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CardShark Content - Matthew Jordan White (2/3/2005)

So I thought I’d put pen to paper and write about a format which I introduced to my local Magic: the Gathering club and which has since become popular. I’m here to talk about Zen Magic. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it’s very simple. Buy a tournament pack of 75 cards from any set you like, and a booster of 15 cards, also from any set of your choice. The sets need not be the same, that’s part of the magic. Now, without looking through the cards, open the tournament and the booster and shuffle them together.

Zen deck accomplished.

Your Zen deck should not (and would probably lose if it tried to) play against constructed-format decks. Instead, you should play against other people with Zen decks for ante. Now, I know that ante may be a strange concept to some of you as it left the game in Revised or something like that, but yes, in Zen you play for cards. That’s part of what makes it great: your Zen deck grows in a pleasing fashion when you win and shrinks when you lose. The ante amount is whatever number you and your opponent(s) agree upon, and whoever wins takes the pot.

So why is Zen a good format? First, the investment is a scant fifteen dollars, and in return you get a full, playable deck. This means that Zen is a great format for new players who don’t have much money or for the starving college student in general. Second, it’s a Limited format. Not everyone likes Limited formats, but they do provide an interesting play dynamic that you simply cannot get out of regular constructed play. Specifically, in this case, you have to play with the cards you are given. My friend Brent, who introduced me to the game, would often comment that Zen is all about “knowing your stack, not your strategy.” In constructed play, we are often obsessed with making sure that our deck “goes off,” or “does its thing.” In Zen, decks never “go off” unless you are good enough at dealing with what the deck gives you to produce results. Third, there’s the instant reward of winning ante. All around, this format is great for the new player, the long-time casual player, or the tournament player looking for a new tool to hone his strategic edge.

In order to really enjoy Zen, you have to appreciate the randomness and hit-or-miss games that the format tends to offer, but the benefits to your skill at Magic are unbelievable. By being forced to play the hand you’re dealt, so to speak, you learn to look for combos in unusual places, to find inventive solutions to standing problems, and to figure out ways to quickly and efficiently turn a bad game into a good one. If I could recommend a single format that any player can and should try, it would be Zen. Pick up a deck today; get your friends to pick them up as well. Challenge your perceptions of what Magic is all about. Hone your skill. Get into the Zen state of mind.

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