My article on the Creature Feature format seemed to go over pretty well, so I want to talk about a couple of other unconventional formats. Some of these had their inspiration from the MTGNews.com multiplayer board, some from various Tourney Officials, and some are homebrewed by my playgroup and me. There are literally hundreds of formats out there: I chose only a few for comment. If you want more, start with the thread on the MTGNews boards – it lists almost two hundred.
A quick note: The exact rules for casuals and multiplayer formats vary. Stores and groups use their own versions. In some areas, Armageddon hits everyone in an Emperor game; in other groups, it has a range and only affects players in the range. Neither rule is wrong – the rules for casual formats are what you agree on. That said, the rules below are what I would recommend if I were asked to define the formats.
I will skip the formats that most people know about (Rochester draft, Chaos, Peasant Magic), formats that have been used at high-profile events like the Invitational (e.g. Duplicate Sealed, Solomon draft), and formats that I have already written about (Emperor, Highlander, teams.) That still leaves a lot. Here are some favorites – Duel Constructed first, then Multiplayer, then Limited.
Decks and Sideboard must have no rares and a maximum of five uncommons. Decks must contain a minimum of sixty cards. Sideboards, if used, are fifteen cards. Any Type 1 legal cards can be used. For older sets, which did not have rares, the”uncommon 1″ cards – meaning cards that appeared only once on the uncommon sheets – are considered rare and are not allowed. If cards were reprinted with a different rarity (e.g. River Boa was common in Visions, and uncommon in 6th Edition) all copies are considered to be of the lower rarity.
I’m only mentioning Peasant Magic because I want to mention the following Peasant variations:
King’s Magic is the reverse of Peasant Magic – each deck must have sixty cards with no commons (including lands), and no more than five (or ten, depending on group) uncommons.
Since this a fairly good description of some of the high-end T1 decks, like Keeper, Academy and TnT, I would use the banned and restricted lists for Type 1.5 or Extended if I wanted this to be a change. This format strikes me as more of a method of showing off card collections than a serious option.
Third World Kings’ Magic
Like King’s Magic, each deck must have six cards with no commons (including lands), and no more than five (or ten, depending on the group) uncommons. One additional rule applies – no card can be worth more than a set amount – say $5.00 – when purchased at retail.
This is a much more interesting format. The biggest problem is building a mana base. Playable, rare lands that don’t cost more than $5.00 means you almost get forced into playing stuff like Wintermoon Mesa. Duals are out of the price range, and Arabian Nights Mountains are cheating. The Odyssey filter lands and classic painlands are about your best option for colors. The decks will tend to be creature-filled – making workable combo decks is pretty hard when you’re using only bad rares and five uncommons. It is not impossible, though. Use your imagination – and a program or website that can check rarity. (You’ll need it.) You could get some interesting effects, though: Necravolver.dec may be playable in this format.
Before your group starts building, agree on a standard price list for determining legality – like StarCityGames. Don’t worry about the actual condition of your cards – use the mint/near mint price for everything. I would also consider deciding that the lowest-priced version will apply in all cases, even if the actual card being played is a more expensive, black bordered copy. (That means that that you could use an Ice Ages Adarkar Wastes, even though the price is a bit over, because a 6th edition Adarkar Wastes is cheap enough to qualify.)
Type 2 Party (a.k.a. Bring your own T2)
All cards in a deck and sideboard must have been printed in the same adjacent blocks, or in the base set that was legal when those two blocks were part of Type 2 (e.g. Tempest block, Saga Block, and 5th Edition, or Odyssey Block, Onslaught Block, and 7th Edition or 8th Edition.) Each player can choose their own Type 2. The official banned lists for each format apply. (Check the Wizards’ website for banned cards.) Decks must contain a minimum of sixty cards. Sideboards, if used, must contain fifteen cards.
It’s block party, but for Standard! For those people who have never had the chance to play against LauerPotence, Rec/Sur, or Renounce Bargain, here’s your chance. This can actually be a decent tourney format for a group with a mixture of newer and older players – like a small store. Everyone should be able to put together a decent deck, and the metagame is pretty much undefined. U/G Madness and MBC may have a chance against many of the classic decks, but everything will probably have some bad matchups. It will really come down to who brought what, and whether they can remember how to play the decks. I know I’m out of practice with Bargain, but I know I can still kick butt with T2 Rock and his Minions, and I would enjoy the chance to do so.
All non-land cards in a deck and sideboard must either be of a particular tribe or mention that tribe in the rules text. For example, a zombies deck would have zombies, but could also play Lord of the Undead (which gives benefits to all Zombies) and Cruel Revival (which returns a Zombie to hand.) Decks must contain a minimum of sixty cards. Sideboards, if used, must contain fifteen cards.
