by Mark Rosewater
The Invitational's first format is Duplicate Limited, often described as "Limited without the luck." All sixteen players receive an identical set of 90 cards-16 per color and 10 artifacts.
Duplicate Limited is the only format to have been played at all five Invitationals. We include it year after year for several reasons.
First, it tests a unique set of skills. Players not only have to gauge the power level if individual cards in a new environment, but they also discover and evaluate the many complex card combinations I always weave into the card selection. Once they do this, they must deduce the metagame, then build their deck accordingly. Then, during matches, they must take into account what cards their opponents might be playing based on what colors are in their decks.
Second, Duplicate Limited is very spectator-friendly. It allows those watching and/or following the matches to mentally build your own deck from the 90-card pool and compare it to those the competitors built. If possible, try your hand at building a deck before you look at the players' decklists.
Finally, the format is very logistically complicated. Because the Invitational has only sixteen players, Wizards can show off a format that we can't use at events with a larger number of players.
Each year I build the Duplicate Limited card pool around a particular theme. This year, all the cards are preexisting cards whose mana costs I altered. Weak cards have had their mana costs lowered, whereas strong cards have had their costs raised. Also, to further complicate things, I changed many of the spells to make them somewhat color-dependent. Each spell was selected to make players carefully consider whether to include it in their decks.
Normally I make use of R&D's card library to assemble the sixteen identical sets of cards. In the past, this has meant that I could use only cards from the last few years. (Rumors of a vast R&D collection of Unlimited Edition cards are unfounded.) Because I intended to make stickers to reflect the card's altered mana costs, however, I could include some really old Magic cards for the first time. As an old-timer who got his start in Alpha, I could finally include some of my old personal favorites.
As you look over the card list, you'll notice that I took great care to include as many old mechanics as possible. Some mechanics appear in every color, such as enchant worlds, cantrips, "comes into play" effects, cumulative upkeep, and Spellshapers. Others appear in only a few colors: buyback, kicker, cycling, echo, phasing, flanking, and others.
This card pool will make the competitors play with cards that many haven't seen in years, and that some of the younger invitees have probably never played. To prepare the competitors for this format, I sent them the latest rules for older cards. They might not work how you think!
A final new twist to consider: to keep players from completely transforming their decks in response to a particular opponent, we've added a new rule this year: players are given land cards for their main deck only. This will allow players to sideboard effectively, but only within their originally chosen colors. The change will reward players who size up the metagame the best.
In past Invitationals, the Duplicate Limited format has proven easy for some (Chris Pikula claims to understand how I think) and very difficult for others (Randy Buehler, Jr. went 0 - 3 in this format at the Barcelona Invitational.) Stay tuned to see how this year's invitees fare.