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.
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:
- Players can't pay life from a totem below half their starting total unless the other connected player agrees.
- Poison counters are on a per-player basis and don't use totems
- You can only concede at sorcery speed
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens when you set someone's life total with Magister Sphinx?
The player who's having their life total changed gets to choose one of their totems. You then figure out the life loss or life gained needed to set your life total to that amount, and apply that loss or gain like any other. You don't have to choose the same totem for the calculation and the effect.
What happens with Propaganda effects?
Like in two-headed giant, you attack the team, not one head or the other. When it comes time to assign damage, you choose one head or the other, but until then, you're attacking the team. So if one member of the team has a Propaganda, they'll have to pay 2 to attack the team, even if they want to deal damage to the other player.
How does Gisela, Blade of Goldnight work?
Since everyone is your opponent, if damage is dealt your neighbour it will deal double damage. This may result in a totem shared between you taking double damage. Sorry :(
What happens when 2 players are eliminated in a 4+ player game?
The remaining players keep playing. A totem is probably shared between the remaining players.
How do you deal with Platinum Emperion?
As it comes into play, you choose one of your life totals to be the life total that can't change.
What happens if someone loses due to a different effect, like drawing from an empty library?
The game continues on. Their totems stay in the game, now each only attached to one player.
Isn't paying life overpowered?
Maybe! Let me know. I'd like to improve this format.
Is it fun??
No, it's horrible. Stay away!
written by Adam Bielinski
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