11/24/2009 SF: "The Stack and Back"

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This thread is for discussion of this week's Serious Fun, which goes live Tuesday morning on magicthegathering.com.

this does sound really fun. the balance between "powerful" and "weak but fun" is probably more delicate that you would think. i will have to ponder on it.

We started with the Original Stack which is not sleeved, foiled, or artist signed. In fact, nothing about it immediately jumps out as special other than that every cards looks, and feels, fairly heavily played. These cards have been loved over time, and the worn edges, scrapes, water warping, and sometimes even punctured cards all feel natural. These cards are all loved and have been loved for quite some time.



this isn't the first time i've heard this kind of thing and it seems really weird to me. if the cards are loved then why aren't they sleeved? you can get sleeves pretty cheap and reuse them. sure, it's just some junk commons or whatever, but what's the purpose of letting them deteriorate when you could easily avoid it? unless you like replacing cards or you enjoy the thrill of not being surprised because you know which cards were drawn because they have a hole in the corner.
Out of all the formats of Magic, this is actually the one I play the most. It is easily the most interesting way to play the game that I have found.

First of all, my play group uses two slight variations. First, instead of allowing a basic land to replace any draw, we play with the Mental Magic rule for land: You can play any card in your hand face down as a land that taps for 1 mana of any color and counts as all five basic land types. We feel that this forces you to make decisions about which of the cards in your hand are worth keeping and playing, and which ones do not fit the type of "deck" you are playing. Second, the shared library and graveyard can get tedious and occasionally creates odd rules situations that neither I nor my friends felt like solving. We usually just shuffle the stack as a whole and cut it into roughly equal halves (or thirds, or fourths...).

These variations do alter the allowable mix of cards slightly. Because there is no guarantee that each player's library is the same size, there are no cards in our stack(s) that involve searching the library. In addition, because we say that each face-down land counts as each basic land type, we usually don't include any cards that become disproportionally powerful because of this. (Usually large landwalkers are the main culprits.) Finally, as the face-down cards played as land often represent an excellent theoretical source of card advantage, we usually abstain from including cards such as Barrel Down Sokenzan that can be used to draw ridiculous numbers of cards in addition to their normal effect.

Other than that, the mix of cards in our stack is usually geared to be a strong Limited selection of cards, currently numbered at 300 even. In a somewhat OCD venture, it is split such that each color has 50 cards, with 30 gold cards representing three cards per "guild", and 20 artifacts. I keep the colors exactly even so that the stack can be used for other purposes, such as Winston Draft, without providing any sort of bias toward or against any color. Of the 50 cards per color, 34 are creatures and 16 are noncreatures. (Again, a bit OCD, but bear with me...) The average converted mana cost is around 3.4, biased slightly towards inexpensive creatures as we found that a stack heavily laden with expensive spells only allows for slow, control-oriented decks to succeed.

This was what we found to be the most important part of any stack: There have to be multiple playable "archetypes" within the stack, or it will become monotonous quickly. The first stack we made was mostly large Timmyish creatures, but after playing 40 minute game after 40 minute game, we realized that aggro was almost nonexistent. In addition, because the creatures were all relatively close in power level and removal scarce, generally the person drawing the card-advantage cards would win. Therefore, something had to change.

The new stack I am working on works something like this:

1. Aggro - An opening draw of Frenzied Goblin, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, Qasali Pridemage, Calciderm, Threads of Disloyalty, Lightning Axe, Solar Tide. Being able to curve out like this with amazing aggressive creatures and removal spells to back it up is going to give you a very good chance to win the game within six turns.

2. Board Control - An opening draw of Sparksmith, Stingscourger, Kabuto Moth, Cloudgoat Ranger, Repeal, Frozen AEther, Incremental Blight. The creatures allow you to control the board and the spells hope to keep it that way.

3. Card Advantage - An opening draw of Looter il-Kor, Lorescale Coatl, Eternal Witness, Beast Attack, Orcish Cannonade, Ribbons of Night, Twisted Justice. Most of these cards innately provide at least +1 card advantage, and even if your opponent gets off to a fast start, you should be able to stabilize and win by sheer number of spells played.

Basically, you look at your opening hand, see which path (there are others, but these are general) is best to follow given the cards you start with, and go from there.

One last note: I don't always put "the best" cards in the stack, I usually put the cards in that create a more fun and decision-laden game. Flametongue Kavu might be awesome (oh, he is...don't deny it), but Volcano Hellion costs the same amount, kills a creature when it hits the board, and then provides you with the agonizing decision of how badly to kill the creature. (Is it worth 7 life to keep my 6/5 around?) Similarly, even though Lightning Bolt is one of the best removal spells out there, why use that when you can use Dead/Gone? Kill a small creature OR bounce a big one.

