I wrote in my Play Variant Bible that I was going to cover Chaos in a separate article. Well here it is. As I’ve said before, there is a massively common misconception that chaos simply means you have three or more players playing in a game. In fact, I understand this definition to be so common among casual players that I’m sure my attempting to clarify it sounds like arrogance. Perhaps I’m wrong, but all I’m saying is that for as far as I have known, the play variant known as “Chaos” was something else entirely. So this is an article on Chaos as I know it. If you really want to change the name, go ahead, I don’t care.
Chaos deserves an article by itself not because it’s particularly complicated, but because it’s customizable. This customizability is what makes it so complex and fun.
Chaos is a true casual player’s format. Why? It’s chaotic, to put it simply. It adds a severe element of luck to the game, which makes it a highly unprofessional practice. It also makes things more fun and exciting. Usually. It is best played with at least three people, but I suppose two would work.
How it works is simple, you write up a table of card names, (do not use land or creatures for this though, at least not at first), and number them. Make sure you have a die that has as many sides as there are card names. 20 is the typical number, but you can go lower if you want, (Or higher if you’ve invested in one of those hilarious 100-sided die. I also hear there are 30-sided die). For your first time trying Chaos you should really stick to 20 though, no more, no less, because the ramifications of going lower or higher can be severe, as I will explain later.
Okay, so you have a table of twenty card names. Now what happens is that whoever is determined to go first becomes the “Chaos Player.” You all play through the first round like normal, but after that there is a “Chaos Phase” before each of the Chaos Player’s untap steps. What happens during the Chaos Phase is that the Chaos Player rolls the die and announces the spell that corresponds to the number. That spell then resolves as if someone had just played it. If you write down cards that typically affect only one player, make them affect all players. After the Chaos Phase, the Chaos Player then starts their turn.
Absolutely no spells or abilities can be played during the Chaos Phase. In other words, no responding to nothing. You can’t sacrifice your Baloth in response to the Chaos Phase’s Wrath of God, and you can’t hide cards in your hand with a brainstorm in response to the Chaos Phase’s Hymn to Tourach. The Chaos effect can’t be countered either. Also, it is generally useful to consider the Chaos spell colorless, (An Inferno still gets creatures with protection from red). Spells that normally target players or creatures aren’t considered to be targeting, (The Hymn to Tourach still hits you even if you have an Ivory Mask). In fact, it’s not really a spell that’s being played. So hypothetically Forgotten Ancient will not get a +1/+1 counter, (When the card is released, that is). Nothing goes on the stack, an ability just resolves. The long and short of it is, there is no way around what happens during the Chaos Phase.
Additionally, you may have global states put on the list instead of just instants and sorceries. For example, if Aluren was on the list and you rolled it, nothing would happen immediately. What would happen would be that all players would play as if an Aluren was in play until the next Chaos Phase. Global states like this are removed at the next Chaos Phase, so they only last for that round.
In fact, because the Chaos Phase really isn’t casting spells, you don’t have to put real cards on the list, just interesting effects. Or you can combine cards, or reword cards slightly so that they work better for the format. You can also apply mechanics to the Chaos list. For example, “Until the next Chaos Phase, all cards gain Cycling 1,” could appear on your list or “Until the next Chaos Phase, all instants and sorceries have a flashback cost equal to their casting cost.” You can even put not-so-global permanents on the list, (Like creatures or mana-producing artifacts). In these cases each player would just put a pretend copy of that permanent in play. In the case of permanents, have them last forever, not just until the next Chaos phase. Still, straying from permanents and non-existent cards is generally a good rule of thumb, especially for beginners to this format.
I still have more to say, but let’s take a break and look at these two sample Chaos lists which I think are nice and balanced. I have incorporated all of the ideas I’ve discussed so far into these:
Chaos List #1
1 – Hymn to Tourach: All players discard two cards at random.
2 – Timetwister: All players shuffle their hand graveyard and library together and draw seven cards.
