In my first article, I spoke in great length about the creation of a balanced pool of cards to use for various limited events. However, a good balanced pool of cards from all corners of the Magic universe is not only good for the occasional draft. Indeed, it is a unique environment where new and exciting formats can be played.
Enter”Shandalar.” Now, some of you may remember that Shandalar was the name of the world in the MicroProse Magic computer game. I was playing the game in my dorm room one night, a few years ago, when a fellow Magic playing-friend walked into the room. He asked what I was doing, and I got him hooked on Shandalar. He played for the next few weeks incessantly, and we eventually got another friend to leave behind his initial distrust, and also embrace the uniqueness of the game.
JR and Ben were instrumental in the playing of Abedraft for a year, so it was only a matter of time before we created a game based around simulating the old MicroProse game.
If you have never played the game – or if it’s been a long time – allow me to present the basics. You start with around forty-five cards or so in a deck, and a little gold. You play other creatures who represent minions of the evil wizards (one wizard for each color). Each game is played for ante, and you can edit your deck with the antes won, or sell the cards at towns. Also, each town has a few cards for sale. During the course of the game, you can complete quests for specific cards (i.e.”Defeat a Forest Dragon for any Sorcery”). You can also stumble upon random camps, which may give you a random card, fight a nasty creature for great cards, thieves that steal gold, a nomad’s bazaar where you can buy any card, and so forth. Quests also give you Mana Links, which increases your starting life (you start the game with ten life). Eventually, you become powerful enough to attempt dungeons, the treasure of which are Moxes, Lotus, Balance, and other restricted high-power cards.
One of Shandalar’s greatest strengths is that you get to develop a deck from trash to treasure. Therefore, the real-life version of Shandalar needs to be authentic in that regard. Remember that the following rules were designed for a three-player environment, and some would need to be tweaked for a different number of regular players.
Initially, card pool was determined by a draft. This allows you to start with a particular card selection geared towards a few colors, which Shandalar does for you when it assigns you a deck in the beginning. In the draft, for example, I drafted blue and white, with a hint of black in my sideboard. This gave me a focus right away.
Every game is played for ante, with each match being best two of three, and everybody played each other. You could modify your decks between matches to reflect cards won or lost only, and not to hose your opponent’s deck.
At the beginning of each night, a pack of cards was created out of the Abedraft pool and drafted. This simulated the cards picked up from random places in the game, including towns and random locations around the map. In addition, the winner of each game could pick a random common out of the pool, the winner of each match a random uncommon, and the winner of each night a random rare. This simulates the additional antes the game gave you if you won a match.
We did allow trades with players on a limited basis. All trades had to be approved by a third player. There were also tradebacks, with five cards of any type being put back into the pool for a random card from that pool. So I could throw in five chaff commons for a random common, for example.
Lastly, every week, a player could add any one card of his or her choice to their deck from outside the card pool. This simulated the quests of the game, but we made it an uncommon occurrence (we played a bunch of times per week) to prevent a deck from quickly becoming degenerate.
What resulted was a fun environment where the deck changed and morphed into a different deck with each setting, but with some balancing elements for players who were not as good. If you had a poor deck, the deck draft prior to each night we played could help out your deck, as well as any card. Even a bad deck can add Wrath of God or something and become a beast.
If you liked the MicroProse game, I hope you will like Shandalar. If you have never tried the computer game, so what? I think Shandalar still sounds like a fun environment.
Shandalar shines as an example of a living environment — where the environment changes and grows as time goes. Eventually, decks become closer and closer to constructed quality. However, while Shandalar does an excellent job at providing balance between the haves and the have-nots, it may feel artificial with its new pack draft every time you play, and bringing in cards from outside. Also, Shandalar was set up for a small group of players. So, for the hardcore player, or the larger player pool, allow me to introduce Shop.
By way of introduction, I rarely play Magic online. When I do, I look for the fun alternate environments or draft. That’s because, as far as I know, Magicshop is closed. When this alternate format was working, with loads of players, you would find me nowhere else. I do not know who was responsible for the idea – but Pug, Kensey, and others were responsible for its maintenance, at least. So I want to give credit where it is due (and if you know who was involved in the creation of Magicshop, please e-mail me so that I can fully acknowledge them).
The premise of Magicshop was simple: You started with virtual money, used to purchase starters and boosters of Type 2 product to create a sixty-card sealed deck. You recorded matches with other players, gaining points and money based on that player’s level. The more you won, the higher your level, but the less points you got from defeating lower-level opponents. You also lost points for losing, with a larger hit to your point total the lower your opponent was in level. However, the higher your level, the more packs and boosters were opened to your purchasing power, for various amounts of money. A Tempest pack, for example, may not come until level 4, and it might cost you five virtual dollars, as opposed to that current basic set pack which only costs $3. Balancing money with quality was a key element of Magicshop, and I spent hours pouring over various cardlists and doing mathematical analysis of money versus power, before coming up with a decision rule.
And every game was played for ante.
Now you can actually simulate Magicshop with real packs according to the basic rules above. However, since I was not involved in the system, I will not go over specifics without permission. Anyways, my major concern is the adaptation of Shop to the Abedraft environment.
One disadvantage is that the card pool is even, without greater or lesser packs. Therefore Shop cannot accurately resemble the level structure of its parent with an Abedraft card pool. Therefore, we have to chuck the entire level idea, and start from scratch.
One unique thing I loved about Magicshop was the sixty-card sealed feel. Therefore, every Shop match will require a sixty-card deck, with a sideboard of fifteen cards. To resemble the sealed feel, you start with 8 randomly selected packs of Abedraft (that would be 8 random rares, 24 random uncommons, and 88 commons). You also get ten of each basic land, to start with, instead of the usual”salt-to-taste” land adding ability of most environments.
Every game is played for ante. At the start, every player begins with no points and no money. A player always gains at least one point for each match win. If the person with less points loses, then for each fifteen-point difference between the loser and the winner, an additional point is awarded. Points are used merely to show the difference between someone who has been around for a while, won a bunch of cards, and generally has a much better deck. The winner of a match also receives $1 in virtual money, and the loser always gets $.50. The winner gets $2 instead is the person defeated has at least 50% more points than they do (as long as that is ten points).
As an example, if Player A had 5 points, then a defeat of a 10 point Player B results in – $1 and 1 point for Player A, $.50 and -1 point for Player B. Player A would not get $2 since the difference is not at least 10 points.
Feel free to modify the numbers to suit your own taste.
A player may exchange $3 for another simulated pack from the Abedraft. Also, $1 may be spent on an additional basic land of each type.
Each game is played for ante, with basics being un-anteable.
Also, as a kindness to players with an unfortunate draw, allow mulligans for people to restart their Shop. Just have them start the next time with seven simulated packs and $2 (instead of eight packs and $0). Then, if they wish to mulligan again, 7 packs and $1, and so forth. This helps keep the environment fresh as new players come in. There is also an exchange program of 10 cards for $1. This helps people who have hoards of cards later in the game get rid of chaff.
Shop can be for the harder players what Shandalar is for everybody: An evolving environment where the decks change, people play with unusual cards, and everybody has a good time.