The Greatest Game Yet to be Played

Posted in Serious Fun on March 23, 2010

What makes one game of Magic "greater" than any other game? Like any subjective, opinion-rooted question, there will be a vast disparity in answers, all of which are correct. Some of you may value a grueling give-and-take, edging closer and closer to the ultimate victory—win or lose. Others may value incredulously implausible plays happening repeatedly, especially when it's something wacky but ultimately harmless for everyone involved—even if it makes the game last far longer than normal.

While the nebulous and varied nature of our values will change what we perceive as "the greatest game" of Magic, it's important to realize that pursuit of that game can be a wonderful way to gather gaming inertia. There is one way to pursue an ultimate game of Magic that may intrigue some of you. I've received quite a few messages about "Two-Headed Giant Emperor" and "EDH Planar Magic," and I must admit that I've tried some of this layering myself.

Quite, quite tasty.

If you've been looking for something new, something interesting, something different, or even something comfortably familiar you may be missing out on the easiest way to get more bang for your Magic format and variant buck: layering.

    Please Hold On to Your Firmly Secured Rules at All Times

Layers, as referenced in section 613 of the Comprehensive Rules, are a necessary evil as a result of the various interactions possible in Magic (as your local judge about Humility for a brief primer). However, the layers I'm referring to are meta-game layering: the art of playing by the rules of multiple formats or variants of Magic simultaneously.

This isn't as uncommon as you may think at first: Two-Headed Giant Sealed Deck is a common Prerelease event. Rotisserie Block Draft takes the idea of drafting into building a Block-legal deck. Group Game Draft takes drafting into the realm of multiplayer interactions and politics. What's important to recognize is that virtually every way to play Magic can be pressed against another way to create something new and often surprisingly different.

Let's review some ways more or less most of us make decks for Magic:

  • "Anything Goes" (the classic "casual Magic" format)
  • Official Constructed Formats (Block, Standard, Extended, Legacy, Vintage)
  • Limited Formats (Draft, Sealed)

While casual Magic revolves around multiplayer games at least as often as it does dueling, most formats are geared towards dueling.

Pretty boring.

Since the earliest days of Magic players have developed unique and interesting ways to build decks for the game fighting the malaise of stagnant gaming:

  • Pauper, Peasant, and other rarity-restrictions (I've also heard of a rares-only format, called "Bling")
  • Singleton (only a single copy of any card, excluding basic lands)
  • Stairwell (only a limited number of cards of specific colors at specific mana costs, usually just one of each)
  • Xenophobia (color exclusion; mono-colored decks)
  • Singularity (alright, I'm stretching with naming, but it's using only one type of card in a deck: creatures and lands are strictly possible, other types can be made pretty close to fully functional decks)

Of course, exploring all of these ideas isn't scratching a new ground. There is over 15 years of trial, error, and resounding success in exploring the art of the possible. And so even more complicated forms were created:

I could go on but you get the point: as diverse and unique as cards are, the ways and means of playing them are just as varied. As I mentioned above some of you have a real penchant for the really crazy stuff—the stuff of nightmares for judges and learning curves. Here's a grid that visually charts how well some of these crazy things potentially overlap:

Pauper /
Peasant / Bling
(Draft / Sealed)
Planar MagicGoodGoodGoodGoodGood
Two-Headed GiantGoodGoodGoodGoodGood
Chaos MultiplayerGoodGoodGoodGoodGood

While I list EDH as a stand-alone type of variant, it's more of a format-variant hybrid monstrosity that I included because it's so popular. EDH is required to be a Singleton format, but it doesn't mix well with rarity restrictions outside of "Bling" (all rares / mythic rares; Peasant EDH is possible but very limited in choice in Generals) and doesn't play nice with Limited environments (try drafting a 100-card singleton deck from a few packs of cards), but creating a monocolored EDH deck can be an interesting exercise.

