The Kitchen Table #241 – The Compendium of Alternate Formats, Entry #10: Chameleon Magic

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Thursday, July 10th – The Compendium of Alternate Formats is designed to be a collection of interesting formats for you to share and to which you might introduce your playgroup. In today’s article, I am going to introduce the format, then talk about some of the details. Once that is out of the way, I intend to build some decks to demonstrate the format. Simple, eh?

A happy Thursday to you and your kin. Welcome back to the column that unearths the fossils of the casual. I am your paleontologist, Abe Sargent, here to try to make sense of the bones and records of Magic.

Some readers might remember me mentioning back in December about my hard drive crash on my laptop. I lost several articles that I had already written, and I was very sad. Today, I am rewriting one of those lost articles.

The Compendium of Alternate Formats is designed to be a collection of interesting formats for you to share and to which you might introduce your playgroup.

A format is different than a variant, but there are those who get them confused. I consider a variant to be a different way of playing. Two-Headed Giant is a variant. It has different rules of play. A format, on the other hand, is a different way of building your decks. Type Two is a format in which only a few sets are legal to use. Vintage is a format that allows all sets but has a banned and restricted list.

You can tell the difference between a format and a variant quite simply. If you can play it in multiple formats, then it is a variant. For example, you can play Two-Headed Giant with a Standard cardpool, Extended format, or even Five Color format. However, if you were to play Standard Five Color, that doesn’t make sense, since the rules of Five Color include all cards and have a banned and restricted list including cards not in Standard. You would have to edit the format significantly to make Five Color Standard, while you don’t have to change a thing to have Emperor Standard.

Variants are interesting. There’s nothing wrong with playing a good variant, like Secret Alliances. Formats are really fun, because I like the deck building challenge.

In today’s article, I am going to introduce the format, then talk about some of the details. Once that is out of the way, I intend to build some decks to demonstrate the format. Simple, eh?

Chameleon Format

Unlike a lot of other formats I have introduced in these pages, Chameleon is simple. There is one basic rule. Chameleon allows you to play any lands you want, and just gold cards.

That’s it.

No, Really

Alright, so there are a few things we need to talk about. You’re allowed to use any lands in order to help your manabase, since the cards you use create a difficult situation. If we only allowed basic lands, then people would play just two color decks. That’s not very interesting.

There are some questions that people are about to ask, so I’ll answer them now.

Do split cards count?

Well, are they gold? Some are, like the split cards from Ravnica block. Those are allowed, since they are gold. The ones from Invasion and Apocalypse are disallowed. They are not gold.

What about hybrid cards?

Are they gold? Nope. They are a blend of two colors on the card’s border, they are not gold. This format disallows the use of a mono-color deck, and both hybrid and split cards would allow that. For shame!

Alright, fine, how about Reaper King?

Yes, the Reaper King is gold, he has a gold border, among his artifact border.

Well, if Reaper King counts, the Transguild Courier

Correct, it also counts as well.

Good to know.

And that’s the special rules. The base rule still applies – just gold cards. You’d be surprised how many want to interpret that differently. This is just about gold cards, ladies and gentlemen.


There are several ways that you can build you gold-only deck. The first is to build around a Ravnica block guild.

Since we have no one drops, I decided to roll with the comes into play tapped Elfhame Palaces. Drop them on the first turn.

This deck is built around the Selesnya guild of Ravnica, but you could build around any of the ten guilds in this format. This deck begins with a pair of two drops in Watchwolf and Selesnya Evangel. The first will commence the beating while the second makes you some creatures.

The Supply half of Supply/Demand is a fine way to get a few more saprolings. This deck wants saprolings to convoke out the Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi or to fuel the Glare of Subdual. The Glare is your power card, so play it when you can immediately use it, otherwise, hold onto it and perhaps an opponent will use their removal elsewhere.

You do have four Seeds of Strength, which can seriously change combat math. They act as pseudo-removal for opposing creatures, at least in combat.

Hymn of Rebirth can bring you back a crucial dead creature. I’d aim that at Tolsimir Wolfblood first, and then a Guardian second. Note that Tolsimir Wolfblood double pumps your creatures when he is out, since they are all Green and White.