3 – Balance: All players sacrifice creatures until they control no more than any other player. This process is repeated for lands. Players then discard cards until their hand size is no larger than any other hand size.
4 – Phyrexian Processor: Each player may choose a creature type a color and a number, (X), then they put an X/X token into play of that creature type and color and lose X life.
5 – Donate: Each player chooses a non-land permanent they control and gives control of if to another player.
6 – Ancestral Recall: Each player draws 3 cards.
7 – Purify: Bury all artifacts and enchantments.
8 – Madness: Until the next Chaos phase, all spells have madness 1.
9 – Armageddon: Bury all lands.
10 – Vitalizing Wind: All players’ life totals are now 20.
11 – Grave Consequences: All players remove any number of cards in their graveyard from the game, then lose 1 life for each card in their graveyard.
12 – Really Painful Memories: Each player places all cards in hand on top of their library in any order.
13 – Simplistic Trembling Blood: Each player sacrifices a permanent of each type.
14 – Cycling: Until the next Chaos phase, all cards gain cycling 1.
15 – Shade’s Form: Until the next Chaos phase, all creatures gain “1: This creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.”
16 – Triple Whetstone: Each player puts the top 9 cards of their library into their graveyard.
17 – Wrath of God: Bury all creatures.
18 – Aluren: Until the next Chaos phase, creatures with converted mana cost 3 or less can be played any time you could cast an instant and without paying their mana cost.
19 – Mana Flare: Until the next Chaos phase, lands produce an additional mana of the color they normally produce.
20 – Restock: Each player chooses two cards in their graveyard and returns them to their hand.
Chaos List #2
1 – Players rotate life totals clockwise.
2 – Jokulhaups: Bury all non-enchantments.
3 – Demonic Tutor: Each player searches their library for any card and puts it into their hand.
4 – Tormod’s Planar Void: Remove all cards in all graveyards from the game. Until the next Chaos phase, whenever a card would go to graveyard from anywhere, remove it from the game instead.
5 – Tranquility: Bury all enchantments.
6 – Recycle: Until the next Chaos phase, whenever a player plays a card, that player draws a card. At the end of each player’s turn, that player discards down to two cards.
7 – Bedlam: Until the next Chaos phase, creatures can’t block.
8 – Fade Away: For each creature, that creature’s controller pays 1 or sacrifices a permanent.
9 – Breakthrough: Each player draws 4 cards, then discards all but 4 cards.
10 – Dream Halls: Until the next Chaos phase, players may play spells without paying their mana cost by discarding a card instead.
11 – Reprocess: Each player may sacrifice any number of permanents, then draw that many cards.
12 – Disenchant Strafe: Each player chooses an artifact or enchantment and a creature. Destroy all of the chosen artifacts and enchantments and deal 3 damage to all of the chosen creatures.
13 – Grand Melee: Until the next Chaos phase, all creatures attack if able and all creatures block if able.
14 – Wheel of Fortune: Each player discards their hand and then draws 7 cards.
15 – Nature’s Revolt: Until the next Chaos phase, all lands are 2/2 creatures that still count as lands.
16 – Tempting Wurm: All players may put any number of permanents in their hands into play.
17 – Living Death: Set aside all creatures in play, then return all creatures in all graveyards to play, then bury all creatures that are set aside.
18 – Gaea’s Blessing: Each player chooses up to 3 cards in their graveyard and shuffles them into their library, then they draw a card.
19 – Vitalize: Put a +1/+1 counter on all creatures.
20 – Upheaval: Return all permanents to owner’s hands.
Now that you have an idea of what a Chaos list might look like, here are some guidelines for building your own.
1) Potency: It is a good idea to make sure that any given roll will usually have a large affect on how the round is played. Things like “Healing Salve: All players gain 3 life” are just a little too tame. Also, feel free to add in game-changingly powerful stuff like Wrath of God. Of course, the first few turns will often be relatively unaffected by the Chaos effects, (Like rolling Living Death when no creatures are in play or in graveyards yet), but don’t worry about this, it’s natural.
