There's a small "ding!" as my inbox gets another mail. It's from Scott Johns or Kelly Digges, my editors.
"This week is Defenestration Week," they say. "We need 3,000 words on throwing people out of windows by three o'clock. Go!"
And so I hunch over the keyboard, desperately trying to think of some clever spin on the theme that nobody's tried before.
A good idea, but unfortunately, it was wrong. We don't play teams, though you'd think it'd be a natural for me to write about Two-Headed Giant or Emperor, and thus I had nothing worthwhile to say. I had no news to offer on the topic.
Then I felt a little depressed. After all, I play with a group of great guys. One of the things that always bugs me about playing and then writing is that they do all of the cool stuff, and then I get the glory by publishing it. Sometimes, I even take a boneheaded play they made and broadcast it to umpteen thousand readers.
Is that really teamwork? Where is the "I" in team when I'm telling the whole world what terrible players they are? And given that I couldn't be playing all of these fabulous games to write about without their help, don't they deserve some credit?
Then I thought, maybe I can get them some. So I wrote an email to the gang:
"Teamwork Week" is slated for magicthegathering.com next week, and I'd like to have a guest column consisting of little mini-writings by... you.
After all, it's only fair. I dissect your plays. Why shouldn't you get to dissect mine before the same audience?
The question is, would each of you (or enough of you!) be willing to write up, say, 500 to 1,000 words on multiplayer strategy that I could compile?
Keep in mind that my column is what I think is important about multiplayer Magic, and always has been. So I'd much rather get your take on an aspect of multiplayer that you think I've either not written about enough or gotten just plain wrong. Choose what you'd like to write about, and hopefully you'll surprise me (and the readers) by either disagreeing with me or delving into an aspect that I hadn't thought of as significant (but you do), or fleshing out some part of multiplayer that I've touched upon too lightly for your liking. That's what would be cool.
And my guys? They're so friggin' awesome. They came through.
Here's what they had to say.
How to Lose Like a Pro
The Spike Recovery Program
Chaos is not a Duel
Think like a Snake
Confessions of a Casual Player
How to Lose Like a Pro
....Oh wait. That's my "introducing myself to new players in our group" speech.
I shall give you insight today on a subject not often described on magicthegathering.com: how to lose at Magic. After all, winning at Magic is so overrated. I'm sure there is a subset of players out there who want to get worse at playing Magic; we are the un-Spikes of Magic. We shall be known henceforth as Charlies, in honor of one of the greatest losers of all time.
As it turns out, I am in fact quite qualified to offer my opinions on this play style. I will try to focus on how to lose in multiplayer games—but some of these techniques are so
good bad that you can use them in most formats you play!
Play the Cards that Irritate People
Also, try playing cards that draw more bad PR than Britney Spears on a bender. There are the simple ones that draw attention to yourself every time you take a turn, such as Honden of Infinite Rage and Porphyry Nodes. There is also a particularly awesome subset of these cards that irritates your opponents every time they take a turn. Try taking this deck for a spin, and I will bet that you quickly have all the other players madder than the Incredible Hulk caught in rush hour traffic:
Play your Infamous Deck
Be sure to play your deck where everyone knows it has to die before turn X arrives or you win. You can, of course, fake your infamy at least once if you start your game by saying, "I think I'll play this deck that has never lost yet."
Keep Questionable Hands
If you plan to lose regularly, it is important to mulligan wrong. In fact—don't worry about taking mulligans. Your next draw is bound to be that land you need. And you always want to keep a six- or seven-land draw to fuel your turn-six bombs!
I have been vehemently fighting off Ferrett's mulligan advice for a while now with protests of "Mulligans are for showoff pros," "But shuffling is so tiring," and "LA LA LA, I can't hear you!" Be prepared to do the same.
Set Up that Slow Combo Deck that Everyone Knows About
Be the Annoying Guy
Throw unfunny insults around. Make inappropriate jokes. Ask your buddies if they've broken up with that girl yet because you are looking for a date this weekend. Play that card that brings the game to a screeching halt two hours in and causes it to stretch out for another three hours. Wait until it's your turn to slowly decide what play you will be making. If they somehow let you win with your Mephidross Vampire / Triskelion deck, immediately play it again. Blame your losses on luck (in paper Magic) or the shuffler (in Magic Online). Don't forget to state how you would have won the game in one or two more rounds. Act like an immature thirteen-year-old (unless you are an immature thirteen-year-old, in which case, act like a forty-year-old going through a midlife crisis).
