For the Rest of Us!

Posted in Serious Fun on December 9, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

With this being my last article for the next couple of weeks, I wanted to bring a little holiday spirit to Serious Fun by bringing the joy of the season to your playgroup. Here are a few suggestions to add to the festive spirit in your playgroup!

Yankee Swap, Magic Style

The Yankee Swap is a perfect way to get into the spirit of giving without breaking your budget. For those who've never had the chance to enjoy a Yankee Swap, the idea is fairly straightforward. You buy a gift that would be suitable for anyone in the group. All the gifts are stacked together, and someone opens the first gift. Usually this person is chosen at random. That person opens the gift, then the next person chosen gets to take the opened gift, or open one of the still wrapped gifts. If that person chooses to take the opened gift, the person without a gift gets to choose another gift. This process continues until all the gifts are chosen. There are all sorts of variations of the Yankee Swap, so take a look online for the one that most appeals to you.

Normally, this is seen at workplaces, but it works even better with regular playgroups. Everyone has a common interest, so buying gifts is easy. Just set a dollar amount for the gift beforehand, and let the fun commence!

I've discussed all sorts of Magic-related gifts before, but I'm sure you can come up with all sorts of things from cards to deck boxes, dice, and a myriad of other options.

My group has decided to try a variation on a theme this year, adding a Chaos draft into the mix. Chaos drafting is the same as a regular draft, but in this draft, everyone brings three random boosters, with the hope that every pack getting drafted will be from a different set. Everyone in our group will bring three different boosters and we'll Yankee Swap the packs! No one will open the actual packs until the draft starts, but the option to steal another person's choice is there.

Stealer of Secrets | Art by Michael C. Hayes

The downside to running a Chaos draft this way lies in the unknown. We wanted to make sure to have all different boosters, but you can't do that without revealing what you are bringing. To ensure that everyone gets different packs, we are running an email chain and claiming sets. This means the surprise of seeing who brought what is gone, but we hope that the fun of getting all different packs will work out.

We've also set up a rule where everyone has to get at least one hard-to-find booster. No one should get to pick all Theros block boosters and leave someone else to find all Urza block boosters. We ran a regular Yankee swap last year with a $20 limit, so we are encouraging everyone to get up close to that limit again with boosters. One of the players has already picked Homelands and The Dark as one of his boosters, since they only have eight cards in them. This is already promising to be fun! You can expect to hear about this on Twitter and in a future article.

Snack Alternatives

My group gets a pretty consistent diet of pizza, chips, and assorted beverages; I understand that is common among many groups. Why not change that up a little? Cider, chili, and gingerbread are a few festive alternatives. For me, brownies were something my mother made at this time of year, so brownies are something festive to me. I'm sure each of you remember a sugar cookie or something else that made the holiday season special. Bring it along to the next session.[1]

Gluttonous Cyclops | Art by Steve Prescott

Great White North

Deck building during the holiday season offers up a wide variety of theme decks. Whether you opt to go religious, focus on a particular denomination, the general joy of the season, or take a more tongue-in-cheek approach, there are cards there that will work for you. The "Season of Giving" guides you straight to our favorite Minotaur, Zedruu the Greathearted, and a wide variety of group-hug decks. You can build a primarily white/blue deck, focusing on the ice and cold surrounding a White Christmas.[2]

I opted for something a little more obvious.

North Pole

Download Arena Decklist

For me, the holiday season is about Christmas and the traditions that go along with it. Christmas never really started until Dad went out in the woods to cut down a tree.[3] It is amazing how beautiful a tree can look after you've been slogging around in two-foot deep snow for two hours, only to find it is barely better than something Charlie Brown would find once it was in the house.

Once the tree was in the house, we would start to decorate it. My father had done his part, so my mother would put on the lights, then leave the rest of it to my brother and me. If you took pictures of our Christmas tree by itself, you could tell what year it was. As we got older, the majority of the ornaments moved higher up the tree!

My brother and I were spared from getting our pictures taken with the mall Santa and his elves. I don't recall seeing a picture of a child happy to be sitting on Santa's knee, and I know I was happy to skip that. I preferred food court hot dogs with mozzarella cheese on them. Now that was way better than some dude with a fake beard and a line an hour long.

