Mass Drafting considerations, part 1: Judging

First, I’d like to thank the numerous GP HJs which contributed to improving this article (and its friend) by carefully reviewing it and giving a lot of input to make it improve.


These days, a mere 1200-player event often turns into a nearly-400-player Day 2. This means most Limited GP Day 2s now feature at least 50 and sometimes 100 simultaneous drafting tables, which is a radical change considering reaching 50 was until now nearly a miracle. This change in scale does bring quite a lot of challenges.

Then, the fact a significant part of the Day 2 players have actually never done a timed draft before makes this even more touchy.

Finally, every card in a GPs or PTs draft set is stamped, so as to ensure a tremendous protection from cheating since every player can make sure the cards their opponents are playing have legally been drafted. However, just like in the real world, any increase in security generates a loss in flexibility.

Let’s dive into the efficient handling of a mass draft!



Big Brother is watching them


Watching players’ eyes is likely the most important part of why judges are really needed during drafts. Privacy of the picks is important since a player knowing what their neighbor is drafting does gain a huge advantage. That’s why this is Cheating.


The top moments a player may want information about what their neighbor is drafting are:

  • Pack A, pick 1, Right Player
    To determine what is the first pick of the player drafting just before
  • Pack A, pick 2, Right Player
    To check for a second color or confirmation of the first
  • Review Period 1, Left player
    Indeed, cards are now passed to the right so the Left Player is now the one passing cards
  • Review Period 1, Right player
    Is the player getting cut a color?
  • Pack B, pick 1, Left Player
    Checking for a color-changing bomb opened
  • Pack B, pick 2, Left Player


It is therefore crucial to not pick up trash at these moments. While we do want clean and professional-looking tables, we primarily need to protect the tournament’s integrity. You can safely wait until picks 5 or 6 to pick up trash on tables






If there is only one thing you should remember after reading this article, you just went through it. I’ll repeat: NEVER STOP THE DRAFT.

When I say NEVER, I mean NEVER! A judge should NEVER shout “stop the draft”.


When players call a judge, you should fix the situation and call the draft for that table individually.

If you need assistance, ask for the help of another judge (to either deal with it or fetch the Head Judge)


Indeed, while your local PPTQ or even a GP Top8 can easily be stopped as soon as there is a mistake happening, if a mass draft needs to be stopped every time one table has an issue, it is likely the draft will stop more than five times during each booster, which is detrimental to the players’ concentration.

Additionally, while making everybody stop at the same moment is quite doable, it is unlikely all players will have stopped at the same moment, requiring even more time to make sure they’re all at the same point before the draft can be safely resumed. To sum it up, whenever you’re stopping the draft because you want to fix something at a table, you are overall causing more chaos than you fix.



Stamped cards


Here is what a stamped Draft Set and a stamped Booster look like:


(images courtesy of Rick Salamin)


  • A stamped pack is made of 13 stamped cards facing one direction and 1 stamped card upside down.
  • That pack is circled with a paper wrap indicating A, B or C
  • These three packs are circled with a general paper wrap indicating the Draft Number (1 or 2) and the Seat Number (1 to 8)
    If you have pods of more than 8 players, players need to be seated manually at seats 9 and/or 10



Common Problems at booster opening



A card from the current booster is revealed


As mentioned earlier, each booster contains one upside-down card. Tell the player to turn it face down and resume counting.

(images courtesy of Jeph Foster and Rick Salamin)

Since the player is about to look at the booster anyway, this is not worth acting at all. They also didn’t gain more time to think about their pick since they don’t know the other 13 cards.



A card from another booster is revealed


It does happen that (most of the time when removing the general paper wrap) a card from another booster slips and becomes visible. In such a case, there is a potential advantage to be gained by the player.


Exchange the booster with a replacement booster. The booster you just took can be used to replace another booster later (although at another table). Indeed, the booster did not have any issue, it was simply an information leak.



Wrong number of cards in a booster


Before the content of the booster has been looked at

  • If there are too few cards, replace the booster
  • If there are too many cards, check which rarity has one card too many and remove one of these cards at random.


