How to Win a Contest

Posted in Serious Fun on June 19, 2007

By The Ferrett

Harsh_MercyBefore we enter the Top Five Most Powerful Future Sight cards—as chosen by you, the readers—we must discuss, for a moment, the nature of a contest based on submissions.

When I posted last week's article, many people wrote in to tell me, "Hey. I could build a way better Barren Glory deck than the ones you got!" But the problem was that, well, you didn't.

I am at the mercy of what you folks chose.

If you think a card is great, that's awesome. Send in a deck! Don't wait—do it today! Because if you don't, then maybe the arguments that other people make won't be as persuasive, and I'll be stuck choosing some substandard card because nobody spoke up for it.

Your decks count, folks. So yeah—despite the fact that I'm still reeling from reading approximately eight hundred pages of reader-submitted contest entries between the "Most Powerful Card" and the "Nacatl War-Pride" contest, I still want more.

You think you can build a better Barren Glory? Awesome. You think that you and you alone have cracked the deep secrets of Chronomantic Escape to show to the world? Wonderful! But I didn't see either of those when I was writing these articles. So for the next contest, please—send!

And now to discuss the remaining Top 5 Readers' Picks.

Gibbering Descent (10 Votes)

Folks were excited about this one, and for a good reason: This has two very potent effects in multiplayer.

The first is, obviously, that everyone discards a card and loses a life at the beginning of their upkeep. Gibbering Descent is unlikely to come out earlier than turn four (and probably later than that, barring some crazy Wild Mongrel / Trespasser il-Vec non-mana-costing discard ability) but when it does it's going to nibble away at everyone's hand and life totals in a very ugly way.

The second is even more attractive to the potential Johnnies out there: once you have no hand, you have no upkeep. At one point when I was tossing around ideas for a suspend-based deck, I thought of Paradox Haze, and then on a lark I spent a good half an hour listing cards that would be patently awful when joined with Paradox Haze. Anything with echo gets twice as bad when it's hazy out, and cards like Lord of the Pit and Cosmic Horror become devastating to your game.

But with no upkeep, suddenly those cards are lookin' kind of attractive. And now all of those nifty Pacts you've cracked become, well, absolutely free (at least until you have an upkeep again). That's a pretty awesome place to be, and even the Timmiest of deckbuilders can think of a few cards that get better when the upkeep goes a-walkin'.

The Problem With The Submissions: You've Drawn The Heat, Now How Do You Cool Down?

Gibbering Descent
Yessiree, people loved the Gibbering Descent. But the problem with the Descent is that it doesn't actually affect anything on the board. It will be aggravating your opponents to no end, but that doesn't matter if they have, say, three fliers out and are smashing your face.

Gibbering Descent is a huge "kill me now" card. Nobody likes it, because everybody likes having cards in hand. And unlike past all-star hits like, say, Subversion—which at least hands you a slow but steady trickle of life to tide you over—Gibbering Madness will sit there idly while you take beatings to the face.

Now, that's not to say that a Gibbering Madness deck cannot have defense built-in. After all, that's why you play more than one card—certainly, other cards can fill the holes that Gibbering Descent leaves. You can absolutely throw in another thirty-plus cards that will fill those vast gaps in between "I'm waiting to cast Descent" and "I've cast Descent and now everyone is after me."

The problem is that some people—the majority of Descent-lovers, in fact - didn't.

A lot of the submissions assumed that Gibbering Descent was enough, saying, "Wow, it's powerful! And it messes with everybody!" and failed to provide the shape of a deck that could both take advantage of the Descent reliably and defend itself.

That's an important point. It may well be that these people had decks built and didn't manage to provide them, but my suspicion is that they looked at the power of Gibbering Descent and didn't register its drawbacks. And one of the most important parts of Magic (and, ironically, one of the least-written about) is analyzing a given card and seeing its weaknesses.

Based on this reasonably small sample, I'm fairly sure that there are enthusiastic multiplayers everywhere who are slapping down Gibbering Descent and then being surprised when it doesn't work as well as they thought it would. And why didn't it work? Because they didn't mind the gap.

