Track The Turkey

Posted in Serious Fun on November 23, 2004

By Anthony Alongi

An alternative format for Thanksgiving Week

In America and a few other places around the world this week, it's Thanksgiving. The rest of you will just have to hang tight. Put this sucker in a time capsule and read it in May, or February, or Schnauzenember, or whatever month your particular corner of the globe celebrates good times and fine family.

When I first moved out from Massachusetts to Minnesota to go to college, I spent a good deal of time with this gorgeous model. Seriously! She had bleach-blond hair, legs that went on forever, and kissed like a dream. (She ended up being my wife, so don't try to get me into any trouble.)

She also had – and this is very important – her own car. So unlike many students at Carleton, which prohibits non-essential student cars, I got to zoom around the countryside with a stunning babe at my side and the world at my feet. Never mind that it was a crappy little pale red Ford Festiva (a.k.a. the Tomato Can) – it was freedom.

Those of you who've experienced rural life have probably seen a turkey farm. Well, I had never seen one before. (Don’t snicker, you born-and-bred country folk. I'll bet many of you have never experienced real lobster off the boat!) Most consist of a long aluminum shed, with open-fence sides so the turkeys get air circulation and (more importantly) people driving by can see the turkeys. What tickled me about turkey farms was the way the turkeys tend to stay pretty still – at least while we were driving by. When the sun was just right, their poultry silhouettes seemed almost regal, as if they were waiting in silent vigil for something incredible to happen.

During September and October, whenever we'd whip by the turkey farm on County Road 19 between Northfield and Cannon Falls (two mighty Minnesotan metropoles), I'd poke my head out the passenger window and shout hello to the turkeys. (Yes, Ward 1 in Hastings is very, very proud to have me as their representative on the City Council, I'm sure.) This became a bit of a ritual for us.

Flash forward to January. I've been on break since mid-November, and have enjoyed two fine holiday dinners with my parents back on Cape Cod with a fine, familiar meat I could not quite place. Back in Minnesota, I hop into my hot girlfriend's car for a wild ride around the countryside, and we zoom down Route 19.

Well, you can see where this is going; but I was young and impressionable, so I couldn't. Just as we approached the turkey farm, I rolled down the window, stuck my head out the car window, and screamed out, "HELLLOOOOO, TURK – hey, where'd all the turkeys go?"

I had never heard Mary laugh her evil laugh before. I have to say I didn't really care for it. The cold feeling of truth hit my bones pretty hard, and I didn't speak to her for at least a mile. Of course, then she flashed some extra thigh and all was forgiven. Ah, to be 18 again…

The point of this story is: you can do better in life than being the turkey. Also, not too many 18-year-olds will think twice about you after you're gone.

So here in Thanksgiving week 2004, when my wife still rocks my world and laughs maniacally when I say something stupid, how can we as Magic players avoid being the turkey?

I'm glad you asked.

Track The Turkey

This ought to work pretty well for any multiplayer group between 5-7 players. Right now it's an imaginary format; but I'll see if I can't convince my group to give it a whirl.

The design of the format starts with a random selection of one player – the Turkey. That player goes first. After drawing their first card, they may play as many lands as they like out of their hand, and may play creatures and artifacts from their hand without paying their casting cost. (Use your head. If you think your group will need to ban a certain card, ban it. But notice I didn't say "enchantments", or "instants", or "sorceries". In fact, if you want to leave those out of the format altogether, be my guest. Keeping decks to lands, artifacts, and creatures is certainly keeping in theme with a focus on Thanksgiving harvests, tools, and food.)

After the turkey player takes her first turn, play proceeds normally. Other, non-turkey players do NOT get free spells, and may only drop one land per turn, etc. Non-turkey players may only attack the turkey (or permanents/spells controlled by the turkey). The turkey player may not attack anyone.

At the end of a round (everyone takes a turn), if the original turkey player is still alive, that player gets the following bonuses:

  • draw an extra card at the beginning of her upkeep;
  • gain five life; and
  • at the beginning of another player's upkeep, she may designate that player as the new turkey.

Of course, the new turkey now may drop as many lands, artifacts, and creatures as possible on their turn, to prepare for the round of attempted slaughter.

