Random Box Formats

Posted in Serious Fun on November 16, 2004

By Anthony Alongi

Older cards as inspiration for alternative formats

Since we're still in fairly wacky territory this week with continuing Unhinged previews (see my colleague Jay's article for today's preview card), I thought I should maintain a random air and keep people guessing, even if I don't have an Unhinged card to talk about myself.

So I went to my oldest box of cards – the stuff from pre-Mirage block. I started playing during Rath block (Tempest-Stronghold-Exodus), and picking up cards from before Mirage was already pretty difficult at that time. Nowadays, it's more trouble than it's worth to me. (I'm sure there are skeighty-eight billion Internet sites that have all sorts of ways to get booster packs from those days. No need to inform me. I just prefer the more modern stuff.)

But one of the continuing joys of Magic for me is searching through my cards, or a search engine, to supplement a deck idea, and finding a card from the depths of Antiquities or Fallen Empires that just happens to work perfectly with a more modern idea. (Best example of mine to date: Soldevi Adnate in a deck based around Draco. Lifting off a 14-point Ghitu Fire at instant speed when you only have one mountain untapped just feels right.)

Since I'd like to do more than just point out old cards that work with newer ones, I'll spend the rest of this article making up casual multiplayer formats. I did this a while ago with "dictionary formats", plucking words at random from a dictionary and building formats around them on the spot. Same basic ground rules here, but with me using the card box as my random fodder. I'll pick one from each color.

First Format: Green: Ghazban Ogre

Ghazban Ogre

I'm really glad I picked an easy one to start with! Ghazban Ogre plays off of life totals, and so an obvious link here is...well, it's the creature type "ogre". (Come on! Any of you regular readers should be able to make up formats based on evening out life totals by now. Let's not waste each other's time!)

"Ogre" is an uncommon creature type in green. In fact, there are only two: the Ghazban, and his sister from Unglued, Ghazban Ogress. Trying to build a theme deck with this few cards – well, it would be hard, right? Harder than targeting the guy with the most life, anyway.

So here's the new format: each player in advance picks a color and a creature type. There must be no more than five creatures of that type in that color existing throughout the game of Magic. All other cards must at least pay some sort of flavor homage to the chosen creature type.

Here are a few facts (true as of this writing, anyway) to get you started, courtesy of Gatherer – and this is by no means a comprehensive list:

You get the idea.

Second Format: Blue: Wall Of Wonder

See, this is where older cards completely screw you. What the heck am I supposed to do with this?

All right, I've got one. Each player's deck can only have cards with exactly one eyeball in the artwork. (Notice the jack-o-lantern and voodoo doll on the original Legends artwork don't really have eyeballs – and butterflies have those cluster eye thingies, so don't even try to pull one over on me there, buster.)

If trying to think of cards besides Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore is too difficult, try this alternate format. (I'm not completely without compassion.) All creatures have defender. At any time, any player may spend AA2 (where A is the color most prominent in his or her existing mana base) to have all of his or her creatures gain +4/-4 and lose defender until end of turn.

This format would encourage high-toughness creatures – and probably quite a few walls, since the chance to lose defender would look really good on something like Wall of Swords.

Third Format: White: Kismet

I actually pulled up Armageddon first, but I'm not going there. Kismet forces permanents (except enchantments) to come into play tapped. We'll stick with that theme for our alternative format: all creatures, artifacts, and lands come into play tapped.

Once you've done this, you've taken away the drawback of lots of cards – especially non-basic lands like Grand Coliseum, Dormant Volcano, and so on. You've also taken haste virtually out of the game, but at the same time rewarded aggression since the chance of an unseen counterattack is very low. Some interesting things should happen here.

Of course, you've also given a small boost to "sleeper" enchantments from Urza's block, like Hidden Predators.

Fourth Format: Red: Orcish Oriflamme

Orcish Oriflamme

I'd like to do more than just give attacking creatures a +1/+0 bonus. Let's try something that will truly encourage aggression in groups where everyone sits behind walls and waits for some combo to go off:

  • All attacking creatures get +1/+1.
  • All blocking creatures get –1/-1.
  • All creature spells and instants cast during a combat phase cost 1 less to play.
  • Whenever a creature you control attacks, draw a card.

That oughta do it. Hey, Rosewater: why couldn't Orcish Oriflamme do that?

Fifth Format: Black: Krovikan Vampire

This one's hard to do without coming up with something that looks an awful lot like Endless Whispers. That's actually not bad in and of itself: try to play a game with a permanent Endless Whispers in play! But here's something for the more adventurous among you:

  • Whenever a spell, permanent, or ability you control would cause a creature an opponent controls to go to the graveyard, put that creature into play under your control instead and lose one life.
  • Whenever a spell, permanent, or ability you control would cause a creature you control to go to the graveyard, remove that creature from the game, put a 1/1 colorless spirit token into play under your control, and lose two life.
  • Whenever a spell, permanent, or ability another player controls would cause a creature you control to go to the graveyard, draw two cards and lose two life.
  • [Super-crazy version:] Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, sacrifice that creature.

I'll let you all chew on that for a while. The first ability is for capturing the flavor of the vampire; the second ability is to make sure the first ability doesn't make Wrath of God too good; the third ability is because I think Seizan, Perverter of Truth is really interesting; and the fourth ability is just to mess with you all. There are likely some refinements to the format that would make it work more fluidly; but bear in mind I'm trying to give you a quick format here – one that, like the red version, will keep games humming along.

Sixth Format: Artifact: Primal Clay

Primal Clay

One of the most interesting things about Primal Clay is its versatility. What if every creature could do that?

Here's the deal: whenever you play a creature spell, you may decide if it will come into play (a) as printed, (b) with +2/-2 and trample, or (c) with –2/+2 and flying. Announce the form as you play the spell. (Treat it like a mode, if you're that rules-conscious.)

If you find you like this format, see if you want to add more options:
(d) with +2/+2 and defender;
(e) with +3/+3, fear, no haste (if applicable), and "at the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature";
(f) with –3/-3 and protection from all colors;
(g) with +1/+1, protection from creatures, and "at the beginning of your upkeep, sacrifice a creature and a land";
(h) with –2/-2 and "whenever a creature you control is put into a graveyard from play, draw two cards".

Enjoy your alternate formats!

Anthony cannot provide deck help to readers. He is busy building his own deck around white horrors. Yes, there are two!

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