That said, there are certainly some folks who stepped up to the plate—as witness Kyle B., who has an almost textbook-perfect submission for winning the contest:

In order for a card to successfully make the transition to multiplayer, it must possess certain qualities that most cards do not. To flourish, it must thrive in an environment with multiple opponents playing various threats. An innate synergy between other cards of the same color must be apparent. A card can be superb, but if there is no way to incorporate it into many kinds of decks, then it is limited as to how powerful it can ever be.

Gibbering Descent plays naturally with black's general multiplayer style. When we take a look at what cards are fielded in multiplayer games, you can see that they play to the strengths of Gibbering Descent. That is why I believe that the most powerful multiplayer card Future Sight unleashed is Gibbering Descent.

The synergy begins with getting the card into play: One of the most overlooked aspects of the card is its madness cost. This opens a whole new world of possibilities. Creatures like Urborg Syphon-Mage, who are already very powerful, now have the additional effect of putting a dangerous enchantment into play. Black is famous for mass discard effects, as we see with Mindslicer and Delirium Skeins. Both these cards serve to wreak havoc against combo and control players, and with Gibbering Descent, has the additional menace of keeping everyone at zero cards. However, the card isn't necessarily game-breaking once it hits play—so there must be more to it if we are to declare it the best.

Discarding cards doesn't have to be a disadvantage. Whether it be using madness to clear opposing creatures, or simply putting key cards in your graveyard, discarding can be the lifeblood of black decks. Creatures like Big Game Hunter and Gorgon Recluse are great forms of removal early on, as is Dark Withering. We even see Psychotic Haze as cheap, mass removal. Black is well known for its revival effects, and one of the easiest ways of getting big creatures in the graveyard is merely to discard them. There is nothing worse than picking up that Kokusho, the Evening Star when you wanted to Entomb and Exhume. This also works when you're looking to use spells like Living End, or creatures like Balthor the Defiled. Get your graveyard full of baddies and reanimate away! Ensnaring Bridge is another card that benefits from discarding. The card has more effects though, how do they fare in a multiplayer environment?

Magus of the Abyss
Skipping your upkeep serves more than one purpose. Most people dismiss this effect as rather useless. It essentially serves to save the owner a single life point a turn—nothing spectacular by any means, right? Wrong! That is, it's nothing compared to the effect's true potential. Braids, Cabal Minion, Magus of the Abyss, Contamination, Koskun Falls.... The list is endless. All of these cards have powerful multiplayer effects, and negative effects on your upkeep, all of which become negated by Gibbering Descent.

Let's not forget cumulative upkeeps either. Black is generally hard pressed to deal with enchantments or anything bearing the dreaded "protection from black" text, but suddenly Dystopia becomes a viable approach to eliminating them. However, the possibilities really are endless. Glacial Chasm becomes a way to protect you from all sorts of offensive threats. The card is looking better and better, what else about it makes it so special?

Forcing your opponents to discard has many uses. Not only does forced discard stop combo and control players from ever gaining board control, it is a viable way of winning the match. Megrim, Rackling, Wheel of Torture, Liability, Vulturous Zombie... the options are endless. Geth's Grimoire turns it into massive card advantage, a sneaky play that might take the group by surprise. Relative ease of salting the wounds is just one of the other advantages of the card. So the card has some nice effects, what can we say about its type?

Enchantments are overall more durable than other permanents. It may not seem like much of an advantage at first, but the more you think about it, the more you realize how powerful it is. The inherent hitch with creature-based decks is their vulnerability to mass removal. Cards such as Massacre, Wrath of God, Innocent Blood and countless others are all favored for their quick ability to deal with large numbers of creatures. Also, the cards that attempt to destroy the entire field tend to leave enchantments unharmed. We see this in Obliterate type cards. Mass enchantment removal does exist, but how much of an impact do they have on multiplayer to warrant slots in most decks?

Remember, most enchantment-based decks cannot be stopped once their key cards hits play. Tranquility does nothing if they get their Dovescape in play. Stasis will have already locked you down if it hits the board. The sad truth it, the popular enchantment decks don't even care about removal. It's difficult to imagine more can be said about this card, but what clinches its title as "best multiplayer card?"

