Playing Magic like a total casual

LincLinc OwnerDetroit Icrontian
edited December 2019 in Gaming

I bought a bunch of the latest set, Throne of Eldraine, and have been enjoying the hell out of playing sealed deck with it. But now, of course, the usual dilemma: What to do with all these damned duplicates?

The problem is that to make competitive decks, I'd still need to shell out for second, third and fourth copies of key cards that have been driven up in cost by the market. When people talk about Magic being "expensive", it's because they're deriving their enjoyment from winning under tournament-grade rules.

Most players play "kitchen table Magic", which is to say, they play with whatever cards they own. Ever since the end of high school, I've always had a shit ton more cards than anyone else I get to play with regularly, so that doesn't really work out fairly. So now what? Mostly, I play sealed or preconstructed decks. But neither truly uses my existing collection.

I sat down yesterday and decided to make the 4-6 most fun decks I could out of cards only from Throne of Eldraine, spread fairly evenly between colors. The goal was to use all cards I own, so I wasn't about use 4 Oko, Thief of Crowns (the latest hot card, at least until it was banned last month) in any of them.

I also wanted them to be balanced for play against each other, so that meant I couldn't min/max one deck with every high-price card I've opened. The preconstructed Ravnica guild decks from last year was more or less the power level (and fun level) I was trying to hit. They're super re-playable because they're balanced and focused, but not hyper-focused.

So I went thru this exercise, and then I reverse engineered what I'd come up with into a set of rules you could follow to come up with something similar. A usual constructed deck will have 22-24 lands (the full range is 17-25). That means you're typically working with 36-38 cards. Here's what I'll call a first attempt at codifying it:

  • Normal constructed rules: 60 cards, max 4 copies of a card.
  • 10 rares max, of which 3 can be mythic.
  • Must include 5 different rares.
  • Only 1 rare may exceed 2 copies.
  • Must include 10 different non-rare, non-land cards (9 if using a Relentless Rats effect).
  • Cannot have more than 4 playsets (a playset is 4 of the same card).

The biggest problem is the rules feel a bit weird to grok in the abstract. You kinda need to have a decklist in front of you to know if your deck conforms to it. Mostly, it's trying to prevent "rare stacking" by capping you to 17% rares and discouraging any playsets of them. I didn't outright ban using a playset because of alt-win condition cards like Hedron Alignment, which is exactly the kind of goofy behavior this is trying to encourage. Basically, you're allowed 1 build-around rare.

I'll post my Eldraine deck lists once I've finished and playtested them a bit.

In before "someone already invented this in a Reddit you've never heard of." 😁


  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian
    edited December 2019

    My math on this is that you can probably build 2 effective decks using these rules from one booster box (36 packs). So if your total investment in Magic ever was $85, or about 500 cards, you can have a pretty nice deckbuilding experience at this power level. You're basically using half of the rares, so you can do a good bit of curation.

    Obviously you can crank the power level down further by tweaking the numbers above. Just be aware that a lot of the wonkier effects also exist at rare, so you might make things noticeably less fun in pursuit of ultimate fairness.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    "What's a Relentless Rats effect?"

    Glad you asked!

    A handful of cards in Magic have the specific ability written on the card to exempt them from the 4-card limit. The first and most notable these was Relentless Rats. In early Magic, the 4-of rule didn't exist, and a card called Plague Rats took advantage of this - and became way less interesting when the rule was made. Relentless Rats sidestepped it for the first time by printing the limit-breaking effect right on the card.

    In this "format", if you wanna use one of those, you can use 1 less unique card.

  • CBCB Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ Der Millionendorf- Icrontian

    Most players play "kitchen table Magic", which is to say, they play with whatever cards they own.

    When I was playing regularly, the group I was playing with had a rule, to keep us from getting TOO invested and expensive, and too keep the game feeling a little organic, we were not allowed to buy specific cards we wanted for our decks. We had to just rely on what came out of our occasional boosters. Of course, this just led to one of us buying boxes and boxes of cards to find the ones they wanted, which was basically the same thing.

    I think one of the things that eventually made me drop Magic as a game to regularly play is that it's not possible to balance it as a casual player, balance only happens at the tournament level. Everyone below that is basically just losing to their friend who spends the most. (Or, in some notable exceptions, the one who knows the most about the cards before the game begins)

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian

    it's not possible to balance it as a casual player

    That comment at the end of an essay proposing a way to do just that without actually commenting on anything I said isn't gonna go in my top 10 favorites.

  • CBCB Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ Der Millionendorf- Icrontian
    edited December 2019

    You're right, I'm sorry. I did not interpret your essay as a way to codify the deck-building while remaining casual, I thought it was a lament about the impossibility of doing so, and that it also contained some rules for deck-building that you clearly spent a lot of time on, and are really cool. So, I was commiserating with a story of the time I tried and failed to make casual actually work.

    In that light, here's my comment: I don't think the codification you posted counts as casual anymore (obviously, I guess from the way I misinterpreted your essay). It's not a way to balance "kitchen-table Magic", because once you have added these codes, it's not "kitchen-table Magic" anymore, right?

    I think there is no such thing as a casual format, no matter how well crafted. I know that 'casual' is a fraught term though, and perhaps there-in lay the rub. You and I may think casual means something different in Magic.

    I didn't mean to shit on your thread.

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian
    edited December 2019

    You and I may think casual means something different in Magic.

    A fine point!

    "Casual" to me means "the fun is in the flavor and doing, not in the min/max win". Which isn't to say winning isn't fun, but rather that I'm not optimizing my entire experience for it.

    For instance, one of the decks I made is a Hanzel & Gretel deck (possible because of the heavy fairy tale theme in the newest set). There's a trail of crumbs, a witch, an oven to sacrifice creatures, and a "Curious Pair" creature that creates food tokens. There's also a gilded goose, golden eggs, (I know we're a little off target from the tale but mechanically it works for the deck), a witch's cottage, and a gingerbread cabin. And there's a giant troll! The deck really plays well and can be a ton of fun. It feels good.

    Can I register it in the next Standard tournament? Nope. I'd be embarrassed.

    These "guild" decks I referenced above were kinda the lightbulb: preconstructed decks anyone can walk into your house and pick up and have fun playing, but you could never win a tournament with. Satisfying functionality, balanced against other decks so that skill level matters A LOT, and very flavorful.

    I think there's a ton of room for that in Magic. The "rules" I made are an attempt to communicate the power level we're shooting for if other folks want to build a similar style of deck, where the priority is the experience and skill in piloting moreso than in the card obtaining or deck min/maxing,

  • LincLinc Owner Detroit Icrontian
    edited December 2019

    I also made a faerie deck, a seven dwarves / dragon deck, a knights deck, and an adventure deck.

    When given the option between putting a more powerful card in the deck or hitting the flavor better, I went for flavor. "I'd really like to cram this card in the deck to make it play more competitively, but it would replace a central card to the flavor, soooo.... pass."

    It's very possible to play Magic casually. You just have to actually be able to approach a game casually. 😂

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