Explorer’s Scope: Why Try 100 Card Singleton?

Though he has since retired from The Academy Roster, here is a great, enticing article on the wonders of playing my favorite format of formats (which I will be returning to post-haste). Hope you enjoy this Blast From the Past on this most patriotic of days! (We miss you, Ronin!) – Travis R. Chance: Content Manager

There I was, slogging my way through yet another Jund on Jund Standard match in the tournament practice room. Well, “slogging” carries a negative connotation with it that is not entirely accurate in this instance. I have actually come to really enjoy playing the Jund mirror match. It is like any other match in that knowledge and exploitation of what genuinely matters is far more important than the specific cards that are drawn (or Cascaded into), but that is an discussion for another time.

The key is that it was during one of these grind-it-out games that a clan member invited me to join him in a Commander event… for the tenth time that week. After my opponent disconnected with a lethal Cascade on the stack I gave in and I decided I would throw together my first 100 card deck. A mere three hours later I had finally pared my deck down to the 60 cards and 40 lands from the 180 cards I had initially pulled out of my collection because they met the rigorous criteria of: “this looks interesting.” Needless to say, I missed the boat on that particular Commander match, but I had taken my first tentative step into the Singleton world, and the experience was transformative.

It had been quite some time since I actually had gone through this kind of from-the-ground-up shaping process when building a deck. The early availability of spoilers, combined with the lag in the release of Online sets means that MTGO players rarely have a tabula rasa to work with when it comes to innovation, and I relished the chance to build without preconceived notions.

While it was Commander (the Online version of Elder Dragon Highlander) that opened my eyes, at heart I am not really a Multiplayer guy. I enjoy the games themselves, but most of the time it doesn’t really matter what you play in that setting. What matters most is how you “play” with the other players and how you position yourself. This makes for an entertaining social experience, but it’s not exactly the crucible for validating carefully crafted decks that mano-a-mano Magic can provide.

I cast around for a competitive 100 Card Singleton environment and lo-and-behold: there was already a format in place on MTGO, complete with a unique Banned list, and a small but dedicated community. Incidentally, I did not discover the Banned list until I tried to submit my first 100 Card list based on a Life from the Loam engine. Whoops! Despite that initial setback I took the plunge, dove into the format, and haven’t come up for air since.

MTGO Academy happens to house some of the most prolific authors on this format. At this early stage in my Singleton career they are far better suited to talk about some of the finer points of card choice, and deck construction than I. My intention here is to explore the format from the bottom up and help people get involved in this fascinating format.

Why Play 100 Card Singleton in the first place?

To my mind there are three primary conditions to consider spending the time, energy, and Tix necessary to break into a new format:

1) Format Depth

2) Barriers to entry

3) Format Overlap

I want some depth in my formats. I do not want to shell out for, or spend my time playing, a glorified game of rock-paper-scissors. I am no miser when it comes to games. After all, on a “dollars-per-hour of enjoyment” scale gaming is a steal when compared to many hobbies. However, I am not interested in having to pay a lump sum of several hundreds of dollars (or more!) just to get my feet wet. I try to take into account how much use these card will get outside of this format. Buying top tier Standard legal cards usually is a pretty good deal. They always get their two years in Standard, and then often have a run in Extended as well before becoming potential casual Commander cogs — but this is not necessarily the case for some of the older sets that are released Online. A format can be deep and intricate, but have too high a barrier to entry, with too little return on its card overlap to entice me.

So how does 100CS stand up to these metrics?

Format Depth

The whole point of the Singleton formats is their diversity in play experience and card selection. There are over 10,000 magic cards, and the majority of them are now available Online at this point. Out of all those cards Online there are only 15 that are banned in 100CS. These cards are primarily tutors or tutor engines that disrupt the play diversity aspect of the format*. Thematic and tribal builds are not only possible, but powerful. Goblins and Elves from Lorwyn stand shoulder to shoulder with those from planes past. Midrange and Control formats are also imminently viable. The past several PEs have seen Goblin decks, and midrange Rock, and UW based Control decks all in competition for the crown. While there is currently a dearth of dedicated “Combo decks” as we normally think of them in constructed Magic, virtually every successful decklist I have seen is based is the strength of interlaced synergies. Many decks have one or more “true” Combos built into them. For example, Control decks have begun building in multiple Combos such as Goblin Charbelcher and Enduring Ideal as their win conditions.

As important as the variety of decks is, the variety of the card choices possible within an archetype is equally important. The recent surge in Rock-ish decks that seek to exploit the Recurring Nightmare-Survival of the Fittest duo has spawned a plethora of interesting builds ranging from a “pure” GB builds to 5-Color monsters that harness the power of almost two decades worth of dual lands. In these builds about 30 “core” cards seem to be relatively universal, but in 100CS this still leaves a whopping 30 more slots for individual mages to tailor decks to their personal preferences.

