20 Fun Magic the Gathering Multiplayer Formats

Updated on November 29, 2018
Sammendoran profile image

Sam has been playing Magic: the Gathering since 2000, and loves multiplayer.

One of the greatest things about Magic: the Gathering is that there is no limit to the number of players in a single game. However, multiplayer games have the potential to become long, complicated, and repetitive. Magic is meant to be fun, and tons of formats and rulesets have been invented to keep the fun flowing. The following is a list of every multiplayer gameplay variant I can remember ever trying, including a summary of the rules, pros and cons, and a few tips. One quick note: I don't mention it in this list, but Commander is the absolute greatest multiplayer format. When I play the following multiplayer formats I use Commander decks 100% of the time. I recommend trying all of these variants with whatever deck construction restrictions and ruleset you like.

Complete List of Multiplayer Magic Variants

  1. Free-For-All
  2. Teams
  3. Two-Headed Giant
  4. Emperor General
  5. Hidden Ally
  6. Star
  7. Bang!
  8. Archenemy
  9. Planechase
  10. Chaos Deck
  11. Horde
  12. Point System
  13. Assassins
  14. Bounty
  15. Dark Blessing
  16. Emperor Peasant
  17. Immortal Blessing
  18. Juggernaut
  19. One Direction
  20. Restricted Access

Classic Multiplayer Formats

Free For All

Summary: Free For All is played just like a regular duel, except that there are more than 2 players.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: Hardly any additional rules to learn. No special deck construction required.

Cons: Games can be a grind. Easy for one player to be bored after early elimination.

Rules: In any game with more than 2 players:

  • The player going first does not skip their draw step.
  • Each player's first mulligan if "free", such that they draw seven cards. Remember, a player scries after mulligans if that player has less than seven cards in their hand.

Tips: Be the opponent you want to play against!

Teams

Summary: Pick a friend to help you claim victory!

Number of Players: 4+

Pros: Hardly any additional rules to learn. No special deck construction required.

Cons: Balanced teams not always possible.

Rules: Divide players into 2 or more teams of 2 or more.

Tips: When we play teams we always put first place and last place from the previous game on the same team, and it usually evens out.

Two-Headed Giant

Summary: Play as part of a two-headed entity with your teammate! This format, also known as 2HG, got a boost with the 2018 release of Battlebond.

Number of Players: 4+, in even numbers.

Pros: Classic format. Teamwork is key and pays off more than in any other format on this list.

Cons: Shared turns are confusing.

Rules: Players are placed in pairs. Each pair sits together, has a shared life total, (usually 30,) and takes a shared turn. Teams also share poison counters. Resources other than life and turns are not shared.

Tips: Go over the rules first! This format has been around so long that a lot of players think they know the rules, but are slightly misremembering. If you need more clarification, check out the official Two-Headed Giant rules over on the Wizards website.

Emperor-General

Summary: 2 or more Emperors battle alongside their trusty Generals.

Number of Players: 6+, in multiples of 3.

Pros: Classic format. Focused games. Strong feelings of teamwork. Most gameplay identical to duels.

Cons: Requires at least 6 players, in multiples of 3. A few slightly confusing mechanics.

Rules: Split players into teams of 3. One player on each team is the Emperor, and the others are Generals. The Emperor sits between the Generals. Generals have a “spell range” of 1, meaning that they can only choose targets that belong to players up to 1 seat away. Emperors have a spell range of 2. Finally, each creature has "{T}: Target teammate gains control of this creature. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery." A team loses when its Emperor is eliminated.

Tips: Spell range can be extended to include global effects, so that a Wrath from a General, for example, would only affect the players directly adjacent.

Top Multiplayer Formats

Bang!

Summary: Based on a bestselling card game, Bang! sees players thrust into wild west roles as they battle for control.

Number of Players: 5+

Pros: Teamwork. Hidden information. Different goals for different players makes for very interesting game decisions.

Cons: Hidden information.

Rules: There are 4 roles: Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw, and Renegade. Assign roles randomly: 1 Sheriff, 1 Renegade, and a mix of Outlaws and Deputies such that there is at least 1 more Outlaw than Deputy. The Sheriff is the only player to immediately reveal their role. The Sheriff starts with an extra 10 life per Outlaw, draws 2 cards whenever an Outlaw is eliminated, and discards 2 cards at random when a Deputy is eliminated. The Sheriff wins when all Outlaws plus the Renegade are eliminated. Deputies win when the Sheriff wins. The Outlaws win when the Sheriff is eliminated. The Renegade wins when they are the only player left, which means eliminating all players but the Sheriff, then the Sheriff. On defeat, a player must reveal their role.

