arly on in my Internet writing career, I spent a December or two doing "holiday oriented" articles. Most of these focused on specific days or celebrations: Christmas (red-green decks), Hanukkah (blue-white decks), Kwanzaa (green-red-black), and so on. In later weeks, I would add on reader-inspired bits about how since it's not snowing in Australia, maybe you don't need snow-covered lands in your decks, etc. With skeighty-eight million different observations and weather patterns among my December readers, the whole thing became ungainly to write about, so I stopped.
This year, I'm re-establishing a holiday "tie" to one of my columns. This time, I'm following the number one rule in writing: write what you know. I don't know what it's like to wade in the sunny surf on a southern hemisphere beach in December. And I don't know how to light a menorah properly over the course of several days. And even within my own faith, there's a lot I don't understand about the wonderful mysteries of Christmas.
But as my kids will happily tell you, I do know Santa.
Santa: An Introduction
Santa lives up at the North Pole. He's got a few flying reindeer and a cool sleigh to his name, but few other known possessions. But he's happy despite his low number of possessions – in fact, he's perfectly jolly while giving away all sorts of things most mortals would covet. He is an amazing and inspiring enough boss that hundreds of elves will work for him for little or no wages. And his wife makes terrific cookies, teaches for a living, and has a Master's Degree. (Since this last description also fits my mother, I may be projecting there.)
But most importantly, kids look for Santa. And they can always find him, because he always wears red and white.
Here, during Boros week, the Ravnica guild of red and white, is there any better champion? So I'm going to spend this week describing alternate Magic formats that celebrate this fine fellow. Some of these (#1, #5, and #6) will work in Magic Online, if the players agree beforehand on the deck and play restrictions. Even if you don't believe in Santa, or celebrate any of the holiday festivities that he's associated with – you can still play these reindeer games.
Seven Santa-Stic Formats
How many formats will I offer? Well, of course, since Santa has seven noses and seven arms, I should go with the number seven. (Hey. You have your Santa, and I have mine.) We'll use the best-known things about Santa to shape each format.
FORMAT #1 – RED-AND-WHITE SANTA. The simplest way to dedicate a Magic format to Santa is to allow only red and white cards in everyone's deck for an evening. Boom. You're done.
But that's a bit of a cop-out, and I don't want to end up on the naughty list. So I'll give you some bonus "sub-variants" that will take a bit more work on your (and my) part:
Play the combination. Gold and hybrid cards only, and only those cards that are just red and white. Yeah, okay, this is still a bit simple.
Play teams. Have a red team and a white team – or a "pure within the card" red and white team, and a "blended within the card" gold/hybrid team. What, you still want more? Tough crowd. We are just doing color play here, you know…
Play the outfit. Santa's outfit is red, with white fringes. So why not play red creatures, with white auras? No other non-land cards in your deck. You can also "play the man", if you believe Santa's white, and use white creatures wearing red auras. But other colors wearing red auras would also work, albeit not for Boros Week. (Let's see, on my list of things that make the Wizards editorial staff nervous, I've brushed up against religion and race…if I can squeeze politics in, I'll have hit the trifecta!)
FORMAT #2 – GENEROUS SANTA. Santa gives things away. So why not have a format where everyone does the same? And not in a mean way, like Donate on an Illusions of Grandeur.
Start with a free-for-all format. At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player selects a random permanent he or she controls and a random opponent. Give that permanent to that opponent.
You will need to ban generally "undesirable" things in this format. For that reason, I would keep the same white-red color restriction from above – it automatically bans all the harmful black permanents most players will degenerate to, as well as the blue bounce that will return stuff to owners' hands.
There may still be some issues with red creatures with echo; but there aren't enough of them to care too much – and besides, there's no guarantee that the owner won't end up donating one of his critical mountains before he can pay the upkeep himself!
FORMAT #3 – FAT SANTA. Santa loves his cookies. So will your creatures.
Start with any creature-heavy format you like (such as tribal). At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player puts a +1/+1 counter on target creature. (It doesn't have to be a creature he or she controls.)
Giving out cookies can be contagious. Whenever a creature dies, that creature's controller may take up to two +1/+1 counters from that creature and place them on another target creature.
