A lot of people have been ragging on Innistrad's werewolf mechanic, specifically in multiplayer. Well, recently we played Type 4 and our stack...was 12 Innistrad packs, all shuffled together. One of the coolest things we realized was, werewolves CAN'T flip back! Because of the one-spell-per-turn limit inherit with the Type 4 rules, it's a one-way street to werewolf town!
This month is crossover month at Commandercast.com in which, WOOBERG is the first lucky site to get an article written by someone from Commandercast. While my article rests safely in the hands of the Commandercast team HERE, we have the pleasure of hearing from the father of Commandercast Andy a.k.a. Ghooosts about none other than Comman...wait, this article is about Type 4. Andy has admitted to having a second love, and an itch to write about it, RIGHT HERE! So without further ado, here comes the article.
Hi, my name is Andy and I run a website called CommanderCast. This means I am closely associated with EDH to people who don't know me in the real. It only makes sense; when a guy runs a Commander-centric website, talks about the format for almost two hours a week on a podcast, and has done up videos, articles, and all kinds of other crap all based on EDH, then it's probably a safe bet that I'm pretty invested in Commander.
While this is true, it's also not a huge secret that Commander isn't my favourite format. That honour belongs to a wild take on casual Magic you have probably heard whispers of, but may have never experienced yourself; some lucky few have gotten a taste at a convention or tournament, but then never pursued the format further. This format goes by various names: Type 4, Infinity Draft, and Stack are all applicable labels it's gone by at one point of another. In this article, we’ll be calling the format Type 4, shortened to T4 for the rest of this crap (or at least as far as you manage to read before giving up to go play videogames). To check in on the basics of playing T4, you need look no further than this very website to find an outline of the rules. However, much like Commander, T4 is a format of great variation and customization without a single all-encompassing set of standardized rules.
The purpose of this article is to discuss some of these variants on T4, which ones I've found work best for me, and why you should try them. While it's pretty hard to screw up a game of T4 to the point nobody actually wants to play, there's no reason not to experiment and see what you like best in terms of format configurations. There have been all kinds of tomes written on how to construct a stack at various websites, so this article will duck those discussions and assume we’re all big boys and girls who can use Deckbox.org or whatever and read cards ourselves to figure out what we want in the Stack. Instead, we’re just talking about ways to play T4 and why I’ve settled on the format I’m playing now (hint: because it’s the best).
Each T4 Stack is a format unto itself, like a given Standard rotation except not totally shitty and boring. Building the Stack is like building a Cube. You need to craft the experience you want. But also like Cube, there’s all kinds of peripheral stuff you need to consider that will make an impact on the games before they start. For example...
Personally, I don't understand why people stress over cutting cards from their T4 Stacks or keeping it below a certain number of cards. While I can understand the Cube-esque approach since it means you're creating a focused experience that showcases some of Magic's most hilariously overcosted-but-backbreaking cards, it also makes for a more dry experience. The biggest value of T4 is that you are playing cards that aren't used much anywhere else, even in shoddy/awesome games of Commander. Towards that end, it's great to play a game of Magic where you don't expect to see a bunch of the same cards like you see in developed/boring games of Commander. A bigger Stack has more variance, and leads to more wildly entertaining and less predictable Type 4 games. In the end, I say let your Stack expand organically and don't worry about self-imposed restrictions like "under 300 cards". It's a pretty crazy format, so why try to make it all academic now?
HOW TO PLAY YOUR STACK
Leaping into Type 4 is a little overwhelming. And by that, I mean overwhelmingly awesome. This is not a format that requires looking for good lists, investigating format staples, or 'keeping up with the Joneses' in terms of having expensive cards. You actually don't even need to invest much money into the Stack; between the crap you have sitting in boxes, overcosted beaters in your binder, and your favourite [card]Craw Wurm[/card] variants, you can build a perfectly functional Stack that will give you a great experience. But the real question is, "how do I plan to play this thing?" You'd better have at least an idea, because the impact on how you compose the Stack is pretty serious.
The most commonly-played variants of T4 I see break down as follows:
1) Grab a Pile: A lot of people sit down and grab a pile of cards from the Stack, and then start playing. It's simple and it works. This also saves a lot of time since you don't need to compose decks, draft and read the cards you're about to get wheeled, and so on. This is the simplest way to play since it has the least setup and the rules are pretty close to a regular game of Magic.
2) Off the Top: Some people sit their Stack in the middle of all the players and everyone draws from it communally. In Stacks of over 150 cards (which describes every one I've ever seen), usually you take a fat pinch of the Stack and plop it down between the players. Everyone draws off this same Stack and then you play a regular game of T4. This might even be easier than playing "Grab A Pile" style, but it has a significant impact on the Stack's design. You need to avoid tutors, since once one goes off, everyone literally has to wait for it to resolve before they can draw or take their turn, and they might be looking at a pile of 200 cards. You need to keep in mind cards like Impulse might not work as intended, since once cast, another player can use some Instant-speed draw to get the cards laid atop the library. This is another time-saver, but I'd rather play Grab A Pile.
