Aimless Wanderings: The Basics of Rochester Draft

Magic, being the complex game that it is, has spawned many different and unique formats in which it can be played in. Many of these do not go further than the the play group who creates them while others find there way to multiple play groups via the Internet. Some of these formats go so far as becoming programmed game-types on Magic Online, such as Vanguard, Highlander and Tribal, while two others have even gone so far to become sanctioned in DCI tournaments. So is the case with Rochester Draft (Two-Headed Giant being the other).

Rochester Draft, as some of you will know and some of you will have guessed, was first created in Rochester, New York when a play group there got tired of simple booster draft. In an attempt to find a different, more interesting, and more skill intensive form of draft they began drafting with all packs and picks being public knowledge. Eventually this format spread and was long used as the Top 8 format at all Limited PTQs. This format has also been varied to create team Rochester, a format that may be more well known, for it has become a Pro Tour and Grand Prix stalwart.

This article will be reviewing what Rochester draft is and the basic concepts involved in it. For some of you this will all be review, for others of you some of it will be informative, and for some it will be a whole new look at drafting.

The Basics of Rochester

Rochester drafting, while very different from booster draft, does share many similarities. It is still a limited format and therefore you are still asked to make a forty card deck by the end of the draft. You also need the same amount of product you would need for a normal draft, 24 packs of whatever sets you choose. Finally it is also still recommended that you Rochester with seven other players, for a total of eight.

However Rochester does have many distinctions. The most obvious is that instead of opening one pack per player at a time, for a total of eight packs at a time, you open only one at a time. This pack is then laid out over a table, or in the case of online play displayed to all, and all players have time to review the pack. The standard review period is thirty seconds although they vary from place to place. Once the review period has ended the person with the first pick of that pack will have a predetermined period of time (somewhere bewteen four and ten seconds) to select their card. The next person at the table will then have their ten seconds to select a card and so on until the eighth person has twenty seconds to select two cards at which point the draft begins flowing the opposite direction again. This means the following:

Seat 1 Selects: 1st
Seat 2 Selects: 2nd and 15th
Seat 3 Selects: 3rd and 14th
Seat 4 Selects: 4th and 13th
Seat 5 Selects: 5th and 12th
Seat 6 Selects: 6th and 11th
Seat 7 Selects: 7th and 10th
Seat 8 Selects: 8th and 9th

Once the first pack is drafted the second is opened except this time all of the seats go down one so that Seat 2 becomes Seat 1 and Seat 1 becomes Seat 8 and so on. [Note: the 10-second interval for picks is normally found online, to account for varying computer and connection speeds. A physical Rochester draft uses four seconds as the standard interval between picks, and 25 seconds for review between packs. - Ed.]

With eight players and 24 boosters it means that like a booster draft each player end up with 45 cards and that each player will get three first picks. The first eight boosters, or the time it takes for everyone to have a first pick, is considered the first round, the next eight boosters considered the second round, and the last eight considered the third around. Also much like a booster draft rounds go as follows:

Round 1: Left
Round 2: Right
Round 3: Left

This makes the notation for Rochester Round-Pack. So first pack would be 1-1.

Basic Concepts of Rochester Draft

Like booster drafts there are many concepts and strategies that come with Rochester, some similar to those of booster, others completely different. The most important concept of Rochester draft that you must understand if you ever want to be successful at Rochester drafting is that you must play nicely. The golden rule of Rochester is very much like another golden rule you may have heard of:

Do onto others as you would like done onto yourself.

In Rochester draft this is so important to understand. The only time you will ever play the person next to you is in the finals and that is if at all. Therefore if your neighbors know what colors you are they generally have no reason to hate draft you. Subsequently you have to make sure that those around you know what colors you are in. Now with all picks public you would think this would be easy but it can be as difficult to do as in normal booster draft. This really depends on what seat you are in to begin the draft but the key is to take the cards to make your colors obvious in the early stages. Now this can sometimes be easy, if you open a Glare of Subdual in RRR Rochester no one to the two seats next to you is going to think of going into Selesnya if they know what you are doing. But sometimes this can be difficult when there are two cards that signal the same colors and are near each other in pick order. For instance if you on third picking, 1-1 and your pack contains a Thundersong Trumpter and Skyknight Legionnaire it is best to pass them both and go with the sub-pick card.

