Box O' Magic

This page describes how to make a Box O' Magic, and how to use it to play Magic: The Gathering.

Concepts and design goals

The idea is to provide a way to play Magic for people who enjoy the game, but who don't own cards and/or don't want to invest a ton of money in individual collections of cards. You can then use it to play a shared-deck variant if you want to make the game more accessible to new players, or have players build regular decks with the cards from the box in a variety of ways.

Card mix

I've currently have two boxes with different compositions:

The links above will take you to a checklist of the cards, in the unlikely event that you have a lot of ancient cards around and want a checklist to use to make a box of your own. Players who have bought cards more recently than 1996 could presumably do similar things with the current core sets or blocks.

I'm planning to add Coldsnap to the Ice Age + Alliances box, but haven't yet. I was at one point planning to create a Mirage/Visions box, but while I have a bunch of Mirage cards, I only seem to have bought one sealed box of Visions, and they're probably too expensive now to be worth it.

Play rules

Once you've got the box, you can do a variety of things with it.

Shared deck

One simple approach is treat the box as a giant shared deck, which all the players draw from. Rather than just drawing one card at a time, you draw three and choose one of them, giving you a little more control over what cards you're playing. Thus:

We've played this with 2 - 6 players, and it works quite well. The three-choose-one system lets you essentially build your deck on the fly; we usually end up focusing on a few colors each early on, but often playing four or five colors by the midgame. Library manipulation effects get a little weird, and anything that involves harming your opponent by churning through their deck, or putting yourself at risk by churning through your own, obviously doesn't work; just discard those cards if you draw them.


A more complicated approach is a variant called Evolution, in which allows you to build a deck out of the box, and evolve it over time. It works well if you want to play a series of games with a group of players (maybe even as small as two players?) with the same deck.

In addition to the Box, it adds two new areas to the game: The Pool, which has seven cards that are available to players, and the Drain, where cards from the Pool are discarded out of play. Here's how it works:

The first two steps are split into two steps (rather than just being "discard a card from the Pool and replace it from the Box") because I learned the variant with a slightly different structure, in which you add a new card first, and discard last. However, we found that this led to the Pool becoming filled with junk: If there was a good card there, you'd swap for it, and discard the next best card. Because you discard after you add a card, it's much more likely that good cards will vanish immediately. By discarding first, you have to give your opponent a shot at the card you draw if you don't want it, or at the card you discard if you do want the card you drew; but either way, you can't swap out or pass up something awesome without giving your opponent a chance to pick it up.

Regular games

You can also use the Box to play regular games, e.g. by dividing the cards among the players ahead of time and letting them build decks, but this requires more set-up time. It also caters more to people who have played a lot, and less to casual players who aren't familiar with all the cards, deckbuilding principles, etc.

Split land

We used to always play with split land, i.e. separate land and spell decks, and when you draw, you can take your three cards from any combination of the two decks. We found that this makes the game a lot more strategic, and much less random, although of course it interferes with any strategies based around land control (but it doesn't interfere that much with mana accelerators, since getting more faster is still good -- it mostly just prevents Mana Ream, where you sit around doing nothing while your opponent pounds you into dust because the top fifteen cards of your deck happened to have too much or too little mana). I haven't actually tried the three-choose-one system without it; it might be better as draw four if land is mixed in with spells.

Credits and legalese

I originally got the idea for a Box O' Magic from Paul Dworkin, though I came up with my own box composition plans. He came up with the draw-3-choose-1 system, though, which is what really got us going.

I learned the Evolution variant from Brennan Martin; one of the people I was playing with came up with the idea of discarding first rather than last, but I don't recall who. (If it was you, let me know and I'll update this page.)

Feel free to use this for any recreational purpose. Don't try to make money off of it, and give credit where credit is due.

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Last updated on 2010-08-14 (Sat) at 21:04 EDT