You’ll note the list contains the usual suspects like Anurid Brushhopper and Loxodon Hierarch. If you want to switch power for trickiness, remove the Brushhoppers for Fleetfoot Panther. Then you can protect creatures from removal.

Anyway, this is a simple enough deck, built around one of the fun guilds. I’m sure you’ll discover other fun guild ideas for the format.

The Rock

Another idea it to build around a couple of cards which are really, really strong.

This is not a Golgari deck, even though it has Grave-Shell Scarab. This is getting played because of its ability to come back after dying to a Punishment or a Pernicious Deed.

Obviously, you want to sweep the board with a Deed or kill a bunch of guys with Punishment. Then you have Death Mutation and Putrefy as emergency adjunct kill to your main cards.

There is one things this color combination can do, and that’s kill creatures.

Spiritmonger is a sweet finisher and you can regenerate to save it from sweeping removal, such as your own. Ebony Treefolk are a nice sized threat that can get bigger easily. Llanowar Dead are a good two drop that also accelerates your mana. A lot of decks are going to have 2/2s for two mana getting played, so it’s best you can keep up with the Joneses.

Vulturous Zombie is an amazing card but I find it always getting targeted in multiplayer. People fear it. You have just two, because you don’t need them, but they are good.

There are not a lot of surprises for this color combination. You can kill creatures nice and good, and you have some strong beaters. You can also off artifacts, which doesn’t matter much in Chameleon.

This is a deck that builds around the power of Pernicious Deed and Spiritmonger. You can find any powerful card and try to do the same.

Gold Control

Another way to build is not around a guild or a powerful card, but instead around a strategy.

Error is very, very powerful in this format. UB, counter target multicolored spell? Amazing. Combine with the countermagic of Undermine and Perplex and you have a strong suite of counters.

Recoil has always been a favorite card of mine, since it can occasionally be used as an instant Vindicate when they have no cards in hand. You can also bounce a threat back to the hand and then counter it when it gets replayed. Or you can Recoil a card while a major threat is on the stack that you want to counter. Then Perplex the threat you want to counter and force them to decide to discard their hand, including the card you just bounced.

There’s not a lot of card drawing choices in the color. Consult the Necrosages is about as good as it gets. I also tossed in a full set of Lim-Dul’s Vault for your pleasure.

A ton of the cards here cost three mana, so you can use a Perplex to hunt down a Psychatog, Infiltrator, Recoil, Consult the Necrosages or Undermine.

When you get enough lands, hold the extra for Psychatog. It’s a perfect finisher for a deck like this. I also included a full set of Infiltrators, because this deck needs card drawing badly. Lastly, I rounded out the creature selection with a pair of Wydwen. Wydwen is a fine card, and the ability to self bounce can work well against decks that pack a lot more creature removal than you do. For example, the Rock deck above contains more creature removal spells than you have counters. Wydwen may be your ticket to win against that sort of deck.


Crosis Commands You

Another way to build a deck in Chameleon is to build around the three color combos that an Invasion dragon will give you.

This deck is built around Crosis, the Purger. It contains the best cards of two color combinations. You have powerful cards like Trial/Error, Undermine, Consult the Necrosages and Shadowmage Infiltrator from the Blue/Black side of the fence. The Red/Black side contributes Terminate, Void, Wrecking Ball, Lyzolda, and Kaervek.

Note that every card is Black. I looked briefly at Red/Blue cards, but few fit the flavor of the deck. Sure, you can add more countermagic with Suffocating Blast, or add some burn/deck search with Prophetic Bolt, but most of those effects are duplicative or expensive.

This deck has got a lot of removal. Wrecking Ball takes out problematic lands and creatures with ease. Terminate is the best removal spell in the game that doesn’t remove the creature from the game. Error counters every spell played for just two mana. Void will sweep away creatures and artifacts much like Punishment. Undermine counters any spell played. Lyzolda allows you to sac creatures to deal damage and draw cards. Kaervek can be used to shoot down creatures, although you usually want to aim him at someone’s head.

Every spell you play will trigger Sol’kanar. He’s a lover of Black magic. Note that land walking is much more useful in Chameleon, when everyone has to play at least two colors.

Crosis is your big daddy. Play him and then swing in the air for some serious damage. Well, that’s the goal, at least. He’s powerful and good, but you don’t need him in order to win. Kaervek and Sol’kanar are great winners too.