Prior to Onslaught block, this was a fairly slow, somewhat clunky format, and the format went by the not-exactly-PC name of Race Wars. The Tribal mechanic changed all of that. Soldiers, Beasts, Elves… They’re all pretty strong these days. Goblins is beyond strong.
You could also broaden the definition, if everyone agrees, to allow things like”undead” decks, which could include Zombies, Vampires, Wraiths, and Animate Dead.
Decks must contain sixty cards, with at least one card having a name beginning with each letter of the alphabet. For names with multiple words, only the first letter of the first word counts. No sideboards are used.
To allow multicolored decks without requiring dual lands, ignore the color or the mana cost, and simply play all cards by paying the converted mana cost in any colors. (As an example, you can cast Ball Lightning with three mana of any color that you have – even if it’s WGU.) Costs of abilities, kicker, and the like have their normal costs, including color of mana.
If you are playing with players who do not have a huge card pool, it may be worthwhile to allow some proxies, or to allow some flexibility in the one card per letter rule. All the cards beginning with X are rare, for example. One option might be to allow people to skip letters at the cost of three life per letter skipped.
This is another format where you design formats with a card list program in hand. It makes deck design a bit more of a challenge, but it rewards creativity. The”no colors” rule is crying out to be broken, however. It would let you play Slivers easily, but it could also make for some broken combos.
This format tends to appeal mainly to Timmies who have been playing for a while. Normal deck construction rules apply, but Islands and blue cards are prohibited. This does eliminate most counters (technically, Red Elemental Blast is still legal, but cards which it can counter are not). Normal deck construction rules apply, but any infinite combinations that do not involve creatures are banned.
This format had a lot more appeal in the past, before Wizards started neutering – okay, castrating – blue. You could allow blue creature decks by changing the rules to ban any spell or artifact that counters a target spell or ability. Just be careful: Elimination of counters can allow combo decks to thrive.
All decks must be exactly sixty cards. Sideboards must be fifteen cards. Life totals are not used. Whenever a player would take damage or lose a life, they Millstone one card instead. If they cannot mill a card, they lose. Whenever a player would gain a life, they take the bottom card from their graveyard and place it one the bottom of their library. If that player has no cards in the graveyard, they cannot”gain life.” Haunting Echoes, Planar Void, Ambassador Laquatus, Grindstone, Morality Shift, and Traumatize are banned.
This is the mechanic used in the Harry Potter game – mill cards instead of losing life totals. It does change a few things – burn decks that are designed to do twenty damage very quickly, may not work. Otherwise, it is pretty similar to regular Magic.
Blitz Magic is Magic on Speed. The game is played with normal Magic rules with the following exceptions:
- All sorceries are instants.
- There is no limit to how many lands you can play in a turn.
- Permanents that normally come into play tapped, don’t.
- All creatures have haste.
- All Legends are no longer Legends. Basically, the legendary rule doesn’t apply. You can have more than one legend in play with the same name.
“Super Blitz” adds some additional rules:
- Starting hand size is eleven cards.
- You draw three cards per turn.
- There is no maximum hand size.
- All lands produce twice the mana they normally would
Every time I read these rules, I keep thinking about Horn of Greed and TurboLand decks. Decks that run land untapping cards, like Cloud of Faeries and Snap, are also begging to be broken, especially in Super Blitz. Gush is insane.
The ability to build combo decks in this environment is unlimited – and games with decks built specifically for Super Blitz will probably be decided on the die roll. However, if your group bans card drawing and combo (or can otherwise control the combo and counter decks), this could be interesting. Duels between creature-based decks in this format could be quick and brutal – which is, after all, the point.
Standard Magic rules apply, including rules for deck construction and sideboards, with one exceptions. Decks and sideboards can only have cards with a casting cost of 2, 3, 7, and lands. Cards with an additional cost, like kicker and buyback, are legal so long as the base cost is 2, 3, or 7. For split cards, do not count the casting cost of both side combined. Each side must meet the requirements. For example, you could play Fire / Ice because both side have a casting cost of two.
This is another interesting format that will provide at least a little deckbuilding challenge. Seven is an interesting number – I cannot list all that many seven casting cost spells off the top of my head. I guess Flowstone Thopter and some Baloths cost seven. Making six the number would be a problem, given all the Onslaught Block legends and Invasion dragons, or eight, which would hit the Elder Dragon Legends and Verdant Force, but seven is a strange number for fatties. Two and three could give you Wall of Roots, Wall of Blossoms, and Yavimaya Elders; or Incinerate and Solar Blast; or Counterspell, Accumulated Knowledge, and Glacial Wall, but finding a reasonable finisher in those costs is where the challenge lies.
Oh, yeah! Thorn Elemental costs seven.
