Today I have two completely unrelated topics I'm going to discuss. Consider it two mini articles combined into one. First I'm going to teach you how to play a new form of Magic. It's easy to learn, each match takes about 10 minutes from start to finish, and is unlike any form of Magic you've ever played! It's also super fun and makes cracking booster packs way more enjoyable. The second topic is Hour of Devastation's impact on Modern where I highlight some key cards that have been previewed so far that I believe will see play in Modern, a couple of which I believe will have a major impact on the format.
Ok, so here's how to play Five-Pile Pack War, a game that some have been calling "Pack Pai Gow," "French Pack War," or simply "that booster pack game with five piles of three."
1. Each player opens their booster pack, reviews the contents of their pack, and divides it into five face-down piles of three cards each (including the basic land), carefully choosing which cards go in each pile. These five piles are your five decks for the match.
2. Randomly select one of your piles to play against one of your opponent's piles and also randomly select who plays first.
3. Play a normal game of Magic with your randomly selected three-card pile against your opponent's randomly selected three-card pile (with all three cards starting in your opening hand) except that you each start at five life, have infinite mana, and do not ever lose the game from being unable to draw a card.
4. At the conclusion of the first game, randomly select one of your remaining four piles to play against one of your opponent's remaining four piles and repeat step 3. Continue this process until all five games have been played, alternating who plays first each game.
5. Whoever wins the majority of the five games wins the match. If there is a tie, each player randomly selects one of their piles to battle the tie-breaker game to determine the winner of the match.
The entire process from start to finish usually takes about 10 minutes. Deck building usually takes about five minutes and each game usually takes about one minute. Players can agree beforehand to keep all the cards each player opens or they can agree that the winner gets all the cards. Or, if you have several packs you can play tournament style with single-elimination or Swiss rounds and prizes based on final standing. It's a really fun, quick and surprisingly skill-intensive format that challenges play skill and deck building skill.
There are a few different permutations I've seen of the game and some suggested rules amendments.
One suggested rule change is that if neither player makes a game action for two full turn cycles, the game is a draw, or if the game action is repeating but does not advance the board (for instance, activating an ability each turn but doing nothing else). I like this added rule because it forces action. Sometimes two decks face off that each want to be reactive. For instance, maybe my deck contains a Control Magic effect and I need the opponent to play a creature while the opponent's deck is their bad pile with a basic land, a Gift of Paradise and a Dune Beetle. The player with the Dune Beetle pack would love to force a draw with their pack while the player with the Control Magic effect does not want a draw but needs the opponent to cast a creature (any creature, even the Dune Beetle) to win the game. So if neither player plays a card for two full turn cycles, the game is a draw. From the perspective of the player with the Dune Beetle pack, they might be making a great play by forcing the draw or maybe they are making a mistake since the opponent might have their worst pack too and maybe their pack contains a basic land, Gift of Paradise and Hieroglyphic Illumination, in which case the Dune Beetle would win the game if they play it. I like this rule because in my opinion it adds a strategic dimension. For instance, if I'm up a game and my opponent has already played their pack containing a basic land, then I am inclined to accept a draw with my Dune Beetle pack whereas if I'm down two games to one and my opponent's previous three decks were all winnable piles and I know that my last pile is not great, I might feel that I have to win this game and that my opponent's deck for this game might be unplayable and so I cast the Dune Beetle as my best chance to win the match. Without this rule the game would basically go on forever.
Another suggested rule is that whichever player completes their deck building first gets to play first in game one, which incentivizes players to build quickly. I don't personally like this rule because for me it takes away from the enjoyment to rush my deck building decisions, but if your goal is to just have some additional fun while cracking 36 boosters of the new set, it might be worth it to implement such a rule just to speed things up.
Another suggested rule is to only allow one activation of each card per turn cycle and to make X always equal three or less. This places a power restriction on the "infinite mana" rule, making cards like Fireball a little fairer. I don't personally like this rule because there is still a high amount of skill in determining where you place your Fireball type card. For instance, do you put it in a pack with the basic land and another do-nothing card or do you pair it with another card that will make sure you don't lose to what the opponent is doing? In my estimation, knowing where to hedge is the most important skill in this format. And if it's a creature with a pump ability such as Minotaur Sureshot, do you put it by itself or do you pair it with a way to grant the creature evasion, a protection spell, or a Fling? These are all decisions regarding where to hedge that I find highly interesting and so I don't feel the need to tone down such cards. I think they make things more fun as they are, but if you and your opponents decide to tone down such cards, this rule amendment might be worth implementing. I call this amendment the "Denmark rule" because Michael Bonde and Thomas Enevoldsen suggested it to me.
