Unlimited Limited

Posted in Serious Fun on August 19, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

Reader response to the article two weeks ago on limited formats was very strong and positive. In addition, I got many emails from readers who wanted to point out additional formats for consideration. I don’t often do follow-ups based on reader feedback – it feels too much like making you all write my columns for me! – but in this case, I think I’d be doing other readers a disservice by not passing a few of these on.

Conspiracy Re-Check

As time heals all wounds, I have forgiven Wizards for their foil Rukh Egg oversight (see that first column on limited formats). Therefore, I am now once again actively cooperating in their corporate interests to get you to buy more product.

It is impossible for you to enjoy any of these formats with packs you already have. You must buy more. You want to buy more. More, I say! Satisfy your consumerist desires! Pay no regard to budget or common sense or…

Okay, seriously, live within your means and use your head. I just wanted to express appreciation to all those who commiserated with me over the Case of the Missing Foil Rukh Egg. The phenomenon was clearly widespread, and I suspect Wizards staff took note of what they saw and heard from around the world. Let’s all move on.

- AA

So let’s add a few to the list, shall we? Here are more reasons not to bust your Scourge, Eighth Edition, or Mirrodin packs open right away…

LIMITED FORMAT #6: MINI-MASTER. This goes by many names, but “mini-master” was the most common, so I’ll use that. By far, this was the most popular among readers who wrote to me.

How It Works: Each player starts with a pack – but you don’t draft them. In fact, you don’t even look at the cards. Instead, you shuffle in two or three of each basic land (I’d do three, so you have a chance of casting the pit fighter legends like Rorix Bladewing) and go, with no cards in hand to start.

Winner might win the packs, or whatever – but the basic idea here is to give yourselves a free mana base and not know what’s coming up.

Pros: You can play with as few as two players, and two packs. In fact, it’s way more geared toward dueling than large ten-player chaos formats.

Cons: Like Pack Wars from last time, this is an addictive sort of format. Since part of the fun is not knowing what’s coming, you would only play a given “deck” about 2-3 times before you’ll probably want to bust open another couple of packs. Be careful – they disappear fast!

Tips for Casual Groups: While I’ve never done the “pure mini-master,” I’ve actually played a non-pack variant of this. Many local stores have a ten-cent common bin. At ours, the owner doesn’t care if you grab a bunch of them and play, so while waiting for events to start, we might each grab 50+ cards out of the pile without looking and just shuffle them up. We don’t add lands, but you could – the similarity with mini-master is in experiencing the unknown!

Of course, we put the cards back in the bin when we’re done. (Believe me, you wouldn’t want to get charged $5.00 or more for leaving the store with these “decks”!)

LIMITED FORMAT #7: SOLOMON DRAFT. Reader John Ryan reminded me of this excellent format, which Mark Rosewater has used among the pros at the Magic Invitational. It requires intense strategic thinking, and I’m dying to try it. Since I haven’t yet, I had forgotten to include it last time…

How It Works: It's a two-player format. Each player starts with three unopened packs of cards (e.g., Scourge, Legions, and Onslaught, just like a regular draft). Player A opens his pack and divides it into two piles, as equal or unequal as he likes. Player B selects the pile she wants – so it's not unlike resolving a Fact or Fiction or other Invasion divvy card! Then Player B opens her pack and makes piles for Player A to choose between. Repeat back and forth until all six packs are done. From there, each player builds a typical "limited" deck (40 card minimum, including lands). There is a more complicated version wherein both players open their packs and shuffle all 90 cards together without looking, and then lay the cards out nine or ten at a time, alternating between who splits and who chooses. It's easier to split nine cards than 15.

Pros: The strategic thinking is probably highest here, of all formats I've run through. What happens when you open a pack with Visara the Dreadful and 14 other cards? How would you split it? How would you choose, if the piles offered were Visara and 14 other cards? What would that mean for the next pack with a bomb?

Cons: I haven't experienced this format enough to come up with problems yet. I've always admired it from afar. Playing in duel format may wear thin for some groups; but if you're playing a limited format anyway, I can't see how this would bother you more than any other limited format.

Tips for Casual Groups: I don't think there's a multiplayer version of this format – at least not an easy one. The "one splits, one chooses" idea is ideal for duels, so do it the right way before attempting tweaks.

LIMITED FORMAT #8: ROTISSERIE DRAFT. While we’re talking about formats that Wizards has used at the Magic Invitational, I should point out another one that I’ve never played but think would be a great deal of fun.

How It Works: This is a Rochester Draft for an entire set at once – all 100+ (or 300+) cards lying face-up on the table at once! At the Magic Invitational, it’s done with the large expansion.

Pros: How often do you get to look at a full set? And if your group works together, you should be able to get close to a full set. (Don’t kill yourselves for those last dozen rares – I imagine you’ll get the flavor just fine!)

Cons: Expensive for one person to sponsor. If you do pool your resources, you’d have to remember who owns what card, so everyone can get their stuff back at the end. (Use sleeves, and drop your initials on scraps of paper inside the sleeves. Naturally, you’re only doing this among friends you trust, right?) Also, because each card is chosen from hundreds of options, this can be slow going.

Tips for Casual Groups: I can only imagine what sorts of strategies you’d have to pursue. This appears to be an excellent chance at a raw analysis of card power. As with any Rochester (i.e. face-up draft) format, I’d make sure to give each drafter three “lifelines” to use so that you can solicit advice from each other.

If anyone tries and does this, let me know how it goes! [Actually, MTG.com web developer Doug Beyer did a Rotisserie Draft of a Portuguese Tempest set when he was on vacation last year. He chose Living Death third overall and went on to run the table. –Aaron]

LIMITED FORMAT #9: PACK RECONSTRUCTION. Let’s finish with a format that several readers (and Internet writers through time, including our own Ben Bleiweiss here) have promoted. You don’t have to buy anything new – you just have to invest a little time.

How It Works: Many players have large boxes full of commons they almost never use. Take between 200 and 1,000 of such cards and make 15-card random "packs" of them. (Use rubber bands or something solid to divide them as you go – otherwise a single stray dog's paw or toddler's fist can ruin a whole night's work!) It doesn't matter if you mix expansions, but you should try to be sure each pack has at least two cards of each color.

Use the packs to start up any booster-based format you like – though the effects will probably random enough in a basic booster draft!

Pros: It costs absolutely nothing. And you can just shuffle everything together at the end of the night and create new packs when you have the time.

Cons: You will appreciate the work that Wizards puts into its sets now, to create balanced limited formats. Every step from overall set design to setting print runs, I guarantee you they're doing better than you just did. And it'll show! But it will still be a great deal of fun.

Tips for Casual Groups: Make enough, and/or share the workload, so that one player does not have detailed memory of every pack. This is a great opportunity for a group to pool a bunch of cards they don't care too much about. If you get sick of the format after a few tries, you can use part of the pool to develop a newer player's collection.

As I said the first time around, there are as many interesting and strange limited formats as there are constructed. Just last week, our play group experimented with a "triple draft" (regular booster draft, except you open all three packs at once and pick three cards at a time... not bad, but a bit bomb-heavy and no real signals possible). You should come up with your own silliness, and implement it. I'm probably done writing on this topic for a while; but I'm always open to hearing from readers on new things they've tried!

Until then... keep those booster packs closed.

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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