You’re in the finals of your Draft, and your UW opponent has just passed their turn 5 without missing a land drop but also without playing a creature for the last 2 turns. You think back to the draft where they were 2 seats to your left—what could they have? In pack 3 you opened Descend Upon the Sinful but had to pass it because you were in BR. You also shipped a Silverstrike and a late Stormrider Spirit. You decide that the best plan is to just play your Call the Bloodline and pass with the ability to madness out a Twins of Maurer Estate instead of deploying your Flameblade Angel. Sure enough your opponent is forced to use their Descend as a 2-for-2, and you’re able to close out a close game because you played around it.
Unless, of course, you were in a cross-paired pod. Can you really play around a mythic rare when you weren’t in the same pod as your opponent and have no knowledge of their draft? They could have any card in the set! A cross-pod pairing system fundamentally alters the mechanics and incentives offered from typical in-pod pairings and should be avoided whenever possible.
When you sit down at a Draft table, your goal is usually to build the best deck within your draft pod, and that second distinction is very important. One of the great virtues of drafting is that it doesn’t matter what the overall power level of your Draft pod is because everyone is in the same boat barring a few first-pick, high quality rares. With cross-pod pairings, you can easily end up with decks that have greatly different power levels thanks to natural variance within the packs.
Take the NMS draft format for example—the two best commons in New Phyrexia were Volt Charge and Grim Affliction, and they also happened to be in a print run together, meaning that if you opened one you were incredibly likely to also open the other. There is going to be a pretty big gap in average power level between a pod where 4 copies of this print run are opened and one where 0 copies are, and forcing decks to play despite that divide is unfair to the “unlucky” people in the second pod.
You are also punished harder for having a non-cooperative Draft in a cross-pod system. Imagine a Draft where your neighbor is aggressively hate drafting cards in your color. Typically, both of your decks are going to be worse-off because your neighbor is using their picks on cards that will not make their deck. The silver lining is that at least you have a 3-in-7 chance of getting paired against this neighbor with an underpowered deck at some point in a traditional Draft. In cross-pod play, you could have nearly any number of potential opponents so the odds of being paired against this particular neighbor are much lower.
Mixed-pod pairings become even more problematic when you consider the implications in Cube draft. The very nature of Cube is a singleton format, so you have way more information about the cards your opponents can have. Did you take Daze? Then it’s probably safe to jam that Grave Titan against a tapped-out opponent with one card in hand. Pass a late Splinter Twin? Then it’s probably best to hold up Path against your UR opponent with a Pestermite in play.
These lines of play are part of what make Cube great, and give players important eureka moments where they get to feel that they outplayed their opponents. The value of hate drafting is also much higher in a traditionally-paired Cube draft than it is in other non-Cube formats. Your decks are more focused and the cards you’d want to hate are better at disrupting you. You won’t see something like Kor Firewalker or even Silver Knight running around in present day Draft formats, and even if you do, you’ll usually be multiple colors and they won’t be nearly as devastating as they would be against your mono-red Cube deck.
Mixed pods also do a disservice to their players by failing to teach them important Draft skills that might not be the most important part of drafting, but really do matter when the stakes are high. You may dismiss the power-level variance argument, the hate-drafting issues, and the value of the information of passed cards by saying that the similarities outweigh the differences. But when it comes down to it and you have to draft for a PT invite or at Day 2 of a Grand Prix, you want every edge available, and you’ll perform better if you’ve been practicing in conditions that are as close to a real tournament as you can manage. Tracking who could have the tricks you passed late in the Draft is a skill that you will naturally cultivate if you’re given the incentive to do so, and mixed pods remove a lot of that incentive.
Mixed-Draft pods are bad for drafting because they lead to increased variance of deck power levels, remove cool moments based on knowledge of opponents’ decks, and do a poor job preparing people for higher-stakes events where mixed-pod pairing will not be used. But that’s just my opinion—what do you think? Do the benefits of mixed-pod pairings outweigh the costs and concerns?