Twenty years ago, Magic: The Gathering was played for ante. Speaking with newer players, this is a very foreign concept and I’ve often gained many strange looks when I tell stories of playing Magic for keeps.
Playing for ante was simple. We would flip over the top card of our decks at the start of every game and bet we could win those gambled cards back. Ante was what kept opponents from playing with the thousand dollar decks we see today. Somewhere out there, a deck full of commons was able to snake a win from an expensive deck with little or no risk to their own pocket.
Allow me to introduce you to a taste of the yesteryear. Three Pack Ante is a wonderful format for both new and old players alike with minimal investment in cards. It requires no complicated deck building. The format creates an environment where players can be at an equal footing regardless of what’s in their deck or how large their decks are. It also brings a new level of excitement knowing winning a match at the kitchen table means something.
This format was inspired by www.manadeprived.com. I initially sought out a format where my girlfriend and I could play balanced decks. Many of our playing sessions involved one sided affairs which resulted in frustrating time together. One of us or the other would be playing a deck we had built from scratch and since neither deck was tuned with the opponent’s in mind, blowouts would occur.
How to Play
Creating a deck for Three Pack Ante is easy. The first step is to choose and purchase three booster packs of your choice. They can come from the same set or different sets. Open up these packs and remove any tokens or advertising cards. Find five copies of each basic land and shuffle them into your opened packs, even any lands that were included in those packs.. That’s it. Your deck is completed.
At the start of each game, players will shuffle and allow their opponent’s to cut their decks. Remove the top card of each deck. These cards are considered ante and will be awarded to the winner of the game. If both revealed ante cards are basic lands, the players may agree to flip an additional card for ante making the prize pool four cards.
The winner of the ante now adds those cards to his deck immediately. All won cards become the property of the player and MUST be included in the deck. Decks cannot be tweaked or tuned.
Obviously, game play is a bit more challenging than typical play.
For starters, keep in mind you will be playing with a five color deck. Mulligans are very necessary as you search for a playable hand. Having three lands of any color, regardless if you can play spells immediately or not is generally a keeper hand. Typical games will run long and generally you will draw into playable spells as long as you have plenty of mana in play.
Don’t freak out if you lose cards early. In my first matches with this format, my opponent lost a a considerable amount of cards. My deck became a bloated mess with 77 cards in all. That’s when the deck began to falter, never drawing what I needed consistently. My opponent began to draw the same decent spells game after game and quickly I began to lose cards. Regardless of skill level or experience, decks will reach what I call “critical mass” and matches will become 50/50 affairs. At this point in the deck’s lives, experienced players become challenged and new players gain some valuable knowledge in how to win.
Be aware of your deck’s contents. Use Evolving Wilds to fetch lands your opponent may had won from you in previous games. Attempting to draw one of your two or three Plains in a 70 card deck is difficult.
In Three Pack Ante, some cards just plain suck. Some spells have virtually impossible casting costs, generally ones that require more than three of the same mana to cast. Sadly, you must play with all the cards you have, regardless of playability. With some good luck, you can reveal these cards as your ante and concede, making your opponent’s deck that much worse in future matches.
There may be a situation where a deck can become unplayable. A few games where copies of the same lands are lost or all your larger creatures are gambled away can result in decks that just don’t work. You have two options for your jumbled mess of a deck. Players may take their decks and add them to their personal collection at any time or concede their entire deck to their opponent, which must then add those cards to their already large deck. Once a deck is retired, players can start a new deck by purchasing three new packs and adding five of each basic land.
If you are a deck builder, Three Pack Ante is not for you. No time will be spent being a strategist to what to put in your deck or tweaking for the current metagame.
Playing Three Pack Ante can be done by friends, players you can trust not to sneak a good card or two into their decks. It’s a fun format to change things up when matches between built decks become stale. Multiplayer matches also seem fun as three or more cards are on the line.
Thanks again goes to Jay Boosh and ManaDeprived for the inspiration for this article.
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