Overall, the game is a lot of fun to play and easy to teach. Ever since picking it up from some of my French teammates in our testing house for Pro Tour Aether Revolt I've been teaching people between rounds at the Pro Tour and Grand Prix events. By the end of Pro Tour Amonkhet the common area outside the tournament hall was filled with players all playing the game and having a great time! I recommend trying it out with a friend or any time you have booster packs you want to open, say after you collect your prize packs from a tournament. It takes very little time and gives you some added enjoyment out of each booster pack you would open. I haven't tried it as a multiplayer game, but I think it could work and I plan to try it and report back again in the future with how best to play with three or more players at once. If you have any questions or feedback about Five-Pile Pack War, post it in the comments section below.
Now that I've taught you one of the best new ways to play Magic, let's talk about some of the best new cards in Hour of Devastation for Modern!
I could easily see Hollow One not being good enough for Modern, just as Myr Enforcer isn't good enough since a vanilla 4/4 that requires work is not quite up to par, but I can also see it shine alongside Street Wraith. Could it find its way into Living End? Maybe even into a Death's Shadow build with extra cyclers? Or even in Dredge or Goryo's Reanimator with Cathartic Reunion? It may be a long shot, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it come up in a Modern deck somewhere.
Ramunap Excavator is a card I definitely expect to see play in Modern in multiple decks. The card has a few key interactions, the most notable of which is its synergy with fetch lands. Off a single fetch you can never miss a land drop. It also works great with Horizon Canopy for drawing cards or with Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge for killing the opponent's lands.
We already have Crucible of Worlds in Modern, which sees a fringe amount of play, but I think being a creature is enough of an added bonus to make this card good enough. I'm excited to try it out in Green-White Hatebears since you can play it off Aether Vial, find it with Collected Company, and attack with it while also being able to lock people out with Ghost Quarters.
Burn decks have Atarka's Command and Skullcrack, but if they ever tap out they can't possibly beat Oketra's Last Mercy. It also has utility against a variety of other aggressive strategies. I'm not sure if it will prove better than Worship or Kor Firewalker, but going back to 20 life for three mana is the right price, especially if you already have a blocker out.
like hate this card in Modern. On the draw, Damnation is often too slow against some of the most explosive creature decks in Modern such as Elves, Abzan Company, Affinity, or Bushwacker Zoo. They dump their hand onto the battlefield so quickly that you often die before getting to four mana, especially on the draw. To compensate, some people have resorted to running cards like Drown in Sorrow. I suspect that Bontu's Last Reckoning will be the best card for the job, especially in conjunction with Thoughtseize to take the opponent's Collected Company. This two-card combination will leave the opponent unable to recover or capitalize on the drawback of not being able to untap lands for a turn. This card is super powerful and will absolutely see play in Modern!
Tarmogoyf is clearly the best two-drop vanilla green creature in Modern, but you can only play four copies of Tarmogoyf in your deck. If you're also playing blue for Snapcaster Mage, I see Rhonas's Last Stand and some Snakes in your future. The fact that the token survives Lightning Bolt is big game, and it also makes Snapcaster Mage into a very potent offensive threat by threatening seven power for just four mana. It won't see play in Collected Company decks, but it will in Snapcaster Mage decks.
Six mana is generally way too much for this type of effect in Modern, which is why Planar Cleansing sees no play, but when the effect comes at half the price when you need Hour of Revelation most, the card gets way more interesting! It's interesting because in order to get up to 10 total non-land permanents, you will often have to produce your own since the opponent will rarely have 10 of their own. But that just means you'll have to build that into your strategy. For instance, maybe in a token deck this could be a way to fight against Lantern, Affinity, Elves, and Abzan Company decks? Being able to kill Cranial Plating in addition to all their creatures is a pretty big upgrade. I'm less optimistic about this one as I am about Bontu's Last Reckoning, but I would be surprised if this one never sees any play in Modern.
Pride Sovereign a kitty and will only go into my Tribal Cats deck from a few weeks ago, but it's a welcome addition. We don't typically make that many cats, but it fits the theme nicely and we were lacking a three-drop in the deck besides Brimaz, King of Oreskos.
This type of card has a way of finding its way into decks either as an answer or as a piece of a combo. Solemnity seems good against Affinity, essentially turning Archbound Ravager, Steel Overseer and Inkmoth Nexus into blanks. It can also fill the role of Vizier of Remedies in either of the Abzan Company combos. It also combos with Phyrexian Unlife since you'll never take damage again. It also works with Dark Depths, but fortunately that card is already banned in Modern.
Of these cards, Ramunap Excavator and Bontu's Last Reckoning look like the most likely candidates to see immediate play in Modern, the latter of which may even change the entire face of Modern by enabling control strategies to keep up with all kinds of creature decks even when on the draw. I'm excited to see how Crucible of Worlds on a stick works in Hatebears too since I think it is strong enough to make the cut and maybe even bring the deck closer to Tier 1 status. In any case, cheap efficient cards are the standard for the Modern format and the cost reductions on some of these cards are exactly what make them attractive enough for Modern.