Be the "Always Wins" Guy
This one is harder to pull off if you are trying to lose. If you have had a run of bad luck, though, and have found yourself at the wrong end of a winning streak, you may find that you have become this guy. A lot of games have turns where two players are valid targets and one gets hit for some arbitrary reason. A very good reason that lots of people use (whether or not they verbalize their logic) is "because you always win, that's why."
Draw First Blood
Play your Shepherd of Rot and start the bleeding. They might not have heard you when you announced that you were playing him—but when they all start losing 3 life on turn three, they will take notice.
If you want to lose a lot, make sure you don't change your deck from its initial build. Leave its shortcomings alone. Ignore new cards in the latest set that would go well with your deck. Make sure it gets to the point that everyone can recite your decklist from memory.
And if you are wondering, yes, I give lessons in losing at Magic. If you pay for my lessons, I can guarantee you will be a loser too!
The Spike Recovery Program
How to Develop a Multiplayer Mindset in 7 Easy Steps
But a few of your buddies from the card shop are talking about starting up a weekly casual playgroup, focusing on large multiplayer games. No sideboards, no entry fee, no rating changes, no Blue Envelope... just a bunch of dudes sitting around a kitchen table, cracking wise and having a great time.
You tentatively jump onboard, thinking that Magic is Magic and that it's just an excuse to play your favorite Game 1 more night a week... but later, when you're all alone and the room is quiet, anxiety sets in. After years of relying on other people's deck ideas, you realize that you have no idea how to design your own deck, much less one that can handle the collective onslaught of two to six, seven, or even more opponents. Well, my friend, you have come to the right place. I have designed this simple seven-step program to help you get your head (and your cards) in the right place. You're already well on your way; remember, Step 1 toward recovery is admitting that you have a problem.
Step 2: Take Your Time and Think Big
Back in the Stone Age when I learned to play, back when Shivan Dragon and Serra Angel were still considered too powerful to be printed in the base set, you could attend a casual open-gaming session at a local card shop and be assured that you would see Dragon decks battling Angel decks and Vampire decks and Rebel decks at the same table, each bolstered by Urza's Incubator and Quicksilver Amulet—and this was years before tribal-themed Onslaught block or the ridiculous Dragon Legends of Kamigawa. At the kitchen table, your deck is a facsimile of your personality. Do you really want to embarrass yourself by playing a few puny Goblin Piledrivers before losing to a Verdant Force and an army of 4/4 trampling Saprolings? Or do you want to drop a Visara the Dreadful and a Kokusho, the Evening Star and smash face? The choice is yours.
Step 3: Diversify
One of the oldest philosophies in Magic states thus: There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. In multiplayer, a corollary can be added to the original concept, which still rings as true as ever: A greater variety of threats requires a greater variety of answers.
This corollary should influence your deckbuilding in two ways: First, if you play a greater variety of threats, it will be much harder for the other players at the table to adequately answer every single one of them; and second, if you play a greater variety of answers in your deck, your chances of losing to something random will be greatly diminished. Try playing with two or three copies of certain cards instead of the customary full playset. This will not only make your play experience more interesting (as your deck may never play the same way twice), but it also gives you the chance to play with and evaluate new cards that may not have made the cut otherwise, and prevents that horrible sinking feeling you get whenever somebody plays an Akroma and you know that your deck has no answers whatsoever.
If you are worried about consistency, every single color has ways to manipulate its card selection, from Enlightened Tutor to Gamble; at the very least, Sensei's Divining Top is a welcome addition to any strategy.
Step 4: Do Your Homework
Browse through older sets and even high-level tournament decks from the past for ideas. Most playgroups allow you to play with whatever cards you can get your hands on, loosely adhering to the Legacy and Vintage banned and restricted lists, and playing older cards that nobody has ever seen will win you style points and confused looks from your opponents, who might not have any idea where your strategy is headed.
