Play it Again

Posted in Serious Fun on February 24, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Right before the web site's winter break, during Rerun Week, I mentioned a nameless format that I played once many years ago. The idea was that you could play a long, looping group game by allowing players to shuffle up and come back in when they died instead of waiting for the next game to start—"cycling" back into the game, if you will.. I didn't really flesh it out, and I didn't really expect anybody to go out and play it.

Flash forward to the Monday after the winter break, when our graphic designer, Tom Jenkot, turned to me and said, "So, my friends and I tried that format you wrote about ....". Tom reported that they'd had a great time with it. Tom and his group had slightly modified the rules for returning to the game; more on that in a bit.

Flash forward a little more: writer Abe Sargent wrote about "Kelly Digges's multiplayer format," suggesting a scoring system for those who want to know at the end who the winner was. Since I hadn't named the format (and "Kelly Digges's multiplayer format" is a mouthful, and not entirely accurate anyway), Abe gave it the name "Monogame," because it allows you to play an entire evening of Magic with just one game. Several posters in the forums for Abe's article said that they too had tried the format and had fun.

This was a lot of talk and enthusiasm about a format I'd played only once, and years ago at that. Obviously, I was going to have to round up some friends, block off an afternoon, and take it for another spin.

    Infernal Spawn of Infernal Spawn Of ....

After picking a time and an invite list, I realized I needed to tell them what we were playing, and that meant I needed a name. "Monogame" was an accurate description, but it wasn't very evocative. I briefly considered "Cycling Magic," in honor of this week’s theme, but it didn’t quite seem evergreen enough. I eventually settled on "Respawn," or "Respawn Magic." The format was originally inspired, if I recall correctly, by multiplayer first-person shooters like GoldenEye or Quake, in which death usually results in "respawning," with no weapons, to continue the fight.

Respawn Magic

Respawn is exactly like a normal Free-for-All multiplayer game, except:

  • You can join the game at any time, picking a deck and a chair.
  • If you've been eliminated, you can rejoin the game (usually in the same chair), with the same deck or a different deck, immediately or later.
  • When you join or rejoin the game, you resolve any mulligans and immediately take three turns. During those three turns, you're in a "new player bubble"—basically, a separate solitaire game of Magic. Nothing you do inside the bubble affects players outside the bubble (or in a different bubble), and vice versa. You fully enter the game when you start your fourth turn in regular turn order.
  • If you want to keep score, here's Abe's system:
    • Gain 1 point each time you kill an opponent.
    • Lose 1 point each time you die.
    • If you voluntarily leave the game, lose 1 point. The last player to damage you, if any, gains 1 point.
    • The player with the most points at the end of the night wins.

In the original version, new and returning players joined the game fully but had three turns of "armistice," in which they couldn't be attacked unless they attacked first, but were otherwise fully part of the game. Tom suggested the idea of taking three immediate turns instead, which I think is great; it gets new and returning players (back) into the flow of the game more quickly. We came up with the "new player bubble" rule more or less on the fly to cover cards like Howling Mine and Spiteful Visions, particularly when they were inside the bubble.

    Spawning Pit

With those rules decided on, I collected a bunch of friends, mostly Wizards folks, in a meeting room after work to play Respawn Magic. They assembled rather more promptly than I'm used to—I guess they were excited about the format—which meant that I still had to go downstairs to wait for the pizza I'd ordered.

(Yes, pizza. Even after my diatribe about how it's basically the worst Magic food ever, it remains seductive as something you can order for a group of people you know pretty well with no input from them at all.)

I was down there for a good ten minutes, waiting, thinking about the hungry, impatient faces that would greet me when I returned. Instead, I saw this:

So chalk that up as point one in this format's favor: when somebody's late to the table—even the person who wanted to try it out in the first place—go ahead and start anyway, and latecomers can join in whenever they get there.

In this case, though, the meeting room was full, and there were still four people who wanted in on the game. Enter the second unexpected benefit of this format: We started a "B game" in another, larger room, and people who died in the "A game" could cycle over to join us. Someone pointed out that people who died in the B game could also cycle back to the A game, and while we didn't do that, it seems like a great option if your total group size is bigger than you really want in one game.

The B game got started with four people—myself, running an enchantment deck I'd recently build based on Sigil of the Empty Throne and Mesa Enchantress; Matt (yet another Matt—this one is from our customer service department), running a Jund deck he borrowed from his friend Jason; Gabe, playing a Naya deck borrowed from Laura; and Laura herself, on my left, playing Kithkin aggro.

That's another funny quality of Respawn Magic; in "normal" multiplayer, aggro decks are generally disdained; you might be able to take out one or two people, but then you'll probably be killed yourself. In this format, there's nothing wrong with that plan at all!