3) Draft: Personally, I consider Rochester draft of the Stack the ultimate T4 experience, hands down. Even the process of revealing each draft is exciting as people get hype over the smorgasbord of bombs laid before them. The pregame of drafting is a game unto itself, with the signals, table talk, and whatnot all contributing a great deal to the T4 experience not only in ways that directly impact the coming game, but also socially. You need to decide on the size of your decks (I like drafting to 30 cards per library) before starting to draft, but I also like that in this format, mill is a viable strategy and cards like [card]Keening Stone[/card] or [card]Szadek, Lord of Secrets[/card] can go all the way.
Furthermore, knowing your Stack will be drafted makes the composition more interesting. You can start to build with archetypes in mind; you can include cards you know will be sleepers and may be under-drafted to see how well they fare ([card]Fulgent Distraction[/card]!); you can put people's valuation to the test by seeing who first-picks [card]Brainstorm[/card] over something bone-crushing like [card]Jareth, Leonin Titan[/card]; you get to consider things like colour-dependent pitch cards (after all, [card]Force of Will[/card] kind of sucks without other blue cards in your library) and how people will draft them. These factors make me consider the Rochester Draft of T4 the best way to showcase the format and get people addicted.
Towards this end, behold the greatest piece of real-life technology to hit T4 since sleeves:
It's not just a funny novelty, it's also practical. When playing with players new to T4, they often need to read cards passed to them in draft. When they're getting passed nine cards in a five-player game, rotating each individually is kind of a pain in the ass, so why not just sit them on the turntable and spin the whole thing towards the active drafter? It works so well I could barely believe it. If you draft in T4, you owe your Stack one of these.
ALTERNATIVE CASTING COST
T4 is defined by two beautifully contrasting rules: limitless mana reserves and a single spell per turn limit. However, Magic as a game is defined by the willingness to continually break it's own rules within the framework of the game. What happens when we apply that to T4? Wizards is unlikely to ever print a T4 expansion set that gives you T4-specific cards to enable things like multiple spells per turn (and even if they did, I don't think I'd want it, truthfully). But fortunately, there's a subset of cards that already warp MtG's core rules that we can also use to create an interesting dynamic in T4: alternative casting cost cards. Examples include the 'pitch' type cards from Alliances/Coldsnap and Mercadian Masques, 'Trap' cards from Zendikar, and Suspend cards from Time Spiral.
Some players allow these cards to break the one-spell-per-turn limit so long as their alternative cost is paid. This is an interesting dynamic that shifts how these cards are evaluated. While [card]Ricochet Trap[/card] is a fine card on it's own, it's value skyrockets when it allows you to cast an additional spell per turn. In an environment that is heavy on counter-magic and redirection, as some stacks become, Ricochet Trap is beyond valuable as it gives the ability to protect your precious once-per-turn spell. Some Suspend creatures like [card]Riftmarked Knight[/card] are pretty unimpressive by T4 standards, but what about when he shows up for free a few turns later? By allowing people to play alternative cost cards without it counting towards their spell per turn, you not only increase the number of cards that can be considered 'Stack worthy', you also open up more avenues of play - always a good thing.
Personally, I strongly favour not only allowing alternative cost cards to duck the '[card]Arcane Lab[/card] Rule', but also placing many into the Stack. They create fun situations and having them as a known quantity following a draft creates more tension in games. Not knowing what your opponent is holding makes the game more fun; after all, nobody likes [card]Telepathy[/card], right?
Of course, this means you might have to make some rulings. For example, is Morph cost an alternative cost (yes)? What about Phyrexian mana (no)? Flashback (no)? My guideline to define a true 'Alt. Cost' is to determine whether you can cast the spell in a way other than the mana cost in the upper-right corner. Flashback cards can't be cast using the normal cost in the Graveyard, so it's not an 'alternative' cost; it's just a cost. The same with Phyrexian mana; there's only one way to pay for the spell and it's all in the upper-right. This guiding principle has yet to fail me, and while admittedly Morph can feel a bit weird (and goes infinite with a few cards or by themselves at times), it's fun to see these creatures performing so well outside a Limited environment.
STACK COMPOSITION AND THE TOUCH OF DEATH
When I refer to 'composition', I'm not talking about having X% of removal, or any other number-crunching guidelines; I leave those up to eggheads who like spreadsheets. My stack just consumes any cool card that gets too close to it (occasionally accompanied by some creepy John Carpenter-type music played softly in the background) without much regard to balance, and if it feels off, I just work out what cards people don't like after some games and take them out.
I'm instead referring to the inclusion of entire categories of cards. The rules of Type 4 radically alter the way some cards play. [card]Fireball[/card] goes from Limited Champion to "Win the game"; Mana-producing abilities are worthless; [card]Firebreathing[/card] creatures have the 'touch of death'. Do these kind of cards have any place in your Stack?
