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CasualNation #15 – Archvanchase

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CasualNation #15 - Archvanchase

Hello nation! I hope your break was fun and productive.  I hope you got Magic presents.  Better yet, I hope that you got a chance to play Magic with your friends over the break.  Seeing friends and family, and spending quality time with them is really what it is all about.

As we enter the new decade, let’s take a look back at my first few articles for ManaNation.  During that time, I have written about Archenemy twice (1, 2) and Planechase once (just last week!).  It seemed like a natural way to set up an article I’ve wanted to write for a bit.  Today, we are going to talk about a way to make any Magic game wild and crazy.  You can use the ideas in here for any format you may play, from draft to Commander, from Chaos to duels, and from Five Color to Emperor.

If you remember the picture of my deck box from last week’s article, then you may also recall that I had a section with some oversized cards.  Wizards has made three products in this way – Vanguard, Archenemy, and Planechase.  Today, we are going to talk about how you can use all three to make a CRAZY CHAOS game result.

For years, people have tried to find ways to introduce randomness to their multiplayer games, just to spice things up a bit.  I’ve talked here about the merit of rolling a die to see who to attack.  There have been other ideas.  One of the more common was to take a stack of enchantments that affected everyone, and then each turn flip one up randomly and it was in play for a round of turns, before another was flipped up.

These ideas were codified when Planechase came out, and it has replaced the stack of enchantments.  Since then, I’ve played Planechase in a ton of formats, and it is really cool.  You can try to walk to another during your turn, and there is tension about spending mana for it or playing cards.  There is also tension between trying to get a great chaos roll, and trying to get out.   It’s absolutely well designed and packs a lot of fun.

Suppose you want to play Magic tonight.  Grab the Planechase cards from the various product, shuffle them together, and have some fun.  But wait! That’s not all…

Adding Planechase to any game is easy enough.  Adding Archenemy is a bit more difficult.  You really want to build a deck to be the villain, or to be the heroes.  There are two ways you can add Archenemy to your Planechase game.

The first is to follow the normal rules of Archenemy.  Either make a deck or grab an appropriate one for someone to play as the enemy of the world, while the others grab suitable decks to try and stop him.  You play Archenemy exactly as the rules state, allowing the villain to build the Archenemy deck and so forth, and then just add Planechase to it.  It’s great!

However, there is another layer that can be plumbed.  Instead, why not simply shuffle your schemes and put them in the center of the table?  Make everyone the Archenemy!  Everyone flips up a random scheme during their turn.  Random schemes AND random planes! There will be chaos for you, my prettys! (That’d be a cool name for a scheme card!)

Can you imagine how your Commander deck would handle all of that?  You would be in the Eloren Wilds when all of the sudden you flip up Which of You Burns Brightest? – that would be amazingly lucky – and quite powerful.  Maybe the combo you find is less powerful, but still a lot of fun.  You could be in Goldmeadow, looking for a snack.  Then you flip Realms Befitting my Majesty, and suddenly your evilness is surrounded by a herd of goats.  It’d be even funnier if you tap mana to play your Commander – Tolsimir Wolfblood.  Now your goats are beaters!

Well, you can find plenty of ways that your schemes or planes could combine in very evil ways.  I’m sure you could do a quick search and find both sets, look at them side by side, and begin to ponder the awesomeness.  But wait!  That’s not all…

If it were all, this’d be a very short article.  Vanguard cards came out a long time ago, around the time of Tempest Block and Urza’s Block.  They represent who you are.  They have three quirks.  One is that you may have a higher or lower life total than the normal 20.  One is that you may start with more or fewer cards in hand (And thus have that as a new maxhand size).  Thirdly, they have an ability.

Let’s take a look at one at random:  Ashnod

Ashnod gives you +1 to your maxhandsize and starting hand, so you draw 8 cards.  She also gives you -8 to your life and you start with 12.  Finally, her ability is a No Mercy.  When you play her, you get a free No Mercy and an extra card, but at the cost of 8 life.  Some have no negatives at all, such as Oracle.  Her ability is weaker compared to others, but you get some extra life, an extra card, and a free ability you can use as much as you would like.

I find one of the coolest ways to add chaos to a game is to shuffle the Vanguard cards and deal each player a card.  Then you not only have a random Plane, and a random Scheme each turn, but you also have a random Vanguard card as well.  That’s PURE CHAOS.

There are other ways to handle it, though.  One way would be to allow people to build their own deck, and they can choose their Vanguard card for it, and then build an Archenemy deck for it.  Then, when they show up to play, you just add the Planechase cards to spice things up.  This prevents someone from getting the Vanguard card that’s broken for their deck while someone else flips up Multani for a creatureless deck and has to deal with a minus to handsize and life without getting any ability at all.

Another way to play with Vanguard is to draft them at the beginning of the game.  Lay them out, and then have someone draft one, then someone else takes another.  This ensures that no one gets hosed with a random Vanguard card they hate for the deck they chose.

You could also have them just choose their deck after they see what Vanguard card they got.  However, not everyone has 16 decks each with different color sleeves with its own individual box.

My favorite way to play Vanguard is to allow people to switch their Vanguard card at a dramatic moment.  It’s a beautiful, “A-HA!” moment for everyone involved.  Here’s how it works.  The mechanics of changing a card are simple.  You move to a new character (it represents that you were never really Karn at all, you were Orim in disguise!).  You have to change your cards and life.  Suppose you wanted to go from Ashnod to Oracle.  You would gain 17 life (the difference between -8 and +9).  Because both have +1 handsize, nothing would change there.  If your handsize goes up, you’d draw cards.  Otherwise you discard cards of your choice to go down.

