Bringing the dictionary back for more formats


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The letter S!erious Fun is always engaging to write; but every once in a while I write a column I'm pretty sure will come up again Christmastime. The dictionary formats article from two weeks ago was so neat to do, and received such wonderful feedback, that I couldn't stay away for long. Let's do it again!

Before we start, a couple of people asked me if I was truly picking the words at random. The answer is yes. (Seriously, who picks “teliospore” on purpose? That was embarrassing…) It's not fun for me if I ditch a word and go up or down the page, looking for something better. I mean, if I do that, after a certain point I'm just reading the dictionary…and that would be pathetic.

So let's get started.


Okay, I admit I had a bookmark on this one.

Of the four formats I introduced two weeks ago, this got the most enthusiastic feedback, by far. I'm glad, because it was the one that felt most useful to casual players as I created it. It adds wonderful complexity (shifting interactions, difficult decisions) through a very simple model (eight chunks of the world, you have a roving army and a limited range). If you haven't read the basic explanation yet, you'll want to go back and do so again.

I'm not revisiting this to revise the format – I think it stands up just fine. In fact, I'm bringing it up again to tell you two things: first, our group tried it and it works very well – even with seven players! You just randomly assign an open territory among the starting positions. (Having an open territory nearby early on does not confer the advantage you'd expect. Spreading out on turn one or two means allowing yourself more enemies before you may be ready to handle them; and someone else can move into that vacuum very quickly if you leave it open.)

Whether you have seven or eight, the second reason I brought this format up again will be to provide some visual help. The only thing I didn't like about the format was how hard it was to keep track of who's near whom – especially after everyone starts moving around.

When someone suggested we try this format ourselves…well, first, a great deal of time was spent reviving me. After all, I was stunned anyone in our group even read this column – the way they play, you'd think they just started the game. (It's okay, folks. I don't expect them to even see that insult. Lightning never strikes twice, does it?)

Once they'd applied smelling salts, I was up and ready to help get things moving. The only problem was making an octant map. I tried my hand at drawing a transluscent globe – but I'm not a very good artist. Someone else just suggested numbering the zones and keeping an algorithmic key or somesuch handy – I don't remember exactly, folks, and let's remember 85 percent of our group is computer geeks, so I was kinda tuning them out by habit.

Then Paul Shriver, who appropriately enough is a teacher, suggested a “net” graphic that's two-dimensional, accurate, and easy to follow. In 20 seconds, he sketched it out and we all stopped arguing and went, “oh.” Then we all felt like idiots for not thinking of it ourselves. Folks, this is why teachers make the big money. If you're young, show yours some respect, because I'll bet when you need it most they could peel something off the top of their brains just like Paul did. (It's like they come equipped with a mental backpack full of extra goodies for the rest of us, when we go camping and forget to bring matches or a fishing rod. Put another way, they're like the teliospores that give rise to the glorious basidium, in that final stage of the rust fungus cycle when all seems lost in the wake of outrageous nuclear fusion…but somehow, that didn't seem as flattering.)

With some graphics help from George Maverick, I'm able to show you a fancier version of what Paul sketched. Your group might want to take this graphic, print it out, and use it:

As you can see from the next couple of graphics, it's really easy now to demonstrate how much range you've got when you control one zone, or two. The beauty of the format is really in the additional strategy plied in advancing, moving, and holding ground. It's almost like adding an element of the board game Risk to your Magic game (but without the annoying, sudden emergence of 40 armies from nowhere to ruin your perfectly laid plans).

This should be enough to get your group “seeing their zones”. After a game or two, it will become second nature. What also helps is if each player picks a small “token” – a bead, a coin, whatever – to represent herself on the map. (Our group has weak, old minds; so we also keep a second token of the same type next to us, so we can all match the token on the map to the player.)

There was one situation that came up worth passing on: if a player has an option of moving into two or more zones at once, what can she do? We played it thusly: for each vacant zone next to you, you can make a decision about that zone (leave open, spread into, or transfer into). So if you eliminate two players at once from one zone, you can decide to occupy any one of the zones, any two of the zones (so yes, you can split into two “kingdoms”, with space between!), or all three. You may not move through a zone into another empty zone – just be patient, you'll get there next upkeep!

