The Compendium Of Alternate Formats, Entry Two: St. Patrick’s Format

In commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day, a local card shop I was affiliated with would have a St. Patrick’s Format tournament every year. The format was simple – play only with green cards. But there are more issues involved in creating an all-green format than you might think… And Abe outlines them all in perhaps the best article we’ve ever seen on why you should play a crazy, whacky format.

As the quest for new ways of playing Magic continues we rejoin our hero as he searches for a format on a new, heretofore undiscovered planet. Unlike Mars, the red planet, this one is strikingly green. The galaxy looks on, awaiting the arrival of a new format that will help to break up the monotony of Friday Nights everywhere. This is that story.

In commemoration of St. Patrick’s Day, a local card shop I was affiliated with would have a St. Patrick’s Format tournament every year. The format was simple – play only with green cards.

In addition to being used as an idea to build a deck around for Kitchen Table Antics, alternate formats become even more interesting when used in tournaments. It forces players to try and come up with, not just any deck, but a good deck. And that makes the competition much better.

One of the main problems that the store had when holding these tournaments was in the details. Let’s take a look at the issues that could face a St. Patrick’s Day format:

Are Gold Cards Allowed?

One of the first questions asked was whether or not gold cards were allowed. First of all, I want you to check your own intuition on this one. Do you think that gold cards should be allowed, if they have green in their casting costs? After all, a multicolored card with green is still green.

On the opposite side of the argument, multihued cards do a lot of things that green simply cannot. Do we want Mystic Snakes countering things or Death Mutation killing things? If you think that is acceptable, then by all means allow gold cards. However, we disallowed gold cards to keep the flavor consistent.

Are Artifacts Allowed?

And the very next question that needs to be asked is this one. Gold cards are all well and good, but the arguments for their inclusion and that of artifacts are different. While a multicolored card may be green, it is also a color of a banned color. An artifact is never the color of a banned color, but again, is never the color of green either.

This is the decision that will have the widest-ranging impact upon any St. Patrick’s Format. The inclusion of artifacts will radically change the environment. In fact, you could easily have mono-brown decks that feature such goodies as Ritual of Subdual.

Unfortunately, our store allowed artifacts in our decks. You will see my tournament-winning deck later, but it is easy to tell that the artifacts broke the rules. They just don’t have the flavor of green. And as such, it screws up the metagame. The following year they didn’t allow artifacts, and the environment was much cleaner.

Do We Allow Split Cards, Off-Color Kickers, and Abilities That Use Other Mana?

While each of these may seem minor, they are legitimate questions that will be asked as some point in time. There are basically two philosophies at work here:

Philosophy One -“I don’t care what you play, so long as it’s solely green.” This philosophy will allow all of the above, with the caveat that Split cards use just the green side. So you could play the Battery side of Assault / Battery, but not Assault. Likewise, off-color kickers and abilities – hey – you can have absolutely everything green. Next thing you know, someone will ask about Undergrowth. Just allow these and move on.

Philosophy Two -“If it has another color anywhere, you cannot use that part of the card.” Under this philosophy, you could play a card that has an off-color kicker like Anavolver, but you could not use the kickers. Likewise, feel free to use Ana Disciple, but not the abilities on the card. This philosophy will probably encourage people to bring up the next conundrum:

Do We Allow Lands Other Than Forests?

At first, this question may escape a prospective tournament organizer, but it is a highly valuable question to ask. For example – imagine the sheer number of Gaea’s Cradles that will be played. Is this a situation that we want – where the player to windmill-slap a Cradle down first is the most likely winner? Also, with a lot of Cradles, we might start seeing Wastelands. Other possibilities include Rishadan Ports, Library of Alexandria (even in multiples, if they have them), Strip Mines, and Mishra’s Factories. Do we want these?

There are basically three rules that can be enacted here. Personally, I am of the opinion that you should allow the most cards while keeping the flavor intact. So I favor the second option.

Option One – Only Forests are allowed.

This option also disallows Dual Lands, but not Snow-Covered Forests, in case you want to play with Gargantuan Gorilla or something. The idea behind this option is to prevent any issues before they occur. Personally, I find it a bit tight, but maybe that’s just me.

Option Two – Allow only lands that tap for green mana.

I like this option best. It keeps the flavor of a”green only” format, but also allows more lands. You might also want to expand this to include lands that either use or make green mana. That way, cards in the flavor of green, like Yavimaya Hollow are allowable as well.

Option Three – Any lands may be used.

As mentioned above, this could upon up a barrage of issues. Four Maze of Iths might shut down creature battles, Library is a broken card-drawing engine, and so forth. It does have the advantage, however, of being the most inclusive option.