The shear number of cards makes for an interesting play and deck building atmosphere, but, just as importantly card are instantly available (and reasonably priced — more on this in a minute) thanks to the bot network. While certain cards are limited in supply, most are much easier to obtain than they are in the paper world. Probably the best example of this is the Master’s Edition cards — in particular Portal: Three Kingdoms cards. These cards had such a limited run that they are only rarely obtainable except at the biggest, and best stocked card shops. In the Singleton world these are particularly important because they offer some important redundancy when it comes to certain core concepts like mana fixing and burn spells. The bulk of these cards are only a click and a nickel away from being at your beck and call.

Barriers to Entry

Cost is the primary barrier to entry that comes to mind when I contemplate entering a new format, especially when a format involves as many “old” cards as 100CS. However, MTGO has created the perfect storm of circumstances to make now the ideal time to jump on the bandwagon.

The first thing to remember is that no matter how expensive a card is, this format is Singleton, so you only need one! Rejoice! Right off the top you card costs are slashed by 75%. OK, so you still have 55% more deck slots to fill, so maybe card costs aren’t cut just by reducing the size of a playset from four to one. Fortunately, there are several other reasons why you should play 100CS and save money, so read on.

Standard and Draft are the primary engines that drive Magic Online. Extended and Block Constructed are played when they are “in season” in table top land**, but during the off season it can be tough to get an 8 man, much less a PE to fire. You cannot win more packs unless a queue fires, so the end result of this is that Standard is where the demand is concentrated on MTGO. It is not uncommon for Standard rares to cost $5 or more if they see any constructed play at all. Some regularly hit $20 , and cards topping $50 has become a little too common for my taste. Heck, Bloodbraid Elf is currently a $4 uncommon! However, Online prices drop precipitously on most cards once they rotate out of Standard, and only a select few card retain any value at all once they rotate out of Extended.

Another benefit to the Online economy (as a buyer) is that far fewer cards are “lost” from the system. No cards are boxed away in basements when people move, and if someone stops playing it is easy to sell all their cards at once for a lump sum. This means that that duration and popularity of the original print run is the greatest limiting factor on a card’s scarcity — not it’s owners abilities to keep it safe from soda spills and marauding dogs, wives, and mothers. The upshot is that the vast majority of “old” cards are far cheaper and much easier to acquire Online than they are in real life. Lots of old and interesting rares are .15 to .50 tix each and even cards such as Exalted Angel and Armageddon that dominated formats for years can be found for just 2-3 Tix apiece. While Baneslayer Angel is a great card, you could pick up four original dual lands and a copy of Exalted Angel for her price tag.

Okay, so we’ve probably already got creatures covered. What about lands? After all original dual lands are running 10-15 tix each, and even Standard mana bases have pushed $200 in the past year. This is true, but did I mention that mono-Red Goblins is one of the most competitive decks in the format? Also, original duals are 100% unnecessary to get started in this format. I can saying this with confidence because at this point I own none of them, and still routinely beat decks that seem to be packing the full set. The shock + fetch land engine that has powered Extended for the last several years remains a very potent solution for mana fixing. Being able to tap into the full depth of Green land search, and all colors of land cycling (Who doesn’t love a Krosan Tusker?) allows you to make your mana base as robust as you desire without a huge up front financial burden. The new enemy fetches coming finally coming along are also a huge boon to budget conscious players. Fetch lands are critical in this format since the can grab Ravnica shock lands as well as the original dual lands. Now most players will have at least a few fetches in their collections, and the price of the old fetches has also been depressed thanks to their rotation from Extended.

So, what is the bottom line? Since I started playing this format I have spent about 35 Tix on new cards specifically for my 100CS decks. The bulk of that (~$25) has been for four Ravnica shock lands and a Windswept Heath. The rest has gone toward spells for building my GWB “Aggro-Rock” deck. Yep, I’ll probably end up spending substantially more than that in the long run, but it is nice to ease into a format without running through a financial brick wall for once.

Format Overlap

For all its potential power the 100CS format is largely a creature based format. The reason for this is simple: creatures, by nature, will always impact the board position, whereas spells tend to be more dependant on a given board state to have their desired effect. This state of affairs gives many newcomers a leg up: if you have been playing Standard at all over the last few years then you probably have a large percentage of the most powerful of creatures ever printed in your collection already. Broodmate Dragon, Kitchen Finks, and yes, Tarmogoyf stack up well to any creatures ever printed at their mana costs. While many 100CS neophytes (myself included) will need to invest in a few “vintage” cards, we can still flesh out the creature cores of our decks at relatively little expense. Besides, who knows when a long time favorite such as Eternal Witness might be reprinted, so why not grab one now?