That Sylvan Library / Abundance combo is still just as good as it was back in 1999, and may get you a few respectful nods from the old timers. [It would from me —The Ferrett] Dust off that pre-Extended trade binder and crap rare box—you might end up finding a gem amongst the rubbish, something to build around or just the card to fill the hole in your brilliant Proteus Staff / Empty the Warrens deck. Gatherer is an amazingly helpful resource for research; I recommend clicking the link in the top-right corner of this here site here and taking it for a spin.
I mean, Caverns of Despair? Who knew?
Step 5: Beware the Dark Side
Remember that politics are at play here much more than they would be in a duel. In a one-on-one match, your opponent must react to everything you play, whereas in a group game, people can choose to defend you if your strategy meshes well with their own, attack you if your strategy makes it particularly difficult for them to win, or ignore you entirely. However, if you play a deck packed with Teferis and Morphlings and Fact or Fictions around our table, cards that help nobody but you and put everyone else in a bad position, rest assured you will quickly develop a massive glaring target in the middle of your face.
Flaunting power makes enemies, and it pays to be cunning and slow-roll your strategy a bit. For example, if you come out of the gates blazing like I did last week and have a Simic Sky Swallower in play on turn five, chances are that you will quickly be perceived as the most threatening player at the table and will be among the first eliminated, even if the guy to your left is gradually assembling the pieces to his Death Combo. First impressions are hard to break; sometimes it is better to let the other players with the faster decks tear each other to shreds before you drop your super-bomb and tromp all over their ashes.
Step 6: Get Creative
Remember those "fun" combos that popped into your head when you first read the spoiler for the newest set, but that you automatically dismissed out of habit? Casual multiplayer is the perfect time to cobble a few together and show what they can do. How many ways can you find to completely break Freed from the Real? Combos aren't even a requirement, as you can play big, goofy effects just for the fun of it.
Confusion in the Ranks, Booby Trap, Polymorph, Thieves' Auction... every single set has a few cards like these, rares that tournament players balk at, that unfailingly make it back around the table in draft, but cards that get the wheels turning in the heads of casual players. Toss a few singletons into your multiplayer deck. What have you got to lose? The game? Pshaw. Remember, you're in this for the fun of it, and a resolved Warp Worldalways makes for a good story to tell later on.
Step 7: Play Around
Your deck doesn't need to be perfectly tuned before the first time you play it. If you're looking to sit down with four or five other players who each have a variety of decks to choose from, such preparation is virtually impossible. Loosen your collar and roll the dice. Experiment, play a few games, win or lose a couple of times, them make some changes to shore up your perceived weaknesses... and do it all over again.
No deck can answer everything, nor can any strategy be completely bulletproof. At the end of the night, the experience was the important thing, and as long as you have a few tales to tell and witnessed a few good beats, your time was well spent. Magic is one of the greatest games ever made, but it is still just a game. Play it, and enjoy yourself.
Wow, that was a terrible first impression. Just awful. And the trouble is that I don't get a second chance to leave a first impression. Magic is the same way, and the impression you leave with your group can stay with you for a very, very long time.
My name is Josh Bell (or sometimes Vrax), and I have a reputation as our group's Best Player. To understand how this came about, I invite you to journey back in time, some six or seven months. I got a private message from The Ferrett that he was looking for some fresh meat to start up a multiplayer group.
Obviously, I said yes.
The thing is that for at least a year or two, I hadn't played a single game of casual Magic. Oh I had played many games, for sure, but they were all competitive duels.
I have been playing since Legends, and I still had some of my old multiplayer decks lying around. So I dusted them off, went through a few of them, and then did some tweaking.
The resulting decks are monstrosities built of naught but powerful, flashy, cards. These are the kind of cards that leave an impression.
Take a look at what I brought to the first session:
Not the fastest possible kills, as I loathe combo decks, but pretty strong cards overall.
That first session did feature me winning more than my fair share of games. And the next week when I sat down, people were already thinking of me as The Guy to Watch Out For. I enjoy a challenge, so I set out to be the Big Winner, and brought more and more powerful decks to the table.
Then something happened. I started being the default target any time someone had a creature and could afford to attack with it—any time, and every time. I was no longer the Big Winner; in fact, I was far from it.
