The Multi-Lab is Anthony's clinic for multiplayer decks.
I will eventually catch up with what I have already. And other topics are fair game, for email.
I'll continue to post intriguing letters and my responses, since I have more than enough to keep this going at a monthly pace. Here's April's cache, smaller than last time but still quite interesting. As in the past, I have edited some of these letters for brevity and content.
MULTI-LAB PARTNER #1: THE ELF-PLAGUED PLAGUEMASTER
I owe it to you all to show you the entry that tipped me over the edge on Wellwisher, several weeks ago. From Rob Lowe,
Hi there Ant,
First things first, as subconsciously I think it'll give me better treatment than everyone else, I'd like to say how brilliant your column is and to keep up the good work (I actually mean it), and state the fact that I read everything you write.
Okay, onto the good stuff. After reading your recent article, I've decided to post my Pestilence deck.
The deck does well... but my friends use Elves that actually give me problems: Elvish Champion, Wellwisher, Seeker of Skybreak, and Heedless One normally beat me before I can set up. I also have problems against one of my friend's black-blue decks which disrupts me terribly and stops the combo 30 percent of the time.
I'm not sure about any of the following cards and think there are probably replacements: Llanowar Elves, Yawgmoth's Bargain, Necropotence, Urza's Armor, and Nantuko Blightcutter.
Rares are no problem. Thanks for reading all that!
Elves? You have problems with elves when you're playing Pestilence?
Classic combo material.
You've got me, Rob. I honestly don't know what to do. I mean, are you activating the Pestilence, or just caressing it?
Okay, I'll stop having fun with you. (Thanks for your patience, but you gotta admit, this is weird!) I can see that the Elvish Champion makes the elves a bit tougher, but I think you probably just need a bit more targeted removal and then the problems should go away.
I'm going to agree that the Elves and the Necropotence/Yawgmoth's Bargain are a bad idea, and that you should run four Seal of Doom instead. Seals are terrific signals to your opponents. And they'll be extra careful if you've also got a Pestilence. This gives you the time you need to draw the cards you want anyway.
The Urza's Armors seem a bit too good to take out completely - pull back to two, and keep two Nantuko Blightcutters as well. With the four slots we've opened up, we'll give that black-blue mage something to think about: good, solid, early offense. Honestly, I think you should give up the Dark Rituals and Birds of Paradise as well - neither has much staying power in group play, and I don't see the hard case for keeping them around. Consider this:
The Farmhands will poke at that control mage until Pestilence wipes them away for a land. In your graveyard, they help the Bursts, which you'll use to keep a creature on the board alive - or pump when another opponent attacks Mr. Black and Blue. The Mongrels should need no explanation.
You could certainly use other cards besides Farmhand/Burst, if you like. Llanowar Dead, Consume Strength, Ebony Treefolk, Pernicious Deed, Narcissism, and Withered Wretch (among many other cards) are all considerations. The point is, countermagic is mediocre in group play - there should be too many threats for this guy to handle. Illustrate this theory to him.
I hope some of this is helpful! Good luck and take care,
A couple of weeks ago in the "school of Magic" article, I talked a bit about countermagic and multiplayer. I won't repeat all that here; but I will bolster what I said back then about threat assessment. Every deck at the table has a deck that's most likely to beat it. A Pestilence deck is usually looking at a permission deck, or severe life gain deck, as a first target. So I gave Rob the additional tools he needed to slam both.
What he needs now (and appears to have) is the ability to determine when each of these decks is hampering his progress. They may or may not look like the "strongest" deck on the board – but to him, they're the biggest problem. I hope the aggressive cards he puts into the deck get put to good use.
MULTI-LAB PARTNER #2: THE ARMS DEALER IN THE TRENCHES
From Jens Meuller:
I do think that your Multi-Lab is a great idea. After all, multi-player people need deck tech, too...
Here's what I think you need to know about the deck. The deck is played in four- or five-player chaos. There isn't really an established "metagame," but there are a few decks that have a tendency to turn up: several kinds of green beatdown, one of them a flashback-madness variety, another a pretty nasty one with Lure and Basilisk-type abilities, varieties of Pestilence/Crypt Rats, all kinds of Goblin Decks, either backed by Jokulhaups or trying to fuel absurdly large Fireballs with Brightstone Rituals, or trying to break Airdrop Condor, and a variety of blue-black decks, one of them using a very ugly Winter Orb-Icy Manipulator combo. (Which, by the way, is the reason for those Goblin Tinkerers in the board, because we all know what to do with that kind of deck in a multiplayer setting: turn on it whenever it rears its ugly head...)