This is the first multiplayer-only format on the list. Normal deck construction rules apply. At the beginning of the game, all players write their name on a scrap of paper (spare commons work great), and those slips are put in a hat, along with one saying”none” and one saying”all.” Each player draws a card. The player may only”see” – and may only attack and target – the player whose name is on the card. If a player draws his/her own name, or the”none” card, s/he cannot”see” any opponents. If s/he draws”all,” he or she can see everyone.
Once a spell, attack, or effect controlled by another player affects you, you can”see” that player. Global effects affect everyone – and allow everyone to”see” the caster or controller. When you kill a player, you take his or her slip, and can now”see” the person whose name is on that slip.
If your multiplayer group is having too many global effects flying around, consider this format. Casting Pernicious Deed, Wrath of God, Armageddon, or Living Death all mean that everyone at the table can now attack you (since you have affected them), but you cannot retaliate against particular people until you have been attacked. That can be a real disadvantage, and makes global spells like those mentioned a bit less attractive.
The format is also slower than Chaos, and allows people more ability to develop. This can be good or bad, since games are more interesting, but combo decks have a better chance of going off.
In siege, one player is chosen at random. That player is defending – all the other players are attacking that player. Because of the many on one, the defending player gets several advantages.
- The defending player begins with one basic land in play for every two opponents.
- The defending player’s maximum hand size is increased by one for each opponent, and he begins with a maximum number of cards in hand.
- The defending player’s creatures do not tap to attack.
- The defending player plays first, and draws a card on his/her first turn.
- The defending player draws one additional card each turn for each three opponents.
- The defending player begins at forty life.
In addition, the organizer should prepare a”deck” of approximately thirty assorted walls, with no more than two copies of any given wall. The defending player begins the game by shuffling the walls”deck,” and putting one wall into play for each opponent.
The following cards are banned in this format: Testament of Faith, Congregate, and Rolling Stones. In addition, all combination decks are banned, and the defending player cannot be the target of milling effects. (It is too easy to set up a combo either when starting with a bunch of lands in play, or when playing as part of a team against one opponent.)
I would include one of each of the following in my deck of walls: Sunweb, Wall of Blossoms, Wall of Essence, Wall of Swords, Glacial Wall, Fog Bank, Wall of Souls, Pitchstone Wall, Wall of Blades, Cemetery Gate, Wall of Hope, and Wall of Nets. I’m sure I would find more, but that’s a start.
If there are more than six players, chose an additional defender.
If someone is routinely winning multiplayer games, try this format and make them the besieged. It’s interesting, and it gives you and excuse for thumping them and only them.
For this variant, each player will have their life divided in six parts: Black, Blue, Green, Red, White, and Colorless. Each player will start off with five points in each part, for a total of thirty life. As the game progresses, follow these rules:
Whenever a player takes damage (or loss of life) from a specific color, he loses it from that color’s life. For example if a player has five points of Green life left and gets hit for two from a green creature, then he would have three points of Green Life left. If a player had three points of Green life left and a point of Red life left, then gets hit for three points from a red source, then he would have no Red life left – but it would not carry over to another color. Damage from artifacts or colorless sources get removed from your colorless life.
If you do not have life left in a color, then you may not cast any spell with that color in it. If you gain life later in the game, it goes to the life color of the spell. For example, if you cast a Healing Salve then you would gain three White life.
If you gain colorless life via an artifact or some other method, then you may add it to any color.
You may pay three life, in addition to the normal casting cost, to cast a spell from a color that you do not have life in. This may only be done once per turn.
The paperwork takes a bit of time, and it is complex at first… But once you get used to it, the format makes for some interesting games. In group games, trying to find someone that can deal blue damage, to who can take someone with a Masticore or Shivan Hellkite out, is part of the fun. It’s even better with something like Telepathy out -“Someone do three blue damage to him, now, so he can’t Upheaval!” The combination of requiring 5 color decks, and the strange method of mana-screwing people make this worth trying.
Artifact life gain is very important in this format. You want to play Bottle Gnomes, and Fountain of Youth is actually good in this format. If you need to kill someone or something, and have a Lightning Bolt in hand but have no red life left, artifact life gain can provide red life and let you cast your Lightning Bolt.
Legend of the Elder Dragons
Decks are three colors, must be a minimum of sixty cards and must contain at least one multicolored dragon. All players begin the game with basic lands in play – one for each color of their multicolored dragon. These basic lands are not part of the sixty-card deck.
Each player’s multicolored Dragon Legend is his/her army’s”Grand Marshal.” This Dragon must be supported by creatures and spells corresponding to each of the dragon’s three specific casting colors. Decks must have twenty to twenty-four creatures and may have no more than one of the same creature. All creatures must be 3/3 or better unless they have an ability – then they may be a 2/2.
At the beginning of the game, players designate and announce three of their creatures as”Warlords” and two creatures as”Captains.” If an opponent destroys a Captain, the Captain’s controller takes two damage, and the destroyer gains two life. If a Warlord is destroyed, the controller takes three damage while the destroyer gains three life. And for an Elder Dragon Legend, the controller takes four damage, and the destroyer gains four life.
