Friday night Magic didn’t go well in the Labyrinth… And that might just be the result of the fact that we have the ancient-but-blooming tradition of having Wednesday Night Magic. People weren’t interested in another day in the week where they could draft or do whatever.
But the official Magic distributor in the Netherlands didn’t allow Wednesday Night Magic to become legal. We were only allowed to have it on Fridays and on Thursdays, because most large cities in Holland have their sales night on Thursday… And they were stretching it to allow Thursdays for us, so we should be grateful to them. Exit Friday night Magic; continue the long and rich Wednesday history.
Up until Mercadian Masques, I used to be a good drafter, winning a lot of games. But then those stupid masks entered my boosters and I didn’t know what to pick. Was Deadly Insect good? Of course it was – but was it all right in draft? I still don’t know. What I do know is that I started to look for some other ways of magical time-passing – that is, of something to do besides playing multiplayer, playing casual duels, helping others test, and playing other games than Magic.
Cool other game: Munchkin, the game of deadly dungeon crawling without all that messy role-playing. Each turn, flip a card. When it’s a monster: Fight it. Otherwise, loot the room. Favorite monsters include the Pukeachu, the Potted Plant, the Plutonium Dragon, the Ghoulfiends, the Lame Goblin, the Wight Brothers – and, of course, the level 8 Gazebo. Favorite items include the Sneaky Bastard Sword, the Really Large Rock, and the Cheese Grater of Peace, which is usable by Clerics only.
But of course that was not enough. It wasn’t Magic.
“Then why don’t we play Mind Magic?”
“What’s Mind Magic?”
“It’s just like regular Magic, only that all cards are another card with the same casting cost.”
“I don’t understand.”
It’s time to clarify the rules a bit, since there seem to be an awful lot of variations on this theme. I’m going to explain the way we play it – and we play it almost more than regular Magic, so one could say we’re quite good at it, from which fact originates the probably fine-tuning of our rules.
First of all, the cards with which you play should be a random pile of cards. Just grab something; there are an awful lot of Magic cards about. Look behind the counter of your favorite card store and you will most probably see the piles and piles of unsorted cards, mostly commons and uncommons. Those cards are ideal for our purposes. When playing with two players, both grab a pile of equal height.
Shuffle thoroughly and draw six cards – no, not the regular seven; that’s too good. With the amount of options you get in this game, seven cards in an opening hand are good beyond belief. We’ve also fixed all things that said”draw seven cards” to saying”draw six.” Wheel of Fortune? Both draw six. Pursuit of Knowledge? Draw six. Stroke of Genius for seven? Draw seven. That last one doesn’t instruct to draw seven cards, but to draw x cards. When x is seven, well, it just is seven.
Then the next rule: Somewhere between your upkeep step and your draw step, there is a land step. What does a land step mean? It means that that’s the step where you get your land. For free. Take the top card of your library and put it into play, face down. This card is now known as”land” – a very ancient card that has no basic land types, but can be tapped for all colors of mana and is still considered a basic land for purposes of Price of Progress and Lava Blister. Painless Cities of Brass. Persisting Undiscovered Paradises. Infinite Gemstone Mines. Mox Diamonds in land form. You get one for free each turn, right before your draw step. But you can choose to skip it for tactical reasons – like when you want to play a land from your hand during your main phase.
This is also one of the reasons we start out with less than seven cards. In regular games, you have to get your lands from draws. You have to play them for your hand, which costs cards. This system of”free land” gives plenty of card advantage, so starting with less cards is recommended to help regain the balance.
So what happens? Do we tap twenty-one lands on turn 21 and try a disintegrate for twenty? No, we don’t. As soon as we get up to eight lands, the bounty ceases – the stream of free lands ends there, eight is the limit. So how are you ever going to cast your Urza’s Rage with kicker (ribbit)? Have a Thran Dynamo, a Sol Ring, an Overgrowth or Mirari’s Wake. It goes without saying that having more mana than your opponent is quite good, so even Mind Stone becomes a power card.
Am I to get eight lands, and that’s it? When those eight are in play, and my opponent hurls an Armageddon, am I screwed? Well, you most probably are… But it’s not as bad as you’d think, for as soon as you control fewer than eight lands, the land step kicks back in again. When you have eight lands and one of them gets Stone Rained, you get a free land the next turn – to fill up to eight. This makes a Rath’s Edge quite good, since shooting a land away at end of turn gives you a free new one during the next turn.
Now let’s get back to that first line of explanation: It’s just like regular Magic, only that all cards are another card with the same casting cost.
