I have been reworking my Big Box lately. It has been a long time since I have added cards to it and, at some point, I had sorted the whole thing by color and it was all kinds of not shuffled. I built my Big Box just a bit differently than the standard rules on the Big Box format’s website. I prefer a little bit more randomness and a little more …well what’s the nice way to put it “mana management”in my Big Box environment. Mana management is just my polite way of saying “Mana screw can be fun!” My Big Box is riddled with [card]Castle Sengir[/card] and [card]Rainbow Vale[/card] in the land deck, and I merge the non-land decks all into one.
You never know what color of card(s) you will be drawing, and it makes for all kinds of interesting situations. I once saw someone end up tapping something like 6 lands to play an [card]Elvish Warrior[/card] ([card]Koskun Keep[/card], 2 to activate it and a [card]Henge of Ramos[/card] with 2 to activate it).
My Big Box is also mostly commons and uncommons with around 8 rares per color, most of which are jank. I like the fact that having only jank and utility in the big box suddenly makes unplayable cards sitting around my Magic table into the biggest bombs. I have seen [card]Ronom Serpent[/card]s blow out a whole table, and wins on the back of [card]Pyromatics[/card]. However, when you are in an environment that is a closed pool of cards, most of which are jank and can’t do things that rares normally do, you have to tweak things to make the game progress…at all…ever.
Beautiful proxies for Fork and Wheel of Fortune.
The first major thing that my Big Box has that speed things up and keep things fun are proxies. When I was introduced to Big Box, [card]Ember Shot[/card] was always treated as a [card]Wheel of Fortune[/card], and [card]Malicious Advice[/card] was treated as a [card]Fork[/card] (both of which showed up in great abundance). Another thing that has been suggested to me by a multitude of players is to have some sort of wrath effect proxied in. I am considering doing just that and maybe even proxying in a powerful spell of each color. Something like: change Fork to [card]Twincast[/card], keep [card]Wheel of Fortune[/card], [card]Wrath of God[/card]…I like where this is going, but I am less sure of what to do in the other 2 colors. Tutoring for non-land is forbidden (God that would take forever, the non-land deck is something like 1500 cards!) and I don’t know what to even do with green. Basically all Green does in Big Box is fix your mana anyway. It’s something to think about anyway.
Second, NO TUTORS Mui card draw! Tutoring is BRUTAL in multiplayer to begin with. If there were tutors in a 1500 card shared deck, people would just plain QUIT! The land deck is much smaller, coming in at 200-250 cards-ish (like I would actually count.) and you basically have to search that deck to make Big Box work with all of the colors in the same deck.
Finally, you have to put in a LOT of extra staples and don’t forget the haymakers. Out of the approximately 250 green cards going into my box, 100 of them are land fetch. Blue and card draw will probably be similar, as will white and artifact/enchantment removal, black creature kill and red burn spells. Also, there needs to be as many haymaker spells in the deck as possible. I’m talking [card]Fireball[/card], [card]Overrun[/card], Giant evasive creatures…you know what I mean. Something has to end the creature stalemates and that is somewhat
difficult in a format where everything is limited fodder.
I hope my random ranting about my Big Box gave some insight on how to make a good one for yourself, and I honestly hope that you try the format out if someone around you has one, and if not, make one yourself out of your 5+th copies of your draft crap. You will never has this much fun with [card]Bog Hoodlums[/card] anywhere else!
So until next time, Use YOUR shoes as counters!
Now, everyone here knows how much I like variant formats, the only way I like to play MTG more, is by mixing 2 formats that blend into an even wackier more interesting experience. Today I am going to talk a little bit about a mix that did NOT turn out as well as I had predicted. Planechase and Big Box.
So my wife, her little brother (age 14) and I all sat down to a game of Big Box the week before Christmas or so. We played with Celestine Reef, Horizion Boughs and 2 of the 4 box sets worth of planes that I had traded for online, not having the money to spend on the $20 boxes (and four of them at a total of $80). We used the whole stack as all players' planar decks because the Planechase rules seem a little silly and we cant get a hold of enough planes to customize anything...plus we don't customize the Box, so why should we the planar deck?
So here is my findings, Big Box is a random format. With tons and tons of random cards in your 300 card land deck and your 4000 card non-land deck, wacky stuff happens and the game is unpredictable. The strategy is more like a limited game, "figure out how to win", not "win this way" like constructed. Planechase disrupts and/or encourages specific strategies each time you flip up a new plane.
