Sullivan Library: The Fun-Zees

Magic is fun. For most of us, fun is what got us into the game, no matter where we may have gone from there. There are a lot of old-school pros that have dropped the game over the years. They had lost the joy of the game, and had started looking at their Expected Values on Pro-Tour preparation and the return for time spent on playtesting, and they moved over to poker where they could expect it to be “worth” it. One funny thing, though. Magic is fun, even if they stopped having so much fun with it. These old pros keep showing up again and again, not treating it like a job, but instead just realizing and remembering what a good time it can be.

Magic is fun. For most of us, fun is what got us into the game, no matter where we may have gone from there. There are a lot of old-school pros that have dropped the game over the years. They had lost the joy of the game, and had started looking at their Expected Values on Pro-Tour preparation and the return for time spent on playtesting, and they moved over to poker where they could expect it to be “worth” it. One funny thing, though. Magic is fun, even if they stopped having so much fun with it. These old pros keep showing up again and again, not treating it like a job, but instead just realizing and remembering what a good time it can be.

When we look at our pastimes, whatever they give us, fun should be at least some small part of it. I know that what I view as fun, what Pete Jahn views as fun, what Steven Menendian views as fun, what Chris Richter or Sheldon Menery view as fun… well, these are all probably quite different, just like it is probably different for you. And that’s just in Magic. Heck, most Sundays the past few years, you can find me in a park, playing kickball and grilling out. Now, that’s fun.

So here’s to fun.

DC-10 (Infinite Mana)

DC-10 is a format that was purportedly invented by Dave Williams while flying to some event or other.

Get a stack of cards that are laying around after a draft, or just simply mostly unsorted. Real DC-10 die-hards can actually put together a set of cards that they think make for fun DC-10 games. Any number of players can play this Magic variant. The rules are pretty simple: you have infinite lands of every variety, you start with no hand, and you can discard and redraw for any card that is obviously completely meaningless. Power Sink and Stone Rain clearly have no real meaning in an infinite land format, but cards that are simply crappy (like One with Nothing) are just that: simply crappy. You’ll have to play with them. Most games start with someone calling out “Shotgun” to have dibs on playing first, though sometimes more civilized groups let the loser go first.

Games go incredibly quickly, and you’ll find that some formats of DC-10 are incredibly fun (Invasion Block was a real blast), while others are a little less so, but overall it is just plain fun. As you play with cards, you might find yourself wanting to ban certain kinds of cards from being played — cards like Fireball aren’t that fun — but sometimes these really broken things can be part of the fun.

One of my favorite variants to this format is to create “War”-like measure of victory rather than simply counting games. Play with a small stack of cards as a shared library, and whenever a player wins that game (of “War”), set aside all of the cards of that game with the winner as their “spoils”. When the communal pot of cards has been exhausted, then players can begin to use their “spoils” as their new deck. At any time, a player can concede a clearly losing game to avoid giving the victor more “spoils”, but the cards in a game include every card, including cards in hand. You can’t get decked in this format. Once you’ve exhausted your “spoils”, shuffle anything you have left back into a new library.

Online Classic Vanguard (The Magic Invitational)

So, I was chosen as one of the “geniuses” for this year’s Auction of the __________. The format was one I’d never really played before, Online Classic Vanguard. I don’t know if I’ve ever played with Vanguard before, and it wasn’t ever really my thing, but it sure was fun to actually go through all of the current Vanguard cards and figure out what I would like to build. I had to be quick if I wanted to get the best Avatar.

For those who aren’t familiar with how Vanguard works, essentially you have an Avatar that alters your beginning game stats and gives you a special power. Some of the Avatars are really insanely powerful. Take Akroma, Angel of Wrath — an extra +1 hand size, +7 life, and whenever a creature comes into play under your control, it gains two of the following abilities at random: flying, first strike, trample, haste, protection from Black, protection from Red, and vigilance. Wowsa. In a creature-based deck, this could be a real nightmare. On the other hand, some seem quite awful. Take another angel, Platinum Angel – -1 hand size, -9 life, and if you control an artifact, a creature, an enchantment, and a land, you can’t lose the game and your opponents can’t win the game. Um, no thanks. One Avatar, Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (+0 hand, +4 life, X, discard a card: Put a token into play as a copy of a random creature with converted mana cost X. Play this only any time you could play a sorcery and only once each turn) has spawned a whole format around him online, where people play Momir Vig against Momir Vig decks.

I quickly hopped on what I perceived as the best Avatar: Birds of Paradise (+0 Hand, -3 Life, Lands you control have “Tap: add 1 mana of any color to your mana pool”). Shotgun!