There also comes the question of retreat – if you're occupying two or more zones and you find yourself next to someone you hate, can you back off during your upkeep and consolidate into fewer zones? Feel free to decide this however your group likes; our group said sure, since that made common sense. The only rule would be, you must decide clearly to consolidate, which means no expansion anywhere else – if you start in three territories, you'll occupy less than three territories when you're done, and they'll be ones you already had. This just keeps movement simple.

Have fun with it! Let's move on to some new entries.



flexuous, (1605), adj. 1. Having turns or windings. 2. Lacking rigidity in structure or action.

If you want to keep things flexible in Magic, the best way is to find the most rigid rules and bust the heck out of them. But why should I do all the work? Let's open ‘er up:

Central Rule: At the beginning of each player's turn, that player may name a rule from the Comprehensive Rulebook that he or she would like to break next turn. Exclude all rules from Chapter 1 (“The Game”). On his or her turn, a player loses as a state-based effect if he or she cannot (a) explain correctly how a card in their deck interacts with the loss of a rule they've chosen to break, or (b) end his or her turn.

I make no guarantees on the volatility of this format when combined with stuff like Fatespinner. I would keep any rules about turn order off limits, and I'd probably ban cards that give extra turns/subgames, or effect turn order/control.

I expect many groups will try this once, and then realize that the rules are there for a reason. But I'll bet there are judges out there who'll enjoy a refreshing dip in a forbidden pool of letting banding mean whatever the heck you want.


repechage, (1928), n. [orig. French, repêchage: second chance, reexamination for a candidate who has failed; or to fish out, rescue.] A trial heat (as in racing) in which first-round losers are given another chance to qualify for the semifinals.

We can go a couple of ways, here. I'll do two choices for readers:

Première repêchage: Zombie format. When a player dies, that player re-enters the game at the beginning of the next turn. They may search their deck for any five basic land and put them into play, and then may draw up to seven cards. They now serve the player that dealt the final blow (the victor); while they may make independent choices and do not reveal their hand, they must treat the victor and any other players controlled by that victor as a teammate. Their life total, the life total of the player that dealt the fatal blow (the victor), and the life total of all other players controlled by the victor becomes X, where X = the victor's current life total minus five. X cannot be less than five, when that amount is set.

Our group has tried this once or twice, mainly as a device to give early exiters something to do besides sit around, shuffle their deck, and whine about slow turns. Once a player is a zombie, they cannot win the game, and work only for the glory of their (most recent) victor. Sure, it's a lousy existence – but it's better than sitting and waiting for the game to end so you can play again.

Two particularly strong players may find themselves battling over the zombies they create across the rest of the game. An alternative to the zombie format gives a victor's team a shared life total (something like 15 times the number of players on the team), and lets the entire team rise and fall together – if you pick up a zombie and they end up taking enough damage to destroy the entire team, you're now a zombie as well for the new victor. Play around with it and see what you like.

Deuxième repêchage: Whenever a player dies, that player may choose to enter into a “repechage” duel with any other dead player. If they do, they begin a normal Magic game with the same restrictions and benefits applied to the original, multiplayer game. (In other words, if it's a Type I format, keep it Type I.) Independent of the original game, they play and determine a winner. That winner may reenter the original game after the current player finishes their turn, with the board position they had at the end of the repechage duel.

If the original game ends, all repechage duels in process end immediately. If a player has played in a repechage duel, they may not play another one until the original multiplayer game is over.

This feels truer to the meaning of repechage, and I think there's a lot to recommend it. It works in any game with four or more players (which is when you want to start thinking about giving the early exiters something to do). It keeps people playing Magic, which is what they're there for. And it provides some nice surprises for the players in the original game who've quite forgotten about those “losers over there”.

