Bouncing Back For You

Posted in Serious Fun on May 25, 2010

While this past weekend was Grand Prix–DC—a whirlwind adventure for the many, many players who came to throw down and have fun—my stories, pictures, and amazing tales to share will have to wait until next week when I've had a chance to recover and recollect completely. However, this doesn't mean I've forgotten about the reason I'm here every week: writing for the fantastically diverse array of reader-players like yourself. If you didn't stop by yesterday this week is Rebound Week—a week dedicated to the neat mechanic in Rise of the Eldrazi. It's featured on cards like Staggershock and Consuming Vapors, Survival Cache and Prey's Vengeance, but more importantly it's a mechanic that lets something hit twice. You touch on it the first time then, a turn later, you're back at it again.

Like a habit that you just can't quit, rebound is a required effect if the spell resolves: you exile it then run it out again. While I would love to get into the gritty details about the ways this is an amazing thing to happen, it reminds me of something subtly similar—reading and responding to your feedback. Repeating a look at something can be uniquely useful, especially after your intended target (in my case, you) has had a chance to respond.

    Stacking Up

Every week I receive numerous comments, queries, and responses to whatever the topic du jour happens to be. I borrow heavily from Kelly Digges and his "firestarter" article endcaps to get things kicked off each week, though I tend to stay a little more open-ended. The depth and variety that you cumulatively add up to is a staggering amount of distributed processing; more than your everyday non-superhuman can handle. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending upon your perspective, the nice guys in Ramp;D lent me a pass to dump all of the feedback I've received into Gleemax.

The processing power that most certainly does not control and drive everything behind the scenes in Magic, or know the results for every game to be played everywhere over the next few years, was able to properly filter and flag a variety of incredibly solid responses to work through. This made the task of ensuring that I had great things to work with relatively easy to do, after security clearances, background checks, and polygraph tests were cleared. And for those of you concerned about me working with a super-intelligent, mind warping force to write one article, Gleemax would never dictate what I should say or do. Never.

With all of the various data inputs—email and forum feedback via the handy links at the end of every article, as well as via Twitter (@the_stybs)—merged and purged, I'll start near the beginning of my stewardship. It's a question I've gotten many, many times over. It's a question of delicate simplicity that reaches into a Zen-like pocket of introspection and self reflection. In other words, it's a very tough one to answer.

How do you build a Stack?

The Stack, for those of you new to the concept, is essentially a large, shared library and graveyard for all players to use in a game. More specifically, each card is a unique card and a reflection, in part, of the things the creator of the stack finds fun. Building one from the well over 10,000 unique Magic cards out there is a daunting task for even the most experienced of cardboard cowboys.

The easy way out would be for me to just say "Grab every card you find fun and pile them up!" and would show to solid effect. However as I alluded to then, and later, as well as picked up on by quitequieter on the forums "obviously cube and stack are different because of card draw, land effects, etc. but they are not as fundamentally different as [Adam] suggests." I'm sure that statement appears contradictory.

It is contradictory.

What I mean is that while the play style and experience is significantly different from each other, both Cube and Stack are flagships of the "Do anything you want. Make it anything and everything to you." principles of playing Magic which can include contradictory and different approaches for the same end. My Cube sees tons of play as a Stack and the feedback is almost universally strong praise. My Cube is geared towards wacky fun because that's what I gravitate towards myself. This means that not just my latent desire for the fun came through but I have carefully selected cards aware of my intent to keep things fun.

If you're into assembling vast chunks of cards with cohesive coordination in mind, I suggest perusing through the Making Magic and Latest Developments archives—there is a gargantuan treasure trove of technical and philosophical information that would make any aspiring Cube creator smile. However, I fully believe that Stack is something a little more primal, elementary (not necessarily in simplicity but more in raw essence), and guttural. It's less of "What's needed here?" and more of a "What do I want here?" mentality. Do Cubes and Stacks exist on a continuum between highly technical and random mashing? Absolutely. I'm just clarifying that each one makes more sense closer to one end of the scale than the other.

Now that the semantics of the differences has been exposed for all to debate, I'll get back to our question at hand: how do we go about assembling our contraption? The approach I suggest here isn't the "one true way" as you'll find there are many ways to slice through the thick of Magic. These are the tips and tricks I picked up and were handed down by friends—I trust in them the way they entrusted them to me.

    1. Make a List of What You Like, and Don't, About Magic.

It could be filled with everything from individual cards like Wrath of God and Counterspell to concepts of decks like storm combo and reanimation. Here is a sample list I conjured:

Like: attacking, big creatures, splashy effects, multicolor, equipment, Unglued and Unhinged cards

Dislike: too many counter spells, artifacts and enchantments that lock the game down

This list comprises your core desires. It's what you want, at the most basic level, when you sit down to play Magic. It's not a sequence of requirements, per se, but it is the fundamental nature of why you play. You naturally seek what you enjoy and avoid what you don't. There's nothing wrong in knowing what each is for you.

    2. List Some Cards That Fit Into What You Like.

One of the practices I picked up learning art was that of gestural sketching: forming the barest, almost unrecognizable outlines of forms in a floating, associative manner. That is to say that when you think of what you like, write down some of the cards that come to mind first.