Christmas involved a lot of time outside in the snow. Like many young Canadians, I was lucky enough to have a skating rink across from my house. While I spent many hours scoring the winning goals for Les Canadiens in Stanley Cup games, my brother preferred to build snowmen. He wasn't as twisted as Calvin, but his snowmen were…original.

For some, sleigh rides were an essential part of the holiday experience, but that wasn't part of my youth. I did plenty of sledding that involved near-death experiences. (Oh the kids these days are missing out!)

Christmas Eve involved getting to open one toy. I remember that Santa brought presents for everyone but, some time around nine- or ten-years-old, he stopped bringing presents. Thankfully my parents filled the void. I don't recall being particularly bad, or hearing anything about Santa only giving gifts to families with young children, but I've heard the same story from others, so it must be true.

I had few Jewish friends growing up; there wasn't even a temple in my town, yet the dreidel and Menorah were signs of the season, just as much as a tree and caroling.

And finally, Seinfeld's Festivus and Festivus Pole[4] have given me another tacky joke to tell during the Feats of Strength.

Christmas Variants

Limited Colors

The most obvious variant is deck color. Whether you choose red and green, red and white, white and blue, or whatever color(s) makes sense to your group during the holiday season, go for it. Games get bizarre when everyone is running the same set of colors.

How deep you choose to go is up to you. Demanding decks run only gold cards that are red and green, or some other wacky limitation sounds like great fun if your group is willing to go that deep down the rabbit hole (or that far up the tree, staying on the theme).

Season of Giving

"On each player's upkeep, that player gives a permanent he or she controls to target player." I suppose you could be nasty, and give out undesireables to other players, but that's hardly in the right spirit. The idea of the format is to give other players cards they can use. This variant should bring your games to a conclusion quickly, since players are getting help from each other.


Many times, variants involve everyone in your group needing to build a deck along particular guidelines. Some groups just aren't interested in that, preferring to use their valuable Magic time playing the decks they have created, as opposed to spending time building to a set of restrictions for only one game. Other groups are excited by these types of variants, but it can take weeks for everyone to get their decks ready.

This variant involves you doing all the work. All of your friends simply have to show up with the decks they already love. This is you building a holiday-themed Planechase deck! I like Planechase best when it is a single stack of cards in the middle of the table that everyone is using. With all the planes out there, it isn't that difficult to come up with a holiday-themed deck. I recommend at least ten planes. I picked out a few that I liked the best:

Chaotic Æther—With more Chaos rolls comes more gifts!

Reality Shaping—Everyone adding permanents to the battlefield sounds a lot like gift-giving to me!

Quicksilver Sea—Nothing says sneaking downstairs on Christmas morning to see the presents like Quicksilver Sea!

Selesnya Loft Gardens—Doubles the presents and includes beautiful sculpted and decorated trees.

Truga Jungle—Makes gift giving much easier!

Windriddle Palaces—Another card!

Academy at Tolaria West—Constantly getting new things to play with!

Bant—Exultation and Divinity counters for the more secular players during the holiday season.

Cliffside Market—Yankee Swap!

Eloren Wilds—Makes gift giving much easier!

Feeding Grounds—Benefits to red and green cards. Very Christmas-y!

Llanowar—Creatures giving you ways to get more cards into play.

Minamo—Gives you all sorts of gift ideas!

Panopticon—Gives gift ideas!

I love me some Planechase and this Planechase deck will keep the mana and cards flowing throughout the game. It definitely leans toward red and green decks, so you may want to even that out a bit.

Finally, I want to thank each of you for reading every week. I appreciate all your emails and responses. It has been a blast to share my thoughts and ideas and hear your feedback about this game that we all love. I'm blessed to have such a responsive audience who are consistently thoughtful and positive in their feedback. I hope to make next year even better than this one. The warmest holiday wishes from my family to yours!

Season's Greetings!

Bruce Richard



[1] Unless it is meat pie. Meat pie is a French Canadian thing and they were always dry and terrible. Don’t torture your group with meat pie. It is the fruitcake of French Canadian pastries. 

[2] Forgive my bias. I grew up in Canada with several feet of snow and temperatures well below freezing all through winter.  Christmas is definitely white and icy blue for me.

[3] This is not a statement about my father. Strong guy, but no Orc.

[4] Not nearly plain enough I know, but I took what I could! Staff of Domination seemed like a great name that fit the spirit of Festivus. You can Air your Greivances at the appropriate time.

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