I had made my first impression and I didn't get another chance to correct it. Over time, I got back into the casual side of Magic. I have my share of horrible decks and okay-but-not-great decks. I play them often, more often than my power decks, these days. Yet, no matter what I do, I am always seen as Big Winner guy.
The lesson here is both about the larger impression you leave as a player and the impression you're leaving on the board. If you are seen as the biggest threat, dropping your gorilla-bombs left and right, people are going to gang up on you, and you are going to lose.
When it becomes obvious that you bring more power to the table than the average player, you begin games with a bull's-eye on your head. That's why first impressions are so important.
Unfortunately for me I already have the reputation as Big Winner, so I've learned a few things that help me to still be able to win some games. Here's a few:
Mind your Tempo
When I'm playing a game, I try to slowly roll out my threats so that I don't outpace the table. When it becomes obvious that your deck is moving faster than the other decks at the table, you become the target. Play out your threats as though they're simple tools from a box, not flashy Akroma, Angel of Fury, and Korlash, Heir to Blackblade. Play the numbers, not the artwork. Numbers can't seduce you into showing them off too quickly.
Play Mass Removal
Furthermore, examine whether a threat is actually threatening to you. If you can wait for another turn, then wait.
Be Reactive Early and Proactive Late
The 2/2 dork you played on turn two isn't going to win you the game; it's going to get hit with anything from a Slaughter Pact to a Sudden Shock. For that reason I tend to make my early plays things like walls and useful, but not overbearing, enchantments. Ghostly Prison, Carven Caryatid, and Darksteel Ingot are all good plays, setting you up for the late game and not drawing too much attention. (Oh, and all three of those survive Mutilate just fine.)
Think about Synergy
As I mentioned a moment ago, playing with early cards that survive your own late-game mass removal is of paramount importance. Don't hamstring yourself by playing Sol Ring and Grim Monolith right into your own Granulate. Likewise, if you know you're packing Wrath of God, play guys that have a way around it, or that can come back again and again. Think about synergy not just in terms of cards, but in terms of game stages.
Focus on the Big Picture
The board is pretty freakin' important, but no more important than your own hand and the options it gives you. That goes for your foes, too. In tons of games I have seen someone sitting behind early defensive forces and building up a hand of cards. While that player may not be directly doing damage to anyone, make no mistake! Mister seven-in-the-grip over there is the real threat. Force people to stop you or die, make them play their cards, and hope that they over-extend as a result.
Finally, remember that each card you play, each deck you play, leaves a lasting impression. What impression will you leave at the table?
Chaos is not a Duel
1. Chaos takes longer.
Generally chaos takes longer, as people have to guard their back and can't immediately commit to a single opponent. This leads to more mana on the table, which leads to bigger creatures, which changes the whole "burning up those creatures" dynamic.
This is the big one that people most often don't think through, as it has lots of implications (see points 4 and 5). Per each opponent beyond one, add, oh five turns to the length of game. I plucked this number from a smelly place based on this: a good aggro deck in a duel can wipe a mana-screwed helpless opponent out in five turns; in a three-way, the aggro deck takes ten turns to wipe out two helpless mana-screwed opponents. So, five turns per opponent beyond the first.
[FERRETT NOTES: I'd make it closer to two or three turns per opponent myself, but Ian's argument that chaos games go longer is full of definite truth.]
What does five extra turns mean? Five more draws and five more chances for land drops. Well, since we're smart we are expecting this land and this time, and because of the upcoming point 3 (you have to kill lots of people), we want cards that use all our extra mana and are reusable.
In short, we want beef.
(And buyback! But more on that later.)
So instead of, say, Goblin Brigand, you might want Hill Giant. Instead of Viridian Shaman, you might want Indrik Stomphowler. Pick beefier versions of utility creatures when available, or just pick beefier creatures.
So. You have five extra turns. What else can be done? Since the game will go longer, things that fire once a turn will get more turns to fire. Hondens are a fine example of this, so perhaps a Honden of Cleansing Fire or Sulfuric Vortex. Also, Sun Droplet becomes much more efficient.
2) You have more upkeeps.
Verdant Force makes lotsa tokens in chaos while-u-wait.
3) You will have to kill more than one person.