2) Balance: Conversely, while mass removal effects are usually a good idea to include, don’t go overboard. Typically it’s nice for players to be able to build up a base of something. But on the converse of that, make sure that the Chaos list includes way to get any given permanent off the table. Things that mess around with players hands and graveyards are good too. Also, the occasionally effect that lets players cast things easier or draw cards easier is good too. In other words, try to get a little bit of everything.
3) Don’t be lethal: The Chaos Phase should never kill a player, at least not directly. Sure a Wrath of God could indirectly kill some body who is at 1 life and has a Sarcomancy on the table, but those sorts of things are going to happen. All I’m saying is that something like Inferno is usually a bad idea because it’s not very fun for somebody at 6 life to suddenly be out of the game entirely just because of a Chaos Phase. If you really want effects like Inferno on your list, errata them so that they won’t take a player’s life total below 1. “Now hold on a minute!” you might be saying. Yes, I did put Phyrexian Processor and Grave Consequences on my list which can potentially cause loss of life. The keyword is POTENTIALLY. If a player can’t afford to lose any life they can go ahead and either put a 0/0 into play or remove their entire graveyard from the game, depending on the effect. In fact, if you want effects that will get players to lose some life, effects like these are the best way to do it. Give the players the option of paying life for something, (A critter or a graveyard in my examples), and so that way you’ll get your desired life loss early in the game when it won’t kill the players, but the players still have a way out later in the game when it really matters.
4) Universality: Don’t make any effects favor any one color. For example, my Shade’s Form effect was reworded so that creatures are pumped up with colorless mana instead of black mana as the real card reads. An Eladamri’s Vineyard is usually a bad idea because it favors green. If you want something like an Eladamri’s Vineyard then have it produce colorless mana. Also - and this echoes sentiment expressed under “Balance” – try not to make the list favor any one deck style. Every list should have something that will either help or hinder any typical archetype.
5) Be creative: Okay, so maybe this pointer sounds cutesy and lame, but seriously, the fun of Chaos is that its unpredictable, so please feel free to experiment by putting wacky effects on the list. The rotating of life totals is a bit bold, no?
Now that all the building blocks are set, let’s discuss some advanced concepts regarding this fun format:
“Choice” related effects – Though spells and abilities can’t be played during the Chaos Phase, many of the effects on the two lists above require players to choose things during the Chaos Phase, (Donate, Tempting Wurm, and even Balance to name a few). While all aspects of an effect may happen simultaneously as far as the stack is concerned, situations like this give a strategic bonus to whoever waits until everybody else has made their decisions first. What should be observed is some sort of rule to keep these situations consistent. The simplest solution is to have each player make their relevant choices in turn order. This is generally fair because it gives a slight advantage to the player who is usually the most disadvantaged: the player who goes last. Another alternative is to have each player make their choice in secret, and then everybody reveals their choices at the same time. This can cause for redundant choice making; for example if my Disenchant Strafe effect is rolled, more than one player may choose the same annoying artifact, enchantment, or creature. This is probably the most balanced method, but it is certainly more time consuming because you may need to play with extra counters or even pen and paper to make sure players aren’t lying about the choices they make. For casual play it is probably best to just do choice making willy-nilly like usual, or do it in turn order.
As I said before, changing the list size will have effects on how the game plays out. The mathematical truth of the matter is that the smaller the list, the more frequently any given effect will be rolled. A list with only 6 items that include Wrath of God is going to obliterate a lot more creatures than a list with 20 items that include Wrath of God. Consequently, the smaller the list, the less drastic the effects should be.
After you get tired of typical Chaos, (if there is such a thing), you may want to try building lists that follow a certain theme. Locally, our first experimentation with this was to build a list that intentionally broke the rules of balance. We wanted a list that did something drastic with each roll. We spread out the hate just enough so that the list was still really fun to play with, but admittedly luck reigns supreme in a game using this list:
Obliteration Chaos List
1- All players rotate life totals clockwise.
