Sunday, June 3, 2012

Shadow Era: Drafting Basics

As physical cards are being shipped out, more and more players will be looking to grab a group of buddies and open up a box, and the best value you're going to get from a stack of packs is using them for a draft.

What is drafting? I see this question a surprisingly large amount in the official forums, especially from those not used to physical card games. Don't plan on playing the physical version? That's fine, drafting will eventually hit the digital client as well, so you'll want to listen up. Or maybe you don't because you're a cheap whore who refuses to support wulven and pay for the packs. I don't discriminate.

Card game formats are categorized into two major groups: Constructed and Limited. Constructed is where each player brings a pre-made pool of cards with them. In Shadow Era, this is the quick match, challenges and unofficial event structures we already have now. In Limited, instead of building decks ahead of time, you're given a set amount of product and a set time limit with which you must build the best list you can. In esports terms, Constructed is when you're working together with a team of fellow players of appropriate skill levels, where as limited is where you're stuck in the solo queue because your buddies aren't awake at 3 a.m. and you end up with FOUR FRIGGIN AD CARRIES! I HATE YOU ASHE! STOP PLAYING LOL AND HANG YOURSELF ALREADY!!!


There are really two different kinds of limited. In Sealed, you would open up 6-8 packs of product (depending on the game, size of the packs, and what it takes to make a deck) and use those cards to build your list. Usually, the requirements would be lest strict, and certain cards (like the lands in Magic, energy in Pokemon, or heroes in WoWTCG) are considered an infinite part of anyone's pool in addition to what you've opened.

Then there's drafting. Quite like sealed, you'll be opening packs and building decks with them, only you'll do more than open the packs. In a draft, instead of taking all the cards out of the product, you just remove a single card and pass the rest along. The person to one side of you will pass their pack minus one card, and you take one from that as well. Players keep going until all the packs are gone, and THEN have their set amount of time to build their decks. This entire process can take anywhere from twenty minutes to two hours depending on the size of the packs and the skill and speed of the players. After it's all over, the participants pair up and start playing the event with their newly minted decks.

Now, this may sound daunting.

Well, it is.

Drafts are difficult. In constructed, it's easy enough to mimic someone else's deck, or to follow an existing archetype. You also only have a handful of lists you need to be prepared for. In sealed, a lot of the process is largely based on how lucky you are at what you open. Drafting is the ultimate test of skill and adaptation. You need to be able to adjust quickly, read the other players at the table, and while playing be able to compensate for anything your opponents throw at you. I see drafters all the time with hundred dollar bills in their deck who just lose, and players who dominate events with nothing but the commons.

Not to worry though, you're here, reading this. Players unfamiliar with drafting will find enough hints and tips to not embarrass themselves the first time at a table.

Looking for more advanced tips and tricks? That will come later. Wulven should announce by the end of this week what their official draft format is, and with that announcement I'll be bringing some advanced drafting techniques, some of which specific to Shadow Era itself.

Who do I Pass to?

This is one of the first things that new drafters mess up, and it happens all the time. In fact, this is very simple.

All players open their first pack, take their first card, and pass to the LEFT. Once all cards from these first packs has been taken, each player opens their second pack, takes a card, and passes to the RIGHT. Then the third pack goes back to the LEFT, etc. etc.

Inevitably, one player at the table will be faster or slower than the rest, and one player will find themselves overwhelmed with multiple packs queued up while others wait anxiously. There are few different ways to handle such a situation, and they go as follows:

If the player you're passing to already has a pack in hand and another waiting for him, don't add another pack to his queue. Instead, hold onto your current pack and wait for them to catch up before moving on yourself. That way, it will remove some of the stress and burden from your recipient, as well as disperse packs more instead of having them all stocked up on one player, which is when mistakes happen.

If there's simply too many packs at one location, or if you're holding back but the person passing to you isn't being as respectful, when placing opened packs face-down on the table, do so in a criss-cross pattern, IE one stack is vertical, the one next to it is horizontal, and so on. This will help players differentiate from one pack to the next and mess up the order or mix and match.

As a last reminder, be sure to put your picks somewhere that doesn't make them look like a pack. I usually place my picks face-down on top of my unopened packs. By the time the last one pack must be opened, my pile will be large enough that no one could confuse it for their next choice of picks.


This may change depending on how casual the environment you're playing in is, but remember that everything is supposed to be a secret. Part of drafting is guessing and accommodating for what the people on either side of you are picking. By shouting out the name of a card you're excited to see, ridiculing someone next to you for not taking something, or generally just announcing pack contents, you're ruining the experience for not only yourself but for everyone else that's playing, too.

If you want to just be safe, or if you're the kind of player that sorts the pack in their hand before making their choice, a common technique is to lightly shuffle your pack before passing it on. Not a lot, but do it just enough so that the person you're passing to will be hard-pressed to figure out what you were just looking at.

