Magic: The Gathering is a game of luck and skill. You can be fully prepared with the best possible build of your favorite deck at 8:00 AM tournament day and go home defeated, crushed by an 8-year-old because you couldn't draw a Swamp when you needed one.
Why not try a new format? There is an existing, thriving format in which results are determined mathematically, without luck. There is no shuffling, no outplaying, and no chance to make mistakes. All that matters is your deck and the metagame. Seems impossible? It's not. Welcome, dear reader, to Three Card Blind (3CB).
What is 3CB?
Three Card Blind is a forum-based game, although it has been done in real-life settings (at conventions and card shops). In 3CB, each player submits a three card deck via Private Message on the forums. Their three card deck must have the mana necessary to cast its spells, a win condition with which to beat down, and hopefully some sort of control or lock element.
After all the decks are collected, one person plays each deck against each other deck, round-robin style. In each two-game "match," each deck will go first once and second once. A game win is worth 3 points, a draw is worth 1 point, and a loss is worth no points.
Each player has no library, and does not lose due to not being able to draw a card. Each player can see the other's hand so perfect play is maintained at all times. There are other minor rules (coin flips always go in the opponent's favor, Wishes fetch nothing, etc.) but pretty much everything else is run like a regular Magic game. For other rules, visit the 3CB Rules Page.
It is not known who came up with 3CB. It supposedly started on the Brainburst forums several years ago, but I have heard stories of brick and mortar card shops running 3CBs earlier than that.
While 3CB's origins are cloudy, we know quite a lot about the history of 3CB on MTG Salvation and MTG News. In fact, every 3CB ever played on MTG News or Salvation has been neatly indexed. This includes the (currently) 78 regular 3CBs and three War of the Worlds 3CBs, where MTG News and (later) MTG Salvation squared off against The Mana Drain. The current score is 2-1 in News/Salvation's favor, but we never know what the next War of the Worlds is going to turn out like.
A user named Kheoinn brought 3CB to MTG News. It was soon taken over by Pentagram. Around #26, I took over and have been running it ever since.
Reevaluating Magic Cards for 3CB
Just as Xantid Swarm found a lot more success in Type I than in Type II, certain cards are great in 3CB yet awful in regular Magic, and vice versa. The image to the right describes how instead of Ancestral Recall, likely the most broken blue card in 3CB is Forget, a never-used Homelands reject. In fact, Forget is so good that it's banned. Ancestral Recall is so bad that there was once a round that offered three free match wins to any deck using the card. There were no takers.
What changes from regular Magic to 3CB that allows you to reevaluate cards? The largest change is the lack of a library. Since there are no cards to draw, drawing cards is useless. There are exceptions, of course. While you have no library, you still have a draw phase. If you were to use, say, a Krosan Reclamation, you would be sure to draw whatever you shuffled back in the next turn. Darksteel Colossus' ability essentially changes from "shuffle this into your library" to "put this back into your hand next turn" when it dies.
3CB allows you to ignore certain parts of a card. Indentured Djinn lets your opponent draw three cards? Wait! There are no cards to draw. Indentured Djinn's drawback is essentially erased, and it becomes a vanilla 4/4 flier for 1UU (not bad, eh?). This applies to many cards. Scalding Tongs needs you to have three or fewer cards in hand to work? No problem; it's technically impossible not to have three or fewer cards in hand. Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale doesn't kill their creature if they can pay 1 each turn? It looks like the beastie is going bye-bye, because the only mana source available to the opponent happens to be Black Lotus.
3CB also makes a huge change to game mechanics in that it does away with the immediacy of the game. In regular Magic, if you put down the opponent's first wave of creatures, you're still fighting hard because you know that there are another three or four creatures coming your way in a few turns. In 3CB, this is not so. Unless your opponent has an active threat to your life total, you've got all the time in the world. Reusable abilities become extraordinarily useful. Decks based on powering an Isochron Scepter with a City of Traitors to gain a small advantage each turn have been popular since the Scepter's release. Thallid, of all cards, with its ability to make a 1/1 token every three turns, is quite the powerhouse in 3CB. Once you have enough tokens to block your opponent's threat, you've got infinite turns to make infinite tokens. Then? Saproling rush.