While the Rune of Protection-Fire Marshall combo sometimes actually goes off, and the Recruiter-Ringleader trick works pretty consistently (I am quite aware that additional Ringleaders would be desirable...), the deck does have quite a few problems.
For one thing, there's the problem of winning once and managing to make oneself the target of the whole group. I'm afraid the deck's defenses aren't quite up to that. Then there's the "mirror" problem with all those goblin decks running around: Sparksmith tends to become a liability pretty soon anyway, but with one or two other Goblin decks around I hardly manage to activate him at all. Moreover, I have pretty serious doubts about Kyren Negotiations, Pyrokinesis, and Mogg Alarm...
Lastly, there's the question of the Legionnaires: While certainly a good card, I almost never seem to be able to use their abilities, either because I need them as the fifth Goblin for the Marshall or because I'm short on mana. (Speaking of which, I really wonder whether the cycling lands belong there, because I can easily use surplus lands for the Trenches, but then, the cycling lands definitely help me find the Trenches in the first place...).
One further thing that worries me is the increasing number of Lobotomies that seem to turn up in my group lately. The problem is of course that after fetching the Marshall with a Matron or Recruiter I'm a prime target for those, and I can't really think of a way to protect against them.
My ideas for replacements have proven pretty weak so far: Goblin Caves to hold off attackers seems too expensive, my single Goblin King seems outright awful in this deck, especially since he can't be searched by the Matrons and Recruiters and helps opposing Goblin decks more than me. Goblin General (my group does allow Portal cards) has the advantage of being a Goblin, but he doesn't seem to help the deck much either, and I only own a single copy anyway.
I'd really appreciate any useful ideas for changes, however, I don't own too many rares, and while I have access to a fair number of uncommons, I have to make do with one or two copies in many cases. But at least I do have access to enough copies of every common from Ice Age on, and to quite a few from earlier sets, so I hope it's not an utterly hopeless case...
Wow, a very interesting case! And I'm always intrigued to find a multiplayer group that allows sideboards. You'll have to write to me again someday and tell me more about how that works for you guys. (In our group, it always led to too much hosing of colors and/or lands, which was fairly annoying.)
Goblins can be well-connected.
But let's get to your specific case. While you never mention it directly, I think the basic problem with the Goblin deck in multiplayer is its difficulty in the late game -- as you say, it cannot put up solid defenses when extra undesirable attention comes your way; it cannot shift well into alternate path (Kyren Negotiations) if the first path fails; and it puts itself up to disruption as control mages see the Skirk Fire Marshall rising to the top of your deck.
All very heady problems! And I'm not sure commons and uncommons are going to be all part of the solution, but I'll try to stick there. Here's what I'd recommend:
1) The Goblin Ringleader is worth further acquisition. Seriously. You tell me you know this, so I'm going to press you: get to a local store, if you have to, and buy or trade for three more. (I'm sure the shop would give you a decent trade, if you're just going after uncommons!) Without three or four of these, you are horribly exposed to bad draws in the late game. Worry about Lobotomy in a moment – but for now, this has to be how the deck works, because the Recruiter and your basic strategy kinda demands it!
2) I think the Warbreak Trumpeter is an excellent idea; but without another couple of morph cards in there, you're not going to fool anyone, and that thing will die before you can set it off for the full amount the following turn. Onslaught and Legions each have a couple of interesting (common) goblins that morph. See what you like. I'd replace a couple of the Sparksmiths and some of the single-copy cards (Goblin Chirurgeon, Pyrokenesis, and yes, the Goblin Sharpshooter) with 2 or more copies of each. See more on this below.
3) Your deck is more consistent than many I read, but it's still got those little 1x bits here and there. Without a deck supporting it, the Sharpshooter is a questionable card. And you've already seen some problems with Pyrokenesis, etc. This doesn't happen because the cards are bad – it happens because the deck doesn't really need them, and you've built your deck well enough so that the interruptions of single-copy cards are more distracting than helpful. Your deck wants to work a certain way. Putting in multiple copies of cards will help, even if you take out some of the flashier rares.
