The Kitchen Table #397 – Random Formats

See what fun stuff Abe comes up with when he builds casual formats or variants around randomly selected words.

Hello folks! Welcome to the next year and all that! Have a seat and let’s look at an interesting project.

Two articles ago, I wrote up a large database of alternate formats for your use going forward. In that database was two links to two old articles by Anthony Alongi. In these articles, he created several multiplayer formats with a special challenge. He made some very interesting formats with this strategy. After rereading his work, I thought it would be a nice homage to take that and try it myself.

Anthony Alongi challenge was to flip open a dictionary to a random word and then try to build a casual format or variant around that word. To be fair, he did allow himself the opportunity to audible out of a word if it was just too narrow. Suppose I randomly grab jerboa. I’m not sure I could build a format around the jumping little desert rat. I reserve the right to audible out of a bad word as well.

The point of this exercise is to see how various restrictions create something really interesting. I remember lots of these assignments in creative writing courses. I was given an opening line and had to write a story around it or handed two small tin grim reapers that were Halloween decorations. I wrote a humorous story about the Reaper twins, Death and Frank, with each one pursuing a different career path. Death was following in his family’s footsteps, and Frank was decidedly not doing so. It was one of my best stories from that class. I’ve tried to do similar challenges with random assignments for decks: bad rares, random tribes, and so forth. Instead of decks, today let’s see if I can build some variants or formats instead.


na·wab [nuh-wob, -wawb]


1. Also, nabob. A viceroy or deputy governor under the former Mogul empire in India.

2. An honorary title conferred upon Muslims of distinction in India and Pakistan.

Well, okay, that’s a bit out there for my first word. Is it a bit too obscure for this? Nope. Because we are going to take an existing variant and tweak it:

Nawab aka Bollywood Emperor

Set up an Emperor game as normal. Mark the first player to take a turn with a token to remind everyone. Play the first turn as normal. But then there is a chance that everyone will spontaneously get up and dance. When this happens, people could wind up moving to a new seat!

Before the game begins, assign each seat a number from one to six. At the beginning of first player’s second turn, roll 2d6. One of those dice is assigned to the first seat, and the second die is assigned to the other seat. The players in those two seats switch places at the table. If doubles are rolled, nobody switches.

When a player switches seats, they take their decks and everything with them. No playing each other’s decks! This is their post-dance placement. I’d recommend using a playmat and then just sliding the mat around to accommodate the dance move. Turn order stays in the same order. The token designating the first player stays in that chair. So if that player moved in turn 3 to seat #4, then the player now in seat #1 will roll dice at the beginning of the next turn of the new #1 player. If player #1 moves to a new chair, they do NOT take their turn, and the new #1 player takes the turn instead.

Just like normal Emperor, players have a limited range. Generals retain a range of one no matter their seat. Emperors have a range of two. One may only attack an enemy adjacent to them.

That’s an interesting take on Emperor. Alright, I’m in. I’m feeling this project a little more now that I have one under my belt. What’s next?


tiff [tif]


1. A slight or petty quarrel.

2. A slight fit of annoyance, bad mood, or the like.

This will be a quick variant, and then I’ll add another word and go to four today because it’s so short.

The Tiff Jar

In multiplayer, whenever somebody obviously becomes angry at an in-game action someone else does, they have to put some money into the Tiff Jar. Buy pizzas or something from the Tiff Jar every so often.

Getting angry at a fellow player happens, but it hurts the game. Instead of making it personal and hurting the other players at the table, why not make light of it, force the angry person to ante up (much like a Swearing Jar), and move on.

Alright, what’s next?


pum·ice [puhm-is] pum·iced, pum·ic·ing


1. Also called pumice stone. A porous or spongy form of volcanic glass, used as an abrasive.

verb (used with object)

2. To rub, smooth, clean, etc., with pumice.

Pumice Variant

(Did you know that water was often stored in pumice stone naturally, and when needing water, natives would go to the stone to get it? I learned that in geology class.)

In the Pumice variant, your library is giant pumice stone. As a result, there are a few additional rules.

1). Whenever you draw a card after already drawing one card on that turn, you have difficulty drawing additional water from the stone. You must spend one mana per card drawn or you will be unable to draw the card. So, as an example, suppose that you have out Howling Mine. For you to draw the extra card, you have to spend a mana. If you play Tidings and have already drawn a card that turn, then you have to spend an additional four mana to draw the four cards from Tidings. If you play Inspiration on someone else’s turn, then you drawing one card fine since you didn’t have a draw step, and the other you have to spend mana for.

