Dictionary Formats

Posted in Serious Fun on March 16, 2004

By Anthony Alongi

Lingering Sliverocity

I got great (and mainly positive) feedback on last week's “Chronic Sliverocity” article. One suggestion I'd like to make from that feedback is that you make the disease apply only to non-token creatures.

Also, I think I replied too quickly to one or two of you who suggested cards like Barbarian Outcast. Since cards that make you sacrifice the card itself normally refer to themselves by name (“When you control no Swamps, sacrifice Barbarian Outcast”), and since I did make the rule that names didn't transfer onto the new creatures – well, that means it doesn't work. Apologies to the unlucky few I misled before I got my head on straight. Call it a symptom of a very complex, very confusing disease.

New Formats By The Book

I'm on a bit of a kick with new formats, so I thought I'd have some fun with the idea and generate them as I write.

Now, I'm not going to spend a lot of time working out every detail of all four or five formats. (I haven't decided how many I'll do, just yet.) I just mean to get your group started on some fresh approaches. Before you email me a question asking “how would we work out situation X…”, get together with your group, talk it over, and see if you can figure out the solution the majority feels would be most fun. Live democracy – it's the only way to appreciate it.

To ensure complete spontaneity, I'll just flip through a dictionary, randomly select words, and build a format around each of those words. In alphabetical order, then:


bundling, n (1781). a former custom of an unmarried couple's occupying the same bed without undressing, especially during courtship.

(Language/movie geek note: Those of you who've seen the movie The Patriot have actually seen this custom, which is ironic since the film ostensibly takes place in 1776, while this definition shows the first recorded use of the term at 1781. I imagine they had the custom for a while before they named it.)

Of course, “bundling” can have another meaning, too (that is, to be in the process of making a bundle of something) – but we didn't land on “bundle”, we landed on this very specific entry for “bundling”, so we'll stick to the spirit of the more archaic term.

It would be interesting to work two decks together without ever having them, well, interact. A metaphor that often accompanies Magic is that “dueling Wizards” are slinging spells and creatures at each other while on a mystical plane. Well, if we're going to deal in the fantastic, what's wrong with taking it up a notch? Why does there only have to be one plane?

The central rule of this format: there are two (or more) simultaneous games going on. Each player has two (or more) decks. Cards in any zone, as well as spells and abilities, from one game have no impact on the other game(s) and may not be exchanged.

Think of it this way: one game has “shadow”, and the other game doesn't.

And here are my suggestions on how to handle some selected details:

  • The object of the game(s) is to be the last player with at least one deck still in action.
  • Each “game” gives you 20 (non-transferrable) life.
  • Players eliminated from one game would continue to play in the other game.
  • Turn order can go a few different ways. For groups larger than five, I recommend (and I don't often recommend this) simultaneous turns. Start turn one for game one on one side of the table, and turn one for game two on the other side. For once, it won't matter if two spells or abilities go on the stack at the same time. Naturally, if a player in game one does something that requires the attention of the active player in game two, folks should slow down and let the second player figure it all out.

At its best, this format will be a great way for players who're quickly eliminated to keep playing, rather than sitting around shuffling and waiting for the next game. It'll also be a good way in larger groups to make players more engaged, more regularly. Finally, it sets up some interesting motivations for players – does the player who just died in game one spend time exacting revenge in game two, or is the likely winner of game two a totally different player who needs to come down a notch? Good fun.

At its worst, this format will confuse us right out of our bundles, so to speak. I can imagine games where a player is simultaneously attacked in two different games, sets up blocking schemes, and all of a sudden three different players want to have fast effects. Don't be afraid to slow down a bit – turns will still come around twice as fast! – and work out the stack in each game. As long as you truly keep the games separate, you should be fine doing this as an occasional (I'd say once every couple of months) format.

It should go without saying that Shahrazad is banned in the format; but since some dork will suggest it, I'll make it clear: Shahrazad is banned in this format, as well as any format I'll ever discuss, because it's among the least helpful cards ever printed.

Next entry. Flip, flip, flip…


detention, n (15th century). 1: the act or fact of detaining or holding back; especially holding in custody. 2: the state of being detained; especially a period of temporary custody prior to disposition by a court.

