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As thrilling as it is simple, Pack Wars is one of Magic: The Gathering’s best overlooked formats

Here’s how - and why - to play.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game booster packs
Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

There are a lot of ways to enjoy Magic: The Gathering but, generally speaking, if you’re buying a booster box or a couple of packs, you’re probably just going to either open them all at once like a kid at Christmas or use them to draft with.

However, what if I told you there was another way - and that way is, in fact, one of the most entertaining formats in MTG? Not to mention it’s also incredibly easy to set up? It’s called Pack Wars, and all you need is to know how to play it.

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What is Pack Wars? Well, it’s called Mini-Master in this article from back in 2008 on the official Magic: The Gathering blog, but we’re telling you right now that it’s called Pack Wars and also that the information on it in the linked post is wrong. For starters, the article states you need three of each basic land (Plains, Island, Swamp, Mountain, Forest), but that’s obviously too many; what you actually want is two of each basic land instead.

Pack Wars is fun because of the surprise.

If you’re feeling fancy, you can use one of each guildgate (or an equivalent dual-colour land) instead. That makes the games a little slower, but also makes it a lot easier to cast your spells given that you’ll probably be working with a five-colour deck. It’s also worth having these sleeved up along with 15 of the same sleeve spare. If you really want to be the life of the party, you’ll want four complete sets of these lands to allow for multiplayer games where possible, which is where things can get truly absurd in Pack Wars.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game land cards
To play Pack Wars, take two of each basic land and combine them with a fresh booster pack to form your deck. Simple as that. | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

All you have to do now is open up a Magic: The Gathering booster pack of your choice, and then sleeve it up without looking at the cards. This can feel a little strange, but it’s worth it. Now, take your pile of cards and shuffle it. All that’s left is to draw seven cards, set your life to 15, and try and beat your opponents.

It’s worth noting that you can only play one game per pack in Pack Wars. While using the same set is generally fairer, it’s not essential. Also, you can’t mulligan in Pack Wars (redrawing your starting hand with one fewer card), because that kind of ruins the experience.

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In a game where you almost exclusively create your own decks, having that feeling of surprise as you draw each card makes for a far more exhilarating experience.

Pack Wars is fun because of the surprise. Sleeving up the cards without looking means you have no idea what’s in your deck, and neither does your opponent. This leads to moments where you’ll be sitting on top of an absolutely disgusting card just waiting for the right moment to cast it, only to find out that your opponent has somehow opened up a pack almost entirely comprised of countermagic.

It also means that you’ve got no idea what your own best cards are. In a game where you almost exclusively create your own decks, having that feeling of surprise as you draw each card makes for a far more exhilarating experience. If you mulligan or use the same pack twice, it removes that and it’s just not as good.

Magic: The Gathering trading card game cards
You have no idea what's in your deck - but neither does your opponent. | Image credit: Sarah Jarvis

Pack Wars turns opening packs into a game itself. It’s not like a Draft where you have to consider which card to take at any time or need a good knowledge of the format to stand a chance. Instead, you take the game of chance aspect of MTG and make the whole thing a gamble. You’ve no idea if you’re going to be able to draw a card that can answer the threat on the other side of the battlefield promising to kill you off - it’s a thrill to draw your cards and actually manage to pull that off every so often.

Obviously, it’s not like a lot of people are meeting up for in-person Magic: The Gathering as it stands, but that doesn’t mean you can’t buy your guildgates and sleeves in preparation for a new uprising of Pack Wars. War never changes, but Pack Wars is never the same twice - and that’s what makes it such a good format.

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