Three by Five

Posted in Serious Fun on December 9, 2008

By Kelly Digges

Kelly Digges has had many roles at Wizards over the years, including creative text writer, R&D editor, website copyeditor, lead website editor, Serious Fun column author, and design/development team member on multiple sets.

Howdy all! I've recovered from the storytelling bug I caught from Mark Rosewater last week, and now I'm back to tell you about some games that, you know, actually happened.

The weekend before last was Thanksgiving here in the States, and apparently one of the things I was thankful for was more time to play Magic. Laura invited me and fellow far-from-home friends Nik and Rebecca to have Thanksgiving with her family, who are generous in taking in strays. All four of us play Magic, as does Laura's brother Matt. (Not to be confused with Laura's friend and classmate Matt, who's appeared in this column a few times.)

The end result of all this was a lot of hours spent playing Magic. With five players, of course, the obvious choice was Star, which I first wrote about several months ago, and which has quickly become one of my favorite formats. You can get the full description in that article, but the basic rundown is that five players sit in a star, the two players across the star are your enemies, and the first player with no enemies left is the winner.

The original incarnation of the format involved five monocolored decks arranged like the pattern on the back of a Magic card. That original, color-based version of Star intrigues me, and I've been wanting to try it out. Embarrassingly, I don't have any monocolored decks at present ("You kids today, with your gold cards and your easy mana! In my day, it was 20 Mountains and 40 red spells, dagnabbit!"), although I am working on five monocolored Singleton decks (green first, naturally).

But you don't need monocolored decks to play color-based Star. You could easily assign allies and enemies among the five allied-color pairs or the five enemy-color pairs (though not really among a mix of the two), and in fact that's why Laura and I started building the ten two-color hybrid/gold decks in the first place. We haven't played color-pair Star yet, mostly because we don't often get five people together, but the opportunity's there.

Ah, but there's another option—an idea that came to me, oh, right around the first time I saw Shards of Alara. The five three-color shards of Alara are each composed of one "center" color and its two allies. Put those on a star with each shard next to a shard centered on one of its center color's allies, and bam! Shard Star.

Shard Time on Planet Earth

By a stunning coincidence, Laura and Nik had recently spent some quality time with my collection building shard-based three-color decks. They're almost entirely Shards of Alara, to keep things simple, with a few surprises from other sets thrown in.


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I put the Bant deck together originally, but it got a substantial shot in the arm at the last minute when we opened up Rafiq of the Many and Battlegrace Angel the previous evening playing Two-Headed Giant Shards of Alara Sealed Deck. The three Sakura-Tribe Elders could just as easily be Rampant Growths or any other (preferably two-mana) land-searcher. Mass Calcify is in there because it's too perfect to pass up for the white-centered shard; it'll spare many of your creatures, some allied creatures, and zero enemy creatures.


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So, this deck only has 20 lands in it. I don't know how that happened. It started as my Esper box league deck, then I ransacked it for EDH cards, then Nik filled it back up to 60 cards. Somewhere in that process, four lands were tragically lost, and nobody noticed until, well, now. Most 60-card decks will work best with 24 or 25 lands—running 20 lands is a bit of folk wisdom from the olden days, like starving a cold or healing people with leeches.


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This deck needs a little more oomph, and I'm not sure quite what would do it. It also randomly has the worst mana of the five; as soon as I track down more Crumbling Necropolises, in they go. That said, it's better than it looks—Fleshbag Marauder is crazy, and Scavenger Drake gets huge fast. That said, if any of you have ideas for juicing up the Grixis deck, let me know!

(Liliana Vess is in there because we felt bad that Grixis doesn't have a planeswalker.)


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The Jund deck is tightly themed—so tightly themed, in fact, that it doesn't even include the two Broodmate Dragons that I now own (still working on that Crucible of Fire deck). As Nik put it, everything in the deck is either food or things that eat food (with the slightest bit of room left over for things like Hellkite Overlord, which eats your opponents).

(We don't have Sarkhan Vol, so this is the only shard deck that lacks a planeswalker ... for now!)


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Naya is wonderfully straightforward: play giant creatures, then attack with them. This deck features some of my favorite cards in Shards of Alara, like Bull Cerodon and Drumhunter. Monstrify and Mighty Emergence are in there because they're pet cards of Laura's, and the two Naturalizes will beat up on the Esper deck. We didn't want to go overboard on that, but it seemed appropriate to let the greenest of the shards bust up some artifacts.


