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Spreading Cheese – Casualties

Hi guys. This week I’ll be talking a bit about some casual Magic. Not exclusively, but I want to put out something that I’ve really enjoyed.

Who cares about casual? All we want to do is win Pro Tours, and get famous, right? Well, I was having a conversation with a friend this Friday, and I realized something. Lately I’ve been too focused on trying to get an amazing deck that can defeat the top decks in Standard, and it hasn’t been working. It’s not easy, “breaking the format;” you have to grind endlessly and playtest your decks to perfection, but right now I am in a position that doesn’t give me enough time to do that. So I have to work with decks whose tuning is incomplete, and the results always end up being lackluster. It was getting more and more frustrating, and I just wanted to stop trying. I have those moments every year or so in my Magic life, and it makes me want to quit the game.

You see, I’m the kind of guy who wants to win, have fun, and do it in a way other people aren’t. If that doesn’t work, I get zero satisfaction out of a game, unless it ends up being a really complicated game with a huge war of attrition, and that doesn’t usually happen in Standard nowadays because of what I call “bomby cards narrowing the playable subset of the deckspace” (read my previous articles), or as Joey and BHJ of YMTGT call it, “Battlecruiser Magic.” So I end up losing “the spirit of Magic.” When I was playing last friday, my latest build that I hoped would help me combat the metagame (more on that later) had performed insufficiently and I dropped. Then I started talking to the players in the local store about Legacy. Somehow the conversation derailed and we got into talking about casual. I suddenly remembered a “format” we used to play with my friends back in Turkey, and it made me feel both nostalgic and excited. I want to go back and play that format now, to be honest. Let me tell you the story behind the format and then tell you how it’s played (there are two variants), and I hope you’ll enjoy it too.

Back when I was in Turkey, during the period of time where we had no easy ways of obtaining cards or playing with each other (see the full story here), I had decided to give my friends a little treat. Now you see, we were all envious towards the new and fancy cards we saw on the internet and were unable to obtain, so we were in a situation psychologically similar to what I just described to you above. I thought, “The power level of these cards is too high, this power creep just makes us want to play less, and we can’t even get our hands on these cards, so maybe we should take a look at cards we have in our hands?”

I turned to my collection of random commons/uncommons, ranging from Mirage to Onslaught blocks. There were several boxes of the stuff, and most of it was just incredibly bad cards. But then I realized something: If all of these cards are really bad, then this would normalize the quality of the cards, and we will start to see the gems within those awful cards. I’m talking about stuff like Airdrop Condor, Rootwater Alligator and such. Some were very awkward cards with high costs to cast/activate, extremely low power/toughness for its cost, or just downright useless or harmful to its controller. But when you put all those bad cards together, they turned out to be not so bad in comparison to each other, and there were lots of (awful) synergies. Beasts were pretty good in the format in general (relatively higher P/T), so Riptide Biologist was a pretty good meta call. Walking Sponge was great utility because creatures with flying were really hard to deal with (I recall winning a game with Molting Harpy). Oh, of course the removal spells were very scarce, and they were extremely overcosted/limited. In the end, it turned out to be a huge trainwreck of mediocrity, but it was actually really, really fun. No, Scornful Egotist still wasn’t good.

How does one play this format? There are two variations. The version we played first, and the easier one, is what I call “Box draft.” You take a box full of random Magic cards (from all sets you have), remove all cards that look even remotely playable (example: Oraxid is fine, but Spiketail Drake is definitely too good). Try to keep the removal and countermagic scarce. Then take the box, shuffle the cards around. Find any amount of players. Each player simultaneously searches the box and takes out cards that he/she likes. Here, there is a rule about niceness, no hoarding cards, and no taking overly long. Just like draft, you are supposed to pick your colors and stick to them after the first few cards. Since you’re supposed to be playing casual, this should be fine. You’re also allowed (and encouraged) to put cards that you aren’t using back into the box. After a while, all players build decks (minimum 40 cards) from the cards that they take out (using an infinite supply of basic land, just like real drafting). And yes, everyone can see what cards everyone else picks. That’s part of the insanity of the format. Afterwards, you just play regular games of Magic with the decks you make. There are no pre-set techs, no metagame, just trying to find synergies and advantageous cards. After everyone is done, the cards are all put back into the box, and then shuffled for future games. For better effect, if you have a lot of cards, you can use different subsets of your collection to create a box draft, so you can encourage people to stick to different cards instead of playing the same deck all the time. When you run out of subsets, just mix old subsets to create new subsets. I can’t emphasize enough how fun this is, and some really fun and weird decks come out of the format.

