Monday, August 3, 2009

Grim Tidings #9: Calvinball

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

So a week has passed, and the drama continues. (If you didn’t know, the 5-Color format split into two distinct factions this week.)

The new 300 card format is on, and uses a much looser banned & restricted list. Most notably, Time Walk and Yawgmoth’s Will as unrestricted. It now requires a minimum of 25 cards of each color, as well as allowing ante. It has unbanned/unrestricted Contract from Below, and errataed it so that not only can you play 4x, you don’t have to ante as an additional cost to play it.

The previous 250 card format resides on, and uses the same banned & restricted list before the relaunch of 5C Reborn. The deck size is unchanged, the minimum 20 cards of each color is unchanged. This group is moving forward with their own government of how the format should be run, and what should be on the B&R.

Dual Citizenship
For now, I’ve decided that I am going to maintain dual-citizenship between both 5-Color formats. The and are now distinctly different, and there is no reason why I can’t play and maintain decks in two formats.

My not-so famous highlander deck, “First Reminder” will become my 300 card 5C Reborn deck. I have already selected 50 new cards to meet the new color requirements, and immediately exploit the un-bannings if last Saturday. I am including power combo pieces such as Survival of the Fittest and Oath of Druids which should really ramp up the effectiveness of Recurring Nightmare and graveyard filling.

My 250 card Enchantress deck will remain unchanged. It is much more like a tournament deck anyways, and although it could benefit from the two un-bannings I mentioned above, I’d like to keep it 250 cards. I will abide by the previous B&R, and modify as the Dot-org website slowly rolls out their changes.


One of my favorite comic strips of all time is Calvin & Hobbes. I love that mischievous little boy and his stuffed tiger! One of the more famous storylines from the strip was a game that Calvin made up with Hobbes called Calvinball. There were two basic rules to Calvinball:

Permanent Rule: You may not play the Calvinball the same way twice.

Primary Rule: The rules are subject to be changed, amended, or deleted by any player(s) involved. These rules are not required, nor necessary to play Calvinball.

I have a hard time not equating Calvinball to what is happening to the Reborn 5-Color format as I watch the current events unfold. The format has always had new errata and rules exceptions since its creation, but things are changing so quickly, and so whimsically… well at least it looks like a lot of fun!

Unfortunately, I'm surprised that after a week I'm not as fully excited about the rules revisions as I thought I'd be. I thought allowance of all of the power cards and would make the game more dynamic (which 300 cards accomplishes) but there are some downsides I didn't consider. What I see are a few bad Calvinball-esque rules that have been introduced into the game in the name of fun:

Contract from Below
The most powerful card ever printed has new errata in the Reborn 5C format: “Discard your hand. Ante a card if playing for ante. Draw 7 cards.” That’s a pretty big divergence from how the card was originally printed. Regardless, it’s nothing new. Years ago when it was legal, there was errata for it to make it work within the 5C rules. But back then they kept the text: “Remove this card from your deck before the game if you are not playing for ante.”

Now we can do whatever we want. If we are playing for ante, we can play Contract. If we aren’t playing for ante, we can play Contract. If that doesn’t sound like Calvinball, I don’t know what is.

I've made an appeal that Contact from Below should be banned if you are not playing ante in some form. There are penty of alternatives to true ante: $1 Ante, Crap rare Ante, Buyback Ante, Scribble Ante, Etc. At least something with a value/monetary risk to offset the additional cost.

I’ve never been a big fan of true ante, because I am a collector, and I don’t want to lose foils/part of my collection. At least $1 ante carries a risk that you need to consider. If $1 is negligible, make it $5, but if you are going to play Contract, you need to ante something to play it.

New Calvinball rule! Sol Ring now costs 0, and taps for 4 colorless mana!

Seriously though, the more I think about it, the errata and Gentleman’s Ante are pretty lame. Its not ante. Allowing people to play 4x Contracts in this situation is just blatantly unbalanced, and against the true wording of the card. I know it is in the spirit of original 5C to allow Contract, and I’m fine with it as printed, but if you aren’t playing ante, Contract really shouldn’t be allowed. Nor should we make errata to do it. Especially with the allowance of proxies, now.

Proxies & Ante
According to, Calvinball now allows unlimited proxies. Not just land, but every card. I’m not a real big fan of proxies, but the 5C Rebon format allows them for equal footing in tournaments. This means if you want to run 40 Dual Lands, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, and Black Lotus, just grab a Sharpie marker and go for it!

Where this rule breaks down is the that the format is allowing Ante again. Sure ante is optional, but why would I play my real Black Lotus in a game with ante, when my opponents just has a swamp with the word “blotus” sloppily scrawled all over it? I’m probably being elitist, but it feels as if the first C in CCG is being removed.

I think the two, (Proxies and Ante) are incompatible. If you want one, you have to give up the second. But then again, it is just a game. What is fun for one, may not be fun for another, and we all choose what we participate in.

One more thought on Proxies
While allowing proxies allows me a little artistic freedom to paint up new snazzy versions of my Time Walk & Recall for my enjoyment, it also opens the door to the previous 5C invitational cards. I am allowed to play with the coveted and rare Mox Crystal now. I’m a little uncomfortable with this, as cards like Mox Crystal were supposed to be ultra rare and available only to those individuals who played/won the appropriate tournament. Now all I need is a sharpie, (or access to a high-res laser printer). It sure would be neat, but upon further consideration, I don’t see myself playing Mox Crystal proxies, as it spoils the “coolness” factor of those who created it.

No-Talking Zone
An age old rule in 5-Color has always been that if you have no permanents in play, you cannot speak. The 5C Reborn version of the game is no different. It does remind me though of some of the random zones Calvinball used to employ, you know where you have to sing a song or rhyme to make your next action.

Funny enough, I have never, ever, seen this rule enforced in an actual game. Not even once.

Calvinball is Flexible!
The great thing about Calvinball is that you can change the rules whenever you want. I need to remember the basic premise is that the rules are always subject to change. Sub-rule 1.2 states that Any player may declare a new rule at any point in the game. The player may do this audibly or silently depending on what zone the player is in.

If I’m really playing Calvinball, I think I may enact this for myself here in North Carolina. Since I don’t really care for Contract from Below, Ante, Proxies, or No-Talking, I think I’m going to call an audible and say that we are now in a “Do-whatever-the-hell-you-want” Zone, and you can choose to ignore those rules if you want. I am.

If you find a player who wants to play with Contract, or Scribble ante, or Proxies, feel free to change the rules as you see fit. I’m done worrying about it, for now.

One Final Calvinball Rule before I go: Sol Ring now costs 1 again, and is back to only producing 2. (Sorry, such are the rules of Calvinball!)

Other kids' games are all such a bore!
They've gotta have rules and they gotta keep score!
Calvinball is better by far!
It's never the same! It's always bizarre!
You don't need a team or a referee!
You know that it's great, 'cause it's named after me!

—The Calvinball theme song

Even though this article is written with tongue-in-cheek, I do need to give all credit to Bill Waterson, creator of Calvin & Hobbes and Calvinball. He has all of the copyrights.

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