Casual Variants of Multiplayer Magic

Magic DogsI have to admit, the Magic community is really pretty terrific.  By and large most people you meet and interact with while playing Magic are genuinely nice, helpful, and just friendly.  Let me share with a little anecdote.  Not too long ago I was trying to think up some new twist I could bring to our next Casual Magic night because we got into a bit of a rut.  We all love Multiplayer Magic, but the games take so long and if someone gets skunked on land they find themselves quickly eliminated and having to sit and watch the others play.  That really isn’t all that fun, so I was trying to come up with some way to mitigate this issue. When I was drawing a blank I turned my attention to the Magic Community and reached out on Facebook for suggestions and was rewarded in short order with tons of great suggestions.  Today I thought I would share some of those fun options so that you could use them the next time you play around a kitchen table with your friends.

Pack Wars– This is perhaps the easiest of all the Casual variants and it takes very little in the way of set up.  Essentially all you need is a booster pack and some land and you have all the ingredients for a game.  People have said for a long time that just cracking a booster pack is a waste of time.  You rarely get a solid return for you money spent, once open it is just 15 more cards, and really is a very short lived experience.  However, you can draw that experience out by opening your pack and just shuffling in some land and playing a game!  Typically you would want 3 land of each colour and then the spells are whatever you open, meaning you have little to no strategy, curve, or any other technical element to your game.  However, it does cause you to think on your feet and adapt to the situation and making due with obviously substandard cards.  The best part is, it could be any two packs…not even from the same set…and everyone is on the same respective level (unless they open some silly bomb).  I gave it try with a buddy and we laughed ourselves silly with the sheer ridiculousness of some of the cards we played…and really at the end of the day it really is all about having some fun.

Howling Mine– One of the main complaints with Multiplayer Magic is that it takes so long because everyone runs out of cards.  It’s true…I have routinely seen games grind to a halt as everyone ends up in Top-deck mode praying that they rip some awesome bomb off the top of their deck.  However, a great strategy to ensure everyone has enough cards and speed up the game is to give everyone a Howling Mine effect.  This means everyone draws 2 cards instead of the usual 1. This really speeds up matters and ensures everyone can play with the cards in their deck instead of just sitting around top decking…drawing a dud…and then passing the turn.

Archenemy– Not all that long ago Wizards had a product that essentially pitted one deck against two others.  The idea being that the one deck was super powerful and that the other two were more marginal, but could team up to beat the superior deck. So, why do you need a particular product from Wizards to play this?  The answer is…you don’t.  Playing 2 or 3 on 1 is a great way to even out the playing field, so find that buddy with the super powerful deck and have him play solo…and then the rest of you get to see if you can take him out.  It sounds really fun because if you are the solo guy, you want to see just how awesome your deck is against multiple opponents.  If YOU get the win solo…damn…you be DA MAN! For the guys teamed up on you, you get a chance to dismantle THAT guy…you know…the guy who almost wins. Even if it is in a handicapped situation, there is no better feeling than beating that guy.  A nice variation on this is to build the deck that the player who will be solo together as a group, so you all know just how awesome it is.  There is a lot of fun to be had in group deck construction.

Two-Headed Giant– This classic team games pits 2 vs 2 and each pair of 2 players take their turn at the same time.  This ends up being a wildly fun and exciting way to play.  It can be played with constructed decks if you like, but is just as much fun in a limited environment.  The ability to sit and discuss strategy with your team mate is one of the highlights of this format and helps you to explore a variety of different strategies.  This one also shows up from time to time at pre-releases and such, making it a little more mainstream and sometimes competitive, but even there is generally regarded as being a fun and friendly format.

Dice-y Free for all– One way to mix up your multi-player free-for-all game is to have each player roll a die to determine which other player they will be attacking this turn.  Sure, it takes a little longer, but in the end it usually avoids one person getting ganged up so badly that he gets blown out the game.  Remember, you are here to play Magic…not blow someone out of the water…and giving each person the chance to not get attacked and develop a bit of a board only makes the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Chaos Draft– For those who love to draft…why draft boosters from the same set/block?  There’s no set rules come Casual Magic night…so everyone show up with different boosters and just see what you get.  The randomness and unpredictable nature of the Draft environment makes for tons of fun as one guy brings in a pack of Modern Masters, and the next guy brings in a pack of Dark Ascension…and let the mayhem begin.

Mass-Chaos– One of the major complaints with multi-player free-for-all games is that they take a lot of time. You spend forever sitting there waiting for everyone else to finish their turn and twiddling your thumbs, all the while hoping you don’t get hated out of the game ASAP.  Well, one way to speed the game up significantly, and create all sorts of mayhem and chaos, is to have everyone at the table take their turn at the same time.  There’s no waiting for the turn to come around…you’re going at the same time as the guys sitting beside you.  Now, resolving spells, attacking, blocking and the like is pretty complicated, but between the bunch of you I’m sure you can figure out a system to make it all work for you guys.  This seems like the most insane and disgustingly fun format I have ever encountered and really want my play group to give it a try.  I can only imagine the arguments, shenanigans, and ridiculous scenarios that will get cooked up with this format…bring it on.