What Card Pool Shall We Use?

I think that the default has to lean towards the largest card pool possible – namely Type One. You may also wish to allow Portal or Unglued cards, although I would recommend you steer clear unless you have near unanimity. Some players may want an extended or standard card pool, which is fine if all agree.

Do note that one of the benefits of playing alternate formats is to use cards that you have never used or rarely use – maybe even cards that you never thought you would ever use. Using a smaller card pool, like Type 2, does not encourage that sort of thinking. In fact, it can easily get in the way. When all you have to choose from is Wild Mongrel, Arrogant Wurm, Basking Rootwalla, and Roar of the Wurm, then that is what you will see. Again and again.

So I think that you have to default to an older selection of cards.

Shall We Have a Banned or Restricted List?

The answer to this question really depends on the answers to many of the previous questions. For example, if you are allowing artifacts, then you have to have a banned or restricted list. Who wants a full set of twenty Moxes seeing play?

Of course, any B&R list will depend heavily on your card pool. After all, a Standard pool won’t need any lists. Otherwise, you may simply want to enact whatever list already exists for your environment.

However, there are three cards that you may want to pay special attention towards. They are Earthcraft, Survival of the Fittest, and Gaea’s Cradle.* You may wish to ban or restrict these cards as well.

Earthcraft, when paired with Squirrel Nest, makes an infinite amount of squirrels. That can make for a combo that is simply too easy to get off.

Another possibility is Survival of the Fittest. The main problem with this card is that it can provide raw power of such degree that everybody will want to play them if they have them; imagine the sheer number of Survivals played otherwise! And ditto for the Cradle as well, which if unrestricted will definitely make it the most commonly-played non-Forest land in the environment… Actually, it may be the most commonly-played card, period.

A Sample Format

So here is the format that I like the best. It keeps the flavor and purpose in mind, and has a small B&R list.

All green, no artifacts or gold cards allowed, Type One card pool with that B&R list, plus Earthcraft and Survival banned while Cradle is restricted. Any land that taps for green or uses green is allowed. Any card may be played that falls under these guidelines, so long as it is solely green.

The Metagame

Obviously, predicting the metagame is not as easy without knowing the specifics of the format. But there are some things that will always be true.

  • There will be a bunch of elves.

  • Somebody will play with fat.

  • Somebody will come to the table with an enchantment that kills you.

  • Somebody will build a control deck.

  • Stompy will be the most common deck.

Preparing for these is an important challenge. Below is a prepared gauntlet, ready for action, in several different formats, but you can modify the decks for the specific format that you are using.

…And Some Decks

I won my first St. Patrick’s Tournament with the following control deck.

Abe’s Green Control (2001)

4 Masticore

4 Nevinyrral’s Disk

2 Scroll Rack

4 Wall of Blossoms

4 Thornscape Battlemage

4 Granger Guildmage

4 Roots

4 Creeping Mold

4 Skyshroud Elves

3 Killer Bees

4 Rith’s Grove

4 Taiga

15 Forests

The deck uses several control mechanisms. As you can tell, it allowed artifacts, which I recommend against. If I had to take them out, I know that four Hailstorms and some Sylvan Libraries would go in, so the cards are fairly easy to replace.

People would focus on the Battlemagi/Guildmagi and think that they were the key to the deck. And they were always solid. But the real silent killer was Roots. Practically every green deck out there has some form of trampling beef in the form of Child of Gaea or Weatherseed Treefolk or whatever… And Roots simply locked them down.

I would replace the Creeping Molds with something else these days – probably Nantuko Vigilante from Legions. That way I never have a wasted card, but I can also Disenchant as an instant. Otherwise, Naturalize should be in the sideboard.

Green Oath (2002)

Here was the deck I had built for the following year, but word got out and they banned Oath of Druids. They also banned artifacts and any card with an off-color ability. Note the use of land, however. Their land policy was liberal, and I took advantage of that.

4 Oath of Druids

3 Gaea’s Blessing

4 Roots

3 Sylvan Library

4 Creeping Mold

4 Hailstorm

2 Spike Weaver

1 Heartwood Treefolk

3 Arboria

4 Moment’s Peace

4 Tangle

4 Treetop Village

4 Mishra’s Factory

1 Strip Mine

15 Forests

Again, Naturalize would be a great replacement for Creeping Mold, especially considering Arboria… But it hadn’t been printed yet. Another possibility I might experiment with would be to use Krosan Reclamations instead of the Blessings so that the Oath would give me threshold for sure, and then run Stone-Tongue Basilisk. Maybe with Concordant Crossroads. That way I could use an Oath as a Wrath of God.