If there isnt a concrete strategy to help or disrupt, all Planechase brings to the table is MORE Randomness, which isnt alot of fun to try to overcome. I love randomness in my games and all, but not when it overwhelms the game to an extent that it feels like I have little control over who wins a match.
That's all I have time for, my li'l one wont get off to sleep and I am half-way through Anamorph (the movie) and my wife wants to finish it, so until next time...
Use YOUR shoes as counters!
Greetings, my name is Andrew Lee, but most people in the gaming community call me Shoe. I am a Magic lover just like anyone reading this article, but you may be asking yourself…”Why should I listen to this random schlub more than I should to any other random magic player?” Well, I do not have pro points, I do not work for WOTC and I don’t use the ‘best’ decks that everyone uses that are clearly posted all over the web. Then again, I am writing today about casual Magic, variant formats, and just a plain old good time. For this I do have an impressive resume, I have been playing MTG casually for 14 years, nearly the game’s entire life. I have played in one PTQ and dropped after the first round to play a free draft of 9th edition…which I got 2nd place in. I was featured on the WOTC website in Chris Millar’s house of cards for my stupid Sky Swallower deck HERE. I was featured again when my friend made fun of my hat at a PTQ HERE, and once at Star City Games, when Abe Sargent liked my idea for a casual banned and restricted list after the restricting of Ponder and Brainstorm in Vintage (the B&R most casual playgroups adhere to loosely) HERE. So all in all, I have fun with my MTG, and I aint half bad a player, but I am certainly no Jon Finkel, or whoever wins tournaments now a days.
On to the meat of the article, I love variant formats. I have played Magic for so long that just playing straight up casual duels doesn’t do it for me, and even multiplayer is getting a little old. I need something to spice up my games and I have found that something in variant formats. They can be used to restrict an enormous cardpool (like mine). Level the playing field for uneven levels of experience in players, and even just provide a refreshing change to the way you have played your favorite game for the past X number of years. Throughout the lifespan of this column I hope to present to you as many variant formats as I can and why they are so cool. I will provide links to the rules, deck ideas if I can, and a summary of the rules and how that format plays out…so without further ado, I present you with today’s format:
Big box is a crazy fun format, but really needs to be played in a multiplayer setting. If you haven’t checked out the rules, they can be found Here. In this format, most of the players need not prepare, but one player has to have prepared a lot in advance. In Big Box, the ‘host’ will construct 2 decks to be shared by the group. The first deck contains only nonland cards and should be at LEAST 1000 cards or more, evenly balanced from the 5 colors with a smaller number of multicolored and artifacts. The second deck should be all lands, as many as possible need to produce multiple colors, which I will discuss more in a minute. The rest of the rules can pretty much be boiled down to, “Whenever a player would draw a card, they choose which pile to draw from.” This format can get REALLY wacky and takes quite a while to play, but if you are looking to fill a night with a game of MTG and just hang out, this format is GREAT.
Build a better box:
There are many things that can make your Big Box a better experience. Let’s start by building the land deck. Lands that produce multiple colors are important; mana screw is way more prominent that you would ever guess. Tons of random cards means that you will be playing five colors for sure, and there is usually all kinds of cards in a Big Box that rarely see the light of day elsewhere due to budget, most people don’t want to shuffle away Tropical Islands into their Big Box. Invasion Sac lands are king because of the way they let you have multiple colors. They cause odd decision making and make the early game more interesting. My big box is severely devoid of these because I don’t even own playsets for my own constructed use, but if you have spares, Big Box ‘em. Homelands’ terrible 3 color lands are actually REALLY good as well. This is something no one ever expected to see in any context, but in Big Box, where you don’t want to shuffle your dual lands or shock lands, Castle Sengir seems A LOT better, not to mention School of the Unseen. Cycling lands (of the Urza’s saga, and the Onslaught variants) are really great, because if you don't need the color they give you, you can pitch them to get a normal card, OR another land. Also, the Comes into play Tapped lands from Invasion, Coldsnap and Shards of Alara are only uncommon, so don’t be afraid to shuffle them in to the ‘Box. Finally, BEWARE OF SNOW LAND. If you have a bunch of Coldsnap cards in your big box, make sure to add snow land. Some cards demand it.
