Chatter of the Squirrel — Type Four

Read Zac Hill every Wednesday... at StarCityGames.com!
For those of you unlucky enough to have experienced the wonderment of Magic’s best format, it’s basically the most enjoyable vehicle for card-slinging ever conceived. The rules are simple. Infinite mana of each color. One spell per turn. One additional spell a turn with an alternate cost. One land. You start with an opening hand of four cards, and a carefully-crafted deck of the most powerful cards in Magic. Awesomeness ensues.

I really don’t understand my fascination with lolcats. Objectively there is no way they can really be that funny. “Wow, it’s a feline with poor grammar and syntax. Aww how cute. Heh Heh.” That’s got to get old. Yet for the last two weeks I’ve been obsessively hounding the web for the latest “I’m in ur ____________ stealin’ ur ____________” jokes and laughing hysterically each and every time. I’ve started something of a Rhodes cult following. Icanhascheezburger.com receives more hits from me than Facebook – a feat in and of itself, media-network-darling that I am – and I’ve found myself plotting photo opportunities with every stray in sight.

I wish I could say that was what I was doing last week instead of writing my article, but the truth is that I was writing a short story for English class that consumed my entire week. I’m obsessive when it comes to ostensibly “artistic” content, you see, and I wasn’t about to break my concentration at the risk of an inferior grade. Several fiction contest deadlines looming on the horizon also might have prodded me along a bit. It’s cool, though, because I had my boy Ervin lined up to sub for me, and he was going to be penning the Great American Novel Limited Primer To End All Primers. We worked it out, it was gravy, but lo and behold I checked out StarCityGames.com last Tuesday night to find no semblance of his beautiful widdle mug gracing our front page. Turns out he was moving into his apartment that night, enjoyed himself thoroughly (without consuming any alcoholic beverages, because StarCityGames.com is of course vehemently opposed to underage drinking, especially from its staff), and stone forgot about the deadline. I was left without an excuse, and simply had to leave all my desperate (aww!) content-starved readers out there in the dark. Sorry, guys. I am sure people lost sleep and tore sackcloth.

It seems that every other author across the Magic universe is bemoaning the lack of things to do and formats to play. I, fortunately, don’t have this problem, because every Saturday morning Jack has people over for beer, Dragon Warrior, and Type Four.

For those of you unlucky enough to have experienced the wonderment of Magic’s best format – and here cue the namedrop of its inventor Stephen Menendian – it’s basically the most enjoyable vehicle for card-slinging ever conceived. The rules are simple. You have infinite mana of each color in your mana pool at all times, and this specific variety of mana does not cause you to burn. You can play one spell per turn, one additional spell a turn with an alternate cost, and one land. You start with an opening hand of four cards and a carefully-crafted deck of the most powerful cards in Magic. Awesomeness ensues.

Enough people play this format that I wanted to pen a “strategy guide,” of sorts. This’ll aid you not only in standard gameplay, but also in what’s possibly the only activity more engaging than playing Type Four: drafting Type Four. I’m convinced Type Four draft is one of the most fun and skill-intensive forms of Magic there is, and I’d love if they made it a part of the Invitational (wink wink).

So, let’s pose the question: whaddya need to do to be better at Type Four?

Glad you asked.

The first question you have to tackle is whether or not you’re playing a duel or a multiplayer game. Even with just three players, the dynamic changes entirely. In a duel your goal is to do the most powerful things possible, while in multiplayer you want to actively try not to be doing anything powerful (or at least threatening) but be capable of stopping someone else who is. The reason is that the second you drop a turn 1 Tower of Fortunes or Planar Portal, everyone at the table is going to want (and more importantly, need) to kill you before you do something ridiculous. To longtime multiplayer enthusiasts, I am sure this concept needs no introduction. To my ignorant, tournament-drenched ass, though, this discovery was a revolution.

Obviously, then, this article will be divided into the duel section and the multiplayer section.


I said earlier you want to be doing the most powerful things possible. But what equates to powerful?

