I love casual Magic formats. If you didn’t know that from my writings before, you will definitely know it after this week’s SCG Dailies are all done. There’s just something about being able to play with cards that you wouldn’t normally be able to play with, cards that get pushed aside either because they aren’t good enough for one-on-one duels or because they aren’t legal in all of the same formats.
The casual format that I play the most, of course, is what I call Kitchen Table Magic. Decks have to conform to the sixty-card minimum rule and the Rule of Four. Other than that, though, anything goes. We allow house rules. So, the host can ban certain cards, although that’s almost never done. Our most common house rules are The Virtual Howling Mine (draw an extra card during your draw step) and extra life. The theory behind each of those, as I mentioned yesterday, is that, since you’re defending/attacking on more than one front, the game’s rules should be modified to reflect this.
Some of the people with whom we’ve played over the years don’t like those rules, especially The Virtual Howling Mine. I remember one particularly vocal participant saying "Well, that kinda makes the extra card drawing in my deck useless, doesn’t it?" Actually, no, it doesn’t. Card advantage is card advantage. Any card that you draw more than your opponents is, well, one more card you draw than your opponents. It’s just that simple.
About five years ago, I was introduced to Five-Color Singleton Fatty by Jeff Wiles and his wife Amy. Essentially, it uses the same deck-construction rules as Five-Color Magic but then adds in these requirements: decks must be at least 1,000 cards, all of which must be different (except for basic lands). We relaxed that rule, much to Jeff’s chagrin, to be 250 cards, since some of us didn’t have 250 different cards. Games of 5CSF were just tons and tons of fun. Cards saw the light of day that hadn’t seen play since, well, the last time that I tried to make them work into a From Right Field deck.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve moved away the singleton rule; again, not favored by Judge Wiles. Most people we play with don’t have the depth of cards to be able to make a decent deck of that many cards that were only one-ofs. My friend Charles, about whom you’ve read many times in the past – he of the B/G Mortivore deck for Regionals this year – has taken the opportunity to keep the same Fatty deck together and actually *gasp* refine it. Not surprisingly, his deck is a B/G/r concoction full of mana acceleration and fat-phat-fatties.
It was a pretty good deck, bordering on great, but he had made himself too big of a target. Quick Avatar of Woes and huge Terravores essentially drew a bulls-eye on his forehead. When a 36/36 Trampling Terravore hits, you kill it dead ASAP. Then, you kill the guy behind it because he has more and/or can reanimate it. So, I did what any good friend would do. For Christmas a couple of years ago, I gave Charles a set of four each of Bloodshot Cyclops and Fling. Now, when we target his dudes, the Cyclops has to go first. If Charles gets a Cyclops active, it’s pretty much his game unless someone has a Willbender or some other way to deflect its ability.
Bloodshot Cyclops is also a humorous card for Charles to fall in love with. The creature, as we know from its original flavor text, is also known as "Chuck." Chuck is short for Charles, of course. And Charles abhors being called Chuck.
These aren’t the only casual formats that I play, though. I invented one myself after playing a few games of Mental Magic. Believe it or not, not everyone has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Magic cards. What that means is that a weaker player – say, um, me – can often win against better players in Mental Magic only because I know more of the cards. I didn’t think that was fair. So, I came up with what I call Grab Bag Magic.
Grab Bag Magic starts off exactly the way it sounds like it would start off: with a bunch of random, non-land cards. Just grab a bunch of cards, making sure not to include lands. (This is a great format to play after a draft. Just throw in whatever cards you don’t care about.) There’s no Rule of Four. Any card in Magic, even Un- cards, can be used. Just throw them together, and shuffle the deck.
That’s right, the deck. As in “the one and only” deck. Each player will draw from the same deck and use the same graveyard. A player can play a card as either a basic land that produces that color of mana or, in the case of a multi-colored card, what I call a Grab Bag Basic Dual land. For example, if you have Wirewood Guardian in your opening hand, you can play it as a Forest. While it’s in play, it will always be a Forest. If it gets bounced back to your hand or put into the ‘yard, it will be Wirewood Guardian. A card like Ghostflame Sliver would be both a Swamp and a Mountain, but not a Blood Crypt. In other words, there are no nonbasic lands in Grab Bag Magic. A land may be able to make more than one color of mana, but it’s still basic.
Players can also plays spells – don’t get lost now – just like they’re regular spells! They don’t stand in for anything. They are what they are. Fiery Temper is Fiery Temper. It won’t be a Viashino Sandstalker. It will always be a Fiery Temper. Except when it’s a Mountain, of course.
Cards like Rampant Growth meant that I had to come up with a rule to allow people to search the library for lands, a card type that isn’t actually included in a Grab Bag deck. When a player searches his or her library for a basic land, s/he can get any card that could stand in for that land in Grab Bag Magic. However, that person must play that card as the land. In other words, Farseek won’t let you get Akroma so that you can play an uber-angel. If you use Farseek to get Arkoma, you have to play Akroma as a Plains. If she gets discarded before you play her, bounced back to your hand, or the Akroma-Plains gets blown up, then she’s Akroma the card again.
Another question that I had to answer was: who’s the owner? It didn’t seem very fair to use the normal Magic view of ownership since the pile o’ cards I was normally using belonged solely to me. That would mean that any bounced card went back to me. Not very fair. Moreover, if you used the cards from a store’s common box, what would you do? Hand any bounced cards back to the storeowner? “Um, here, you’re the owner, and this got Repealed…” (Of course, if you’re playing with separate decks – borING! – or you know who owns what, you could stick to the old rule.) So, I came up with this rule: in Grab Bag Magic, the "owner" of a permanent is the person who originally cast the spell or otherwise brought the card into play (in the case of something like reanimation). I did it this way because I didn’t want to equate owner with controller since that would mean that a creature bounced from under, say, Confiscate would go back to the hand of the person with the Confiscate. Not fair, either.
Here’s how you play then. Shuffle some pile of cards making sure there are no lands in it. Figure out who’s going first. Deal each player seven cards, just like regular Magic. Mulligan the same. Play.
There’s not a lot of pre-game planning / strategy that goes into Grab Bag Magic. Almost by definition, if you’ve "built a deck," you’re not playing Grab Bag Magic. Literally, this game started when I reached into a box of soon-to-be-proxied cards and said, "Let’s play." So, if you’ve designed a deck for playing in Grab Bag Magic, stop it.
In-game strategy, now that’s a different story. Something new is always coming up. One of my most recent discoveries was how nasty Sage Owl can be in Grab Bag Magic. Normally, these guys are used to set up your next few draws. Stuff you need at the top, the rest a bit farther back. Sage Owl’s ability can be used offensively in Grab Bag Magic. Just set up the next four cards so that the two that your opponent draws stink while yours are good. It’s a great trick.
The two best things about Grab Bag Magic are that you don’t need to know other cards like you do in Mental Magic, and you can play with literally any pile you find. Waiting between rounds at the local store, or waiting for people to even show for the tourney? Grab a handful of cards from the store’s Big Ol’ Commons box, and play Grab Bag Magic. You and your best friend both lost in the first round of the draft? Throw all of your drafted cards into a pile (minus any Akromas or Shadowmage Infiltrators you may have gotten. Or not. Whatever you want to do.), and play Grab Bag Magic.