Let me explain through examples. When I have a Wild Mongrel in my hand, I can play it as anything that I’d like it to be… With the only restriction that it is not a Wild Mongrel and whatever I’m casting has the same casting cost as a Mongrel – in this case, 1G. Each card is every card with the same casting cost, but not itself. A quick list of smart alternative Mongrel choices:
Wall of Blossoms (drawing cards is very good here)
Constant Mists (You’ll get your land back for free)
I hope you’re all getting the gist right now. When you’re starting and you have a Peek in your hand, you can play an Ancestral Recall in your opponent’s upkeep. The only thing that keeps your opponent from responding with an Ancestral in his own main phase, when you are tapped out, is the next rule – which states that every card can only be played once. Not once per person, not once per match, but once per game.
Don’t worry; your opponent will probably have to discard during his next turn, and you can now save your U card for a Disrupt, Force Spike, Blue Elemental Blast, Hydroblast, Thoughtlace, Shadowrift, Sleight of Hand, or Unsummon. The last one is nasty because an unsummoned creature can’t come back as the same thing – his caster has to think of something else.
But when you Unsummon a Northern Paladin, beware of him coming back as a Wrath of God. There’s no rule that says that creatures should remain creatures. Just Time Walk away with that Darting Merfolk – but be careful that it doesn’t get Hydroblasted by your opponent’s Burrowing.
Split cards are good: They give you the options of two casting costs. With a Fire/Ice in your hand, you can play Incinerate or Mana Leak. If that’s nothing else, then it’s still versatility. And remember, when the Red Burn arsenal is thinned because a lot of the spells have already been played, you can always Play that Goblin War Buggy and announce it as Fire. Fire is a legal play. You can kill a Savannah Lions with a Night, or counter a Balance with Spite. Spite is particularly valuable to remember, since no other counterspells exist with that casting cost – except when you think of Deflection as a counterspell.
Next situation: We draw an Abandoned Outpost. Is that good or bad? That depends. It is now all other lands, except the Outpost itself… But I expect that you can come up with something more powerful than that. Library of Alexandria is a good choice – and a fairly obvious one, too. The Rath’s Edge’s boon has already been explained. Maze of Ith could help you sometimes, and Wasteland kills the opposing Yavimaya Hollow. Other frequently-seen lands include Keldon Necropolis, Barbarian Ring and Cabal Pit, but those last two lands generally aren’t seen until late in the game. And do you know why that is? Probably not, because I haven’t told you yet.
Our threshold is very high – seven is for whoopsies! That’s too easy. Real men set their threshold at double seven, which is fourteen.* In this way, threshold is more difficult to achieve, but not that difficult that it is impossible. When every card in your hand is a potential threshold-enabler, fourteen suddenly seems very reasonable. But then a Morningtide resolves, and you suddenly find fourteen to be uncomfortably high… Just like in Limited, where you have the same problems with the regular limit of seven.
But let’s resolve the land rules first: There’s one final point I’d like to address, and that’s when the situation where you already have eight lands in play arises. With eight lands in play, you’re not allowed to get more land, be it a land from the land step or from your hand. So what to do? When you still feel like playing a Volrath’s Stronghold, you will have to destroy or sacrifice one of your own lands. Some players never go up to eight in the first place, seeing seven as the limit and saving that last slot for non basics they might draw. But there’s still a solution when you have eight lands in play – and that’s playing a land that requires the sacrifice of other lands when it comes into play. We think that’s okay.
“Cool – now I can still play my Lake of the Dead!”
Do you think that there are Swamps to sacrifice? There are no Swamps. Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?
“So I will have to stick with the Kjeldoran Outpost?”
Nor are there Plains to sacrifice. There are no basic land types; landwalk is useless and domain spells are worthless, except for Global Ruin, which is just another Armageddon variant.
“But doesn’t Armageddon suck when your opponent gets free land during his next turn?”
Does massive tempo advantage suck?
“If I can’t play those cool Alliances lands, what can I play?”
Lotus Vale is good because it gives you a net bonus of two mana as soon as you’ve gotten up to eight again. Scorched Ruins gives you a colorless net profit of three mana. Glacial Chasm might save your hide for a turn or two. There are enough good lands that can still be played to always consider a land a good draw.
One final land thing: they do not go to the graveyard. They get put back on top of your deck. You are never allowed to look at your lands. They enter play face down, and remain face down.
And please, do avoid situations where you have a Living Plane out and decide to attack with your lands and some creatures, just before you cast Camouflage. That will just get messy.
Flashback to our Conspiracy list from a few days ago.
- Donate a Conspiracy on Gorgons, so that, in combination with threshold and Masked Gorgon, all your white and green creatures gain protection from creatures. Courtesy of some guy named Matt.
So drawing seven is drawing six, land has no type and comes for free until the eighth and behaves like tokens, and we set threshold at fourteen. Are there any other major rules changes?
I can’t think of any, but there are some points that have now become ambiguous, and I’d like to clear those up.
