Five Fun Formats You've (Probably) Never Heard Of

Posted in Reconstructed on December 9, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

I love December.

Growing up, the holiday season was always exciting to me. Gifts and pumpkin in everything, sure—I love that part, of course. But this time of year also made for a great time to play Magic! Me, my brother, and my friends all found time to get together and play games upon games of Magic, with all kinds of wacky decks we had concocted and new formats we had heard about through the grapevine.

In fact, it is perhaps during these winter afternoons next to the fireplace with my entire card collection—which fit in a single five-row white card box at the time (nearly an impossible thought now)—splayed out before me that my love of deck building began. That, perhaps, is where the true origins of my love for this column comes from.

So, how about kicking off your winter break with some fun, new ways to play Magic with your friends?

Our story starts on my Tumblr. I'm always up for a deck-building challenge, and my GavInquirers (the nickname for the people who follow me on Tumblr—after Mark Rosewater nicknamed his followers Question Marks, when I started up a Tumblr I was told I needed a nickname for mine as well) love to lob them at me on occasion.

Recently, there was a discussion about one such format—Pauper Commander (which I'll get to in a second)—on my Tumblr, and so I asked this:

Cue the stream of people telling me about their favorite formats.

Today I'm going to go over five fun, new formats to play Magic—and build some sample decks for them, to boot!

Let's go!

Pauper Commander

It all started with this:

So the format works exactly like Commander with commons…except you get to use any uncommon creature as your general?!? Fascinating!

My mind immediately started brimming with ideas. I began to ask myself the same questions I always do when faced with something new: Is the format inherently broken? What would I do with this card pool?

A lot of the answers I came up with really tickled me.

I love formats that constrain you like this because you get to play with a lot of cards you probably never would otherwise. A lot of the Commander staples have been figured out—but what are the best cards in a format like Pauper Commander? There's so much room to explore!

After some thought, my off-the-cuff answers was:

When I wrote that, I didn't expect to be writing an article about it—but I stand true to my word. Those do sound like a lot of fun to work on!

So, how about one such Psychatog decklist to get you kickstarted on playing the format with your friends? This is how I would try building a Psychatog Pauper Commander deck:

Gavin Verhey's Psychatog for Lifatog

COMMANDER: Psychatog

I think if I had to play one Magic deck for the rest of eternity, something in this space probably wouldn't be too far off. I always enjoy a strategy that leaves me with a full hand of cards!

The most difficult part was finding adequate win conditions—[autocardHarbor Serpent[/autocard] was even in some of my builds just as a way to help close out a game!

It felt really cool to put together a deck with cards I wouldn't normally put into a Commander deck. And I mean, any time I get to play with Ramirez DePietro as a pretty legitimate hard-to-kill win condition, that's always a big plus.

It's also really budget! If difficulty to acquire cards has turned your playgroup off of Commander, Pauper Commander could be right up your alley!

I should note that I used the rule that if it has ever been printed at common then it's fair game for Pauper—your local group may have different feelings.

Pauper Commander looks like a great time to play! Give it a try.

Perfect Pool

Veering away from the Commander space momentarily, something else fresh and new was presented that greatly intrigued me:

So, to clarify:

  • Pick any three sets (you can pick the same set multiple times)
  • You get one rare, three different uncommons, and ten different commons from each set for each time you choose it
  • Minimum deck size 40
  • Any cards you don't use are in your sideboard.

Or, in more layman's terms: you get essentially a "perfect" Draft pool and have to build a deck out of it. What do you do?

This is a really, really interesting thought exercise. I could imagine sitting down in a room with several of my closest friends and each trying to make our own, then building on Magic Online and playing against each other to see what happens.

My best guess of the strongest thing to do is pick a linear strategy—that is, a strategy that wants a lot of the same thing—and grab all of the best cards from that. The trick, of course, is to pick one that has a lot of strong common in the same set. For example, Goblins or Elves might make for awesome decks in this format.

However, my mind went a step further. Affinity, anyone?

It was one of the most broken decks of its day and has a lot of strong commons. You aren't going to have much of a sideboard because you need to take artifact lands, but your deck should be pretty powerful.

The big question to me is if you want to choose triple Mirrodin or choose Mirrodin, Mirrodin, Darksteel. Triple Mirrodin gives you a pretty solid deck, but Darksteel gives you Skullclamp and Arcbound Ravager—at the cost of only having a few commons you want to play in your deck. (I don't think Æther Vial is likely going to be good enough in the version we build.)

While I think triple Mirrodin is probably stronger, in the interest of doing something more exciting (and playing with Skullclamp!) let's go with Mirrodin, Mirrodin, Darksteel. Here's what I came up with:

Gavin Verhey's MMD Perfect Pool

Sideboard (3)
1 Oxidize 2 Echoing Truth

That gave us an alright Affinity deck—but not nearly as incredible as one could hope.

What's the best way to go? Could it be Faeries—and if so, how do you split up Lorwyn and Morningtide? Is there a stellar Goblins deck by combining Onslaught and Lorwyn? How about multicolor between both Ravnicas?

I'd love to hear what you'd do here—let me know on Twitter or Tumblr what you'd build!

Cubelets and Windfall Magic

Looking for something a bit less…prepared? Well, Disappointedreader (who is hopefully not actually as that name implies) brought up something that doesn't necessarily require you to "go deep" on Gatherer like you would for Commander or Perfect Pool. It's the Cubelet!

Ah yes, you can always count on the good folks over at LoadingReadyRun—the one and the same who create the marvelous Friday Nights—to come up with something new and fun.

