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Budget Brewing: EDH, Tiny Leaders, BYOB and Mana Draw at FNM


"Winning is only half of it. Having fun is the other half." -Bum Philips

It seems like an overwhelming majority of the Magic articles in existence focus on competitive play. This makes perfect sense; after all there is a lot of money in competitive Magic. The best example is Kai Budde whose lifetime winnings are reported to be $375,220. Earnings like that provide a clear justification for the focus on professional play. While the winnings of a single professional player should be taken with a grain of salt, Kai isn't the huge outlier that some might think. Eight of the eighteen Magic "Players of the Year" to date have lifetime winnings of over $100,000. As of next year there will be a $20,000 Star City open tournament every weekend somewhere in the United States. In 2015, Wizards of the Coast has scheduled fifty-four Grand Prix events each paying $4,000 to the winner alone. On top of all that, none of those prizes take into account the money that can be made in the speculative market as card prices rise and fall in accordance with each week's tournament results. The point is that the money is there, and of course players want to talk about it.

Impetuous Sunchaser [BNG]

The reality however is that a majority of players will never achieve the levels of success exhibited by Kai Budde. But that doesn't stop us from spending an unconscionable amount of time trying. We practice, trade, and most importantly we think about competitive Magic constantly. Personally, I've awoken from horrible dreams about missing land drops (I wish this was a joke), and have been upset with myself after the fact. Upon experiencing this, I was left with the impression that surely I'm not the only one out there to have had Magic nightmares. Players should be wary of these stresses, or at least consider the long term effects that this continual exposure creates. I know I don't want to find my self standing in front of a support group and saying "Hi my name is Cooper and I've been flooded for about a month now." As cheesy as that is, players should take some time to remember why we all started playing Magic in the first place: its a fun game

Which brings me to the changes Wizards of the Coast has made to their Friday Night Magic program starting in 2015. As Mike Rosenburg points out, until now, the formats for Friday Night Magic tournaments were limited to Standard, Draft, Sealed, Block constructed, and Modern. That's all about to change. Starting in January local stores can sanction any format. That's right any format. Mike points out that "It could be that nothing changes" and in many cases stores will carry on rotating between Standard and Draft on Friday nights, maybe even a Modern or Legacy tournament to spice things up. But when Wizards says any format, they are not limiting anyone to these staples. Mike gives the example of sanctioning a Commander tournament for a Friday Night Magic, but if you look at the changes to the Wizards event reporter, you'll notice that when sanctioning a Friday Night Magic stores now have the option of choosing a whole smorgasbord of strange and off-the-wall formats. Some of these formats are listed specifically in the software and the rest are covered by the catch-all heading of "other". With all of this new information in mind, I thought I would look into some possibilities for casual formats at Friday Night Magic. As it turns out, there are tons of interesting formats, far more than I could even begin to delve into here, so I've decided to limit myself to talking about three.

Commander

Scion of the Ur-Dragon [TSP]

In Mike Rosenburg's announcement he specifically mentioned the potential for Commander to be played at Friday Night Magic. This inclusion in the Wizards coverage of the announcement is a kind nod to their desire to see more organized play of casual formats. Choosing Commander as a casual format to mention makes perfect sense for Wizards since the format is actively supported by annual product release (e.g. Commander 2014), and is arguably the most popular casual format out there. However, for the players who are looking to escape the stressful brain drain of competitive Magic in favor of something more relaxing at Friday Night Magic, I don't think Commander should necessarily be the first choice. The truth is that Commander has been developing as a format for more than fifteen years and it has come a long way in that time. Where we used to see Arcades Sabboth in the command zone, we now see cards like Narset, Enlightened Master. Fireball has been replaced by Enter the Infinite, and Force of Nature has become Woodfall Primus. It seems to me that Commander has become an intrinsically complex and competitive format. That's a wonderful state of affairs and Commander is an incredible way to play Magic, but it isn't the most relaxing thing in the world. There are just too many unknowns, combos, and, at least with my local play group, the power level of decks has become exceedingly high over the years. While the steady increase in strength of Commander decks is a sign of a healthy format, it doesn't make Commander my top pick Casual Friday. Lucky for us there are Commander-variants out there.

