The Best 1v1 Draft Format

When a draft format becomes stale, like M14 currently is and has been since the conclusion of GP Oakland, limited specialists still need a draft outlet. I am a fan of 1v1 draft formats, Winston and Winchester in particular.  Sometimes it is difficult to find 6-8 people for a draft, and sometimes you just need to test your moxie, mono-a-mono, against a frenemy for serious pride points. 

After reading Matt Sperling’s article on “Dual Sealed” I knew that variation could be applied to 1v1 draft formats to make them even more enjoyable and skill-intensive.


The underlying problem with Winston and Winchestor has to do with the number of cards in the stack/library for the draft.  In an 8-man cube draft, each player would contribute 3 packs of 15 cards (45 per player) to the entire pool of cards in the draft.  In set-based draft formats like M14 and RTR Block there are some wildly unplayable cards in the mix, which lowers the average value of each pick.  When drafting a cube-type format, most cards are considered highly playable, so the density of good picks is not lacking.


Either way, finding the right number of cards in total for the whole 1v1 draft is difficult because if you limit the card pool too much, you’re both stuck jamming horrible decks into each other like a 5 year old playing chicken with matchbox cars reenacting what he just saw on SportCenter’s Top 10 Most Destructive NASCAR Crashes.  On the other hand, too many cards leads to an abundance of riches.  Normally having so many options is great, but when you’re playing against one person, you usually don’t need tons of sideboard options or situational cards.  Plus, it’s less skill-testing to give each other get-out-of-jail-free passes during the draft.  If you can make bad picks and not get punished because later picks have the chance to pick up the slack then it’s less skill-intensive.  What’s the point of drafting then?  Why not just do 1v1 sealed deck?

When I Winchester or Winston draft I typically decide to run it with 6 packs of the current set or with 90 cards for a 1v1 draft with a random mix of Colors/Multi/Artifact/Lands from friends’ cubes or my Pauper or Standard Rotating Cube.  With this number of cards I find that building a cohesive 2-color deck is extremely difficult, such that I never pass a piece of mana-fixing since I want to be prepared to play the most powerful 3+ color deck.  I’ve dabbled with 100 or even 105 cards, but the experience for deckbuilding is extremely convoluted even though the added benefit was that the main decks often “looked” better.  

I recently came to the realization that these formats simply need to implement Sperling’s “Dual Sealed” approach.  Simply by adding one more pack worth of cards per player (+15/player, +30 overall) to total 120 cards, the rules are changed so that each player must draft 2 decks.  Reading signals during the draft are no longer easy to interpret.  There might be a little more luck involved with “top-decking” better 1st picks, but overall the choices become much more interesting.  Do I take this card for my first deck or is that deck already good enough?  What colors should I split?  Can I build synergy into either of my decks with more cards in the pool to choose from?  What cards have I allowed my opponent to grab already?  Do I want to cut him or her from those colors or should I let him have it all so I get rewarded with opposite colors later?  Bottom line is – the format is not easy to figure out.  I can see doing a live MODO draft of this where Hall of Famer X could easily have wildly different opinions and choices than Hall of Famer Y during the course of a draft.  

Rules for “Dual Winston/Winchester” are as follows:  At the end of the draft each player constructs an A deck and a B deck, as if it was 2v2 team sealed.  Matches play out as A vs A and B vs B, best out of 3 games each.  If there is a tie, then rock A vs B and B vs A.  If there is still a tie, break the tie however you want.  I personally like the “Sudden Death” game, that’s right, game – not match – of each player choosing whichever deck they want (Bring on the metagame headgames!) You can even try out fun variations like “let your opponent choose which deck you play with” a.k.a. “back-deck-draft”  or “mash the contents of both decks together and see what happens with A+B vs A+B.”  A friend suggested the latter after I had reached a standstill after 4 best of 3s.  I dismissed the thought of ever doing that and I sure hope no one ever tries it.  If you go for it – thank Chris Bruner for the entertainment.


So the next time you think about 1v1 drafting, make it a dual draft (read in stereotypical beer commercial voice). Simply add an extra pack per player and remember to make 2 decks (it’s actually pretty easy to forget that you need 2 decks while focusing on your first deck in the middle of the draft).  Draft responsibly!  Hell, try adding 2 extra packs to make a full on team sealed style 3 decks each (*WARNING – may not be suitable for inexperienced drafters*)



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