Five Formats in the New Year

Posted in The Week That Was on January 8, 2016

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

Two-Headed Giant | Booster Draft | Modern
Standard | Canadian Highlander | Player of the Month

The sweet sound of Oath of the Gatewatch packs getting cracked will make its way around the globe next weekend, but sadly (sort of), I will not get to bask in the crackle. I will be celebrating my parents' anniversary with friends and family, and barring a very well-timed window on Sunday I will have to wait until Launch Weekend to play with the new cards. It is going to be tough to wait it out, and I may need to stay off social media—and all its shiny pictures of new cards in action—for a few days to minimize the sadness of missing out on Prerelease action.

I have missed Prereleases before, and while it is never easy, it is never quite as bad as it seems. After all, you get another chance to play the very next weekend with the release of the new cards. There is also something about that delayed gratification that makes me think even more about the new cards and all the different formats I plan to play them in over the coming months.

Two-Headed Giant

Back in the early days of Magic, I used to run tournaments in New York City. In addition to main events, we had a large schedule of side events. This was back before anyone had heard the words "booster" and "draft" pronounced right next to each other, and Vintage Two-Headed Giant was a popular option after we read about the format in the pages of The Duelist. Players would come with decks built specially for the format, and I remember one pair in particular that featured one head with a deck dedicated to finding and casting Eureka as soon as possible, while the other head played a deck that had nothing but giant fatties and Concordant Crossroads to make sure they all had haste.

Two-Headed Giant remained a staple throughout the tournaments I ran, although the Eureka deck drove most of its adherents into the realm of 40-card decks. We would always feature at least one flight of a Prerelease weekend as a Two-Headed Giant tournament. I am excited about the surge mechanic and the opportunity to play it in a multiplayer format. Crush of Tentacles feels like it is about as fair in Limited as that Eureka deck was in Constructed—especially when you have a teammate to all but ensure you can play the card for its alternate casting cost. I wonder if Jacob Van Lunen wants to play with me at the Release tournament....

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Booster Draft

I am always excited to draft the new cards, but especially so with Oath of the Gatewatch, since we will be drafting two packs of the small set first and then one pack of Battle for Zendikar. Often with a small set you don't get to really explore the mechanics of the set because you see so few of the cards in just one pack of drafting. It can feel like a little bit of a waste. Speaking of Wastes...

Mirrodin flashback drafts have been taking place on Magic Online all week, and I regularly pick artifact lands early and often regardless of color because of affinity cards. Similarly, Wastes are the big question mark to me in this new Draft format. How highly do you need to draft them? Will they still be there in the middle of the pack? Do you take them before you have cards that demand your deck have the ability to produce colorless mana? I expect that I will have a nice collection of these before the weekend is over. I also expect that by the time the pros are done drafting this format at Grand Prix Mexico City and Vancouver—and at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch the following weekend—we will know exactly how urgently we need to be picking up the first new basic land type in more than two decades of Magic.

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Draft is just one part of the Pro Tour equation. Each day features three Draft rounds followed by five rounds of Modern, a format that is not always the most generous showcase for newly released cards. Let's be honest; Modern is a huge format with tremendous resistance to change. That's part of what makes it such an appealing format to play. You get to build your deck and curate it with each card release. One card we may well see getting a chance to shine in Modern on the game's biggest stage is the card I had a chance to preview last week.

This card could very well be a nice little tool for Modern Jund decks, as it checks off a lot of boxes on the deck's to-do list. It provides a nice little burst on turn one where it can find you a land, Tarmogoyf, or Liliana of the Veil depending on what your hand needs. It makes casting Liliana on turn three all but guaranteed thanks to the second ability of the card. Because it is legendary, you can play a second one, still get to dig for a card, and put an enchantment in your graveyard to make your Tarmogoyf bigger.

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Ever since Eldrazi Displacer was revealed on Reddit, there has been a crackle around the infinite possibilities for this card in Standard. With a Brood Monitor, and the three colorless mana it can make when it enters the battlefield thanks to three Scions, you can create an infinite loop where you continually "blink" the Monitor by sacrificing the three tokens to pay for the Displacer's ability. That may seem like spinning your wheels, since you don't advance your board position in that equation—but if you add a Zulaport Cutthroat or Impact Tremors into that loop, you don't need to repeat it many times to kill your opponent.

Is a three-card combo viable in Standard? I am sure we will know the answer by the time we get to Grand Prix Houston at the end of February.

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Canadian Highlander

I have been having a lot of fun online playing Canadian Highlander, a Vintage format with a unique twist on deck building. It features its own banned list and has a point list for some of the more ubiquitous pieces of power and combo pieces available to deck builders. You only get to use ten points in your deck, so you can't just jam all the Moxen in your deck with an Ancestral Recall and a Time Walk and a Demonic Tutor to find the card you want. You can find the details of the format here and can often find me hanging out in #CanHighlander on Magic Online looking for a game.

My deck of choice online is Enchantress. It is optimized to find and play an Argothian Enchantress (or any of her less powerful sisters) and "go off" with enchantments. It can lock the game down with Solitary Confinement, bounce an opponent out with Words of Wind, or build an insurmountable air force with Sigil of the Empty Throne. Any enchantment that draws a card on its own is always a welcome addition to my 100 cards, and both the aforementioned Oath of Nissa and its blue counterpart will be immediate inclusions as soon as I get my virtual hands on these cards online.

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December Player of the Month: Marco Cammilluzzi

Top: Marco Cammilluzzi, Andrea Mengucci; Bottom: Francesco Bifero, William Pizzi

Congratulations once again to Italian National Champion—and now World Magic Cup Champion—Marco Cammilluzzi. The Pro Tour Top 8 competitor led his team of Andrea Mengucci, Francesco Bifero, and William Pizzi past the teams of more than 70 other Magic-playing nations to make Italy only the twelfth country to win a title in World team competition and the fourth country to hoist the World Magic Cup.

Cammilluzzi and Mengucci are Pro Tour stalwarts, but they will be joined in Atlanta by the two-headed giant of Bifero and Pizzi—so called because the duo alternated playing throughout the rounds of the WMC but one was never playing without the other by his side. It will be exciting to watch the freshly crowned champions try to build on their success.

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