Thran Utopia #10: Rules of the house

Hi everybody and welcome back! Today I would like to discuss the rules we have established within our group. When you are not playing in a competitive setting, there is absolutely no harm in changing a few things here and there to allow the group to keep having fun, or to have more fun. We have even done this outside of Magic, using the stack when things get blurry in Arkham Horror or Fluxx to solve these issues. But today, I’m gonna go over the house rules we have in our group, why we have them, and why house rules are good for you and your game.

In general, whenever we don’t like something, we try to change this wherever we can. For example, changing the rules of football (yes, it’s not called soccer but football – there was football before American football, so we Europeans have dibs on the word! [/rant]) is nice and all, but you can’t do so in an official competition. “But during trainings we always play with 12 players!” It is only common sense Magic players at the casual tables are at the very least aware that their play experience isn’t necessarily bound by the laws the DCI lays down.

As a disclaimer, I should say that I am not proposing rigorously changing the game we know and love. I am saying that you should look at the little things that annoy you and try to figure out with your group how you can change those in the favor of the whole group. Beware that each change you make allows one deck to benefit more than another, and that there may be players willing to exploit this fact. If this should happen, either undo the change or find a way to make it work without opening up loopholes. And while some things work for me, those aren’t guaranteed to work for you as well.

So let’s start digging in what my group changed in Magic!

Deck construction

There are three circumstances under which we allow proxies, which are replacements for cards (we mostly write card names on the back of other cards). One, you are testing the deck and are not sure about some cards. Proxying gives you the opportunity to see cards in actions you don’t yet own, and this potentially saves you from buying or trading for cards that won’t make it to the final deck. Second, you can use proxies if the cards are what they call incoming. You ordered them, you traded for them and they aren’t yet with you. Or perhaps a friend has them waiting for you, but you won’t see him until later. And finally, you can proxy cards that are in another deck. This saves you some expenses, as well as protecting valuable cards from changing sleeves a couple of times per day. I should note that I am not a big fan of the third rule, which is why I tend to stick my proxying to testing mostly, and the occasional incoming-proxy.

The pitfalls of allowing proxies ad infinitum is that players start Moxing up their decks. Well, I’m sure my group wouldn’t, but there are some sharky casual players who would no doubt dive at the opportunity to do so. Another danger of allowing proxies is that players think they don’t need the cards anymore. Not everyone is like me in that they hate proxies and wish to do without, but I do have a friend who stopped looking for some cards when he proxied them up.

Bannings and restrictions

We have agreed to stick to the Vintage B&R-list to determine how much copies of a card we can play, but if one of us where to make a Legacy-legal deck, that wouldn’t be a problem either. As long as there is one list you’re adhering to, you’re good to go.

There are a few exceptions, but we handle those lightly. Breaking the B&R-rule is no big deal, as long as you announce you are doing so and the card you have more copies of than allowed (still sticking to the four-of rule ofcourse) isn’t warping your local format. For example, four Sol Rings is pretty broken no matter what deck you play them in, but if you play four Frantic Searches in a deck with Ravnica bounce lands, people wouldn’t be upset at all.

Whenever we have a card that is in the grey area between harmless and dangerous, we tend to watch the card in action before we take measures against (or for) it. This rule is much like Wizards of the Coast when it comes to printing cards: not taking any risks (i.e. Jace, the Mind Sculptor) is the biggest risk you can take.

So let’s assume that, say, Blightsteel Colossus is a problem in our metagame. People are using mana accelerants, Tinkers and Welders to effectively cheat the big blighty Golem onto the battlefield. There are a few things that can happen here:

1) We ban (or restrict) BSC. No more instant poisonous kills for you, sir. This sucks, because decks that want to use BSC fairly (perhaps a control deck that just needs one big finisher) aren’t allowed access, even though they play fair.

2) We ban (or restrict) troublesome catalysts like Tinker, Goblin Welder and Sneak Attack. Again, this prevents people who just want to play fairly from having their fun.

3) We encourage eachother to look for ways to interact with the Golem. This is by far the best solution; not only can you keep BSC in check, but you also get a more vibrant metagame with changes happening to decks. Ways to deal with BSC, for example, are exiling, tapping, countering, or taking control.

4) When #3 fails as well, we encourage the offender to do something about it. They can take out BSC, or try to make the deck slower. Drawing from personal experience, I hate to be the guy with the deck everyone hates. When this happens, I try to dial it down a notch, or I limit the deck to at most one game per night.

