It’s unfortunate that one of the most fun Limited formats, Two-Headed Giant (or 2HG), is also one of the least known. Back in the summer of 2007, Time Spiral draft 2HG was the format for Pro Tour San Diego—won by Chris Lachmann and Jacob Van Lunen—but since then 2HG has fallen off the radar. Wizards did away with team events for half a decade, until this past summer, and moved to supporting Commander/EDH as the default “more than a one-on-one duel”/competitive casual format.

I’m not sure how I learned about 2HG, but for a while three friends and I had a regular weekly game, from approximately Zendikar through Innistrad. It was an awesome time. And, fortunately, the local shop where I play, Twenty Sided Store, has installed a mini-tradition of running a Saturday-night 2HG event on prerelease weekend. Although my weekly 2HG game has, sadly, gone the way of—well, 2HG, each prerelease weekend me and my partner Christian reunite to play under the banner of the most badass team name ever: the Christian Hunters.


The Christian Hunters (non-Magic-playing file photo).

For those not in the know, here’s how 2HG works: Each team of two cracks eight booster packs, and builds two 40-card decks from them. Now, eight packs is only two more than the normal six packs for a sealed event—however, it’s been my experience that that extra two packs makes the two-thirds of a workable deck that you usually have left over after a six-pack sealed build into a strong second deck; you really get to fill in the cracks of both decks with those extra couple of packs.

Then, your team plays one game—the games typically run long—against another team of two. At my old weekly game, we played best-of-three, since we were the only teams playing, but at 20SS you get paired up against a new team after each game. Each team starts at 30 life, and you take your turn at the same time. You can talk and consult each other about mulligans and other in-play decisions, and you take your combat step as one—but otherwise your cards are your cards, and your teammate’s cards are theirs.

I dunno why, but the format is just mad fun. I guess it brings back some of that old flavor of hanging out and playing Magic with your buddies, shooting the shit and just having a good time. And, of course, given that you start at 30 life and have double the resources of a normal duel, you are often able to pull off stupid, overkill-type things in 2HG games. (More on that in a minute.) The 2HG event at 20SS always sells out almost immediately.

As I said, Commander/EDH seems to have replaced 2HG as the default competitive casual format—and, while I have built a couple EDH decks (Lorthos, the Freshmaker and Garza Zol, Plague Queen) and have had good times in Commander games, the format just doesn’t appeal to me in the way that it does to others; it’s too Constructed-y, and I don’t like not being able to see what cards my opponents have in play way down at the other end of the table, or intuitively know what the cards do/what game plan my opponents are after. But, I come not to bash EDH, but to praise 2HG!


2HG’s namesake card (Magic Online edition).

There have always been problem cards for 2HG games. The big offenders are any cards which do something to “each opponent”—and, with the rise of EDH, a lot more of these cards are popping up, as Wizards now is clearly designing for the EDH crowd within sets (see for instance the Primordial cycle in Gatecrash). But the cards function a bit different in 2HG than they do in EDH.

While of course the caster of an “each opponent” card in an EDH game gets X times the effect, where X is the number of opponents—the card doesn’t ever hurt any single opponent more than 1X. But in 2HG, while you are playing against one team, you are playing against two opponents (who furthermore share one life total). So an “each opponent” card in 2HG by definition doubles the effect. One particularly evil card from Scars of Mirrodin was Exsanguinate, which costs XBB and drains “each opponent” for X life, and “you gain life equal to the life lost this way.” If memory serves, my old 2HG crew may even have informally banned Exsanguinate, after a few particularly one-sided games.

Another bummer of a card in 2HG was Invisible Stalker, from Innistrad, paired with Butcher’s Cleaver. Stalker doesn’t have any doubling effect, but it’s just an incredibly frustrating card to play against—and, given that each team was working with eight packs, you were two packs more likely (than in a regular sealed pool) to assemble that combo of cards.

