Magic is a game that lends itself to variation. When a game asks you to build your own deck with cards that can alter the rules of the game itself, it is not surprising that so many of us are willing to try variations of a basic Magic game. I try to feature variants here, but decks and the games themselves are often so much fun I put discussion of variants off to the side for too long. This variant demanded to be front and center.
Uriah Oxford, Beast Cube stalwart
The Beast is a Cube variant introduced to me by Uriah Oxford, most well known in the Magic community for his Commander Deck Tech videos at GatheringMagic. Uriah emailed me about this wacky version his friend Rob had put together. It involved huge stacks of cards and a level of variance that just didn't make any sense to me. We sent emails back and forth and I started to understand just how the game was set up, and what they had done to keep it different without making every game a dull coin flip. I love adding a chaotic element to my games (Planechase is great and I've featured a Chaos Magic variant before) but I still want there to be skill involved in winning the game. Once I saw the pictures, I was sold.
Each player starts with 30 life and seven cards. Your opening hand consists of three lands from a shared land pile in the middle of the table, and four cards from your stack of cards. Your stack of cards consists of a bunch of cards from the Cube that are selected sight unseen. The Cube is randomized before anyone selects a stack of cards, so the cards you are playing with will likely be a mix of all five colors. The stack of land in the middle of the table is half basic lands and half nonbasic lands. If the lands in your opening hand do not allow access to at least two different colors of mana, you can draw three new lands and discard the old ones.
Play itself is pretty straightforward. Whenever a player is permitted to draw a card, he or she may draw either a land from the pile in the middle or a spell from his or her library. This style is bound to produce wildly different games every time you play. The Beast likes things a little more chaotic than just a shuffled library. At the start of each player's upkeep, he or she reveals a card from the Chaos pile, which is a pile of spells taken from the Cube at random. No one knows what's in that pile, any more than anyone knows what's in their individual libraries. If the player does not use the revealed card by the end of his or her turn, the card is discarded.
We liked the way this style played out, but it still suffered from mana screw too often, so another rule was instituted: allowing a player to draw a particular basic land instead of his or her regular draw for the turn. This way, if you happened to draw a card with heavy colored-mana requirements, you'd still be able to play it.
Emptying a person's library (milling) is not a valid win condition unless the combination allows for infinite milling. While each player uses a stack of cards from the Cube as his or her library, in actuality, the entire Cube is everyone's library. The stack of cards nearest each player is just a way to facilitate drawing cards.
The format is chaotic and leads to crazy board states like the one pictured above, but obviously the chaos is limited by what cards are in the Cube. But what if that wasn't a limitation? What if the next card you drew off your library could be any spell in Magic's history? When you are down to your last draw and only one card in all of Magic could save you, what if you could draw it?
Welcome to The Beast!
The Beast is, in fact, one of every card in Magic. That's more than THIRTY THOUSAND cards! As Uriah described it to me, it includes "just about every card from every set, supplemental product, and promotional card ever printed. If it has an original expansion symbol, it goes in." The Beast is missing about twenty or thirty cards from hard-to-find Portal Three Kingdoms and a few judge foils. Rob Moffitt, owner/creator/curator of The Beast, gets a copy of every card from each new release and adds the cards to the ever-growing Beast.
Owner/Creator/Curator Rob Moffitt
This story starts way back with the original Ravnica block. Rob was playing a group chaos game using a full set of Ravnica block cards as a shared library in the middle of the table. Rob enjoyed the chaotic elements and the idea of a shared library. Not even knowing what was in your own library only added to the chaotic nature of the variant, so it just made sense to add more cards to the shared library. Rob added complete sets of several blocks that he had already collected and things just steamrolled from there.
As Uriah explained, a big part of the fun is The Beast itself:
The thing that most players love about The Beast is seeing old cards that rarely see play. For fans of Magic who have been around a while, playing The Beast is a trip down memory lane. Almost any card can be drawn off your deck and used with any other card to create new combinations all the time.
