The Kitchen Table #206 – The Compendium of Alternate Formats, Entry 9: Bugwar

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Hello and welcome back to the weekly catalogue of the casual. I began the Compendium way back in February of 2003. That’s a long time ago. The Compendium is an attempt to create a large number of formats for casual players all in one place. Just go to my archives and search for “compendium” to find the other eight entries. Today’s format? Bugwar.

Hello and welcome back to the weekly catalogue of the casual. I began the Compendium way back in February of 2003. That’s a long time ago. The Compendium is an attempt to create a large number of formats for casual players all in one place. Just go to my archives and search for “compendium” to find the other eight entries.

The previous entries include Tribal (called Goblin Wars), St. Patrick’s format, New York format, Rainbow Stairwell (all from 2003), Scavenger Hunt (from 2004), Chess Magic (from 2005), and Elder Dragon Highlander and Just One Star (2007, yay!).

That’s a pretty long time to just have nine entries. Nine entries in almost five years is too little, and I’ll try to give you some more in the next few months.

It wasn’t until the seventh entry that I told you what I thought a format was. There are a ton of multiplayer “variants” out there that I do not consider to be formats. Attack to the Left is a variant of traditional Chaos Magic. Secret Alliances is another variant. The same is true of variants like Emperor or Star Magic.

There are variants, because they vary the way you play Magic. They are not formats. Vintage is a format. Type 2 is a format. The game is played the exact same way with the same rules is Vintage and Type 2, but what changes is the deck construction. A format is defined by deck construction rules, which may have an impact on the way the game is played. A variant is merely a new set of rules.

Many websites get this stuff mixed up. They claim to have rules for new formats, but what they mean are variants. The Compendium is focused on formats, not variants.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at today’s format.

Bugwar: The Intro

A long time ago, I was an E-League player and later a judge. E-League was (maybe still is, I don’t keep current anymore) an online group of Magic players who connected via IRC and played Apprentice. E-League had judges and tournaments, and they were often sponsored by online Magic stores that would give real prizes to winners.

Because of the easy accessibility of Apprentice, E-League was regularly supporting unusual formats for fun tournaments, and I think it was here that I began to develop a taste for eccentric deck building under unusual conditions. I was first exposed to formats like Rainbow Stairwell and Goblin Wars (more commonly called tribal today) on E-League.

One of my favorite all-time Magic experiences was Magic Shop, advertised and associated with E-League and written about in several of my articles: my second ever article here, a revamp here, and mentioned again here. I’m just pointing it out in case anyone wants to try it out…

Today’s article is one another of those E-League formats from way back. My own person name for the format is Bugwar, although that was never the official name for it. The official name changed based on the particularly of the format.

What is Bugwar? Bugwar is the acronym for the five colors in Magic as letters (BUGWR) and artifacts (A).

In this format, a word is chosen. Then players can only use cards whose titles begin with a letter in the word. In the first format I played, it was just the five colors UGBWR that you were allowed to use. You could use Underground Sea or Raging River or Blue Elemental Blast. You could also use basic lands, no matter their title.

The interesting thing about Bugwar is that you could change the word, thus changing the format. POKEMON allowed you to play with Kry Shield and O-Naginata. You could plan any format you want, and make it different every single time, with a different word.

Bugwar: A Closer Look

Now that you know what the Bugwar format is, let’s take a closer look at the details.

For balance sake, I suggest that you use the Vintage Restricted List for your deck construction. You don’t want to deal with multiple Tolarian Academies or Demonic Tutors or Sol Rings running around. At least I don’t.

Not all letters are created equally. Take a look at the initial format, in alphabetical order: B, G, R, U, W. See a problem? You might not see it initially, but it will come to you.

Goblin Matron, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Lackey, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Recruiter, Goblin Ringleader, Goblin Marshal, Goblin Grenade, etc. You can also get the Boggart cards under “B” as well.

