One of the reasons why casual formats such as Commander became popular is because people grew a bit tired of the normal formats. Recently I've been hearing people who feel that Commander has become a little too much of a known quantity. They want a break for a few weeks to do something new.
This article is for them and for all of the players out there who might want to rest Commander for a bit while they refresh themselves. Below I will suggest five play variants for multiplayer that you can use with the cards you own at your next Magic night. I'm certainly not advocating that Commander should be replaced permanently. But some might want to take a break from it for the next week or three and this gives you five options you can immediately employ. If you don't play Commander then you can just find five fun formats below so everyone wins!
Multiplayer Draft is just like normal Draft but with one change: you will play the drafted decks in a chaos melee multiplayer game with no allies no friends just like normal. Use whatever cards you might otherwise be inclined to. Some people like to draft their packs rather than just open them so they have a supply of packs for drafting in their place. If this applies to you you have cards ready to go. Perhaps you have a Cube and if so you can just use that as well.
If you have neither don't worry. You don't have to go out and purchase packs; you can make them. Just grab a stack of commons uncommons and rares from your deck stock and randomly dole out eleven commons three uncommons and one rare per pack of cards (or if you want a modern day pack ten commons instead). You don't even need to do this ahead of time. Just shuffle three big piles in the center of the table and when everyone "opens" a pack you just deal them in the right numbers to folks.
What makes this interesting is that the multiplayer nature of cards naturally changes their value in a draft. Some cards are at the same level of consideration—you would first pick a Planar Cleansing if you drafted white prior to opening your second pack whether you are in a duel or multiplayer. On the other hand you are not touching that icky Index in any format. Yet many cards do change. Look at Blood Reckoning. This is not a card which is highly drafted normally. But when you are drafting multiplayer it improves considerably and might even be a first pick in some situations. Courtly Provocateur suddenly becomes more interesting with additional players at the table. Forcing one opponent to block another's attack with a certain creature is deadly.
Going the other way a card such as Mind Rot drops a bit. I often play one as my 23rd card in various formats since it's usually a two for one early that can wreck a foe. In multiplayer it often just annoys one person and doesn't touch the others. It's not nearly as good. It drops from a solid 23rd choice to a bad 23rd selection. (I'm using M13 examples rather than RTR ones because I've played them so often in draft).
As you can see drafting for multiplayer changes the valuation of many cards. This refreshes the Draft format itself. It's fun to draft cards for multiplayer and then play a few multiplayer games with them. Also you'll notice that after you get a sense of who drafted the best deck later games will shift to the new metagame. If the best deck has a pair of Rancors I think I might sideboard in that Erase. If one player has a ton of utility creatures the previously unplayable Cower in Fear may become a house. Fun ensues!
Let's do the other Draft format while we are on this topic. Type 4 is a blast! In this format you draft cards and play multiplayer just like above. But you draft from a stack and we'll discuss that in a bit. What you need to know is that in Type 4 you may only play one spell a turn and have infinite mana.
To play this format you'll need to make a stack. Just look through your deck stock crap rares and pull out expensive swingy cards but none that will kill in one hit—such as the Firebreathing Shivan Dragon or a Blaze. Find spells such as Plague Wind Decree of Silence Day of Judgment Akroma Angel of Vengeance Swords to Plowshares and more. Some of the best cards are bulk rares and you can find many dumb expensive beaters—toss them in.
Once you have this stack people draft it Rochester style. That means you flip up a number of cards equal to twice the number of drafters. So if you have four drafting you flip eight. The person drafting first gets the first face up card of their choice then next and so on. Whoever collects the fourth card also gets the fifth and it reverses. The one who drafted the first card is passed the last one and then the next person flips eight cards and drafts. Draft until everyone has about 30 cards.
Once you've done that shuffle your decks and play. There is no sideboard—you play what you drafted. You'll get the hang of it after a game or two and soon you'll want to add cards to your stack and yank a few as well. I love playing Type 4 near the end of the night or at the beginning to change the way Magic is played. You go from all of these Constructed decks to drafting and playing differently. This is my Draft format of choice for multiplayer. At the end of this article I'll link to some articles on most of these formats.
There was a time when Emperor was the default method of playing multiplayer Magic. It needs three players (or maybe five) on a side so you usually need six or ten players to play (I've seen three teams before so nine or fifteen will work as well). Players who have played the game for a long time have certainly encountered Emperor but as a variant you don't see it much anymore. Why not dust it off for a night?
Emperor is played with three players on each side. The one in the middle is the emperor and if that one dies the team loses. The ones on the ends are often called lieutenants or generals. Your team is lined up in a row facing the opposition. You may only attack an enemy adjacent to you and spells have a range of two. Thus you must destroy one lieutenant in order to expose the emperor. However the emperor can move creatures over to the lieutenant in order to protect them and block for them or attack into the opponent from the flank.
This variant requires team building. The decks on the end tend to be fast decks while the emperor's tends to be more controlling. In fact if you want why not play Commander Emperor with all of the rules of Commander in place? There's a reason why Emperor was dominant as a variant for so long. Why not find out why?!
One of my favorite variants of all time is Secret Alliances. I will initially describe a typically five-player game and then tell you how you can make it fit the number of players you have. Take a Plains a white spell a Mountain a red spell and a colorless artifact and shuffle them face down randomly to each player. The players with a basic land turn their cards up. If you have the red or white card you are the ally of the Mountain or Plains. If you have the artifact you are neutral. You win if the other team loses and the neutral player wins if they survive. At no time prior to death may you reveal or tell people what your unseen card is. Once you die turn it up.
This format creates its own rules. As you play and get experience you'll learn the various nuances of it. It grows and improves. Players will learn that anyone face down is an enemy and anyone face up is an enemy with each other so the face up players often attack each other and the face down players tend to do the same. Then someone crosses the streams and chaos abounds! Is the person helping you actually your ally or is it the neutral player trying to get in your good graces or the enemy trying to become your friend in preparation for backstabbing? Craziness!
To accommodate more players you can do a few things. For six players either three teams or two teams and two neutrals; three teams and a neutral for seven; eight is four teams or three and two neutrals; and so forth. It really does need at least five players; playing four with just two teams feels a bit underwhelming. Like Emperor you could also combine this with Commander if you are so inclined.
Magic: The Role-Playing Game
My final format option is my own. This is my article after all so why not mention a format I created? While it was initially conceived as a duel format I always kept multiplayer play in the back of my mind and it's multiplayer friendly. What is this format?
While too detailed to relate in a few paragraphs the concept is very simple. You are a planeswalker. You begin the game with a certain number of points which you spend for stats skills and abilities. These will determine how many cards you start with how much life you begin the game with what cards you have access to the size of your deck and other things. As you play you level up and gain more points to spend. Your character improves and grows.
You are not tied to one deck for that character so you can build others—although your card accesses don't change. If you purchase access to cards from a certain set for example you still have that set's access for another deck that you build. Why not read the article build a few walkers and level up the next time you play Magic?
Today I looked at five different ways of playing multiplayer Magic so you can refresh your Magic night. Give a little pizzazz to that kitchen table because new things always have the veneer of awesome. Once you've played with your new presents for a while you'll return to Commander and other fun formats. Perhaps you'll even include one of these five into your rotation on an ongoing basis. Get your Magic on!
The first one gets no links because it's just Draft for multiplayer.
Type 4 - A Look At Type 4
Emperor - Emperor Magic
Secret Alliances - Secret Alliances Again
Magic: The Role-Playing Game - Magic: The Role-Playing Game Second Edition
(In fact I may be writing a new version of the RPG soon.)