(Ah, detention. The best place to play Magic…no, no, no, I'm just kidding, people! Please, if you're a student, don't go telling your parents how you were playing Magic in detention and then got in even more trouble, because Anthony Alongi and/or Hasbro Corporation told you to do it. Nobody's telling you to do anything, beyond buying a steaming hot cup of coffee at McDonalds and then spilling it in your lap while chomping on a high-fat burger so you can enjoy two simultaneously successful lawsuits. For heaven's sake, people – if you're in detention, just sit there like a good boy or girl and think about what you've done! You've disappointed us all.)

So our focus here will be on setting up a place where cards get set aside. At the same time, I don't want to come too close to existing cards that do something similar – e.g., Portcullis, Safe Haven, or Ertai's Meddling. So let's try this: we only put cards in detention if they've been naughty.

The central rule of this format: A player may put a “naughty” spell, ability, or permanent “in detention” for a given length of time. While in detention, that spell, ability, or permanent has no impact on the game, and is not even available to cards such as Death Wish.

Of course, this rule begs several questions. I'll try to answer the most obvious, but remember – your group should try to work out the rest on your own, because that's half the fun!

  • I would recommend each player get five pennies to spend. A player may spend a penny at any time (uncounterable ability on the stack, I suppose) to invoke a detention.
  • Detention may target untargetable permanents and/or uncounterable spells or abilities. As my fourth grade teacher (whom I continue to curse) told me on many occasions, “what makes you think you're so special, buster?
  • Coming in or out of detention should not trigger any “comes into play” or “leaves play” abilities. (This will stop several favorable combos that you could trigger by putting your own permanents in detention.)
  • Tokens can get detention, and will survive to return. (Because of the previous rule, this should be fine. But I'm moving fast, here. If it gets complex, forget it and just kill the tokens that get detention. Some people just can't handle the heat of lockdown.)
  • Detention lasts a full round of turns. At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player puts into play any permanents (or continues resolving any spells/abilities) currently in detention.
  • In response to a release from detention, any player may spend a penny to keep the spell, ability, or permanent in detention. Again – no enters/leaves play effects or anything like that for the naughty card.

I suspect this format will work well in places where stupid combos, and/or tons of massive creatures like Darksteel Colossus, are all over the place.

It can, however, get a little spiteful. If it does, reduce the number of pennies to three, or better yet drop the whole idea, sit in a corner, and wait for your parents to come pick you up.


octant, n, 1690. 1a: the position or aspect of a celestial body when distant from another body by 45 degrees. 1b: an instrument for observing altitudes of a celestial body from a moving ship or aircraft. 2: any of the eight parts into which space is divided by three coordinate planes.

Oh, that last one is just too cool. We'll work with that.

(This format will require eight players. If you don't have eight players, do not email me to whine about it. You may certainly email me to ask my advice on how to get more players in your group, but just so you know, I will suggest any or all of the following tactics: (a) go to your local store as regularly as time and appropriate behavior allow, and make friends; (b) start a “Magic club” at your school, using the help of a teacher if you're under 18; (c) seek new recruits at your workplace who you think would enjoy the game; and/or (d) go to local tournaments – even just prereleases – and be an active trader, so that you get to know lots of folks and people learn to trust you. But this is not what I'm here for. I'm here, for the next several paragraphs, to help you have fun with seven other players. Listen, I didn't pick this word! I mean, I did; but I didn't mean to. *Sigh.* Just bear with a little disappointment, for a moment or two, will you? The rest of the universe wants to get moving, here.)

The central rule of this format: Each player begins a game occupying one of eight octants, randomly assigned. You may only attack, target, or affect players in adjacent octants. Upon killing a player, you may elect either to (a) occupy their octant as well as your own, (b) move to that octant entirely, or (c) leave the octant vacant. On his or her upkeep, a player may make the same choice regarding any adjacent vacant octant.

You may need a three-dimensional map for this one. Let's talk this out, in case I just lost you.

Say you start a game in one of the four octants in the “southern hemisphere”. You'll have only three players you can impact – the octant above, and the octant on either side. So let's say you push north and destroy the player in that octant. You can choose to stay where you are and leave your conquered territory unoccupied (so you now only face two opponents - your southern neighbors); OR you can move entirely into the north (so you have two new opponents – your northern neighbors); OR you can spread out over an entire quarter of the world (and face all four).

Of course, if you leave a territory vacant, you don't get the right to keep it that way. Power, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Someone else adjacent to that empty space may choose, at the beginning of their upkeep, to move in (with the same options you had above – moving in altogether, OR spreading out from their original space, OR just staying where they are).

