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Multiplayer Madness 25 – Alternative Formats: The Chaos Stack

Hey people, welcome back!

Today, we’re going to spice up your multiplayer games by making a small change in order to achieve a very different gameplay. What I’m talking about? Well, my playgroup calls it “The Chaos Stack”.

Rules Rundown

Goldmeadow Planechase Card

The general concept is easy and I’m sure that there are uncountable versions throughout the Magic world: Build a stack of cards which affect all players at the same time and put it into the middle of the table, just like an additional deck. At specific and pre-defined times, the top card is revealed and its effect resolves or functions as a background condition of the game for as long as no other card is revealed. This kind of modification of the basic rules is very popular and has actually led to the release of a similar but official product by Wizards – Planechase.

What, confused? Well, let me explain how my playgroup handles it then. The Chaos Stack is put into the middle of the table so that everybody can easily reach for it. Then, prior to each player’s turn, that player has to roll a ten-sided dice. If he or she rolls a 1 or a 10, the top card of the Chaos Stack is revealed. If it is a sorcery or an instant (for example Evacuation) or a permanent with a triggered ability (i.e. Arbiter of Knollridge), its effect resolves now. If it’s a permanent that has a static ability (i.e. Font of Mythos or Night of Souls’ Betrayal), this ability is in effect from then on until somebody else rolls a 1 or a 10. If it’s a permanent with an activated ability, this ability can be activated whenever the rules allow a player to do so. For example, the activated ability of Endbringer’s Revel can be activated whenever you can cast a sorcery.

That’s the basics, and we’ve determined these numbers (1 and 10 on a ten-sided dice) after trying out different constellations. We’ve found that for us, an average of every fifth roll of the dice works best as it means that the Chaos Stack can interfere with the game often enough but not too often. We don’t want utter but controlled chaos.

An important decision we made early on was that the respective instants and sorceries do not use the stack and can therefore not be responded to. Likewise, the permanents are not considered to be “on the battlefield” and can thus not be interacted with. If they have activated or triggered abilities that can be activated or triggered numerous times (see Saproling Cluster for example), then these triggers use the stack with all this implies. Otherwise though, every effect just happens and there’s nothing you can do about it.

All in all, what this is about is that you play a normal multiplayer game and every so often, the framework of the game changes.

Lessons Learned

Confusion in the Ranks Chaos Deck

The first and most important lesson when I created this stack was that there are certain types of cards that should never be used – cards that could immediately end the game (Biorhythm), that can bring the game to a halt (Armageddon, Standstill, Destructive Force etc.) or are just too confusing or annoying (Confusion in the Ranks). They just take the fun out of any given game. Of course, that’s all something that you need to talk over with your playgroup. If they enjoy these kinds of effects, then include them by all means! My playgroup though can do without many of them although some pose interesting challenges or cause a bit of interaction, such as Razia’s Purification, Dimensional Breach or Magister of Worth.

Another thing you should avoid are cards that affect only one or a few players but not the whole table. These tend to imbalance the game and have the potential to bring about unwelcome results (see Death by Dragons). In general, it’s probably better not to use cards that provide a choice to the person who reveals them. So anything with the words “opponent” or “target” should be off limits or at least be dicussed before it gets added to the Chaos Stack. So, no to Divination but yes to Vision Skeins.

The third lesson was not to include too much removal. Yes, many mass removal spells are symmetrical which makes them a good choice at first, but if every fifth or sixth card that gets revealed destroys something, the game slows sown notably and people start wondering whether it would be wise to cast anything at all. Instead, focus on things that keep the game going. Card draw is the perfect means for this, so everything that provides it is immediately interesting. And in addition to that, it has the added bonus of helping out players who are either flooded, mana or color-screwed and lets everyone participate in the game which is always more fun!

Also, don’t even try to use only cards that are of a similar power level. First, that’s basically impossible. Second, variance is what we’re looking for, so it’s actually cool to use cards that impact the game to varying degrees. The thing is that you’ll never know if a card will influence the game strongly or not, and sometimes even the most harmless looking effect can drastically alter the situation. I remember the beginning of one game in particular when the player whose turn would be next rolled a 1 and revealed Smallpox. Normally, this effect doesn’t do too much but here it was just turn two and everybody had just played two lands at most as well as perhaps a mana dork. Smallpox slowed that game down to a crawl…

Finally, if you use the Chaos Stack the way we do, never give up in any game as you never know what the next roll of the dice might bring. We’ve had quite a few times where the outcome was clear as the sky on a sunny summer day only for the stack to turn the game on its head.

Now that I’ve been talking about it for some time, why don’t we have a look at the Chaos Stack my playgroup uses? Here it is in all its glory:


Kuchisama’s Chaos Stack (103)

Yeah, that’s quite a lot of cards. And it keeps getting bigger and bigger as every new set brings us new cards that you could include. That’s crazy! And the best thing about it? You can just combine it with any format. No matter if you prefer Free-for-All, Commander, 2HG or something else entirely, the Chaos Stack can be used to add that little bit of unpredictability to your games.

Obligatory Reference to the Comments Section

So, what do you think about the Chaos Stack? Is it something for you or not? If you’re already playing something like this, what are your house rules? What are the differences in comparison to what I’ve said here? I’d really like to know about your own ideas in this respect, so fire away in the comments!

Until next time then!




  1. This information is fantastic! I have played Planechase a few times but have always been curious about a chaos deck with regards to how to build it, how it plays, and do/don’ts. You have officially inspired me to give my own build a try… Just looking at your list I seen several cards that I know I have laying around and would love to include.

    Quick question for discussion… Does your playgroup use Planechase too? Do you prefer Planechase or the Chaos deck?

    1. Glad I could be of help!
      However, I only provided guidelines. It’s up to you and your fellow Magic players to determine the specifics. Actually, there are quite a lot of aspects that are up to change if you feel like it.

      With regard to Planechase: We’re playing both Planechase and the Chaos Stack, and we’ve actually used both at the same time once! My preference is easily the Chaos Stack though, because for some weird reason I find myself groaning almost every time a new plane is revealed in Planechase. I don’t know why exactly but Planechase just doesn’t really do it for me. The planes themselves are very different from each other (which is a good thing) but I find myself not liking many of them. Especially the one with the goats… Aaaah, the goats! I hate them!!! 😉
      However, I have to admit that the inclusion of the phenomena in Planechase 2.0 was a nice touch and made it far more interesting.

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