Dave and Peter joined us, playing EDH decks (Nicol Bolas and Progenitus, respectively) shuffled up as normal Singleton decks. Peter soon revealed his strategies for making friends: Heartbeat of Spring meant mana for everybody, and Trade Secrets earned him the lasting friendship of Dave, who drew more cards off of it than I could count.

That pile of cards Peter's holding? That's his hand. And yes, that is a Reliquary Tower in play.

Keith joined the game as well, running an Esper deck I'd glimpsed him using in the A game.

From left, that's "Angry" Matt Tabak, the Pointy Finger of Dave, Keith still shuffling to join, Peter craftily hiding his machinations behind a Conflux Fat Pack box, and Gabe looking somewhat concerned at the aforementioned Pointy Finger.

Gabe had played a turn-three Woolly Thoctar that got imprisoned (by me), freed (also by me), favored (by Gabe), stolen (by Dave), and executed (by Keith) in the space of a few turns. Chaos!

Yes, that was Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker doing the stealing in there, courtesy of Heartbeat of Spring. The dragon planeswalker promptly died to a Bull Cerodon-fueled Soul's Fire from Gabe.

Peter himself was using Heartbeat of Spring to fuel all sorts of shenanigans, including Brilliant Ultimatum—lovingly split by Dave—revealing Violent Ultimatum and Regrowth. Hellkite Overlord followed soon thereafter, but everyone was getting nervous about Peter, especially in light of his Evil Alliance with Dave. He cracked somebody with Hellkite Overlord, but Laura's impressive, Militia's Pride-fueled army of Kithkin finished him off while he was tapped out. Dave fell shortly after and had to go home; the Evil Alliance was broken!

In the meantime, Jason joined us piloting a Rogue deck (you know, the prowly kind), and Alexis showed up with a deck that didn't seem to do much but was well-stocked with Arcane Denial, the "political" counterspell. Peter came back and was up to some insane amount of mana again by his first or second post-bubble turn.

Laura and Jason traded a few attacks, but Oona's Blackguard meant that Laura was losing cards on the deal. Laura announced that she was tired of discarding.

"If you don't want to discard, don't attack me," replied Jason.

"Or attack until he's dead," I chimed in.

"No," said Jason,"then I'll just come back and there'll be more discarding. Don't attack me!"

Ah yes, my favorite aspect of this format from my previous encounter: vendettas from beyond the grave. I've never felt right extending a grudge from one multiplayer game to the next, but in the same game? Let vengeance be had!

Speaking of vengeance, Matt had declared his intention to destroy Keith for some perceived injustice in the early turns. Matt and I had both built up impressive boards by this point. Matt had enormous devour creatures ...

...while I had Mesa Enchantress, double Sigil of the Empty Throne, Debtors' Knell, and Angelic Chorus to ensure a constant stream of cards, creatures, and life—just for playing Faith's Fetters or what have you now and then.

The face-down sleeved cards are 4/4 Angel tokens.

Peter showed off yet more crazy stuff his deck could do, playing Tooth and Nail for Sundering Titan and Blood Tyrant. He was nice enough, however, to blow up my Plains with a Genju of the Fields on it; that let me replay the Genju, getting a card from Mesa Enchantress and two Angels from my double Sigil of the Empty Throne. When the Sundering Titan chump-blocked Matt's 10/10 Tar Fiend after I'd done so, Peter was nice enough to take out my Genju Plains again.

I killed Keith with Angels, stealing Matt's vengeance. He consoled himself by killing Laura, then conceded—like Dave, he had to go home.

Blood Tyrant was huge by Peter's next turn—I think Jason died somewhere in there as well, and concessions do count—but still not big enough to kill Alexis, who'd gained a ton of life at some point. A Magister Sphinx from Peter took care of that, and Blood Tyrant took Alexis out of the game.

Blood Tyrant is absolutely nutty in this format, by the way; you'll often have a big table, and there's no limit to the number of times people can die while you have Blood Tyrant out. Oh, and did I mention it has trample? Not even my half-dozen Angel tokens could save me. Someone jokingly told me that I'd brought them the "Blood Tyrant matters" format.

The Tyrant's reign, however, was short-lived. Gabe, on his turn, tapped Peter's creatures with Naya Charm and killed him with fatties, and suddenly, everyone at the table but Gabe and myself was shuffling to rejoin the game. Gabe and I agreed to wait while everyone else got back in the game.

Keith reentered the game with a special concoction I'd designed to get any multiplayer game jump-started in a hurry. Check this out:

Pure Spite

Download Arena Decklist

I was very happy with how this deck played. It could use more Kederekt Parasites, and oddly I don't seem to own a single copy of Howling Mine (this is another one I swear I had several of at some point), but you get the idea. Hand sizes go up, life totals go down, Magic happens faster.