4) Keep the Goblin Legionnaires in there, and ditch the cycling lands. I love these new cycling lands as much as the next guy; but you're sensing something that's slowing the deck down, and you should at least try the deck without the tapped lands for a few weeks. Take one land out and replace with another Legionnaire. (The deck should be fine on 24 lands.) But I like Legionnaires a lot – no, your deck won't be able to sack them as readily, but they will kill many cool things. And they can sack themselves in response to the Marshall's ability, which is just too good to pass up.
5) Mogg Fanatic is another option – with all this attention you're getting, you need stuff like Legionnaires and Fanatics to keep some early heat off. They also combine to do significant amounts of damage. Put them in for the Mogg Alarms at least, and if you can find room for four and keep it at 60 cards, do so.
I haven't recommended a single rare yet. But I am going to suggest one now, when you get the chance to acquire it: Clickslither. I've mentioned this to many people who have written in with Goblin decks, and I really like what this card does for red speed decks -- it gives you the mid- to late-game your deck simply doesn't have right now. What do you do when you can only keep four goblins on the board? You play your Clickslither. It can sit as a Nantuko Husk-like blocker, or it can swing to polish off someone who's just inches away from death. The haste is a big deal, often undervalued in group games -- but it throws off math, and 2+2+2+2 can be big math. Combined with Goblin Trenches, this is one Insect that can get pretty huge.
Last note. Because I didn't really see any in the original deck, I've stayed away from stuff like Fireball and Ghitu Fire. It's an alternate path to victory, but you seem committed to goblins, and I wanted to respect that.
I hope some of this is helpful! Thanks again and take care,
While Scourge previews don't start until next week, I'll tease you all with the knowledge that there is another great Goblin deck finisher on the way – rare, unfortunately, but still very, very good. Jens, if you're still reading – one Clickslither and one of the new fellows would be fine, if that's all your collection can manage.
In my rush to help with his mid- to late game, I never did get around to discussing Lobotomy with Jens. Allow me to correct that mistake now. Jens should develop a reputation for having instants, and/or for playing creatures out at instant speed. You can do this with rares like Sneak Attack, Quicksilver Amulet, and Belbe's Portal – and any of these would be very helpful against the other decks he mentioned – or you can do this with uncommons like Goblin Lackey, which help you get those cards on the board so that they're Lobotomy-proof.
In either case, it's clear that the blue-black mage is usually your greatest threat – so early damage may need to go in that direction. With Goblins, the best defense is usually a good offense.
To finish helping Jens, let's take a look at a guy on the other side of the Lobotomy play...
MULTI-LAB PARTNER #3: THE NERVOUS CONTROL MAGE
From Joey Penney:
This is my black-blue (and a little red) deck. The idea is to stay alive long enough (with Fire/Ice and Recoil and Extract and stuff) to find and play an Energy Field and keep it alive enough (mostly by praying and hoping) to play a Yawgmoth's Agenda. Once that's out I figure I can win by letting the other guys deck themselves. Denying Winds, Rootwater Thief, and Lobotomy help the process along, and let me get rid of cards that could kill or get around my combo (and, when I'm playing my usual group of buddies, I have more than a few of those to worry about).
My goal is to a deck that wins fairly consistently, more passively than aggressively. (I hate picking on people in multiplayer games...). Also, I've had some success by becoming the non-target long enough to let the rest of the players eliminate themselves, and then burning the last man standing down.
One of my friends has a 4-color deck (all but white) geared for bringing out Shivan Dragon and Sengir Vampire and Silvos, Rogue Elemental as soon as possible. Another's got a mean Elf deck - Heedless Ones and Wellwishers. There's a red burn guy who can overwhelm me sometimes. And some of the more clever friends start chucking in extra Tranquility and Naturalize when they see my blue card protectors coming out (I'll have to start putting my other decks in the same color protectors)! Anyway, I think my deck needs to learn some new tricks.
Thanks in advance!
Thanks for writing in! This one's pretty darn interesting.
You say your deck needs to learn some new tricks, but I'm not sure it needs to do that, as much as lean on a few of the old ones a bit more consistently.