So basically, to make a fun stack:

A) Use a large number of cards. Anything fewer than 120 will get tiresome quickly.

B) Make sure there is a lot of variety regarding victory conditions. Waiting for someone to draw the one Simic Sky Swallower in the stack (don't use it, it's dull) is boring.

C) Try to use cards that provide a lot of decisions for both players, not just the best card for each role. There are plenty of Tier 1 cards (Wild Mongrel, Browbeat, etc...yeah, I know OTJ is old now...) that are both powerful and intense.

Anyway, that's how I've played stack. It is easily the most engaging way to play Magic I have found yet, and I've been playing since late '94, so there's been a LOT of experimentation.

GSK
Sorry, this is just a cube.

Cubes can be the fully powered 'best cards in magic' that you describe, but they can also be 'one of every card in M10', or 'Ravnica block onwards', or 'commons only'. 

You can make your cube however you want to.

Here's the best cube forum on the web.

The writer of the article does not understand the cube format; if you are just using the most powerful cards, you do not understand what you are doing, and will create a craptacular game.  Cubes requires the same, if not more, skills as a stack does.  The only difference is that in a cube, you draft the cards, and in a stack, everybody just draws of the top of a communal deck.

I was introduced to this sort of format around the time of the ZEN pre-release: the organiser had a bunch of new commons that he shuffled up, and a few of us took turns dueling with the shared library. We tried 2 variants: one where you had access to infinite mana, and one where you could play any card face down as a Land (that had all basic types and could produce any color). With Zendikar being the "land matters" set, this didnt quite work either way, but it was just supposed to be a bit of fun.

I have been thinking about trying it again since, and this article could well be the poke in the right direction that I needed.

My thoughts:
- having to rifle through a box of land whenever you need one might get tedious, but Lands will still be needed (as opposed to infinite mana) - I think using face down cards might work
- I dont have enough sleeves for a whole stack, but I wont ruin good cards, so there will be no Rares
- I want to explore the shared nature of the Library and Graveyard. For example, using Unearth creatures, that can be re-used by all players, and things like Ponder that can affect draws across the board

Any advice?

Cheers

~ Tim
I am Blue/White Reached DCI Rating 1800 on 28/10/11. :D
Sig
56287226 wrote:
190106923 wrote:
Not bad. But what happens flavor wise when one kamahl kills the other one?
Zis iz a sign uf deep psychological troma, buried in zer subconscious mind. By keelink himzelf, Kamahl iz physically expressink hiz feelinks uf self-disgust ova hiz desire for hiz muzzer. [/GermanPsychologistVoice]
56957928 wrote:
57799958 wrote:
That makes no sense to me. If they spelled the ability out on the card in full then it would not be allowed in a mono-black Commander deck, but because they used a keyword to save space it is allowed? ~ Tim
Yup, just like you can have Birds of paradise in a mono green deck but not Noble Hierarch. YAY COLOR IDENTITY
56287226 wrote:
56888618 wrote:
Is algebra really that difficult?
Survey says yes.
56883218 wrote:
57799958 wrote:
You want to make a milky drink. You squeeze a cow.
I love this description. Like the cows are sponges filled with milk. I can see it all Nick Parks claymation-style with the cow's eyes bugging out momentarily as a giant farmer squeezes it like a squeaky dog toy, and milk shoots out of it.
56287226 wrote:
56735468 wrote:
And no judge will ever give you a game loss for playing snow covered lands.
I now have a new goal in life. ;)
Excellent article. You've certainly conveyed the excitement and mystery of the Stack experience!

@HairyMezican

The writer most certainly has an understanding of cubes. In fact, he participates in cube drafts almost weekly and has one of his own. Although a cube can be almost any set of cards at an abstract level, they tend to be designed for intense draft experiences and feature powerful cards that represent archetypes, strategies, etc. that the cube architect has chosen to include. In order to convey to readers a principal difference between a Stack and a Cube, the writer has identified card philosophy as a primary difference, and I think that is absolutely correct. Moreover, the drawing of land in Stack is fundamentally different and eliminates the need for many types of mana-fixing cards that tend to be present in Cubes. The differences are much greater than they appear at first glance.

@magicmerl

See above response. Card selection aside, Stack is a different way to play Magic. The experience extends beyond the card pool that is used.