There are other ways that cards change when faced with infinite time. If you've got some way of holding off the opponent's threat (Ensnaring Bridge, Energy Field, Maze of Ith, etc.) then the best win condition becomes not the card that is fastest at winning, but the most safe at winning. Scalding Tongs only deals one damage per turn, but when you've got until the end of time to do it, that's all you need.
As with any Magic format, cards must be reevaluated based on the metagame as well. Black Lotus is very legal in 3CB. In fact, if you feel like it, you can play two of them! However, because of Lotus' popularity, cards that can overcome a Lotus-based deck become very valuable. A person with no mana save for his Pretty Flower isn't going to be able to do anything if you go first and lay a Trinisphere, Sphere of Resistance, or Duress. Nor is he going to be able to do much if you play Mana Chains on the creature he drops, or lay out a The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Got a Daze on turn 1? He's out of it.
Black Lotus, of course, is just one popular example. Creature control is very easy to play and is very popular in 3CB because of the popularity of creatures as win conditions. This forces you to reevaluate any win condition that is not a creature. Scalding Tongs combines its non-creature status with the infinite time available in 3CB to make a great win condition. As long as you've got a way to keep them from damaging you, you're home free.
The lack of a hand size also forces you to reevaluate. Discard becomes very good. All cards that force two discards are banned, of course (like Forget, Mind Swords, or Balance), but even nontargeted discard, like Ravenous Rats, will be quite likely to hit something vital. Some other cards gain from the lack of a hand size. Lavaborn Muse is a difficult card to race, as it provides three free damage a turn without even attacking. Unlike in regular Magic, the only way to stop the Lavaborn from dealing damage is to kill it.
The Jackknife Cards
The final, most important quality of a 3CB card is versatility. 3CB cards can be given very simple roles: They can be a mana/facilitator card, they can be a control/disruption card, or they can be a win condition. Cards that don't fulfill any of those slots don't deserve to be played in 3CB. However, beholden to all the players of 3CB are the Jackknife cards. Jackknife cards are cards which can fulfill more than one of the roles. A good example is Visara, the Dreadful. It is a very good win condition, being a 5/5 flier. However, its ability to eliminate every creature that hits the board makes it a wonderful control card as well. Visara, not surprisingly, is one of the most powerful cards in 3CB, often played with two Black Lotus or a Subterranean Hangar and a second control card/threat.
The Magic cardbank is deep and full of amazingly versatile cards. There are cards you never would even consider playing in real Magic, but are awesome for 3CB. New tech is found almost every week. Glowrider, an extremely powerful win condition/control card that comes out nicely under a Lotus was not used until weeks after the Legions release.
Evaluating the Ban List
As it stands right now, the current 3CB ban list is like so:
All of Unglued
All of Unhinged
All ante cards
Any card that forces your opponent to discard more than 1 card a turn.
Any non-mass-produced card (Proposal, 1996 World Champion, etc.)
*Any deck that can feasibly force your opponent to discard more than 1 card a turn. (The word force here is important. Mind Bomb is still legal, unless combined with Mindslaver)
*Any deck that can feasibly win on the first turn.
What makes a card so good that it must be banned? This is a good question to investigate so that you can know when you've stumbled onto your own broken tech piece.
The Rack: The Rack is unable to win by itself. The opponent must play one of his cards before The Rack will do any damage. Why, then, is it banned? Wheel of Torture isn't, and can be cast easily with Mishra's Workshop! The thing that gives this card its edge is its versatile mana cost. Wheel of Torture is restricted to Workshop decks, and as such, the third card you can choose is limited. The Rack fits in a deck with a dangerously high number of cards, and is too hard of a win condition to stop.