The second variant takes quite a bit of thought and effort to prepare, but is even more rewarding. This is what I call “Repack draft.” Here, you create a Box just as if you were going to Box draft, but instead, you take out a set amount of commons and uncommons. Make sure that you especially pick the most awful cards, like Scornful Egotist and such. The less playable the cards are, the more fun the format is. Also, make sure to pick a nearly equal amount of cards from each color. Then, make boosters from those cards by semi-randomly arranging 10 commons and 2 uncommons per pack. This is the hard part. You want the boosters to be balanced in color. What I do is, take all cards, separate them into commons and uncommons, and sort each group by color. Shuffle the sorted piles and turn them face down, and pick 2 from each color for the uncommons, and pick 1 from two different colors for the uncommons to create a booster pack. So you don’t know what is in the boosters yourself, and there is a relatively good distribution of cards. You can spice it up a little by adding 1 or 3 of certain colors to some packs, but don’t go overboard. Make sure you make packs enough to play with people, 3 pack per person. Afterwards, just do a normal draft with these packs. Of course, the picking and signaling process will be a total trainwreck, and that’s where the fun of this format is! It changes your thinking process from “Which one of these cards is best?” to “Which one of these cards isn’t completely terrible?” and it is quite amusing. It also helps you look at the game differently.

Note that the older the sets you use to create your Box, the more amusing these formats tend to be, because new sets are actually better designed for drafting, and power creep has decreased the amount of terrible cards.

I try to play these formats with my friends whenever I go back to Turkey, and we always have a great time. It’s also slightly nostalgic because we remember our days where our cards were bad and we had to make do with what we had. It’s also refreshing to not see the same cards all the time. In the end, any time spent doing random things with friends is great anyway. It goes against the nature of the format, but if you want to spike it up and motivate people to play, you can require an “entry fee” of cards to play. Everyone brings equal value of cards to contribute to the prize pool, and they are distributed as prizes. If you want to do this, but be slightly less Spikey, just make everyone pick an amount of cards from the prize pool according to ranking (make sure the cards taken are equal in value to the entry fee), so nobody ends up losing, it’s kind of more like trading.

So, back to Standard. I’ll just mention my build briefly. First of all, this deck is based on an earlier deck that I built, so go ahead and read my article on the deck and then come back. Done? Good. Here’s the list again for the lazy:
4x Leonin Arbiter
4x Tunnel Ignus
4x Goblin Guide
4x Lightning Bolt
3x Arc Trail
3x Ajani Goldmane
3x Emerge Unscathed
2x Sword of Body and Mind
2x Condemn
2x Sun Titan
2x Baneslayer Angel
1x Revoke Existence
1x Cerebral Eruption
4x Arid Mesa
3x Tectonic Edge
9x Plains
8x Mountain

What did I change from that list? I moved the Arbiters to the board, replaced them with Day of Judgment. I also replaced Emerge Unscathed with Journey to Nowhere, Ajanis and Swords with 2x Gideon and 3x Pyroclasm. I replaced the Guides with Squadron Hawks, and Condemns+Titans+Revoke Existence+Cerebral Eruption+Angels became 3x Koth and +1 Arc Trail, 3x Burst Lightning.

What was the reasoning behind these changes? In hindsight, the Arbiter change was a bad idea, but I had Pyroclasms so having too many low-cost creatures wouldn’t be a good idea. The Ignus is obviously against Ramp decks. All the burn is against Planeswalkers and small creatures. The Arc Trails are specifically against RUG style decks that get sad when you kill their Cobras. In the board I also had Silence which I used in response to Landfall triggers. The Days are obviously against aggro deck/titans, and so are the journeys. I thought I had all of my matchups covered, but I was wrong. I faced a mono red burn deck, and I realized that I should have put Leylines in my board (moved them out to make room for Arbiters), so I punted that game. I easily defeated a control deck and a ramp deck, but when I faced RUG, the real enemy, I realized that I don’t have enough threats. I had answers to everything, but not enough pressure. So I easily controlled the early game, but ended up losing to Jace in game 1 and triple Titan with Jace backup in game 2. For future reference, I think I need to add some threats to this deck, like Titans of my own or something like that. I don’t know where I want to take this deck, but I also have other deck ideas in my mind and a new set is coming out anyway, so I guess I’ll put this one on hold for a while.

That’s all for this week. Try enjoying the casual joys of Magic, and keep an eye on Mirrodin Besieged spoilers. I will be discussing Mirrodin Besieged spoilers this week on Yo! MTG Taps!, so check back on Friday morning to listen to the podcast!

Spreading the Cheese, so you don’t have to.

P.S. For questions, comments, feedback, send an e-mail to me at Spreading.Cheese [at] gmail [dot] com or follow me on twitter @nayon7
P.P.S: Your weekly dose of metal: Obscura – Septuagint
P.P.P.S: Last week I mentioned that I was recording an EP. I recorded one song, and it will be available for listening later this week. Like my band on Facebook to keep updated when the song comes out, right now there are two preview clips (home recordings) from earlier available, and the full song will be up soon.

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