It's not an all-or-nothing card. Gibbering Descent has the unique characteristic of being a card you can build a deck around, and still have the deck function without it. Although this seems like an oxymoron at first, it really is true. All the cards and combos that it works best with can function on their own. Braids, Cabal Minion still destroys permanents every turn. Urborg Syphon-Mage still drains massive life for you. The deck may be hindered, but the fact remains that it is not defeated. If we take a look at other decks—say, Stasis-based decks—imagine how the deck would fare without it. They simply couldn't accomplish anything. The same goes for any deck relying on specific interactions to win the game. Gibbering Descent has the game winning interactions, that much has been proven, and the ability to continue fighting even after it's destroyed is just astounding. No card in the set comes close to the power of Gibbering Descent.

That is why I believe that the most powerful multiplayer card Future Sight unleashed is Gibbering Descent. No matter what strategy you use, Gibbering Descent always finds a natural synergy to match it. A combo card without combo's fatal flaw, its versatility and enduring traits clinch its reign over the rest of the set. The gruesome sight of the card itself bears witness to the calamity that lie ahead for all those facing it. The limitless ways to fall victim to its caress leaves a sense of helplessness in the air. With so much power packed into a single card, one must wonder if it will ever be surpassed.

– Kyle B.

Sample Decklist:
Fat Man Sings

4 Gibbering Descent
2 Necrogen Mists / Bottomless Pit / Oppression

4 Braids, Cabal Minion
4 Urborg Syphon-Mage
3 Magus of the Abyss / Pillar Tombs of Aku

4 Dark Withering / Gorgon Recluse / Nightshade Assassin
4 Tangle Wire / Smokestack
2 Null Brooch / Geth's Grimoire
3 Ensnaring Bridge / Contamination

1 Demonic Tutor / Demonic Collusion
4 Dark Ritual

1 Yawgmoth's Will

19 Swamp
2 Glacial Chasm

You make a compelling point, Kyle. So like Korlash, we'll put Gibbering Descent on the "reconsider" list. Moving on....

Scourge of Kher Ridges (11 votes)

I am predisposed to like this card. You know why? Because one of my favorite cards of all time is Crater Hellion. Crater Hellion's an old Urza-block card with echo; when it comes into play, it does 4 damage to every other creature.

You have no idea how many times I've won games by doing 4 damage to every other creature. It's like a little mini-Wrath of God, and I've cleared out literally hundreds of dudes (sometimes in one game) with my lovely, lovely Hellion. That's card advantage, baby!

So when you tell me that a large, flying guy can do this repeatedly, well... You had me at hello.

The Problem With The Submissions: How Much Mana?

...but Crater Hellion did all of that at once for six mana. You got a 6/6 body, and wiped away everything else—sure, you had to pay six mana again at your next upkeep if you wanted to keep the body, but the damage was already done.

Scourge of Kher Ridges
Scourge of Kher Ridges has one of five modes:

  1. You play it at eight mana, and do nothing for a turn, giving everyone who has an incentive to have it blown out of the sky a crack at it while you're helpless.
  2. You play it at eight mana with two mana open, allowing yourself to Rough the ground if someone twitches.
  3. You play it at eight mana with six mana open, allowing yourself full reign to go nuts at will.
  4. You sneak it into play with something like Exhume or Hypergenesis or *cough* Dragonstorm.
  5. You lay down pre-protection for it by laying something global like Privileged Position.

Now, again—if people had said, "Okay, Scourge of Kher Ridges has a serious drawback, here's how you work around it," and presented a deck to show me how to make it fire, that would be awesome. But too many people said, "It's large! It's powerful!" as if that was all there was to it.

For the record, the best multiplayer cards tend to have one or more things in common:

  1. Cost very little for their effect (Pernicious Deed at three mana is quite nice for an adjustable, any-time threat remover)
  2. Protect themselves (Stuffy Doll and Akroma, Angel of Wrath laugh off most removal)
  3. Have such a gigantic effect on the board that when you play them, they decimate people by themselves (Blatant Thievery and Insurrection are winners)
  4. Trigger every upkeep, so there's a good chance that they'll get at least one activation off before dying (Verdant Force)
  5. Are reusable (dredge, buyback spells, et cetera).

I'm not saying that Scourge of Kher Ridges is bad—far from it. If it sticks, it's colossally great, taking down pretty much anything with its fiery breath except for Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Dragons wearing Armadillo Cloaks. But you're going to pay fourteen mana for the privilege of watching it wipe out someone else's army if you want to do it all in the same turn—which is unlikely—or you're going to give someone a one-turn window to bash your face in with their soon-to-be-gone legions and/or remove Scourge from the playing field.