I don’t play all that many games, but of the ones I have experience with it tends to be very constructive to try and break the rules. In this case, the rules are: one spell a turn, one acc-spell a turn (Flashback, specifically, falls into this category), one land a turn, infinite mana, and one card a turn. Anything that jumps these hurdles is probably a very good thing.

It should be readily apparent, then, that instants are the stone absolute unreal go you’re your momma and tell her to get the station wagon nuts. Counterspells, specifically, are booten slimers because there’s basically no chance of having the counter-ee counter your spell back; he’s already cast his one spell! Furthermore, the tempo swing that generates is even more relevant in Type 4 than it is in “normal” Magic, because from the first turn there can potentially be massive 8/8 critters on the table. Even non-counterspells, though, are insanely high picks in draft. Inspiration and Think Twice, if not bombs, are obscenely good. “Remove target attacking creature from the game” effects create huge swings. Even bounce almost functions as removal because you’re effectively Time Walking the opponent; the creature he re-casts takes the place of the other card in his hand that turn he would have cast otherwise. It’s not like he can (usually) just drop them both.

It should follow quite obviously from that principle that Morphs and Flashback spells, as well as anything else with an alternate casting cost (like a Bringer), are also ridiculous. They’re better in some ways in the sense that they’re usually threats in and of themselves, so barring mass removal your opponent is probably only going to be able to deal with one of them, and you’ll get a hit in. Even if you don’t, you “cancel out” the negative effects of his instant-speed removal because all of the sudden he has not gained tempo on you; he has only maintained it. The downside of an ACC spell designed to be cast on the main phase is exactly what I just mentioned, though: if they do have the mass removal spell, or a spell capable of handling both threats, you’re down a card. Cards, in this format, are quite difficult to recoup.

Lands are basically bonkers because they are very hard to kill, they don’t cost you a spell, and you can use them over and over again. Even more devastating, though, are the rare spells (usually artifacts) that allow you to do a whole lot of things in one turn, or something moderately powerful each and every turn. Because mana isn’t an issue, activating a Citanul Flute or Planar Portal or Tower of Fortunes or Altar of Shadows doesn’t cost you a turn like it normally would, and your opponent has to maneuver all kinds of resources toward dealing with that particular card while fighting the remainder of your “fair” game at the same time. Some spells, like Vedalken Orrery or Fist of Suns, explicitly break the rules of the game in your favor. My favorites, though, are spells like Root Elemental or Myojin of Life’s Reach, which can flat-out straight-up kill the opponent out of absolutely nowhere. If I get a Myojin early, for example, all of the sudden dumb fat becomes a lot better; I might just win if I draw Myojin and two other creatures. Equipment and creatures that carry repeatable effects, too, are good for reasons that should be very clear. Nice Black Invoker, nice Azorius Guildmage, nice Masticore, nice Skullclamp, etc.

You may notice that I haven’t mentioned plenty of cards that “just win you the game,” like Blaze or Flamewave Invoker or Stroke of Genius or even Selesnya Guildmage. That’s because a good Type 4 stack should contain zero cards that literally do flat-out win the game by themselves. Everything should be powerful enough to make it fun, but not so powerful as to lead to infinite random wins.

So how do you go about extrapolating strategy from this?

Well, for one thing, it’s usually good to draw first. This is because chances are most threats can be met by equally-relevant threats, and so you might as well be up a card unless someone’s packing haste.dec. Along those same lines, you don’t want your first play of the game to be some donkish guy. As impressive as turn 1 Enormous Baloth sounds (“Wow, he’s enormous!”), it’s probably just going to die. In fact, generally everything you do is going to get taken care of on your opponent’s main phase – these are the most powerful cards in Magic, remember – so you either want to do something relevant before then or stop him from doing that thing at all.

Here’s a sample decklist of mine from a few weeks ago. We created three packs each of fifteen cards, and then thirty-five-card-minimum duel decks.