Last time my group played big box, I top-decked a Moron (Ronom) Serpent, and there were VERY few snow lands (like 5 CS snow duals) in the land deck. I saw that Trevin (one of the guys I play with) actually had a snow land and got excited that I could attack. The sneaky little part that I forgot is the other half of his Snowhome. I didn’t have a snow land, so I paid 5U to put Moron Serpent (appropriately named) into my graveyard, promptly loosing the next turn. Yeah it was a stupid play, but wouldn’t you be excited to have a 5/6 creature when the average creature in big box tends to be 1/1-3/3. Not to mention that one of the 5 snow lands (out of probably 100+) land was actually under my opponent’s control. Would have been REALLY funny to smash face with a snowhome guy in that situation. But as usual, I sacrificed good plays to make funny ones and it killed me in the end. In my defense everyone had a better time because of it and big box is all about having a good time.
Anyway I digress.
The non-land deck has some similar things that will make it more fun, but it is more flexible on what can be put into it. You will notice there are several quantifiers on what cards can be put in to the non-land portion, there is a good reason (and usually a funny story) for each of these restrictions.
No card that searches the library for non-land cards belongs in the Big Box: This one just makes the format unfair and annoying. Our Big Box is a couple thousand cards and waiting for someone to tutor through it takes way too long in a format that already takes upwards of 3-4 hours a game. Also, with that many choices per tutor, you are pretty much guaranteed card quality over EVERYONE.
No card that can be reshuffled into the library: Once again this is just because it is annoying, shuffling a Beacon of Creation back into 1000+ cards usually just means that you will not see it again this game, and it’s not worth having to shuffle just in case someone has played a Sage Owl or something. (More on the awesomeness of Sage Owl in Big Box in just a second.)
No card capable of putting an entire library into either graveyard or removed from game zone: Right now this consists of Paradigm Shift, Leveler, and Morality Shift (as far as I can remember). These are a problem, because flashback cards become ridiculous. If the entire 1000+ card deck is in a players graveyard, everyone else will be drawing lands all day and that player can flashback a ton of stuff for the win. This is unfair at best, un-fun at worst.
And now for something completely different
One of the most fun elements of the shared library is Sage Owl. No longer is he merely a creature that helps your draw quality a little bit, he is a psychological weapon. Rearranging the cards on the top of either deck will cause the other player to stop and think before they draw. “Hmmm…Bob just played a Spire Owl and rearranged the top of the non-land deck, is Bob mad at me? Is he going to give me crap, should I draw a card and risk it, or get a land and try and screw over the next person….or is that what he WANTS!?” Playing a card that rearranges the top of the draw pile causes all sorts of thought processes like this and just plain old makes the game fun and interesting. Sweet deal if you ask me, and a must-include.
Uncomfortable situations: What? Like the back of a Volkswagen?
I was playing my second game of big box out of a superior box put together by my friend Rob. Playing were Dan, Jon, Jim, Rob, and Myself. Now, before this story cracks you up, you have to know a little about Rob’s play style. Rob is a little bit of a rules lawyer, but not the bad kind that nags you all to hell about it; he just likes the rules and wants to make sure they are followed. Also, he likes to make plays that show people holes in the rules, especially if it is really funny. Special formats are not known for the precision of the rules sets because they are not heavily supported anywhere (a fact that I hope to change with WOOBERG.com). So rob top-decks an Avenging Druid from the non-land pile and plays it. Dan has no blockers, so Rob swings with the druid the next turn. The druid’s combat damage ability triggers and Rob, being the rules guru that he is and a master at finding the silliest loopholes targets the non-land deck, just like any other milling ability would allow you to choose which deck to mill. Now this seemingly weak card (in constructed) has just milled away, into Rob’s graveyard, every non-land card any player could possibly draw. After about half an hour of laughing, we finally decided that a rule needed to be added to fix this card that was (but shouldn’t be) broken as hell. Thus the special rule: “Cards that allow you to manipulate a deck in search of a specific card type must search a deck where that card type could be found.” was born.
Well, that’s all that I have for now, If you have played this format and have any fun situations to tell about post away in the forums here. Also if you find any more situations like the Avenging Druid play above, let us know so we can fix the official rules accordingly.
Until next time, use YOUR shoes as counters.
Moderator of WOOBERG.net, the Encyclopedia of Magic Variant formats, Shoe has been playing MTG since mid to late 1994, He acquired the nickname ‘Shoe’ through a stupid joke made during a MTG game about the Chimpokomon episode of South Park. He loves MTG and gaming in general and hopes to work designing games one day. He plays mostly with his 6 year old daughter these days, but multi-player, and weird formats are his preference.