Tiny Leaders

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

 Imagine Commander without all the pesky, huge spells like Obliterate, Praetor's Counsel, or Hive Mind. A Commander without Blightsteel Colossus, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. That's essentially what Tiny Leaders is. At its essence, Tiny Leaders is exactly like Commander (a singleton deck whose cards are the same color as at least one of your Commander's colors) except that the deck contains fifty cards instead of one hundred, life totals are twenty five instead of forty, and no card may have a converted mana cost higher than three. At first I thought that the restriction of converted mana costs to three or less would prove to be too limiting, but upon closer examination it doesn't reduce the number of available cards too much. There are 14,243 cards available to play in Commander right now, and 8,364 of those cards are available to play in Tiny Leaders, so forty two percent of all of the cards available in Commander are also available in Tiny Leaders. Unsurprisingly, the restriction does eliminate a majority of the powerhouse cards players would normally expect to see in a game of Commander. Rather than weakening the format, the exclusion of these traditional staples allows for all sorts of strategies that don't show up in Commander. There are one hundred and fourteen legendary creatures available to be generals, and while I don't think Angus Mackenzie will be blowing anyone's mind, generals like Maralen of the Mornsong, Sydri, Galvanic Genius, or Rada, Heir to Keld are just a few of the interesting options to chose from. Tiny Leaders is still young and hasn't really been tested to the point where any set of cards or combos stand out, and as a result the banned list is still very small. I think there is an abundance of potential not only for this format to take off, but also for it to provide a fun challenging playing experience in a casual shell. I decided to take a crack at building a list for less than twenty five dollars and this is what I came up with.

Nin, the Pain Artist has so much versatility in a format like Tiny Leaders. She can turn any creature into a draw spell, remove most threats, and can make milling your opponent a real option. Rather than creating a list that focuses on any one of these aspect specifically, I feel it's better to play something a little more flexible. The idea here is to control the board using effects like Charisma, Callous Oppressor, or Overtaker to steal your opponents creatures before you remove them with Nin, the Pain Artist so that you draw the cards. Thornbite Staff, and Freed from the Real allow Nin, the Pain Artist to remove multiple threats in a turn. Laboratory Maniac grants an alternate surprise win condition. This is a very reactive deck which allows for a relaxed cat and mouse game. There's no hurry when you win in the end.

Bring Your Own Block (BYOB)

Amass the Components [AVR]

While Tiny leaders seems like a lot of fun, I'll admit it isn't for everyone. Many constructed players haven't taken the plunge into Commander, and it's the constructed/draft Friday Night Magic regulars who are being given the opportunity to play formats of their choice. So for non-Commander players who want something a little more familiarity, I personally like the look of Bring Your Own Block, or BYOB for short. At its core, BYOB is exactly like block constructed with each player only having access to cards from the three sets that make up a specific block.  The key difference is that each player can decide which three sets their block is made up of. Players can combine any three sets they like as long as one of the three was a first set in its original block, another was the second, and the final set was the third. Outside of being limited to three sets anything goes. BYOB has no banned list (yet), and while only having cards from three sets may seem to make the available card pool unnecessarily light, you might be surprised. Once Khans of Tarkir block is fully released, there will be twenty complete blocks to choose from which means players will have access to 8,000 different set combinations for BYOB. To put this into perspective, that's only 688 fewer possible combinations then there are cards available in the entire Modern format. So how does one even start narrowing that down to three sets? I don't claim to have the best answer, but it seems to me that BYOB gives players a chance to revisit their favorite cards of yesteryear. Whether that means trying to find the three set combination that makes  best use of your legacy staples like Show and Tell, or just dusting off that old Time Spiral Block deck you loved so much. In BYOB anything goes. I for one have a soft spot for using Pili-Pala with Grand Architect, and after many moons of trying to make it good enough for Modern, I thought maybe it could perform better in a more restrictive environment. Heres a list I came up with for players looking to get started in BYOB for less than twenty five dollars.

