The Big Pile O’Cards: A New Casual Format

The phrase “casual” player is really a misnomer. Sure, we casual players play in the comfort of someone’s home. We play with friends and the people we enjoy spending time with. But some of us are very competitive. And when we’ve had enough of Pernicious Deeds and Last Laughs, I bring out… The Big Pile O’Cards.

The phrase "casual" player is really a misnomer. Sure, we casual players play in the comfort of someone’s home. We play with friends and the people we enjoy spending time with. It is also no fallacy that we would prefer to spend just as much time teasing each other as we do playing the actual game. There is also no question that we eschew the upper-echelon decks in favor of our own twisted combinations.

But to insist that we are not competitive? You might as well claim that the Pope is alive and well.

While the group I play with was playtesting Champions of Kamigawa (I didn’t get to join in, so don’t rub salt in the wounds by asking), they had asked for feedback from Wizards on what they thought of the analysis the group had given. Their response? "Your group is really Spike-like." All I could think of as Anthony was relaying the story to me was, of course. Everyone likes to play with good cards.

How many people do you know like paying six mana for a 2/2 Fear-enhanced creature? The case may change if someone can find an insane combination with Soulshift, but odds are this card will be universally ignored. If given the whole gauntlet of a set to experiment with, would you gravitate towards Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, or Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked? Left to your own devices, would you play Long-Forgotten Gohei or Hankyu?

I have found one exception to this rule – a guy from our group named George. It is his personal mission in life to try and develop a winning deck from every card ever shunned by the general populace. But not even he will insist that Wandering Ones is worth putting in a Constructed deck.

Although we tend to take immense pleasure in shining a spotlight on our friends’ foibles, sometimes it’s more enjoyable to be pleasant to those whose company we choose to keep. Every so often, trying to decipher the correct ruling on whether or not a creature equipped with Fireshrieker deals normal damage after the first strike damage has resolved and the Fireshrieker has been Disenchanted can get to be a little grueling. It’s important to take a break and just enjoy each other’s company.

This is when I like to pull out my Big Pile O’ Cards. I tend to reserve this game for holidays, when the hustle and bustle of preparation has me longing for deflation time. However, since yesterday was my birthday, I consider that close enough.

The primary tenet of the Big Pile O’ Cards is to play a basic full-fledged, melee multiplayer game. At the start of the game, roll for the privilege of being the card flipper. Whenever it is the start of the card flipper’s turn, one card from the pile of cards is drawn and placed face-up for everyone to read. Each player must take the action that is prescribed on the card, in turn order starting with the designated card flipper (I told you it was a privilege). For example, if the card that is turned up is a Glacial Ray, the first person chooses a target. The second person in the queue selects her own target. Once everyone has chosen a target, each spell resolves in last-in, first-out stack order.

There is one important rule that must be followed while the Big Pile O’ Cards effects are taking place – no one is allowed respond to or remove the card in any fashion. You are subject to the whims of the almighty Big Pile O’ Cards.

This is the basic gist of the game as it was originally taught to me. These simple rules also helped guide the deckbuilding process for this format. As should be apparent, mostly sorceries, instant and enchantments worked well for inclusion in the pile. Since then, I have developed my own additional rules to make Big Pile O’ Cards more interactive. To be honest, I was craving an opportunity to make use of Loxodon Peacekeeper.

Instead of each card’s effects taking place at the beginning of the turn, there are specific rules for how each card type is played:


When a sorcery is revealed, its effect happens immediately. No one has a chance to respond. For targeted sorceries, each person goes around the circle in clockwise order, naming their targets. Resolution is in stack order – the last target is the first effect to happen.


When an instant is turned face-up, each person receives a counter. This counter is effectively a single copy of the instant. That counter behaves as if it were a single copy of this card is in his or her hand. You do not have to pay the mana cost of this spell unless X is in the casting cost. In these instances, X=0 unless you pay mana for X. You can spend your counter at any time until the next card on the pile is revealed. Once you have expended the spell, remove your counter. If you did not use the spell before the next card from the Big Pile O’ Cards is drawn, you lose the spell. Unlike sorceries, you can respond to these instants, though you may not counter the ability.


Global enchantments behave as Enchant Worlds. For those not old enough to remember this card type, Enchant Worlds behave as if the ability affects everyone. For example, if Fervor was turned face up, everyone’s creatures would gain Haste. These enchantments remain in effect until the next card is drawn from the Big Pile O’ Cards. Enchantments with activation costs can be played by anyone at any time, with activation costs set to their equivalent in colorless mana.

(Note: I have shied away from creature enchantments, since I haven’t decided on a good way to incorporate them. Feel free to offer your own suggestions.)


Continuous artifacts, such as Static Orb, are treated exactly like global enchantments. Artifacts with activation costs that have a tap effect as a part of their casting cost behave the same as enchantments with activation costs. Artifacts that require tapping or are Equipment are effectively "owned" by the active person’s turn. That person can equip, tap, or use whatever ability is on the card. All mana costs to use the artifact must be paid for.