Tips: Have fun!

Hidden Ally

Summary: Everyone is on a team - but only half of the players know which team they're on.

Number of Players: 6+

Pros: Hidden information. Interesting gameplay decisions. Few additional rules.

Cons: Hidden information.

Rules: Shuffle a small pile of cards. Half the cards should be basic lands, and half should be monocolored cards that match the basic lands. Distribute the cards face down, one to each player; this should distribute all of the cards. Each player with a land turns their cards face up. Each player with a nonland card is allied to each player who revealed a land that can produce mana that could cast their card. For instance, a player dealt Counterspell would ally with the player that reveals an Island. A team wins when everyone not on that team is eliminated. Other than that, play as normal.

Tips: If you have more than 10 players, or an odd number, or just want to mix things up, you can include dual lands or multicolored cards when you assign teams. When we have an odd number, we usually include an artifact card, which remains hidden and wins when all teams but one are eliminated.

Star

Summary:

Number of Players:

Pros: Extremely easy to learn. Easy to scale for more players. Interesting gameplay decisions.

Cons: More than 1 winner is not uncommon, and not everyone goes for that.

Rules: Any player A seated between player B and player C wins the game when every player other than player B and player C is eliminated.

Tips: Have fun!

Official Product Variants

Archenemy

Summary: An exciting "One vs. Many" format that uses Scheme cards explicitly created for this type of play.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: The stakes feel raised the entire game. A single Scheme can change everything.

Cons: Shared turns can be confusing.

Rules: One player is the Archenemy. At the beginning of the Archenemy's first Main Phase, the Archenemy set the top Scheme of their Scheme deck in motion. When a Scheme is finished, it goes on the bottom of the Scheme deck. All other players have a shared turn, like Two-Headed Giant, although they do not share any resources.

Tips: If you have all the Archenemy cards you can customize your Scheme deck.

Planechase cards are bigger than regular cards.
Planechase cards are bigger than regular cards.

Planechase

Summary: Prepare to use Planechase cards, oversized cards that usually introduce some type of ongoing effect to impact gameplay.

Number of Players: 2+

Pros: Additional randomness means additional excitement. Planes are fun.

Cons: Planechase cards do not fit in normal card carrying containers.

Rules: Each player must have their own deck of Planechase cards, and there must be a special planar die present. At the beginning of the first player's turn, that player reveals the top card of their Planechase deck and puts it into the command zone. That card is now the active plane. At the beginning of each player's turn, that player gains control of the active plane and becomes the Planar Controller. During each player's turn, that player may roll the planar die. Rolling the planar die costs 0 mana, plus 1 mana for each time it has been rolled this turn. Depending on the result of the roll, it may have no effect, it may activate an effect on the current plane or phenomenon, or it may cause a new plane or phenomenon from the top of that player's Planechase deck to replace the current one. When replaced, the old card goes on the bottom of the Planechase deck.

Tips: If you don't have a planar die you can use a 6 sided die. Pick a number for changing planes and a number for activating planar abilities, and do nothing with the other numbers. If you need any more clarification on the rules, you can check out the official Planechase rules reveal article.

2016 Planechase Anthology - Magic the Gathering
2016 Planechase Anthology - Magic the Gathering

This is the definitive Planechase product. If you want to try Planechase as it was designed, or you've enjoyed it before and want to expand your collection, this is definitely the set I would recommend.

 

A Little More Setup

Chaos Deck

Summary: One or more players gain access to various effects from classic Magic cards.

Number of Players: 2+

Pros: No additional rules required. Easy to customize effects to fit playgroup.

Cons: Requires construction of a Chaos deck.

Rules: Start the game with the Chaos deck in the starting player's command zone. At the beginning of each player's turn, that player may put the current Chaos card on the bottom of the Chaos deck, then turn the top card of the Chaos deck face up. Treat that card as if it is in play, except that it cannot be targeted or destroyed.

Tips: Our chaos decks normally include cards like Mana Flare, Howling Mine, and Mass Hysteria. Put in your own favorite cards to fit your playgroup.

Horde

Summary: All players band together to defeat an unfeeling, unthinking entity, the Horde.