How do you know who to slide into?  Easy!  I recommend shuffling three Vanguard cards to each player, face down.  They choose one to start as.  At any time, without using the stack, they can switch to another card and place the one they had used into the discard pile for Vanguard cards.  Then they can switch again!

You’ll note that there are a lot of really cool switching strategies with your cards.  You can switch to gain life, draw cards, or get a really powerful ability that is situational.  For example, you may not want to start with Lyna out, because then you can’t block most attacks.  When you are ready to attack and kill someone, you switch to her, and now all of your creatures have shadow.  You swing and kill.

Because of their age, Vanguard cards can be hard to find, and they may have a price tag attached to them of some size.  You don’t have to be disappointed.  You don’t need the actual cards.  You can just print out what the card does and print it on any old card.  Then shuffle those cards and use them as your Vanguard cards.

If you do that, then there is no reason to stop at the 32 Vanguard cards that were made.  Vangaurd was such a great idea, they brought it to Magic Online a long time ago and used it until Zendikar.  The avatars there are also Vanguards.  Just go find a list of all of the online Vanguard avatars and what their abilities, hand size, and life changes are.  Put them on more cards, and you can have a huge stack of Vanguard cards that enable you to be anything from Akroma to a Two-Headed Giant, a Bird of Paradise to Reaper King.

You can find that list here.

Once again, there are powerful combos that can result.   Some are minor.  You are at Sokenzan when you flip the Roots of All Evil scheme.  You put five 1/1 saprolings into play and they can immediately attack as 2/2s!  That’s not too shabby, but what if you are Maraxus?  Now, all of your creatures get +1/+0 and that means you are attacking with a quintet of 3/2 saprolings that just came out of the blue!  Powerful stuff, no?  (For 3/3 attackers instead, use Tahngarth’s vanguard card with a trip to Krosa.  If you want to make them 5/5 saprolings of haste, then Tahngarth needs to take a vacation in Velis Vel).

Perhaps you are Urza.  You can tap three mana to ping a creature or player for one damage.  That’s not that great, but not too shabby either.  What if you are fighting at Stronghold Furnace and you just flipped Approach my Molten Realm?  Now you are dealing four damage with each of those activations instead of one.  That’s a lot more power for your powerbar. (That was a failed attempt to find a new way to say “more bang for your buck.”)

So, again, you can do the random thing or have people build around Vanguard and Archenemy cards.  If you are going to let everyone play the Archenemy, there is only one change I would recommend.  One major issue is that many Archenemy schemes kill a bunch of permanents.  If people are flipping one up every turn, then a lot of Tooth, Claw, and Tail; Behold the Power of Destruction; All Shall Smolder in My Wake; Nature demands an Offering, and other such cards will be seen.  They all destroy a ton of cards, or remove them from play.  It will be very hard to make anything stick to the table in such an environment (I know, I’ve tried).  Thus, I recommend that you remove most of these cards from a random Archenemy deck, or ban them from Archenemy decks that are built and brought by each player.

There should still be a handful in the random stack to keep it more random, and to act as a brake to halt a player who is going off hardcore with a combo deck, or just table dominance.  For the random stack in the middle, you might as well ignore the rule about no more than 2 of each scheme.  For example, who cares if you have four Your Puny Minds Cannot Fathom in there?

For one central scheme deck, I’d recommend maximizing schemes that are relatively safe like Look Skyward and Despair; The Iron Guardian Stirs; Roots of All Evil; Dance, Pathetic Marionette; Ignite the Cloneforge!;Realms Befitting My Majesty; Your Fate is Thrice Sealed; and I Call on the Ancient Magics.  Cards that give rather than take should be emphasized.  That doesn’t mean there should be the other cards, just that they shouldn’t be the majority of what is flipped up.

Since the Archenemy rules say that the Archenemy has 40 life, then for this variant, I’d recommend one change:  Have everyone start at 40 life, and then double changes to life from a Vanguard card.  The reason Ashnod is balanced is because you start at 12 life instead of 20.  If you instead started at 32 instead of 40, that’s not a major loss, and it’s totally worth it.  Therefore, I’d recommend going with -16 for Ashnod or +18 for Orim, and so forth.

Another possibility is to ignore the Archenemy recommendation and just going with 20 life for everyone.  Whatever you guys agree on!  (If you are playing this with Commander, then since you start at 40 life anyway, I’d heavily recommend the doubling of life total changes by Vanguard cards.)

The resulting format that is made from mixing together all three of these ideas is Archvanchase.  Playing Archvanchase alone is crazy Magic.  You can play it with any format and any number of players from 2 to 200.  Commander multiplayer, Standard duels, Vintage Two-Headed Giant – whatever your desire.

You can also play it with other variants.  For example, suppose your table loves to play Emperor Magic every now and then.  Perhaps you make them each Archenemies, and then layer Vanguard and Planechase over top for everyone.  That’d be a crazy emperor game!

Anyway, if you want to be a Sliver Queen Vanguard card, and your tokens get huge when you swing by Velis Vel and you attack with your 8/8 sliver tokens, then you’ll want to play this format.  If you want to start with Ashnod, and then flip Mortal Flesh is Weak and force everyone to come down to your life total, and then switch to Orim to gain 17 life, this is the format for you.  If you want to play Serra and give your creatures +0/+2, and then planeswalk to The Great Forest, where all creatures deal damage equal to their toughness, then this format is for you.

If you want wacky games, fun swings, and crazy combos that just get thrust on you without planning, then this format is for you.  Enjoy!

See you next week,

Abe Sargent