For example, to use Loxodon Warhammer, you would need to wait until your turn. Once your turn arrived, you would need to pay three colorless mana to equip it to one of your creatures. On the next person’s turn, that person could pay three colorless mana to move the Loxodon Warhammer from your creature to his creature.

An example of using a tapping artifact is Crystal Shard. On a person’s turn, that artifact untaps. The active player may pay one colorless instead of one blue to tap Crystal Shard and use its ability. This ability may be responded to; however, since this artifact is not technically in play, you may not use special tricks to untap the artifact on your turn and attempt to get multiple uses out of it. Just like enchantments, artifacts are no longer available to use once the next card is flipped.


There are two categories of creatures: Free Spirits and Visitors. Visitors behave like any typical card revealed from the Big Pile O’ Cards in that they are only available until the next card is drawn. Free Spirits, on the other hand, come onto the board and stay on the board throughout the game. They can be killed, placed in combat, or removed like any other creature in the game.

But only a specific kind of creature can be a Free Spirit – namely, the creatures that constantly switch loyalty based on certain conditions in the game. For example, Loxodon Peacekeeper behaves as a Free Spirit because it changes controllers depending on who has the lowest life total.

Visitors behave much like artifacts, enchantments, and sorceries. Creatures with global effects behave as global enchantments. Creatures with abilities effectively have haste and their abilities can be used on your turn, identical to artifacts. Creatures with comes-into-play abilities are treated as if a sorcery were revealed. Just like other cards from Big Pile O’ Cards, these creatures cannot be removed from the game. Also, these creatures do not participate in combat, so you cannot attack or defend with them.

When building your first Big Pile O’ Cards, there are a couple of rules of thumb to follow for an effective deck:

  • Make the deck about 100 cards. This is easy to carry and shuffle (unlike 250-card, 5-Color decks), and will provide enough variety for several games.

  • Don’t overdo the destruction. The idea of Big Pile O’ Cards is to keep the power of the game in constant flux through creative and interesting ways. The constant resetting of the board gets a little tiresome for all players involved and makes it rather difficult to finish a game.

  • Include both positive and negative cards. For every creature destruction spell, add in a creature revival spell. For every damage spell, include a life gain or prevention spell.

  • Modular cards or cards that give each player a different choice are fan favorites. Make sure to include at least a couple of these.

  • Be aware that not all cards will work the way intended, since players will refuse to do anything until the card is gone to prevent having to deal with the card’s effect. These will be apparent as you play – but an excellent example is Grip of Chaos. Make sure to remove them from your Big Pile O’ Cards immediately to keep future versions of the format interesting and fun.

And always remember: if you don’t like any rule, make up your own.

To assist in your endeavors in developing your own Big Pile O’ Cards, I’ve included a special ready-made pile you can either blatantly plagiarize or use for reference:

Barter in Blood

Coffin Purge

Demonic Tutor


Hideous Laughter

Imp’s Taunt

Mortality Shift

Noxious Vapors

Patriarch’s Bidding

Plunge Into Darkness


Balance of Power


Counsel of the Soratami

Day of the Dragons

Diminishing Returns

Echoing Truth


Mana Vortex

Meloku the Clouded Mirror

Mind Over Matter



Rush of Knowledge

Sway the Stars

Time Warp


Acorn Harvest

Animal Magnetism


Clear the Land

Commune with Nature

Harvester Druid

Heartbeat of Spring

Hunted Wumpus

Nantuko Shrine


Reap and Sow

Tooth and Nail


Blind with Anger

Chain of Plasma

Erratic Explosion


In the Web of War

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Lightning Bolt


Wheel of Fortune

Yamabushi’s Flame

Akroma’s Vengeance

Altar’s Light

Argivian Restoration


Beacon of Immortality

Blessed Wind

Blinding Beam

Eight-and-a-Half Tails

Intrepid Hero

Land Tax

Last Breath

Loxodon Peacekeeper

Luminous Angel

March of Souls



Retribution of the Meek

Reya, Dawnbringer



Wrath of God

Disrupting Scepter

Flying Carpet

Gate to the Aether

Gilded Lotus


Icy Manipulator


Loxodon Warhammer

Mycosynth Lattice

Proteus Staff

Rod of Ruin

Staff of Domination

Teferi’s Puzzle Box

That Which Was Taken

Well of Knowledge

Crosis’s Charm

Eladamri’s Call

Guided Passage

Hull Breach



Reckless Assault

Skeleton Ship


Vhati il-Dal


Vitalizing Cascade

Assault / Battery

Fire / Ice

This is a fantastic deck to travel with you wherever you plan on playing Magic. If you’re feeling a little tired of competition, want to mix things up, or just want to relax, whip out the Big Pile O’ Cards and kick it down a notch!

Incidentally, Richard Vaughan wouldn’t be happy unless I accredited him with introducing me to this format. Props to you, Richard.