Also in this vein, technically speaking you aren't supposed to be able to sift through your own card pool while a pack is still being passed around. After the first set is done, players have a chance to look over their cards and make note of what they need out of the next pack before opening them. Even if you're content, please make sure that everyone else is ready and no cards are still being passed around before opening the next pack prematurely.

Three Cheers for Bombs!

In drafting, there will always be a few cards that can win the game fairly well by themselves. Cards like Ogloth, the Glutton or Aeon Stormcaller, Plasma Behemoth or The King's Pride, all of these are even more important in draft than they are in constructed. Although they're not the only cards you need to win, you still need to have the board for them to stick, passing any win conditions you can play is often a mistake.

Likewise, removal that can deal with those above cards, such as Tidal Wave or Assassination, are equally important for the same reasons. Most draft games are won or lost with a single bomb.

Read Your Opponents

In the first pack, you and the other players will often be trying to keep their options open, not locking into any one specific hero. However, by the start of pack 2 most players will have a clear idea of what they're playing. By looking at what you're not getting passed over and over, you can start to figure out what the people near you are gravitating toward.

For example, if all throughout pack two you've been passed no warrior cards and in pack one you remember passing them a Crippling Blow, you can safely assume that person is playing a warrior deck. Then, when it comes to pack three and you're passing to him again, you know that you can cut off his supply whenever you have the chance, weakening an opponent that might otherwise be difficult for you. Alternately, if you feel confident in the matchup and want to make sure he keeps on that track, you can just keep passing all the warrior cards you choose and possibly force the player on the other side of him to hatedraft in pack three instead of taking the cards that they'd need. As an added bonus, if you're wrong and it's the player two seats down who's playing warriors, you're again forcing the person next to you to take those cards instead of what he needs to finish his deck.

Also, be aware that others may be trying to read you. Making the occasional odd choice, or passing a card for your deck you already have enough of could confuse players as to exactly what you've built.

DnD's Draft Format

Currently, Wulven is working the kinks out of their own official draft format and it's not quite ready yet. However, for some of us, we're looking to crack open them boxes as soon as they arrive.

I've decided to put together my own set of guidelines for drafting with Shadow Era cards, as an intermediary for the impatient. I haven't tried this in practice yet, as my own product isn't in. However, it should be enough for any small group looking to play, or to familiarize new players to the game. Draft does make a GREAT way to get people who don't own cards to play.

The product: 4 (count 'em, 4) booster packs PER PLAYER.

Upon opening a pack, the player takes out the code card AND the hero card included before making their first pick. These cards are not considered a part of the player's card pool at the end. Foil hero cards, when opened, stay in the pack, so that each pack contains the same amount of cards.

After all packs have been passed around, players build  fully legal 30 card decks. This includes ANY hero from the sets that were drafted. The player does not need to have opened a Hero card to use it, AND the player can represent their hero any way they wish. They do not need a physical copy of the card, though it is recommended.

Regular deck construction rules apply, including class and faction restrictions. However, if you have more than 4 copies of a card in your pool, you can use as many of them as you like in your deck. There is no four-copy-per-card limit.

If a player does not have 29 cards compatible with their hero, they may include other cards from their pool that are not normally allowed, such as Shadow Font in a human deck. However, they can't be used for anything other than resources. If another player obtains one such card through an effect such as Transference, that card may be played normally.

Note that if a player has enough cards in their pool to use only one faction/class combination, they are NOT forced to use said heroes. A player may opt to use any hero they wish, as long as their deck is a minimum of 29 cards plus hero and contains the adequate amount of 'resource' cards to meet that requirement.

How the games themselves are played is largely up to the players. Typically, an 8 player draft ends in three rounds of swiss pairings (or single elim if so preferred) where in the first round, players face off against whoever was farthest from them while drafting.

For example, if seating is numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, where player 8 is next to player 1, then pairings are:

1, 5
2, 6
3, 7
4, 8

Feel free to adjust this for your given number of players, or simply roll the dice and randomize them however you see fit.

Note that drafting this way really doesn't work for less than four people, but 8 is the recommended minimum. If you have 12 or more players, It's best to split them into two separate draft tables and intermingle them after the first round of play.

Be on the look out for the official draft rules from Wulven and my own advanced Shadow Era drafting techniques.And yes, you cheap whores out there can stay tuned as well. I don't discriminate.

Boweh out.


  1. Thanks for the good article. We do indeed have 3 draft formats pre-ready to send out to the masses. I'm not too sure about the one you posted above as I think it might have some issues. We did lot's of playtesting of the deck-types at Origins both with players, and on our own with a 4 boxes of boosters we cracked open to test all the various formats. This is Raz, from the Shadow Era design team, thanks again!

    1. I'm aware that what you guys have tested is something a bit different. I purposely avoided the choices you guys have made (or at least those I know) to avoid 'spoiling' anything by releasing details that the average player wouldn't know.

      I look forward to the official announcement myself and wish the team my best.

      Boweh out.