The Mental Merge

Posted in Serious Fun on August 16, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

What do "mental Magic", Mindslaver, and coin flips have in common?

Not much, until today.

I was in a five-player chaos game a few weeks ago and someone played a Swords to Plowshares on my Hypnotic Specter. While I accepted the incident without explicit comment, I sighed inside. "I wish," I told myself, "that it could have been a Holy Strength instead." And honestly, who wouldn't prefer one to the other, when on the receiving end?

Which got me thinking.

What if there were a way to bend your opponent's spells to your will – not just to redirect (Willbender) or copy (Twincast) them – but reshape them, in an image more preferable to your needs?

What if you got to control what the spell was? What if that was a new format?

Well, for about 90 percent of the way through this article, that's what it was – a new format that I created and was going to deliver to all of you. Seriously, it was done. Finished. Ready for you to read about and test.

Then I decided I should probably junk it. Why? Because I realized that was the wrong way to do this format. There's a better road. And it involves you.

What if you got to help make that format? You know – essentially change the format I was thinking of creating, before it ever really got to resolve?

What a delicious irony! Let's do it.

*Hits delete on the rest of the stuff that used to be here.*

What We'll Do

Starting today, and reappearing occasionally over the next month or so (with special tie-ins during Ravinca previews), I will create a new casual multiplayer format. Scratch that – we will create a new casual multiplayer format. Right here, online, using this column and the message boards.

This obviously won't be a sanctioned format. But it is one that many Magic players will read about, several times over the next few months. It's likely to get a bit of experimentation in local stores and casual kitchens around the world. And in the meantime, we'll have a bit of fun talking to each other.

Who knows where this will go? We'll end up with a random format, with random choices made along the way. Good fun!

Where We'll Start

I have only three stipulations about what the format must do. (Consider them analogous to "You Make the Card" rules, where you have creative freedom within limits.)

First, the format will be a multiplayer format. That's what I like, it's what most of my readers like…and it also allows for a ton of different angles.

Second, it will involve tournament-legal cards and sets. If we start leaking into Unhinged and such, the wheels will just fall off. All things being equal, I prefer wheels.

Third, the broad theme will be about changing your opponents' spells. I do this to keep the unity between the format and how we're creating it. We're all trying to push, pull on, and reshape what the format will look like – just like how players will push, pull on, and reshape the spells flying around.

As you can imagine, there's still a lot of space left.

What We'll Do Next

The first thing we have to establish is the basic frame of the format. Put another way, is this a free-for-all or team format? I'm going to force a choice here – it's certainly possible to design a format that could work in free-for-all or team – but we get more interesting decisions down the road if we commit.

What type of "basic frame" do you want on this format?A free-for-all format, where each player is looking to win by outlasting every other player.A two-team format, where I work alongside partners to achieve a common victory.A goal-oriented format, where I don't have to beat everyone to win – I just have to be the first toward a specific goal.

Yes, there are other options. Please choose from the three I've provided.

There are disadvantages and advantages to each, of course. A free-for-all will allow you the most opportunities to change spells, since you've maximized the number of opponents who are likely to cast spells you'll want to change. But will also add to the complexity of the format, and will invite more situations where we'll have to decide what happens, say, if two parties want to change a spell at the same time.

Meanwhile, teams present opportunities for consultation – but will probably limit the number of times we get to actually experience what the format has to offer. (Feel free to argue this point on the boards – but you'll need to combat the basic math that in a six-player game, you have less opponents in a team format than you do in a free-for all.)

A "goal-oriented" format has elements of both free-for-all and team – everyone's an opponent, but not everyone's an opponent you care about. As with most middle roads, it offers advantages of both extremes, without having a distinct identity of its own. Of course, once again a good enough argument might help us find a way through that disadvantage.

But I'll leave all this to the community! Please discuss this on the boards, read what others have to say, and vote on what you'd like to see!

What You Please Won't Do

While I do want as open a process as possible, please realize I am not Wizards staff and therefore do not represent a group of people who can filter through thousands of emails with lots of different interesting ideas. As a result, this format-creation process will not be as "open" to email ideas as you might expect.

If you do contact me, I ask that you refrain from emailing suggested directions the format might take. I'm not going to consider them. (And if I get deluged anyway, I'm unlikely to answer them; and I hate not responding, so please don't do it.)

Instead, I will be referring to the message boards, where I will scan the ideas and conversations for interesting fruit. I will pluck that fruit and insert them into options for you to choose from – rather like today's poll. So in the future, you might see a poll that says, "How do you want to handle the issue of two people trying to change a spell at the same time?", with three different options, two of which I read about on the boards and the other of which came from a darker corner of my own brain.

Because of the reliance on polls, there is the potential for abuse. Frankly, I can't imagine the poor soul with nothing better to do than warp the direction of a non-sanctioned format. In fact, since multiple viewpoints will get airtime (and I'll occasionally discuss ins/outs of going each way), abusing the poll won't really have any ultimate effect at allabusing the poll won't really have any ultimate effect at all, since readers will be free to pursue any alternative path they like. So don't bother. Just vote once and move on – it will be more interesting to see what people out there really think.

Last thing – I know from experience that people will be reading this article in the archives, someday. It'll be, like, 2046 and hamster-robots will rule the earth, and someone will actually email me and say, "I want to help make your new format!" Friend, if you're reading this after calendar 2005, you've missed the boat. Move on to the next fine selection in our Serious Fun archives – in fact, you can go right now and see where we ended up! And thanks for stopping by.

So What Do We Do Again?

Hook up to the message boards. Read what others have to say. Think. Write your own ideas. Then vote in the poll above. The next time we pick this up (probably in a week or so), we'll worry about the next step.

I'm looking forward to seeing what we all create together!

Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.

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