I don't see the need to ban too many cards here, though you might want to give consideration to stuff like Spike Weaver or Power Conduit. Keeping the decks fully red and white is, again, a neat solution to the problem.
FORMAT #4 – SLIPPERY SANTA. How does Santa get down all those chimneys? Some might say magic – but a "magic Magic" format just looks like a spell-check problem. How about a slippery Magic format instead?
Start with a basic free-for-all format. 60-card deck maximum. Whenever any player may play an instant, he or she may play the following ability:
X, Discard your hand, Put the top X cards of your library in your graveyard: Put target creature card in your graveyard, with converted mana cost X or less, into play.
Given what ridiculous things black and green can do with recursion, this format should probably only be tried in the Boros colors. If this feels too easy (even with red-white deck restriction in place), add "Pay X life" to the cost and see where that gets you. If you still think your group has deep enough collections that things will still spin out of control, replace all instances of "X" with "6". If nothing else, that will get rid of unoriginal Akroma, Angel of Wrath decks.
FORMAT #5 – FLYING SANTA
. Santa gets where he wants to go by harnessing the power of flying creatures. So should you.
There are two ways you can go with the "flying Santa" idea – start with a basic free-for-all, either way. First is the more straightforward approach – flying creatures only. If you do this, restrict decks to red and white – again, to keep the easy blue and black answers out; but also to keep out solutions like Hurricane.
The second approach is more flavorful. You don't have to have red and white decks, but you do have to build a deck based on the Santa legend – via reindeer in Caribou Range, or a ride on Arcum's Sleigh. I recommend a tight leash on what qualifies as a "toy" (e.g., artifacts with casting cost 2 or less), and a three-elf maximum.
FORMAT #6 – COLD SANTA. Santa lives at the North Pole, where things get pretty cold and snowy. One might argue that slows things down a bit.
Start with a tribal format. (We start with a creature-based format to keep an otherwise slow format moving along.) In fact, I would consider banning all non-creature, non-aura cards.
Every creature moves at half speed, as though moving through a nasty snowstorm (or weary from the icicles hanging off of their limbs). So in general, they may only attack (or use a tap ability) once every two turns.
However, everyone knows that in cold weather, you have to keep your limbs moving if you want to stay alive. For that reason, creatures that can attack (or use a tap ability), must do so. This will keep the blood (and the game) going.
This format will encourage creatures with interesting comes-into-play (or morph, or leaves play, etc.) abilities, and will also favor vigilance. For that reason, I expect red and white will still do quite well, relative to other colors. So there's not as much pressure here to stick to just red and white; but feel free to stick to Santa's colors if you like.
FORMAT #7 – LAUGHING SANTA. Santa's a jolly old fellow. Every once in a while, he enjoys a game of Magic that gets a little ridiculous.
Start with a free-for-all format. Use commons (no uncommons or rares) without sleeves. No legendary permanents are allowed in opening decks. Each player gets a permanent marker. (No, not a little flag that you can stick on top of your Magic cards classified as permanents. A writing tool that leaves a permanent mark. Test each on a card beforehand, to make sure the ink sticks.)
Whenever an instant or sorcery spell resolves, tear it up and remove it from the game.
Whenever an artifact or enchantment card goes to the graveyard, tear it up and remove it from the game.
Whenever a creature goes to a graveyard or removed-from-game zone because of a spell, ability, or combat damage from a source an opponent controls, that opponent may take out her marker and give a proper name to the creature. The old name must still be present in the new name. (So, if you kill a Scryb Sprites, you may rename the creature "Sammy the Scryb Sprite.) The creature now becomes legendary, and the player who named it may put it into play under her control.
Whenever a legendary creature goes to a graveyard or removed-from-game zone because of an opponent's doing, that player may take out his marker, choose a keyworded ability (e.g., flying, trample, double strike, banding, vigilance, etc.), and write that keyworded ability somewhere in the rules text box. Then that player puts the enhanced legendary creature back into play under his control.
Whenever a legendary creature with every keyworded ability in the comprehensive rulebook goes to a graveyard or removed-from-game zone because of an opponent's doing, that opponent wins the game. Think of this as announcing the end of Christmas.
However you celebrate your holiday season, I hope you all find peace through generosity and laughter. Keep those Boros colors waving!
Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.