A Few Favorite Things

Posted in Serious Fun on December 7, 2004

By Anthony Alongi

This holiday season, what will you ask for?

Next week will be a theme week, and then the two weeks after that will be "best of" articles for the year. So, this is my last opportunity to grab the reins and wish you all the best for this holiday season. Today, we're going to talk about a few holiday formats and how to bring a little spirit (no Kamigawa pun intended) into your gaming groups.

Four Well-Worn Holiday Formats

While many players already know these formats (and even readers who don't know them will find they're a bit more obvious than what I normally throw out there), holidays are about tradition. Each year, we get a new crop of Magic players who should probably learn a tradition or two, so here goes – and yes, most of these focus on Christmas:

1) THE RED-GREEN DECK. Perhaps the most common holiday Magic format is the "red-green" format. The basic restriction is obvious: you play only with red and green (or gold red-green) cards.

There are, of course, multiple sub-variants of this format: red-green-white, red-white, gold-only. For other holidays celebrated around this time, blue-white may be more appropriate.

Sample deck fragment:
4 Muscle Sliver
4 Heart Sliver
4 Spined Sliver
2 Magma Sliver
2 Brood Sliver
4 Yavimaya Kavu

2) TWELVE-DAYS DECKS. This one's based on the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas". You build 120-card decks. Of these, 42 cards are lands. Of the 78 remaining (non-land) cards, you may have 12 copies of one card, 11 copies of another, 10 of another…you get the idea. Obviously, the four-card limit is not in effect for this format; but you'll probably want to keep regular bannings and restrictions in place (e.g., Fact or Fiction).

Aether Burst just goes nuts here, especially if everyone else already knows it and is playing them as well! You may want to make your other cards comes-into-play creatures…or ban blue altogether. (Muscle Burst will ensure faster games, anyway.)

Sample deck fragment:
12 Aether Burst
11 Man-o'-War
10 Cloud of Faeries
9 Morphling
8 Counterspell
7 Scrivener
6 Quash
5 Withdraw
4 Brainstorm
3 Cognivore
2 Dissipate
1 Fact or Fiction

Honestly, anytime you can play nine Morphlings in a deck…go for it!

3) SPIRIT DECKS. You can probably just check in with Spirit Week from a month or so ago on this one. Kamigawa block will give us plenty of "holiday spirit" fuel for future years, I'm sure! In fact, I'd recommend blending this with the red-green restriction in #1 to make it more challenging. My sample deck fragments give you a couple of "halls" (or honden) to "deck". Jugan, of course, plays Santa Claus…

Sample deck fragment:
3 Honden of Life's Web
3 Honden of Infinite Rage
4 Dripping-Tongue Zubera
4 Ember-Fist Zubera
4 Jugan, the Rising Star

You can also do very specific format variants picking up the major characters of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, or other stories you're fond of.

4) GIFT-GIVERS. At least two-thirds of the non-land cards in your deck must involve a change in the controller of at least one permanent, for at least one turn. This is primarily a red-blue format; but you can find occasional cards in other colors (such as Debt of Loyalty). The decks need not have their own victory condition – nor indeed much purpose at all! Giving is a gift unto itself.

Sample deck fragment:
4 Donate
4 Starke of Rath
4 Gilded Drake
4 Insurrection

Cluing In Santa

For those of you aching for something Magic-related these holidays, may I suggest you refer to any of the excellent articles by The Ferrett in years past (check the archives of StarCityGames's web site). I don't know if he'll do a guide this year; but I have my own condensed take for your parents, other relatives, or friends who know you play Magic, but have no idea what to get you. Just copy and paste this section that has a different color background. And don't read it, or you'll know what you're going to get!

Here's a generic guide to buying Magic goodies for the person who just gave this to you:

  1. Magic is a game with periodic new "set releases". The most recent set as of this writing is called Champions of Kamigawa. Booster packs (15 random cards in each) fit nicely in stockings.
  2. Magic is a collectible card game. That means there are "rare" cards. These go anywhere from $2 to $20 (and even to $200+ for the really disgusting, I-can't-believe-people-pay-that-much-for-this! cards). But really, most decent rares are about $5 retail, on the web or in stores. EBay is a great place to do research on how much certain cards should cost; or have your aggressive gift-seeker draw you up a long list, which you and I both know he probably keeps on a hand-held computer…the geek!
  3. Magic is fun in groups. So one way to encourage the game without spending tons of money on cardboard is to offer to host the perfect night of Magic at your place. If you're a parent, spouse, or beloved other of a Magic player and have never met "the other Magic guys", you could put on An Evening of Magic (or Day, or Whatever) and just throw a party. That way, you get to meet these friends and check them out. (See? I'm on your side.) If you normally let these louts into your house, you could throw a super-extra-fun party with booster packs as prizes for winners. (See #1 above.)
  4. Magic has tournaments. With a little research (start with www.wizards.com; but your Magic player ought to know what's coming up locally), you might be able to pre-register the giftee at the next local Pro Tour Qualifier or Prerelease tournament.
  5. Magic requires a ton of other stuff. Sleeves protect cards. Binders hold them for trading. I'm sure you know the drill – for any collectible hobby, there's always paraphernalia that enterprising people convince us is absolutely necessary. A local store or card-selling web site can "help" you spend your money.
  6. Thanks for doing this. We both know the person who gave you this list is going to forget. Seriously, the kid can remember the power and toughness statistics on cards printed five years ago, or tell you whether that piece of cardboard is from something called "Homelands" or "Urza's Saga"…but he can't remember to write a thank-you note when you take the time to put on your geek-proof gloves and pick up some of this crap for him? Honestly. I feel your pain. But I'll cover for him (and let's be honest, a her would remember!) this year and tell you he really appreciates it.

Okay, you Magic players can start reading again now. Oooooh, I know what you're going to get! But I'm not tellllin'…

A Last Word On Gift-Giving

Several of my family friends pool money and donate to a local charity, instead of buying each other gifts. I don't bring this up to pat ourselves on the back – we all consider it rewarding and an honor to donate to the cause we've chosen. I simply bring it up here to remind those of you obsessed with collecting cards (as I am!) that there are many, many worthy causes in your home country and across the world. If you have enough money to play Magic: the Gathering, maybe you have enough money to help some of those causes too.

Our Magic group's common gift each year brings us together a bit closer, and reminds us why we play together in the first place. I highly recommend giving your own Magic play group the pleasure of each other's nobler company anytime this year, whenever gift-giving becomes appropriate for you. Whatever charity you decide upon together will be tremendously grateful. Bless you all.

Anthony cannot provide deck help, even in the season of giving. But a donation has been made in your deck's name to a fine charity.

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