A Tale Of Two Trials

Posted in Serious Fun on September 27, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Since we didn't touch on our reader-driven alternate format last week, here's an update on how the cost vote ended up:

POLL #1: What should this ability cost?
One mana, remove a card in your hand of the correct type from the game. (The new spell is a copy of the removed card.) 1959 53.9%
Two mana, remove a card in your hand from the game, reveal a second card in your hand of the correct type. (The removed card is gone, the revealed card is copied to create the new spell.) 931 25.6%
Sacrifice three non-token permanents, reveal a card in your hand of the correct type. (The revealed card is copied to create the new spell.) 249 6.9%
Pay 5 life, remove a card at random from the game, and then reveal your hand. Choose a card of the correct type and put it on the stack. After resolution of the new spell, shuffle both spells into their owners' libraries. 249 6.9%
Remove your hand from the game. (Choose one card of the correct type from it to be the new spell.) 245 6.7%
Total 3633 100.0%

A clear victory for the one-mana option! I had offered some alternatives that allowed repeatable use of a given spell; but readers are more interested in the direct path (and, perhaps, better balance for the format!). Very sensible.

We now have soup, so to speak:

Working Name: "2000+"

The format is a multiplayer, free-for-all format with tournament-legal cards and sets. Whenever a player casts a spell, any player may play the following ability:

Pay one mana, remove a card in your hand from the game: change target spell of the same type, which an opponent controls, to a copy of the removed spell.

Control of the spell does not change, and the original caster chooses any targets beyond the original, if called for.

And now comes the fun part! Playtesting.

Here's what I need from you, the readers, this week: I need you to test this format. Simply try the format out with either regular or specially built decks – whichever you prefer – and then post your findings on the message boards.

I'm going to be very specific here, so please understand: I am far more interested in feedback from people who have actually tested the format than from people who have not. For example, it is easy to sit back and say, "One with Nothing and Final Fortune will be broken." It is another to prove it. (Frankly, I do not believe those cards are that relevant – certainly not while I'm fielding a test deck with no sorceries in it at all.)

So, time to get up from your comfortable armchairs – or at least swivel 'em around so you're facing a game table, if that's your setup – and try this out. When you provide your informed feedback via the message boards, please include:

  • How many people were in the game;
  • About how many games you played;
  • What works about the format;
  • What one or two things you would change, if anything; and
  • Any cards that appear problematic, and why.

This can be done briefly. Try to stay under 300 words. (The beginning of the article to right here is about 300 words.)

Post your feedback by midnight CST on Wednesday, October 5 – a week from tomorrow. This will ensure I incorporate your thoughts into my suggestions and decisions for the rest of the format.

What will happen after that? It depends on what I hear. If the format looks good, we'll give it an official name, have a little party, and celebrate. If it needs work, we'll adjust as necessary. Even though this will be a non-sanctioned format, we want to make sure we end up with something both usable and special.

Two-Heading For Glory

My brother-in-law Paul and I decided to head into Minneapolis for the Two-Headed Giant event at the Ravnica Prerelease. The event was put on by The Legion, owned by Steve Port of Misty Mountain Games. This was the first Minneapolis Prerelease where Steve was unable to lead the organization; but his capable lieutenants did a fine job of keeping things organized. The sole blemish was beyond their control – a glitch in the tournament software. (Two-Headed Giant poses a unique twist on seating and matchups, since two players play the exact same game, but take up two seats on each side of the table. No doubt this will get fixed for next time.)

The card pool Paul and I opened was good along several elements – but spectacular on none. Green, in particular, was uninspiring in either guild (Golgari or Selesnya). Here is what we played:

Deck A:

9 Islands
8 Swamps


Dimir Guildmage
Dimir Guildmage
Lurking Informant
Roofstalker Wight
Clinging Darkness
Last Gasp
Peel from Reality
Telling Time

Dimir Cutpurse
Hunted Phantasm
Stinkweed Imp
2x Consult the Necrosages

Circu, Dimir Lobotomist
Flight of Fancy
Induce Paranoia

2x Tattered Drake
Tidewater Minion
Woebringer Demon
Stasis Cell

Twisted Justice

Deck B:

9 Mountains
8 Plains

Frenzied Goblin
Torpid Moloch
Wojek Siren


Boros Swiftblade
Boros Guildmage
2x Boros Swiftblade
Sparkmage Apprentice
Thundersong Trumpeter
2x Veteran Armorer
Viashino Slasher
Rain of Embers

