Fun With a Capital M

Posted in Feature on September 1, 2006

By Brian Rogers

Sometimes I start to lose sight of the fact that Magic is a game. I am always thinking about what decks are out there and what will do best in the current metagame, or I am preparing to judge the next event I am going to. I don’t have nearly as much time as I would like to just play Magic.

Over the last week I had a lot of time to teach some new players about my favorite game. I set up a table at the old county fair, called Town and Country Days here in good old Wetzel County. My grandmother makes dolls and my mother hand stitches decorative cushions. The county fair is always a good time for them to peddle their wares, so I decided it would be a good time for me to peddle mine as well.

Here in rural West Virginia, players are always at a premium. It doesn’t matter how good your tech is if you don’t have anyone to play against. This year, Town and Country Days became an opportunity for me to find and make some more local players.

I had just recently acquired the four theme decks from the new Coldsnap expansion. I decided I would use these as my teaching decks for the week. These decks are far from optimal to use from a teaching standpoint because they are built to use a lot of synergy that new players will not be able to master, and they have cards that use many advanced concepts that will be difficult to teach new players. However, there isn’t much else to do at the fair, so I decided I would have plenty of time to spend with any potential new apprentices.

My expectation was to teach some new players how to play Magic and get some more contacts to put into my local email list of local goings on and various Magic-related events. What I found instead was a little bit of the old-school feel of my youth. Partially due to the old-school feel of the Coldsnap decks and partially due to the youthful exuberance of those under my tutelage, I rediscovered that Magic is more than a daily grind, more than a chance to network, more than something that you do just because you do it, but that it is a lot of fun!

If you have lost sight of how fun Magic can be, here are a couple of formats that you might try to play just for fun. Some of these are my old favorites, and some I came up with with the help of some of my new friends from the fair.

Booster Duel

This is a format that my friends and I would play all the time to help sharpen our Limited skills. This format was particularly popular when I was in college and spare cash was hard to come by.

Booster Dueling is a cross between Sealed and Draft. Each player gets one booster pack from a set of his or her choice. Then both players pick out 24 cards from their collection. They can be any cards you choose, but there must be at least four cards from each of the five colors of Magic and no more than two of any individual card. You present your stack of 24 cards to your opponent and you look through the stack they provide. After getting a sense of what is in the card pool, you shuffle both piles together. This pile is referred to as the draft stack. Next, each player opens his or her booster pack. Once you see what cards you have opened, you draft the cards in the stack that you shuffled together. Randomly determine who will pick first and turn over the top four cards of the draft stack. The first player picks one card, the other player picks two, and the remaining card goes to the first player. Continue this process, switching who picks first each group of cards. Once you have drafted all 48 cards, you build a deck and play. This format offers a lot of interesting strategy opportunities. When constructing your pile of 24 cards, you can try to put in combos you don’t think your opponent will notice. You can put in cards that you think the other player will undervalue so you can draft them, or put in cards that seem better than they really are, hoping that the other player will overdraft them.

My advice to someone playing this format for the first time is always the same: “put 24 cards in your pile you think you can use better than me.” This is a great way to practice for Limited play and gauge the true power level of some of the cards you might not normally get to play in many formats. It is also a great way to make some packs last a long time. I always hate it when I see people open up packs without drafting them. It seems like such a waste not to get some Limited practice in whenever you can.

Five-Player Blues

When I was in high school (“they had Magic way back then?”), we would get together to play several nights a week, but it seems like we always had five players. Teams was a popular format at the time, as was grand melee, but we invented a couple of formats perfect for five players.

The most popular was called Secret Partners. We would get a hat or some container to hold pieces of paper with the following written on them: “1,” “2,” “3,” “Say 1,” and “Say 2.” Whoever got “Say 1” would say “One” and whoever got “Say 2” would say “Two.” No one else would be allowed to indicate what number they picked. The game would commence going around the table in seated order. Anyone could attack anyone else, and everyone’s spells could target or affect anyone. “Say 1” and “1” were partners and “Say 2”and “2” were partners, and “3” was all on his own. Through game actions, you could try to communicate whose team you were on or trick someone into an alliance. Though it would seem that player 3 would have a major disadvantage, I always thought this was a great position to be in because you could make any player that was doing well think that he or she was your teammate until it was time to reveal the truth and turn on them.

Another popular five-player format was called Rainbow or Pentagram. Each player would have a deck that consisted of only cards of one color, land and artifacts. We were then seated in the order of the colored dots on the back of a Magic card. It was the goal of each player to eliminate both players playing opposing colors. For instance, the player playing white would win when the players playing red and black were defeated. This was an interesting format because you had two potential partners to help you defeat your two enemies. However, it isn’t always easy to get a potential partner to focus on one of your enemies as opposed to your other potential partner.

Guild Battles

The Guild Battles format is a “modern” variation on the Rainbow format. This is a format that I have yet to actually play as it does take quite a bit of organizing to set up. The first major stumbling block is that you have to have 10 players, one for each guild. Each player needs to have a deck representing one of the 10 guilds from Ravnica. You can use cards from either color of the guild, but only cards that belong to that guild can be in the deck—no cards with other guilds’ guild insignia on them.

Much like the Rainbow format, you win once the three players who are playing a guild that does not share at least one color with yours are defeated. You have six potential allies, all of whom are trying to kill one another, and since no other guild can share both colors with you, each potential ally must also share a color with one of your enemies. The possibilities for alliances and deal making are endless.

Fun is Good

I already have six of the guild decks built, and I am looking for enough people that can all get together at the same time to play this format. I don’t know if this format ever has or ever will be playing, but it seems like it could be a lot of fun. If you and your friends have the chance to play Guild Battles, or if you have any comments about any of these formats, send me an email at and let me know what you think.

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