Or better yet, you will be obligated to apply your win condition to more than one person. You have heard this before, but avoid decks that are focused on only one opponent (Megrim and a lot of single-player discard sorceries comes to mind).
Also, avoid decks that have no board position. People will phear you, sensing some über-combo in the waiting, and they will attack you – or they will think you are weak and kick you while you're down.
Make sure you have enough win conditions to go around. Also, make sure you have an answer for Akroma (either one) or Multani [See? Todd told you Ian hates Multani —The Ferrett], or some other Huge Mo-Fo that can't just be zapped. That's a far better answer than Barl's Cage.
4) On the moon, aggro doesn't work quite the same way.
This is derivative of point 1.... But it comes with its own special lessons. One-drops are not made of awesome in chaos. Festering Goblin, Mogg Fanatic, Foothill Guide are still good and useful, but they are not as threatening to Spiritmonger as they are to Dryad Sophisticate. So if your one-drop isn't:
- A mana source
- A put-dudes-into-play-er
- Ridiculously undercosted
- A combo enabler
- Just plain special
...Then you may not want to bother.
Anything that gets printed that can be played on turn one these days either carries drawbacks or can't really hang with the power that's going to get pulled out at the chaos table.
5) In space, burn doesn't work as well.
Instant burn (like Volcanic Geyser) is not as bad, because you can tell your opponents to end-step off and then untap.
All the chaos burn that encourages me to retune decks is reusable. Fanning the Flames certainly is a fine example, but burn that sits on men is the most prominent, like Arc-Slogger and Kumano, Master Yamabushi—or better yet, Heartless Hidetsugu with a side of Circle of Protection: Red.
A word here must be devoted to multi-opponent burn like Sizzle and Price of Progress. "Razor's Edge" Todd had a deck that features a lot of all-players burn-baby-burn, but I haven't seen it for a while. If he doesn't play it soon, I'm buying the cards and making my own. There are enough of these cards to make a chaos deck out of, but they draw the hate like nobody's business. Methinks the "hate me" element needs tuning down and the dorky element needs tuned up. You know, like Avaraxes and Aether Charges.
6) There will be someone else attacking your opponent who isn't you (if you are lucky).
You can do silly stuff like busting out a Spore Cloud in someone else's attack phase, or landing a Fists of the Anvil on "Razor's Edge" Todd's island-walking Grayscaled Gharial. Or just have Captive Flames and make anybody's attack extra-gooder!
Now go kill each other!
Think like a Snake
No, I prefer the duel. The head-to-head, the mano-a-mano, the me vs. you. One battle, one opponent, and one highly crafted, finely tuned instrument of destruction. That's how I like it.
But the sad fact seems to be that nobody duels casual anymore. Sure, Magic Online offers casual duels, but all personal interaction ends up being reduced to the minimum number of clicks and keystrokes. "gl." "u2." "gg." "ty." In the long run, I need some sort of personal interaction. So I play multiplayer.
The problem is that all my decks were bred for dueling. Ferrett's talked about it before, but each of the three main deck paradigms have difficulties translating to multiplayer, so I've had to adjust. Here's what I've learned at Ferrett's.
First, use the snake.
They don't have to be bombs; they can be little cards like Seal of Doom or Stinkweed Imp, Pyrohemia or Pyrite Spellbomb. People see these and generally go somewhere else. Even a Rusalka, a Hissing Miasma, or an innocuous-looking Catapult Squad can be enough to hold back a small army.
See, in a duel, these are fine cards, but they're not enough to hold your opponent back. In a duel, your opponent knows that it's up to them to deal with a Seal. Now or later, they're the only one to handle it.
But multiplayer is different. Generally, I think there are two thoughts at work: First, there's the hope that someone else will deal with the problem. This means that rather than getting rid of it right away, your "snake" stays on the board until someone absolutely has to deal with it. And second, there's the fear. In a duel, it's me and you: either you win or I do, and every decision moves one or the other of us closer to winning. But in multiplayer, if I sacrifice my guy to take out your guy, Tony wins—because we're both out a card and everyone else is one up on us.
Given that, all it takes is a little bit of snake to gum up the works and buy you time. This is what you want in multiplayer, and it leads us to the second thing I've learned: Stay under the radar.