One downside is that it makes games slightly longer – but not too much longer. Essentially, you're giving at most (X-2)/2 players the chance to re-enter the game, where X is the number of players you started with. (The -2 accounts for the last two players in the game, since there won't be any time for the second-place winner to start up and win a new match. This leads to the second downside, which is borne by the poor fellow who almost won. Give ‘em a cookie, if you want. Otherwise, remind them that life is tough.)

Also, if the repechage duels are played at a different table, you'll have to move some cards around. Just be honest, and don't sneak in anything extra. The loser of the repechage duel could always serve as a fairly honest broker of what the re-entrant should show up with.


myrmecology, (1902), n. The scientific study of ants.

Aren't those people at Wizards clever? Ants, myrmecology, myriapod, myr…who knew the creature type actually had its roots in a real word? This is so cool.

Did anyone else notice this? Did I miss a revealing Magic Arcana or Ask Wizards moment?? Have all of you myrmecologists just been laughing at the rest of us, all this time?!? How sadistic.

There's probably something we can do regarding nests and queens here, but I'm too distracted by the thought of a dusty entymologic lab full of really snobby guys in spectacles and lab coats drafting Mirrodin block and chuckling at the rest of us to really focus. Let's move on – maybe the sound of gently flipping dictionary pages will set me back on track.



valorize, (1906), v. to enhance or try to enhance the price, value, or status of by organized and usually government action.

Well, I had to go all the way to “V” just to shake that last bit out of my system, but I think I'm okay now.

There are two elements of this definition I'd like to explore – the altering of a card's value, and the “government” (which I read as “public”) action.

Central Rule: At the beginning of each round (that is, a full set of turns), the group votes on a permanent to valorize. If there is a tie, all permanents with the highest vote total become valorized. It may take one of the three forms below, as voted upon by all players. (Again, if there's a tie, it takes all forms that receive the highest votes. No vote can be cast for a valorization that's already happened for a given permanent.) Valorization is permanent, in that it doesn't end at the end of turn; and it is also cumulative, in that a permanent valorized one way doesn't lose those abilities if it's elected for valorization a different way as well.

Valorization #1: In addition to its other types and subtypes, the permanent becomes a Land-Iceberg with each of the following abilities:

  • “Tap: add one colorless mana to your mana pool.”
  • “Tap: add Blue Mana to your mana pool. Each opponent puts a 1/1 blue penguin token into play with swimming. Swimming is like flying, but with islandwalk as well.”
  • “Tap: add Blue ManaBlue Mana to your mana pool. Each opponent puts a 3/3 blue giant wizard penguin into play with swimming and ‘2 Mana: target land is an island until end of turn.' Play this ability only once each turn.”

Oh, yes, you knew these were coming back again:

Valorization #2: In addition to its other types and subtypes, the permanent becomes a Land-Labyrinth with each of the following abilities:

  • “This permanent may only be tapped by its controller for a mana ability. If it's a creature, it can't attack.”
  • “If this permanent is untapped, all creatures you control without flying have +1/+1 and do not tap to attack until end of turn.”
  • “When this permanent becomes tapped, all creatures without flying target player controls untap and get +1/+1 until end of turn.”
  • “When this permanent untaps, you may tap all creatures target player controls.”

Valorization #3: In addition to its other types and subtypes, the permanent becomes a Land-Fortress with each of the following abilities:

  • “This permanent is indestructible.”
  • “If at the end of any phase, you take mana burn from having at least Blue ManaBlue Mana in your mana pool, you may put an ascension counter on this permanent.”
  • “Remove five ascenscion counters from this permanent: target penguin becomes a legendary 5/5 blue giant wizard penguin lord with all of its original abilities and “1: gain control of target penguin. (This effect doesn't end at end of turn.)”

Valorization should happen like morph – no response possible. Your group can certainly play with the frequency of valorization (up or down, more certain or more random, etc.). Bear in mind you do want to end up with at least one player in control of an Iceberg Labryrith Fortress – otherwise, what's the point? So play nice with the penguins.


hypsometry, (1570), n. The measurement of heights (as with reference to sea level).