In addition to playing shard decks, we instituted one optional rule for Star format that I mentioned last time: Rather than passing the turn clockwise, we decided to pass across and to the left. This has a couple of advantages. First, you're always passing to someone who might attack you, which I find more intuitive than waiting around. Second, you get to take your turn in between your two opponents, which keeps them from hammering on you in succession.

We were a little worried that this turn order might prove confusing, so we grabbed a little help:

A swatch

That is, as I'm sure you've guessed, a sample swatch of neon-green leather that Laura's dad uses in his business as a clog-maker. (Yes, really! The man makes clogs.) This was our turn marker—our conch—and we faithfully passed it from person to person, across and to the left.

Nik wanted to try out the Esper deck, and Rebecca took Jund on the basis that she would get to blow things up. More or less randomly, Laura grabbed Naya, I took Bant, and Matt shuffled up Grixis.

The first round of turns saw Savage Lands, Arcane Sanctum, Jungle Shrine, and Crumbling Necropolis come into play tapped. Everybody looked expectantly at me for that Seaside Citadel ... and I disappointed with a Plains, and not even an Akrasan Squire to show for it. Sorry, guys!

Nik made turn two count with a second Arcane Sanctum and an Executioner's Capsule, and then we all got down to the important business of uglying up the board. Hissing Iguanar, Esper Battlemage, Manaplasm, and Blood Cultist hit the board in rapid succession. I spent my third turn playing Guardians of Akrasa and walloping Matt for 4 with Sigiled Paladin.

Matt then played a Fatestitcher to go alongside his Blood Cultist. I didn't have a lot of creatures in hand, so that Sigiled Paladin was going to have to last me a while—2 points of ping across the table just wouldn't do. I Oblivion Ringed Matt's Blood Cultist to be safe.

Meanwhile, Nik's Esper Battlemage was doing good work. It killed Laura's Manaplasm with a pump from Drumhunter—which would have taken Manaplasm up to a convenient 5/5—on the stack. He then tried to kill Hissing Iguanar with it the Battlemage the following turn, but Rebecca had Jund Charm to beef the pinging Lizard up to Juggernaut size and keep it alive. With the board filling up with fodder like Elvish Visionary and, well, Dragon Fodder, that Iguanar was going to do very good work.

"I may need to kill that again," said Nik.

I played Gift of the Gargantuan and saw no lands, but quite a spread of creatures.

Not bad!

Waveskimmer Aven, Rhox War Monk, and Rafiq of the Many! I took Rafiq, of course, but if I'd been desperately in need of a flying blocker or more life, I would've had the option. I wasn't even that sad about putting Clarion Ultimatum on the bottom of my library, because I wouldn't have been able to play it for a while anyway. I slammed down the Bantian hero the next turn, cracking Matt with a 5/5 double striking Sigiled Paladin, which he wisely opted to block with a Goblin token.

I'd decided that the best strategy was to focus on one enemy and take them out, as it is in most multiplayer games, and I'd picked Matt more or less randomly. Rebecca, on the other hand, was splitting her Hissing Iguanar pings between me and Nik, opting for the even spread.

Laura seemed to be focusing her attention on Nik, slamming down a Bull Cerodon, smashing him for 5—oops, make that 4, as Esper Battlemage made sure she didn't draw a card off of Drumhunter.

On his turn, Nik mused aloud that he didn't mind painting a target on himself, playing not one but two Master of Etherium, both at 5/5, and getting in at Laura for 5 with one of them the following turn. When Laura Naturalized one, he replaced it with a 3/3 flying Windwright Mage—although Rebecca had gotten Necrogenesis out, so she could put a stop to the flying shenanigans basically whenever she wanted. When Nik's Windwright Mage attacked Laura—who was down to 7 at this point from combined attacks by Nik and Matt—Rebecca opted instead to Branching Bolt it. She was considering Esper Battlemage as her second target, but her ally Matt—also my enemy—helpfully pointed out that Rafiq of the Many was a much more pressing concern.

Look out, Mister Rafiq!

Oh, well. The legendary knight of Bant later ended up being reprocessed into Saproling chow by Necrogenesis. And that's terrible.