Yeah, it’s a problem. Like I said, not all letters are created equally. Unless you want to outright ban goblins, any word including the letter “G” will have problems.

This is just one example, but it is important to note that not all letters are going to give you the same level of competition. This is fine when no one has the cards or the desire to abuse the format, but when you enable the entire goblin deck, you have problems.

Are there other problems? Probably not any as extreme as “G” with the goblins. “E” brings elves, including Eyeblight’s Ending, but not Timberwatch Elves, Wellwisher, Priest of Titania, Imperious Perfect, or Immaculate Magistrate. With none of your engine elves in “E” it seems tame.

There are combinations that you can build a deck around, but you need to make sure that nothing broken has been enabled. For examples of some good combos, see Cabal Coffers and Consume Spirit, or Winter Orb and Waterspout Djinn. These are going to be in virtually every letter, and they are what you are looking for as the core of your deck.

For your first format, I’d suggest using a word that is short, or has exotic letters, to keep the cardpool down. The smaller the cardpool, the easier it is to build a deck. For example, you might want to start with “WHY” as in, “Why should be play this format?”

Bugwar: How to Build a Deck

Let’s take a closer look at that WHY format for a moment. Suppose we want to build a deck in the WHY format for multiplayer this week. There are several steps we can use to guide us through the deck building process.

1). Review the cardlist, see if any card stands out as particularly powerful. Are there any format defining cards in your lists?

I looked at “Y” first and found, Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Yawgmoth’s Will. These are both powerful cards with significant and painful application in the same color. Then I moved to “W”

Watchwolf might be powerful and fast enough to put a serious clock on people. Wheel of Fortune is suitably powerful. If you can find the artifacts for it, Wildfire is impressive. Windfall joins Wheel of Fortune as great card drawing. Winds of Rath, Wing Shards and Wrath of God can counter agro strategies nice and good. Winter Orb has potential. See also: Worship.

In the “H” pile, you can find Holistic Wisdom, Hatred, and Howling Mine.

2). Go through the list again, and find cards that work with some of these above cards.

For example, Windfall and Wheel are great, and they are joined by Winds of Change and Whirlpool Warrior. You could easily discard Wonder in this deck.

Aggro has White Knight, Whipcorder, and White Hand Crusader, to mention three possibilities.
Let’s see if we can turn the powerful Black cards into a deck. Are there any cards in WHY that automatically flow with them? Hand of Death gives you removal, but you need Portal cards to have it. Hideous Laughter isn’t that bad. Hymn to Tourach gives your deck a punch. As does Hypnotic Specter. Wicked Akuba is pretty good too. Now we have the workings of a deck.

3). Find the remaining cards to flesh out your deck. Build you deck.

For our sample deck, I used cards like Wrench Mind and Withered Wretch to finish off the deck. Let’s take a look.

And there is a sample deck, all nice and bundled for you. Note that I decided on Hatred. With some of cheap creatures like the Wretch and Akuba, and enough disruption to see them through, I thought a quick surprise like Hatred would be nice for the deck.

Note that Hideous Laughter kills every creature in your deck that is not a Paladin, so use it wisely. In fact, you might want to pull them altogether for some slower removal like Weed Strangle. There are other aggro options available, such as Hand of Cruelty, if you want to go that route.

Now, in order to help you out, I am going to include a brief synopsis of every single letter in Magic. That’s right, I will be looking at a list of every card ever printed and tell you what the power cards in each letter are. Am I a masochist? Probably. I admit that I might miss a few cards, and that my view of format dominating card may differ from yours. I’ll ignore the restricted list cards, you can look them up yourself. Here we go.

A – Academy Rector can fuel some powerful combos. This is also the color of the duel Akromas. They’ll be hard to get down, but once they are watch out. A more powerful card is Akroma’s Vengeance where she will take out everything on the board. Aluren may have some potential. Arcbound Ravager is joined by all of his arcbound pals and Ancient Den. Armageddon. Astral Slide needs cyclers, but it’s here if you feel it. Austere Command gives you a Wrath effect without the downside of the Vengeance.

