If you've got a large play group, and are looking for an interesting diversion from regular Magic or the chaotic free-for-all, you might want to try a few games of Emperor Magic . Clear off the big table, get plenty of Coke and cheese balls, and get ready for an evening of spell-flinging.
The Emperor variant is a six-player team game, in which one team's goal is to eliminate the opposing team's leader. It was developed during the later stages of Magic playtesting, and has been slowly evolving ever since as new players add insights and find problems. This is the most recent and complete version of the variant; players are encouraged to invent their own changes as circumstances warrant.
Playing the Game
Players sit in a circle, three to a side, with each Emperor seated between two Generals (see figure). You can also apply these rules to a game with five players on each side, with two Lieutenants, two Generals, and one Emperor. In fact, these rules can apply to any similar arrangement, regardless of size.
The battle begins like the basic Magic game. Each player has 20 life points and a deck of at least 40 cards. If you want to play for ante, have each player put one card into a common pool, and after the game the winning team can distribute the spoils by a random draw.
Play proceeds clockwise, with one Emperor's left-hand General playing first. It's usually not very desirable to go first in this game, because the opposing team will have three turns after your team has only one. For example, in the figure below, either C or F will play first, followed by all three players on the opposite team. The team that loses this game may opt to go either first or second in the next duel. In the five-player variant, the left-hand General still goes first, so one team gets two turns before the other team begins. When one Emperor dies, the other team wins.
Creatures may "march" from one allied territory to another to make attacks and assist in defense. (See Moving Your Creatures, below.)
Creatures can only attack enemies who are directly adjacent to them, and all spells, enchantments, artifacts, etc. have a maximum range of two players in either direction. (Alternatively, in the six-person game you may wish to limit spells, creatures, artifacts, etc. to a range of only one player. Or you might choose to limit spells to one player and everything else to two.)
Redefining "You" and "Your Opponent"
Cards which read "your opponent" can target any single opposing player within two seats; cards which affect "you" cannot be redirected to your teammates. You cannot sacrifice or control your teammates' cards, or exchange mana points. (Well, yes, you can still control their creatures with the appropriate spells, just not as a matter of course.)
When one player dies, all of his cards are removed from play. This includes creatures which are in front of other players, or which have been controlled by the enemy. It also includes any enchantments, artifacts, and lands controlled by that player. However, permanent effects, like Thoughtlace, are not reversed.
Moving Your Creatures
Players may "march" creatures into the territories of neighboring allies. Creatures who relocate to another territory remain under the control of their original summoner. They still untap, attack, and recover from summoning sickness on their controller's turn.
Restrictions on Relocation
Players may only move creatures at a time during their turn that they may legally summon a creature. While a player may choose to march creatures at several points during a turn and any number of the player's creatures may march, each creature may only be moved once a turn. Only creatures that are ready to attack may march (although creatures may not march during the attack phase): creatures who are tap-ped, or who have summoning sickness, may not move. Walls also may not move (unless they are animated ... there's an exception to every rule). When a creature does march from one territory to another, it will arrive untapped, but will again suffer from "summoning sickness." The sickness expires when the creature has begun one of its controller's turns in its current location. Creatures may not move more than two territories away from their controller, because of the limited-range rule described above. (This problem does not arise in the six-player game unless you have decided to limit the range to one territory.)
Attacking with Relocated Creatures
If one player's creature is stationed in another player's territory, that creature still attacks only on its controller's turn. Players announce the attack as usual, specifying which creatures are participating, and (if it is not obvious) which player each creature is attacking. For example, an Emperor who has lost both teammates may make a simultaneous attack on both the left and right flank of the opposing team.
Defending with Relocated Creatures
Creatures in other players' territories block only if their controllers tell them to. The controller of the creature and the controller of the territory may confer, but the creature's controller has the final say. When a player is being attacked, the defending player first decides which of his creatures in his territory will block. Other players with creatures in that player's territory may then assign creatures to block.
When a player dies, all creatures in that player's territory die, including those controlled by other players. This includes any creatures which have been magically stolen from the opposing team. These all return to their owners' graveyards, and may not be regenerated.
If creatures are forced to attack, but have no adjacent enemies, assume that they have been forced to march towards the source of the effect. For example, if General C plays Siren's Call on Emperor E, the creatures in front of the Emperor will be forced to move into General D's territory, one step closer to C. Creatures who cannot move are destroyed as described in the text of the card. (Remember that cards which have just been summoned, or who have just marched into a new territory, are immune to things like Siren's Call.)