If you aren't familiar with the Cubelet, imagine a Cube draft—but skip the draft part. Here's how it works:

  • There's one premade (preferably singleton, 100-card) deck that both players use.
  • Instead of playing a normal land on your turn, you can play a land face down as a nonbasic land that has, "T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool."
  • No mulligans
  • Although you share a library, you have separate graveyards

And…that's it! You just play Magic as normal—you both draw seven off the top of the deck and proceed as usual—but you get to see what the mix of cards you draw this game will do! With so many cards you will have a pretty different experience—and when you consider that you can do this with practically any 100-card stack, there is a ton of fun to be had here. Whether you're building your own Cubelet like you would a Cube, or just taking a stack of commons and playing, it gives you a fun, new way to play Magic.

If you want to just construct one on your own and see how it plays, you could probably make all kinds of unique, cool versions of the cubelet! Alternatively, here's a recent version that the LoadingReadyRun crew has used and has been mostly tested:

LoadingReadyRun's Cubelet

Enchantment (4)
1 Oblivion Ring 1 Control Magic 1 Necromancy 1 Rancor
100 Cards

The holidays could be the perfect opportunity to take the time to sort through your cards and build a Cubelet of your own.

If you're looking for a slightly quicker, more unreal way to play this (that also supports multiple players) I'll take this moment to talk about one of my favorite quick-to-play and zany formats: Windfall Magic!

Invented by Jonathon Loucks and me years ago, it has many similarities to the Cubelet—except it accelerates to the crazy moments faster. The rules are the same as normal Magic, except:

  • You can play any card face down as a land that taps for any color of mana, just like Cubelet.
  • You may play any number of lands per turn! That's right: go nuts!
  • Each player draws two cards per turn instead of just one. (On the first turn, the starting player draws one instead of two.)

Windfall has always been so fun because you get right into the most exciting part of the game. You mana your early game stuff and start casting your huge cards. But, because you all draw twice as many cards per turn, it ensures there's comeback potential and plenty of cool things that can happen each turn.

Is it broken in some ways? Sure—card draw is really powerful, and some cards are crazy strong. (I once had a turn-one kill involving Memory Jar and Time Spiral.) But that's part of the fun!

Whether you want to play the slower, more normal game of Cubelet or use your Cubelet stack to play the zanier Windfall, I can assure they're both pretty fun ways to play. Have a blast with them!

Tiny Leaders

Last, but certainly not least, is Tiny Leaders! This format was, by far, the most common one mentioned in response to the question I posed. I hadn't even heard of it before—but it's picking up a lot of popularity! Myhandsareblank (which hopefully isn't true, considering how awesome drawing cards is) eloquently summarized it as this:

I did a bit of Googling around and it sounds like there are also a couple other elements. The total rules are:

You can read up more on the format (as well as some other minor rules details) on the Tiny Leaders website.

This format also sounds fascinating. It's like Commander—but you're forced to have a low curve. Instead of going over the top with cards like Tooth and Nail, you're mostly going to be waging wars with cards like Force Spike and Wild Nacatl.

My mind immediately goes to tribal decks. You can pack a pretty large punch for low mana, and there's plenty of redundancy. How about Elves?

And I know just the Elf for the Commander job: Ezuri, Renegade Leader.

If you turbo out with a bunch of Elves, Ezuri will kill off your opponent in short order—and if he dies, you can just recast him with your tons of mana.

How about something like this:

Gavin Verhey's Tiny Elves

COMMANDER: Ezuri, Renegade Leader

If your opponent has a lot of sweepers, this deck is probably in bad shape. Otherwise, you can win pretty quickly with Ezuri—or just even assemble a good ol' fashioned Glimpse of Nature combo turn if you need to!

With only 50-card decks (and an optional 10-card sideboard) as well as a lower mana curve, Tiny Leaders is a fun take on the normal Commander format that can also be easier to build a deck for. There are some crazy things you can do—such as this Elf deck—but probably plenty of ways to fight fair as well. What would you do in a format like this one? I'd love to hear about it!

Formatting Break

And there you have it! Five new ways to sling some Magic. Whether you're curling up by the fire playing with your brother at home or introducing your playgroup to these new formats, there's plenty of innovation to be had! Give them a try and let me know which is your favorite to play with.

Well, that about does it for me before holiday break! The next couple weeks will be reruns of my favorite articles from the year. If you missed any of my writing this year, be sure to check them out. Otherwise, the next new article you'll see from me will be my first Fate Reforged preview! It's a doozy!

But before we can travel back in time to Fate Reforged, I need to hop in my TARDIS and travel forward in time to after the break.

While my next article will technically appear this year, it really feels like more of a 2015 article: it appears after the break, and I've already written it! (How's that for some time travel?) So, using the break as the division in time: it's been an incredible year, everybody!

Thanks for following along this year. It's been marvelous—and that wouldn't have been the case without all of you! I'm glad I could close the year out by doing something that involved the community. Whether it's on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, or just the emails you send in when you submit your decks, this column wouldn't exist without all of your thoughts, feedback, and submissions! Keep up the great work.

As always, if you have any thoughts or questions, send them my way! My Tumblr inbox is always open, and I'll be sure to see any tweets you send me.

Happy holidays everybody! I'll be back with something new in a couple weeks, when I get to talk about one of my favorite sets ever! (How could Fate Reforged not be? It involves Magic and time travel—two of my favorite things!)

Until then, have a great holiday season and play lots of Magic…no matter which format you choose.

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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