Readers' favorite formats

Multiplayer from the Masses

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Over the past couple of months, many of you have written in with formats you enjoy playing at home or your local shop. This is a good week for me to do a bit less talking, and let these readers speak for themselves. There are some great formats here!

If any of these seem confusing to you, or you wonder "how they handle" certain rules questions, let me save you a little time: the way your group wants to handle it should be fine. If you can't agree within your group…well, let me get into the spirit of this week's column with a suggestion from Bruno Ducharme:

"Let's say there are six players, debating on a situation. No one came up with an uncounterable ruling to settle it, so we have to vote. In our group, the final decision will be randomly chosen, using ODDS PROPORTIONAL to the vote results. For example, if 4 players are FOR an alternative, and 2 players are AGAINST it, we roll a dice: the alternative STANDS on a roll of 1 to 4 and is REJECTED on a 5 or 6."

There, you now have all the tools you need to refine the formats below! Let's get right to them.


From Laura Mills, a "tribe"-like format she runs in Arena League:

"We have a running format each season called Goblin Wars…. The guidelines we use for construction force 24 cards of a single creature type minimum, with Type 1.5 restrictions/bannings. You can play with Unglued and Portal, though. We enforced the 24-creature minimum because it made people look closely at creature abilities and taught the younger players about combat tricks. It also leveled the playing field for the younger kids who didn't have many powerful cards. This is one of the few formats I have found that allows almost anyone to join with a very limited set of Magic cards. Elves are usually the most prominent, but we have some creative deck builders out there. The most creative decks I have seen involve the Invasion Golems w/Fireballs, Illusions w/Palin-Flare Combo, and Spikes w/graveyard recursion."

Any format that lets Attendants shine gets a "thumbs-up" from us.

Formats that help newer players connect with the wider Magic community are always real winners -- I say that as someone who entered this game through Portal!


David Chapman read the past article on team formats and suggested a format called "Collapse to Teams":

"It works like this: You have exactly five players. The game proceeds as a normal Attack Left or Right circle of death…until the first player is eliminated. At that point, the players sitting across from each other pair off, and the game becomes a two on two team game instead.

"While incredibly simple to describe, the strategies are very complex. You're attacking the players to your left and right because one or both of them will always be against you, but your own teammate is determined by which of them goes down first…and if you're careless, you could wind up with a weak teammate. Your best scenario is if both of them are weakened but one of the people NOT adjacent to you is taken out first, because then they're both against you, but any act you take to weaken a player you're not sitting next to weakens the guy who'll be your partner if the other player across from you is nailed."

Simple formats with complex strategies are the most rewarding to play -- this is why so many gamers like chess and Go, which have relatively simple rules but can take years to master.


From Derrick Ramsey, an "in" and "out" format:

"Basic rules involve two areas of play for each player. Each turn [before the untap phase] you will determine which realm you are in for that round. One realm is called 'in.' It is the general battlefield.... When you are 'in' you may cast spells, attack and generally play normally against ONLY other players who are 'in.'

A good "in" card... and a good "out" card.

"The other realm is 'out,' in which you are basically playing a game of magic by yourself…. You can't target, attack, or have any type of affect against ANY other player, not even other players who are 'out.' You can still play spells in 'out,' but they only affect you (so if you played a Wrath of God while 'out,' you would only kill whatever creatures you had in play). By the same token, no one else can touch you while you are 'out.' None of your stuff in a legal target and can't be affected by any other players.

"Now you are thinking, well, how do I know when I am 'in' or 'out?' Well, that's when the different versions of this excellent game can be played…

"Normal: Roll a die or flip a coin to give a 50/50 chance to be 'in' or 'out;'
Scary life: Roll a 20-sided die, and subtract your life total. If the total is 5 or more you are 'out.' You stay out until you roll a 1, or a total less than 5;
Teams: Each turn roll to see which of the team members is 'in' or 'out,' and the other is the opposite. You will always have one player on each team 'in' and one 'out.'"

