CCGs the Fun Way, Part 1: Friendly League Play

Ever since Magic: the Gathering first became popular, there has been a problem playing CCGs casually with a group of friends: someone spends their way to victory, which triggers an arms race until everyone is either left in the dust or spending way too much on a “casual” game.

In this article I’ll offer some tips on how to enjoy collectible card games with friends, without breaking the bank.

Collectible card games offer compelling strategy in the form of deckbuilding. By offering a large set of cards with different abilities and allowing players to combine some of those cards into their own custom deck, each player is able to play the game the way they want to play.

The Mr. Suitcase Factor

While every CCG is playable with a starter deck for each player, generally a player can increase the power of their deck dramatically by purchasing additional cards, then combining the best of those cards into a tuned deck. Eventually this effect begins to taper off when enough cards are amassed that buying more packs results in mostly duplicates (or your fifth copy of a card, typically, in Magic; Mr. Suitcase is that guy who lugs around a huge card collection and often owns four of everything). Yet for players in many gaming groups, more cards = more powerful decks = better chances of winning.

As most anyone who’s played casually knows, as soon as one person in your group decides to buy more cards it can upset the balance of power. You might then go and buy more cards yourself, but it’s very easy for you or anyone else to be tempted to buy more cards than just what it takes to “catch up”, then the pendulum swings the other way and someone else buys more… you get the idea.

Often what is really needed is a way for a group of friends to enjoy the game without any one person having access to more cards than the rest of the players. Both for the purpose of balancing the game, and to prevent injury to your wallet.

Friendly League Play

An easy solution to the problem is to schedule when (and how many) new packs of cards are added. If everyone adds the same number of packs on the same schedule each player has access to a card pool of the same size. All that’s left is luck and skill; luck in opening cool/useful cards and skill in recognizing when you do and using each card to its fullest potential.

Pool your cash: Pitching in together for a box of booster packs (or starters if you prefer) is recommended. A little searching usually turns up some very good deals to make it affordable. Plus you’ll have a set end point – when you finish the box – and won’t be tempted to keep buying cards long enough for the set to grow stale in your group.

Let’s take an example. A while back my group rallied ’round the table to play the Magic set Time Spiral. We bought a box to split among four people (in this case a box of starters so everyone had shiny new land, but boosters work too). First week we opened one starter, and even played a fun game with the full starter just for kicks. Then each player built a 40 card deck from their starter pack and we played a few more games that way.

For the second week we added another starter pack, each player built decks from their pool of cards from two starter packs.

You don’t need to open cards every week: As my group meets one night a week on weekends and we like to play a mix of board games, Magic, and other card games, we adopted a guideline of only adding more packs to our card pools once we had played a minimum number of games (say, three). This prevents things from moving too quickly when we might only play one game of Magic in a given week if lots of other games see play time.

Continue this cycle, moving to 60 card decks as soon as is feasible. After the first few weeks the group may decide to space things out a bit and only open cards every two weeks or so.

This type of play schedule allows players to put in an initial investment and get many weeks of fresh play as they integrate a starter or a couple of boosters into their decks, while keeping the playing field level for all participants. It also provides incentive for players to update or rebuild decks every couple weeks.

Sure there may be some who will complain about the cards they get no matter what, but over time the randomness should normalize as more packs are opened, and you’ll always have the same size card pool as everyone else so any disparities should be very small, regardless of perception.

Keeping it Going

This style of league play seems to work very well in a cohesive group with a current game like Magic. At the end of a box the group can choose to continue with the next set and keep the league going. For sets in the same block you might simply add new packs in to the same card pool, since Magic’s block sets are designed to be played together. When starting a new block you’ll probably want to begin with a fresh pool. Once you finish that block you might then go back and combine that pool with your card pool from previous sets, if your group is stable enough to have shared them together.

Sometimes a player might be added to the league after it starts. This is usually not a problem if they come in early enough, just let them buy their share from the group’s box (or have them buy enough packs to equal existing shares) and have them open enough packs to match everyone’s current card pool.

In my current group our league has been running for several Magic sets, we’ve finished playing our Shadowmoor/Eventide block and are gearing up to combine that with our Lorwyn pool, then Morningtide, and maybe the Time Spiral block after that. Pretty soon we’ll be in something resembling a “normal” constructed environment, but on an equal, level playing field. The possibilities are exciting!

