Goldfish Draft Rules


These are the rules for the Goldfish Draft format for playing Magic: The Gathering.

The Draft

Goldfish Draft is performed like a normal Magic: The Gathering booster draft, except with only two rounds instead of three. Specifically, each player opens one pack of 15 cards, then selects one card from the pack and passes the rest to the next player in sequence. Players continue to take one card and pass until all cards have been taken from each pack. Pass left in the first round and right in the second.

We have found two packs to be the perfect number for this format. With a stacked deck, three packs is just too many options, while after one pack things usually haven't quite come together.

The Play

No real games of Magic are played during the draft. Instead, each player calculates their optimal score against the goldfish. The player with the highest score wins.

This means you don't even need to be in the same location as your opponents. Particularly if you do the draft over the Internet as well! Also everyone can calculate their score at their leisure. For the turn count, we recommend 10 turns for an ordinary card pool and 7 turns for the Goldfish Cube.

During the game, you play first, and the game ends before the beginning of your 8th normal turn (for a 7 turn game).

Alternatively you could play second and end at the begining of the goldfish's 8th turn. Or, you could flip a coin for who plays first according to the coin flip rules below. Just make sure whatever it is you all do the same thing! We used to play second (officially at least, some did it the wrong way), but we prefer first to make card draw matter more and slightly nerf powerhouses like Fastbond and Karn Liberated.

Your deck is stacked. Specifically, this means any time you would shuffle your library, instead place the cards in any order you choose. This includes before drawing your initial hand. You may include any number of basic lands in your deck.

This is part of the basic premise of the format. It takes a game of chance and turns it into a game of calculation. In practice, we just assume that whatever card we need from the library is where we want it to be - we've never required our score write-ups to include the specific stacking order of the deck. Note also that many times your deck will be unimaginably large, containing many powers of ten worth of basic lands to support engines that draw ridiculous amounts of cards.

The Goldfish

The goldfish begins the game with the following emblem: You cannot lose the game and your opponent cannot win the game.

The goldfish's life total still goes negative, it just doesn't lose. This helps power things like Roiling Horror. You can still lose the game, so be careful, it sure would be embarrassing to lose to a goldfish!

The goldfish has a library containing an infinite number of basic land cards. Each turn, the goldfish will draw then play one basic land, and take no other action.

The infinite library is so as not to put an arbitrary cap on points from milling.


If you somehow manage to lose or draw the game, you score zero. Otherwise, your score is calculated at the end of the game, based on the following:

At first we thought we should take the maximum of the score from different win conditions, in the spirit of them being normally incompatible. But it's more fun to add them up. Besides, we're already repeatedly killing the goldfish, killing it in many different ways is well in the spirit of "win more". Heck, for a variant why not even try multiplying the scores from each of the different winning conditions?

At this point you're good to go, but following are some technicalities that are worth including.

Infinite Combos

If there is a sequence of actions which you could have performed in a loop an unlimited number of times, you score is not valid unless you complete that sequence of actions at most once.

The purpose of this rule is to prevent infinite combos. Why do we need this? Because infinite combos aren't fun. We've considered different ways of "scoring" infinite combos like: how early you can do it, how few cards etc., but at the end of the day they just spoil the fun. They use very few of your drafted cards, require no optimisation, and provide no challenge. To illustrate the point, imagine I asked you to find a set of cards which could deal a million damage. Easy, only two cards needed, for instance Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch. Now instead imagine I asked to find a set of cards which could deal exactly a million damage, but which could not deal a million and one damage. That, on the other hand, is a serious challenge - I don't even know if there is an answer. So to keep things challenging, we ban the infinite combos, in the fairest way we can. Our first line of defence is the Goldfish Cube itself, which goes to great lengths to avoid having any infinite combos available. But this doesn't always work, or you might want to draft a different set of cards, and this rule is here to back it up.

The way this works is it allows one full cycle and most of another. In the Splinter Twin example, you could play Exarch, play Twin, copy Exarch, untap Twin, even copy Exarch again, so long as you never untap Twin from a copy of Exarch ever again. You can prove you have not broken this rule by describing a necessary element of the infinite combo which is only performed once, such as in this case untapping Twin with Exarch. The interpretation of what constitutes an "action" is necessarily vague. So yeah, it can get a little rules-lawyery and complicated at times, which is why we try and avoid it. Overall though this rule stops infinite combos spoiling the fun while still allowing people to play all their cards and to even at least complete the loop they've discovered one time, as at least some reward for discovering it.

Other Technicalities

Restarting the game also resets your score to zero.

I'll leave it as an exercise to work out how this makes Karn Liberated extremely powerful but not infinite (at least without some way to generate increasing numbers of additional turns with increasing amounts of lands).

If there is an additional effect preventing you from winning the game or the goldfish from losing the game (other than the goldfish's own starting emblem) active when it ends, you score zero. Such effects while active also prevent the scoring of 20 points from "win the game" effects.

This is just to make Abyssal Persecutor work as intended.

If at any time the goldfish is forced to make a decision, it will make whatever choice minimises your score. Similarly, the specific type of basic land played by the goldfish, if it matters, is whatever type is least convenient for you (i.e. minimises your score).

The goldfish is there to do nothing, but that doesn't go as far as actually colluding with you. In general we try to avoid putting any cards in the cube that give the goldfish a choice, as it complicates things too much. Of course, the alternative, the colluding goldfish which chooses to maximise your score, could be considered in the spirit of things given the stacked deck and might be worth a try some day. Let us know if you give it a go!

If you're using a cube with coin flip cards, the goldfish always calls tails. You choose the result of the first coin flip. Each subsequent coin flip has the opposite result to the previous one. Similarly, if using Unglued cards that use dice, you choose the first die roll result, and subsequent rolls cycle through the outcomes increasing by one each time (then wrapping around from 6 to 1).

We're not attached to this rule; it's a bit experimental and quite arbitrary, but we've found it a fun way to make coin flip cards viable. It allows you to do such things as have two coin flip cards, and absorb all the losses with one in order to win all the flips with the other. While this doesn't make much sense, it fits well enough with the spirit of the game and most importantly it's the most fun way to treat these cards. Without this rule every coin flip would just go whichever way minimised your score which basically just meant they weren't even worth including.

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mezzacotta | Comic Irregulars' Magic: The Gathering | Goldfish Draft

Last updated: Friday, 01 May, 2020; 18:07:53 PDT.
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