The Kitchen Table #398 – Very Mercenary

Because he forgot it in his article about formats and variants for casual play, today Abe explains a fun variant called Mercenaries.

This article is written as penance. What did I do wrong? About six weeks ago, I wrote an article that had a lot of formats and variants for casual play in it. Well, I forgot one. A long time ago, a writer named Anthony Alongi created a play variant for multiplayer called Mercenaries. It’s a lot of fun, so as penance I created a modern Mercenaries stack and will explain the variant today.

Like many variants, Mercenaries adds a couple of rules to the game, but it does not change the nature of decks. There are no rules about how to build your deck or what is banned. You can play Mercenaries with Commander decks, Five Color decks, or Standard decks—it doesn’t matter.

The format was designed to give players the opportunity to get a creature out at any time. You don’t have to pay their high casting costs either, which is great. Let’s start with the rules:

Prior to the game beginning, someone in your playgroup will need to have made a Mercenaries stack, which we will discuss at length in a bit. I built one a few nights ago, and it took me 45 minutes from start to finish.

At the beginning of your upkeep, you may choose to pay for a Mercenary. Once you have done that, you are locked in and must pay for the Mercenary. You flip over the top card on the Mercenaries stack, and then you pay its Mercenary cost.

Each card is in a sleeve, and inside of that sleeve is a number which is its Mercenary Point (MP) cost.

In order to pay for one MP, you must do one of four things:

1) Pay seven life

2) Exile a card from your hand

3) Exile two nonland and nontoken permanents you control

4) Exile the top twenty cards of your library

So if you flip a Mercenary with a cost of two, you must pay for two MP. If you cannot pay for the creature, then you lose the game.

Mercenary cards have a few rules:

Mercenaries are treated as if they are token creatures if they leave play. So if they are bounced, Flickered, killed, or shuffled back into your library, instead they are exiled and stay there. Anything that can be directed their way normally can continue to do so. They can be stolen, killed by the legend rule, and so forth.

You may not control more than one Mercenary at a time. If you do, then both are immediately exiled.

Mercenaries have a special rule: when they leave the battlefield, then the controller may get a new Mercenary and pay its cost. This gives you an opportunity to have a rolling Mercenary.

Okay, I have my Mercenary stack. Would you like to see it? Let’s begin!

These cost one MP to play; they are simpler and at the smaller end of good multiplayer creatures.

Chancellor of the Dross
Forge[/author]“]Chancellor of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
Kodama of the North Tree
Phyrexian Colossus
Sol’Kanar the Swamp King
Sphinx of Jwar Isle

These ten creatures can be had for a single MP. None of them are broken on their own, but you will notice that some are more powerful than others. In the past, Lhurgoyf would be much higher and powerful, but with so much graveyard removal these days in multiplayer, its power is greatly reduced, so now it fits here nicely. Is the best creature here the vanilla 10/10 Ghoultree? Or is it Clone, which has a lot of flexibility sometimes but sucks other times? (I moved Clone down from Anthony’s list to the one spot). Is it Phyrexian Colossus or Forge[/author]“]Chancellor of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]? Play and find out!

Unlike Anthony Alongi, I did not feel the need to balance creatures by color. I didn’t care if the stack had more green cards or red cards. I just wanted good guys. I also was limited by what was not already in my decks or in other projects such as Type 4 or Momir Vig. I also made my one MP guys better than his. I would hate to flip Cloud Djinn, a 5/4 flyer with a weakness, and have to spend a Mercenary Point for it. I would also hate to flip Flowstone Sculpture—these cards are not worth the price of admission.

These cards are my two MP creatures.

Body Double
Dominus of Fealty
Frost Titan
Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer
Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis
Platinum Emperion
Rune-Scarred Demon
Sphinx of Uthuun
Verdant Force
Wrexial, the Risen Deep

The next ten creatures have an added level of power. The big Molimo has trample to smash through. Creatures can get powerful card advantage over time or immediately as Verdant Force, Wrexial, and Nefarox demonstrate. The Demon and Sphinx immediately net you one or more cards of value plus a good body. This is a nice little upgrade of power over the first level.

From Anthony’s list, we are dropping Verdant Force down from three MP where it didn’t belong and upgrading Reya Dawnbringer. I have no idea how Anthony thought Reya was just a two MP creature. Some of Anthony’s two MP guys puzzle me, like Teeka’s Dragon. Do I want to spend two MP for a 5/5 flyer that has just trample and rampage 4? I don’t think so.

Now let’s look at the most powerful. These guys each cost three MP:

Archon of the Triumvirate
Avatar of Woe
Blazing Archon
Consecrated Sphinx
Grave Titan
Reya Dawnbringer
Sun Titan
Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

I rocked ten cards each for levels one and two, but here I only went with eight creatures, in part because I didn’t have an extra Akroma or Spirit of the Night and in part to make it slightly less likely that someone will flip a big guy. Each of these is among the most powerful creatures running around for its power. Some of these are houses—Reya is nasty when left alone. Remember that you flip Mercenaries at the beginning of your upkeep. (This is a change from Anthony’s rule). Therefore, you do not get upkeep triggers that turn (and that is why I made that change). Reya is broken over time, but people get a turn to respond. Meanwhile, Sun Titan gets you something now but has a diminished potential for nastiness over time.