A single spell can only be announced once. When an Ancestral is countered, you don’t get to try it another time – gone is gone. Just because it didn’t resolve doesn’t mean that it wasn’t played. This is quite a simple rule.
The next rule is also quite simple, but seems difficult to explain. I said that each card is all other cards of the same mana cost… But that’s not entirely true. That is only true when you announce the spell. But while the card is in your hand, it is still what it is. To fall back to our original example, where we drew a Wild Mongrel, we will have a Wild Mongrel in our hand. It cannot be discarded with a Duress. It can be discarded with an Ostracize. A Cabal Therapy naming Wild Mongrel is also the end of our Mongrel having.
When we activate Oath of Druids and Wild Mongrel is the top card of our library, we get the Mongrel. We don’t get Grizzly Bears – and not only for tactical reasons. When we Predict a Regeneration, in the same scenario, we will have Foreshadowed it wrong. We should have Predicted Wild Mongrel. Then, when the Mongrel gets milled away, we can reanimate it. This costs us two life and puts it into play as a Wild Mongrel, not as a Willow Fairy.
The rule of thumb: A card is what it is, except when you announce it. Then it is everything else, as long as the mana cost matches.
This prevents Elvish Spirit Guides from making overtime. This prevents Duress from always missing its target. This also keeps madness in check. When you have drawn a Basking Rootwalla, there’s nothing wrong with discarding it and paying its madness; this puts a Basking Rootwalla into play, not a Llanowar Elf or Nimble Mongoose.
What’s also important is that this helps a lot against flashback. When that Firebreathing, that you played as a Mogg Fanatic, hits the graveyard, it will become a Firebreathing again. You can’t flash it back as a Firebolt. Dead Anurid Swarmsnappers made from Silt Crawlers do not rise to become Elephant Call of the Herd tokens. And, perhaps the most important, Morphling does not strike from it’s grave for a final time in the form of a Fervent Denial… Except, of course, in the cases where the Morphling was made from a Fervent Denial in the first place. Then it would be okay.
The reason we made this rule, however, is that otherwise Raise Dead becomes a Regrowth. Death’s Duet becomes a Restock. Urborg Uprising becomes a Restock cantrip. And Gravedigger Regrowths upon entry, as do Treasure Hunter, Auramancer, and all their friends. You could just point at something and say,”This is this and that creature,” and then put it into your hand.
Now you can only bring back real creature cards. This doesn’t mean that you can’t announce your freshly-gravedug Mistfolk as a Mana Drain, but it does limit those cards’ effectiveness. Urborg Uprising is still brutal, however. Draw a card and select two convenient casting costs from your graveyard as long as they are printed on a creature card. That’s better than Ancestral Recall, which could give you some bad casting costs, like Goretusk Firebeast, Builders Bane and Ember Shot, which are, respectively, Bloodshot Cyclops, Meteor Shower, and Trained Orgg.
Note that this does not make Force of Will a bad card. Not only is countering always good, even when it’s at 3UU, but you can also still use the alternative casting cost. There’s a rule that says that you can announce a spell before you pay its mana cost… So pitch spells can be used at will. Thing is, most of them involve controlling a certain basic land, and we don’t have that here. Of course, when you’re desperate you can always cast Phantasmal Terrain. But that would be a waste of Counterspells. Or of Legacy’s Allures.
Did you know that the Stonecutters don’t rig every Easter night, but every Oscar night instead? I sure didn’t.
On the tour of discussing block mechanics: Now starring buyback.
Buyback is perfectly legal, as long as you pay for it. A spell can only be announced once, so the buyback will only result in the not losing that particular casting cost – which is, of course, still good. Do you have a Raka Disciple in your hand? Play a Searing Touch with buyback before you lose the card by playing a Tunnel. Do you have a Suntail Hawk in your hand and are you in need of some life? Play Reaping the Rewards with buyback at the end of your opponent’s turn. The lost land will immediately return during your next land step. Free life at virtually no cost is always good.
Have a Terror in hand? You can cast Disturbed Burial with buyback once. Then make it into a Hypnotic Cloud with kicker. That’s a four-for-one, thank you very much… And all that for only 9BB.
On the tour of discussing block mechanics: Now starring Kicker.
It’s cool to pay for kicker costs, as long as the actual mana cost of the card is the same. Arcane Teachings can become a fearful Thunderscape Battlemage, Unnerving your opponent and destroying his Fervor. Is an opposing Kavu Titan with kicker bothering you? Play your Gloomdrifter as an Agonizing Demise with kicker. Or play The Abyss; you have access to all cards. Is your opponent the kind of person who looks like somebody who might just have made twenty-ish Sacred Mesa Pegasus tokens? And does he use a single D20 to represent them? Go nuts with a Chaos Orb or Falling Star and just hope you still have that aim.