As always, your comments and feedback are welcome!

    Mike Says:

    While I certainly do enjoy our limited purchase-style play (especially since buying a house recently!), I feel that with three people sharing one box of boosters there isn’t going to be equal potential among card pools. 12 boosters just aren’t enough to stop disparity. It sounds negative, but read on.

    With a limited-puchase league, someone often gets 5-6 of the same common card, yet 1 of another common (usually the 1 they’d prefer, heh). This can often be a non-issue as the other players no doubt have a similar issue with a different card. But there is certainly a chance for a player (exponentially so for an experienced player) in the league to get enough over-powered cards or combos to create a power imbalance, sort of like Oona, Queen of the Fae in a land channeling environment. When that happens, the group needs to discuss whether or not it’s a problem, and if so, find a solution.

    Even with money matters aside, letting players buy unlimited cards to construct the best possible decks will favor the experienced player a lot more than the randomness of pre-selected card purchasing. This is much more dangerous to a casual play environment than the randomness of smaller card purchases.

    In the end, while there’s no way to ensure equality for all players, it comes down to attitude. Many people aren’t lucky enough to even have a stable league to play in, so going in with a reduced chance of winning is better than not playing at all. You just have to do the best with whatever lady luck threw at you, and enjoy playing the game. We need to appreciate our play time every week moreso than our victory points.

    That said, Scott, Joe, you’re so dead next week!



    In terms of the volume of cards required to create a truly level playing field, it would be huge. If everyone spent enough money to have four of everything, sure, people could have a completely level field… but that would be way too many cards, and I think somewhat boring besides (think of how many weeks you’d play, or conversely how quickly you’d plow through packs, to get there too).

    Instead, I’m suggesting a group of friends can achieve a relatively fair base by growing card pools from equal numbers of packs. The relative power of cards opened in those packs won’t be identical, but I think it quickly balances out.

    Let me share a little story. When I was playing in a league with Josh, Matt, Jim, and some other friends in NY we opened fewer packs (we had six players, if I recall). Everyone tended to whine about their cards, at one point or another; it’s natural to see what someone else opened and you didn’t, and think how well you could use one or two of those.

    One player in particular had frequent doubts about his cards versus the others’ pools. After a while Josh offered to help out and soon that player handed his cards over to Josh, who proceeded to build decks. Results were good, he started faring better in games and discovered that maybe it hadn’t been his card pool, but a matter of his perspective and being able to evaluate cards in his pool.

    Anyway, part of playing a CCG, especially in friendly league play, is the fact that you won’t have the same cards as everyone else. Like you said, you take what you’ve been given and do your best with it.

    -Oh, and… bring it on!


    That means you have to start a new, or regularly spend money on cards…

    I would like more to build a common pool and use that, doing a cube draft. Or simply borrow some cards from a guy with collection…

    Another fun option is to have a draft with boosters, then, after a match, redraft you and your opponent’s cards.

    Or there is a solution in having deck restrictions; such as in peasant or pauper.
    Or: max 4 rares, max two of the same card (maybe except for commmons).

    There are so many variants!


    Indeed, there are many Magic variants. I don’t actually play much Magic anymore but I think that is one thing Magic has taught me, Variants can work. Sometimes I use to get so stuck on the official rules that I would not try anything different but these days I am much more willing to modify things so that they play better within my group.



    In my post I do suggest exactly that, particularly for playing Magic; it has worked extremely well in my group for all of us to chip in for a box and play only with those cards.

    Something similar should work for other CCGs, such as Jyhad for example, if you do “start over” and everyone is working from the same number of cards.

    Of course there are many alternatives, as you point out, some of which do not require new card purchases. Perhaps when I get around to writing the follow-up I planned for this post I’ll get into those in more detail.

    Thanks for the comment!


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    CCGs the Fun Way, Part 1: Friendly League Play – Game Articles – Pair O



    CCGs the Fun Way, Part 1: Friendly League Play – Game Articles – Pair O


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    CCGs the Fun Way, Part 1: Friendly League Play – Game Articles – Pair O’ Dice Games