Sometimes you’ll flip something that doesn’t work with your deck. If you pay three MP for Tariel when you have a deck built around Planar Void and Leyline of the Void proactively keeping opposing graveyards down, you’ll be disappointed. If you get Sun Titan in a deck with no cards of that cost in the graveyard to recur, that’s rough. You could flip Clone on an empty board. It’s funny, but it happens.

I did include Anthony’s suggestion of the one or three creatures. Here’s how these five guys work. If you are playing that color, then you must spend three MP for them. If you cannot, then just one MP is needed. What if you have a City of Brass in play but are not playing that color? You just pay one MP for it, and you got lucky with a nice creature—good job. These five cost one or three:

Chameleon Colossus
Jareth, Leonine Titan
Mordant Dragon
Pestilence Demon
Sphinx of Magosi

Each of these adds a nice slate of power. Getting a creature that can get protection from any color for one white, Pestilencing the population for one black, Firebreathing and smashing face well, drawing a card, or doubling power over and over again all seem nuts if you have that color.

I also took Anthony’s suggestion and built a group of creatures that require a bid. Here is how a bid creature works. When you reveal one of these, you then must decide whether or not you even want the creature. Decide, and then you begin the bidding with zero MP. Bidding goes around the table auction style until someone wins. If you win, you either get the creature or you don’t. If you don’t win, the opposite happens.

You are not bidding for the creature, like Illicit Auction. Instead, people are bidding to have the opposite of what you want to happen. These creatures all have disadvantages to certain play styles and decks, so they are guys you might not want. If they break your deck open, then people might want you to pay a little more for them, so everything will work out. Here are my seven bid creatures.

Avatar of Slaughter
Doran, the Siege Tower
Molder Slug
Phyrexian Negator
Wormfang Manta
Zo-Zu the Punisher

Take Doran for example. You might love him if you have creatures with high toughness out. I would love him in my decks of Commander Eesha, Indomitable Ancients, Wall of Blossoms, and Silklash Spiders. If you have the opposite, then he sucks. If you have out a bunch of 4/4 or 7/7 dudes, then Doran is just a vanilla 5/5. It all depends on your state of game. Avatar of Slaughter gives opposing creatures double strike and forces them to attack just like you do. That is a nasty card at the wrong time. Thundermare taps everything down, including your own stuff, to hit for five. You may not want that. So you can see how these hose you or help you depending on the situation.

Anthony had some zero cost MP creatures, and these gave your opponent a benefit, like Hired Giant or Hunted Wumpus. I didn’t like that because it was bad to flip over a Mercenary in most cases like that. I didn’t want the Mercenaries to have that kind of issue. I thought about having a five set of zero cost creatures that were just okay and not great, like Air Elemental or Serra Angel or something. These would just add a body for free to the table but not push you. So that was a thought of mine, and perhaps I will go there later.

I did add a pair of cards that I considered outside of Alongi’s categories. They are X payment creatures, and I have just two right now:

Lord of Extinction
Serra Avatar

X is equal to the power and toughness of the creature divided by ten, rounded up. Take Serra Avatar: pay one MP for Serra Avatar for each ten life you have, rounded up. So if you have seventeen life, you spend two MP, and if you have 21, you pay three MP. This gives you creatures cost to their scale. This also shows that Ghoultree’s 10/10 vanilla nature is at the top of one MP because that 11/11 vanilla Lord or Avatar costs two MP to rock.

A major point I want to make concerns the X. It needs to stay away from other abilities that make them good. You don’t see Multani, Mortivore, or Molimo here. I kept Lhurgoyf at the one MP level because it’s not going to be very high since it only looks at your graveyard, but if your experience varies, then by all means move it to the X spot. But keep out tramplers, flyers, and other abilities on these sorts of creatures.

That gives me a total Mercenary stack of 42 creatures. When one is exiled after being in play, it does not go to a Mercenary graveyard. Instead, they remain exiled, and if the stack is exhausted, then the Mercenaries are done for the game. It’s time to give them a break.

Special Commander Adjunct

The rules for Mercenaries assume that people are playing a format where folks begin with 20 life and have 60-card decks. When you begin with 40 life instead and have 100-card decks, then two methods to pay for Mercenaries are better. Try them out at your casual table as is, but if you have to increase them, feel encouraged to do so.

If you find the life and mill payments to be too low, then increase life to ten life and milling to 25 and see how that goes. If it still doesn’t work, double the life lost to fourteen and that should keep things in the right place. You may have to increase cards to 30. I doubt it though—Commander players are very protective of their libraries, and I doubt they will pay MP even through 20 cards very often. Life costs seem vulnerable though. A simple Invincible Hymn allows someone to pay their Mercenary costs with ease. Maybe they will flip over Serra Avatar and have to make seven MP to keep it in play and hammer their board position; that would be very funny to observe!

I hope that you enjoyed this look at another quirky variant for multiplayer. If you enjoyed it, why not look through your rares, find some good choices, and try it out!

Until later,

Abe Sargent

P.S. Anthony’s original article is here.