By Dan Erickson
“High roll?” These are often the first words spoken to or by an opponent, (although they should always, of course, be preceded by a friendly greeting.) These words are generally said while holding two D6 or a D20, sometimes even while starting to roll. We all know what they mean, and why our opponent is doing this, but let’s break it down using every Magic player’s best friend: The Comprehensive Rules (last updated January 16, 2016).
“103.2 After the decks have been shuffled, the players determine which one of them will choose who takes the first turn. In the first game of a match (including a single-game match), the players may use any mutually agreeable method (flipping a coin, rolling dice, etc.) to do so.”
So what does this mean? It means that saying “High roll?” is actually the player saying “Do you agree that we are going to be determining who gets to choose who starts the game by rolling these dice?” Exciting!
Another important part of that sentence is the term “mutually agreeable method.” Prior to actually reading this section of the rule, I had assumed that random had to be part of it, but apparently not! Theoretically, you could determine who gets to start by arm-wrestling, having a singing contest, or by who can eat the most ghost-peppers before passing out. Heck, you could even play another game of Magic (although to stay consistent you would obviously need to play another game of Magic to decide who started the deciding game, and so on and so forth until the universe just collapses in on itself.)
Let’s be clear: I’m not actually advocating that you should do any of these things, and I’m sure the spirit of the rule is that the method should be quick and random. But a small part of me imagines a universe where all games of magic devolve into Shahrazad-like ridiculousness, and that part of me smiles.
Right, so aside from advising you not to pointlessly exploit a loophole you didn’t know about for absolutely no reason, why bring this up at all? Good question! We all just assume that high-rolling is the only way to determine who has the choice to go first, but it’s not! And now that we know that, what if there were better ways to determine this? Ways that still kept within the spirit of the rule (quick and random) but were more efficient! Wouldn’t that be great? (Spoiler alert: it would be.)
#2 Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, Scissors Lizard
This method is used by a friend of mine, and while it takes more time than #1, it definitely has style. First, obtain a Rock Lobster, Paper Tiger, and Scissors Lizard and sleeve them (we’re not Barbarians, after all.) Next, put all three face down in front of your opponent, and have them pick one for themselves and one for you. You then both turn your cards face up at the same time (for dramatic effect, of course.) Who ever wins gets to decide. Yeah! And if you’re not sure who wins, ask someone who actually had a childhood whether rock beats paper or not. Geez.
#1 Odd or Even
This method still involves using one of the fancy polyhedrons you brought with you, but using superior dice-rolling technology we ensure that only one player rolls one die once! No more rerolls because of ties, no more rerolling the reroll while saying “wow, what are the odds.” Just a brief moment of confusion while you ask your opponent “Odd or Even?” and then sweet sweet Magic the Gathering time! It’s fast! It’s efficient! It’s the new sensation that’s sweeping the nation! Reinvigorate your pre-game seconds with Odd or Even! For even more value, feel free to make as many puns as possible depending on your opponent’s choice and the result (“Hmm, odd choice. Who knew, you can even!”)
Dishonorable Mention: Poker Dice
Want a more complicated and less efficient method involving more dice? Of course you don’t, because you’re a reasonable individual. Don’t be the Poker Dice person. I love Poker and have played it for years, and even I don’t want anything to do with Poker Dice before a game. Poker Dice: Not Even Once.
And there you have it! A comprehensive (or at the very least, comprehensible,) list of some spicy new pre-game deciders that are both more efficient and more fun than seeing who rolls higher. They also both have the added benefit of not triggering that guy who always insists that you re-roll a different D20 because Spindowns aren’t random enough. Everyone wins!
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