Going Home Again

Posted in Serious Fun on August 30, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

By the time this goes up on the site, I will be back from a summer Cape Cod vacation. My kids will be lightly sunburned, my beautiful but devious wife will be tired from travel, and I will be thrilled to be back on the day job. (Hey, when you're on the web, you never know what will get back to the boss.)

Normally, our annual Cape vacation was during December, so the kids could be with as much family as possible for the holidays. After all, I grew up there and so there are plenty of cousins, grandparents, and aunts and uncles bopping around. But as lovely as it was, it got very old to visit the beach and tell the kids, "bundle up – and whatever you do, don't go in the water!" year after year.

So we've shifted to summer Cape vacations. And now my children have a better sense of what I grew up with – and more relevant to this article, for the first time I was able to experience the Cape as a full-fledged tourist, with full family in tow and aware of their surroundings. (We came a few years ago as well, but my son was too young to really get what was going on.) We helped clog the bridge traffic, paused in the middle of intersections to figure out where to go (they changed the roads, the jerks!), and waited for parking spots at very crowded beaches. Wow, this was a lot easier when I lived here! First off, I had a resident sticker on my car…and secondly, I knew the roads extremely well before they moved them all around. For the first time, I felt like an outsider in my hometown during a hectic tourist season, instead of a returning son during the quiet off-season.

"You can't go home again" is a popular saying in many Western cultures. For the first time, I figure it might be true.

What does Cape Cod have to do with Magic? To use an appropriate metaphor, the ocean of casual players is constantly churning. Like shells or seaweed washed ashore for a while, some of them never come back. But some of them return to the ocean when the tide comes back in. Some tides are higher than others. (Invasion block was like the Blizzard of '78 that thrashed the coastline and reclaimed a ton of real estate!)

Whether you're a returning player who missed a few blocks of Magic or someone who's changed as a player so radically that you barely remember what it was like back in the "good ol' days", you may know a bit about returning home. Years pass and so do friends. Maybe the Magic group you have isn't the one you started with, and you wonder where those first friends have gotten to. Maybe you've adopted some "favorite formats" that have become so familiar that you haven't played a normal free-for-all in months. Maybe you've had a pang of regret that you haven't used Ice Age cards in a new deck since Mirrodin came out.

Things change, and so do you. For a casual Magic player, it's ridiculously easy to spot the things that have evolved – the nature of the game, and the nature of the people who play it, demand that things never stay still.

So what do you do when you feel like revisiting the past? Can you go home in Magic again?

Magical Ways To Revisit Your Past

When you're playing Magic, try one of the following strategies. They range from individual deck building and play decisions to major format changes. Any one of them should inspire a bit of nostalgia.

1) Use old-school cards. A few weeks ago I did a bit on "old school" – there's a format you can use there. But even if you don't do something that intricate as a group, there's nothing stopping you from brushing the dust off of some old beauties and letting some Antiquities fly. Some of those cards are still pretty darn good! And every once in a while, you run across a Soldevi Adnate that has some new meaning, post-Mirrodin.

Can you build an entire deck using no cards post-Weatherlight? Can you even make it so you're not using anything that got reprinted? Challenge yourself to focus on years past, when it really was a different game.

2) Use an outdated rule. With the consent of your group, you can arrange to apply a rule that your group used in the past, for a single week. The revision can be as minor or as radical as you like.

For groups that have been around a while, there should be plenty of fodder here. Either your group can revisit a piece of the Fifth Edition rules (Sixth Edition saw some major rules changes), or you can remember a time when your group had a major rule completely wrong. Heck, I can remember a time when I thought "discard" meant any card going to the graveyard from anywhere – so Megrim would trigger off of a Wrath of God. That was a really cool deck, even though it didn't work the way I wished it did. Well, now for a week, maybe it can!

You can either all agree beforehand on the one rule you'll break together, or (if you have a fairly small and clever group) leave it to each player to build a deck that takes advantage of its own "broken rule".

3) Go to that local store you haven't been to in a while. As Internet commerce accelerates, more and more of us are used to getting our cards through electronic means. Maybe we're playing Magic Online more often, or maybe we're buying our boxes from a wholesaler on the web. But human contact is still central to our nature – and for Magic players, that means the local store will always have a place out there.

Our group used to play about once a month at a store called Mirkwood. It was closer to most of us than another hot spot called Dreamers, and it catered to a more casual crowd. It closed a few years ago (not for lack of business), and that really left a hole. Other nearby stores just didn't have the same feel – some were too small, some had overly petty management, and others were just too darn far away. I don't think we've had our weekly game in a store for over two years.

Maybe we should hit one up soon, for old times' sake. I walked into Dreamers a couple of weeks ago and it still looked familiar – it was nice. The owner wasn't around that day, but everything else was still familiar – the way the tables were set up for a tournament or multiplayer game at a moment's notice, the way you could just pluck a drink out of the refrigerator yourself and take it up to the cashier, and so on.

Chances are, the store you used to like still has some familiar things about it as well. You could go check it out this week.


Blast From the Past
4) Play a format you haven't played in a while. This one may appear obvious, but your group may surprise you. If you asked four friends, "which format should we play, that we haven't played for at least a year?", you may get four different answers. Lots of groups try tons of different things before they settle into a comfortable pattern. Over time, all that experimentation is almost forgotten…almost.

Light a spark and see what catches fire again. If you need help, flip through the Serious Fun archives. Maybe you'll see something that reminds you of a format you played a long time ago. Or maybe you'll see something brand new that will get your group experimenting freely again. Too often, the "comfortable pattern" I mentioned earlier becomes a rut. Don't let that happen to your group!