2x Centaur Safeguard
Skyknight Legionnaire
Devouring Light
Galvanic Arc
Incite Hysteria

Screeching Griffin
Viashino Fangtail

Barbarian Riftcutter
Divebomber Griffin

Flash Conscription

And here are the major cards we left in the sideboard:

Stasis Cell (#2)
Wizened Snitches
Mausoleum Turnkey
2x Dimir Infiltrator
Drooling Groodion
Shambling Shell
Rolling Spoil
Goliath Spider
Siege Wurm
Birds of Paradise
2x Transluminant
2x Seeds of Strength
2x Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi

We were very tempted to run RWg instead of just RW, but we misjudged how long the games would last. (In the testing we'd done in our casual group, we played more often with constructed decks, which move faster. Color-screw is a much worse problem in such cases.) Had we played a bit more green strength for the late game (particularly those Guardians), we would have probably done better than 1-2 and drop.

What played better than expected


Woebringer Demon
I was wary of including the Woebringer Demon – technically, this should be worse in Two-Headed Giant than in straight duel, since the other team can still have 100 creatures (under one player's control) and you'll still lose the demon because the other opponent has none. But in the one game where the Demon showed up, it was amazing. Flyers of that size are, as you might expect, not that typical – and the non-targeted removal is perfectly effective, since you won't lose the demon until at least one player comes up empty. And with a WR deck at my side, Paul was never even close to caring about losing his own creatures.

Another card that did better than I thought it would was Veteran Armorer, both on our team and our opponents' teams. Certainly I knew this was good; but it creates major advantages in a set that doesn't have a ton of strong burn.

Peel from Reality worked several times as a way to save one of my creatures and one of Paul's, when the board got too hot. (Yes, that works. Only in Two-Headed Giant, my friends!)

What played as well as expected


Boros Guildmage
Boros Guildmage – who didn't expect this to be amazing? It does great things. And both the Dimir Guildmage and Lurking Informant were “very effective” in that they never lasted more than a turn, since they drew the first removal spell our opponents could cast. I wish they had lasted longer; but since they blazed a path for later creatures, I won't complain.

The Hunted PhantasmRain of Embers combo did work, for anyone interested. And if you think Sewerdreg was a mistake, you're simply too used to thinking in terms of duels. As expected, it was great on our team, and on others'.

What played worse than expected

The jury's still out on Twisted Justice for Limited, which I previewed here a couple of weeks ago. It was stellar in one game, and less so in two others. Where it was less effective, it was because one opponent had four or more creatures (saproling tokens = bad news), while the other opponent had none. Honestly, in those cases, you gotta figure the rest of your deck is doing its job; but that didn't necessarily make me feel any better.

Our other six-mana spell, Flash Conscription, was more consistent – but it never seemed to kill two creatures like you figure it would. (Maybe Paul and I were both spoiled by Spinal Embrace.) We never seemed to be facing a 4/1 or 5/3 creature when we had it – always 3/4s and 2/2s.

Lessons learned

I think we went through the right process for building decks: start with red or blue (since each only pairs with one other color for a guild), build your first deck from whichever seems stronger, and then work your way through the colors until you have another powerful deck. We probably should have tried a bit harder with green – Guardians in Paul's deck, and perhaps the Groodion and Shell in mine.


Drooling Groodion
Two-Headed Giant in sealed format goes a lot more slowly than either of us anticipated – you really only do get one game off in 50 minutes. Part of that is the 40 life total; but most of it is the fact that either player can get out effective blockers, which creates at least a small stalemate in every single game. There are not quite enough board-clearers in Ravnica to break these up – if you find one in your card pool, I think you have to play it.

For the same reason, flyers are unsurprisingly important. We certainly had enough of them (and/or removal) that we never lost through the air. What I wish my deck had more of was the milling ability that UB can reasonably use in a sealed 2HG format. The cards are there in Ravnica – but I only got the chance to use one or two. (I still liked them quite a bit. Induce Paranoia once went off for nine.)

To keep enthusiasm for this new sanctioned format strong, Wizards will need to keep thinking smart. Making board-clearers like Plague Boiler available, and finding clever ways to improve milling without resorting to old-school brokenness like Stroke of Genius, will ensure a healthy 2HG environment for the next few years. I'm going to be very interested to see what future guilds (particularly traditionally “slow” WU and “breakneck” RB) bring to the format.

A Reminder

Try the new, reader-inspired format in your own casual groups! And let me know what you think on the boards by midnight CST on Wednesday, October 5 – a week from tomorrow. The more reactions I get, the stronger we can make the new format. Have fun!

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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