Fun and Simple Magic Variants

The biggest problem with Magic is that there simply are not enough ways to play the game: Standard, Modern, Legacy, Vintage, Draft, Sealed, Pauper, Commander, Peasant, Peasant Highlander, Five Color, Cube, Pack War, Battle Box, Frontier, Tiny Leaders, Emperor, Iron Man, Mental Magic…

OK, so there are actually a lot of ways to play Magic, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not down to try something new!

Today, I’m going to run through a couple of strange, but entertaining, ways to game.

1. New Pack Wars

There are already several pack war variants, but I’m a huge fan of an alternate version I learned from Andrew Elenbogen, who learned it from Stephen Neal. Basically, it takes Pack War, which is incredibly simple, and makes it deep.

Here’s how it works: Each player opens their own pack of cards and will be using those 15 cards to build five separate three-card decks.

Once each player has divided their pack into five piles of three cards, the battle happens. You are going to use all of the three-card piles to play five minigames of Magic. Five games from a pack? Not too shabby!

Flip a coin, or roll a die, to determine who will be on the play first (keep in mind being on the play is a big advantage and that play/draw alternates with each hand).

The rules for the gameplay are simple: Each player starts the game at 5 life and has infinite mana available at all times. Reduce your opponent’s life total to zero first and you win a point. The first player to win 3 points (three-out-of-five games) wins the match!

There are a ton of ways to divide this pack into five decks of three cards.

Deck #1

Ghalta can win the game all by itself so we put it with the two “do-nothings.”

Deck #2

Deck #3

Deck #4

Deck #5

Once I put my cards into five face-down piles (my opponent wouldn’t know which card is in each pile), we determine who will be on the play for the first game, then each player randomly selects one of the five decks for their opponent to play.

This means that you don’t have control over which decks will be featured on the play or on the draw.

We can look at the piles I’ve made and see how a few would play out.

Deck #1 vs. Deck #2

These piles are easy, and the Jungle Creeper pile will win regardless of whether it is on the play or the draw.

If deck #1 is on the play it can only drop the Ghalta and then deck #2 can play Jungle Creeper and Waterknot the Ghalta. GG.

Some of the other piles will play out in more complicated ways. Sometimes, the sequencing matters a lot. Sometimes the winner is completely determined by play or draw. The key is to try to come up with five decks that can win and see how it all works out.

It is also possible to draw. For instance, if both players have a hand with two removal spells and one creature—in these cases, the player who was on the draw steals the point!

2. The 1 Mana, 2 Mana, 3 Mana Game

This one is an oldie but a goodie. I actually learned it from Patrick Chapin when he lived in Michigan.

First of all, this is a great way to kill a solid hour on a car ride and requires no actual Magic cards to play (although a pad of paper to keep track of things is a huge help). Personally, I like to break up into teams but it’s also good 1v1.

The basics of the game are as follows.

Each player starts with 20 life.

On each player’s turn they get mana equal to the number of the turn, of any color, during the precombat main phase. The player on the draw starts with 2 mana on their first turn (to counteract playing second, and then it goes back to normal). Mana pools empty at the beginning of combat step and that’s it for mana for the turn. So, all spellcasting or mana usage is done in the first main phase.

During your first main phase a player is allowed to essentially tutor for any card and play it. If a player has leftover mana after casting a spell the extra mana can be used to activate abilities.

At the end of each player’s turn all cards in their hand are discarded.

A spell (not land) can only be “tutored for” and played once per game. If a permanent gets bounced it can be replayed on the next turn, but if it isn’t it is discarded to the graveyard. (I’ll have an example of how this works in the gameplay scenario to follow.)

You can’t draw extra cards (because there are no libraries), but each player’s graveyard stays intact and can be utilized. So, you’ll need to keep track of which cards are in your graveyard as well as life totals (which is why I recommend a pad of paper to keep track of which cards went to whatever zones).

Here’s a quick example of a suboptimal opening that is designed to show off a few nuances of the game:

Player 1 gets 1 mana on their first turn. They use it to make R and cast Goblin Guide and attack for 2. Players don’t have libraries and so the Guide’s drawback doesn’t come into play.

Player 2, on the draw, gets 2 mana on their turn and chooses to make UU to cast Harbinger of the Tides to bounce the Goblin Guide back to its controller’s hand.

Back to player 1’s second turn. Player 1 starts the turn with a Goblin Guide in hand, which can be replayed. The player decides to make RR during their first main phase and uses R to replay the Goblin Guide. Player 1 can still “tutor” for a card that can be played and decides to play Firebolt on the Harbinger of Tides and attacks for 2 again.

Now, the life totals are 16 to 20 and player 1 has a Firebolt (with flashback in the graveyard) and player 2 has a Harbinger of Tides in the graveyard.

On player 2’s next turn they go up to 3 mana. Player 2 decides to “tutor” for Reflector Mage and bounce the Goblin Guide.

On player 1’s third turn they will get 3 mana of any color. Unfortunately, Reflector Mage says that the Goblin Guide cannot be replayed. So, player one decides to play a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir to kill off the Reflector Mage.

And so on and so forth until somebody wins the games.

There are lots of different rules one can use to play this game. Standard only, Modern only, Legacy only, all viable options.

I’ve found that planeswalkers are kind of OP and so I ban them when I play, but if you want to experiment have at it. Also, cards that “take another turn” or “gain control of an opponent’s turn” need to be banned, since chaining ten Time Walks together or taking an opponent’s turn automatically win the game.

If cards seem absurd or unbeatable, ban them. I like to think of it as “retiring a really good but uninteresting idea.”

The end games are completely absurd. I recommend playing with a time limit since this is the kind of game where people really like to go into the tank. One half of the car v the other half of the car can get pretty intense, but the game is blast and a great way to kill time on the road!

20 Questions Magic Edition

I’m a little embarrassed to put this in here because it is kind of lame but it has certainly overperformed in my metagame.

It’s basically 20 Questions, Magic cards edition but it is a great way to pass some time on a card ride.

It’s so simple, it’s kind of genius (but in a really simple way). Somebody thinks of a card and says what block it is from and everybody else gets 20 “yes or no” guesses to figure out what it is.

Pro tip: Don’t ask: “Is it green?” Say, “Is it green, white, or black?” to narrow it down faster. It sounds dumb, until you realize you are still four hours from Waterbury and you’ve already talked about every angle of tuning everybody’s sideboard already!

One of the greatest things about Magic is there are so many ways to play it. There are always neat new variations to try out. Magic trivia is kind of fun too. The game is so impossibly big that it’s often fun to simply try out some new things!

I’d love to hear some of your weird and wacky variants in the comments. Also, some of these games can get a little bit complicated, so if you have specific rules or format questions feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to give clarification.

There’s always a new way to play. Magic is pretty amazing that way!

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