How to Play Mental Magic

Mikeal Basile
February 23, 2021
“Magictating” is defined as getting into the zone with your Magic the Gathering collection--thinking, planning, organizing, reminiscing about past games, and imagining future games. It is a combination of hard thinking about the game and calm meditation, reveling in the joy it brings you.

Do you have piles of cards you are looking to unload? Boxes of draft chaff clogging up your precious free space? Are there stacks of cards beyond the eight copies you planned on saving that are tossed in shoe box after shoe box? I have a recipe for turning your piles of “junk” into a beautiful buried treasure! No, I'm not saying you should buy an ammo box, fill it with cards, and then bury it in your backyard. I cannot comment on whether or not I have done that very thing. Rather than literally burying your treasured junk cards, you can utilize them to create cool new ways to play. The key to utilizing true extra cards is simple: pass them on to a local club (check to see if local middle or high schools run clubs—I've been running one since 2005). The second solution is also simple, give them away to friends or local game store chaff boxes. The third way is to turn it into a golden treasure horde destined to become a chest chock full of fun times. You can create a Mental Magic stack. Now, if you're unfamiliar with Mental Magic, then I will be more than happy to explain the basics, and if you've gotten the basics, then you might want to skip over to my Commanding Mental Magic section. In that section I propose a way to play Commander using that unruly pile of lost treasures.

Mental Magic Basics:

Mental Magic is a way to play Magic without worrying about your mana base or even deck construction itself. You use a stack of communal cards as everyone's library, no tutor effects should be allowed, and mill is out of the question as a win condition (self-mill included, sorry Laboratory Maniac and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries fans). In Mental Magic you start the game just like any other—decide who goes first, and then each player draws seven cards from the pile. You may play one land a turn, and you do this by taking any card in your hand and placing it face down in front of you as a Utopia. Utopias function as a basic land that has all land types and can thus tap for any color. I've heard some groups cut out the land types, but I like to keep them in for the fun cards like Corrupt, Crusading Knight, Wood Elemental, Barrel Down Sokenzan, and Benthic Behemoth can bring. Be warned that it can also allow people to utilize spells like Boil, Tsunami, Flashfires, Acid Rain, or even Karma. However, if you can agree not to blow up the lands for an Erhnamgeddon style win, then you can utilize the aforementioned land type matters cards and perhaps bust out a creature with Islandhome (it's a defunct keyword). However you decide to play the land-type rule, Utopias function the same as any other basic land, so they tap and untap as normal.

Now that you know how to play lands and generate mana, you can get on with how to actually play Mental Magic. Whenever you draw a card you have every card ever created at that particular converted mana cost at your fingertips. Any card you can mentally summon up that has the same exact casting cost can be played using the card in your hand. This means that the three mana Stone Rain you just drew can also be an Arni Brokenbrow or Wheel of Fortune. Now, you can also play the card exactly as it is. Which can be a huge relief for newbies and those of us that may need a mental break while playing. Also, sometimes you just want to cast Stone Rain. So, if I draw an Unsummon, then I can use it to Unsummon your creature, or I could cast Ancestral Recall and draw three cards. Likewise, if my opponent has a Brainstorm in hand, then she could easily cast Mental Misstep in response to nullify my attempted Ancestral Recall . Now, I don't want you to go thinking that this is all about fast mana and super powerful Vintage cards, because it doesn't have to be. In fact, if you curate your treasure pile of left-overs, then you can rest assured that most of those cards have been culled from the pile beforehand. This makes them much more uncommon, or dare I say rare. Heck, you can take your pile of leftovers, shake them up, and use that as you Mental Magic pile. Magic is a game, and playing Mental Magic this way ought to be about having some mentally stimulating fun. One other important rule of Mental Magic is that during the course of a game each card you name can only be played once per game. This counts for both players. This means if you cast a Mana Drain, then I cannot Mana Drain your Mana Drain. This is a true Highlander style format; there can be only one of each card. Most Commander players will see this as a simple rule to grasp. One more additional rule concerns the card types. While you are playing the game, cards in hand or in the deck have no actual names, so Lobotomy effects don't work. The cards do retain their types. If you cast a Raise Dead, then you can only return a card that is printed as an actual creature. This helps keep things restricted enough that crazy looping and repetitive game play do not suck the fun from your Mental Magic stack. Otherwise, you're free to opt into anything else you can think of in your Mental Magic games.