2- Time twister: All players shuffle their hand and graveyard into their library, then draw 7 cards.
3- Demonic Tutor: All players may search through their library and take any card into hand.
4- Upheaval: Return all permanents to owner’s hand.
5- Mana Vault: All players gain control of a Mana Vault.
6- Nevinyrral’s Disk: Destroy all creatures, enchantments and artifacts.
7- Echo: All creatures gain echo and are treated as though they came into play last turn, (excluding summoning sickness).
8- Wheel of Fortune: All players discard their hands and then draw 7 cards.
9- Balance: All players sacrifice lands until they have the same number of lands as the player with the least amount of land. Then they repeat this process for creatures and cards in hand.
10- Tormod’s Crypt: All players remove their graveyards from the game.
11- Pyroclasm: Deal 2 damage to each creature.
12- Regrowth: All players choose one card in their graveyards and return that card to their hands.
13- Feldon’s Cane: All players shuffle their graveyards back into their libraries.
14- Armageddon: Bury all lands.
15- Vitalizing Wind: All players’ life totals become 20.
16- Exhume: All players choose a creature in their graveyard and return it to play.
17- Living Death: Set aside all creatures in play. All creatures in all graveyards come into play under their owners’ control. Then all creatures set aside are buried in their owners’ graveyards.
18- Pox: All players lose one third of their life, one third of their lands, one third of their creatures, and one third of the cards in their hands. Round all losses up.
19- Fork: All players may copy one instant or sorcery cast before the next chaos phase for free. The player forking the spell makes all decisions that the copy calls for.
20- Re-roll Chaos twice more. Deal with one roll at a time.
To simplify AND amplify such a theme, one could make a 10-item list like this:
Super-Obliteration Chaos List
1 – Timetwister: All players shuffle their hand, graveyard and library together and then draw 7 cards.
2 – Wrath of God: Bury all creatures.
3 – Demonic Tutor: Each player searches their library for a card and puts it into their hand.
4 – Purify: Bury all artifacts and enchantments.
5 – Upheaval: Return all permanents to owner’s hands.
6 – Tormod’s Crypt: Remove all cards in all graveyards from the game.
7 – Regrowth: Each player chooses a card in their graveyard and returns it to their hand.
8 – Armageddon: Bury all lands.
9 – Mindtwist: All players discard their hand.
10 – Reroll Chaos twice, resolving each Chaos effect separately.
I haven’t played with this list yet. It might be too devastating to be any fun. As an alternative I thought of paring down the list to 6 and making each effect smaller, but still destructive:
1 – Unnerve: All players discard a card.
2 – Tremble: All players sacrifice a land.
3 – Simplify: All players sacrifice an enchantment.
4 – Innocent Blood: All players sacrifice a creature.
5 – Innocent Artifice: All players sacrifice an artifact.
6 – Cantrip: All players draw a card.
This one got me thinking because the last item, in away undoes the first, but for it to truly undo it you’d have to “regrowth,” not just draw a card. Then I got the idea to make a list where half of it was destructive and half of it undid the destruction:
Dancing Chaos List
1 – Unnerve: All players discard a card.
2 – Tremble: All players sacrifice a land.
3 – Simplify: All players sacrifice an enchantment.
4 – Innocent Blood: All players sacrifice a creature.
5 – Innocent Artifice: All players sacrifice an artifact.
6 – Regrowth: All players choose a card in their graveyard and return it to their hand.
7 – Cartography: All players choose a land in their graveyard and return it to play.
8 – Auramancy: All players choose an enchantment in their graveyard and return it to play.
9 – Exhume: All players choose a creature in their graveyard and return it to play.
10 – Recall: All players choose an artifact in their graveyard and return it to play.