2). Whenever you Tutor your deck after turn 5, drawing water from the stone is harder. You must spend two additional mana for each card you retrieve. This only begins after turn 5 to keep you from having difficulty setting up your mana base. So if you cast Crop Rotation on turn 8, then you have to pay two colorless mana to get it to work. You have to spend four additional mana for Tooth and Nail or activating a fetchland and so forth.

3). Whenever you look at the top card or cards of your library, you have difficulty drawing water from the rock. You cannot rearrange the cards at the top of your library unless you spend an additional mana for this effect. So if you activate Sensei’s Divining Top or Mirri’s Guile, you must spend a mana to rearrange the cards. If you cast Diabolic Vision, then you have to spend an extra colorless if you want to rearrange the cards on top of your library. Note that this only works with the top of library, not the bottom. No mana for stacking the bottom with Impulse. You must spend this tax BEFORE doing the effect. If you do not pay it for scry, then all cards must go to the bottom.

The goal of the Pumice variant is to put a bit of a brake on the abuses at multiplayer tables. It slows down mass card drawing, Tutoring, and sorting in order to give other players a chance to force the offensive player off their top position. By just slowing it down a bit, the goal is to keep things flowing more evenly.

After the stone, what comes next?


midg·et [mij-it]


1. (Not in technical use) an extremely small person having normal physical proportions.

2. Any animal or thing that is very small for its kind.

Well, okay then.

Dwarves Are A Tribe Too!

In this format, smaller tribes are given some equal footing.

Go to Gatherer and do a search for a creature type. If it has fewer than 50 members (not counting changelings and Mistform Ultimus), then it qualifies as a minor tribe.

Any tribe that qualifies as a minor tribe gets the following benefit:

At the beginning of the game, roll a d10 for each minor tribe in a minor tribal deck. (This is defined as a deck with large numbers of one tribe and your group chooses how they qualify. Otherwise, just use the 1/3rd rule of Tribal Wars.) The benefit of that leader will be in play for the entire game as an emblem for all members of that tribe, no matter who is playing them:

1 – Goblin Chieftain

2 – Catapult Master

3 – Elvish Champion

4 – Merrow Reejerey

5 – Knight Exemplar

6 – Field Marshal

7 – Death Baron

8 – Wort, Boggart Auntie

9 – Drogskol Captain

0 – Patron Wizard

Whichever Lord is flipped up, the minor tribe specified has the indicated bonus. So if someone builds a Dwarf deck then rolls six, a Field Marshal is in play as an emblem. All Dwarves, even opposing ones, get +1/+1 and first strike for the entire game. Each minor tribe user gets to roll on the chart for their tribe unless two or more people have the same minor tribe, in which case just one die roll is made for the whole tribe.

This gives a way for lesser tribes to compete with the bigger guns.

Alright, let’s do one more of these. I know that was supposed to be it, but these are fun. Why not push it to one last variant?


in·sa·lu·bri·ous [in-suh-loo-bree-uh?s]


Unfavorable to health; unwholesome.

Wow, what a roll. A long time ago, perhaps ten years ago, I made some Magic cards for a personal set. That set was themed around the rediscovery of an island on Dominia of a potent form of Magic that was related to this poisonous caustic substance. Various races and people across the multiverse dispatched people here with the intent of studying and copying this new powerful Magic. I reintroduced poison counters, including them as disadvantages for cheaper versions of powerful spells and so forth.

Anyway, one of the cards I made was called Insalubrity. It gave every creature the player controlled the ability to smash face for a poison counter. And now I roll it after a major poison set came out. Interesting. As homage to that set of long ago…


All creatures with deathtouch, infect and, wither get +1/+1.

Whenever a player would gain a poison counter, they may instead choose to lose two life per counter they would have gained. That player must pay the life for all counters gained in this way. So if a player is attacked by Blightsteel Colossus and soaks up five of the damage with Arashi, they may either take seven poison counters or lose fourteen life. They may not mix and match it with two counters and ten life or any other division. It must be all or nothing.

This will amp up poison decks, but I wanted to give opponents a way out from a turn 1 Glistener Elf.

You can mix and match these variants. You could easily play all four of the latter ones together, combining the Dwarves Are A Tribe Too! rules along with that of Insalubrity, Pumice, and even Tiff.

This was a fun experiment, and I suspect we’ll try it again. I hope that you enjoyed it too!

Until later,
Abe Sargent