B – Ball Lightning has potential if your Red burn is up to it. Berserk is a powerful card, but few players will have any. Black Vise can be a dangerous card, but you have to chose a target when you play it, and that makes enemies. Braingeyser is similarly dangerous, but like Berserk, you might not have to worry about it in a lot of playgroups. Bringer of the Black Dawn is Bringer of the Combo Death.

C – Cabal Coffers can fuel decks. Especially combined with Candelabra of Tawnos. Capsize is a control tool of choice and in the letter that brings you Counterspell. Cunning Wish is alright when combined with something like Mirari. Depending on your table and home rules, Cheatyface. Citanul Flute could be like a poor man‘s Survival of the Fittest. Congregate – yuk. Cursed Scroll is sexy. This is a great color for control decks.

D – Damnation is just as good as its first incarnation. Decree of Justice and Dawn Elemental may make Mono-White Control viable. Defense of the Heart could end games like Tooth or Nail did. Desolation Angel kills quickly after resolving. This is another color that screams control, and may have more hard counters than “C” did.

E – Exploration and Eladamri’s Vineyard are good mana accelerants. Elvish Champion can pump all of your creatures. Earthquake is basically a scalable Wrath. Elves are here if you are into tribes, but the major elves are elsewhere. Essence Warden is a multiplayer house.

F – Fires of Yavimaya has fueled winning decks before. It’s expensive, but Final Judgment is another Wrath variant. Flametongue Kavu has always been a good creature. Fade Away can do some damage to people’s creature total. Some people are raving about Flash. Future Sight has some potential at the kitchen table. Another solid control color, with cards like Forbid and Faerie Trickery. It’s also a good burn color (Fireblast as an example).

G – As mentioned before, G is a danger letter with all of the goblins. Besides them, we have Gaea’s Cradle, Gauntlets of Might and Power, maybe Golden Wish, and Grand Melee (really good in multiplayer). Goblin Welder outside of a goblin deck has potential if combined with the right letters.

H – As we saw, H doesn’t have much. Howling Mine, Hatred, and Holistic Wisdom are its power cards, but beware the combo of Hymn and Hypnotic Specter.

I – Infest is cheap and versatile. Innocent Blood is cheap and very powerful. Insidious Dreams can set up a combo kill. Isochron Scepter and Intruder Alarm have been used to set up combo kills.

J – If Unhinged is allowed, watch out for Johnny, Combo Player. Jokulhaups is often a key component of combo decks pre-Obliterate. It can be again. Especially if combined with Jhoira of the Ghitu. This seems like more a combo element to combine with your other decks.

K – Kaervek the Merciless is a fragile creature, sure, but he can kill players. Kirtar’s Wrath is yet another Wrath effect for the fans of mass creature removal. Remember when Kjeldoran Outpost ruled the roost? It can again in your decks. Kokusho is often a element to a winning deck. This is a good aggro color, with Knights and such available.

L – L brings us the powerful Land Tax + Land‘s Edge. If people have them, watch out for Land Equilibrium. In a similar vein is Limited Resources. Joining the land theme is engine card Life from the Loam. Lifeline doesn’t have anything to do with the lands, but it is abusable. Lightning Rift likes cycling cards. Living Death alone builds decks. Lord of the Undead needs zombies. This is another good burn color – hello Lightning Bolt!

M – “M” might be the most powerful color, period. Even considering the goblins of “G”. Magus of the Coffers might substitute if you don’t have access to “C.” Maze of Ith is solid. Mind Twist ends games. Mind’s Eye is one of the single best draw cards in multiplayer. Masticore stops bad guys. Mindslaver is good, I hear. The uber-Morphling is running around here.