All of the other variants play well with format restrictions, though Emperor can be a little dry in Limited due to, well, limited variation in decks. Going further, many of these can be mashed together again, creating an Nth layer dip of Magic fun. For those seeking ridiculous thrills, try some of these exotic concoctions:

  • Planar Magic EDH Emperor (or, As Many Extra Rules As We Can Fit Into A Game At Once: AMERAWCFITAGAO for short; a ton of fun to play)
  • Two-Head Giant Emperor Singleton Planar Magic (twelve players, two teams, six teammates, potentially over 600 unique cards by team plus planar effects—my head's already spinning)
  • Xenophobia Star (five different monocolored decks vying for Magic supremacy)
  • Two-Headed Giant Xenophobia Singleton (again, bonus points for unique cards by team and not by deck)
  • Planar Magic Free-for-All Multiplayer Draft (Free-for-All Multiplayer Draft sounds familiar...)

Of course, I'm barely scratching the surface of what's out there. Kelly Digges's Respawn Magic, the Stack and the Cube, Type 4, and dozens more of truly wild and untamed way to play roam, waiting to be tamed by you.

So here's my first challenge for everyone: what absolutely insane format would you like to see a game of?

What format would you like to see?Planar Magic EDH EmperorXenophobia EDH StarPlanar Magic Group Game DraftRespawn Cube Sealed (with time to build new decks between respawning)Something Completely Different (voice your vote using the links far below)

I promise a bountiful bevy of beefy Magic goodness after the next few weeks are finished.

    The Foil Lining Seals in the Flavor

Since it's Draft Week, I'll grab an ice-cold glass and—oh, I'm sorry. Draft Week is all about everything that makes packs of cards go "Boom!" in your hand. There's just something satisfying about opening a booster pack, even if I have to immediately attempt to decide which card I really want to keep out of it.

But there's more to draft than just an excuse to crack packs (a mighty fine reason if I do say so!) and make decks. I've touched on different forms of drafting but since we're already in the hunt for more and varied ways to play Magic here is a brief review of draft formats:

  • Vanilla Draft: three packs, six to eight friends, a few hours of dueling fun
  • Group Game Draft: four packs, four to six friends, a few hours of multiplayer fun
  • Cube Draft: randomly assigned cards in packs, six to eight (or more) friends, endless fun after a lot of prep work

And all of these can be played in an incredibly fun way: Rotisserie Draft. Kelly did a great job covering all of the awesomeness that's involved in a Rotisserie Draft so I don't need to harp on it further. However this is another variation on drafting some of you may find fun: "Pick-Your-Packs" Draft. It works as you might expect: when sitting down for a draft you pick whatever packs you want instead of a more traditional series of packs.

If your "Wait, doesn't that make it really, really random?" radar is going off, it's because it absolutely does. However, it's not actually as crazy as it sounds. There are rules that govern the essential content of every set: creatures, removal, buffs, and other standard fare are always present; it's just a little more eclectic of a selection to choose from.

As you may have surmised, I had the chance to engage a store full of drafters in this self-randomizing format and the following sets were represented by at least one pack:

  • Worldwake
  • Zendikar
  • Magic 2010
  • Conflux
  • Shards of Alara
  • Morningtide
  • Time Spiral
  • Saviors of Kamigawa
  • Mirrodin

And in all likelihood I missed a set or two represented by a pack or two in the other draft pod (I recall seeing boxes of Judgment and Nemesis sitting around too). Unfortunately, my deck didn't survive intact but I have a few highlights you may find interesting.




I played against a deck with both Baneslayer AngelandKalonian Behemoth (yeah, I lost that one); a deck with four copies of Essence Scatter (so that's where they all went!), and a deck with two copies of Doom Blade and two copies of Hideous End (my black creatures were pretty safe there). There was also my buddy Shawn, edging me out for third place, who had Empyrial Plate for his turn-one Pulse Tracker—pretty sweet, I must say.

The same principles of surprising interaction apply for more conservative pack mixing. Consider the unlikely combination of two packs Future Sight and two packs Worldwake for a Group Game Draft. Here are some of the awesome interactions between these far-flung sets:

And this is my second challenge to you: What sets would make an awesome Pick-Your-Pack?

Which sets would you bring to a Pick-Your-Pack draft?Tempest, Odyssey, ZendikarUrza's Saga, Mirrodin, Time SpiralChampions of Kamigawa, Lorwyn, Magic 2010Unhinged, Future Sight, Alara RebornSomething Completely (or Mostly) Different

Sound off with what you think and tell me what hidden goodies you think may be lurking deep within the recesses of mixing, matching, and layering together every which way of Magic game play. Join me next week when the Eldrazi return to continue assaulting your screen.

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