Until today! I finally decided to finish this post and return to documenting my now rekindled interest in various projects. So now to the fun stuff, Magic Game variants!
I was reading through a Daily MTG article the other day (lol, the *other day*) on a new variant of Planechase/Archenemy, themselves variants on the game "Magic the Gathering", when I got to thinking of all the fun variants I had come across in my experience with the game. My earliest memories of trying something beyond 1v1 were very early on, we had these 2 double-sided inserts, which I still have today, that showed 4 other ways to play Magic the Gathering.
They specified the various changes to the base game rules, and made for very entertaining matches. Our playgroup would often mix up these rules changes and make our own versions (FFA assassin, where each player had a secret target for example). The main things that change with any variant are:
Sample turn order diagram from wizards' inserts
Magic the Gathering Variants
|Alternate # of Players: 2v2 - Two Headed Giant - Free For All - Melee -
Pentagram - Emporer |
Alternate format: Respawn - Pauper - Elder Dragon Higlander
Require additional Game Cards: Vanguard - Planechase - PlanarMap - Archenemy - Planar Invaders
Players: 4 (or some multiple of 2)
Starting Life per team: 20
Shared Turns: no
Shared Mana: no
Shared Blockers: no
Starting things off with as basic as you can get, and building block for the other variants, rather than a simple one deck vs. another, in 2v2 you have an ally against two opponents. There are a few ways to play 2v2. You can take turns at the same time, take turns one ally after another, or take alternating turns with opponents. You can share a life total and blockers (see Two Headed Giant below), or each have independent life totals, etc. etc.
There are lots of ways to play two player, the most common is just alternate turns with opponents, everyone does there own thing, but a very fun one I have seen however is...
Starting Life per team: 30
Shared Turns: yes
Shared Mana: no
Shared Blockers: yes
This seems to be one of the most popular ways to play 2v2, having even DCI sanctioned tournaments in this format at set release events. Two Headed Giant, aka 2HG, has the allied players sitting next to each other facing off against their two opponents. The premise being that you are two heads of the same body, but with independent actions you can take.
The players take their turns at the same time and share a life total of 30. They can block for each other but any effects that target players individually still must target one of the players (one of the heads of this giant). If one of the "heads" loses, either due to milling or poison or some other alternate win condition, their team loses.
Mana pools, libraries, and hands are still independent, and some people even limit the amount of communication, other then basic game play, that is allowed between the two allies (the no table talk rule).
Since you only target one life total, these games tend to move things along a little faster then a traditional 2v2 or other type of multiplayer match.
Players: > 2
Starting Life per player: 20
Spell Range: no
Attack Limitations: no
A free for all, FFA, match is about as chaotic as they come (except a free for all with EDH+Planechase =p). The rules are simple, each player is a single player just like any 1v1, except they don't win unless they are the last one standing. You take turns in a big circle and you can target/attack anyone. These games tend to take a long time as the general winning strategy is to try and hang back with out becoming the biggest threat on the board until the end-game showdown. These can be very fun however as it lets you play big slow cards that wouldn't usually see play in a competitive format.
Players: > 2
Starting Life per player: 20
Spell Range: 1-2
Attack Limitations: Left 1 or Right 1
Win Condition: Have the most kill/damage points
I use the name melee simply because that is what I learned on the wizards insert, but this is really just a FFA game with some added rules. The general rules added are a limited spell range around the circle of players, as well as sometimes dictating which direction around the circle you are allowed to attack. Melee also uses a point system for each kill (alternately for amount of damage dealt) as being the last one standing shouldn't mean squat if you didn't kill any of the rest of the players.
Starting Life per player: 20
Attack Limitations: none
Win Condition: Have no "enemies" left before anyone else
Pentagram takes what would otherwise be a 5 player free for all and provides some actual objective. Like other variants, like Assassin M:tg where you need to kill a specific player, Pentagram has you sit each player in a position on the color wheel. Your win condition involves killing the two players not next to you on the wheel. So if you are sitting in the red spot, killing white and blue spots = victory.
Green and black, while they are not your enemies, also want to win. so while they won't directly attack you from the get go, if you are about to win before them, they might turn on you. Pentagram provides interesting politics. Some people play with the ability to win even if you have been knocked out of the game, if your enemies are later killed - but I prefer to avoid "no win" scenarios for players who are still alive.
Starting Life per Emperor : 30
Starting Life per General: 15
Attack Range: 1
Spell Range: 2
Win Condition: Defeat the other teams Emperor
Emperor is a Format usually played 3 vs 3, however you could technically do 5 vs 5, or 7 vs 7, but lets stick with 3v3. Emperor requires teams with an Odd number of players. Each side has 1 Emperor, the over all objective is to kill the opposing teams emperor. Emperor, like melee works in some limited spell range and some neighboring territory defined creature attacking/movement for the circle of players to traverse.
