Two Is Better Than One

Posted in The Week That Was on August 5, 2005

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.

I am sitting in an airport terminal in Hong Kong waiting for my delayed flight to Taipei, from where I'll bring you the latest APAC tech from this weekend's Grand Prix. I was supposed to have done this column on the flight from JFK to Hong Kong but it would have involved contorting my body in ways that I have long since determined to be impossible in the small space I was afforded.

That delay in writing was frustrating, because I am very excited to bring you the news of a new sanctioned format for Magic: The Gathering that might just appeal to some of the forum dwellers out there who otherwise turn up their collective noses at tournament news.

Two-Headed Giant of ForiysNo, not this Two-Headed Giant…

For those eagle-eyed Gen Con attendees, by now you've noticed an interesting entry in the Magic section of event catalog at the four-day convention: sanctioned Two-Headed Giant events. Despite being around since the dawn of Magic (or at least an early issue of The Duelist), the Two-Headed Giant format is finally being recognized as a sanctionable tournament format.

Way back in the pre-Pro Tour days when I was running $1,000 tournaments and the New Yorker hotel, we had one of our customers come up to us with an alternate format that he had read about in the pages of The Duelist. The format was Two-Headed Giant and it quickly became one of the more popular tournaments on our side event schedule.

Teams would design decks specifically for the format and the tandem that sticks out in my memory featured one head's deck built around finding and casting Eureka as quickly as possible. The deck featured as much tutoring and card drawing it could pack into a sixty-card frame. The other head's deck was nothing but giant monsters – I mean nothing but monsters, not even any land. He just wanted to have as many threats as possible in hand when his teammate screamed Eureka.

Fast forward a decade or so and Two-Headed Giant is once again looming over the tournament scene. Stores and TOs can start running sanctioned Two-Headed Giant events on October 1, 2005. They can start signing up to run them on September 16 (Online sanctioning begins September 26).

Players eager to find out if two heads are indeed better than one don't have to wait until October, though. Gen Con has several scheduled events, the headliner of the weekend being a Friday tournament with $5,000 in BestBuy gift certificates. The winning team will take down a $750 gift certificate for each head and prizes will go down to 12th place.

The format for all the Gen Con events will be Standard format using the new "unified deck construction." That means you treat the two decks as one for the purposes of the four-copies-of-a-card limit. The easiest way to think of it is if you stacked the two decks on top of each other, it would need to be a tournament legal deck.

The biggest development that I can see is the way turns are handled. Two-Headed Giant has always been a regionalized format with many different ways to play it. The turn order has always been a source of debate. In my area, the play would alternate back and forth between the individual players on opposite teams. The turn order would go across the table, diagonally back, then across, and then back to player one on the diagonal. I won't lie to you, turns may have been taken out of order.

Under the new rules each team takes a turn with both players on a team – designated as primary and secondary ¬– drawing their cards, laying lands, and making plays on the same turn. It is the same turn order as a regular game of Magic, just with more heads.

You may be asking, why Two-Headed Giant and why now? Well, I went straight to the source for all things DCI-related to get the story.

“Two-Headed Giant sanctioning and support was long overdue, but as it often happens, it took some sort of perverse reverse engineering process to figure out that this was the case,” explained Organized Play Senior Program Manager Ilja Rotelli. “I was at the Tournament Organizers Conference in Las Vegas back in 2004, tinkering with a well-known problem that our TOs had rightfully brought up: the Team Format doesn't work.

"Two-Headed Giant sanctioning and support was long overdue, but as it often happens, it took some sort of perverse reverse engineering process to figure out that this was the case."
– Ilja Rotelli

“Team Limited was great for high-level competition, it was skill-intensive and fun, but evidence suggested that the base of Magic players just did not pick it up. The number of tournaments per year, compared to the individual formats, was abysmal. On the spot, I was tasked by my boss to find a solution for the problem, and I was trying my best. The simple concept that it's way easier for two people to get together to play than three came soon. But it wasn't as easy as just changing the team format to two players team, just because you cannot break ties within the time restraint of a tournament, and every other tie-breaking mechanic we came up with seemed awkward or just unfair. Later at the office, I learned that R&D had this long-term project up of streamlining the Magic card texts so that they would be fit to be played in multiplayer Magic.”

Like many tournament veterans, Ilja looked back to his first tournament experiences for his inspiration – and recalled the early success of Two-Headed Giant.

“That made me think of the early days of Magic, my first tournament, before the DCI even existed: Two-Headed Giant. While people practiced Magic one on one, for whatever reasons everyone back then felt that the right format for tournament play was Two-Headed Giant.


Comprehensive rules for Two-Headed Giant can be found at

Complete Floor rules for Two-Headed Giant (including FAQ) can be found at

“Some more research let us figure out that Two-Headed Giant has survived on its own all these years, played around the globe by people with all sorts of good reasons to do so: because it's fun, because you can play with your girlfriend, because you can always blame your teammate, because it brings more variety to the game; because you have more than one friend and more than one enemy."

There are no immediate plans to do away with three-person teams for higher level play in favor of the new/old format, but Rotelli didn't completely close the door on that idea either.

“At any rate, we felt that Two-Headed Giant could be the format that would be welcomed by the player base, and decided to start to build from the ground up. We would give to the players a format we know they love, and see what they did with it. A Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour? Not in the plans, but you know what? We'll let the player base decide.”

Irish Nationals

The Nationals caravan rolled into Ireland last weekend. Three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor John Larkin showed up to try his hand at getting back onto the Irish National team. John was last seen in the Top 8 of Pro Tour-Houston and made a valiant effort to reach the Top 8 but fell one match short in the final round when he squared off against one of Ireland's top players, Stewart Shinkens.

Shinkins went on to make the National team along with Dave Coghlan and 2005 Irish National Champion Darragh Long. Congratulations to all three of you and good luck in Yokohama.

Darragh Long - Ponza

Download Arena Decklist

Dave Coghlan - Tooth and Nail

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Stewart Shinkins - Rats!

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Alan Meaney - Tooth and Nail

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Edward Hooten - Ponza

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Michael Higgins - Rats!

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Cormac Smyth - Proteus Control

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Dara Butler - Beacon Green

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The Final Spot

Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame

The Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame is ready to welcome in Jon Finkel, Darwin Kastle, Tommi Hovi and Alan Comer as the inaugural class, but there's one seat left unfilled. That fifth spot goes to the winner of the Players Committee vote, which started this week. Every player with 100 or more lifetime Pro Points was emailed a ballot, with the final results to be announced September 9.

If you have 100 or more Pro Points and haven't received your ballot yet, visit the Hall of Fame page and follow directions for getting a replacement ballot.

Firestarter: Two-Headed Thoughts?

So, what do you think about the Two-Headed Giant announcement? Is this something you are more or less likely to participate in than three-person teams? Is this something you are more or less likely to participate in than other sanctioned formats in general?

Click on the “Discuss” button and discuss away in the forums!

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