Rancor, Pernicious Deed, Collector Protector, Vulshok Morningstar, Insurrection, Terastodon, Goliath Sphinx, AWOL, Ashes to Ashes

Cards like these are just word associations. You say "awesome fatty" and I'll think Terastodon. You say "removal" and I'll think Oblivion Ring. Whatever it is that grabs your attention, pulls your heartstrings, seems cool and interesting, or is just plain fun for you to use are examples of what I'm going after. If you listed cards in step one then roll with those and more! The possibilities are only limited to what you truly desire.

    3. Find More Cards Similar to Those You Like.

If you're not familiar with it, give the official Magic card database, the Gatherer, a workout and seek out some of the tangents that will run off. Following the Terastodon idea further I did a quick search for creatures with power greater than 6 for each other color and found a few friends for our favorite Elephant:

Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Woolly Razorback
Lorthos, the Tidemaker
Infernal Spawn of Evil
Blitz Hellion

Here is a set of creatures, across the colors, that bring a beefy force to a table. Each is a slightly different flavor, perhaps a little different from what I'd normally grab, but you get the idea: I transform one card into a set of similar cards across every color. Of course it's a little trickier than just plug-and-chug: white has a select few true fatties while green has an abundance. Each card you like will come with challenges like these, but working at striking a soft balance of options between things will keep it interesting but cohesive.

    4. Wash, Rinse, Repeat (Until Satisfied).

Some of you may want to find 400, 500, or more cards to pull together for a Stack, but 100 should cover most cases of a friend or two giving your Stack a whirl. What's more important than a numerical threshold is how you like (or don't) what you've created. Washing through some games, rinsing away things that aren't working well while adding in some new, different, of desired effects will allow your Stack to evolve with you. If you feel so inclined, documenting all of the cards you're using, and any factoids you want to track with them, in a spreadsheet can not only serve as a shareable file for friends but also a way to tag cards that friends can lend in. Sharing is caring.

    Piled Higher and Deeper

And speaking of sharing, one of the craziest suggestions to come back from my article on layering ways to play Magic isn't an original idea: Inquest handled it early in Magic history but Andrew F. and his friends were brave enough to try it out. The "true chaos Magic" that some of you have certainly pondered. The biggest singleton format available. Use one copy of every card available in Magic as your deck (season with basic lands as needed). In Andrew's words:

I remember, back in the days of 4th Edition, reading an article in "Inquest" where several of the editors got together and played the craziest singleton variant ever. They called it "chaos Magic," and it was more deserving of the name than simple multi-player games. Each player's deck consisted of one copy of each card that had been printed up to that point. While there weren't nearly as many cards printed then as now, it was still mighty impressive seeing their teetering decks and bloodshot eyes (I think the game lasted on the order of 12 hours, if memory serves). It eventually inspired my then-playgroup and I to try something similar. We each played with one copy of every card in our collection, it being prohibitively expensive to try "true chaos Magic." After seven or eight hours and several 12-packs of Surge soda, I think we threw in the towel, declared it a draw, and never tried again.

While trying to wield a deck of well more than 10,000 cards—for each player in a multiplayer game no less—seems like it would invariably end up with Andrew's experience. However, the idea of using singleton complete sets to create decks is appealing. Consider a pile of everything Lorwyn and Morningtide or Shadowmoor and Eventide. Ice Age, Alliances, and Coldsnap seems like a trip down memory lane (and gives Snow basic lands a chance to shine). Ravnica, Guildpact, and Dissension seems like a very modern marvel of balanced gold goodness. The possibilities aren't endless—we're talking about specific sets after all—but feel natural to try. With a little effort, and perhaps timely help from friends, you could have some sort of intra-block singleton deck battle royale.

What "modern" block do you see as one to potentially give a deck a whirl?MirrodinKamigawaRanvicaTime SpiralLorwynShadowmoorAlaraZendikar

And speaking of polls I never did return the results from your collective voting power:

What layering of formats would you like to see?
Planar Magic EDH Emperor43.0%
Xenophobia EDH Star19.0%
Respawn Cube Sealed (with time to build new decks between respawning)14.6%
Planar Magic Group Game Draft12.3%
Something Completely Different (voice your vote using the links far below)11.1%

Planar Magic EDH Emperor requires a not-so-trivial 12 players, preferably each with unique generals. It will take some setup for sure, but I can see this happening. Here's to the greatest game of endurance, and most difficult game report, I'll have handled yet.

Which sets you would you bring to a Pick-Your-Pack draft?

What layering of formats would you like to see?
Urza's Saga, Mirrodin, Time Spiral38.7%
Something Completely (or Mostly) Different17.4%
Tempest, Odyssey, Zendikar15.8%
Unhinged, Future Sight, Alara Reborn15.7%
Champions of Kamigawa, Lorwyn, Magic 201012.4%

While a strong section of you wanted something completely different from my wacky proposals, the obviously power-packed choice of Urza's Saga, Mirrodin, and Time Spiral jumped out as the clear winner. If you're keen on seeing an eclectic collection of cards working their draft magic stay tuned—I'm sure this will happen soon.

While I could continue through many more items, I've reached a natural stopping point. As always, let me know what's on your mind as you just might end up catching it on the rebound. See you next week!

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