I'm surprised that a deck as sophisticated as this one would still have so many single-copy cards in it. Arcane Laboratory; Ertai, Wizard Adept; and Null Brooch are the kinds of cards that have entire decks built around them. They're not great in supporting roles, and your deck may be spitting them out erratically. For a deck that relies on some combination tricks, you need more dependability. Friends who know this deck will come at you hard, as you know. Your ultimate answer is to be prepared for that assault.
I would consider some early creatures like Vodalian Zombie (which will cause trouble for those green mages you mention) or Fog Bank (which is just good in general). Three or four copies of each would give your deck a more dependable start. For turn three, stuff like Man-o'-War or Raven Familiar would fit your theme pretty well.
Now, you may find that with early creatures, your opponents find it easier to deal with Energy Field (since they can kill a creature and nail the enchantment for free). If that happens, you may want to scale back on the second-turn stuff and put in two morph creatures -- Willbender and Quicksilver Dragon. Both of them will redirect a removal spell elsewhere, without you having to put a darn thing in your graveyard.
I think the countermagic is counterproductive. I'd limit myself to 4x Counterspell for the extraordinary emergencies, and use the rest of the slots for stuff with board presence. Maybe 2x Misdirection, if you don't mind going more rares.
I hope some of this is helpful! Thanks again, and take care,
I think coming after the last entry, this request shows just how nervous blue (or blue-black) mages are about their control game in group. Aggressive players need to hear this message (just like control players need to hear the same, from aggressive players): you need to do more than just watch the plays. You need to watch the opponents – when they're cutting you down, when they're not cutting you down, when they're reacting to other plays around the board, and so on. When are people nervous? What do they seem to think the threat is? When do they press the attack, and when do they hold back?
From there, you move on to analysis. Why are these opponents making these moves? The answer usually isn't, "because they're in complete control of the game." Your worst enemy may look impregnable from your perspective, but from behind his hand, he could be sweating bullets. Each player has choices to make with scarce resources. The more you pay attention to those choices, the better any given deck will become – without changing a single card.
Let's look at one more.
MULTI-LAB PARTNER #4: THE RIFTER DRIFTER
This one broke the Multi-Lab request mold a bit, in that I didn't really hear much about how the deck in question was doing – but I liked where Ian Fogg was going, and it was clear that he had already done enough groundwork to get us started:
Hey there Anthony.
Magic players above the age of 12 aren't easy to come by in my area, so it's usually just three of us who play. My cousin has been wrecking the other two of us with his Lightning Rift deck. It's basically just a ton of cycling cards and the Rift and some Aether Flashes. So painful.
We tried a few options to take him down, my latest idea is to use the cycling cards against him. I have an Astral Slide/Beast deck as follows:
Obviously the strategy is the ultimate combo of Aether Charge and Pandemonium with Goretusk Firebeast, a whopping 10 damage each time I can slide it out and back in again. Originally, I was going to use Kavu Monarch and a Flametongue Kavu, but I think this is better. Especially since I can play morphed beasts for 3, then slide them out and back in face up. My problem is, I don't know if I have the right combination of cycling cards. How many is enough?
Hope you can shed some light, oh guru of serious fun.
It looks like it takes a lot of work. I like the slide thing with the morphing, but why not just find cheap ones like Ember Beast, Flowstone Charger, Pallimud, etc? (If this was a black-red deck, you'd also have access to Barbarian Outcast, a valuable two-drop beast! And blue has Aquamoeba and Riptide Mangler now. But I don't think you want me to change your color scheme.)
Decks like these have problems with consistent (repeatable) enchantment removal. A recurring Elvish Lyrist is bad news. Tranquil Grove is a nightmare. Green may be the color you find most effective against this deck, in the long run. Consider a second deck that hoses enchantments -- you'd be surprised how many decks that smashes.
But I hope this white-red also works out! Do let me know. Meantime, give a couple of the more precocious 12-year-olds a chance. New blood is important to a good play group!
My only public thought on this one is that I really like the attempt to metagame what is an increasingly popular group card (Lightning Rift). Astral Slide is a nice answer, as long as you have the right sorts of creatures coming in and out, and that's where I think the deck will ultimately stand or fall.
LOCKING UP THE LAB
That will do it for this time around! Those of you who skimmed the bit at the beginning should take careful note that the Multi-Lab lines are now closed.
I know... it's depressing when I stop bits like this. But this way, I'll be able to start up new ideas, so hang in there! And email me about anything else in the meantime.Anthony may be reached at email@example.com.