The Magic of Alternate Formats

This site has always championed the joys and pleasures of Magic's alternative formats.  Whether it's EDH, singleton, or multiplayer madness we've come to find that many casual players are just like us in that they spend most of their time playing something other than standard or limited.  We each only have so many hours in a day to devote to Magic the Gathering so does it make sense for the competitive player to "waste" time on these unsanctioned and unsupported play types?  Answer?  Yes.  And here's why...

Top Chef throws it's contestants curve balls each and every episode.

If you're going to take on the task of comparing one player's skill to another's it seems to me that you're going to want to look at their prowess in any number of different categories.  To me, the best baseball player of all time is the one who can run, hit and play defense on a spectacular level.  So it stands to reason that a Magic the Gathering player who can hang in any format will maintain a higher "skill level" than that of one who simply grinds out standard matches day in and day out.  If you've ever seen the hit cable show "Top Chef" you'll know that the contestants aren't typically asked to "cook their signature dish".  They're almost always given one, two or three twists that they have to deal with and this variability ends up weeding the less skilled chefs out.  Clearly, a master of the game of Magic will be well versed enough in any format.  That's what I love about the "challenges" in Duels of the Planeswalkers.  You're thrown into a random situation that, for all you know, could have only occurred in a singleton or EDH match and you're asked to perform on the fly.  True masters of the game are able to read the board and react to anything.

If nothing else, engaging in alternate formats of Magic gets you to take a second or third look at your cards.  How does Lightning Bolt work in a situation involving multiple player targets vs. a situation involving only one?  How valuable is mana acceleration in a format where a game typically lasts eight turns as opposed to five?   As these questions pass through your subconscious a player gains new perspective on cards that can otherwise blend into the background sometimes.

Starcraft skills can be honed in "alternate formats" as well.

Leaf and I have both been playing a lot of Starcraft II lately and we go back and fourth over whether 1v1, 2v2 or FFA is the most skillful format.  Mano-a-mano would seem like the ideal "format" to judge a player by but to me, the ability to work well in a team and compete in a more balanced, long-form game should also hold some clout.  Even if 1 vs. 1 is always seen as the "standard" of Starcraft II, I'll still be able to bring useful skills and knowledge back to that format from my experiences with the "alternates".

Of course, one might argue that playing EDH day in and day out will put your mind in the wrong place.  If you get too used to only having one copy of each card in your deck and 40 life, does this effect your gameplay when you suddenly enter a Standard tournament?  In my experience, that hasn't been the case.  If anything I find myself to be a better player having engaged in EDH on a regular basis.

But what has been your experience?  I know a lot of our readers are casual, kitchen table Magic players so we'd love to get your thoughts on alternative formats and their impact on your game.  We all know that they give you something to do with your old or non-Standard cards but how does your involvement with these formats impacted your game in general (no pun intended for fellow EDH buffs)?  Can even the pros pick up a tip or two from building or maintaining a cube?  Respond with your own experiences below.

-  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -  -

If you haven't already seen the most recent Mirrodin Besieged Spoilers here they are!

Not bad for limited and I think we can all agree that making someone lose three life is much better than gaining three life as life-gain is easily achievable in any color while direct damage is not.  If nothing else these cards fit quite neatly into my Colorless Consequences theory to be sure.   Check out all of the latest spoilers from the second set in the new Mirrodin block on our spoiler page as they come in!