Playing Pai Gow Magic


Today on the blog, I wanted to share with you one of my favorite casual formats in all of Magic. All you need is a friend and a booster pack for each of you. The name of this mini-format is Pai Gow Magic, lovingly nicknamed after Pai Gow, the Chinese domino game.

Part of the appeal of Pai Gow is how simple it is to set up and get going. After spending a long day at a tournament hall playing competitive Magic, you might end up with some booster packs from the prize wall and a gathering of friends at dinner. This is the perfect setting to crack some boosters and play some Pai Gow.

How to play

Pai Gow Magic isn’t a sanctioned format, so there’s no official rules guide. There’s a variant that Wizards promotes called Booster Blitz, but having played both, I think Pai Gow plays out better, so that’s what we’re diving into. These are the rules I use with my friends, but feel free to adjust them to whatever you playgroup finds more fun:

  • Each player opens a booster pack and creates five face-down piles with three cards each. These three cards will represent your opening hand in each game.
  • Once the piles are created, each player randomizes their face down piles.
  • You play five separate games of Magic, where each pile created represents your opening hand for that game.
  • You play five consecutive games until declaring a winner!

Special Pai Gow rules

  • You have unlimited mana in any combination of colors.
  • Your starting life total is five.
  • There are no libraries.
  • You can’t lose to decking.
  • You alternate being on the play and draw each game.
  • You can activate an activated ability once per turn.
  • If you get into a board stall or don’t have a way of dealing lethal, the game is declared a draw.

This might sound confusing to start, so I think it’d be best to look at a sample Strixhaven pack and create some piles, then we can talk about some of the strategies to think about when playing Pai Gow Magic!

I got together with my friends over Discord to discuss these Pai Gow piles. Overall, we felt like this was a very strong pack. Let’ break it down:

Pile 1

Explosive Welcome  Eureka Moment  Archway Commons

Since you have to use every card in a booster pack for Pai Gow, that means you’ll always have some piles that have throwaway cards. Archway Commons is 100 percent useless in a format with infinite mana. Eureka Moment is another blank since you don’t have a library to draw cards from. Luckily, we have a card that can win the game on its own and it’s an instant too! As long as your opponent doesn’t have a counterspell, Explosive Welcome should instantly win you the game. If you’re on the play, you can target yourself for three damage, as the second target is required to cast the spell.

Pile 2

Enthusiastic Study  Silverquill Pledgemage  Rip Apart 

Silverquill Pledgemage is a nice little combo with Enthusiastic Study, since you can give flying and enough power to attack for lethal in the same turn. If you’re on the draw, you also have Rip Apart to potentially kill off one of their attackers or remove a flying blocker. This pile will sadly fold to a removal spell on the Pledgemage.

Pile 3

Unwilling Ingredient  Star Pupil   Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios

This pile is banking on Jadzi. Unwilling Ingredient and Star Pupil are weak cards, and while looking at all the other options available, there weren’t any good combos to make this pair stronger. Luckily for us, Jadzi has a way of protecting itself by bouncing back to hand if you discard a card. If you’re on the play, I believe you want to run out Jadzi and hold the other two cards for protection. If you’re on the draw, you might want to run out Jadzi plus the Star Pupil, and use the Pupil to chump for a turn and swing the race in your favor.

Pile 4

Returned Pastcaller  Pest Summoning   Village Rites

Returned Pastcaller and Pest Summoning gives you four blockers on the ground and a 4/2 flyer that can close out the game quickly. I’m throwing Village Rites into this pile since it’s basically a dead card, and I think you could easily take this game down on the back of the Pests and Pastcaller.

Pile 5

Pillardrop Warden  Scurrid Colony   Rise of Extus

Pillardrop Warden lets you use Rise of Extus twice, so your opponent will have a hard time killing you with creatures. Scurrid Colony is here to deal damage if you do have to sacrifice the Warden to cast Rise of Extus twice.

Overall, this pack was strong for Pai Gow since we had a couple of bombs that could carry the blank cards in their piles. I’d love to hear how differently you would’ve split up these five piles. Debating how piles should be split up is my quintessential MagicFest experience!

Author: Gaby Spartz

Magic: The Gathering, Member of Team CFBUltimateGuard

Gaby’s passion for Magic began in 2011, with her best friend giving her a deckbuilder’s toolkit. Little did she know that this was a trap… she’s been hooked ever since! Gaby is an avid streamer, playing various formats on her stream. Counting as a Limited fanatic, she will play anything Draft but also has a fondness for Cube. Learn more about Gaby!