Totem is a variant multiplayer format for Magic: The Gathering where players team up to defend shared life totals. It is is designed to promote more social interaction and to create a fairer goal for each player.

3 player

4 player (commander)

Life totals, poison counters, and commander damage are shared between neighbouring players and are referred to as "totems". Totems begin the game with the standard amount of life for the format (usually 20, but 40 for Commander). If a shared life total (totem) is at 0 or less life, receives 10 poison counters, or takes 21 combat damage from a single commander (if playing commander), both players sharing that totem lose the game. Spells and abilities can't prevent this.

Totems are not players and cannot be targeted. Totems aren't permanents, and aren't emblems or cards. Totems are merely for combat and shared life totals (and poison counters). Abilities that trigger when a players life total changes only occur when a player gains or loses life, not a shared totem.

Despite sharing life totals and acting as a team, all players are always opponents to each other.


Players attack pairs of opponents together as if they are a team, and those opponents block as if they are on a team, but blocking is declared in turn order. When combat damage occurs, the totem's life to be reduced by the corresponding amounts.

Some effects trigger when combat damage is done to a player. For this reason, it is necessary for the attacker to declare which defending player is being dealt combat damage when it occurs. Other effects talk about the "defending player", such as Annihilator, and for those the choice is made as the ability resolves.

Non-combat damage and life gain

If a player would gain or lose life, they may have either of their totems gain or lose that much life, provided neither totem is also the source's controller's totem. If the player is their own source, they may chose either of their totems. A player cannot split a single instance of damage or life gain between both totems.

Paying life follows the same rules and the entire cost must be paid using the same totem.

Which totem is considered a player's life total is determined when the ability resolves or when a permanent enters the battlefield. The player who's life total is in question is the player who chooses. They may also chose a different totem to determine their life total and which totem loses life, for example when someone activates Heartless Hidetsugu.

Rules we are trying out

This document isn't done yet! Here are some optional, additional rules we are trying:

Frequently Asked Questions

written by Adam Bielinski

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