In addition to all the cool stuff going on officially, big Magic events are a great place to meet people and play some pick-up games. On Friday, a guy named Aaron (whose last name I never caught) introduced himself to me and asked me if I'd ever thought of covering Type 4, the crazy, infinite-mana format where anything can happen. I said I had, but I'd never gotten the chance to play it, and he invited me to play some Type 4 with him and some friends Sunday evening. In!
In Brief: Type 4 is a ridiculous format, most often drafted off a specially prepared stack, in which all the biggest spells in Magic, no matter how mana-intensive, can come out to play.
In Type 4, each player has access to an infinite amount of mana of all five colors (plus colorless and snow mana if needed) at all times. Aaron and his friends use an optional rule that every player has an infinite number of lands of all five basic land types for the purposes of cards like Mutilate or Gush. These "phantom lands" aren't permanents, can't be destroyed, etc.
Each player can cast only one spell each turn, but can activate abilities with only mana in their costs any number of times. The way Aaron's group plays, spells you cast with alternate costs—such as those of Gush or Bringer of the Black Dawn—don't count as your spell for the turn, although you only get one of these "free" spells each turn. Spells cast for free as a result of other spells and abilities don't count toward your limit in either category, to ensure that cards like Enigma Sphinx and Brilliant Ultimatum work as advertised. Abilities that cost only mana can be activated any number of times; this makes, say, Masticore pretty good.
Each player draws five cards at the start of the game, although the maximum hand size remains seven. Mulligans aren't allowed, because—come on, you want a more broken opener?
There's a similar format called DC10; the difference, as far as I can tell, is that DC10 is played using whatever stack of cards you happen to have lying around. I might be wrong on that; if so, and you know better, drop me a line.
I met up with Aaron and his friends in the hotel restaurant, and after some introductions, Aaron started showing me his Type 4 stack and telling me about its history. He got turned on to Type 4 in 2004 by an article on this very web site by Stephen Menendian (with input from the format's creator, Paul Mastriano). Since then, he's been tinkering and tuning, updating his stack as sets are released, and making a special effort to trick it out with foils and signed cards. At this point, more than three quarters of the cards are foil.
Aaron constructed his Type 4 stack along the lines laid out in Stephen's article—50-60 big creatures and 60-70 utility creatures, with the total stack consisting of about one third creatures. The stack is singleton, with no more than one copy of any given card. It also includes a few lands with interesting effects, such as Boseiju, Who Shelters All and Miren, the Moaning Well.
Aaron's list includes every hard counterspell in Magic except for Mana Drain, which was excluded because it was so much worse than Counterspell—it was the same thing, but you'd usually take mana burn. Now that mana burn is gone, it's exactly the same as Counterspell, so it'll go in as soon as Aaron can find one.
This stack also includes basically every board sweeper that makes sense (which, say, Earthquake doesn't, because things that deal infinite damage to players are a no-no), with the exception of Forced March because "nobody liked it." It also includes most of the big burn spells like Urza's Rage, all the recurring but bounded draw like Jayemdae Tome (but not Treasure Trove), and every Masticore—that is, creatures that can selectively and repeatedly wipe the board.
All these "answer" cards mixed in with the bombs might seem like overkill, but they're a necessary throttle for the natural speed and brutality of the format. When your opponent attempts to use Masticore and Glarecaster to kill the whole table, you'll be glad you're able to say "no."
Seven Ways From Sunday
A crowd gathered as Aaron explained the format to me, and when we sat down to draft, we had a whopping seven people—the biggest game every played with this stack, said Aaron. To my left was Seattle player Jonathon Loucks; everybody else was from Aaron's group in Vermont, and they knew each other, and this card pool, very well. Going around the table to Jonathon's left were players identified to me as Seabass, Jeremy Muir, Matthew, and Griffin, with Aaron on my right.
After the cards were thoroughly shuffled—a communal effort—we Rochester drafted them, laying fourteen cards at a time face up on the table (two for each player). The starting player picks one, then the next player to the left, until it gets around to the person on the starter's right, who takes two cards (the "wheel") and passes it back around to the first person, who gets the final card. The "first player" status then moves to the next player to the current first player's left for another round, and we went on like this until the entire stack was gone.
The draft itself is pretty much impossible to summarize—Kokusho, the Evening Star went first, followed by Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, but that doesn't tell you much except that they're very good and they were among the first fourteen cards we flipped. My first pick was Obliterate and my second was Mutilate, cementing me in Jeremy's mind as "the Wrath of God guy."