After the content of the booster has been looked at

  • Check that two cards were not stuck together. While drying, the ink can make two cards stick together. (skip this step if there are too many cards but usually, a card is missing)
    Note that in regular drafts, checking whether a card has been forgotten in the booster wrapper is a good idea
  • Instruct players to count how many picks they currently have.
    This is meant to exclude one player has picked twice in the same booster (This admittedly doesn’t exclude Premeditated Cheating).
  • Meanwhile, ask the player to stand up, check the floor and, if two pieces of table cloth overlap in the pod, check under the top piece.
  • Ask then all players to stand up and check the floor.
  • Unless you can get help from other judges, count yourself the number of picks of the player who called you and, in order with the neighbor first, each of the players who passed the problematic booster to the player.
    This is meant to exclude Premeditated Cheating (Player intentionally picks twice then says the correct number. They’ll throw a crap card of the same rarity later.)

At this point, you should make sure the Head Judge has been involved already, since several minutes have probably elapsed. While it is likely that the draft will need to go on with a card missing, not having resolved the case with these five steps is very unrealistic.



Marked cards


A marked card inside a booster can take several forms:

  • A card may have been damaged during manipulation
  • A piece of tape coming from the label wrap may have let a mark on the back of a card.
  • A card’s back may be lighter or darker.

This is endangering the integrity of the draft since any player who has noticed the card is marked and knows which card it is can therefore knows who has picked it with a simple glance.


Before the content of the booster has been looked at

  • Replace the pack


After the content of the booster has been looked at

  • Sleeve the remainder of the pack.
    This is by far the quickest way to resume drafting at this table. All cards from that booster need to be sleeved with the same sleeves of course.



Common Problems during drafting


Double common in the same draft pack


This is perfectly legal and does not require to replace the booster.

The only thing that’s guaranteed is the rarity distribution inside a pack.



Card Fall


If a card fell on the floor, pick it up, making sure it remains as face down as possible and place it back in the appropriate booster.

If it fell in a way that it was revealed to other players, there is nothing that can be done. It happens.



Card from another set


If the first pick hasn’t been done, replace that card with a card from the correct set.

If it is discovered after the first pick has been done, involve the Head Judge as this is worth investigating.



Replacing or Sleeving a pack


Ideally, you want to replace as few packs as possible.

If a logistical reason (the number of replacement packs available is not infinite) immediately comes to mind, the main reason is about protecting the tournament’s integrity:

Once the content of the pack has been disclosed to a player, replacing the pack may either not be possible or may be dangerous.

Indeed, once one card has been drafted from the pack, the pack can obviously not be replaced since at least one player has made a decision based on that particular booster.

But more importantly, if a player opening the pack sees that the rare is crap and they only need to drop a card on the Floor to get it replaced, that’s opening the door to Cheating.


There ideally should be judges (Area leaders and/or Head Judges) who have replacement packs and sleeves. Make sure you replace a pack with a pack of the same letter. While it doesn’t really matter if the GP only uses one set (random is random), this will give you a good habit so you don’t screw up when the GP is, for instance, Aether Revolt/Kaladesh Sealed!



Engaging a problematic table


When there is a judge call, evaluate the situation and if, it is worth pausing the table:

  • Make it clear to players of that pod that they should stop.
    Mention their pod number loudly to avoid the neighboring pods to stop due to confusion.
  • Tell players what to do with their cards (keep in hand or place on the table)
    Most of the time they should place them face down on the table, if they aren’t already.



Restarting a table


If fixing the issue was so quick that the table has not been delayed by one pick (usually a card falling on the floor and you’re just next to it), let the table continue drafting following the draft caller’s instructions.


If the problem took longer to resolve, time the table individually.

  • Make it clear to players that you’re doing so and make sure they focus on your voice and forget the general draft calling.
  • Make sure that all players are resuming drafting from the same point in the draft:
    1. If the issue happened soon after collection, check all players have the same number of cards in hand
    2. If the issue happened after some players have already picked, have the remaining players pick, shuffle and pass.
  • Once these precautions have been taken, you can safely resume drafting.





When it comes to mass drafting versus drafting, the scale is what primarily matters. Just like in many other aspects of management of large events, you need to consider the greater good. Minor adjustments should never interfere with the global procedure, or you cause more chaos than there initially was. Yes, it would be technically cleaner to fix a problem and keep that table coordinated with the others, but the rish it causes more problems is so important that the potential benefit is completely overridden.


If you’re looking at informations about how to call a draft, here is the article you are looking for!


Kevin Desprez.