This is a good aggro color, surprisingly, with Magus of the Scroll, Magma Jet, Magus of the Moon, Mogg Fanatic and Flunkies, and more. However, this is the best combo color I’ve seen yet (because it has all cards that begin with “Mana” like Mana Echoes and stuff, plus Meditate, Megrim, Mesmeric Orb, Magma Mine, Mirror Universe, and bunches of other tools). Even control gets Mahamoti Djinn, Man-o’-War, Mana Leak, Mana Drain, Misdirection and such.

Here’s a list of more power cards: Massacre, Mutilate, Meekstone, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, Memnarch, Merrow Reejerey and the merfolk, several of the main slivers like Might, Muscle and Metallic, Mind over Matter, Mirari, Mirari’s Wake, Mishra’s Workshop, Moat, Mother of Runes, Momentary Blink, Myr Enforcer with plenty of artifacts in “M,” even Mortivore and Multani, Maro Sorcerer are game enders in multiplayer.

And remember you get all of the cards on the Vintage restricted list too – Memory Jar, Moxes, Mystical Tutor, Mind’s Desire, Mana Vault, and Mana Crypt. This is simply the most powerful letter, period. The best creatures (Morphling, Masticore, Mystic Enforcer), best mana acceleration (Moxes, Vault, and Crypt), most broken combo cards (Mind Over Matter, Workshop, Wake), most powerful control cards (Mana Drain, Moat, Misdirection). This is a staggeringly nasty color.

N – Natural Order has fueled decks before. Nether Void is pretty good, but again, it has a problem with being owned by players interested in casual games. Nevinyrral’s Disk is a great removal card for any deck. Recurring tutor effects like Night Dealings are pretty tasty as well. N has a sort of creature oriented control feel with Nekrataal, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Numot the Destroyer, and Niv-Mizzet among the creatures.

O – Oath of Druids is good, but Scholars and Ghouls have value too although Oversold Cemetery is better than Ghouls. Opposition is definitely a path to victory. Oblivion Stone is a good generic sweeper when you have need of it. Obliterate, like Jokulhaups above, is a path to winning in many decks, only it doesn’t have Jhoira in the same letter to help it out. The “O” is a funny letter, with generic cards that are good in a variety of situations from Oathkeeper on a changeling to Opal Acrolith with a Wrath of God effect. This letter doesn’t appear to stand on its own, and needs other letters to begin to stand out. That’s quite suitable for a vowel.

P – Pandemonium has won games for years at the multiplayer table. Panoptic Mirror is a combo deck looking to happen. Parallax Wave fits in aggro, combo, and control decks, sliding into different roles in each. I’d fear Patriarch’s Bidding with any of the commonly played tribes or a letter that gives you a lot like “GMEZ.” Pernicious Deed; ‘nuff said. Pestilence and Pyrohemia are solid. Planar Portal – recurring tutoring is good. There are a lot of good solid cards for your deck here, just of a level beneath the major players – Pristine Angel, Psychatog, Platinum Angel, Probe, Propaganda, etc. Not much for aggro decks compared to control or combo, besides from the occasional card like Psionic Blast. Protean Hulk is here too.

Q – There’s not much in “Q.” There are a lot of mana helpers with Quirion in the title. Quiet Speculation is good combined with flashback letters like “D” or “R.” That’s about it.

R – Hello rebels, nice to see ya. Say hello to the Ramosian chain, minus Lin-Sivvi and a few Defiant rebels. Rancor is a staple. Ravages of War is just an expensive ‘Geddon to acquire. Recurring Nightmare simply wins, and it was banned in the original “BUGWR” format. Rhystic Study is overpowered in multiplayer. An instant-able Wrath is brilliant, and Rout delivers. Beware one who knows how to play Richard Garfield, Ph. D. Rising Waters is just Winter Orb in Blue. Because “R” has so many cards, I couldn’t really say that it is good at any one thing, but instead has power at a lot of things.

