Hierarchy Draft is currently our most successful attempt at recreating the feel of a regular 8 person draft with only 4 players. It’s a great option for your playgroup and should be up there with other formats such as Team Quad Sealed and Triple Sealed. It’s important for a cube designer or cube player to have a handful of alternative formats to play cube when they cannot assemble enough players for a regular 8 person draft.
I wont get into the issues with regular drafts with less players here, but I’ll save that for another discussion at another time. If you listen to our podcast you can hear the beginnings of this draft format, and how it evolved to what I have written out for you below. We first discuss this Hierarchy Draft idea in Episode 101, and later refine the idea again in Episode 108.
Hierarchy draft was originally created with 4 players in mind, but can be adapted to more or less players. The idea is to use a regular 360 card cube and create a fun and stimulating draft environment with 4 players.
First shuffle your cube and create your regular size packs, (15 card packs for a 360 cube), divide these packs to each player. Instead of the usual 3 packs for each player in an 8 person draft, the 4 players in hierarchy draft will each have 6 packs of 15 cards
Each player will look at their first pack, and sort that pack from their first pick to their last pick. Once they have sorted the pack by their pick order (1st pick on top, 15th pick on bottom), they will move onto the next pack and do the same. Repeat until all 6 packs are sorted from 1st pick to last pick
Once you finish sorting a pack by pick order you cannot change it based on information you see in the next pack. Once your pick order is established for that pack, it is done. Information from newer packs should not influence the pick order for prior packs.
Each player will have their 6 packs in front of them all sorted with 1st pick on top, and last pick at the bottom.
Each player will take the top 3 cards from their packs and make one pile in the middle of the table (each player’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd pick from the packs). It can help to use a dice to indicate this is the 1st-3rd pick pile. Repeat this process for the next 3 (4th, 5th, and 6th) until you have 5 piles each one containing each player’s picks.
Quickly shuffle each of the 5 piles, making sure not to forget which pick pile they are.
Now you are ready to start the draft
Start with pile 1 (picks 1, 2, and 3), and deal each player 6 cards. You will still have cards you haven’t given out, put those cards back to the middle of the table. You will draft as normal, 3 times. Take a card and pass the pack to the left (clockwise). Once you have picked your 3rd card, you will not pass that pack to the next player, you will remove those cards from the draft.
Create a discard pile away from the first 5 piles you created, and away from any players draft pile. Each player will discard their pack after they pick their 3rd card. This means you will not see the pack you originally opened, it will be discarded as the player to your right takes their 3rd card for this mini round.
Next take pile 2, and deal 6 cards to each player, and repeat taking a card, passing it to your left, discarding the pack after you take your 3rd card.
Repeat the above process for piles 3, 4, and 5.
At this point you have completed 1 round of the draft (pack one drafted as 5 mini packs)
Repeat the above process again, but this time passing to your right (counter-clockwise).
Finally after you have repeated for all 5 piles, you will repeat for the third and last time, passing clockwise.
In the end you should have no more piles of cards in the middle, each player will have 45 cards, and the rest of the cards not in each player’s pool in a discard pile.
Now each player can assemble their decks (minimum 40 card) with their drafted cards, and start playing games against each other!
The initial setup of having each player sort their packs from first pick to last is a great exercise that will strengthen your players card evaluation skills. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see how close your pick orders are to one another.
Combining everyone’s picks into a communal pile eliminates any motivation for a player to be dishonest or apathetic when creating their packs pick order. The communal pile means that if you choose a powerful card as a lower pick, the other 3 players are statistically more likely to benefit and see that card before the player that misplaced it there would. That player would be helping their opponents more times than they would be benefiting themselves.
Sorting by pick order at the start of the draft and dividing into piles ensures that your ‘first picks’ from the booster packs feel like first picks and by discarding half the cards in the pack you eliminate the problem of each player accumulating too much top end cards. In an 8 person draft this would not happen as you have double the players to ensure that each player wont end up with too high concentration of powerful cards.
Combining the picks into groups of 3 to creat 5 piles also helps reduce the variance and biases among players. Players can debate whether the 5th and 6th pick in a given pack should be swapped with one another, but in this draft picks 4, 5, and 6 are all combined, so the small differences are average out. Another benefit of combining picks in groups of 3 would be when a pack is particularly strong, with 3 slam dunk first picks, will get diluted with the rest of the top 3 picks, which have a more natural pick order. Same is true with particularly weaker packs, when no easy first pick is available, those will get averaged out with the rest of the players top picks.
You can think of hierarchy draft as still drafting 3 booster packs, but each booster pack is divided into top, mid, and low picks as per your players pick order. As you go through each pack, it simulates first picks, middle picks, and last picks.
One may be concerned about the packs not wheeling, to see what cards in your first pack that the other players had taken. From our observation and testing, this is not detrimental at all, and you can still read signals from your fellow players based on what they are passing to you despite the fact that you never knew full information on the pack they had.
You also get the benefit of seeing your entire cube as intended to be drafted. Even larger 540 and 720 cubes only use 360 cards when drafting, and this draft with only 4 players means you see all 360 cards. Mini packs of 6, discarding the pack once you’ve taken your 3rd card from the round creates scarcity of archetypes and themes. Since you do this for each pick order pile, you eliminate all spectrums of cards, top, mid, and low picks.
Not drafting all 6 cards means that cards will be seen but not played. Think of this as simulating the other 4 players in an 8 person draft. Since each mini draft of 6 cards stops once your 3rd card is picked, half the cards will not see play, and the half that do not see play are cut equally from the top picks, middle picks, and low picks. This eliminates the issue with 4 person drafting where each player ends up with a disproportionate amount of powerful picks, that would never happen if it were a regular 8 person draft. What happens is the decks resemble a closer feel to how the cube designer intended the decks to feel and play.
We created Hierarchy Draft as we were having issues with our regular 8 person playgroup not always showing up, and we disliked having to settle for the existing 4 person cube experiences. We’ve researched many different drafts, and tried many of them. We’ve created and tried many new drafts as well. We knew to create a good experience we needed to introduce artificial competition, and we didn’t like the idea of eliminating colors anymore to create that competition. We toyed around with the pick-kill (Pickle Draft) idea of drafting 2 cards at a time, one for your deck, and one to eliminate, but it wasn’t elegant and frankly just wasn’t that fun.
We usually play Team Quad Sealed with 4 players, but we wanted to do a draft. Hierarchy Draft is our creation. I really hope the next time you have 4 players you try out this draft. The set up and draft may seem daunting, but once you see what is happening during the set up and draft it becomes very natural and straight forward.