However this is just a basic guide to signaling, you also need to remember the golden rule. As said above you have to declare colors. In Ravnica Rochester this can be rather easy because guilds and the gold cards with them but in the past, particulary Mirrodin Rochester, colors would often not be declared in time due to the picking of artifacts. Later when most of the table would have colors defined but one player had been selecting mostly artifacts and jumped into a color others would attempt to get out of it in order to get feed. This would cause a change of events across the player that would result in much of the table being upset with whoever did not declare and hating them.

And sometimes this will happen. Sometimes the cards do not come or a bomb will cause you to change colors. At times the table will understand this but at other times they will not. You can end up sitting next to someone very unhappy with them. You do not want to cause a war that will result with both of you hating each other each pick and both of your decks declining in power but you also do not want to be taken advantage of. It is never a good idea to allow yourself to be bullied.

This is when the so called Tit for Tat concept comes into play. Tit for Tat says that you do to whomever did something to you back but only to the equal value as they did it. If the burn spell you had been waiting for to solidify your deck is hated for a splash by your neighbor is hated you simply note it in your head and return the favor at a later point. However you do not begin taking every card that could possibly go into their deck because you wanted the burn so badly. It hurts you both. Also if you are the one who needs that splash for you deck recognize later when you are hated that this redemption and not their own proclamation.

Another offense or way in which you can take your redemption also happens to be our next basic strategy. First, however, we need define the term. The player who is in Seat 8 at any point, the player who will be selecting 8th and 9th is considered to be in the “Bounce” seat because he selects twice in a row before the pack begins going back the other way. This puts the player in front of the bounce in a unique situation. You may be playing in front of the bounce and playing Boros while the player next to you in the bounce may be in Selesnya. The pack, when it gets to you, still has Rally the Righteous and Centuar Safeguard in it. Generally in this situation you would take the Rally and pass the Safeguard along. However you know that the Selesnya player has no interest in the Rally but only the Safeguard. So in theory if you select the Safeguard, the card of lower value to you first, and pass the rally, the card of greater value to you, you will end up with both.

However some players will be unhappy with this and as a result not allow you to use this on them by selecting the Rally. Some consider this an offense, others do not, however know the risk before you attempt to “play the bounce” on someone and before you attempt to stop them from doing so. Two more notes on playing the bounce and against it:

*Stopping someone's play on the bounce is generally considered redemption for when they hate drafted you so do not hate them back and stop their bounce play. It gets you in wars. Wars kill puppies. We all love puppies. Do not hurt the puppies!
*More advanced players agree that stopping the play on the bounce is correct so while it is usually fine to do it online do not do it at a Grand Prix or any other high-level play event..

Also as you grow more advanced in your play of Rochester you will begin to be able to not only play the bounce but play the table in the same manner. It is very similar to the example I described above in that if you are Seat 6 passing to 7 and 8 and are in a color neither of them are in then select the card in their colors over the card in their colors, regardless of value, and the card in your color will most likely come back to you. Also playing the table is much more safe as you are not directly offending anyone and therefore keeping those to your left happy with you.

The last strategy that I want to bring to your attention in regards to Rochester draft is that of knowing your opponent. You should know by now, that is if you are paired correctly, you will be playing the person sitting directly opposite of you. With all picks being public you can know all of the cards they are selecting and build and draft your deck around that. If you see that they were able to draft a Glare, then make enchantment and board sweepers your main priority. Also if you see that are playing Mill, begin making a three color deck that can suppot forty cards.*

Now I must warn you before I send you all out there that Rochester is not for everyone. Like any alternative format there are many who hate it. The main complaint that I hear about Rochester is that it takes far too long. And to some extent this is true. Twenty-seven packs at thirty second review leads to half-an-hour but add in picking times and review time and you have a good hour, much longer than your normal booster. If you do not have time, do not Rochester. Also many are uncomfortable with others being able to see their picks. And this happens. But if you know what your own pick order is and do not care if others disagree with it, then you will have no problems.

So get out there! Go! Enjoy one of the most skill-intensive and fun formats magic has to offer!

*NOT 5cG. Just stop people, stop. It is not viable in RRR, not at all. Sorry. Frown

Thanks to loran16, CynicalSquirrel, Avatar and all of the boys at m-l who stay up through those long nights rochestering.
Thanks to Goblinboy for the banner.
Thanks to Binary for editing.


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