Form of the Dragon: This card seems way too clunky to fit on here, doesn't it? However, FotD caused major problems when unbanned. Usually cast off of a Mercadian Bazaar, FotD was an insanely powerful Jackknife card. It was an obscenely effective control card attached to an overly fast clock, all situated on a permanent type that is exceedingly difficult to get rid of.
Balance: Balance is actually banned by the "No double-discard" rule. However, enough people forgot that the rule applied to Balance that it deserves its own spot on the list. Balance is too good for the same reason Hymn to Tourach is, but better.
Strip Mine Wasteland: Strip Mine and Wasteland are both banned in order to balance the format. They are not overly powerful by themselves; most decks only need to use their land once anyway. However, their presence in the format makes land unviable, which would make Black Lotus too good. This is simply a measure of balance.
Blackmail Cabal Therapy: Blackmail and Cabal Therapy are banned, but Duress isn't? What's going on here? This is simply another system of balance for the format. Blackmail can nab any type of card. Duress is unable to nab land. Cabal Therapy is able to nab everything but land, as well as oftentimes breaking the double-discard rule. These two all but ensure that the deck including them will win when going first, as they will simply take out the opponent's mana, or, if they have two mana sources, their threat.
Mesmeric Fiend Meddling Mage: These two are banned because they provide beatsticks along with unfair control elements. Two mana is easy to achieve (although the Meddling Mage's WU is somewhat difficult) and these ensure a going-first win way too safely.
Leonin Squire Show and Tell: These two are facilitator cards that become too good with the existence of Black Lotus in the format. The cutoff casting cost for a spell in 3CB (if one wants to cast it first turn) is three mana. Both of these cards upped that threshold; Squire to 4 mana, Show and Tell to any amount, making the format chaotic and unbound.
That's all for this week! Join me next week as we begin to get into how to build your own killer 3CB deck!
In the meantime, if you want to participate in 3CB, simply hop on over to Forum Games and look for the most recent 3CB thread, or click the "Come and play 3CB" link in my sig. In there will be directions on how to submit, as well as information on any special modifications that may be going on at the time.
The 5 color Invitiational featured a very similar format to this as one of its features formats. Check out www.5-color.com for the details... Glowrider was pretty hot. I dig the article as well because it explains the banned cards and puts in the mindset for 3cb very easily, almost too easy
I'm gonna get myself a playset of each of these and wear them around my neck all around campus. The ladies will be all like 'Ooohh.....is that a....Boros Garrison you're wearing?!?!'. I'd be all like.....hells yes.
Kudos to you and Pentagram for taking it so far. I never would have guessed that it would get this big. Great article, as well.
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I think the idea with that combo is that you hold the Chasm until your second turn. That way:
Turn 1 - 20/20 - Play Mishra's Workshop and Jinxed Choker, ship Choker
Turn 2 - 19/18 - Play the Chasm, they take 1
Turn 3 - 16/16 - Pay 2 life, they take 3
Turn 4 - 11/12 - Pay 4 life, they take 5
Turn 5 - 4/6 - Pay 6 life, they take 7
Turn 6 - -5/6 - Pay no life, since you passed them the Choker, and they took 9
Look right? With Strip Mine and Wasteland in the format it stops this deck, but then you have to play them to beat this deck, hence the ban.
1: (20/20) Workshop, Choker, pass with 1 counter
2: (18/19) Chasm, pass with 3 counters
3: pay 2 life (16/16) pass with 5 counters
4: pay 4 life (12/11) pass with 7 counters
5: stack the Chasm upkeep and the Choker upkeep so that Chasm hits you first, then you sac the Chasm for not paying life (12-4), pass with 9 counters and win
Decks had a lot of difficulty trying to deal 12 damage before the Chasm hit the table. Land destruction, artifact destruction, discard, and Vineyard were all ways of beating the deck, but the deck was starting to warp the format. But at least I can take the credit for inventing it!