Nik and Rebecca, meanwhile, were both stuck on four land—remember how the Esper deck only had 20 lands in it? As for the Jund deck, well ... that does happen sometimes.

Nik still had a Master of Etherium, and used Sanctum Gargoyle to get the other one back to his hand while Rebecca was still tapped out. Laura used Soul's Fire off her Bull Cerodon to kill the other Master of Etherium, then attacked with said Cerodon to take Nik to 8.

She then passed the turn to Matt, who untapped and played a devastating Fleshbag Marauder.

Fleshbag Marauder! Marauding the fleshbags!

Five creatures hit the graveyard—a Goblin token for Matt, Esper Battlemage for Nik, Guardians of Akrasa for me, Drumhunter for Laura, and Elvish Visionary for Rebecca. Ouch! And even more ouch—that brought Matt's Scavenger Drake to 7/7 and let Rebecca—who'd decided to focus on one of us after all—ping Nik down to 3.

Matt, however, soon realized that he didn't want Nik dead, and tapped Rebecca's Hissing Iguanar with Fatestitcher on her turn to keep her from finishing off Nik. Rebecca attacked with her two remaining 1/1s to take Nik to 1, and on Rebecca's end of turn, Laura killed Matt's Kederekt Creeper with Naya Charm so Rebecca could kill Nik. I realized, too late, that my allies had spent way too much time fighting each other, and I really should have said something about that sooner.

With Nik gone, Rebecca now passed the turn straight to Laura on her right, which only took a little getting used to.

Now that one person was out, we entered that weird phase of a Star game where, although Matt's death was still on my list of victory conditions, I didn't want him to lose until I'd taken out Rebecca—otherwise, Laura would win. Rebecca, of course, was still at 20, with a steady stream of chump-blockers despite her mana-screw, and I was at 8 life.

On his turn, Matt tried to win the game in one swoop, killing Laura with Soul's Fire for his Scavenger Drake—up to 12/12 at this point—before sending it over to kill me. This didn't sit well with me, so I sent it to the bottom of his library with Bant Charm before Soul's Fire could knock Laura out of the game.

I took out Rebecca's Hissing Iguanar with Resounding Silence and her timely 8/8 Mycoloth with Bant Charm. Laura, unfortunately, wasn't doing so well. She ran out of creatures and soon died to Fleshbag Marauder beatdown. Nasty way to go.

That left me in the decidedly awkward position of playing two on one. My Paladin had died to a Grixis Charm, so my only creature was a freshly played Stoic Angel.

Go get 'em, Ray.


I did, however, have a glimmer of hope. I wasn't going to put up with this two-on-one stuff—I brought a friend. I brought Elspeth.

Elspeth and Kelly against the world!

Unfortunately, my 8 life and I were facing down a combined life total of 36 and two hands' worth of removal and ridiculous creatures. Bone Splinters took out my Stoic Angel, my steady stream of chump-blockers was quickly overwhelmed, and I succumbed to the inevitable. Still, I can take a little pride in the fact that this was the squad that finally took me out:

Goon squad!

Rebecca and Matt were both still in the game with zero opponents remaining, so they shook hands on a mutual victory.

We swapped decks and played a second game after some delicious pie (I'll spare you the pictures) courtesy of Laura's mom. We all seemed to realize at the same time that it might be better strategy to split attacks and hope to take out both of your opponents in one turn. That meant that everybody got to low life totals—8, 6, 6, 4, and 2, at one point—before anybody left the game, and we all got to play the mental game of figuring out who we could attack without handing one of our allies the victory the next turn. Me, I find that fascinating.

Star Report

Playing Star with color-themed decks was fun. Allied decks felt like allies; the Grixis deck's Fleshbag Marauder doesn't hurt Jund (which has tokens) or Esper (which has recursion) nearly as much as it hurts Naya or Bant, and between their various removal spells, any two adjacent deck could deal with basically anything. Enemies felt like enemies, too, with Branching Bolt basically always nabbing two creatures against the Esper deck and Bone Splinters mauling the Naya deck's plan of attacking with a few big creatures.

Star's a great format regardless, and I'd play it pretty much any time I have five players together. If you haven't tried playing Star with five different decks based around one, two, or three colors, I highly recommend it.

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