Now I’m finally on to an interesting theme. As of now I haven’t tested this list, but I imagine it could be very fun. Anyway, I suppose I’ve run this theme into the ground. Let’s look at something that builds you up rather than tears you down.
Speed Chaos List
1 – Thran Vineyard: Until the next Chaos phase, each player may add up to 3 colorless mana to their mana pool during their pre-combat main phase.
2 – Cycling: Until the next Chaos phase, all cards gain cycling 1.
3 – Mana Flare: Until the next Chaos phase, all lands produce an additional mana of any type they would normally produce.
4 – Ancestral Recall: Each player draws 3 cards.
5 – Helm of Awakening: Until the next Chaos phase, all spells cost 1 less to play.
6 – Rhystic Study: Until the next Chaos phase, whenever a player plays a spell, that player may pay 1. If they don’t, all of their opponents draw a card.
7 – Squandered Resources: Until the next Chaos phase, players may sacrifice a land to produce 1 mana of a color the land could normally produce.
8 – Recycle: Until the next Chaos phase, whenever a player plays a card, that player may draw a card. At the end of each player’s turn, that player discards down to two cards.
9 – Channel: Until the next Chaos phase, all players may pay 1 life at any time to put a colorless mana into their mana pool.
10 – Diabolic Vision: Each player looks at the top five cards of their library, puts one into their hand, then puts the rest back on top in any order.
11 – Aluren: Until the next Chaos phase, creatures with casting cost 3 or less may be played without paying their mana cost and they may be cast as instants.
12 – Demonic Tutor: Each player searches their library for any card and puts it into their hand.
13 – Dream Halls: Until the next Chaos phase, each player may discard a card instead of paying a spell’s mana cost.
14 – Skeletal Scrying: Each player may remove any number of cards in their graveyard from the game. They draw a card for each card removed this way.
15 – Madness: Until the next Chaos phase, all spells have madness 1.
16 – Necrologia: Each player may pay any amount of life. They draw a card for each life paid this way.
17 – Mana Cache: Until the next Chaos phase, a mana cache is in play. The mana cache comes into play with a number of mana counters on it equal to the number of untapped lands that the last player to take a turn controls. At the end of each player’s turn put a number of mana counters on the mana cache equal to the number of untapped lands that player controls. During each player’s turn, they may remove a mana counter from the mana cache at any time in order to add a colorless mana to their mana pool.
18 – Keep Watch: Until the next Chaos phase, whenever a creature attacks, defending player draws a card.
19 – Thran Ritual: Until the next Chaos phase, during each palyer’s pre-combat main phase that player adds an amount of colorless mana to their mana pool equal to the number of creatures they control.
20 – Timetwister: Each player shuffles their hand, graveyard and library together and draws 7 cards.
The idea behind this one was to let players either empty their hand of spells faster, or refill their hand with spells faster. Again, I haven’t tested this one, but I’d imagine the games would be very crazy-fast. Another idea I had was to make a list that recalled all of the block mechanics:
Mechanic Chaos List
1 - Upkeep: Until the next chaos phase, all creatures gain “During your upkeep sacrifice a land or sacrifice this creature” and all artifacts and enchantments gain “During your upkeep pay 1 or sacrifice this permanent.”
2 - Phasing: Until the next chaos phase, all permanents gain “1: This permanents phases out.”
3 - Flanking: Until the next chaos phase, all creatures gain “1: This creature gains flanking until end of turn.”
4 - Shadow: Until the next chaos phase, all creatures gain “1: This creature gains shadow until end of turn.”
5 - Buyback: Until the next chaos phase, all instants and sorceries gain “Buyback 1.”
6 - Cycling: Until the next chaos phase, all cards gain “Cycling 1”
7 - Echo: Until the next chaos phase, all creatures gain Echo and are treated as though they came into play last turn.
8 - Acc: Until the next chaos phase, all spells gain “You may remove a card in hand from the game that shares a color with this spell to play this spell without paying its mana cost.”