Heights makes me think of different zones again. How about a play format involving multiple games throughout the night, where the overall goal is to reach the highest peak? Sort of like a tournament, but more discerning.

Central Rule: Each player starts the gaming evening (or day) with three specific, randomly chosen, individual goals – written down but known only to that individual. The games can be in any reasonable format the group wishes. When a player attains a goal, he or she announces it immediately and reveals the written goal. The first player to meet all three goals that evening (or day) wins a prize.

Setting up the matches will take some attention, but not much. The ideal minimum size is six. Whenever a new game starts, if there are enough players to form at least two groups of three, make one group players who have attained the most goals so far that night. (In the event of a tie, just randomly select, to keep everyone in a multiplayer game.) Keep the highest achievers playing against each other.

Much like the “unkempt” format we finished on last time, I'm going to offer up some alternate goals you can keep on a list – 18 of them, so you can start up a six-player night without much work. If random assignment is too silly, choose them in advance. (I only recommend this if your group has fairly new collections, and can't build highly abusive combo decks. Nothing ruins a fun format like giving seasoned veterans time to find a teeny, tiny wrinkle wherein they can jam infinite mana, or turns, or whatever.)

Because some of these proposed goals require life totals or permanents to be at certain levels, you should make sure everyone agrees to a few sportsmanlike rules: no intentional mana burn, no early conceding, etc. Play normally – that is, play to win, as if the other goals didn't exist.

Proposed Goals (and feel free to make up your own):

  • See everyone below ten life before a single player dies, in at least one game. (You don't have to do the damage yourself, or even at all.)
  • Have one player die before anyone else has less than ten life. (Again, you don't have to have anything to do with that first player's death. You may not be that player.)
  • Control at least 25 permanents for any length of time in at least one game.
  • Survive at least four turns with less than four permanents, after turn six.
  • Play at least four spells with converted mana cost seven or greater.
  • Win a game without playing a spell with converted mana cost five or greater.
  • Lose at least five creatures in a single combat, without playing a spell or ability. (Other players may play spells or abilities.)
  • With a single card, cause advantage of at least ten cards. For purposes of this rule, “card” is an actual card (not a token) and “advantage” means you're either (a) causing discard, (b) blowing things up, or (c) getting cards from your graveyard or library into your hand or play. Note that you do not need to get all ten cards of advantage all at once (e.g., Archivist might eventually get you ten cards drawn; or you could Stroke of Genius for those same ten cards).
  • Stay at or above 20 life for at least ten consecutive turns.
  • Stay at or below 5 life for at least five consecutive turns.
  • Get any number of permanents in play, for any length of time, with card names together containing at least 20 letters of the alphabet. (I may be off here – but the optimal challenging range is somewhere between 18 and 22, I'll bet.)
  • Get at least eight permanents in play, for any length of time, that begin with the same letter of the alphabet and are not basic lands.
  • At the end of any game (or when you exit), count the number of sorceries and instants you've played (they can be in your graveyard or out of the game – doesn't matter if they were successful or not). Have the exact same non-zero number of instants as you do sorceries, and have fewer lands in play than that number.
  • At the beginning of the game, call out a player's name. That player must exit the game before you do. (Legal means, please!)
  • Win a game under one or more of these conditions: (a) at some point in the game, you had at least 19 life less than an opponent; (b) at some point in the game, you had two or less cards left in your library; (c) at some point in the game, you had ten fewer permanents than another player. Do this without using an alternate win condition card (e.g., Coalition Victory).
  • See the board contain at least five creatures with absolutely no activated or continuous abilities, for any length of time. Triggered abilities (e.g., Man-o’-War) are okay. (You don't have to control these creatures.)
  • Lose at least one creature, one land, one enchantment, and one artifact to either destruction or discard in a given game.
  • Attain a goal in a game in which no other player attains a goal.

Thanks for flipping through the dictionary with me again! I'll let readers digest these two recent articles for a while, before picking up that book again. But remember – creativity is never more than a conjunction away!

You may contact Anthony at Unfortunately, he cannot provide deck help, in any format.

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