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Vanilla Wars

Sometimes you want a full meal. After all, a full day of non-stop tournament Magic can wear out anyone, right? Right! And what you need to fill you up is a full-on meal of something full bodied and flavorful, like Commander. Big decks, takes a lot of time, and can take the edge off a good tournament hunger. Maybe you are in the mood for something more limited than that but still heavy enough to end your hunger, like a good Cube sandwich, to get you out of that tournament funk.

We are all often in the mood for something heavy with our casual formats. Commander 1995. Old School 95/96. Or heady variants like Emperor and crazy all-in limited formats like Rochester Draft. I get it. We all do.

But sometimes you just want a little light snack. A parfait between bigger entrees. Maybe a little something to get your Magic juices flowing, like an appetizer.

And that’s where today’s format comes in. There’s nothing too hard to figure out. It just pushes your deck building into an interesting space, but with around 275 creatures that qualify, it lacks the creature depth needed to play it week in and week out month after month. (Check out the Gatherer list) It’s a fun change of pace. A fun weekly challenge. Who can build the best Vanilla Wars deck? Let’s find out!

Vanilla Wars is an old format I haven’t heard or seen hide nor hair of in a long time. So I thought it would be fun to bring it to you now, with a few updates for modern cards.

So here is how Vanilla Wars works

1). Your deck may not include anything but vanilla creatures.

A vanilla creature is any creature that has no keywords, abilities, or rules text, like Eager Cadet. Only italicized flavor text is allowed. Now, ways of making a creature must also be vanilla. So you could make a 3/3 Elephant token creature with Call of the Herd but not the 5/5 trampling Wurm token of Advent of the Wurm. The same is true of something like Azorius Keyrune, which is disallowed because it has flying. The same is true of vehicles, they have to be vanilla Vees. So Consulate Dreadnought would be fine.

2). At least 50% of your non-lands must be creatures.

Because there is always at least one player in each playgroup who will look for loopholes in the rules! They will just build a creature-less deck or a Draw Go counter deck with four creatures. So, at least half of your non-lands must be vanilla creatures.

Now that right there is enough of a format for many. They will take it and enjoy it all night long! But I have three more rules, for those who want to push it. These are optional rules that I am including from the initial format’s central concept.

Optional Rules

3). You cannot use auras or equipment unless they only grant p/t bonuses and nothing else.

You could run Bonesplitter but not Loxodon Warhammer, and you could run Holy Strength but not Serra's Embrace. You can’t get around the vanilla-ish nature of the format here. Sorry.

4). You cannot run any spell, ability, or effect that gives anything to your creatures other than pump their power and toughness.

So you could run Giant Growth or Glorious Anthem, but not Overrun or Fires of Yavimaya. Similarly, you couldn’t use Kessig Wolf Run to pump a creature as it gives trample too. But you could run Cathedral of War and pump with its exalted.

5). You can cast auras, and equip your equipment, as though they had flash.

In order to make your auras have some cool additional chops, feel free to flash them out all day long! I’m also giving that rule to equipment, equip as an instant. And double up! Flash out that equipment, and equip it as an instant, and then get that surprise on.

Three extra rules for you if you want! Enjoy the delicious taste of vanilla.

I created a fun variant on this for Commander that uses French Vanilla creatures as well (French Vanilla creatures are allowed for keywords only, so Air Elemental and White Knight are legal, but Shivan Dragon is not, nor is Sengir Vampire, as they have non-keyworded abilities). Check it out here if you want to see more.

At first I thought about preemptively banning Muraganda Petroglyphs. But it works on all creatures, yours and your foes, so play it if you want.

So let’s take a look at a trio of decks that three separate takes on Vanilla Wars.

That’s probably one of the fastest decks in the format, or something like it. It’s very simple and fast and straightforward. A bunch of 1- and 2-drops in White backed by eight Crusade effects and a spot of removal. It’s flexible, because are so many quality early drops in White, and you can find effects that match your collection quite nicely.

White Weenie is good here, right? Right!

But this is an answerable problem.

One of the things you’ll quickly realize in this format is that you don’t have to worry about stuff like flying, unblockable, trample, protection, or other ways to get around your defense. Everything is on the ground. So how about this?

This is one such answer to a potential White Weenie surprise. Note that without the typical protection keeping their stuff safe, you are free to target away. I’m sure you can see the sheer value of Earthquake in this format. Bam! It’ll clear out every creature. Similarly, effects like Pyroclasm, Anger of the Gods, Infest, and Languish can easily take out these annoying weenies. And you can rely on other mass removal like Wrath of God as well.

This deck seeks to play some early blockers to get in the way of an attack, with Kraken Hatchling playing that role beautifully. And then you can finish with the Giants and burn as needed It’s an easy enough entry for you.

So we have big beats with control and aggro-fueled speed. Now all we need is a midrange deck . . . 

Leatherback Baloth
Leatherback Baloth is arguably the single best power/toughness ratio you can easily play in Vanilla Wars. This Mono-Green deck seeks to take advantage of its colors to drop mid-range forces like the various Beasts here. You can see the 4/4 Rumbling Baloth helping out as well. We finish with Loamdragger Giant as well for beats and swings if we need. But by then, our foe may have died already!

After the midrange and bigger bodies, you can see the ramp we have here as well. Cultivate and Kodama's Reach will get you lands all over the table and explode into a frenzy of ramping good times. And you can drop Everflowing Chalice at various costs to speed us up more!

Then I layered in Grizzly Fate for making the tokens, in case we need to go wide or recover from mass removal. Biomantic Mastery could be massively great card drawing here. Finally, I have two tricks. The first is Blanchwood Armor, which just amps up power and toughness, and if you play with the optional rules, then it’s a powerful flash-effect! The last trick is Natural Order. Sacrifice a Yearling or Bear token for a Loamdragger Giant!

These three decks each play into each other, with various tools and strategies for fighting each other. They give you three ideas for ways to build.

I had initially thought about doing five or six decks total. But as this is likely a new format for most of you, I didn’t want to give away all of the tricks in the article, but just enough to whet your appetite. But control, mid-range, and aggro all give you three solid options there.

Now in real life those decks would be built a little differently. I would add some resilience to the White Weenie deck, such as ways to mass bring back my dead creatures or massage my counterburn deck to push my removal suite. I just tossed that stuff together, which is precisely the point!

This format is a fun diversion for a little while. When your table needs to relax a bit, then grab a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and enjoy the delightful snack. You can get back to your normal formats and variants later. But for now, why not try a little Vanilla Wars?

Maybe you’ll find it’ll stick to your ribs a bit more than you expect . . . 

And join me tomorrow when I count down the Top Ten Vanilla Creatures of AllTime! I intentionally did not use or mention many of them here to keep you in suspense!

Hour of Devastation is now available for preorder at!