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The New (Old) Stack Game

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Welcome back to Very Limited, GatheringMagic.com’s exclusive Limited column! Khans of Tarkir is quickly shaping up to be one of the most exciting Magic sets of all time. It seems that, every day, there’s a new and exciting rare or mythic being announced that just begs to be played with in Constructed. A lot of us are planning on buying a few boxes of the new set. After all, it’s a gift that keeps on giving; with fetch lands and mythics abounding, there’s little doubt that we won’t be ahead on value in the long term. Plus, we will be able to draft infinitely with all the packs we’re acquiring. Still, the allure of uncracked Khans packs will be strong, and a lot of us may find it difficult to hold onto our packs until we’re given the opportunity to draft. Today, I’d like to talk about a fun and exciting way to rip through boxes of Khans packs with a friend.

Windswept Heath
My friends and I created and started playing the stack game a few years ago with our Cube when we only had two people. Since then, the game has proven itself to be fun and exciting with any randomized stack of cards. Let’s lay the ground rules for the stack game with Khans of Tarkir!

All right, we have an unopened box of product and a friend. Perfect! Now let’s each open eighteen packs and keep the cards face down in a stack.

Each player draws seven cards.

Any card can be played face down and tapped as a land that produces any color of mana with no drawback. Any card can be played face up and untapped as a land that produces colored mana matching the colors on the cards.

From here, the nonland cards play exactly the same as they would otherwise. It’s just a completely randomized game of Limited in which neither player ever becomes mana-screwed.

Lands would be pretty useless in a format like this, so all lands are given an extra ability. We can pay 2 mana, discard a land, draw two cards, and discard a single card. This doesn’t put us ahead on card advantage unless we have a way to find multiple lands, but it does a great job of getting rid of relatively useless cards for a given situation or finding us a necessary answer to something huge on the other side of the table. Lands and this ability are among the biggest skill testers in the stack game. Sometimes, we’ll just want to play our land face down as a land, but it’s often correct to mine for card quality, especially as we start to make it into the fifth or sixth turn of the game.

Soul of Theros
When a player wins a game, he or she takes all of the cards in play, graveyards, and exile zones, and sets them in a stack next to him or her. Once the entire box is depleted, the player with the most stacks is the winner, and the loser must buy him or her some type of delicious treat. Cheeseburgers, ice cream, Cinnabuns, and tacos are all acceptable forms of tribute to the stack-game champion.

The stack game is fun, exciting, and skill-intensive. A lot of the time, we’re playing Limited Magic and our opponent plays some huge bomb rare and it’s disheartening. When playing the stack game, it means you and your friend just opened a copy of that bomb rare, and it’s awesome for all parties involved.

The stack game lets players play the game how they want to play the game. I have friends who like to play a very aggressive game with the stack and are very successful with that strategy. I like to play passively and work myself up to big cards and plays that grind card advantage in my favor.

Playing the stack game will teach us how to play the real Limited format. We’ll see card interactions that might have been overlooked otherwise. We’ll see unplayable cards do serious work against a particular strong common and then know to sideboard accordingly when our opponent has multiples of the strong common in an actual Sealed or Draft tournament. The best part about the stack game is that it makes us better at every other part of the game, too.

Some cards that might be extremely powerful in normal Limited become a lot weaker when playing the stack game. For example, mana-fixing is usually irrelevant and should be played as a land or discarded when we’re cycling through our lands. Inexpensive cards with mana sinks attached are also quite weak in most cases. Try to plan your turns ahead of time so you don’t hiccup with your game development.

Setessan Tactics
The stack game helps us learn the new set’s tricks. It’s one thing to read the contents of a new set, but we don’t really learn how to play around particular tricks or removal until we’ve had the opportunity to be blown out by it. Playing the stack game through two boxes should give us a very solid handle on what each trick smells like and give us the knowledge we need to play around it in the future.

There’s a ton of strategy in the stack game. We obviously want to hold removal for bombs or two-for-one opportunities as we do in normal Limited games, but the game is often about trump cards. What do I mean by trump card? Let’s say one player has a 2/1 and a 2/2 in play. The other player can play a 2/3 and essentially trump the entire other side of the table until that player is able to cast a 3/3, which will be trumped by a 3/4. Managing when to trump the opponent’s board—and our life total in tandem—is probably the most important skill when playing the stack and it teaches us how we should be building our decks or sideboarding against particular strategies or pools of cards in a particular Draft.

The stack game lets us feed the monkey. When our fresh new boxes of Khans of Tarkir come in the mail, we won’t need to wait for seven other hungry gamers to start cracking. Invite a friend over, order a pizza, and prepare yourself for battle! Let’s open some fetch lands!


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