Awarding Points– My buddies and I have grown tired of having players sit and posture in a multiplayer game.  Anyone can durdle…heck…I’m one of the best at it.  However, to create an incentive to being more aggressive, we award points for having taken out other players at the table.  At the end of the game, the player who has the most kills is actually declared the winner, even though he’s not last man standing.  This absolutely speeds up the game and makes people play much more aggressively, but you need to watch out for the “cherry picking” as one guy does all the work to KO one player at the table, only to have his point stolen from him by an opportunist who swoops in and delivers the final blow to take the point.  In either case, there is no doubt that this gets people moving and out of their defensive posturing shells.

So, there we have a number of suggestions to help spice up your next Casual night.  These could be a breath of fresh air for your playgroup and be options that you guys opt to maintain as house rules for when you play.  Maybe you give them a try and find out that you don’t much care for some of these variants. That’s fine.  There’s no wrong way to play Magic so long as everyone is having some fun and slinging spells. In either case, give them a try and see what you think.

What do YOU guys do when you sit around your kitchen table to play?  Do you use one of the variants that I’ve listed above or do you have your own house rules?  This is a great time to share these ideas with Conspiracy here and the new Core Set just around the corner giving us an influx of great new cards to liven up casual games further. Let me know what you think. Hit me up with a tweet and let’s hear what other people are doing out there in the wide world of Magic.

Thanks for reading and remember keep it fun, keep it safe…keep it casual.

Bruce Gray


Say Hello to Bruce!

Hello BruceMy name is Bruce and I have a problem…er…I like to play Magic.  Yes, that’s it! I like to play Magic.  I got into the game as a kid back when Revised/Fallen Empires/Ice Age (circa 1995ish?) were all the rage and loved it.  I have very fond memories of spending Saturday afternoon over at my friend’s house playing endless games, losing, but loving every second of it.  I was never very good, but the idea of Magic immediately resonated with me and I really enjoyed the time with my friends sitting around a table.

Fast forward to the summer of 2012 and I am the director at a residential summer camp and some of my counselors are playing Magic out in one of the lodges with some campers.  I immediately recognized the game and I was hooked all over again. Since then I have gone on a healthy mission to bring myself up to speed on Magic, the theory, the lore, and almost everything Magic related.

I would be what you call a Casual player but I am slightly different than most.  Most people figure that the term “casual” refers to playing Commander.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played Commander and enjoy the format, but it is not the only thing to play.  I typically play 60 card multiplayer casually with my buddies when we get together.  We usually try to set something up once a month and will play until we can’t keep our eyes open any longer.  We have a blast and some of the funniest things have taken place ensuring that everyone has a good time.  Now, 3 plus years later, playing in these casual multiplayer games is still my favorite way of playing magic and has me eager for each time we get together to play.

However, if I only play once a month, how do I stay involved in Magic the other 30 days of the month? In February 2014 I started to write for a website out of Montreal called Three Kings Loot and they have given me the opportunity to write and expound on virtually anything I want. I can literally right about anything from Vorthos material, to Limited, to Casual brews, to just about anything else that really catches my fancy.  They have been terrific and really helped me get started and I still have a weekly column I do for them called Casual Encounters.

In addition to my writing and some casual playing, I have have been listening to plenty of podcasts.  When I was home with my first son I found that the podcasts and ties to the larger Magic community were very helpful in helping me get through each day.  Don’t for a second think that I didn’t love spending the time with my son, but the brain craves stimulation too, and the MTG podcasts were terrific. I found MTGYOU very early on in my stay at home and listened to it weekly.  I had many lively exchanges with Daemon, Rich, James, and Blades via email  and really enjoyed the entertainment they offered.  It was largely due to them encouraging people to go out and try new things in Magic that helped me to gain up enough courage to try my hand at playing MTGO a little more seriously as a way to broaden my experience and to improve my game.  I took playing MTGO more seriously and love to Draft.  I’m no Limited expert, but I feel like I am reasonably knowledgeable and I like the experience of starting each new draft.

So, where does that leave me now?  Who am I?  I am a Casual player who enjoys Limited, and writes about just about every facet of Magic that catches my interest.  In short, I’m a jack of all trades and I’m happy to give back to the Magic community, and MTGYOU in particular, by offering whatever insights I happen to have. I intend to stick to my roots, and write about just about anything and everything ranging from Limited Crack a Packs and Sealed strategy, to Casual budget decks I’ve brewed up, to Vorthos takes on the happenings of the multiverse.  So, stay tuned because you never can be quite sure where I’m going next.

I want to offer a big thank you to guys here at MTGYOU for offering me chance to contribute to their Magic community and reach out to all of you.  I’m super excited to get started and look forward to sharing ideas, experiences, and successes with all of you as we continue to try and grow the MTGYOU community.

If you are interested in reaching out to me, the easiest way is to hit me up on Twitter at @bgray8791 or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to get back to you ASAP.

Thanks and yourselves a great MTG day!

Bruce Gray