About ten years ago, my friends and I heard tell of a new way to play Magic. The stories told of a huge pile of unsleeved cards that every player in the game would draw from, and that any spell could be cast as if its controller had infinite mana.
This was the beginning of my life with what I now call “The Pile.”
After hearing the stories, I wanted to create a Pile of my own. I dug through my collection for interesting cards and shuffled them up. My Havoc Demons and Dosan’s Oldest Chants were ready for battle. I had seven copies of Phthisis and half a dozen of Twisted Justice to throw in. Aladdin’s Ring seemed like an all-star, and Prahv, Spires of Order was one of the best lands in the format.
I took my pile to our regular Magic night and plopped it on the table. It was almost a foot tall (that’s about 30 cm for you metric types). I got some weird looks, but my playgroup was up for it. I dealt out seven cards to each player and we figured out who would go first. We all shared a library and a graveyard.
The first few games were uproariously fun and interactive, but there were some issues. We had to set some rules, which I will outline at the end of the article.
Shared graveyards presented a lot of opportunities. Killing something and Zombify-ing it felt really good, as did casting an opponent’s flashback spell. A fun strategy was to put another player’s card on top of the shared library with Banishment Decree or Memory Lapse and then draw it yourself.
We also messed around with starting hand sizes. Seven is a lot of cards for one turn. We tried five, three, one, and none. Most of us agreed that three cards is plenty to start with, but having no starting hand is an interesting way to play, too.
The first iteration of The Pile had multiples of certain cards, and later iterations narrowed it down it to one or two copies for less repetitive gameplay. My current list has only single copies of each card. You are welcome to use as many copies of a card as you see fit, but I’ve found that having lots of one-of’s makes for more varied and interesting games.
When a game is won, the winner of the game takes all the cards from that game and puts them in a small pile off the side. You get one point for each card in your personal Pile. When the main Pile is gone, each player compares the size of their own Piles to determine who won the most cards, and the person with the most is declared the winner.
Okay, now for some of the weird rules that come with this strange and fun way to play:
- Any cards that have the text “search your library” are banned. We found that these prolonged games unnecessarily, as it can take a while to search the whole Pile.
- X spells that targeted players would win the game on the spot, so we took them out, too.
- Permanents with activated abilities that don’t require tapping were allowed to be used only once each turn.
- Infinite combos are are lot easier to come by, so we made a rule where you could only cast the same spell once each round. (You can only cast an instant once until your turn comes around again. Relevant with Buyback cards such as Whispers of the Muse.)
- Sharing all cards in all zones had a bit of a weird issue concerning ownership of cards. Our ruling was that if you control a card, you are its owner and cards in all other zones except for your hand and battlefield are owned by all players simultaneously. It’s kind of an odd rule, but it’s an odd format, so you do what you can.
- Each player is considered to have an infinite number of basic lands of each type. Any cards that make this rule too powerful (Karma, for example) are banned.
- If a card doesn’t make sense in the context of the game, just take it out of The Pile. This can be done whenever its noticed, and you can immediately draw a card to replace it. All players must agree that the card is unusable. If all players don’t agree, you can remove the card without a replacement.
- The most important rule: Make it work. There will be all sorts of weird interactions. If something doesn’t work and you don’t want to remove the card, make a ruling and stick with it. Write it down if you must. Change it if it doesn’t make sense later. Make the format your own and make your Pile special.
The Pile has been my absolute favorite format for many years and I hope that you give it a try. It only takes a few minutes of digging through your old cards to make a decent-sized starting Pile. Grab a friend or three and go at it. The individual games tend to be shorter than a normal game of Magic, but they are generally much more epic.
If you have any rules questions, cool stories about this or any other formats, or if you just want to say hi, you can follow me on Twitter @madolaf, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope to hear about all the cool things you’ve done with your own personal Pile.
Adam is an Overstock Lead at Card Kingdom. He’s been playing Magic since 1994 and is always looking for new ways to enjoy his favorite game. Adam is an amateur game designer and has been creating original Magic card and mechanic designs since 2012, including Card Kingdom’s Lumeria: The Infinite City. You can find him on Twitter at @madolaf, and listen to his Magic design podcast, Beacon of Creation.