The Beast can be a bit tricky for newer players. With so many keywords and endless interactions between older cards and newer cards that most players have never seen, the learning curve can be steep. The battlefield, as seen above, can get very complex! It forces players to become better Magic players, since you are seeing those interactions much more often than you would in regular Standard or even Modern games.
Rob, Uriah, and three friends (Chris, Dale, and Dan) played a game recently that showed off the chaos of the format. And there is some serious chaos here!
The early part of any game involving The Beast is all about mana development. You want to be able to cast the cards you draw, so getting access to all five colors is essential. Uriah had curved out nicely, using an early Lotus Vale to give him access to mana in whatever color he might need. He played a third-turn Mirran Crusader using the Lotus Vale. That same Lotus Vale helped put a Troll Ascetic on the battlefield. Dan used a Boomerang he'd drawn off the Chaos deck to bounce the Lotus Vale back to Uriah's hand, leaving his mana base hurting pretty badly. While Lotus Vale really helps fix mana, losing it is a rough blow since you need to sacrifice two lands to get it onto the battlefield in the first place.
As the board positions evolved and creatures started appearing everywhere, Dan opted for a Pyroclasm that wiped out all the creatures in play. Before anyone could start building up again, Rob got in the act, casting a Meekstone. Since it would be difficult to untap bigger creatures with Meekstone on the battlefield, the game slowed and attacking ground to a halt. It was better to have a big creature available to block than getting to attack with it once and watching it sit there tapped for the rest of the game.
This is where the sheer lunacy of playing every card in Magic really started to shine. Chris played a Jade Mage and started making tokens for defense. The Mage and the tokens were small enough that they could untap with the Meekstone on the battlefield, and they started to clutter Chris's side of the board. Dale's board position included a number of small creatures as well, but no one was playing the beater that could really punch through since it wouldn't untap. That's when Dale played Altar Golem. It was a 31/31. With all the smaller creatures Dale controlled, he would be able to attack with the Golem and use them to untap it, getting around the soft Meekstone lock. A 31/31 trampler tends to blow games wide open.
Dale plays ridiculously sized Altar Golems that get tapped down for kicks.
Unfortunately, Dan had a Puppeteer in play and Rob had a Fatestitcher. Those two creatures made sure the Golem would not be attacking, keeping it locked down in spite of its ability. The standoff continued.
Dan had plans to try and break the game open in his favor: he put out a few bigger creatures with evasion and waited for an opening. When he saw his chance, he cast Abrupt Decay on the Meekstone, with the hope of swinging for some big damage. Unfortunately before his next turn, and big attack, Dale cast his own Meekstone!
Chris, Guru of Spores.
Through all of this, Chris was still making Saprolings with the Jade Mage. He had so much mana built up he was making four Saprolings per turn! It's often dangerous to rely on piles of 1/1 token creatures since many players tend to pack ways to deal with plentiful 1/1 creatures. However, when your opponents are hoping to topdeck some way to deal with tens of tokens, those tokens can become a force to be reckoned with.
While Chris's Saproling army multiplied, discussions were beginning around the rest of the board. As often happens in games that seem to be bogging down, offers and counteroffers were being made. Deals were getting hammered down. Rob and Dan agreed not to use their Puppeteer or Fatestitcher if Dale would attack Uriah with what was now a 43/43 Altar Golem. One attack later and the game was down to just four combatants.
The elimination seemed to act like a catalyst. Chris offered to use his sizeable Saproling army to take out Dale and his ridiculous Altar Golem. Once he was gone, there was little to prevent Chris from using the same Saprolings to take out Dan and Rob on the following turns. Death by Saproling swarm!
The Beast and You
The Beast is not for everyone. A high tolerance for chaotic games and an amazing, massive collection (hats off to Rob and his efforts) is required. What The Beast really represents is the joy many groups find in making Magic their own. Whether your group has its own banned list, alternative deck-building rules, or additional elements of chaos, your group has made Magic into something special just for you. I hope all of you enjoy Magic in whatever form you make it.
A special thank you to Uriah Oxford for bringing The Beast to my attention. He provided all the information about The Beast and the pictures as well. Without his efforts, The Beast would be little more than a side note in a different article. Thanks!