When you think of a card, you should think of it in terms of support. Scourge is a great card, but it's not going to do the job by itself. Like Gibbering Descent before it, what other cards can you pair with it to make up for its sadly fair casting cost?

(And come on. Nobody thought of pairing it with Zirilan of the Claw to make for an ugly nine-mana turn? I'm so sad!)

I like the Scourge. It'll be going into one or two of my decks to try it out. But the sentence "It's powerful if I get to eight mana, and if it survives the next turn" is such a colossal drawback that I'd need more evidence before I could consider it the most powerful card.

When one Terror can make your investment of eight mana mean nothing, I gotta quail a little. You know how it is.

Chronomantic Escape
Chronomantic Escape (14 votes)

There's one dream to be had with this card: you completely shut down the attack phase. All you need is to suspend three of them in marching order so that each Chronomantic Escapes comes cascading after the other, and by Gaw, nobody can ever send a guy at you again.

You are safe behind enemy lines. They cannot touch you. Isn't that awesome?

Well? Isn't it?

The Problem With The Submissions: What Then?

I'm not about to pooh-pooh Chronomantic Escape, because having a turn where you are free from attackers is indeed a potent thing in multiplayer. I've long said that the value of lifegain is that having an extra 20 or so life to burn means that you can send your guys charging out onto the battlefield—sure, they'll counterattack, but so what? They're down 12 life that they can't afford, whereas you? You've just been set back to 20, where you started.

But the investment in Chronomantic Escape is only as good as you make it. Sure, you've burned a card to save you from your enemies' wicked onslaughts every third turn. What will you do with that turn?

Repeat after me, class: Not losing does not mean that you are winning.

It's entirely possible that Chronomantic Escape might be one of the most potent multiplayer cards in Future Sight (especially when combined with everyone's favorite upkeep-enabler, Paradox Haze). But when you buy yourself some time, you really should do something with it, and most of the submitters seemed to think that "I can't be attacked" was good enough on its own merits.

But you can still be comboed out. Or burned out. Or Millstoned. Okay, and then you throw in an Ivory Mask / Imperial Mask to prevent against that.... And now you have eight to sixteen slots of a deck devoted to defense, and you still don't have a deck that wins.

What I'd need in a winning submission would be someone showing me how to use that time. Maybe an aggro-shadow attack would be nice, or a combo deck of its own that used Chronomantic Escape to get those precious extra turns that allow it to go off. Even a control deck combined with, say, Isochron Scepter and Orim's Chant elements could be good against it.

I need a win condition. Because otherwise, this is merely "Everyone who sees the eternal-Escape coming attacks you two turns out of three until you're dead." Which is not good enough.

Still, though the mana's a little sketchy, this looks like a fun deck to take for a spin—Aaron was pitching for Spellweaver Volute, but it also abuses Chronomantic to some extent. And it's a definite multiplayer deck that relies on others having instants, since there's barely a good instant to be had in here. So check it out:

Aaron W.'s Parasitic Spellweaver

If you prefer being the master of your own fate, you can also run a deck that dumps costly instants like Searing and Vitalizing Wind and Inferno into your graveyard, or a storm build (since Volute feeds it), or both. Quicken and Reiterate are nice here, as instants that play well with sorceries.

Aaron W.

In the end, I tried to build a deck around Chronomantic Escape. It's not very powerful if it's alone, but as soon as you have three of them, it starts to get nasty. I don't think many players would try to come up with counterspells, since that is not a very good tactic in multiplayer—you can't counter everything.

If your opponents can't attack you and they can't do anything against it, that should be powerful... At least, I like being invincible.

So here is my deck:

Arne's The Great Escape

You want to get three Escapes in three rounds as fast as possible.

For reaching that goal, I added 12 of them by tutor effects (it's enough). After playing the Chronomantic Escapes, you only have to survive burn spells (which can be easily done with Ivory Mask or Imperial Mask) and kill the opponents. For this I chose the Krakens (which slow your opponents down a bit, too) and Chronozoa, which is one of the funnest/most fun cards in Planar Chaos and works really well together with Dust of Moments.

Or with Damnation / Wrath of God.