No more than one copy of each creature or spell may be included in a deck. Players start with twenty-five life. You may not take a mulligan in this format.
So – how good is Rush of Knowledge in this format? How about the Invasion Charms? My first thought in this format is to start with R/U/B. I would have Nicol Bolas, Dromar, Sol’kanar, Avatar of Woe, Visara, Chromeshell Crab, Royal Assassin, Masticore, Stalking Assassin, Puppeteer, Control Magic, Bribery, Terminate, card drawing and the Power Nine if I get to play T1. Sounds like fun…
I would add three additional rules for this format:
First, any creatures designated as Marshals, Captains, or Warlords lose their legendary status, so that players can play them, even if opponents have chosen the same creatures. Since the rules allow only one copy of a creature per deck, that should not be a problem.
Second, I would ban any global removal spells; Wrath of God and similar effects all cause too much damage, especially if people have Marshals, Warlords and Captains in play.
Worlds of Strangeness
Normal deck construction rules apply. This can also be played as a series of duels, but works better as multiplayer.
Before the tournament, create a separate deck of global effects, such as Enchant World spells, and things like Arcane Laboratories, Meekstone, Exploration, Ivory Tower, and so forth. Prior to untap phase of the first player’s turn, put the top card of the global effects deck into play. That global effect cannot be removed, Disenchanted, or evaded, and applies during each players turn. Just before the first untap of the first player’s next turn, draw a new global effect.
If a card does not normally affect all players, like Exploration, assume the cards apply to/target the active player each turn.
This format is for people who don’t find normal Magic random enough. Every turn has a different global effect. They may be beneficial (like Howling Mine or Eladamri’s Vineyard), annoying (like Equipoise), or just plain harmful (like The Abyss or Bottomless Pit).
Here’s my partial list of global effects to consider, in addition to those mentioned above: Telepathy, Drop of Honey, Intruder Alarm, Storm Cauldron, The Abyss, Moat, Titania’s Song, Opalescence, Humility, Angel’s Trumpet, Furnace of Rath, Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Call of the Grave, Helm of Awakening, Mana Flare, Grafted Skullcap, Awakening, Sylvan Library, Arboria, Living Plane, City of Solitude, Howling Mine, Nether Void, Storm World, Naked Singularity, Great Wall, Gravity Sphere, Zur’s Weirding, Impatience, Sulfuric Vortex, Pyrostatic Pillar, Price of Glory, and Sylvan Library.
If you like to live dangerously, you could add highly destructive effects, like Armageddon, Wrath of God, Winds of Rath, Stasis, Teferi’s Realm (just brutal in multiplayer), Rising Waters, Black Vise, The Rack, or even Obliterate and Apocalypse. Normally, one-shot cards – like Armageddon – take effect during the first person’s upkeep. After it has resolved, ignore it thereafter. Such cards cannot be countered.
This is a Limited format. Each player gets a booster pack and ten lands – two of each basic type. Deck size is twenty-five cards – the pack plus the ten lands. (Just shuffle them all together. ) Life totals begin at ten, and players do not lose if they cannot draw cards. Players get a new pack for each new match.
This is a quick and simple method of playing Limited when you don’t have enough people for a draft. It works best when sets don’t have too many cards with more than one mana of any given color in the casting cost. I really like playing some mini-master with the new packs when a set first comes out; it gives me some quick experience with the set before I get into full-fledged drafts.
This is a basic booster draft, using substandard packs, especially those the store is trying to get rid of.
It’s a normal booster draft, but played using whatever packs you can get cheap. Mixtures of packs from different blocks make the draft interesting, since the standard drafting strategies for the blocks won’t work. Just be wary of drafting entirely from expansion sets. We once did a Destiny-only draft and discovered that the set was full of broken enchantments and artifacts, but Destiny had almost no ways of killing enchantments or artifacts.
The trick is to find dealers closing out old stock. This isn’t as easy as it once was. Our store cut prices on 5th edition, Homelands and Fallen Empires packs, so we did drafts with two Homelands, two Fallen Empires, and a Fifth Edition pack, which cost a total of about $6.50. Starting now, 7th edition packs should be discounted – although 7th is not that bad to draft. Starter and base sets from before 7th, if the store has some, can also work. You may also get a discount some individual booster packs from a set that didn’t sell well (like Legions), or at least as well as the storeowner expected.
If your local store sells grab bags of random cards, they work. Talk to the owner – if you are willing to buy enough for a draft, she may cut you a discount.
So if your typical Magic sessions are a bit dull, try out some of these different formats. You may find you like them.
Thanks to the MTGNews multiplayer forum for inspiration. That forum has more information on more formats than any sane person should ever have compiled.