Number of Players: 4+

Pros: All players on the same team. As close to PvM as Magic will ever be. Huge swings.

Cons: Easy to get snowballed in either direction. Requires construction of a Horde deck, which can be difficult.

Rules: The Horde gets a place at the table, just like every other player. Horde decks consist of at least 50% token cards. At the beginning of the Horde’s turn, reveal cards from the top of its deck until a non-token card is revealed. The tokens come into play with haste, and all of the Horde’s creatures attack each turn. The Horde will choose targets and which player(s) to attack at random. The Horde can come out strong and swinging, so I generally give the players at least 5 turns to set up. My official recommendation: 10 turns, less one per player. The Horde starts at 15 life per player, can be attacked as normal, and loses as normal.

Tips: Most will follow a theme. For example, a Zombie Horde deck might be mostly 2/2 Zombie tokens, and some of the non-token cards might be Lord of the Undead or Cemetery Reaper. We sometimes include the Horde in our Free-For-All games and have fun doing it.

Point System

Summary: Reward players for specific in-game actions and achievements.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: Really, really fun. Great for encouraging whatever kind of gameplay you want. Really, really fun. Lots of novelty. Rewards knowing and trusting playgroup. No new rules to learn.

Cons: Lots of bookkeeping. Requires setup of a point system in advance. Everyone has to buy in. Best long-term.

Rules: Construct a list of incentives, to be rewarded by points if achieved. For example, control 10 or more creatures might be +1 point, and take a turn that lasts 10 or more minutes might be -1 point. Eliminate another player using that player's Commander might be +3 points, and eliminate another player before turn 5 might be -3 points. Keep track of points across multiple sessions for maximum value.

Tips: As mentioned in the Cons section, everyone has to buy in to the idea for a point system to work. Because of this, the point system is best used long-term and has not worked as well for us in one-game or single-night playgroups. If you are planning to use a point system with a regular playgroup, let each player choose at least one If you want more ideas of what kind of points to use, check out the articles of Sheldon Menery, the godfather of Commander.

More Multiplayer Options

Assassins

Summary: Everyone has a target on their back.

Number of Players: 5 - 8

Pros: Focused gameplay. Last player standing doesn't always win.

Cons: Some setup required. Hidden information. Snowballing is real.

Rules: Write each player's name on a slip of paper. Randomly distribute the slips of paper. The player named on the slip of paper you receive is your Mark. If at any time your only active Mark is yourself, you are a Rogue. You cannot attack, target, or damage another player unless you reveal that they are your Mark, you reveal that you are a Rogue, or they attack or target you. Whenever you eliminate a player, you acquire their active Mark. At the end of the game, each player gets 2 points for each Mark they successfully eliminated and 3 points if they weren't eliminated. The player with the most points wins.

Tips: Make sure everyone knows the rules before play begins.

Bounty

Summary: Any player can put a bounty on any other player.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: Bonus action. Discourages snowballs. Teaches you about your fellow players.

Cons: Requires some bookkeeping. Kill Stealing happens.

Rules: Any player A can, during their turn, put a contract on another player B. Bounties cannot be canceled. Any player other than A that eliminates B is awarded the contract reward, and A pays half the reward amount. For example, a 10 life bounty will cost player A 5 life. If player A cannot pay the cost, they will lose the game, and the full reward will still go to the player that eliminated Player B.

Tips: Remember that this is a casual format. You can be creative with your bounties, as long as the table agrees. For example, we've had:

  • Player A offers 4 creatures returned from graveyard to hand as a bounty on player B; player A must sacrifice 2 creatures when the bounty is claimed.
  • Player C offers 4 lands tutored from library as a bounty on player D; player C must sacrifice 2 lands when the bounty is claimed.

Dark Blessing

Summary: Every player has the chance to put the Archenemy Schemes in motion.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: Bonus action at instant speed!

Cons: Extra, possibly unintended rule interactions.

Rules: Play with the Archenemy deck. Any player may pay half their life or a set amount, whichever is greater, to flip the top Archenemy card and put it in motion at any time that player could play an instant.

Tips: We usually require a minimum of 10 life paid to put a scheme in motion.

Emperor Peasant

Summary: The Emperor and his trusty Spy must defeat the rabbling Peasants.

Number of Players: 5, additions of 3 possible.

Pros: All vs One variant. Hidden information.

Cons: Must keep track of which turn it is until turn 4. Hidden information.