Root Elemental
Myojin of Life’s Reach
Winding Canyons
Thicket Elemental
Autochthon Wurm
Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Rorix Bladewing
Avatar of Might
Altar of Shadows
Wrecking Ball
Fact or Fiction
Symbiotic Wurm
Riptide Shapeshifter
Voidmage Apprentice
Aladdin’s Ring
Bringer of the White Dawn
Elkin Bottle
Death Denied
Plated Slagwurm
Decree of Pain
Bloodfire Colossus
Lay Waste
Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion
Kirtar’s Wrath
Solar Tide
Desert Twister
Stalking Vengeance

I am sure that just staring at those cards is mostly meaningless, but I hope you can get an idea of where the deck is headed. I wanted to capitalize the most on my Winding Canyons, Root Elemental, and Myojin, so I drafted more dumb Green creatures than I typically want to associate myself with. There are so many potential blowout first turns that I can hardly begin to count them. Moreover, even if they show me the Wrath, I have both Colossus and Inferno to finish the game off if I have the slightest of leads. Inferno’s no Urza’s Rage, but it’s one of my favorite semi-sleeper cards in the format.

This deck isn’t perfect, but it does a lot of things well. There’s the potential for a ton of blowout turns, yet there are enough reusable effects to where you aren’t just out of the game after the initial assault. There are legitimate bombs in Hypnox, Opportunity, and Myojin, and there’s always the cute White Bringer plus Mindslaver combo. Even with a moderate hand – since you can’t mulligan – there are ways out of bad situations, with two counterspells and four Wraths. I was not, in short, very unhappy with this pool of cards.

I 3-0’d our draft, if that means anything.


In a duel, you want threats. In multiplayer, you want answers. The second you start doing anything threatening, you’re out of the fray for good. What this means is that you want to try and accumulate gradual advantage, all the while not dying, and in many cases actually encouraging other players to attack someone else besides you.

If you’re drafting, you’re trying to pick up cards like Maze of Ith, Prahv, Forcefield, Story Circle, and Panacea. Cards like Altar of Shadows and Amber Prison work well for this, too, because the threat of their activation (your retribution) often encourages your opponents to look elsewhere. You’re going to have to draft some ways to win the game, of course – and here single-card threats like Akroma or Sengir Nosferatu often do the job, because you only need to take on one individual – but those shouldn’t be your priority. Once you’re in the game, if somebody causes you to have to fight, when possible try and take out the little guy. Don’t anger the boys who have Dragons, because they’ll gang up on you. Instead, make them thank you for keeping one of their guys alive, and encourage them to shoot up on one another.

If you’re not drafting, though, the strategy becomes more difficult. What if you don’t have defensive cards? In these cases, I try to go after the guy at the table who’s the most obvious threat. In fact, if he’s casting something broken, be the one who volunteers to counterspell it. That way, you can get people on your side. Once you’ve eliminated him, though, quickly step back. Look innocuous. Don’t be the next to play out the Temporal Aperture, or whatever; instead, play defense. Actively do nothing. Now, if everybody else has blockers, you’re going to need to muster something, but even a timely Mortify on an important creature with a full grip can say, “Careful, there’s more where that came from.” Don’t be England; whenever there’s a conflict, ally yourself with the stronger guy and eliminate the other quickly. [Hmmm… – Craig.] Ideally, you’re going to contribute enough resources to deal with a key threat, but not enough to put you in a weakened position.

Incidentally, it’s important to understand that one-for-ones are garbage in Multiplayer Type Four, and become worse the greater number of people who are in the game. This is because you’re effectively zero-for-one’ing yourself relative to the table as a whole. Therefore, don’t put yourself in situations where you have to fight, or have to be the first to act. If it’s not going to kill you (or put you in a position where you can be killed) let it through. The risk of that turning to haunt you specifically is typically less than the probability of your losing in one fell swoop because you’re suddenly out of relevant resources.

Type 4 is incredibly fun, and I hope that more people start to play it. If you want advice about what cards constitute a good stack, don’t hesitate to let me know. Conversely, I’d love to hear advice and stories from the veterans. Are there any interesting variations out there that I’ve never heard of? Enlighten me. I have to have something to do on a Saturday morning, after all.

Until next week,