As said, counters are necessary, and Quash should be nasty - it counters one spell that could disrupt you, and it disables the spell for the rest of the game! (I personally love Quash and have a copy in almost every blue-packin' deck of mine—T.F.) Pact of Negation is really helpful, and a bit better with Angel's Grace Maybe I should use Force of Will instead, but I think at this point the Pact is better.

In the end, I only had to fear fast kills, so I added the Forbidding Watchtowers as blockers and Desert for the case that your opponent still attacks you.

I think the deck worked quite well while I was playing it, and as soon as you are invincible (which happened a lot faster than I expected!), you should win soon after. And you can play the first Escape without fear, since at least my opponents didn't care about it—it's just a little bit of unattackability...
doesn't help much...


–Arne (Germany)

Molten Disaster (15 votes)

As many have pointed out to me, at one point I dismissed Hurricane as a decent multiplayer card. I have since been brought around.

Now. What we have here is a potentially uncounterable Earthquake that wipes out every groundbound regenerator, since unless people got their regeneration shields up beforehand they won't have time to put one on thanks to its split-second nature. And if someone has, say, a Circle of Protection out, it won't help them either, because they can't pay the one mana before the damage resolves.


Molten Disaster
But if I may digress for a moment, let me talk about split second. I dare say that most of you are playing your split-second cards flat-out wrong. I know this because I certainly did when I started playing.

See, when I first got my Sudden Spoiling off, I laid it on the table.

"Sudden Spoiling?" I asked.

Ian and Josh yawned.

"You know," said Josh, "That didn't seem very sudden at all."

"I agree," Ian chimed in. "It seemed almost deliberated."

I frowned. "What—you're telling me that you were expecting me to play Sudden Spoiling?"

"Oh, no," Josh said loftily. "Time Spiral just came out last week. I didn't think you had the cards yet. It's going to wreck me, I agree."

"But it's not called Surprise Spoiling," Ian chided. "It's Sudden Spoiling. And that Spoiling was—well, it was kind of lackadaisical, to tell the truth."

"Fine," I growled, gritting my teeth. "I'll be more sudden in the future."

Ever since then, it has been tradition at our table to play the "Sudden" cards differently. Instead of tapping the mana and revealing them, you instead have to leap out of your chair, slap it down on the table like you're whacking a bug, and scream, "SUDDEN SHOCK!" as loud as you can.

The newer players jump, sometimes flinching so quickly they drop their cards. "What the hell?" they ask.

"Well," we shrug, "it's sudden." And that's the way it goes. Until my wife gets out of bed because we're still screaming at the top of our lungs at one in the morning when she's trying to sleep, and shows me what Risen Wife looks like. (It's white and extremely powerful; try not to face it if you can.)

Anyway. The card. It is, apparently, good.

The Problem with the Submissions: How Good?

The nice thing about Molten Disaster is that it kills other players. The bad thing is that it kills you, too, or at least hurt you. And if you're playing the kind of Red-centric deck that best can get to the needed to cause this to fire at super-instant speed, then chances are good that you're going to have problems with guys with protection from red.

In addition, in multiplayer, fliers are a huge deal. With all of the Angels and Dragons and Soul Collectors and Birds and, oh, I dunno, Goblin Balloon Brigades hanging around in the sky, Molten Disaster just doesn't do what it should. It'll kill players, sure, but chances are good that the blue guy with all of the Counterspells that you're trying to avoid will still have his Quicksilver Dragon once it resolves. And if he's alive, well, he'll point it at you.

Still. There are ways around it. Like, you can play your own protection from red critters, and gain some life of your own with a quasi-Boros concoction....

Offer Zeiri's PRO-ME

Stephan F.'s Multiplayer Disaster

Molten Disaster is, obviously, very powerful. The question is, is it so powerful that you can use it twice... Or will the players, when burnt once, be twice shy? Alas, I haven't gotten to pull it off yet in multiplayer, so I can't say, but still. It could be good.

(Incidentally, having seen it fire several times, Browbeat is far better than I thought it would be in multiplayer. You'd think with more players someone would be more willing to pay the cost, but it becomes something akin to Douglas Adams's Somebody Else's Problem field—everyone else thinks that someone else will handle it, and before you can say "priority cycles" you have three cards. Weird, but true in many groups... At least, according to my own experience and my own inbox.)