Clear the Mind - David Palumbo

The game unfolds as you both play Magic using a communal deck. This means that Shared Fate is basically useless in this format. Anyway, I used to keep my Mental Magic stack in an under-the-bed storage container. I shuffled the cards by shaking the container back and forth. It was literally a messy pile of cards and when we drew from the “deck” it was more like picking a treasure out of a chest of nonsense. I actually prefer this to having a neat stack of cards. It just feels like you are truly turning trash into treasure. I love plunging my hand into the stack and pulling out a Shambling Strider, and then going through my mental rolodex of cards to figure out what is the best card at 3GG for me to play at this moment. If you thought Plow Under, then you may be an evil green mage. This is such a fun way to play, and if I'm not playing Commander or Cube, then I love to play a little Mental Magic. Now, with Covid still raging at the time of writing this article, I know this may not be easily possible for people, but if you both have random stacks of left-overs, then you could still do this virtually over Spell Table (which is a fantastically simple way to remotely play Magic).

Commanding Mental Magic

Now I've got a little spin on this format for you. I love playing Commander, and since Commander Legends came out I've been ever overwhelmed by new possibilities. It was interesting to be able to play limited Commander and really inspiring. So, I decided to take a cue from Commander Legends and explore a little side-quest of mine. You see, I figure I can combine two of my favorite yet disparate formats using a similar approach. Commander and Mental Magic can actually go together. Some might say it can't be done. Others will warn you that the board state will be beyond comprehension. To these vacuous individuals I say, be bold and fortune shall favor you. I am going to explain simple format rules changes required to make this crazy thing work.

Default Commander:

Who is my Commander going to be? Will I be locked out of colors? No, you will not be locked out, because the Prismatic Piper is everyone's Commander. We all have our own five color version of The Prismatic Piper; it becomes a true Prismatic Piper. I feel this matches the art and the name far better than its functional reality requires it to be. Now, you can feel free to bring any other Legend you want as your de facto partner. You can just pretend that whatever legendary creature you're bringing has “Partner” on it as well. I don't think this is necessary, but it could allow you to try focusing your creative plays around a particular theme. Regardless, we all have a 5 mana (and newly dubbed 5 color) 3/3 waiting in the wings for us. Now, we can proceed to all play Commander with the same random pile of cards. This takes the singleton limit of Commander to a new level, and also forces people to play spells in colors they might otherwise avoid entirely. It's good to try new things, as long as those things don't kill brain cells.

If you have trouble keeping track of the game state, then perhaps you are not truly ready for this test. Or perhaps it is just really hard, and you need to take some notes or write things down on scraps of paper and label those janky permanents. You can go without notes, and treat this as a MENSA test—keep track of what cards have been played and what every permanent on the board actually is at all times. I think that could be plenty of fun for everyone involved. However, I'm also keen on wiping the board with a variety of board wipes that have existed throughout the ages. So, whenever things get messy don't be afraid to take that Sisay's Ring you just drew and turn it into a Nevinyrral's Disk, or maybe just a Tawnos's Wand to slip your Angel of Destiny through for a sneaky victory.

Mind's Desires - Anthony Francisco

Mental Magic came about as a fun way to play the game on the fly. You only needed a stack of cards for both players, and then your choices were limited only to what you knew about Magic. This is truly an amazing way to play. Being able to play with people whose memories are beyond your own is actually a great way to learn about cards you didn't even know existed. Having someone cast Whispers of the Muse with buyback in response to your spell, and then use the same card to cast Flusterstorm targeting your spell is really something to behold. I hope you get a chance to get in some Mental Magic as it truly is a great way to Magictate with your pals. Finding a way to utilize your stack of otherwise useless cards is also a very satisfying feeling. I hope you all stay mentally stimulated and keep slinging spells whenever you can!