up on top of it. At a certain point, it may be more advantageous for a player to take a pile with a few decent playables than risk moving on to a smaller pile that has less to offer.

Once the players finish drafting, they’ll each build a 40-card deck and play as many games as they’d like. It’s not uncommon for players to end the draft with different amounts of cards, since they took different-sized piles over the course of the draft – and that’s okay! As with any Limited format, you should be fine as long as you finish the draft with at least 23 playable cards.

Winston Draft may seem like a lot of work just to play a few games with your partner, but most of the fun of this format is in the draft itself. As the draft goes on, you’ll notice which cards your partner took or didn’t take, gaining clues about which strategy they’re pursuing and which strategies may be open to you. This can create some fun mental back-and-forth that you won’t get in a booster draft.

Additionally, because the draft process is so involved, it can create a fun bonding experience with your partner. I know couples that have traditions of Winston drafting every time a new set comes out. You really don’t need an occasion to try this format, however, and you could even mix it up by choosing a set that neither of you has drafted before or creating a custom format with assorted packs.

Winston Draft is a challenging and fun way to share an evening of Magic with another person. So, set aside a couple hours after your Valentine’s Day dinner, and get drafting!


Header design: Justin Treadway
Header image: “Regisaur Alpha” by Jonathan Kuo