 

This deck is all centered around Pili-Pala and Grand Architect. When both cards are in play you can generate infinite mana. Here's how it works: For two mana a tapped Pili-Pala can be untapped to add one mana of any color to your mana pool. Grand Architect lets you tap any blue creature to add two colorless mana to your mana pool, and also allows any artifact creature to become blue until end of turn by paying one blue mana. So after paying one blue mana to make Pili-Pala blue, it can tap to add two mana which can then be used to untap itself and add one mana of any color to your mana pool. This can be repeated infinitely. Gaining access to this two card combo means that the first set in the block would have to be Scars of Mirrodin, and the third set would have to be Shadowmoor, which only left flexibility in the middle set which has traditionally been the small set in each block. I settled on Darksteel for the middle set because it gave access to Reshape which allows our friend Pili-Pala to pop up out of nowhere. Chimeric Mass, Steel Hellkite, and Thought Dissector can all be dug up with Reshape and make good use of the infinite mana. Fireball is a very classic ways to win with infinite mana that was luckily reprinted in Darksteel. Golem Artisan can give your large threats trample and haste to help get them into the red zone quickly. Perilous Myr comes out early to blunt the aggro players and can deal damage when you sacrifice it to Reshape. Elsewhere Flask replaces itself, draws you a card, can be Reshaped, and in a pinch can turn let you cast Fireball without Pili-Pala. Stoic Rebuttal can protect you or an important combo piece, and Machinate can help you dig for Grand architect or whatever else is lacking. 

It's difficult to say how well or poorly this deck would perform in BYOB because the format is simultaneously extremely diverse but also limited. There's no way of accurately predicting exactly what players would chose to bring to a tournament, but the sheer scope of potential decks that can show up is part of what makes BYOB such an exciting casual format.

Mana Draw

Unlike the two formats I've already talked about, this isn't a format you'll find anywhere online. Mana Draw was designed by a friend of mine named Charles Roberts in 2010 (the date is important because of any similarities to Hearthstone). Charles designed Mana Draw after a long day of getting mana screwed or flooded. It seemed like no matter how many games we played, he just couldn't catch a break. After several hours of this, he exclaimed that he was going to make a format that didn't use lands. What he eventually created is probably one of my all time favorite causal formats.

Heres how it works: Each player will need one opaque dice bag or container, and fifty mana tokens: ten of each of the five colors (dragon tears are a very affordable choice but anything works). Decks are still sixty cards but players may not include any lands in their decks. Each deck must contain ten cards of each color. Multi-color cards do not count toward each of their colors and must instead be assigned one color for the purpose of deck building. The ten remaining card slots can be of any-or-no colors. At the beginning of each players draw step, the player also draws one mana counter at random from their container and places it into the command zone. Treat these mana counters as emblems with the ability "exile mana counter: add one mana to your mana pool of the same color as the mana counter." If a spell or ability would cause a player to add any amount of mana to their mana pool, they draw the same number of mana counters at random from their container instead.

The near-even distribution of colors in a Mana Draw deck combined with the one in five chance of getting any desired color may seem like it makes the format a little inconsistent, but it works. The requisite even-distribution of colors within the deck does a lot to even that out, and the rest can be overcome with creative deck building. One of the things I love most about this format is rather than simplifying resources to the point where nearly any spell is available to be cast the moment you draw it, or putting the resources on a one hundred percent consistent curve, it leaves a degree of uncertainty. Players know they'll draw a new spell and net a mana each turn, but since lands have been replaced with what are essentially color specific Lotus Petals, casting spells feels far more significant. 

I'm not saying this formats for everyone, but through the many times I've played it I've found it to be a breath of fresh air, and exactly the kind of casual format I'd like to play at Friday Night Magic. Below is a copy of one of the first decks I built for the format. It's cheap and simple but I think it highlights the format's diversity.

It's difficult for me to explain what playing a game in this format is really like. The best advice I can really give to anyone who thinks it sounds fun is to throw sixty cards together grab a like-minded friend and give it a shot. 

Conclusion

The most important thing we can all take away from the change to Friday Night Magic is that come 2015, the door is wide open. Wizards of the Coast is putting the choice in the hands of players. Whether this means that players continue to practice for the next big Standard tournament, or that your local Friday Night Magic becomes some Magic the Gathering five-card-stud variant is largely up to players and their stores. In order for these changes to really happen, players need to do a little exploring and find the Magic format that fits them best. It doesn't matter whether that format is one of the ones I chose to talk about, a format from the vastness of the internet, or one your play group makes up all on its own. I for one cannot wait to see how these changes shake things up starting in the new year.


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