Each team of 3 has an Emperor and two generals, the generals sit on either side of the Emperor as they all sit across from the opposing team. The turn order works in a circle starting usually from one of the Emperors, but sometimes one of the generals. Players all have spell range of 2, so neither of the emperors can touch each other at the start. Creatures may only attack players who neighbor their "territory". In the case of the emperor who has no neighboring enemies at the start of the game, they can "march" their creatures into neighboring friendly territory (in larger then 3v3 games, the creatures may only march a maximum of 2 territories). Marching creatures works like an attack, it taps the creature and can not be done while summoning sickness is in effect. Creatures that have been marched are still under the control of their original controller, they attack on their controllers turn, but may block for the player whose territory they are in.
Spell range is important to remember as the Emperors won't be able to touch each other until a general dies. Remember that even spells that effect everything are limited by this range.
Players: > 2
Win Condition: Fun or Most kills/pts/dmg
Respawn Magic is more of a fun thing you can ad on to another multiplayer format. The key to this variant is you can join/rejoin a game at any time. When
you do, take all your mulligans and then your 1st three turns. During these 3 turns you
are in a bubble, no effecting others and no others can not effect you. After you resolve these 3 bubble turns, turn order resumes, when your 4th turn begins from this you are now officially in the game.
You can play for fun, with a set number of respawns, for a certain amount of damage, or for points.
each kill = 1 pt
each death = -1 pt
dropout = -1 pt for you, and last person to damage you +1 pt.
You can play till a point amount or until the end of the night. Either way, this can easily be combined with any other multiplayer format, regardless of what rules you decide to run with it.
Pauper is a fun variant where your deck is limited to only using commons. This brings a refreshing change to the type of deckbuilding you'd normally do, and let's you use cards you normally wouldn't. There are no special rules beyond deckbuilding, and like Respawn, this variant is easily combined with other formats.
Starting Life: 40
Win Condition: Defeat all opponents by dealing 40 damage or 21+ general damage
Elder dragon highlander, or EDH for short, is a combination of Elder Dragon, and Highlander where each player has 40 life.
In Elder Dragon, you select a legendary creature to be your general. You build your deck around this general and may only use cards which have no mana symbols on them that aren't colors of your general. So if you have a Red/Blue/Black general, no using cards that have any green or white mana symbols on them in your deck. The name Elder Dragon comes from the fact that the first big fatty legends to use for generals that had a large number of colors were the Elder Dragon legends: Nicol Bolas, Chromium, Vaevictis Asmadi, Palladia-Mors, and Arcades Sabboth. All of whom had their own allied color wedge in the color pie, now-a-days known for the colors of the various Shards from Shards of Alara. This General doesn't live in your deck when you play though, rather, it sits in the Command Zone. You can play the general from the command zone any time you could normally play a creature. If at anytime the general would be exiled or put into the graveyard from play, you may choose to instead return it to the command zone. Each time you summon your general from the command zone, it costs and additional 2 colorless mana to cast for each time it has been summoned from the command zone.
One last rule for the generals is that at any time during the game, if the general has dealt 21 or more damage to an opponent, that opponent loses the game. This is a per general damage count.
Highlander, also called Singleton, follows the motto "There can only be one!", meaning that you construct a deck with only a max of 1 of each card besides basic lands. Another twist is that the minimum deck size is 100 rather then 60.
The result of combining these two variants in EDH is a very thematic game built around your pick of legendary creature. The higher life total makes the games take a little longer, but is good as that really lets you get your deck going. This variant is really nice if you have a legendary you really like to play, but it isn't allowed in standard or don't have the "4-of" to make it viable for standard play.
EDH combined well with other formats since it is mainly a variant on deck construction.
+/- Starting/Max hand size: The number in the lower left will specify what kind of hand size offset you get for playing this character, this +/- modifies from the normal base of a 7 card hand.
+/- Starting Life: The number in the lower right will specify how much extra or how much less life you start the game with.
Ability: The abilities are front and center on the character cards and provide a wide variety of effects, from static abilities like Maraxus' "+1/+0 to all your creatures" to activated abilities such as Barrin's "Sacrifice a permanent to return any creature to it's owner's hand". The Vanguard cards were printed in 2 original print runs, but have since had more added for play on MTGO. The characters definitely vary wildly in their strength so it is usually a good idea to either build a deck around your character or if playing with random deck's, have all players pick similarly strong characters.
Planechase brings back the concept of a variant involving oversized cards to be used in combination with a normal game of MTG, 10 years after the first attempt at the concept with Vanguard.
In Planechase, the duel between planeswalkers that your average game of Magic symbolizes takes on the actual movement of the 'walkers between planes. As you, the planeswalker battles it out, you can spend some of your mana to try and 'walk to another plane, or harness some special ability of your current plane.