The shared library concept is about as old as the game. This is one refinement of it.  I created my 'stack' when I got a particularly bad box of "random" cards from an ebay seller. I've added and taken away over the years but the concept remains the same. These are our house rules (we call this "box of chocolates" btw).

1) We never play with the whole library. I recently trimmed it down to fit in a card box so it's down to about 1200 cards, but normally there is either 1 shared library or sometimes we mix it up and do two shared library's and you can draw from either. Library "order" cards like Sage Owl are restricted to viewing one library at a time.

2) We normally play with a randomized set of 125 lands (25 of each basic) that you can draw into instead of a library card. We allow each player to select 3 lands to begin the game with that start on the battlefield.

3) We normally play with exclusive graveyards rather than a shared yard. We started this rule because our early version of the box was creature poor and nuking an opposing bomb critter then raise dead was very powerful.

Obviously the format is very flexible and fun.
The Stack looks like a fun little format, somewhere between Cube and non-draft type 4. I like the "draw a basic land of your choice" rule a lot, and I think this is what makes this format most unique; it can be a good challenge making that decision each turn. That rule could be used for Mental Magic too I think, just like playing any card face down as a 5-color land can be used for the Stack.

About that rule, I'm intrigued about the process of drawing your starting hand, which wasn't clearly discussed in the article. As you draw each of your seven first cards, can you progressively construct your hand and include lands ? For example, could one first draw 4 cards from the stack, and seeing 2 blue cards, 1 red card and 1 green card, choose a mix of Island, Forest, and Mountain as their 3 last cards ? What is considered the best strategic course of action in that regard for maximizing plays ? Do players tend to usually just draw 7 from the stack, and then draw fitting lands for 6 consecutive turns ?
Magic The Gathering DCI Lvl 1 Judge Don't hesitate to post rules question in the Rules Q&A forum for me and other competent advisors to answer : http://community.wizards.com/go/forum/view/75842/134778/Rules_Q38A
@ MadMageQc : The rule my group use (to play a variant of Pack Wars, but same idea) is that you draw 5 cards from the stack, look at them, then draw two basic lands of your choice.

I like to use a lot of color-heavy cards, because that way there's some relevant decision-making in the early game (should I try to get a turn-two Knight of Meadowgrain or a turn-three Vampire Nighthawk?).
@MadMageQc

We tend to just draw hands of 7 cards off the stack and then draw lands as necessary. This gives you more cards to plan your strategy with from the very beginning of the game and increases the chance of having some known early plays. My stack has a lot of 3cc or less early plays, so at least a couple players are casting early spells while everyone is ramping mana. Good times!

The stack appears to be a Live Draft variant.

My group plays Riviera Live Draft, which seems to be the most advanced version of this variant.

The writer most certainly has an understanding of cubes. In fact, he participates in cube drafts almost weekly and has one of his own. Although a cube can be almost any set of cards at an abstract level, they tend to be designed for intense draft experiences and feature powerful cards that represent archetypes, strategies, etc. that the cube architect has chosen to include. In order to convey to readers a principal difference between a Stack and a Cube, the writer has identified card philosophy as a primary difference, and I think that is absolutely correct. Moreover, the drawing of land in Stack is fundamentally different and eliminates the need for many types of mana-fixing cards that tend to be present in Cubes. The differences are much greater than they appear at first glance.

@magicmerl

See above response. Card selection aside, Stack is a different way to play Magic. The experience extends beyond the card pool that is used.




obviously cube and stack are different because of card draw, land effects, etc. but they are not as fundamentally different as the writer suggests. cubes are often tailored for fun as much as a stack would be, and people will naturally adapt a variant to their preferences. he plays stack with "fun" cards but other people will play it with all powerful cards, all personal favorites, or a combination of power cards (by which i mean powerful in this format, not necessarily "objectively" powerful, exactly as is the case in cube) and cards that are present to smooth out the experience (and fun cards, and useful but not "powerful" cards, etc). some people believe the same thing about edh (that it's inherently focused on casual fun) but that doesn't stop people from making edh decks that resemble constructed decks of the past or drafted decks from a highly powerful cube.

my point is, HIS experience with stack may be very different than his experience with cube, but i don't think that's as imprinted into the format as he thinks. it's just a variant and people will do what they want with it.
Regarding those claiming this is Cube or not Cube, it might be more accurate to say that this is a variant using the Cube format. The terminology as I understand it is that a format defines the cards available for deckbuilding while a variant defines alternate rules used while actually playing the game. Standard and Booster Draft are formats. Star and Emperor are variants. EDH and Stack are both a variant and a format combined.
I heard about "The Stack" years before I heard anybody ever mention Cube, so I'd have to say that The Stack probably had an independent evolution.  (At the time, the Stack variants I saw definitely had lands in the list, not separate.)