I don't provide any other rules guidance here because, in a strange way, this is the simplest format I've suggested so far. You just play the rules you always play, while keeping in mind that your universe shifts from time to time, based on choices you and other players make.

The key difficulty here will be tracking who impacts whom – that is, updating the map. If one of the eight players is a decent artist, they should be able to draw up a nice transculent map of a globe and split it into octants. You can photocopy the image and make a “book”: color/label each area on the first image, and then update the colors and labels on subsequent images as the game progresses.

If it sounds like too much, then kick someone out of your group so you only have seven players. I hear other groups out there are dying to pick that player up, so they can have eight.


teliospore, n, (1909). a thick-walled chlamydospore that is the final stage in the life cycle of a rust fungus and that after nuclear fusion gives rise to the basidium.

Ummm…no. Flip flip flip


unkempt, adj, (1599). 1: deficient in order or neatness. 2: not combed.

For this, let's try something truly chaotic. After all, neatness is no longer our priority.

The central rule of this format: At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player randomly selects a permanent he or she controls. That player then rolls a six-sided die, with the following results:

(1) Destroy all permanents with the same name as that permanent
(2) Return all permanents with the same name as that permanent to their owners' hands.
(3) You may make that permanent a blue 3/3 giant wizard penguin creature with the abilities of swimming and ‘2: target land is an island' until end of turn. “Swimming” is like flying, but with islandwalk too. The permanent retains its other types, colors, and abilities as well.
(4) Exchange that card with target permanent another player controls.
(5) Exchange that card with the card (permanent) of your choice from your library.
(6) You may put an armor counter on the permanent. Permanents with armor counters on them cannot be the target of spells or abilities your opponents control, and are indestructible.

If you want to roll more complex dice, I'll be happy to keep going:

(7) Put an aftershock counter on that permanent. Whenever another player plays a spell, you may remove an aftershock counter from any permanent you control to destroy target permanent other than the one that just came into play.
(8) Put two Mudpiles into play. Mudpiles copy the type, color, mana cost, power/toughness, and all abilities of the given permanent. (If the given permanent is legendary, the mudpiles become those cool giant wizard penguins we met up in #3.

And going:

(9) Put a divination counter on the permanent. At the beginning of each player's upkeep, you may remove a divination counter to ignore the random selection process for this format and choose that player's permanent yourself this turn. When that player rolls a die for this format's rules this turn, you may look at the result and either add 1 or subtract 1. (A resulting number not on the die means there is no effect.)
(10) Destroy all permanents you control except the chosen permanent. You gain twenty life.

And going:

(11) Discard a card in your hand that shares a type, mana cost, or color with that permanent. If you do, you may destroy two target permanents. They can't be regenerated.
(12) Sacrifice the permanent. If you do, each opponent gains two life. You lose life equal to the total amount gained.
(13) Shuffle the permanent into your deck. Draw four cards.
(14) Sacrifice the permanent. If you do, each opponent loses four life. You gain life equal to the total amount lost.
(15) Return that permanent to your hand. Put up to three permanents from your hand into play.
(16) Put a cascade counter on that permanent. You control that cascade counter, no matter what permanent it's on. Each time you play a spell, you may move a cascade counter you control from one permanent to another. If you do, sacrifice the permanent that originally had the cascade counter.
(17) Return that permanent to your hand. For the remainder of the game, all sorceries and instants in your hand are colorless 3/3 artifact creature lands with no mana cost, haste, and “Tap: put one mana of any color in your pool.” They are no longer playable as sorceries or instants. For the remainder of the game, all permanents in your hand are five-way split cards combining your choice of Swords to Plowshares, Might of Oaks, Lightning Bolt, Terror, and Counterspell. Treat them as extra-complex split cards from the Invasion block.
(18) Do absolutely nothing. Wasn't #17 enough, for crying out loud?
(19) Roll again.
(20) Remove that permanent from the game. Each other player may choose a permanent you control and remove it from the game. Then remove your hand and the top ten cards of your library from the game. You lose nine life.

Folks, if you haven't picked up any new ideas for new formats from this article – well, go read your own dictionary. It's full of ‘em.

You may email Anthony at seriousfun@wizards.com. He cannot give deck help, whether you're playing in a real or imaginary format.

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