A few weeks ago, I published an article on five format alternatives for multiplayer Magic in case Commander has gotten a little stale and you want to give it a temporary rest. A lot of people found it to be a really helpful article, so I began pondering a new project. I thought it would be really helpful to have a quick article that you could just bookmark. In this article, I include links to various alternate formats and variants out there. Heck, I'll even include some I've created! Then I'll give you a short couple of sentences on that format so you can get an idea of what it is all about.
I am splitting this project into two halves: formats on one side and variants on the other. An example of a format is Commander, which includes rules on how to build a deck. A variant is a different way to play, such as Emperor. Are you ready? Let's begin!
Chaos Magic – Random and chaotic events happen constantly! Lots of dice rolls in real life, but a Chaos Magic app can found here. If that's not your thing, I did an edit of the old sheets I could find and updated them here.
Emperor – Typically a three on three multiplayer variant, people play on two teams with an Emperor in the center who must be killed to win.
Magic: The Conquering – I tried to create a variant that combined wargaming and MTG.
Secret Alliances – This old variant from the 90s puts people secretly on teams with others. To win, the team must survive until the end.
Sliverocity – Every creature has the abilities of all creatures in play. Two notes not in the article: names on creatures do not transfer, so a Barbarian Outcast won't kill everything at the table, and this only works on non-token creatures.
Star – Five players sit in a circle. Each player is enemies with the two across from them and friends with those two adjacent to them. Play goes until one or two players win. Often, people will build decks with one mono-colored deck for each color and then sit with the color wheel, and thus white is enemy to black and red but friend to blue and green and so forth. (Hosers are banned.)
Anthony Alongi, a master at this stuff, created four random variants by flipping his dictionary to a random entry and building around the word that popped up. Read about a master Magic writer at work with these variants here (I'm a particular fan of Detention and Octant).
He did this again two weeks later and spelled out Octant Magic a bit more. Catch it here.
A very important article that catalogues four of the earlier formats and variants of Magic can be found here.
237 Magic – Non-land cards must have a converted casting cost of two, three, or seven in order to be played. You could also do 146 or 259 or whatever.
Acid Magic – Real life combination of Five Color, Pauper, and Highlander.
Alphabet Magic (I call it Bugwar) – Choose a word. Then every nonbasic in the deck must begin with a letter from that word.
Bazaar Magic – Similar to Pauper or Peasant, this format cares about number of rares and such, but you spend points for rares, number of cards in your deck, and so forth.
Chess Magic – Format created long ago to simulate chess, sort of, in Magic.
Commander – Just checking to see if you're paying attention!
5-Color – Format requires 300 cards minimum, 25 cards of each color, uses Vintage legal sets, and sports its own B&R list.
Godzilla – 75 cards required, at least 20 creatures with power and toughness at least 4/4 and other rules.
Highlander – It's more than just "one of each nonbasic card." It has its own format!
Just One Star – May only use cards ranked as one star by Inquest. Today, perhaps one might substitute a low vote by the community on Gatherer.
Kaleidoscope – Every card must be multicolored. Format used to be called Chameleon. WotC changed it for their online version. Note that two cards are banned.
Legendary Magic – This singleton format requires that 50% of the deck is legendary and every nonland be legendary as well. There are special circumstances for things like planeswalkers and world enchantments.
Pauper – Only commons allowed!
Rainbow Stairwell – This uses a five-color 60-card deck with one card at each casting cost per color one through six. So for white, you could have one each of Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, Auramancer, Wrath of God, Serra Angel, and Sun Titan. And you repeat for each color and artifacts.
Scavenger Hunt Format – How to make a Scavenger Hunt, with a sample one included.
St. Patrick's Format – Every card must be green!
Tribal Wars – At least one third of the deck must be of a single creature type. Includes a banned list.
Type B – An old format that included Vintage legal cards, mostly used its B&R, but added an extensive "Two Only" list to hem in the power of the format. This could be easily modernized by current playgroups. A later site is here. I could not find a modern home for the format with my Google Fu, so if anyone knows of one and can provide it in the comments, that'd be wonderful!
Bonus Section: Create Your Own X!
These formats require one to put in a lot of work ahead of time building something to be used for the play.
Cube – Very popular format designed to create and draft a selection of some of the best cards in Magic of all time.
Mental Magic – Play cards from a stack. You may play any card as any other card in Magic with that exact casting cost if you can remember it. Cards can only be used once. For example, I could play Auramancer as Dismiss or Disenchant as Accorder Paladin.
Momir Basic – This was initially created as an online format where one discards cards from their hand to make a random creature equal to the amount of mana spent to trigger it. Then some people decided to move it offline for casual play! Two similar Vanguard cards were created for Stonehewer Giant and Jhoira. They each include random elements like Vig—the former creates a random equipment and the latter random spells. You can make real life stacks for these as well (I have with Stonehewer Giant).
Random Precons – You have to have a certain number of decks made by WotC, such as preconstructed decks, starter decks, the Commander decks, or whatever. Then you randomly roll and play the deck chosen.
Type Four – Create a stack of cards, draft them Rochester style, and then play. You have no basic lands and no need for mana. You can make any amount of mana whenever you want! But you may not play more than one card per turn.
Another old resource for alternate formats and variants is here. Most of these are out of date, and I have updated quite a few over the years in my column. It's been a real inspiration, but these are really old formats.
Don't forget Planechase, Archenemy, and Vanguard either. (There are even variants on these variants here and here. Also, don't forget standardized formats such as Block Party and Bring Your Own Block. And remember that many of these formats and variants can be combined! Feel free to play Detention and Commander or Secret Alliances and St. Patrick's Format. You can be the great mix master of formats new and old!
Over the years, we have witnessed so many Magic variants and formats; people love to discover new ways to play the game we all enjoy! I'm sure that your playgroup can find tons of great formats here for the next few Magic nights.