I think the different random rules for governing "in" and "out" are the most appealing part of this format! "Scary life" sounds particularly fun. Note that countermagic seems to have a really tough assignment in this format; after all, how can you be sure that both you and the player casting the tough spell will both be in play at the same time? Bombs away, everyone!


From Jeremiah Johnson, a "diplomacy" variant:

"You can have anywhere from four to ten players. Each player chooses a country they are playing for. (We base this loosely on the countries that existed during the first World War…) The game starts out with everyone neutral. Each player is allowed to have no maximum hand size... so you can just hold stuff in your hand as long as you please. You may play anything you want, and you may attack any player. However, if a player plays something that is considered an "act of war" against another player, that player may choose to declare war. Now, at THAT time ANY other player may declare war as well…

"Alliances can get very intricate. Makes life interesting; you have to explain things as you go along to the other players so they don't declare war on you. This only lasts 10-12 turns before all hell breaks loose and the 'world' is at war. It is a battle royal that makes me love the game even more."

Anyone who knows me knows how much I don't enjoy diplomacy in multiplayer. I prefer games where favors and retribution are absent, or at worst unspoken. This format, of course, depends on assessing acts of war, and trying to convince others that what you're doing isn't really that threatening. But I am not the be-all, end-all of casual play formats. I know that a format rich in diplomacy will appeal to many players; as long as you're having fun with it, you can safely ignore curmudgeons like me.


From Warren Tappe, a "Balance of Power" format that seeks to neutralize the "slow play" complaints that many group games experience:

"It's a 4-player variant (that can be played as chaos, or as team, 2-on-2). Players arrange symmetrically and are called Players 1-4 clockwise. The turn goes: Players 1 and 3 untap, upkeep, and draw simultaneously, and then complete play. Then Players 2 and 4 draw and do the same. (Players 1 and 2 do not draw a card on their first draw.)

"The Buddha" rotates around the table. When Player 1 has the Buddha, he and Player 3 both take simultaneous turns; the Buddha-holder starts with priority.

"Use a prop (we call it 'the Buddha') that is passed to each player in succession, as the turns evolve, beginning with Player 1. Possessing the Buddha allows that person to choose whether he or the other card-drawing player on that turn attacks first or at all…

"Any given creature may be assigned to attack only one player at a time (within a given attack phase) but one attacking player may have creatures involved in attacks against any or all other opponents. The attacks are declared sequentially so, say, if Player 1 does tell Player 3 to attack first, then Player 1 can base his attack strategy around the balance (or lack!) of Player 3's attack. The opposite is of course possible as well since Player 1 may elect to declare attackers first and let Player 3 base his attacks on Player 1's choices. [Then,] defending creatures are declared clockwise after the Buddha-holder. When a player opposite you dies, you still draw a card during the rotation that would have included the now-dead player and you can still declare attacks during this turn. This can either be a desirable thing or an undesirable thing, depending on game conditions and deck strategies!

"So, the cards are drawn twice as fast as in a normal 4-player game, each person gets to 'command' an attack once in four turns but the attacks happen twice as often and in a more intense fashion."

Bear in mind, folks, that Warren's format may or may not be team-oriented. You can have Players 1 and 3 be on the same team, or have them as bitter enemies. The point is in that last paragraph: the untapping, drawing, and attacking all happen twice as often. Warren observed in his email that red and blue appear quite strong in the format; you may want to restrict teams so that only one color is shared across both decks. On one thorny rules question, I'll let Warren speak for himself again:

"Who is the active player? The Buddha-holder is the active player, his partner is the second-most-active player, and the other team is next active. This only gets really hairy when all the planets are aligned and hasn't caused any maiming in my neck of the woods for quite a while."

Readers might want to peek back up at the top of this article for that proportional voting system! In any case, I do enjoy formats that supply a counterweight to the typical group dynamic of "wait-and-bait."

I still haven't heard much on solitaire formats. I am still open to hearing about such formats, as well as anything else readers can think of. I'll post suggestions like this about once every couple of months. Readers are also still welcome to chime in on past topics -- "best multiplayer expansion/block" and "how Wizards treats casual play."

In the meantime, may you think of a clever way to end Mark Rosewater’s weekly column.

Anthony may be reached at
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