Live-Draft Magic: the Gathering

A Limited Variant

Live-Draft is a family of variants of Magic: the Gathering that takes the competitive, limited deck-building element of established draft variants and interleaves it with the actual play of the game itself. The basic idea is that there is a single common deck that all players draw from, but drawing is done by choosing a card from an available set rather than blindly.

You will need a large deck consisting of a variety of cards that are generally useful, with about one-quarter of it being land. You can either hand-pick cards from your collection that capture the flavor of each color nicely, or you can just combine one Tournament Deck and three additional booster packs. Shuffle them all together at the start of play to form a common library.

You can start the quick way, or the careful way. If you want to be quick, deal each player seven cards, and determine the starting player as usual. Instead of taking a normal mulligan, a player may remove from the game two cards in his or her hand to draw another card, using whichever of the drawing methods described below will be in effect. If you want a more controlled starting hand that takes slightly longer to obtain, again determine the starting player as usual. Beginning with that player, go around and have each player draw one card at a time, again using a method described below, until all players have seven cards.

For drawing cards, there are two options that can be used for any game--the tableau and the pipeline. With the first method, then are seven cards face-up in a common tableau in the middle of the play area. When a player draws a card, he or she may choose any of the seven cards in the tableau. That card is immediately replaced with the top card of the library. If the tableau ever consists entirely of lands or entirely of non-lands, remove all seven cards from the game and replace them with seven new ones from the library.

Under the second method, there are still seven cards in the middle of the table, but they are arranged in a pipeline from left to right in the order they were taken from the library. Drawing consists of choosing any of the seven and placing it in your hand, then removing the leftmost card from the game. Afterwards, slide the remaining five cards to the left and place two new cards from the deck to the right of the existing cards.

The owner of a card is the player who most recently drew it from the tableau or pipeline into his or her hand. Each player still has an independent graveyard, and cards go there as normal. Cards that refer to any library affect the common library. Players do not lose the game if they are unable to draw due to the library and tableau/pipeline being exhausted. If the library is exhausted and there are cards that have been removed from the game, you may wish to shuffle them and place them in the library in order to keep going.

If you would like to retain the ability to win by forcing your opponents to draw from an empty deck, use the following optional rule: Whenever a player would remove a card from his or her library, including by drawing, that player gets a mill counter. If a player needs to draw but the library and tableau/pipeline are exhausted, the player with the least mill counters wins the game.

After some more playing with this, I've developed another variant using Rummy-style card drawing. Take the same deck from above and again use it as the common library. Next to it will be a discard pile, distinct from each player's graveyard. To start, each player draws 14 cards, then discards down to 7 cards; these discards go in the common discard pile.

Whenever a player would draw a card, he has two choices: First, he may simply draw the top card of the discard pile. The other choice, used more often, is to draw two cards and then discard any card from his hand to the common discard pile (it need not be one of the two just drawn, but may be).

This variant has the advantage of tending to play faster, since there's less selection each turn, while it retains the ability to pick and choose, including taking things that your opponent doesn't want. Particularly nice is that this method restores secrecy to the hands of players, allowing for more bluffing and other elements found in normal play.

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