In Gatecrash, the 2HG villain—as Christian and I theorized prior to the prerelease event, and were emphatically proven right about—is an entire mechanic: extort. A secondary villain, at least for the past two sets, have been the “Guild Packs,” which not only give each team access to 12 packs—aka two full sealed pools—but also let each team orient their decks in the way they feel is strongest. For the Christian Hunters, during the Gatecrash prerelease, this was Orzhov and Dimir. (Milling is particularly strong in 2HG, since you typically have a much longer amount of time to work with—and if one opponent’s deck gets milled out, the whole team loses.)

The Christian Hunters managed to build a pair of incredibly sick decks for the 20SS 2HG event, and cruised to a 3-0 victory. As I mentioned in a previous post, literally all 16 of the creatures in my deck had extort. (Also I had three Treasury Thrulls. Seems good.)

Last week, clamoring for more 2HG, six teams of two from a Magic forum I’m a member of got together at a game hall and bar in the West Village of New York City called Fat Cat, and got to cracking eight packs each. My teammate for this event was an awesome guy named Sean, a fellow 20-Sider who in October had caught a ride back to the city from GP Philly with me and Kadar, with Hurricane Sandy at our heels.

My and Sean’s pool wasn’t the strongest—but perhaps it just seemed that way because we were working with four fewer packs (since we weren’t playing with Guild Packs) than we’d recently become accustomed to. Sean did crack two shocklands, though, and I snagged a Glaring Spotlight and a foil (!) Aurelia, the Warleader. After a bunch of back-and-forthing, trying to find the right build, Sean went with Orzhov splashing blue for Dinrovia Horror, and I built Boros splashing green for Ruination Wurm.

Our first opponents were Kadar, minus his standard partner Matt “The Obliterator” Jones, plus one Li Xu. They crushed us quickly in G1 with Li’s amazing curved-out start, of (if memory serves) Boros Elite into Daring Skyjek into Boros Reckoner into (woof) Rubblebelt Raiders. Sean had managed to get his Alms Beast down on the previous turn, and when Li shipped his whole team and the Raiders doubled in size, we had no choice but to block the Raiders with the Beast and hope Li didn’t have a trick.


Li Xu and Kadar Brock, aka Team BrockLi.

Li did. The game ended really quickly, so we ran it back for another. This time, time was on my and Sean’s side, and we were able to finish the game with a stunning 28-damage overkill turn, courtesy of Aurelia + Glaring Spotlight. (I had initially left Spotlight on the sidelines, because who cares about nuking hexproof in Limited—but then I realized that the card had more text, and could give your whole team one turn of unblockability. Seems good with Aurelia—so in went the Spotlight.)

Our next opponents were Mitch and Michael. I don’t quite remember this game as well, but they got us down to low life before running out of gas and Aurelia coming out to play, with her Spotlight. The last and final round we got paired down against perennial 2HG team Kellan and Rob, who, at 0-2, weren’t having such a great night of it (although they were having fun regardless). Sean and I were able to dispatch them in short order, courtesy of (again, if memory serves) a great curve from me and timely (and multiple) extort triggers from Sean.


Mitch and Michael.

Now, after a lot of clamoring for it, Wizards has brought back team events—first at the Grand Prix in San Jose, last October, and coming up next this June in Providence. But sadly, the format is not 2HG. Rather it’s a three-person format, in which each team builds three 40-card decks from 12 sealed boosters, and plays side-by-side-by-side, yet in three separate duels. Day two of a team GP is six-person draft, with each team member flanked by two members of the opposing team, in an A/B, A/B, A/B fashion.


Rob and Kellan (and, and I believe, Zil).

I’d had plans to attend GP San Jose last year, but the proximity (both in time and in geography) of GP Philly conspired to keep me on the right coast, so I’ve yet to try out this new team format. A buddy and former playgroup friend of mine who now lives in San Francisco (or “Frisco,” as the natives prefer you call it) did attend, though, and said it was a blast. So I’m really looking forward to GP Providence this summer.

The only problem being: The Christian Hunters are going to have to take on a third head, and that’s totally going to fuck up our name. Team-member applications and name suggestions are welcome. See you and your buddy at the next 2HG event!

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands.

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