Since both – or all – players have their own libraries, it is all right to use library manipulation like Ransack and Stunted Growth. Some people play with one large stack of cards that everybody draws from. They then forbid cards like Index, because that would be too good. I can understand that reasoning, and I agree with them – that’s why we solved it by giving each player his or her own deck. In between games, we each give one half of our deck to an opponent and then get one back. This is to share the wealth of power cards you might have, while your opponent is stuck with large creatures, which tend to suck in this format.
Now it might be time for some strategy.
Since every card is a treat, hand destruction is a superb strategy. Bog Down with kicker is devastating even more so than regular – for you will get your lands back. Ravenous Rats is a better turn 2 drop than Wild Mongrel, since it will just get Edicted, Lost in Thoughts, Lightning Bolted (discard two? I think not – not in this format), or blocked by Walls of Blossoms, Roots, Diffusion, Essence or Souls.
Walls are not bad in this format. A wall is an answer to a threat; this makes Tunnel (R) and Word of Blasting (1R) into good cards. Even Dwarven Demolition Team (2R) sees more play than, say, Arcane Teachings (2R). Walls can also be destroyed conveniently with an About Face (R), Swords to Plowshare (W), Transmutation (1B) or Dwarven Thaumaturgist (2R). Have you ever before thought about Sluggishness (1R)?
As you can see in the above paragraph, it’s all about the cheap casting costs. Almost all good cards cost four mana or less. More expensive cards leave you with few lands untapped – and since every card is an answer in addition to a threat, this will get the expensive thing you just played neutralized very quickly.
Blurred Mongoose is the best turn two-drop I can think of. It cannot be countered so it enters play for sure. And then it forces your opponent to play a Pyroclasm, Sandstorm, Elvish Lookout, Ravenous Rats or Tremor. Those are some of the few ways an opponent can clear out a Mongoose on his second turn. The Rats is the only answer that might fail, because it can be destroyed before it can deadblock the ‘Goose. But then it has forced a discard, which is good and gains you card advantage.
Untargetable creatures are key: They force global removal or blockers. But blockers can be dealt with, and global removal is few and far between. It also tends to be pretty pricey, so it is countered easily by Disrupt or Miscalculation.
After hundreds of games of Mind Magic, I have concluded that the ideal deck is an aggro control deck: Play a threat and protect it until it finishes the game. This is the best strategy, but in real Magic, this sometimes fails because you draw only treats or only answers. In Mind Magic you draw only answers after you have played a threat. And when the threat does get killed, you have another one right there in your hand.
Mind Magic makes situational cards shine.
Prevent the next one damage that would be dealt to target creature or player.
Draw a card at the beginning of the next turn’s upkeep.
I have yet to see the match where this card doesn’t get played. It just says”save my creature from oblivion, draw a card.” There’s also Bandage, from stronghold, which does the same thing, but draws the card immediately. Heal is also good in response to Balance.
Balance gets played every single game. When an onlooker has missed the start of the game, it is not unusual for him to ask:”Have you been Balanced yet?”
Did you think that (G) is no counterspell? Avoid Fate. Or Lifelace, in response to the oft-used Elemental Blasts. (B) counters black removal by virtue of Deathlace. (U) makes spells vulnerable to Gainsay, thanks to Thoughtlace. Non-white creatures get -1/-1 from Holy Light? That Benevolent Bodyguard in your hand will become Heaven’s Gate, turning any number of creatures white until end of turn.
Flare used to suck. Zap used to suck, too. But now, Flare is a very good card. It kills Lightning Elementals. It also Kills them in real Magic – but in real Magic, when no Lightning Elementals show up, you’re stuck with the Zap. In Mind Magic, when no Elementals show up, you can cast a Suq’ata Lancer (beware Knight of the Mists) or Wheel of Fortune (draw six for all).
I recommend not playing anything on your first turn, except the Ancestral in your opponent’s upkeep. When your opponent goes first, never play anything when he has mana; it will get Disrupted, Shocked, or whatever. There’s nothing worse than being tapped out. When you are tapped out, you will become the target of an Exhaustion, making you remain tapped out for another turn. This gives your opponent two turns to do his liking. Suppose he follows up the Exhaustion with a Skizzik with kicker – that’s ten to the dome, and you can do nothing about it. It’s best to wait until your opponent does something, so he can react less to your reaction. Play like you’re paranoid. The only things you want to tap out for on turn 2 are Blurred Mongoose and Ravenous Rats, both of which give you an advantage.
And remember: no creature shines in Mind Magic as Pyknite does. It is a cantrip creature at a very common castingcost (2G). Pyknite is good. It is a cheap threat that costs nothing. Kavu Climber is also good, but leaves you with less mana open. So take your chances with the green leprechaun from Ice Age.
Stijn van Dongen,
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* – 7 + 7 = 14