Building A Better Plot: A Casual Magic League
When I watch television, I gravitate towards shows where the plot continues through episodes. I'm not the biggest fan of programs that merely have thirty-minute plots and then another episode follows where a completely different story unfolds, for all of thirty minutes. None of this sitcom, prefabricated stuff for me. I watch a series where the plot advances through time. Like"The West Wing" or"Six Feet Under."
Why should I expect less from Magic?
Here we are playing a game where each player is portrayed as a planeswalker - a mighty mage summoning powerful forces and exotic creatures. Since the number of 'Walkers is small according to fiction, we have known each other and our battles week in and week out supposedly represent the continuing struggles between common foes.
And there is no connection week in and week out, like a bad sitcom. So, let's create one.
The Magic Shop Premise:
I wish that I could take credit for Magic Shop. Heck, I wish that I knew who created Magic Shop so I could give credit where credit is due. But I don't even know the real life names of the players involved to ask them - just a few screen names.
Magic Shop was a special format/league played on IRC, Apprentice, and through a special web site. All three were needed to play Shop. Spending hour upon hour playing Shop games, I can tell you that the experience is like no other. It stuck the perfect balance between neophyte and veteran with a well designed system of checks and balances. And every game mattered.
Here is the basic premise of Magic Shop: You have some virtual money. Using that virtual money, you bring in sealed Magic product (it was virtual cards when we played online) and create a sealed deck. Over time, you gain more money by both playing and winning, so you can add more product to your deck. You can also gain or lose cards in ante. As you get more points, you have access to older and more expensive cards.
Therefore, the whole idea of Shop is that, week in and week out, your games matter.
So How Does This Thing Work Again?
Well, we'll want to convert Magic Shop to real-life cards. And that is a lot easier than you may think.
The rules are amazingly simple. Everybody begins with virtual dollars and zero points. I recommend that people start with twenty-five dollars to allow two mulligans before people start losing out on initial product.
Then the player simply adds sealed product to their own environment using that virtual money. For people at Level One, they can add any Type Two Product. As they advance through levels, (See Appendix A, below) they can add more obscure cards, often for a higher price of virtual dollars. Don't get confused with the virtual money values of packs: Sometimes they approximate the actual prices of sealed product, but often they don't.
As a person wins games, they gain points. They also gain virtual dollars. See Appendix B for a list of Levels that a person achieves by getting points. Appendix C has a breakdown of how points and dollars are gained or lost by the results of each match.
There are a few important deckbuilding rules that need to be mentioned now, because they affect what is purchased. To begin, as opposed to a forty-card sealed deck, you build a normal sixty-card deck. This requirement exists for two main reasons: First of all, players need a larger deck size as they acquire more cards, or else they'll be playing with a highly-tuned forty-card deck, which is a bit unfair. Secondly, it limits the impact for bomb rares opened early in the environment: Now you can get two Starstorms and never see them for several matches.
Another deckbuilding rule is that you cannot simply add basic lands at will. Instead, you must have them in your environment in order to play with them. As such, it is usually prudent to start off with two starters and a booster so that you can get a healthy amount of land. You may also purchase land packs for $3 and get three lands of each type added to your collection.
An additional rule is that you cannot play more than four of any card. This may not be a problem in the early game, but as a player accumulates more cards, it is an important distinction. Some players will fall in love with a certain expansion set and will keep buying packs from that set. So instead of allowing a player to have seven Gaea's Skyfolk or something, the four of rule is simply instituted. This distinguishes Shop from many other limited environments.
The Transience of Cards
In normal everyday Magic, you can gain and lose cards typically through trading, selling or buying. It makes cards very transient, but you get to keep anything that you want. In Shop, cards cannot be traded. The only way you can lose a card is by anteing it.
Each game in a best-of-three match is played for ante. It is certainly possible to win an ante card, then lose two and the match as well. You must bring your deck up to sixty cards at the end of every match.
Ante also has a few additional rules: First of all, you cannot ante a basic land - but you certainly can ante a common or a non-basic. The more fragile your mana base is, the more likely the loss of a Salt Marsh and Darkwater Egg or whatever will hurt you. Non-basics being lost is a pretty potent pill to swallow.
