Having played in the Magic 2015 pre-release to mark my return to the game, I decided to start looking for alternative ways of playing the game. Particularly ways that are less competitive or formats that are not found in Duels of the Planeswalkers. Magic the Gathering is full of alternative formats, completely due to the sheer number of people who get bored playing standard competitive Magic and want something new.
This is the same format as found in the pre-release events. It involves building a deck using a set number of booster packs; usually six packs, but the number can be adjusted to fit the budgets of the players involved. A good format for people who are just starting to play Magic and want practice building decks. Also a lot of fun for coming up with insane ideas that would generally not work in a normal game of Magic; or beating professional players by getting lucky and opening all the best cards (it does happen and is hilarious).
Drafting is considered a necessary skill for competitive players as some major events feature this format as part of the main event. That being said, playing in a Magic draft is fantastic fun when played among friends. During a draft, players choose cards from booster packs one at a time as the packs are passed among the group. It creates a sort of game where everyone is fighting for the best cards, but nobody knows who took all the good stuff.
Wizards of the Coast (WotC) also recently released a set intended especially for drafting. Known as Conspiracy, it introduces new mechanics that directly affect the draft, as well as some new cards that only work in the format. Abilities like Will of the Council forces players to vote on which effect will take happen or the unusual creature that only attacks the player who passed it to you during the draft.
Mini Master/Pack War
The name of this format is a little confusing; at least where Pack War is concerned. In some circles, Pack War is not so much a format as it is people opening booster packs and comparing the value of the rares inside. The person with the higher value keeps both packs. This version is what is most commonly known as Pack War in Malaysia.
Mini Master is where two players each use a single booster pack as their deck. Neither is allowed to look at their cards, and just shuffles three of each basic land in to start playing. There are a few variants to the format, like using the whole booster as your starting hand or drawing lands from a separate deck.
Originally known as Elder Dragon Highlander until WotC rebranded it, Commander is a different sort of game. Instead of 60 card decks, players each build 100-card decks and can only have a single copy of cards that are not basic lands. It follows some other deck building rules, and most importantly works around a single legendary creature that is designated as the General.
The fact that the format follows its own banlist and allows cards from practically every set ever published for Magic makes this the best way to get mileage out of old cards. It also appealsto the kind of player who likes big creatures but doesn’t get to play them very often in a regular game of Magic.
This is mainly a bunch of people sitting around and trying to screw one another and having a good time. Some play groups take it more seriously than others, although this is one casual format that is best shared with a small group of close friends. On a side note: there is always one guy who is happier sowing chaos than actually trying to win.
Two Headed Giant (THG)
Probably the only team-based format that is regularly played. Two Headed Giant teams up two players into a single entity. Each player brings their own deck, but that’s where the similarities to standard Magic ends. Both players share the same turn, same life pool, and are able to attack and block together.
It’s great for those who want pair off against opponents and try a more cooperative variant. There is also the opportunity to blame someone else for game when he should have destroyed an attacking creature instead of wasting all his mana on drawing cards looking for that one killer combo that he came up with last night.
Away from Duels of the Planeswalkers
I started these two feature articles as part of an experiment to see if learning to play Magic: The Gathering from the video games would be the same as playing it in real life. And it does to some extent, there is a different sort of human element that’s missing from the digital version of the game.
It has also allowed me to understand some of the criticism that surrounds DotP. Essentially, there is a plethora of ways to play the card game. Ranging from the completely wasteful to the truly inspired, I have barely begun to scratch the surface of what people have tried. Playing the game on the tablet or PC limits one’s options to perhaps only playing draft and constructed formats, which probably irks some of the more casual and creative minded Magic players.
One thing for sure, between the community and the multiple ways of playing Magic, there is always a group to join.