Taking Control of Creatures
If you "control" one of your opponents' creatures, it does not teleport to your territory. (This is not the case if you steal a non-creature card, which does go directly into your territory.) Treat the casting of the control spell as a mandatory one-zone march, which works even if the creature is tapped or otherwise unable to move. After that, the creature must march as normal to relocate. The creature still operates under your control, to attack or defend the territory it's in, even if this territory is not allied with you. Once it marches off an enemy territory, it can't go back. Note that by this rule General D may steal a Wall from Emperor B, but it will jump to General C's territory and be unable to move any further. General D will only be able to use it to defend General C.
Limited Range of Effect
As has already been mentioned, players have a limited range of two seats to the left and right for spell-casting, global effects, creature control, etc. In the six-player version of these rules, this means that players seated opposite each other cannot affect each other at all until one player leaves the game. In the ten-player version (and larger games), considerably more players begin the game completely out of each others' range. However, since creatures can move, a player can use them to reach out and touch someone a little farther away.
In other words, if you walk your creatures two places away from your territory, you can use them to attack the player three places over, or to use a fast effect to poke the player four seats away. For example, in the figure above, suppose General F has hiked her Prodigal Sorcerer all the way to General D's territory. She can instruct the Sorcerer to attack General C, or to use its special poking ability to attack any legal target in territories B through F.
However, if General C cast a Control Magic on this Sorcerer, General F would be powerless to retrieve it. Also, if the Sorcerer had any enchantments on it, General F would still technically control them, but would not be within range to activate them. (This means activated enchantments like Blessing, Firebreathing, Regeneration, etc. would be unusable by either player. Plain enchantments like Holy Strength or Red Ward would still function perfectly.)
Global vs. Targeted Effects
Or, Deciding Who "Your Opponent" Is
If an effect is clearly global, or clearly targeted, there isn't much of a problem deciding how it works in a large team game. If one player plays Flashfires then all plains within range are destroyed. If that player casts a Lightning Bolt, it clearly may only be directed at a single, legal target. However, many of the cards in the game were written with only two players in mind. For example, there are times when Demonic Hordes allows your opponent to destroy one of your lands. Which opponent? Or do each of your opponents get to destroy one land? (Yikes!)
The text on a card like this gives you no real clue about how it should be played when you have more than one "opponent." Short of creating an entire list of single vs. multiple effects, you may just have to reach an agreement about each card as it arises. Start by treating each use of a spell with "your opponent" as a single targeted spell, affecting a single "opponent" within your sphere of control. This allows cards like Lifetap and Black Vise to continue affecting each of your opponents, since each application of these cards happens as a separate event. But when you play Mind Twist or Demonic Attorney you must choose an appropriate single target for the spell's effects. When you use cards like Pestilence or Balance which say they affect "both" players, treat them as if they affect "all" players within your limited range.
When you are using a landwalk ability, the particular opponent whom the creature is attacking must have the appropriate land type in play. Cards whose strength is dependent on your lands, or your opponent's, should have this type of logic applied to them. For example, Gaea's Liege will only gain power for the forests controlled by the player whom it is attacking. When not attacking, it will only gain power for the controller's forests (and not necessarily for the forests where it is stationed.
Players on the same team are only allowed minimal communication. They may confer about strategy before the game, and tune their decks to interact properly. However, once the game begins the players are restricted to discussing cards in play and cards known to all players. In other words, if a General wants to talk about a particular card from his hand, he must show the card to everyone. This restriction allows questions like "wouldn't it be nice if that Prodigal Sorcerer were to suddenly die?" However, it prevents Emperors from looking at their General's hands and mulling over the entire range of possibilities. Even if the Emperor has a Glasses of Urza in play, she can only use it to look at her opponents' cards. For a more challenging variation, you may choose to entirely prohibit communication between team members during the game.
So, set the table, get plenty of snacks, and play a few games of Emperor Magic. You will probably find that the strategy changes immensely in this teamwork oriented configuration. Games are ultimately more involved, more dynamic, and quite a bit more satisfying (for the wizards who survive.) And if you happen to get Fireballed early on you have a great opportunity to retune your deck. In fact, you might want to let the wizard who dies be your next Emperor. Or you could just send him down the street for a bag of cheese balls.