Another rule of ante is a very balancing one: Any time someone of a higher level plays someone of a lower level, the person of a higher level must ante two cards, not one. This makes players who try to shark new players risk more, gives a new card pool an incentive to play higher levels, and balances out the field. Also, any card won in ante may be played in your deck, even if you are not of a high enough level to normally purchase that product with virtual dollars.
As ante goes, so goes your card pool. You will lose playable cards and gain playable cards. But as a general rule, you can never rely on getting cards for your deck, because many players will simply be playing other's colors or strategies that don't fit your deck... Yet every card that you lose hurts your deck.
The way to combat this move towards deck atrophy is to start adding cards from another source - namely, through bringing in new sealed product. But, you need to realize that your deck will change over time. You will lose important cards, you will open up new cards, and your focus will change. As such, you may find yourself switching colors and styles on several occasions through the Shop experience.
Shop Playing Strategies
There are several strategies to playing shop. One is to hide your best color for a few games until you have built up more support for it. For example, suppose I open up broken black, good red, adequate blue and white, but really poor green. Normally, with sixty cards you'll need to play three colors. Instead of choosing black/red and either blue or white, use R/U/W and leave the black be. That way, you won't lose any of your really good black cards. Then after adding a few packs to the card pool, you will have the support from another color. Jettison either blue or white - whichever is the weakest after antes are lost and cards are added - then go B/R/and blue or white with a much more powerful deck.
You want to play at least three colors, but there is nothing to say that you can't splash a fourth. I just opened up an obvious R/G/U Shop deck where the black and white are horrid. I used two Odyssey starters and an Onslaught booster. So I have three of those common Odyssey lands that you can sac for any mana. I have decided to add a plains (which I can retrieve with my Deep Reconnaissance) and a Skycloud Egg to my deck so I can splash my Mystic Enforcer. A 6/6 flying pro black creature will win games, so I have added the appropriate splash to my deck. This is just one example of how a fourth splash can be a very envious thing.
Another viable strategy is to mulligan. You can mulligan at any time by starting over with one less dollar. You might want to mulligan is you open a particularly poor pair of starters, lose a lot of cards to ante, or just get bored. Knowing when to mulligan is important, because you can only mulligan twice before having less starting product.
One important reason not to mulligan is when you are close to buying another booster. You gain virtual money simply for playing at the rate of fifty cents per match. That means, even if you open the worst starts and booster ever, go ahead and play two matches. If you lose, you'll make a virtual dollar and have enough for another booster. You never know; you could get"An Officially Broken Booster" with the best cards ever, and your card pool is saved.
Another strategy focuses on the sideboard. Like normal competitive play, you are allowed a fifteen -card sideboard. Careful management of the sideboard can easily be the difference between winning and losing a match. For example, I have a Dwarven Recruiter in my sideboard. My Judgment pack has a Dwarven Driller in it. So if we have a major creature stall, I know that the Driller is an important winning condition, making the Dwarven Recruiter an important tool.
Seeing the uses of your cards is important, because you will have few classic hosers available.
Gaining Points and Money
As I mentioned above briefly, you get money and points for winning, and you get money but lose points for losing. Note that you never lose money. Here is a simple breakdown. All of this is spelled out in Appendix C if you need an easy reference.
If you win, then you will gain money and points. You will get your fifty cents for playing, plus a dollar for winning. You get an extra dollar if you beat someone of a higher level. This is further incentive to play someone with a higher level than you. It helps to balance the levels and card pools. Note that you can never win more than $2.50 in a single match.
Now if you win, then you also get points. You get one point for beating someone lower than you in levels. However, if you are able to defeat someone of the same level, then you get two points. You will get those two points plus an additional point per two levels of difference between you and your opponent rounded up if you defeat them ant they are of a higher level than you. So, if you are level 2 and your opponent, whom you defeated, is level 5, then you would gain four points (2 points plus one per two levels of difference rounded up, or two points).
If you lose, then you gained your fifty cents. Congratulations and thanks for playing. You will, however, lose points, although you can never go below zero points.
If you lose to someone of a higher level or the same level as yourself, then you lose one point. After all you did lose, but it was hardly a surprise. However, if you lose to someone of a lower level, then you lose an additional point for every two levels of difference rounded up. So, if you are level 2 and lose to a new player at level 1, then you lose two points.