5) Invite some old friends back. Most players who leave casual groups do so for valid reasons – maybe it's not in their budget, or there's a difference in opinion on what kind of decks folks should play, or they just develop other interests. But that doesn't mean they can't ever play again!

The next time you see an old Magic buddy who hasn't played in a while, ask him or her if they'd like to hook up for a single night of gaming next week. Make it so they don't have to pay for anything – distribute the cards they draft to other players, or lend them a constructed deck. Let them get a taste for how the game has changed. Some won't like it and will be glad they left. Others may decide to return the following week, which will regrow your group and make it stronger.

This can be particularly rewarding when you have a few really new players in your group. The returning veterans start to compare notes with the newbies, and it's not always clear who's got a better grip on the new mechanics! It's a good learning opportunity for everyone.

6) Put a deck in a time capsule. This one is really preparation for the next surge of nostalgia you feel. Pick one of your three favorite decks. (Or, if you have enough decks, pick all three.) Put them away in a box, and put that box inside another box. Give that box to a fox in socks, and cover it up with a bunch of Dr. Seuss books.

Wait one year. Two, if you can stand it. Yeah, if you keep some dual lands in those decks, it'll really hurt! But trust me when I say it's worth it.

When you dust those decks off and play them, you'll have a lot of fun. First, it'll feel good to be playing them again, exactly the way you had them years ago. Second, you'll get some surprised reactions from those players in your group who remember your deck fondly. Those who remember your deck less fondly may also be surprised, but don't expect as satisfying a response from them.

And above all, you may win with the deck! And it'll feel good to know the old magic is still there, in Magic.

Just How Many Magic Players Does It Take To Make A New Format?

Check out the last couple weeks of Serious Fun if this section confuses you.

As this section title suggests, we have a working name for our format:

How Many Magic Players Does It Take to Make a Format? 1094 41.2%
Switcherooney 605 22.8%
The Replacey-Thingie format 509 19.2%
The Mortimer format 446 16.8%
Total 2654 100.0%

Count on you guys to go for the really long, unwieldy one! And in a runaway, too. But I put it on the list, so that's fair enough.

More importantly, we've drawn the basic shape of the format:

All spells, but not abilities, should be replaceable. 797 29.9%
All spells and activated abilities should be replaceable. 672 25.2%
All spells and abilities should be replaceable. 628 23.5%
Only certain spells (e.g., permanents, or sorceries) should be replaceable. 570 21.4%
Total 2667 100.0%
A close match – being the same type is fine, with or without the super- or sub- matching. (Abilities should still match, if they're allowed.) 1206 52.7%
Who cares for match? Let sorceries replace creatures, and (if abilities are allowed) triggered abilities replace activated ones! 607 26.5%
An exact match – the supertype, type, and subtype should all match (and so should the kind of ability, if they're allowed by the vote on Poll #1). 474 20.7%
Total 2287 100.0%

So here's how the format looks so far. Some of this is based on your votes, and some is based on basic assumptions that I started with two weeks ago.

Working Name: "How Many Magic Players Does It Take to Make a New Format?"

The format is a multiplayer, free-for-all (chaos) format. It involves tournament-legal cards and sets, and the broad theme is about changing your opponents' spells.

Players may change spells – but not abilities. Whatever replaces the spell will have to be the same type – but won't have to be the same supertype or subtype.

Okay, now we get to some real nitty gritty. We choose the actual spell change parameters.

We are only going to look at what you can do, as a player, to your opponents. We will not be determining cost, just yet. Once we have a better sense of what we're actually doing, we'll have a better time figuring out what it ought to take to make it happen. (So questions of whether it's an auction, etc. are also set aside for now.)

Other things we're not doing this week – deciding if we want to limit card pools, or figure out what to do with "broken" cards, or anything else of that nature. It comes later. Be patient, and just vote for what you think would be cool.

I've poked around the message boards and found a couple of ideas I want to use. I also want to advance a few ideas of my own to you all. Author's prerogative. Of course, you vote for what you want!

A couple of these get pretty complex. I'm bleeding the rules a bit by using "spell" and "card" more interchangeably than I probably should; but you all get the idea. Read them carefully. You may also want to look through and comment on the message board thread from The Mental Merge. A reminder that emails do not count as votes, nor will they influence this format. The only influence comes from the message board discussion, and your votes in the polls below.

POLL #1: What should the format's "big thing" be?[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in your hand. (Must share type.)[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to a card in a special sideboard (Must share type.) (We'd define that sideboard further, later.)[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls with a card of the same type which is in play or in any graveyard. Remove the replaced spell from the game.[cost]: Reveal target opponent's library. Change another target opponent's spell to a card which shares a type in the first opponent's library. Remove both cards from the game at end of turn.[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to the spell of your choice. The spell you choose must have the exact same mana cost, and must not be a spell another player has chosen so far this game. (Must also share type.)[cost]: Change target spell an opponent controls to the spell of your choice. The spell you choose must have the same converted mana cost, and must not be a spell another player has chosen so far this game. (Must also share type.)

If none of the six options above gets more than 25 percent of the vote, we'll have a runoff. I'll also consider a runoff if the first two or three options are incredibly close to each other.

We can squeeze one more question in, since it's relevant to any of the paths above. This second poll is a non-binding vote. I have a way I think this format should definitely go, but if I get a heavy vote against my point of view, I'll reconsider.

POLL #2: Who gets control of the new spell? (This would mean discretion over any targets, as well as who "you" means.) The original spell's controllerThe player who's trying to change the spell

See you next week with Ravinca previews! We'll continue this new format as well. And we may take some interesting turns, in addition to deciding cost (or running off this week's options). For example, there was a really interesting idea on the boards about using "dead" players in the format…hmmm…

Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.

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