The Overwhelming Power of Scathe Zombies

by VestDan

If you’ve been playing long enough, you have them. Jank cards, in vast quantities. Often inexplicably in foreign languages. Those extra twenty copies of Fear, those fifty Stone Rains, that inch-deep stack of Circles of Protection. Even useful cards like Shock, while staple, aren’t very useful past your third playset. So, what to do with them?

Arts and Crafts?

Appeasing the Mana Gods?

Or perhaps you could actually play them?

Some of you may know of it already, but for those of you unfortunate enough not to, allow me to introduce Mental Magic.

The base rules of the format are simple:

1) Any card can be played as any card in the history of the game with the same exact casting cost. The catch – once a card has been called during a game, that card cannot be called again that game, not even if you use the same physical, tangible card. Things get a little more complicated when you consider zones other than your hand, but keeping the spirit of this rule in mind makes figuring them out fairly easy.

2) Any card may be played, face down, as a Basic Land – Utopia. Utopias are a 6th basic land type, that can, at no penalty, tap for any color of mana.

So, what is so good about this format? For one, the closest you can get to mana screw is a hand full of really good cards—it takes away the occasional auto-loss your decks sometimes give you. For another, there is no worry about having an inferior card pool – any cards your opponent has access to, you have access too as well. Consider this hand of surplus Kamigawa block jank:

Mystic Restraints, Rending Vines, Petalmane Baku, Crushing Pain.

Do you begin to see the possibilities? (Click on the links for one idea). Anything is possible, from that Johnny-friendly combo to a more Spike-friendly:

Mystic Restraints, Rending Vines, Petalmane Baku, Crushing Pain.

See how much fun excess commons can be? And, just to keep Timmy happy, why don’t we try…

Mystic Restraints, Rending Vines, Petalmane Baku, Crushing Pain.

This is an environment where just about anything is possible, to begin with at least. Some cards are abusively powerful in Mental Magic, but where I could tell you what some of them are, that would negate the fun in discovering them, now wouldn’t it? A previous article on suggested you use the Vintage banned and restricted list for your banned list, but I find this ruins some fun. I mean, for one, where’s the harm in allowing Iron Myr? And, experience has show me that while powerful, Welding Jar isn’t at all abusive – in fact, the loss of the extra card can more than offset any advantage gained.

Of course, this is partly because of my favored ‘build’ for Mental Magic. With such infinite possibilities, it would be easy for some evil-minded people to build some disgusting 60-card powerhouse… and as this is a patently casual format, that would be rather pointless. Moreover, the idea is to put the players on as equal a footing as possible, so I suggest you just make one large, Battle of Wits-sized stack with a good mix of casting costs, and split it evenly among players at the beginning of each game. While there is still luck involved, the true deciding factors in any such Mental Magic game are three: play skill, card knowledge, and creativity. Because of this, Johnny and Spike tend to perform best, but Timmy can have a good old time too, so long as the opponents let him.

Timmy would have a hard time with one fact, though: Mental Magic is a game of card advantage. Why use Scathe Zombies when you could use Scathe Zombies? Furthermore, answers tend to net more advantage than threats: a Sunder from Within is well answered with Crafty Pathmage; and even Unearthly Blizzard can be catastrophically trumped with a well-timed Sisters of the Flame or Teller of Tales. But this is something you will discover yourselves after playing for a while—when my group first started playing, people would try to cast aggressive creatures all the time—which turns out not to be so potent a strategy when any card is a potential sweeper.

This isn’t to say that creatures have no place in Mental Magic, or that aggression doesn’t pay off – it depends on the players relative draws, relative skills, and, ultimately, creativity. Disruption is key in this game, and being able to draw answers from the cards at hand can lead to wonderful mental gymnastics. Consider the following:

You are being attacked, and the only card in your hand is Tahngarth’s Glare. What answers can it give you?

I’ll give you some time to think.