To simplify things, here are a few examples:
- If Player A and Player B are both first level and Player A wins, then Player A gains two points and $1.50, while Player B gains $0.50 and loses a point.
- If Player A wins, but is level three while Player B is on level one, then Player A gains $1.50 and a point while Player B gains $0.50 and loses one point.
- If Player A wins, but is on the first level while Player B is fourth level, then Player A gains $2.50 and four points while Player B gains $0.50 but loses three points.
What If Our Playgroup Has Different Types of Players?
Shop obviously has some requirements. First of all, your playgroup must have the desire for something more - a change of pace from the norm. This is something you either have or you don't. However, Shop is an excellent choice because those players who play often are rewarded and those who play sporadically are also rewarded with a careful system of checks and balances that keep competition alive, no matter how many cards and points a person has.
Another requirement of Shop is that players have to be able to bring outside sealed product into the format. For many of us, this is not an issue. We purchase packs by the box and could easily set aside a few packs here and there to add to shop. Or we make enough money so that buying two or three packs in preparation for a night of play is not a big deal.
Some players, however, may not have the means or desire to lay out the money for the environment. There are several options. Firstly, in a mixed environment where some have the means and others do not, you could have one player sponsor another. By that, I mean that the first player acquires the packs for the other and gets to keep the cards as well.
Another option is to promote the acquirement of sealed product through other means - trade for packs off of those who have them, for example.
And a third option might be to create the cards using a random pack generator of some sort (like Apprentice). Then have the players with a large card pool assemble the pack and add it to the environment. You'll probably need to keep track of who owns the rare and maybe some uncommons though. Or maybe the person could trade for the rare, especially if it's a simple low-value rare. This one requires friends and other players with large card pools.
However, playing may not be as costly as it may seem. I purchased my two starters and booster this weekend for a little over twenty-four dollars. That's the startup cost. After that, it's just a pack or two a week unless you are playing heavily. A pack or two a week is a lot less than many cash-strapped players are paying for Magic cards anyway. So, maybe the cost, when broken down like that, isn't such a big deal for some.
I am one of those old timers who has played Magic since the Days of Yore. Over the course of my Magic-playing-and-exposing-experiences, I have rarely come across an environment as truly electrifying as Shop. The translation from electronic to real life is not as daunting or challenging as it may at first seem.
I cannot recommend anything more highly that I do Shop. Let's go for connection between games.
Let's advance the plot.
Appendix A - Levels and Packs Purchasable
Please note that the following is a recommended list of cards available. Feel free to modify the values to suit your group if you'd rather.
Level 1: 7th Edition, Odyssey and Onslaught Block $3/pack, $10/starter
Level 2: Invasion, Masques Blocks and 6th Edition.$4/pack, $12/starter
Level 3: Urza's Block and 5th Edition $5/pack, $14/starter
Level 4: Tempest Block, Mirage Block $6/pack, $16/starter
Level 5: Ice Age, Alliances, and 4th Edition $6/pack, $16/starter, Homelands and Chronicles $3/pack
Level 6: The Dark, Fallen Empires. $4/pack, Revised $6/pack, $16/starter
Level 7: Legends $7/pack, Antiquities and Arabian Nights $10/pack
Level 8: Unlimited. $10/pack, $25/starter
All Levels: Land packs (3 of each basic land) for $3.
Appendix B - Point Totals and Levels Achieved
As mentioned above, use your own point values if you find these out of alignment with the desires of your group.
Level 1 - 0 points
Level 2 - 15 points
Level 3 - 25 points
Level 4 - 35 points
Level 5 - 45 points
Level 6 - 55 points
Level 7 - 65 points
Level 8 - 75 points
Appendix C - Gaining and Losing Points and Money
Again, adjust numbers at your leisure.
You gain $0.50 for playing a match.
If you win, you get a dollar.
If you beat a player with a higher level, you get another dollar.
Most money able to be won in one match is $2.50
If you win against a foe with a lover level then you get a point.
If you beat someone on the same level as you - two points are yours.
If you win and you are of a lower level, then you gain one additional point for every two levels difference, rounded up.
If you lose to someone of the same or a higher level, you lose a point.
If you lose to someone of a lower level, then you lose an additional point for every two levels difference, rounded down.