I mention above the fact that dual land based mana bases are not necessary in order to get started. Despite this, if you get as addicted to this format as quickly as I have you will probably start collecting the relevant dual lands needed to make 3-5 color decks work seamlessly (and painlessly). Assuming you want to be able to play any deck you dream up this will ultimately involve, at the very least, one each of the ten original duals, Ravnica shock lands, and the enemy and allied fetch lands. Fortunately these lands have broad applications. WOTC representatives have commented that both the fetches and the shock lands have the potential to be reprinted in future core or expansion sets. Even if you have none of them Online (I didn’t before a few months ago) if you get your collection started now, through 100 Card Singleton, you will find it much easier and cheaper to dip a toe into Extended, or possibly jump those future formats down the road.

Likewise, WOTC has expressed an interest in transforming the Online “Classic” format into a mirror of the Vintage and Legacy “Eternal formats” as they exist on tabletops. Whether or not this comes to fruition (will they really publish the moxen Online?), participation in these formats is largely limited to those who possess the lands necessary to compete. It is important to note that many of the decks in the Eternal formats actually do not require a full complement of any given dual, so if you start with one of each for 100CS you place yourself in a solid position to make a relatively smooth transition to yet another new arena of play.

Give it a try!

100CS is a deep and fascinating format that can be as cheap or expensive to play as you want it to be. It has substantial overlap with the current Standard card pool and can also act as a gateway to get you the cards and card knowledge needed to tackle some of the Eternal formats. I could go on and on about the merits of this format, but ultimately you’ll just have to give it a whirl for yourself. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more information on how to get a start building 100CS decks, and maybe even a quickly run down of my first sanctioned in my new favorite format!

Until then, look me up in the practice rooms and two man queues:

- Robin Russell (rwildernessr)

rwildernessr at yahoo dot com

RoninX in most forums

* See this article for more discussion on these banned cards.

** In this respect certain cards — particularly shock lands — are more expensive than they will be later this year.

  1. Very nice article. I stopped playing heavily in the format after being beat by “so many trolls” for the ten billionth time. Though I like how cheap it is to enter the format. I still play casual.

  2. Don’t let losing to a format superstar like so many trolls sour you on the format. There are lots of places to innovate – but if the weekend challenges are not for you the format is still a blast to play casually.

  3. No worries. Even Trolls loses from time to time. Ask him about his experience against my Blue/Green deck..muahahaha.

  4. beastiac,

    Gah! Don’t stop carrying the fire just because I won some games. I remem you well, and you’re far from just a caz player, my friend!


    I still wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats to that series of embarrassing losses I took at your hands. Never speak of it again or I will hack into your sweaters and make them all very itchy! And I do not “lose from time to time.” If this happens, it’s most def someone or something elses fault: ionosphere interference, demonic interruption, having breathed in fart crystals from my cats whilst playing and losing depth perception thereafter.


    Kool and I procrastinated on this topic for over 7 months. Despite the jealousy welling up in my heart, I must say this is a dang good article.

  5. This IS a great article, it almost makes me want to hop on the bandwagon. Unfortunately, I have already been sucked in to the Pauper format.

  6. Never tried EDH but I have played in some 60 card Standard Singleton and I liked each experience. It makes you be more creative and really set up plays since you’re 1 ofs instead of regular formats where you have 4x of a certain card.

  7. I read this, and then tried to build a deck. 39 lands with lots of card draw and land fetch, but I had to mulligan to 3 before I saw a land. And I got completely destroyed by a guy with a 5cc control deck, full foil including the dual lands. it was fun to watch his deck at least haha.

  8. It’s a science, indeed! Not to self-promote, but scan back through our archives to some of my prior material on 100 Card Singleton; you may find it helpful. :)

  9. 100 card singleton is a duel, and commander is multiplayer, correct?

  10. Yes, Commander is usually played as multiplayer game and Singleton as 1 vs. 1

  11. Very nice, a good intro to the format and explanations of why it is something that everyone should try.
    I feel like giving it a go now…

  12. All I can say to everyone who is even thinking playing 100cs that they should go ahead and do it. I decided to try for more QP and figured the weekend challenges would be a great way to do that, and I grabbed a deck from a recent event and entered. After my first tournament I was hooked on the format. It’s so much fun, and prizes are worth the entry fee. So just go ahead and do it!

  13. @KillerOwen

    Is it only weekend events that ever fire for 100CS? Or have you found any other events that could be entered? I really enjoy the format, but I’m looking to play it more than just once a week.