Things sped up after that. I was at a very comfortable life total from Angelic Chorus, so I didn't mind the Spiteful Visions at all. Others were not so lucky. With my formidable—and refillable—board of Angels and swelling life total, and nearly everybody else restarting, I was undeniably the One to Beat.

Alexis reentered the game with a Legacy-legal mono-white deck with all kinds of multiplayer hotness. Ken joined us as well, playing some kind of crazy artifact deck, and Graeme sat down next to me running what he described as his only deck, which turned out to be basic black-green good stuff.

With all that power coming in plus everyone being afraid of me, I wasn't at all surprised when the hammer dropped:

There were very few win conditions left in my deck, so once people started taking out my Angels, I was in big trouble. I played a Promise of Bunrei to shore up my defenses a bit, but when Peter played Gloomdrifter, of all things, Jason popped one of my creatures in response to break my Promise before the Gloomdrifter.

"Ooooooooooooohhh," said everybody, like he'd just started a schoolyard fight. But Jason, now playing the devour deck Matt had been using earlier, was way out of my weight class at this point.

A barrage of attacks finished me off, so I got out the White-Blue 'Tron deck from last week, realizing with some surprise that that had been my first death.

Peter had Heartbeat of Spring again, and that meant that things got silly quickly. Jason filled the board with Jund dragons, Keith died but soon got twoSpiteful Visions out on his return, Laura came back with her white-black deck and started slamming people with Nightsky Mimics and Voracious Hatchlings, and Peter, well ...

...Peter had a pretty good Gifts Ungiven spread for somebody to split. Meanwhile, Graeme was nice enough set me up into rather than out of my third UrzaTron piece with Thoughtpicker Witch. With the Heartbeat of Spring, I was now in business, with Inkwell Leviathan first out of the gate.

I played Gifts Ungiven, and in response, Alexis decided to animate her Mishra's Factory and play Congregate targeting me. All of these un-asked-for favors made me nervous, but I let her split my Gifts pile, giving me Mindslaver and Decree of Justice.

I played Mindslaver and targeted Peter, but unfortunately, he was one mana short of being able to play Time Stretch. Time Stretch is targeted, so I could have him aim it at me. So close!

Laura, desperately low on life, did not like seeing Keith's double Spiteful Visions. She managed to Mortify one of them and gain some life with her lifelink creatures, but even drawing three cards a turn, she looked like she was running out of steam. She did manage to kill Peter, though.

By this time it was getting late, so as they died, Peter, Ken, and Jason headed home. That left me, Graeme, Keith, Laura, and Alexis. Peter left with four deaths and zero kills, having taken two or three times as many "bubble" turns as "real" ones.

With a few turns left on a Wheel of Fate, Keith got back up to two Spiteful Visions, and I saw my chance. I attacked Graeme and Keith down below 15 and Alexis down to 4, realizing too late that she expected some kind of reciprocation for giving me all that life. I don't know what exactly she wanted me to do, but she seemed pretty blindsided that I had attacked her. In my mind, the life boost was well in the past; I was just evaluating the threats in front of me, and her deck was the one with the Wraths that would kill my Inkwell Leviathan and squadron of Angels (courtesy of Decree of Justice). I still haven't decided whether that was scumminess on my part, bad politics on her part, or both. At the very least, I should have thought about it a lot more carefully.

Graeme finished off Alexis, but Keith's Wheel of Fate was set to unsuspend the very next turn, killing everyone but me with Spiteful Visions triggers. Laura tried to Mortify one of the Spiteful Visions at the end of Graeme's turn, but I had a surprise Lapse of Certainty (!) to keep both Visions on the table and be the only one still standing when we all decided to throw in the towel for the night.

    The Point(s)

We hadn't kept careful track of the score, but honestly, it didn't seem to matter; I got some accolades for the play and the last-one-standing status, but nobody declared me the winner, and I wouldn't even get credit for those last three kills; technically, Keith was up two points for those.

With better bookkeeping, we'd know who the winner was; obviously, none of us considered it sufficiently important to keep track (though I made an effort for a while). After all, that wasn't really the point. The real point was that we'd played four straight hours of Magic without anybody pausing for a second longer than they wanted to. Even though we hadn't declared a winner, each of us left with a general sense of our own kills-to-deaths ratio, and a lot of great stories.

This is a great format for marathon Magic, and I highly recommend it. Thanks to Tom for his ideas on the format, Abe for spreading the word, and Matt, Dave, Gabe, Laura, Keith, Ken, Greg, Alexis, Graeme, Jason, and Peter for helping me test it out. Next time I've got a looooong stretch to play Magic, I'll definitely suggest Respawn Magic.

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