Rules: Randomly assign a role to each player: In a 5 player game, there would be 1 Emperor, 1 Spy, and 3 Peasants. Each additional 3 players adds another Emperor, that Emperor's Spy, and another Peasant. Emperor roles are revealed, all other players should keep their roles hidden. The Emperor starts the game with an extra 10 life per Peasant. Starting on turn 4, the Emperor can draw an additional card during their draw step as long as their spy is not revealed. Each Spy has a special ability: At any time during the game, the Spy can reveal their role. If they do, they may exile any one permanent or spell, even one with split second or hexproof. Any Emperor/Spy team wins when all other Emperors and Peasants are eliminated. The Peasants win when all Emperors are eliminated.

Tips: 4 is the turn we landed on for Emperors drawing extra cards, but you may want to change the number.

Immortal Blessing

Summary: Gain a reprieve after being attacked.

Number of Players: 4+

Pros: Prevents games where one player is eliminated way before all others.

Cons: Leads to odd gamestates when 3 players are left. Easy to get tired of playing after 2 or 3 rounds.

Rules: Immortal blessing - After a player is attacked, if no player has the Immortal Blessing, create an Immortal Blessing emblem with “Creatures cannot attack you, spells cannot target you, and sources you do not control cannot cause you to lose life.” The attacked player gains that emblem. Whenever a player is attacked, after combat, pass control of the emblem to the attacked player. If more than one player was attacked, give it to the player that took more damage. If there are ever only 2 players left, they win.

Tips: Some players will try to take advantage of the blessing. I trust you will find a way to foil them!

Juggernaut

Summary: The player in the lead gains an advantage.

Number of Players: 3+

Pros: Constant action incentives.

Cons: Sometimes, you can't catch the snowball.

Rules: Whenever one player has more life than all other players, that player becomes the Juggernaut. The Juggernaut draws an additional card during their draw step and may play an additional land each turn. The game ends when there is only one competitor to the Juggernaut. At the beginning of the 4th round and each subsequent round, if all life totals are tied, each player rolls 1d6 and gains that much life.

Tips: Remember, sometimes helping someone else be the Juggernaut is better than Juggernauting yourself.

One Direction

Summary: Each player can only attack in one direction.

Number of Players: 4+

Pros: Very easy to learn. Focused gameplay. True racing situations.

Cons: Bad puns. Not great replay value.

Rules: At the beginning of the game, choose right or left: Each player can only attack the player directly adjacent to them in the chosen direction.

Tips: This one is simple. That's what makes it beautiful.

Restricted Access

Summary: Players roll to determine how they can attack each turn.

Number of Players: 3 - 10

Pros: Forced action to speed up a slow board. Increased luck usually means decreased skill.

Cons: Must remember each player's number. Extra die rolls. Increased luck usually means decreased skill.

Rules: Number each player, then have a die with at least twice that many sides. At the beginning of combat, the active player rolls the die. If the number rolled corresponds to a player, the active player cannot attack the rolled player this turn. If the active player rolled their own number or a number that doesn’t have a player, all of active player's creatures must attack this turn if able instead.

Tips: There's something exciting in hoping that someone else rolls your number.

General Multiplayer Notes

  • Generally, if a format has any sort of hidden role, only players with exposed roles can go first.
  • If a format has a hidden role, never reveal that role unless the game calls for it, even when you lose.
  • If a format has a hidden role, players assigned to hidden roles will often have allies. In general, I would recommend that players in hidden roles be treated as opponents for the purpose of cards that only affect opponents. I would also recommend treating all other players as "opponents" for any format that sets loose alliances, such as Star.
  • Remember, games with 3+ players allow each player one “free” mulligan. In addition, the player going first in a multiplayer game does not skip their draw step.
  • Life totals: I recommend at least 30 starting life for most multiplayer formats.
  • Poison: In a normal game of Magic, players lose when they have 10 poison counters. In any game using Commander decks, I recommend playing to 15 poison counters.
  • For any multiplayer format, if you are playing casually and everyone agrees, streamline your shuffling. This means doing any shuffling during other peoples' turns, even if it is technically correct to wait until just before your own. If something happens that would change your actions that involve shuffling, just change it. This is casual, and enough time is wasted shuffling already.
  • If you have 12 or more players, I highly recommend splitting into 2 groups.
  • I recommend playing these variants with Commander decks, which tend to be slower. Among other things, this is why some benefits don’t start until turn 5. Your mileage may vary.


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