While I personally don't use any cards that result in instant victory (like most multitarget X spells) or even single-card player killers, there's nothing wrong with having them in the right kind of stack. Justin, who regularly podcasts with me on CommanderCast, keeps his stack on hand when he's judging at events. Between rounds, it's not unusual for him to sit down with some contemporaries and play T4. However, in this context, Justin's environment demands short games. When organized play resumes, his judge posse has to return to the floor to smite cheating scumbags and dispense Solomon-esque wisdom to resolve rules disputes. This is where the X spell comes in handy. How long can a game go when a single spell can mean instant death?
But this also means you want players to have a fighting chance. Justin's Stack is loaded down with cards like [card]Redirect[/card], [card]Twincast[/card], [card]Wild Ricochet[/card], [card]Commandeer[/card], and [card]Shunt[/card], not to mention a hefty dose of countermagic (which all stacks should probably feature). This creates a great dynamic exclusive to Type 4; if you go all-in on that [card]Ghitu Fire[/card] on somebody, you're also completely exposed. You can't cast countermagic. If your opponent [card]Redirect[/card]s your spell or something, you expire. Given the density of such stack manipulation cards in Justin's cube, then these 'instant kill' type cards are perfectly acceptable. Obviously, you can also opt in on a ton of creatures with [card]Firebreathing[/card] or [card]Shade[/card] pumps, but then you need to pack adequate [card]Fog[/card]s and removal effects. It's all about balance.
That said, it's not for everyone, myself included. I prefer my games to be a bit more of an extended engagement. I still leave in cards like [card]Urza’s Rage[/card] that can easily finish an unprotected player off, but they’re also totally awesome and exciting when they get played.
So, I’ve gone over a few outside-the-game issues that influence your T4 experience; Stack Size (let it grow!), Deck Composition (draft all day!), Alt. Casting Rules (use them and love them!), and Touch of Death cards (stay away unless you need 5 minute games!). I’ve also included my recommendations on what’s made an optimal experience for me, but if there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it’s that T4’s simple and absurdly awesome premise contains within it huge potential for customization, personalization and complexity. I would be surprised to find a Magic player who could not sculpt all these variables into a T4 experience they would love playing with their friends.
Build a Stack. Experiment with it, toy with the card choices, fiddle around with the pre-game setup. But play Type 4 . It’s the best format there is, and it also provides a wonderful breath of fresh air when you’re feeling stifled by bullshit conventions like ‘converted mana costs’ and ‘land bases’. Commander overrun with boring staples and predictable archetypes? Cube too expensive? Standard still awful? Don’t worry; Type 4 is ready for you. The real question is, are YOU ready for Type 4? When asked, I haven’t met a Magic player who hasn’t been ready, whether they knew it or not. Grab your turntable, round up your [card]Grozoth[/card]’s buddies, and LET’S GET IT!
I'm not going to talk too much about making a stack for Type 4 today, as that has been done to death by other writers. What I want to talk about is the actual rules set of Type 4. The rules my local playgroup use are very different from what I am used to and there are tons of "variations on a theme" of the format's rules.
First, The starting hand size that my local playgroup uses is 0, max hand size 5. I find this method to be much less interesting because there are far fewer choices of what I can play for several turns and it tends to make card draw cripplingly overpowered. I personally would vote for the 7 card hand just like normal Magic. You can still only play one spell per turn and that in and of itself is a limiting factor for the format.
Second, How spells can be played each turn varies from group to group. In his recent article Abe Sargent mentioned that paying an alternate cost
(like the one on [card]Force of Will[/card]) does not count against the one spell
per turn rule. Also, the limitation on how many activated abilities can be
played per turn varies as well. I don't think I like the option that Abe
proposed/his group uses because you are still playing the spell. I am ok
with cards with Cascade still working properly, so an exception for that may
be in order, but with cards like the [card]Bringer of the[/card]_ Dawn and Zendikar Traps in the mix, some
alternate costs play like a cost reduction, not like using an altogether
different resource to play cards.
Activated abilities seem to cause some of the most fuss for Type 4,
some people restrict to only one activated ability per turn, others allow any
number of activations, preferring to simply not include unbounded activated
abilities in their stack (like [card]Firebreathing[/card]). Sometimes X spells and
abilities are left out of a stack, other times they are restricted to 5, or
10, or really any arbitrary number agreed upon by the group. I think that the
best option amongst these is to simply leave unbounded activated abilities and X
spells out of your stack. Most of those cards are good in other formats
and Type 4 should be (in my opinion) to play cards that are simple, fat and/or
expensive and do crazy things.
Finally, I have seen many groups alter the starting life total of this format. As far as I know, that is a new thing (my group used 40, then 30, and now 25). I have not played enough Type 4 with changing life totals to have much of an opinion, but it does seem like a decent idea to be able to take a bit more damage than usual in a format with first turn [card]Stalking Vengeance[/card]. One of these days, if it continues to be popular, a consistent version of Type 4 that everyone is comfortable with should probably be thrown together. I am not sure that every playgroup would adopt it, but standardization is good for a format. EDH and other more popular formats can attest to this.
Shortly, I plan on making my own stack and experimenting with what the best setup is.
Use YOUR shoes as counters!