The Peasants Have Been Corrupted By Greed And Vice: The Flaws Of Peasant Magic And Some Decks

Peasant Magic’s rules are very simple: The only cards allowed are commons from any set (which does include Portal, Unglued, and so forth), and you can also have up to five of any uncommon. No banned list, no restricted list. So simple, so elegant. And ultimately, so wrong.

There’s this whole Peasant Magic phenomena going on out there. Hey, I can understand why people want a cheap alternate format. I can also understand the appeal of Peasant Magic. Its rules are very simple. The only cards allowed are commons from any set (which does include Portal, Unglued, and so forth), and you can also have up to five of any uncommon. No banned list, no restricted list.

So simple, so elegant. And ultimately, so wrong.

It’s wrong for so many reasons – but popularity-wise, it stands heads and shoulders above alternatives like [author name="Will Rieffer"]Will Rieffer’s[/author] suggestions or Benzonian. Each of those is more complex than Peasant Magic… So Peasant Magic is the popular choice. And the most flawed. There will be a couple of control decks at the end that I believe help to illustrate my point.

What is the purpose behind Peasant Magic? My High School English Teacher drilled this axiom into me,”Structure supports Meaning.” So what is the meaning, or purpose, of having this alternate format? The homepage of the format states that there are too many rares in Constructed events for most people. And rares are expensive to acquire.

Expense, therefore, is one of the deciding factors from the creation of this alternate format. So let’s examine some Peasant Magic rulings more closely.

The Rarity Of The Card Is The Most Common It Has Ever Been Printed

This is a troubling ruling. The example given is Wyluli Wolf: Printed as a rare in base sets, it was a common in Arabian Nights. Therefore, I could play with my fifth edition Wyluli Wolves as commons. But that is such a feckless example. Wyluli Wolf. Are people playing a lot of these wolves?

Let’s try an example that people will actually follow: Strip Mine. In Antiquities, three pictures of Strip Mine were printed as Uncommons, one picture was printed as Common. Ergo, Strip Mine is allowed, as a common, in multiples of four. Same with Mishra’s Factory.

So cards like these, using the above ruling, can be played as commons. It’s not too much of an issue if decks could run these lands as uncommons and count them against their quota. But as commons?

There are a lot of these types of issues – and when I build a deck later, I’ll illuminate some more.

Count The Sheet For Old Sets

Commonalities on older sets are all screwed up. Some sets did not have any rares, just commons and uncommons. So, a card either appeared on the sheet containing common cards or uncommon cards, but it did so in different quantities. A U1, for example, appeared once on the uncommon sheet. A U3 would appear three times on the uncommon sheet, and so forth. Peasant Magic does not distinguish between U1s and U3s. However, power level, finances, and availability did depend on such a thing.

I started playing during The Dark, which is one such set without any rares. As such, I am familiar with playing under these conditions. A Preacher, which was a U1, was as rare as a Doppelganger or Shivan Dragon in Revised. However, because there are no”rares” as such, Peasant Magic would allow up to four of any uncommon. That would include cards like Mishra’s Workshop, Juzam Djinn, Ball Lightning, and Library of Alexandria. When you can play four Libraries, that format is degenerate.

There Is No Banned And Restricted List

Several of these problems could be cleared up with a simple B&R list. Take Shahrazad, for example. Does anybody really want people running around with four of these? A deck built around Shaharazad would be quite annoying, indeed.

In theory, how can any environment encompass cards ranging all the way back to Alpha and not want a B&R list? There are a lot of potent cards out there that can overpower an environment. The classic example is Library of Alexandria, from above.

Unglued Cards Are Allowed

Portal cards? Who cares? Heck, we’ve talked about allowing Portal cards on the Five Color mailing list before. In commons and uncommons, you’ll just get some creatures and bad sorceries. No big deal.

Unglued cards are a different matter. A lot of serious Magic players simply do not like playing with Unglued cards. A few of these cards are good, and to not play them would be denying the ability to use them. Take the trio of Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, and Scissors Lizard. A 4/3 with no drawback for 4 colorless is really good. There are not that many artifacts or enchantments running around, so people play with a smaller number of disenchant effects, if any. That makes these 4/3 creatures even better.

4/3 for four is good value. Some decks might want a few. Knight of the Hokey Pokey can prevent damage from any source to itself for some mana and a dance. Might be a good two-drop in WW. But the ultimate option is Chaos Confetti. Tear it up, Jokulhaups your opponent – and you are even allowed to replace it after each game. If you have good aim, it’s like a Nevinyrral’s Disk for just your opponent. Maybe one or two of your own permanents get hit, too, but it is worth it.

There Is No Price Threshold

Remember, this is an environment where expense is one of the vital factors behind its creation. Isn’t it interesting, then, that I can’t play with a cheap one dollar rare from Mirage, but I can play with a Juzam Djinn? I can play with an Argivian Archeaologist, sure… But not Hanna.

This factor, combined with others above, allows for four copies of several abusable and expensive cards to be played. With a lot of common artifact creatures in older sets, tossing in three Mishra’s Workshops and two Tinkers would be an interesting deck idea.

