Uncompetitive Spirit — Secret Partners

Aside from the Pentagram variant and the Chase variant, there aren’t that many ways to spice up a five-player game of EDH, but as I’m sure we’re all well aware, they can really drag on if played in a classic free-for-all style. This installment of Uncompetitive Spirit will cover a variant which allows for very interesting 5-player games, as well as a very different 4- or 6-player experience as well. It’s called Secret Partners.


Secret Partners: The Basics

Before the game begins, every player picks a deck. Each player then randomly draws a card, and looks at it without revealing it to anyone else. The cards can be something simple but needs to follow the same formula. A common set-up is Mountain, Lightning Bolt, Forest, Giant Growth, Dark Ritual or similar. The players dealt land cards reveal those, and the players who have been dealt Lightning Bolt and Giant Growth are now Secret Partners with Mountain and Forest respectively.

Teams win games together, using these basic rules:

  • If a player has a face-down card, it is not revealed until the game ends.
  • If a face-down card player and a face-up card player (e.g. Mountain and Lightning Bolt) are the two remaining players, the Lightning Bolt player flips over his card and the two are crowned winners.
  • If one of the members of a team is eliminated, the other can still win the game for the team by being the last planeswalker standing.
  • Variant variant: Some groups like to have face-down players reveal their cards upon elimination. This adds another layer of strategy to the game as each opponent is killed off, and might be to your taste!
  • The player with the Dark Ritual card is neutral, in practice. He or she wins by being the last planeswalker standing at the end of the game.
  • I’ve seen a very interesting variant on this rule: that the Dark Ritual player can win together with either face-up card, using the same procedure as described above. I haven’t yet tried this version myself, and honestly it seems like it changes up this role a lot, from being perhaps slightly behind in the beginning, to being probably the most comfortable position all game. That said, it is an interesting take.
  • Cards that affect “each opponent” or similar treats every other player as an opponent, since only two of the roles are known.
  • Cards which use the phrase “You win the game” screws with the basic idea of a different victory condition in the variant, and probably should be excluded.

If playing a 4- or 6-player game (or 8, or 10, …):  Distribute the roles as above, except now you have even teams. The teams win as described above.


Secret Partners: Tactics

There is a lot that could be covered here. Secret Partners is a very different game compared to regular EDH. To get a sense of it all, I recommend you bring this to your next game night and take it for a spin once or twice. It’s a blast, and it mixes things up a lot!

For starters, since there are two players whose roles are known, these tend to take most of the flak throughout both early-, mid-, and late game, so if you flip a land as your card, be prepared to defend yourself tooth-and-nail right from the get go. The other players will have to play a game similar to the Knight’s position in the Kingdoms variant I wrote about in this series’ inaugural article. It can be a very good thing to have your teammate almost sure you’re on his or her side. On the other hand though, since there are two known roles and three unknown roles, it can actually be beneficial to stay undercover for quite some time – the three other players at the table could otherwise take advantage of your “known” role. Trying to act neutral might be dangerous as well though, seeing as you could be targeted by your unknowing ally.

If you are the Dark Ritual player, you play a completely different role, trying to masquerade as one of the Partners of a face-up card, and abusing your position as neutral as much as possible. Since you’ve got no horse in the race to begin with, you’re also left with no obligation to help out anyone in trouble and you’re free to use your kill spells for threats controlled by people aiming at you. You could also broker deals a bit more easily, and deal with threats among the other face-down players, feigning alliances as you do so.

Playing as a face-up player is also stressful because you can never be sure who your friend is. If a player plays a huge threat, and you suspect that player is part of the other Partner alliance, do you use your kill spell on that threat in case you happen to be right, or do you save it in case you could be wrong and the threat is leveled against someone else? This is somewhat mitigated by instant-speed removal, always neat in this format to be sure, but even more-so in variants like this. It’s also tempting to go after the other face-up player, but leaving yourself too open for retaliation is dangerous indeed.

The same is actually true for any of the face-down roles as well – alpha striking one of the face-up players will surely provoke instant retaliation from the other face up players and likely both of the face-down players, meaning you’ll be left disadvantageous at best, and KO’d at worst.

All of this is a gigantic, political balancing act on all fronts, and makes for very interesting, very interactive game play. As usual, I recommend playing with decks who will beat face and can interact with opposing creatures. Not that these are the likeliest to win, but since the games tend to turn out best for everyone.

4- and 6-player games are an entirely different affair, honestly, where it’s much more about deducing your true Partner. Playing face-up in a 6-player game is likely even more nerve-wrecking, since you know for sure you have an additional opponent to deal with, and leaving yourself exposed is even more dangerous.