Anyway, wether you feel like it's a variant of some other format or not, it's certainly a fun and fast way to get a game started.  I also like that you are at the whim of the top-deck; drafting formats like Cube allow you to sculpt your deck, which is great and all, but sometimes it's fun to be surprised by that next card!
Does anyone ahve any information on that Bosium Strip?  I've never seen/heard of any full art cards from a set so old.
Shared deck games are a hoot. I've been experimenting with "Tome Magic"...

1 deck of each color
1 colorless deck
1 basic land deck

When you draw a card, pick a deck and draw from it.

Everyone starts with a copy of Jayemdae Tome. Rulespeak: The Tome begins in the Command Zone. Players can cast their Tome from the Command Zone.

The Tome is can be recast when it dies. In rulespeak: When your Jayemdae Tome changes zones, you can send it back to the Command Zone instead. 
Does anyone ahve any information on that Bosium Strip?  I've never seen/heard of any full art cards from a set so old.

The art was probably extended by hand (with pencils or paint) on a normal card. Yes, it's really cool.
We sort of independently came up with a similar variant during high school (prior to 2001).  From the combination of a deck called "One" with several one casting cost creatures of each color and one larger one of each color, it was combined with the mostly artifact "old pile of cards."  We don't use the basic land rule, though, we instead have hundreds of sac lands from Invasion as well as basics.
I've been playing out of "The Stack" with my friends for years.  Each player gets 10 cards at random to start and they keep 5 of those 10 and 2 additional basic lands of their choice to start.  On your draw, each player chooses from "The Stack" or a basic land of their choice.  My Stack is more like "The Stack".  It's basically 1 of every single MTG card.  For the flow of the game I've included 4 of every destruction card (Counterspells, creature destruction, artifact destruction, enchantment destruction, but not land destruction) There are no more than 4 of any one card in The Stack, although like I said the majority of the cards are singles.  Cards like Skyshroud Sentinel have one copy in the box and 3 copies outside for use only when someone casts the "Stack" copy.  Nissa's chosen, I elected to keep 4 copies outside of the Stack as they're only chosen if someone pulls a Nissa in the first place.  I also play 4 copies of cards like accumulated knowledge and plague rats, so that there is at least a chance (although it's a shot in hell) that 2 copies will turn up every once in a while.  4 of each non-legendary sliver. Cards like Viashivon Dragon (or Hellkite Overlord) have one copy in the Stack and one outside as there is a combo to search your library for a card named Viashivon Dragon.  I proxied any card worth more than $40.00 because I wouldn't want to store them in The Stack anyway. 
     The only cards that aren't in the stack are lands like duals that don't do much when you can draw any basic land you want, and cards that do things like: search your opponents library for any one card and remove that from the game.(Obviously pointless in this play) The "not too goofy" Un-sets cards are represented as long as they don't change the tone of a normal magic game, so about half of them made the cut.  Who, what, when, where, why is a good example of a fantastic "not too goofy" card and because it's destruction, the Stack contains 4.
It's an awful lot of fun to play, but it's a lot of cards: Over 10,000 different cards are represented, some with as many as 4 copies!
My Stack is more like "The Stack".  It's basically 1 of every single MTG card.  ... Nissa's chosen, I elected to keep 4 copies outside of the Stack as they're only chosen if someone pulls a Nissa in the first place. 


Umm... can you imagine having to go through the whole thing to pull out every Elf ever when Nissa's ultimate goes off?!!