And yet, cheap little rares are never to be played. Sad, isn’t it.

I do recognize that the Peasant format has a different metagame than normal Magic. It is much more oriented towards beatdown. Therefore, maybe issues explored in certain cases, like Library of Alexandria or Strip Mine, may not be that play in actual play. There are still systematic issues, however, behind those cards. Maybe the issue is Ball Lightning or something else. The point is not the individual cards, but the whole Peasant Magic system.

Now each of these issues can be, I think, cleaned up easily.

  1. No Unglued Allowed.

  2. I submit that the number of players who won’t play in a format with Unglued cards at all far exceeds the number of players who won’t play unless Unglued cards are allowed. Therefore, it is a hindering factor to the format.

  3. Change the rarity rule to this:”The rarity of a card is determined by the rarity of the copy of the card in question.”

  4. Therefore, if you happen to have a common Antiquities Strip Mine, it counts as a common. If all you have is a full set of Fourth Edition Strip Mines, then they count as uncommons. This ruling actually makes a lot of sense. A Fifth Wyluli Wolf is a rare card, therefore it counts as a rare card. (Well, except for the fact that you create arguments and confusion over which edition is which, especially for earlier cards – The Ferrett, who knows the difference between white-bordered and black-bordered, but knows that a lot of people don’t)

  5. Create a Banned and Restricted list. Toss out or restrict cards like Shaharazad and Library of Alexandria.

  6. Create a money cap. You could create a cap for a deck. For example, require that a deck’s total value be less than $20 or $25 using current Scrye low prices. Or you could require that every card played be worth under $1 or $1 or $1.50 according to Scrye Low/Medium/High prices. Whatever strikes your fancy. This allows cheap little rares to be played, but not expensive uncommons.

  7. U1’s from Arabian Nights, Antiquities, The Dark, Fallen Empires and Homelands should count as rares and are not allowed. This is a very common rule used in a lot of Magic. U1’s traded as though they were rares, see less print, and so forth.

To illustrate the problems with Peasant Magic, allow me to create some control decks which may do very well in the format. Since the metagame is heavily beatdown, isn’t it nice to have another option? In the land of beatdown, control should be king.

Red Control

4 Wall of Diffusion

4 Wall of Earth

4 Yotian Soldier

4 Sandstone Warrior

1 Viashino Outrider

2 Chaos Confetti

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Incinerate

4 Arc Lightning

3 Breath of Darigaaz

2 Slice and Dice

4 Maze of Ith

20 Mountains


4 Tremor

4 Pyroblast

4 Mountain Yeti

3 Earthbind

This is your classic control deck. It wants to do three things – stall, sweep, and attack. Use the Wall of Diffusion and Wall of Earth to stall. Even the Yotian Soldier and Sandstone Warrior make good blockers. The Wall of Diffusion can also block annoying shadow creatures as well. Burn and remove those you can’t block or Maze until you have established control behind your defense. Then use your uncommon earthquake effects or your Chaos Confetti to sweep the board. You can also use the Sandstone Warrior to attack into a group of creatures – they either won’t block or they’ll chump it. The burn can be flung at flyers to keep them down.

Sideboard in Earthbind for the Earthquake effects if there are too many flyers. Tremor can be a godsend against decks with a lot of X/1 ground creatures, like elfball or a black shadow deck. The Mountain Yeti will hose both white and replaces the Viashino Outrider and the Breaths against red. Pyroblasts are your anti-blue measure against High Tide and such.

Here’s another shot at a control deck:

Blue/Red Control

4 Wall of Diffusion

4 Yotian Soldier

2 Wayward Soul

4 Careful Study

4 Portent

3 Chaos Confetti

3 Fact or Fiction

2 Wash Out

3 Swirling Sandstorm

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Incinerate

4 Maze of Ith

10 Mountains

12 Islands


4 Tremor

4 Counterspell

4 Mana Leak

1 Swirling Sandstorm

2 Undo

Instead of abusing your uncommon sweep cards, this deck relies on getting threshold early with Fact or Fiction, Careful Study, Portent and Burn until you can cast a quick board clearer with Swirling Sandstorm. You also have Wash Out to give you some time. This deck still has the Mazes, Chaos Confetti, burn, Wall of Diffusion and Yotian Soldiers to play defense. Wayward Soul is your common Morphling.

In case you need countermagic, you can sideboard into counterburn. In the board you have the Tremors and another Swirling Sandstorm if you need it. Undo can provide a quick bounce if your opposing deck is really fast, relies on creature enchantments not named Rancor, or abuses token creatures.

I didn’t even try to break Force of Will, Library of Alexandria, Demonic Consultation, or other such cards. As you can see, the format could use a little work.

Still, Peasant Magic can be a real blast, and a lot of stores are getting into the action by having Peasant tournament. It can really stretch your imagination to think of unusual common cards to play with. So go and build a deck and play with some friends.

Until later,

Abe Sargent