I ended up taking a risk on Mayael the Anima when I realized that nearly all of my creatures fulfilled her requirement. This led me to Where Ancients Tread, and I was now "5 power guy." My only regret from the draft is passing up a chance at Vedalken Orrery. It seemed crazy—casting spells on other peoples' turns is the best way around the one-spell-a-turn restriction—but Aaron said that it isn't as good as it looks.
Here's the deck I ended up with, which qualifies as a deck in Type 4 and pretty much nowhere else.
The Play's the Thing
Drafting took probably 40 minutes, and the restaurant was closing by this time, so we headed out into the lobby for the actual game. We sat down wherever, and it ended up being Seabass on my left, then Jonathon, Matthew, Jeremy, Griffin, and Aaron.
Jeremy started off the game with Plaguebearer, which made me glad that of my hand of nonblack creatures, two of them—Empyrial Archangel and Simic Sky Swallower—had shroud. There was some wrangling between Seabass and Aaron over a Blast from the Past, and on his turn, Aaron cast Vedalken Orrery. I opted to start things off in style with Where Ancients Tread, then started casting Whispers of the Muse on every end step until Matthew countered it. Seabass cast Symbiotic Wurm, Jonathon's attempt at Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker was stopped by a Double Negative from Griffin, and Aaron, on his turn, played Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, one of the few lands to make the cut. Aaron was also doing an awful lot of casting on other peoples' turns thanks to the Orrery, and it was making me nervous.
On my second turn, I went for Simic Sky Swallower, but Matthew had Overwhelming Intellect to counter it and get in some serious card draw. Aaron decided that wasn't acceptable, and cast Assert Authority to counter the Swallower first and deny Matthew the cards.
Seabass cast Insidious Dreams, taking the plunge and dropping four of the five cards in his hand as its additional cost. Then Jonathon hit it with Dismal Failure, and there was an uproar. With help from Jonathon, Seabass had just cast One with Nothing.
"Why did you do that?!" Seabass demanded of Jonathon.
"You had one card in hand," said Jonathon, "and I wanted it."
Seabass immediately took vengeance on Jonathon with Symbiotic Wurm, and Aaron happily gave it double strike with Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, dropping Jonathon to 6. I gathered that Aaron's of the "kill everyone" school of multiplayer, certainly a reasonable stance—especially in a format where, remember, anything can happen.
Jeremy added Myojin of Cleansing Fire to the field, and Griffin frightened everyone by casting Conflux. Nobody countered it, so Griffin got the intimidating spread of Bringer of the Black Dawn; the all-but-unkillable Mistmeadow Witch; Greater Good; Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, and Nicol Bolas, original recipe.
On his turn, Jonathon went for Griffin, partly as revenge for the Double Negative and partly because Conflux made him nervous. Jonathon was still at 6, so Griffin's answering Riddle of Lightning pointed at his face looked very likely to kill him. The rest of us may have yelled a bit.
Jonathon stood up and fretted for a moment. "Okay," he said. "I challenge you to a duel! Let's both look at the top three cards of our library ...." He flashed us Reviving Vapors, and we cheered. He resolved it with suitable melodrama, revealing a Confiscate to go to 12. Griffin finished scrying and revealed ... Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn of Evil, for 10 damage, and Jonathon stayed alive at 2. But his attack was still on, Aaron used Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion to give Jonathon's now 9/9 double strike, bashing Griffin for 18. Jonathon and Griffin both ended the turn on a precarious 2 life.
I had cast a Mindslaver, and Jeremy—with Plaguebearer and Myojin of Cleansing Fire—seemed like the most promising candidate. But when I saw Jeremy's hand, I realized that I could do a lot more damage than I thought. Through Jeremy, I attacked Matthew for 5 and pitched Debtor's Knell to Shining Shoal leaving the damage exactly where it was. I then cast Kuro, Pitlord, Pit Lord, and proceeded to wipe the board, stacking up activations from Kuro, Pitlord, Plaguebearer, and Myojin of Cleansing Fire so that everything, including Jonathon's Symbiotic Wurm tokens, ended up dead. All told, I activated Kuro, Pitlord 19 times, leaving Jeremy alive at 1 life—probably foolish, but I just hate to be the one to knock people out of the game.
Aaron started his turn and, having run out "Ach! Hans, Run!" on somebody else's turn, cried out, "Ach! Hans, Run! It's the ..." and then totally ruining the dramatic pacing by pausing to remember what was in his deck. "... Siege-Gang Commander?" he said at last—a very menacing choice with two players at 2 life.