~ Tim

I am Blue/White Reached DCI Rating 1800 on 28/10/11. :D
Sig
56287226 wrote:
190106923 wrote:
Not bad. But what happens flavor wise when one kamahl kills the other one?
Zis iz a sign uf deep psychological troma, buried in zer subconscious mind. By keelink himzelf, Kamahl iz physically expressink hiz feelinks uf self-disgust ova hiz desire for hiz muzzer. [/GermanPsychologistVoice]
56957928 wrote:
57799958 wrote:
That makes no sense to me. If they spelled the ability out on the card in full then it would not be allowed in a mono-black Commander deck, but because they used a keyword to save space it is allowed? ~ Tim
Yup, just like you can have Birds of paradise in a mono green deck but not Noble Hierarch. YAY COLOR IDENTITY
56287226 wrote:
56888618 wrote:
Is algebra really that difficult?
Survey says yes.
56883218 wrote:
57799958 wrote:
You want to make a milky drink. You squeeze a cow.
I love this description. Like the cows are sponges filled with milk. I can see it all Nick Parks claymation-style with the cow's eyes bugging out momentarily as a giant farmer squeezes it like a squeaky dog toy, and milk shoots out of it.
56287226 wrote:
56735468 wrote:
And no judge will ever give you a game loss for playing snow covered lands.
I now have a new goal in life. ;)
Just as a strange coincedental story, I actually read through the whole SF column this week. Normally if it doesn't catch my attention in the first couple of paragraphs (Which unfortunetly it usually doesn't) I'm done. Not that I think its bad, it just not what I really care to read about. I had to burn some time so I actually figured I would read the whole thing. I get down to the bottom and find out that Hans and Paul are guys I was buddies with in High School. Not close friends, but we hung out a few times. Never even knew they played (Back then, I did everything in my power to hide the fact I loved MTG, fearing the taunts of my peers and driving away members of the opposite sex. Not proud of it but that's high school for you though.) which actually makes me very sad because it would have almost doubled the number of people I had to played with. It's just really weird going through a column and boom, I'm stuck in Nestalgiaville.

Aside from my stupid, pointless story I actually have something of value to add. My friends and I have come up with a somewhat similar version that tends to be a bit more random. Basically instead of there being a single dedicated deck, everyone takes 20-30 (We use 25 for 4 people) of their favorite cards and they all get shuffled into the giant communal deck. Pretty much all the other rules are the same, except we did agree that if the library gets emptied the game ends as a draw . It leads to some really crazy matches and combos and angry shouts when you get killed by your own card. It's fun to play with cards that you may not usually play with too. The only downsides are it requires everyone to keep track of what they put in, and sometimes the games can go a little long if people only put in HUGE spells, although most people figure out pretty quick that its better to have a little balance.
I might make a 'stack' of every card that I'm not using for anything. True, that'll be a lot of terrible cards but if everything's equally underpowered, it should all balance out, right?

The version linked to, with the 'tableaux' of 7 cards to draw from instead of the deck (or choosing 2 from the deck then discarding one) along with using spells as lands sounds lovely in its decision making - really like 'drafting whilst you play' and very tactical.

I've been playing out of "The Stack" with my friends for years.  Each player gets 10 cards at random to start and they keep 5 of those 10 and 2 additional basic lands of their choice to start.  On your draw, each player chooses from "The Stack" or a basic land of their choice.  My Stack is more like "The Stack".  It's basically 1 of every single MTG card.  For the flow of the game I've included 4 of every destruction card (Counterspells, creature destruction, artifact destruction, enchantment destruction, but not land destruction) There are no more than 4 of any one card in The Stack, although like I said the majority of the cards are singles.  Cards like Skyshroud Sentinel have one copy in the box and 3 copies outside for use only when someone casts the "Stack" copy.  Nissa's chosen, I elected to keep 4 copies outside of the Stack as they're only chosen if someone pulls a Nissa in the first place.  I also play 4 copies of cards like accumulated knowledge and plague rats, so that there is at least a chance (although it's a shot in hell) that 2 copies will turn up every once in a while.  4 of each non-legendary sliver. Cards like Viashivon Dragon (or Hellkite Overlord) have one copy in the Stack and one outside as there is a combo to search your library for a card named Viashivon Dragon.  I proxied any card worth more than $40.00 because I wouldn't want to store them in The Stack anyway. 
     The only cards that aren't in the stack are lands like duals that don't do much when you can draw any basic land you want, and cards that do things like: search your opponents library for any one card and remove that from the game.(Obviously pointless in this play) The "not too goofy" Un-sets cards are represented as long as they don't change the tone of a normal magic game, so about half of them made the cut.  Who, what, when, where, why is a good example of a fantastic "not too goofy" card and because it's destruction, the Stack contains 4.
It's an awful lot of fun to play, but it's a lot of cards: Over 10,000 different cards are represented, some with as many as 4 copies!



That sounds pretty insane. How many games have you played with it? I imagine there must be a gross amount ofvariety.

I guess some goofy old cards (ante cards/Chaos orb/Shahrazad) are also missing?
Yeah, the ante cards didn't make the cut.  The variety is the best part.  You may actually kill your opponent with a grizzley bear.  (which is cool cuz there's only one in there)  Plus when someone pulls off a combo, it's that much more impressive.  We also pull out a deck size stack before we start for library searches.  A player may search this stack, or 10 random pulls from the big "stack" whenever a spells promts you to do so. (after all, who wants to wait around while someone searches through 15,000 cards?

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