During playtesting, I found that the use of Wall of Blossoms did not hamper my ability to use the Oath because the environment had so many creatures. Still, I wanted to keep my creature count low because good players would adjust to the Oath easily enough – it’s hardly a new concept.

I started with running four copies of Child of Gaea because I could easily Oath four times in this creature heavy environment and I wanted to have a Child every time. The upkeep didn’t turn out to be that bad in playtesting, and I needed a creature that was big enough to play defense (plus its regeneration), but also can play on the offense side of the ball if necessary. A modern version of the deck might run Silvos and other cards, maybe those Basilisks I mentioned earlier.

Eventually, I moved to two Spike Weavers and an unblockable Heartwood Treefolk. I would Oath up a creature (hopefully a Weaver) and then I could Oath the following turn as well. I might hop counters to the Treefolk or keep fogging – whatever was needed. The three creatures did the job in playtesting, and I was very happy with how they performed.

In this deck, the Roots are even better because you can Oath off of any creature rooted to the ground. The Arboria count might need upped as well.

Anyway, that was the deck I was never able to play, so I don’t know how it would have done. Here are some other decks from those tournaments, and such:

Trinity Green

4 Deranged Hermit

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Priest of Titania

4 Plow Under

4 Winter’s Grasp

4 Stunted Growth

4 Moment’s Peace

2 Weatherseed Treefolk

4 Gaea’s Cradle

22 Forests

This deck has a simple design – speed your own mana while slowing down your opponent by using Stunted Growths, Plow Unders and Moment’s Peace to set up. Your beatdown can either be the Treefolk or Squirrels.

Personally, I think the deck needs a few adjustments, namely because another deck with an equally fast mana development can slap down a big creature before the tempo mechanisms come online – and then what do you do? At the very least, I’d look at replacing Winter’s Grasp with something like Roots or so.

Elves A-Go-Go

1 Eladamri, Lord of Leaves

4 Elvish Champion

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Fyndhorn Elves

3 Skyshroud Poacher

2 Timberwatch Elves

4 Wellwisher

3 Deepwood Invoker

4 Llanowar Elite

4 Sylvan Messenger

3 Voice of the Woods

2 Killer Bees

1 Gaea’s Cradle

21 Forests

This deck was recently built by another person for a monogreen environment, and therefore includes the more modern cards. It poses a potent problem with the Wellwisher – how does green handle massive lifegain from a simple 1/1? Of course, if my Granger Guildmagi/Thornscape Battlemagi were allowed, that would not be a problem. But if not, then how does one handle an opponent gaining ten to twelve life per turn? It can tap after being provoked but before blocking, so no dice there. There are no Wrath effects. Desert Twister? Tornado? Splintering Wind? (Unyaro Bee Sting, silly – The Ferrett)

Problem Poser

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Priest of Titania

3 Child of Gaea

2 Weatherseed Treefolk

3 Cockatrice

4 Blastoderm

2 Verdant Force

4 Natural Order

1 Lumbering Satyr

4 Moment’s Peace

4 Gaea’s Cradle

21 Forests

This deck simply tears into its opponents as fast and as large as possible in an attempt to throw off the opponent. With the exception of the four Moment’s Peace, there is not a single defensively-minded card in the deck. It is all sheer power. It also includes Natural Order to tutor for a big fatty, or a specific creature, like the Satyr.

Typical Casual Night at the Roxbury

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Fyndhorn Elves

4 Thicket Basilisk

4 Lure

4 Venomous Breath

2 Cockatrice

1 Niall Silvain

2 Jolrael’s Favor

4 Elven Warhounds

2 Tempting Licid

4 Pygmy Troll

2 Gaea’s Liege

1 Yavimaya Hollow

22 Forests

Our last deck is based off countless casual decks of old. And, amazingly enough, the basic premise can work in a green-only environment. You can attack with a lured elf and Venomous Breath it. The Favor can be used to save a creature and both the Favor and Breath are nice surprises for your opponent. Note that the Breath will work through a Fog, and it will also kill walls. And the Lure on a Warhounds is just funny.

You even have a couple of extra Lures with the Licid, since they are so valuable. This way, you can save a Lure from destruction or Naturalize. The Trolls are nice because they give you time to set up, and post-Lure they can both save themselves and start killing creatures with their ability. The Gaea’s Liege is a big creature that can also keep Cradles down.

Anyway, I hope that you have gotten some ideas for your own St. Patrick’s Day Tournaments or casual playing nights. Have fun trying out a new format! After all, having fun is exactly what this game is about.

Until later,

Abe Sargent

* – This article was written before the DCI announced its restriction of Earthcraft. Kind of prophetic, don’t you think?