Griffin cast Agonizing Demise on the Commander with the token-making trigger still on the stack; this meant, of course, that he was the one to die when Aaron sacrificed the Siege-Gang Commander in response. "The best Time Stop in the game," said Aaron, of the common tactic of using Urza's Rage as a counterspell by killing a spell's controller with the spell on the stack, causing the spell to vanish.
Aaron cast Intuition, and Jeremy Reiterated it, with buyback; I split Aaron's pile, and Seabass split Jeremy's. I was offered the no-win graveyard package of Glory, Controvert, and Firemane Angel (I put Glory in hand,), while Seabass put Anger in Jeremy's graveyard and Phage the Untouchable into his hand. Jeremy cast Phage and wasted no time in determining the recipient of Seabass's generosity.
"[Expletive deleted] you, Mindslaver Guy!" he shouted, laughing and sending Phage in to kill me. Fortunately, I'd been sandbagging a Devouring Light for the entire game, which sent Phage packing. But if I hadn't had it, well, I'd earned a Phage to the face.
Looking at Aaron's now cluttered board and increasingly unassailable position, I commented, "Wow, Vedalken Orrery is doing amazing stuff for you. And I let you talk me out of taking it!"
Aaron burst out laughing. "I know!"
"You didn't!" I said, laughing too. "You did not just do that!"
He nodded, still laughing, although he later explained that this is the best work he's ever seen Vedalken Orrery do, so he didn't deceive me too badly.
"Sure," I said to him. "Hey, let's divide each other's piles. I think we can reach an understanding."
"So," said Jonathan, to Jeremy. "Let's divide each other's piles. I think we can reach an understanding ..."
And reach they did. Jeremy picked the five pile rather than the zero pile, and cast Fracturing Gust, causing Matthew to (mistakenly) flip up a creature he'd played face down with Illusionary Mask: Morphling. "Wait," said Seabass. "Did you just unmorph a Morphling?" After the Gust came Devastation, Bogardan Hellkite (leaving Jonathon alive), Treva's Charm, and Tooth and Nail retrieving Silvos, Rogue Elemental and Mist Dragon, which gained or lost flying in response to pretty much everything.
Jeremy clawed his way back up from 1 life, while Jonathon was still stuck on 2. The rest of us, though, had dropped down into the 10-12 range. Aaron, as it happened, was at exactly 10. When Jonathon secured a promise from Jeremy not to kill him with Reiterate, he aimed a lethal Urza's Rage with kicker at Aaron. Jeremy cast Reiterate, to kill Aaron, not to aim his copy back at Jonathon. Aaron countered the Reiterate as his final act of the game.
Seabass had finally started getting back into it, and on his upkeep, he turned to Jonathon, still at 2 life. "It's coming!" he said menacingly, and revealed Infernal Spawn of Evil. Jonathon dropped to 1, and never has that card seemed more menacing.
Jeremy had Spite of Spite for my Maelstrom Nexus (booooo!), and then it was back to Seabass. "IT'S HERE!" he announced, aiming the final point at Jonathon. (Yes, that's not what you're supposed to say. No, nobody cared. This game was casual even by silver-bordered standards.) Jeremy took pity on Jonathan and plunked down Angel of Salvation to try to save him. But Matthew had the Exclude, and he and Seabass high-fived as Jonathon moaned in despair.
It was then my turn to get the "It's Coming!" treatment, and I did not have a lot of life left to give. Jeremy got Aladdin's Ring onto the table and took both Matthew and myself down to 1. Seabass got to once again say, "It's here!" and that was the game for me.
I left for a moment at that point; when I came back, there was a Planar Portal out, Matthew was dead (not by Infernal Spawn of Evil, but it was close), and Seabass was saying, "Phthisis your Memnarch ..."
It was too late, however. Jeremy had gained life with Fracturing Gust then doubled it a few times with Beacon of Immortality, so the Phthisis didn't come close to killing him, and his Memnarch had already stolen Planar Portal. Griffin and Aaron, the two players who'd built the strongest board positions early on, were dead; the game ended with the triumph of the guy I left at 1 life off of a crippling Mindslaver, who finished up at 74 life, with second place going to the guy who hit himself with One with Nothing on turn two. As usual, it pays to be nonthreatening!
Wow, what a fun format! I don't think I'd want to play Type 4 all the time, for much the same reason I don't want to have ice cream for breakfast, but it's a blast, and I can imagine getting hooked on it. What about you? Have you ever played Type 4 or something similar? If so, did you like it? If not, did it sound like fun? Head to the forums and let me know!