And if then the card is still causing problems, we will have to resort to banning or restricting one card or another. But unlike tournaments, we are playing here for fun, so that helps a lot. None of us are trying to ‘break’ the casual format: we just want to hang out, play some cards and enjoy the game and company. In casual, although you might not realize it, fun > winning.

Mulligans and starting hands

The most radical differences between our group and tournament rules is regarding mulliganning. Again, fun is the deciding factor here. What’s worse than not being able to cast your cards? Exactly. This is why we have some additional mulligan rules to ensure fun, but not too much as too help certain types of decks too much.

No land, all land
When you draw a hand that is all land or no land, you are allowed to reveal your hand, shuffle it into your library and draw the same number of cards. We didn’t make this rule up: it was the original mulligan rule (and the only one) of Magic.

‘Allebei zeven’
This is a Dutch phrase translated as ‘both seven’. When at least two players want to mulligan, they can do so together and have ‘both seven’ cards again. Note that this doesn’t bump you back up to seven each time: it is a free mulligan that you cannot do on your own. When you have six cards, you only get six back. We still like to call it ‘allebei zeven’ because it sounds nice.

A friend of mine has instated at his house, upon these mulliganing rules as well as the regular ones, that the first one is always free. I’m not too sure I like this, since the more you allow mulligans, the more you cater to decks that need specific hands, i.e. combo decks. Now our meta isn’t very comboish, but if you were to take some of our adjustments and implement them in your playgroup, combo decks could pop up because of it. Also, I don’t like much mulliganing because they could make people run less lands. I’d hate for house rules to change the way people build their decks. Our mulliganing system works just fine the way it does.


The last thing we specifically did as a group was to make clear what you can take back and what you cannot. What I mean by ‘specifically did’ is that most of the above stuff just came up during gameplay. For instance, all of us made our decks with the Vintage B&R list in mind, so when we concluded this, we just made it official to build decks using said list.

Taking back actions is pretty standard in casual, since you tend to do other things besides playing cards, like talking to your friends. Also, since there isn’t a prize on the line, we play loose and, drumroll, casual.

However, the problem with takebacks is that unless you draw a line, there will be arguments. While it may seem counterintuitive to enforce some of these rules in casual, in the long haul they are way more worth it than not having them. By our nature, some of use are more vocal than others, which means players can negotiate takebacks and take this to extreme levels. Magic is a game of brain power and mental strength, not persuasion and verbal manipulation.

To end all the commotion and hassle, we decided that takebacks are allowed unless any player has responded in any way. This could be yourself, asking ‘okay’? This could be an opponent saying ‘hold on’, but this could also mean an opponent tapping his Ertai and countering your spell because you missed it, or your opponent saying ‘okay’ after you Bolted his Treefolk Harbinger when he had Timber Protector out. This way, we stimulate thinking a bit more while having a (mostly) undisputable way to prevent nasty loopholes and frustrated players. Sure, people get frustrated with this system too, but having an explicit line prevents players from feeling more disadvantaged than others (i.e. randomly screwed more than others).

Other things, like tapping mana and optional effects, follow the same groundwork. Tapping your lands isn’t set in stone until someone responds to the spell. It could be that a player responds to a spell only because of the way one taps his mana. I could counter your spell because you tapped all your blue sources, preventing you to counter back. A takeback here would have huge consequences, potentially revealing my counter to the other players, effectively negating it.

Paying attention to your optional effects (‘whenever a creature enters the battlefield, you may gain 1 life’) is necessary when you want to benefit from them, since missing them is missing them. In most cases retroactively resolving optional effects is fine, but it’s the corner cases that demand a ground rule. This is the crux for the whole takeback-rule: they’re okay in most cases, but the exceptions demand a basis that everyone understands and that holds no ground for ambiguity.

Looking back

I was gonna do a bonus section here about a new deck I put together, but seeing how I’m already passing the 2000 word-landmark, I’m gonna save that deck for later and leave you with this big tease. And a conclusive final paragraph would be in order.

At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that we as a group have fun. We value fun above all else. If something isn’t fun, we change it. If those changes aren’t fun, we keep changing until we find something we like. Playing cards is fun, so unless something bothersome comes up during a game, most cards are game unless proven otherwise. All while making sure we are still playing Magic. I hope you can derive something from this article. Maybe it’s not the way we handle things, but maybe it has got you thinking about little things that bug you during your kitchen table games. Think about what fun means to you, and bend the rules of Magic a bit to accomplish a bit more fun. As long as you’re taking baby steps, you won’t do harm to the game. Magic is a great game, but you can make it even better.


Posted on June 3, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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