Me, I'm impatient. I can't stand Texas Hold 'Em because it bores me to tears. All that waiting and not-playing. What's the point? If I wanted to sit motionless for hours, I'd go to a yoga class.
I play Magic the same way. I came to play, not to watch other people play. I want stuff to happen, and I'm not above launching an ill-fated alpha strike just to get the game moving along.
The problem is, if you go all-out every time, somebody invariably comes along and cuts your head off at the neck, and you have to slink off and wait at the kiddie table until enough people get axed for you to pull together a pick-up game.
So I've learned to slow it up. You have a lot more time to develop your board in multiplayer. I've played games where I haven't had a play until the third turn. But that's okay. Sure, someone might deal an easy point or two of damage, but for the most part, if you're not doing anything, then you're not seen as a threat.
You don't want to be a threat. You want to hide in the shadows and build your win slowly, piece by piece over time, preferably with pieces that look harmless. The idea is that, by the time your opponent realizes there's a real threat, it's too late to do anything about it.
So I've been working at it. I'm slowly adjusting my decks, adding in a variety of "snakes" to hold the ground and slowing the board development down to a sinister creep instead of an all-out frenzy. With a little patience and a snake in your back pocket, you too can rule the world. Or at least, maybe, your table.
Confessions of a Casual Player
I'm a casual player.
When I started playing, only one of my friends got into the game with me. We had a lot of fun for a while, but as he and I became used to the other's deck, things started to stagnate. With no variation, no differences in the way that we played, I could practically tell what Mitch was about to play before he could even draw it.
I almost left Magic entirely, but then I discovered that fellow classmates of mine liked to play, and around the lunch-table, my first multiplayer group assembled. I was instantly hooked. Everything that I knew about the game was turned on its head as I faced off against multiple opponents, and none of them played the way that Mitch did. Even better: none of them played the way that I did.
I began to realize that all the different decks and personality styles gathered around the table had different strengths and weaknesses, and the game became more fun than it had ever been.
So I stuck with it. My current group and I have been gaming for almost seven years now, and while we've all become much better deck-builders, we've had no real shake-ups aside from new sets and new cards that allow us to build the same kinds of decks that we've been building, but with a few more twists and turns for our opponents to learn.
We've all gotten very used to the way that we play, and we have a lot of fun playing, but eventually I came to realize that I had found myself back in the days before the lunch crowd in a way; the game was fun, but it had stalled.
On a whim, I decided that I'd contact Ferrett and take him up on his offer of hosting for Cleveland-area gamers. (The pictures he posted last week? Yeah, I've been there. Don't let him lie to you; those last two that he posted are quite real.)
But while I was expecting a new group and new decks, what I really wasn't prepared for was the immense difference in the multiplayer environment that my friends and I had suddenly found ourselves in. Decks that we had built that were nigh-unstoppable in our group's dynamic were suddenly running up against what seemed to us to be decks that were slapped together with powerful multiplayer cards... and we were losing.
Slowly, it dawned on me that all our theme decks and combo decks, decks that we were so proud of, decks that we allowed each other to pull off in our group, were in effect just announcing all of our plays beforehand to Ferrett's group. And those decks that seemed to us almost a random jumble of powerful multiplayer cards were, in fact, well-oiled machines designed to take our pants down and spank us. The group dynamic that I had been involved in just hadn't prepared me for what I was suddenly up against. I needed to adapt, for the first time in a long time.
I needed to change how I played, and I needed to figure out how to do so... fast.
And I started to realize something else. I was having fun. I mean, yeah, I was losing; but I was enjoying myself with it, because the game that I thought I knew was suddenly new territory again. All the multiplayer strategy that I had spent the last seven years learning and cultivating was suddenly worthless. And I was psyched. I started to realize that some of my more unusual decks worked well in this new group, and any deck that I was sure stood a chance was wiped out before I even had a chance to get it started.
I've played with Ferrett and his group five times now, and tonight marks the sixth. With luck, I'll be able to take another win this evening, but I don't expect it. [He did win. —The Ferrett, proud and happy to get whomped] I'm still trying to get a feel for this new group dynamic to discover how I can build a deck that will play by my rules and still be successful, and while I haven't yet succeeded, the journey is the exciting thing. I'm just glad to be on it once again.