9 - Color Hate: Until the next chaos phase, all spells gain “This spell costs 2 less to play if an opponent controls a basic land that produces mana of a color opposed to the color of this spell.”
10 - Spellshapers: Until the next chaos phase, all white creatures gain “W, T, Discard a card from your hand: Gain 3 life,” all blue creatures gain “U, T, Discard a card from your hand: Target creature is unblockable this turn,” all black creatures gain “B, T, Discard a card from your hand: Target creature gets –1/-1,” all red creatures gain “R, T, Discard a card from your hand: Destroy target artifact or non-basic land,” and all green creatures gain “G, T, Discard a card from your hand: Target creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.”
11 - Spell Kicker: Until the next chaos phase, all instants and sorceries gain “Kicker 2; if you paid the kicker cost, put an additional copy of this spell on the stack.”
12 - Permanent Kicker: Until the next chaos phase, all artifact, enchantment, and creature spells gain “Kicker 2; if you paid the kicker cost, when this permanent comes into play you may search your library for a card that shares a card type with this card and put into your hand.”
13 - Domain: Until the next chaos phase, non-creature spells cost 1 less to play for each basic land type among lands their casters control and creatures get +1/+1 for each basic land type among lands their controllers control.
14 - Spell Threshold: Until the next chaos phase, all instants and sorceries gain “Threshold – put an extra copy of this spell on the stack.”
15 - Artifact/Enchantment Threshold: Until the next chaos phase, all artifact and enchantment spells gain “Threshold - when this permanent comes into play you may search your library for a card that shares a card type with this card and put into your hand.”
16 - Creature Threshold: Until the next chaos phase, all creatures gain “Threshold – this creature gets +X/+X where X is equal to it’s converted mana cost.”
17 - Flashback: Until the next chaos phase, all instants and sorceries gain a Flashback cost equal to their mana costs.
18 - Madness: Until the next chaos phase, all spells gain “Madness 1.”
19 - Incarnations: Until the next chaos phase, creatures have first strike if a creature with first strike is in their controller’s graveyard, flying if a creature with flying is in their controller’s graveyard, fear if a creature with fear is in their controller’s graveyard, haste if a creature with haste is in their controller’s graveyard, and trample if a creature with trample is in their controller’s graveyard.
20 - Morph: All creatures without morph gain morph. Their morph costs are equal to their casting costs. Turn all creatures with morph face-down. This effect does not end at end of the round.
At this point, I’m just sharing ideas. Already I can tell you that this list is flawed because the newer mechanics are over-represented. If you like this idea I suggest altering this list to balance out that fact; give each block the same number of slots.
My final idea is “Permanent” Chaos. This is an idea my friends and I spawned. It requires a few extra rules. Essentially everything on this list is a permanent. Unless asterisked, the permanents come into play ownerless, (These are usually permanents that affect all players anyway). The asterisked ones come into play in the form of a copy for each player. These chaos permanents remain in play until destroyed. All of them are considered colorless, but they still maintain their type. No chaos permanents can be destroyed or sacrificed by normal means. Chaos permanents owned by players can still be the target of spells or abilities, provided they aren’t destroying the permanent or causing it to be sacrificed. The final rule to keep the table from getting flooded with fake permanents is that whenever a roll is made that matches any chaos permanents already in play, all chaos permanents are destroyed instead. To keep this feature consistent enough, the lists should probably never exceed 10 items. Anyway, here is my sample list:
Permanent Chaos List:
1 – Howling Mine
2 – Mana Vault*
3 – Aluren
4 – Static Orb
5 – Death Match
6 – Tombstone Stairwell
7 – The Abyss
8 – Goblin Bombardment*
9 – Pandemonium
10 – Concordant Crossroads
And that about wraps it up. I hope you enjoyed exploring this fun and most definitely casual play format. I highly suggest trying this sort of thing if you haven’t already, it shakes up any evening of Magic in a most satisfying way.