Posted in Serious Fun on December 16, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

This week, I'm answering an email from a curious reader. Unfortunately, I've lost the email, and so I can't attribute it properly. My apologies. But it still brought up a great issue for Type I week, and so here's my paraphrase of the letter:

What does Wizards recommend casual groups do with a Banned and Restricted list? Restrictions seem like good guidelines so that things don't get crazy with four Balances or whatever, but when a group adheres to a Type I list, that means I can no longer play my Standard Affinity deck in casual play since Chrome Mox is retricted in Type I. But the power level of that deck doesn't seem greater than a typical Type I deck! What do we do?

- A poor, suffering, paraphrased reader

Dear poor, suffering, paraphrased reader,

Thanks for writing your elusive email. It was a slippery little sucker, but the memory of your anguish compels me to write back. I've got a three-part answer to your email, and based on what I've heard from other groups, I think many of my other readers need to hear it too.

Point One: There Is No Right Answer


One of the great joys of casual play is that there's no one looking over your shoulder with the authority to give you a game or match loss. (Your loved one who threatens the silent treatment for a week if you don't kick your friends out right now doesn't count.) Your group can make its own rules, choose its own formats, and make its own judgment calls.

So the first and best answer to this email is: talk to your group and let them know that just because Type I tourney would frown upon your deck doesn't mean that you can't use common sense. Do what feels right to all of you.

The problem with this answer, of course, it's that it's a bit idealistic. What if one of your friends just doesn't like your deck, and clings to the Type I list for fear that you'll smash him with a Broodstar?

Fear not, my friend. I've got two more answers lined up.

Point Two: Legal In Any Format Should Be Good Enough

Another great thing about casual play is its diversity. You see all sorts of cards at the kitchen table that you never see in a tournament. In an environment like this, doesn't it make sense to welcome not just any kind of deck – but any kind of format?

If you follow this logic, your group (which appears to allow Type I decks only) ought to allow any deck that's legal in any sanctioned format. So as long as your Affinity deck would remain Standard, and not try to sneak any Mox jewelry in, you ought to be fine.

Frankly, I'm surprised our own group hasn't endorsed this line of thought. I guess it never occurred to me before. But as I write this, I'm imagining the interesting routes some of us might take. Most of our collections are "Extended-friendly" collections; a few of us can dig deep into Type I; and a few of us are sitting in Standard-land. Different players might benefit from being allowed to focus on whatever banned/restricted list they like, in a given deck.

Just have the different lists at hand for a few weeks, while people get used to the diversity. You'll avoid arguments that way.

Of course, your group may not want to budge from its normal adherence to Type I formats. If that's the case, you shouldn't push your luck – what's an Affinity deck among friends? But I still have a possible answer for you.

Point Three: Rotation Is Always An Option

Most groups look to switch up formats every few weeks, and do something special. When the next week comes around, why not propose "Standard" week? The newer players in your group should appreciate it, since they have more shallow collections. (This argument also works if you have a block deck you love, or if you can't do without limited formats for long. Using recent sets is a great leveler between veterans and newer players. And of course, that's why Wizards promotes such formats.)

In short, your group has a bunch of options here. Talk amongst yourselves, and use common sense. Whatever the consensus is, should stand. If you find yourself getting into an argument, you're missing the point. Back off.

Broader Thoughts On Formats

While we're on the topic of formats and restrictions, I do want to share some thoughts on how much structure a casual group ought to have.

I often get emails from readers asking me to resolve a "format dispute" among a group. For example, they're doing Type I, but someone's using proxies, and they don't think proxies are allowed, so would I be so kind as to write back and tell this guy to stop using proxies?

No proxy-lover, I. And I always welcome emails like this (or on any topic, other than deck help). But fair warning – those of you who haven't done this yet should be aware I'm likely to respond as I always have: thanks for writing, and I love the dulcet tones of your voice; but why are you asking me? I have no authority over you. You know the personalities involved far better than I do. Get together with your friends, talk it over, and trust your judgment. And by the way, I hate proxies and think you should ban them. Thanks again and take care, Anthony.

So yeah, I do try to sneak an opinion in there, since I gather readers want that and I don't want to disappoint. But I do feel sometimes like casual players don't have enough faith in themselves. On one hand, we like to say how glad we are we don't go to tournaments (or we go to tournaments, but bring our certain free-wheeling spirit to them), and how tournament enthusiasts are humorless "rules lawyers" who don't realize it's just a game, the freaks.

And then on the other hand, we ask how we can follow their rules better.

The balance between structure and freedom is for each group to work out on its own. Structure can breed creativity in moderate amounts – and squelch it in the extreme. Freedom allows creativity in its natural state – but run rampant, freedom encourages too much white noise for creativity to find a true voice. It's like a plant that needs both water and sunlight, but not too much of either. Be the plant, young grasshopper...

Hmm. That plant analogy sucks. All I'm saying is, this column will continue to provide suggestions and guidance, based on what I've heard works in groups around the world. So write away – but be prepared to reject my advice, if it doesn't feel right for you and your friends.

Speaking Of Structured Formats...

Thanks to all who voted in last week's poll. Staff at Wizards are buried in the holiday spirit and I haven't received results yet, so I'll post them in my next new column (in January). For the next couple of weeks, you'll see my favorites from the past year. If you can't bear the thought of repeats (and I know I get a bit annoyed when I can't catch a new Alias), then go outside, play in the snow, get some sunshine on your face. Or go see Return of the King for the tenth time – I've already seen it (advance screening), and it's a ten-times sort of movie. Either way – through nature or Middle-Earth – you will forget lesser artists such as I. Happy holidays.

You may write Anthony at seriousfun@wizards.com. As a holiday present to him, please remember that he does not have the time to do justice to readers' deck help requests.

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