Each plane card has some default ability listed at the top of the text that is always in effect, and then it has a "Chaos" ability. When you roll the "Chaos" symbol you trigger the special ability of the plane. Each plane varies quite a bit in what it does and how it benefits or hurts each player. With the typical style of play being the communal planar deck, this adds a real randomness to games that can cause some intereting swings in the balance of power.
Those are your two options for interacting with the planar cards, and to do either of those you must roll a planar die. The planar die is a 6-sided-die with 1 face being the planeswalker symbol (top), and another face the chaos symbol (bottom). Rollin this die can be done at sorcery speed during your turn. The first time you roll is free, and after that the cost per roll goes up by 1 colorless mana.
When you roll "planeswalk" you replace the current plane with a new one from your planar deck. Each player may have a 10 card planar deck of their own, but the way it is usually played is that there is one communal planar deck and we just swap to the next random plane (no strategy of building a planar deck for your deck involved, but easier considering I am the only one I know with all of the planeschase cards =P)
Each plane card has some default ability listed at the top of the text that is always in effect, and then it has a "Chaos" ability. When you roll the "Chaos" symbol you trigger the special ability of the plane.
Each plane varies quite a bit in what it does and how it benefits or hurts each player. With the typical style of play being the communal planar deck, this adds a real randomness to games that can cause some intereting swings in the balance of power.
Like default Planechase, you use the planar cards for this variant, however this adds a little bit of choice to the randomness of default planechase. With Planar Map, you have one plane you are currently on, and then in each cardinal direction you have the neighboring planes (use a marker to indicate the current plane you are on). Each time you roll a plansewalk, you may choose which direction you would like to 'walk. You can only go one of the four cardinal directions, except in the special case of a "Hell-ride". If there is a diagonal path you can take to an unrevealed plane, you may take it. Hell-riding prevents your opponents from simply hopping back to a plane you wanted to leave in one move.
When you get to a new plane, place down additional planar cards for each of the cardinal directions from your current plane that are empty. If at any time you are more then 3 hops away from any plane, that plane is shuffled back in to the planar deck (as shown in the picture above, the x's are shuffled back in)
This variant is fun as it adds a bit of skill to the randomness of planechase, and let's you avoid annoying or hazardous planes. It also adds a nice flavor element to navigating your way around the MTG multiverse through the blind eternities of the ever shifting planes.
Archenemy is an All vs. One format. The idea being that a band of goodguys is going up against an evil mastermind. You'd think this would be a huge challenge for the mastermind, however way they balance out multiple decks (3-6 often) against one is with "Scheme" cards.
Scheme cards, like Plane cards for planechase, are over
sized cards sold separately in 1 of four Archenemy packs. The Scheme
cards have special rulings and give the lone player significant power
Each upkeep, the archenemy player takes a card from his or her Scheme deck, and "sets it in to motion". These scheme are either one time effects that do their thing and get discarded or like some, have Ongoing Effects. Schemes with ongoing effects stay in play until a certain criteria is met. For example, the scheme "My Undead Horde Awakens" allows you to each turn, resurrect any creature from an opponents graveyard. This effect is Ongoing and will happen each of your turns until one of the creatures resurrected this way is killed. At that point the Scheme is abandoned (however any extra creatures you got with it do stick around =p)
There are ~45 unique Scheme cards. The Archenemy must build an archenemy deck of 20 Scheme cards with no more then 2 of each scheme. You can play games with multiple Archenemy players such as Archenemy Emperor with the Emperors using scheme decks, or even games where everyone has a scheme deck.
From the Daily MTG article linked at the top, I've tried this variant once and had a blast. The concept is the Invaders are coming in to take over the home plane of the defenders. Thus, the variant involves two teams, Invaders and Defenders. Teammates take their turns at the same time like 2HG, but they are still individuals and cannot block for each other or share life totals.
Defenders choose one planar card to be their home plane for the game. Once per turn at sorcery speed, any one player on the defenders team may pay 4 colorless mana to trigger the plane's chaos effect.
Invaders have a 10 card scheme deck of their choosing as long as each scheme is unique. Once per turn at sorcery speed, any one player on the invaders team may pay 4 colorless mana to set a random scheme in to motion from the Scheme deck.
And that is pretty much the jist of it. There are some banned planes/schemes in this variant as there are some planes/schemes that would totally break the game were they all you had to use in a normal planechase/archenemy game.
This variant makes for a great flavorful game, especially if you try and build/use decks themed for their home plane (defenders) or tied to an invading force (invaders). One great variant on this you can try is having your invading force be made up of Phyrexians, and as an optional rule, convert any defending player to the invaders side if a player is killed by poison (ie. remove all their poison counters and switch them to the phyrexian team)!
This is a fun variant and like most listed here, works well with EDH and other variants.
That was a really long post, both in content and the time it took me to get it posted! Time to get back to the regularly scheduled posts for things like Arduino/coding/random projects!