S – Welcome to the color of the snakes. The snake legends are here, plus the Sakura-Tribe creatures support them, and two changelings begin with “S,” as well. See also: Sosuke’s Summons. Scrying Sheets and Skred – we are in the same letter as Snow-Covered basics. Sigil of the New Dawn is untapped value. There are slivers in every color, but here you get Sinew, Shifting, Synapse, Spectral, Queen, Overlord, Legion, Sliversmith, Spitting, Synchronous, Spined, Screeching, Sedge, Shadow, Sidewinder, and Spinneret Slivers. I think there might be a deck there.

Skullclamp is an established house. Sundering Titan is a way to ruin people’s day. Smokestack can defeat the unprepared. Solar Tide is a bit of a Wrath, as is Sunscour. Soul Warden is a long standing one-drop of power. Survival of the Fittest is arguably one of the most powerful cards in the format, especially when combined with Squee. Starstorm will clear out a lot of clutter on the table. A Stasis deck would be tough to pull off, but I’d love to see someone try. Stuffy Doll can kill a person and protect you while doing it. Sylvan Library joins Swords to Plowshares in the staples section. Like some of the previous letters with a lot of cards, “S” has significant redeeming value with every deck type you might consider. I like the aggro creatures here, headlined by Savannah Lions, Serendib Efreet, Soltari Monk, Priest, Trooper, and cheap finishers like Seizan, Spiritmonger, and Sol’Kanar. I also love the land destruction element here with cards like Sinkhole, Stream of Acid, Seismic Spike, and Stone Rain.

T – Tangle Wire suits a tempo strategy. Tarmogoyf is everybody’s favorite pet. Teferi makes control decks work. Can you build a storm count and win with Tendrils of Agony? The Abyss, for those who have one, is one of the most traditional forms of control you can wield. Transmute Artifact is a potent tool (and remember Tinker is restricted but playable) and you have Trinket Mage in that vein. Tradewind Rider is a strong card any time you can use it. Is this the color of big creatures? From the aforementioned Tarmogoyf to Teneb and Treva to Tidespout Tyrant, Two-Headed Dragon to Tooth and Nail in order to get the big creatures, there are a lot of options here.

U – Umezawa’s Jitte is card with obvious power. Upheaval could have some value. Other than that, there’s not too much here of high value, a shame for a vowel.

V – I like Vedalken Orrery in multiplayer. If you want something resembling mass removal, see Void. Volrath’s Stronghold is a classic multiplayer land that will win you games over and over again.

W – As mentioned above, “W” is the letter of two Wraths including the original, plus Wing Shards. Watchwolf may make an impact. Winds of Change and Whirlpool Warrior join the restricted cards in power. Worship is here, as is arguably the best tempo card of all time in Winter Orb. The Wraths and Wing Shards alone orient this letter to control.

X – Of the six “X” cards, the most powerful one is Xanthic Statue. All of them are creatures, but the statue survives sweeping removal, making it work in control decks with Wrath effects.

Y – Yavimaya Elder will set up your manabase for the rest of the game. The two restricted cards of power are here, but I’m not mentioning them this time. Yosei has some value in a small color. Because of the Yavimaya cards, this letter leans very Green.

Z – The final letter. This is one of the tribe letters, with zombies running around. Nine non-Unhinged/Unglued zombies are here along with Zombie Master, Trailblazer, and Infestation. Zirilian of the Claw has the potential to win if combined with the right letter. You also have cards like Zuran Orb, Zo-zu the Punisher, and Zur’s Wierding to consider. There are an unusually high number of legendary creatures in this letter, due to P3K legends like Zhuge Jin or Zhang He.

And there you have it. I just reviewed a list of every card in Magic in order to find the power cards in each color. I’d make the first word or two easy, and steer clear of power letters like “G” or “M” or even “S.” Maybe something like, ABE. That’d be a fun format!

I hope that you enjoyed another trek through the world of the casual. As always, it was a lot of fun.

Until later,

Abe Sargent