Why Shotgun? While the Birds of Paradise Avatar isn’t as flashy as Akroma, or the second best Avatar, Ink-Eyes (-1 Hand, -3 Life, At the beginning of the game, look at target opponent’s hand and choose a nonland card from it. That player discards that card. X, Pay X life: Put target creature card with a converted mana cost X in an opponent’s graveyard into play under your control.), it is quite insidious. Ink-Eyes ability is fairly obvious immediately: you put your opponent into a weaker hand than they could have hoped for, and if you build your deck right, can probably exploit that with Cabal Therapy and other cards. The Birds, however, let you change the very nature of how you build your deck.

City of Brass has been a mainstay in tournament Magic for a long, long time. There have been many City of Brass variants, but they all have pretty intense drawbacks. Even simple multi-colored land cards have had drawbacks ever since we were luckily given the pure dual lands. There is a reason that WotC keeps giving these cards a drawback. The ability to have perfect mana is incredibly powerful. For any of you who have played Five-Color, Prismatic, or even Blue/Green Madness, you know just how critical getting the right color mana can be. What if you didn’t have to worry about getting the right colored mana, but could instead just worry about getting enough of it? That’s what Birds of Paradise gives you, but it throws on making all of the lands still work like they used to.

I went through all of the lands, scouring them for the best land abilities that there could be before I even built the deck. I looked at making an Urzatron deck, but in the end, I just opted for straight abilities. The idea I was most excited about initially was creating a perfect Aggro deck. I could run all of the best creatures of every color and run all of the best spells! Wow! I started having fun with it, and ended up with a Wizard deck.

4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Shadow Guildmage
2 Sylvan Safekeeper
4 Dark Confidant
4 Meddling Mage
4 Voidmage Prodigy
4 Lightning Helix
4 Incinerate
4 Counterspell
4 Remand

It was pretty quickly that I realized that Patron Wizard could go in there. The deck was a lot of fun, it was a beating, and I knew it would probably be a popular deck at the Invitational because of all of the Invitationalists in the deck. But it just wasn’t as good as the deck I ended up submitting.

4 Burning Wish
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Counterspell
3 Dissipate
3 Dromar’s Charm
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Fact or Fiction
2 Force Spike
4 Tainted Pact
4 Pernicious Deed
4 Barbarian Ring
4 Cabal Pit
2 Cephalid Coliseum
1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
4 Nantuko Monastery
4 Quicksand
4 Temple of the False God
4 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

1 Akroma’s Vengeance
1 All Suns’ Dawn
1 Cranial Extraction
1 Death Grasp
1 Exile into Darkness
1 Haunting Echoes
1 Hull Breach
1 Innocent Blood
1 Life from the Loam
1 Nightmare Void
1 Pyroclasm
1 Seeds of Innocence
1 Shattering Spree
1 Threaten
1 Wrath of God

Here was a control deck with perfect mana. Even better, here was a control deck that didn’t have to use any slots bothering with any actual kill cards. Yes, yes, the lands can kill you, but the costs that Wizards put on the use of those cards – the pain of Barbarian Ring for mana, or the colorless of the man-lands – was gone. Killing someone could truly be an afterthought.

I included the best control cards of every color, and made a Burning Wish sideboard (regular sideboarding wasn’t going to be allowed), and then I playtested it a bit with people online, and with I@n DeGraff in person. I@n had tried to get me to submit an ICBM combo deck, but after I simply crushed his Storm-based deck again and again, Goblins again and again, and Affinity again and again, I was pretty sure I had my deck.

It’s still funny reading the coverage of the event. The way it was written, it sounds like everybody thought that this deck sucked. Canali and Soh fought over it, and Canali took the deck to a 3-0 performance. One of the funniest bits of critique came from Mike Flores, who called the deck a “disappointment” and couldn’t believe I didn’t include Life from the Loam. I guess he didn’t notice the 4 Burning Wish.

I know that even before I knew what the decks were going to be in the Invitational, I was sure that this deck would be one of the best. I only wish Canali had made the finals, because I’m sure he would have won the whole thing if he’d gotten there.

Three-Card Format

I’d heard about the Three-Card Format, but I didn’t really have much fun with the format until the Five Color Invitational last year. This rules variant was designed by Pat Foehling, though I’m not sure who came up with the original concept. I first briefly wrote about this format for Wizards of the Coast in my Single Card Strategies column, and it is a real hoot.

Each player has no deck. Instead, they choose three cards to make up their hand. These could be written on a piece of paper, or the actual three cards could be used, or any method, so long as there is a way to “keep people at their word” on their three cards. Each player takes a turn going first, and they play a game of Magic with just those three cards. Cards that cause discard or card drawing are banned, as is the Rack, though nothing is restricted.

Here are some sample decks:

Black Lotus, Black Lotus, Visara
Black Lotus, Show and Tell, Platinum Angel
Plains, Mishra’s Factory, Kataki

To win a match, you must actually have a better record after two games than your opponent. Thusly, it is possible to have a “double-loss” if one players wins the first game, and the other wins the second game, that match is a loss for both players. This helps discourage people from building decks that could only possibly win if they go first, and then nearly always win.