Enjoy the darker side of Magic!

Some Ideas

Now that I built four decks for you, allow me to give you some deck ideas for your Chameleon decks.

There are several combo engines. Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom are both running around. Perhaps you can find a way to abuse them and combo kill an opponent. Death Grasp is a nice replacement for the old Drain Life. There are other combo elements running around too. Maybe Unfulfilled Desires is your cup of tea, for example. Maybe Fervent Charge is your idea of a card to build around.

Another way to go is to embrace the format and run all five colors. There are numerous creatures you could run using this strategy. You also have access to Last Stand, which doesn’t suck. You could even drop a Coalition Victory and win the game.

One of the bad things about this format is that there is not a lot of mana smoothing. When you get a chance to run a card like Frenzied Tilling, you should consider it seriously.

This format has a ton of 2/2 creatures for two mana. Invasion blocks gives one to every color combination except U/R. There are also 2/2 slivers for two mana running around. You’ll occasionally find a beater like Pygmy Hippo, Meddling Mage, or Scarwood Goblins. Aggro decks would be simple to build.

Perhaps you want to build around Doran.

Or maybe you want to build a goblin deck around Dralnu’s Crusade. You could run Marsh Goblins, and Wort in just Black/Red. Then you can add Blue or Green or White and get more goblins (Scarwood Goblins and Feral Animist, Goblin Legionnaire, Razorfin Hunter). That’d be a fun deck.

Hanna, Ship’s Navigator won’t get you many artifacts, but she can get you some nice enchantments. Some, like Angelic Shield, have some significant value. You might find a deck that uses Kangee, Aerie Keeper.

The Demand have of Supply/Demand is very, very strong in this format.

Perhaps Aether Rift, Destructive Flow, Phyrexian Tyranny, Overabundance, or Meteor Storm will get your Johnny juices flowing. There are a lot of janky enchantments that just might be it.

Note that there are a few sweeping effects. There’s Pernicious Deed and Punishment and Void, as we’ve seen don’t forget Savage Twister dropping. There’s Culling Sun and Razia‘s Purification. Who knows what else I can’t think of?

Watch out for removal boy a.k.a. Black/White with its Vindicate, Mortify, Pillory of the Sleepless, Culling Sun, Death Grasp, and bunches more.

I think Blue/White is, by far, the best control color. You get counters like Absorb, Overrule, and Swift Silence. You get game ending creatures like Iridescent Angel and Windreaver. Cards like Reviving Vapors can fill the gap.

There are a few color combinations I don’t fear. Red/Blue doesn’t give you much. Sure, you get a counter with Suffocating Blast, and Electrolyze is solid, but a lot of the cards aren’t that good. You might, at first, think a decent Izzet deck can be made with cards like Gelectrode and Izzet Chronarch, Invoke the Firemind and Niv-Mizzet, but it’s not that good on paper.

Red/White has to be built around a Boros style deck in order to function. I don’t see any higher level decks there. Stuff like Brion Stoutarm, Thundersong Trumpeter, Soltari Guerillas, Lightning Helix, Cautery Sliver and Goblin Legionnaire, can do your team well. You can even run older cards like Energy Bolt if you need to. Right there is 24 cards without running the E Bolt. I’m sure you can find cards for the rest of the deck, like Squee’s Embrace, Rally the Righteous, and Agrus Kos.

Another combination that doesn’t care me is Blue/Green. Sure, you get Aether Mutation and Jungle Barrier mixed with some classic Simic cards. On the other hand, a lot of those cards aren’t great. Assault Zeppelid, Simic Sky Swallower, Mystic Snake, Coiling Oracle, and Voidslime are all good, but you don’t have the depth you need. Besides, do those all fit in the same deck? The Oracle is slow than all of the other 2/2 drops getting played and is outclassed by them. After setting up, you have to reach for cards like Yavimaya’s Embrace to make your deck work. It’s not that great.

There are also going to be some metagame choices. With land walking being more useful, perhaps you might find space for a Gosta Dirk or two in your deck. That’s just one example.

Well, there are some deck ideas for you. I hope you try out the format. Good luck!

Until later…

Abe Sargent