Note the following suggested rules:

  • Nothing prevents a player from being called a turkey twice, before someone else even gets to be turkey once. Fairness has nothing to do with this format. Some turkeys are just that – turkeys.
  • When a turkey dies, that dead turkey gets to name the next turkey. Note the new turkey may have to wait a while before it's his or her turn. So before you kill a turkey, you may want to have your ducks in a row and, er, count your eggs before they're hatched. Or something.
  • No death by milling. We're not building lock or combo decks here, folks. Please no Brain Freezes for sending turkeys on their way. Burn, however, should possibly be considered for extra style points.
  • It is possible for a turkey to kill another player, without attacking him. Think of a card like Glarecaster. If a turkey hunter dies, not much happens. Just move on to the next turn, and let the next opponent try to take on this radioactive turkey.
  • The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of banning enchantments, instants, and sorceries. Jokes about burning aside, these types of cards are more likely to include "Hurricane" or "Pernicious Deed" effects that smash everyone on the board, instead of slamming the turkey like you're supposed to. This also resolves the "Time Stop" problem: you name a turkey and then play Time Stop to prevent that player from having a chance at self-defense.
  • Try to avoid board-sweepers. Using such cards kinda misses the point. Nobody wants to find non-turkey by-products in their turkey meat.

A couple of strategic notes:

It's better to be the turkey early rather than late. Of course, this is true in the real world, too. Although nothing prevents players from naming you a turkey again later in the game, don't feel bad if you start off as one. In fact, it's probably an advantage. So no whining if you're a turkey in Spring.

Untargetable creatures and artifacts will be hot. If your group respects my suggestions and minimizes board sweepers, not much is going to kill Leonin Abunas equipped with Lightning Greaves. Multani, Maro-Sorcerer will also be quite good dropped for free on turn one. (Of course, if everyone thinks Multani is swell, the new legend rule might see some action before too long. So be creative!)

Vigilance and haste will be more important than ever. With four or more players ganging up against one at a time, you will need to be very careful with your combat math. Keeping back blockers will be essential. (Fortunately, with no sorceries or instants, surprise removal will be limited to stuff like Flametongue Kavu.)

When you're assigning a new turkey early, choose the weakest player. There's no point in annoying incredibly well-positioned players early on, when there's not enough strength around the table to defeat them. Use this time to weed out potential opponents and knock down life totals. Then, later on…

When you're assigning a new turkey late, choose the strongest player. At a later point in the game, when everyone has comparable strength, even the strongest player will have a heck of a time

"Rattlesnake" cards are close to useless in this format. (See Hall of Fame articles from a month or so ago if you don't know what I'm talking about here.) And since I've discouraged "gorilla" and "spider" cards, you're left with plankton, pigeon, and cockroach cards. The cockroach is king.

My suggested turkey deck:


Download Arena Decklist
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

The deck assumes no sorceries, instants, or enchantments. The Rofellos – Staff combination should be sufficient for you to get out many of these high-priced creatures, even if you're not having a turkey turn! It also allows you to tap down any turkey you like, so they are bereft of blockers.

Of course, the Tornado Elemental is as close as I would get to a "sweeper" in this format. The deck does need some protection against vigilant flyers, which is probably the worst threat such a deck faces.

Rare replacement: Rofellos and the Staff are central to the deck. Everything else is somewhat or very replaceable. There are other creatures (e.g., Elvish Scrapper) which sack to get rid of artifacts. Untapping constantly with Seedborn Muse is nice; but you can envision a similar effect with Wirewood Symbiote and/or Wirewood Lodge. Smaller untargetable creatures like Deadly Insect can work just fine in place of Multani. Jugan, the Rising Star is really a super-spike of sorts – consider Spike Feeder (or, if you have one, Spike Weaver) in his place. Lone Wolf will go through for certain damage much like Tornado Elemental; but you may value the ability to block flyers more. Green has tons of such creatures. Finally, Verdant Force may appear irreplaceable at first; but the point here is simply token generation for chump-blocking – something Nuisance Engine, Penumbra Kavu, Orochi Eggwatcher, Dripping-Tongue Zubera, Spawning Pit, and other cards do fairly well. You may also want to check your "spare rare" box for Orochi Hatchery, Summoning Station, and Bringer of the Green Dawn.

Oh, I hear Darksteel Colossus is pretty good, too.

Ideas for other colors: A blue variant for this format would almost certainly use Memnarch, Vedalken Shackles, and Willbender. Red might tinker around with Goblin Welder; Bosh, Iron Golem; and Shivan Hellkite. Black might take a chance with Phage the Untouchable (play it straight!), Kami of the Waning Moon, and a few spirits. White would benefit from Akroma, Angel of Wrath and who cares what else.

Have a great long weekend, if you get one! And go easy on the gravy.

Anthony cannot provide deck help. He is attempting, with great difficulty, to create the perfect Norman Rockwell scene for this Thursday.

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