This one is great for a road trip with a ton of Magic players. I suggest that if you have a bunch of people, you let the winner play another game and have a new challenger.

20 Questions

This is the Magic variant of a classic game, and also great when on a road trip. One player thinks of a Magic card (and perhaps, if they cannot be trusted, writes down what they are thinking of). The other player’s then take turns asking Yes / No questions about the card, trying to figure out what the card is before their final 20th question. The winner is either the person that correctly guesses the card. If they cannot guess, the person who chose the card wins, so long as they have successfully answered every question truthfully about the card. Guessing what the card is counted as a question. So, if you ask, “Is it Grizzly Bears?” that would use up a question, so be careful if you go for it. It’s fun to keep track of who has won the most times, and if you get really competitive with a group of players, you can start asking bad questions if you think you know what it is, and you don’t want to clue in the next person.

There are a bunch of great questions, and you aren’t limited to asking a simple question. I remember one player asking me “is your card White, Blue, or Black?” My answer was “No.” (Because I was thinking of Grizzly Bears.)

Obscure cards are really good in this game. I’ve often used Spatial Binding in 20 Questions. The last two games I played I lost, both on the 20th guess. One card was Moorish Cavalry, and the other was Raging River. This game also works great in the forums. Can you guess what I’m thinking of?

Black Mental Magic (Cardless Mental Magic)

This is probably my current favorite casual Magic game. If you’re not currently familiar with regular Mental Magic, that isn’t that big of a deal, as I’ll go through the rules of this variant here. Praise Be to Netherworld store owner and Midwest Regional Champion Sam Black for coming up with this variant.

First of all, here’s the gist of the game: on your turn, whatever turn it is, you get that much mana. Thusly, on turn 1, you have 1 mana on your turn, on turn 2, you have 2, on turn 3, you have 3, etc.. You choose a spell that you’d like to play, but it has to be a card no one has played so far this game. If you have mana left over, you can use it to pay for any permanents you might have, but at the end of the turn, any extra mana you have goes away (no burn), and your card is put into your graveyard (though not discarded).

The more technical version of the rules goes like this. No player has a deck or lands. You have no draw phase, but instead have a “create a card” phase. You can only create a card that has not already been created this game. At the end of your second main phase, your mana pool empties painlessly, and any cards in your hand are put into your graveyard. Since you have no library, all cards that say “Draw a card” on them are meaningless — you can’t deck an opponent, or “draw cards” to create more cards. There is a small Banned list. (Currently, the Banned List is all Time Walk effects, Mindslaver, and Decree of Silence, though eventually something else might be necessary. If you’re not sure why, essentially it is just because you could theoretically take turns forever if you go first.) Some people play Type 1, and others Type 2, but I prefer Type 1.5 or Extended.

One of the most fun things about this format is that all you really need to play it is a piece of paper. I’ve found old pieces of paper that have recorded games, and they can be really cool to look at. Take this game that I must have played against someone months ago.

Turn Me Them
1 Spark Elemental (to 17) Seal of Fire
2 Slith Firewalker (Killed by Seal) Imaginary Pet
3 Ball Lightning (to 11) Attack with Pet (to 16), Gristleback
4 Blistering Firecat (blocked by Gristleback – to 10) Attack with Pet (to 12), Loxodon Hierarch (gain to 14)
5 Living Death, attack with everything (Spark Elemental blocked by Gristleback – to 3) Armadillo Cloak (attack to 6, gain to 9)
6 Sever Soul (gain to 12) Beacon of Immortality (back to 18)
7 Ashen Monstrosity (to 11) Ancestor’s Tribute (back to 30)
8 Akroma, Angel of Wrath (to 17) Reins of Power (attack to -1)


Seriously, this one is a real blast. If people take way the heck too long to decide what to play, consider breaking out a chess clock, and try not to allow kibitzing.

Survivor Draft

Sometimes you find yourself with maybe just a few too many people, but you really don’t want to have a six-man draft and a four-man draft. Now, I’ve only gotten people to do this kind of draft once, but I think it’s a real hoot. This works best with 10 to 14 people, and it’s pretty simple.

Everyone sits around the table to draft in a team draft style, every other player on the same team. After the first round of the draft, each team chooses one member of their team to vote off of the team. Continue to play until the draft is clearly decided in one team’s favor (10 people requires 8 match wins, 12 requires 11 match wins, and 14 requires 15 match wins), or until the final one-on-one. When the draft is going to reduce down to one person, all of the people that have been voted off the team get to choose who represents their team.

Watching people try to defend why they shouldn’t be cut can be really amusing.

There are plenty of ways to have fun with Magic that don’t have to do with really traditional ways of playing the game. Some of the best things about Magic are the ways that it let’s us be creative. I hope that you enjoy these other formats, and that maybe they help you come up with your own variants as well.

Have a great day!

Adrian Sullivan