Uncompetitive Arena: Zacama, Primal Calamity

I know, this is the second time I’ve featured a dinosaur commander in this column – but I have to admit, I’m a sucker for dinosaurs! So are a lot of you apparently as well, Zacama, Primal Calamity is the top commander both for this week and this month! It’s easy to see why, on paper Zacama is a very powerful Naya-commander which is sort-of free to cast when you’ve hit nine mana on lands, and the activated abilities, though expensive, are all pretty relevant – at least the green one and the red one.

Zacama is new though, which will impact the average deck generated by this site. Let’s have a look:

Zacama EDHREC average

Commanders (1)
Creatures (28)
Instants (4)
Sorceries (11)
Artifacts (7)
Enchantments (8)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (40)

As is evident from this list, the Zacama decks that are popping up right now are pretty similar in flavor to the Gishath, Sun’s Avatar decks that were floating around online when Ixalan was new, and I can certainly see why. However, I think Gishath is an inherently stronger Dinosaur tribal commander than Zacama, and I think that the successful Zacama lists that will outlive the new-card hype are either more good-stuffy Naya beats or some sort of combo set-up using the commander’s enters the battlefield-effect and lands which produce more than one mana.

All this aside, this EDHREC generated deck looks pretty solid for playing Secret Partners. It’s got a small package of relevant instants to interact with opponents, the usual suspects in the ramp department, all of it backing up a strong suite of dinosaur beats in the best Jurassic Park impersonation available in Magic (my inner seven-year-old is stoked!). It also has the potential to do silly things with a flipped Growing Rites of Itlimoc, or Sunbird’s Invocation, or my own newly-found love Etali, Primal Storm. The downfall of the deck in Secret Partners might just be that the commander itself and the deck at large could attract a lot of attention, even if Zacama is dealt a face-down card. Careful political positioning is thus needed for success, but that is true for everyone in this variant.

An obvious card which I would sleeve up instantly if I were to play this deck in Secret Partners, or any other EDH game really, isPyrohemia. It almost feels as if it was made for the deck – it can keep the board clear from things trying to chump your dinosaur army, it is outright stupid for abusing the Enrage triggers on your own dinosaurs, and it synergizes quite well with the commander – Zacama will not tie up mana for Pyrohemia while at the same time is so huge it is likely to keep Pyrohemia around, and you can use the white activated ability when needed if the damage begins to stack up.


New Article Series coming up!

With this installment of Uncompetitive Spirit concluded, I have one more piece planned out, and then – what happens? Likely, we will close the book on format variants for this time around in a month, and I will move on to a new series. And for this to be a success, I need your help, dear reader. My new series is called General Medicine where I will take a look at your EDH deck, run it through our own EDHREC analysis, add some twists and turns of my own, and present your deck with an analysis for the world to see, right here on this site! Sounds exciting? Want your sweet brew featured (as in, picked apart, analyzed, and written about – it’s not as scary as it might sound!) in my series? Here’s what you do:

  • Send an e-mail to edhrecdecksubmissions@gmail.com and make sure you include the following:
    • An easy to read decklist. Links to the usual suspects (TappedOut, Deckstats, etc.) is fine.
    • A short description of your deck – how does it play? How does it win? What are your favorite cards?
    • A short description of where you want to go with the deck – is it competitive? 75%? Casual?
    • If needed, a short description of your local metagame – are there any decks you’re looking to beat?
  • Sign it with your name, but let me know if you want to remain anonymous or use an alias.
  • Hold on to your Krark’s Thumb and hope that I will choose your deck!
  • The series will premiere at the earliest in March, but the e-mail is open for submissions now! The more time I have to analyze your deck, the likelier it is that I will choose it! So get your submissions in now!

To my delight, I’ve already gotten a number of submissions for the column – and I must apologize to anyone who has e-mailed: I haven’t had the time to sit down and write proper replies to everyone yet. If you haven’t yet sent in a deck for me, there is still time! I will not be using some sort of first-come, first-served policy, I will be choosing the most interesting deck and I will also look at the best write-ups! Make sure you read the submission guidelines above, and take your time when writing me your e-mail; the better the write-up, the higher the chance I pick your deck! And if you’re not picked this time, fear not – I will be keeping any unused lists and write-ups in my log, from which I will pull the nuggets every time.

Robin started playing Magic in secondary school, around Urza block, and has spent his entire time in the game with non-rotating formats. In his past, Robin was a diehard competitive tournament player, but he has shifted to playing EDH/Commander and Limited almost exclusively in the past years. He works as a development manarger in charge of democracy development, and lives in Sweden with his wife and his daughter.