Well, now, just using the cards I suggested, you can
-Deal 1 damage to an attacking creature and turn it black
-Destroy a blue creature
-Deal 3 damage to a creature
-Deal 1 damage to a creature, and not lose your card
-Deal 3 damage to it, if it’s a Wizard
-Destroy it if its an artifact creature
-Flip the creature’s power/toughness

Now, consider the same card if your opponent is trying to kill one of your creatures. R is not usually known for being a disruptive casting cost, but if you know what you are doing, this Tahngarth’s Glare can counter an artifact or blue spell, exchange the creature’s power and toughness, sacrifice the creature to deal damage to some other target, and even can counter almost any kill effects that depend on the target being a specific color (if the creature’s big enough, Singe counters Dark Banishing; if the opponent is using something like Purge, Chaoslace steps in). Every card is an exercise in versatility (well, except for some oddballs like Scaled Wurm.

Magic is entering its 12th year, and I ran out of appendages on which to count the number of sets quite some time ago. Needless to say, there are a lot of cards… which is what makes Mental Magic such a fun format. Allow me to share a few of my favorite plays as an example.
Manascrew and Colorscrew
aren't a factor...huzzah.
I have a large number of untapped Utopias and a Tormod's Crypt in play. My opponent attacks with a Krosan Vorine. I sacrifice one of my lands, gaining two life… and putting an expensive artifact into my graveyard. Now, the special thing about this expensive artifact was that, as there aren’t that many artifacts that cost 7 and fewer at each higher casting cost, we decided that he could be any artifact costing 7 or more—to maximize the number of cards playable with our group’s Mental Magic set. So, when I cast Miraculous Recovery (actually the same card), what do you think jumped up to defend me?

Let me speak a moment about the Ebony Rhino. Part of the whole point of Mental Magic is to have as many possible plays as, well, possible. As such, we identified classes of cards that, while fun, are not numerous enough to include their casting cost for (or don’t have any jank examples anyone was willing to donate to) our Mental Magic set:
Gold Cards
Cards with at least 3 of the same colored mana in the cost
Cards that cost seven or more, of all colors and colorless.
X spells

As such, we first ruled that any normal gold card can simply be any card of that exact COMBINATION of colors – so Llanowar Dead is always a great card to draw. Likewise, for X spells, we ruled that a X spell could be ANY variable-costed card for that color—hence, Heat Ray could be Blazing Shoal. For the other classes of cards, we painstakingly crafted (wrote on crap cards with pen) the following:

Jank Gone WildMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
3 “Any Three Colored Card”
1 “Any Five Colored Card”
1 “Artifact Cost > 6”

And, for each color,
1 “Card Cost > 6”
1 “Card with at Least 3 Colored Mana”

Those last two provide some occasional overlap, which is fine – White should have two ways to cast Akroma, Angel of Wrath.

One final anecdote, for the simple sake of its insanity: my opponent was tapped out. This is never a good idea. Worse for him, it had been a long game, and I had a considerable amount of mana available to me. I led off with “Card with at least UUU in its cost,” and enchanted it with a Fog. Six cards right off, not bad. I followed up, however, with a Reef Pirates, allowing myself to Ancestral Recall at will. The point where it REALLY got wacky, however, is when I dropped a Phyrexian Bloodstock and a Adarkar Unicorn, and found that I had cobbled together a Cadaverous Bloom/Prosperity-style combo. I don’t recall how I actually won that game, though with several hundred mana and my entire deck in my hand, it wasn’t too difficult.

Well, I hope some of you will try this format if you haven’t before. There is no netdecking, there is no metagame, there is just your knowledge and creativity against your opponents’ (yes, opponents’ – this is a great game for multiplayer).

If there’s enough interest in this article, I’ll write another about some of the more tricky issues, and some interesting tweaks to the rules to make things even more interesting. Until then, feel free to contact me with any specific questions—my answers about a casual format are at least as valid as anyone else’s.

Part 2

VestDan is an aspiring author who is not above shameless self promotion: you can view the half-finished draft of his ridiculously long scifi/fantasy saga, here.

Thanks to Goblinboy and Binary for editing.
Thanks to Qwerty for the bad banner.


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