Bitter Ordeal (16 votes)

Let me share a story with you. I was playing last week with my friend David, who was in from out of town. As it turns out, we had a very busy Wednesday night with fourteen players showing up... And all of them were packed into my dining and living room.

As such, space was at a premium. (A Star City Premium, you might say. Ah ha! It is to laugh!)

David and I were crammed next into each other in a seven-player game, and being the sneaky budgers we were, we got glimpses of each other's hands. (It's hard not to see when you're shoulder-to-shoulder with someone.) So rather than pretend, we just flashed each other our hands to remove all doubt and forged a rough alliance where we kind-of pretended we didn't know what was coming up, but really we did.

Unorthodox? Truly. But our table sometimes encourages weird things to happen.

All the time, I knew what David was leading to, because he had Boom in his hand and Bitter Ordeal, and seven mana. It was a bit of a trying time for me, because I had a mana-hungry deck, and I had to pretend that I didn't know what I was walking into.

Howling Mine
Meanwhile, the ground was chaotic, as it tends to be in a big game. Every three or four rounds, someone played a global reset, filling the graveyards as we struggled to restock the board. (It didn't help that for a while, someone had not one, not two, but five Howling Mines out thanks to some Sculpting Steels as he attempted to find the combo pieces in his deck to go infinite, before he tried to go off and misfired.) So it was the whacky.

The game went on for almost two hours, and we were still jockeying for position (thanks in part to Crazy Combo Guy's long struggle to gain an infinite Beacon of Tomorrow-fuelled loop and accidentally decking himself in the process thanks to his five Howling Mines—which sounds fun in theory, but in practice was a lot of math and little gain). David kept drawing things, but not land.

Then there it was: Land number nine. I nodded.

"I dunno," he said, turning to ask my opinion. "Would it be fun?"

I thought about it. We'd just watched Crazy Combo Guy go off for a zillion, and the game ground to a standstill. David was still in double-digit life totals, and with everyone with nine lands out, he could rip up pretty much everyone's decks. He'd win, but the game would have crawled to an ugly stop.

"I don't think it would be," I said. "In fact, I think it'd be pretty damn boring."

He mulled that over.

"I agree," he said, and played something else.

I mentally chalked David up as the winner in that game, to the point where I can't remember who actually did win. Because in that moment (and he flashed the cards to the others to show them what he had been capable of doing), he had the game in the palm of his hand and chose not to do it because it wouldn't quite win the game.... Not as a lock, anyway. There was the outside chance that someone could have crawled back to two lands and begun to hammer him with a creature, and maybe David would have gotten mana-screwed, and then it might have been over for David if we'd all limped our way to take him out.

It wasn't a guaranteed win. But it was certainly enough to make him either the #1 winner or the #1 loser, at the expense of bogging the game down into an agonizing slog.

Bitter Ordeal
So I have issues with Bitter Ordeal. But for all of that, I can't deny that it's powerful. As witness these arguments/decks in its favor....

My vote for the most powerful Future Sight card is Bitter Ordeal. Ordeal is great in single player if executed properly, but it scales even better in multiplayer. Its strong points include:

* It can take advantage of your board sweepers: What's better than wiping ten creatures off the table with a Damnation? Why, searching for ten cards from other players' decks to wipe out, too! The more players, the potentially higher the gravestorm count.

* It can do deck recon: Somebody playing with a new deck & you don't know if it's a threat? Throw your first copy of Bitter Ordeal at them to see what's up their sleeve.

* Each copy can target a different player. Maybe you can tick off combo Joe by pulling out that key card he needs to "go infinite."

* It can combo well with Nacatl War-Pride: Your 15 War-Pride tokens just go to the graveyard, along with 10 of your opponent's 15 creatures? Time to remove 25 cards of your choice from your opponents' libraries! Gravestorm copies for each permanent, not each card. Plus if your Nacatl War-Pride assault put that player on the ropes, you can use Bitter Ordeal to derail somebody else.

–Josh W.

This is a slight adaptation of an older deck I had that used Tendrils of Agony for a possible turn four win, regardless of the number of opponents. Bitter Ordeal replaces Tendrils with the slight disadvantage that it probably isn't as useful when it's used with a finite storm count.

The basic idea of the deck is to abuse Enduring Renewal and any sacrifice effect to generate an arbitrarily large storm count (or in this case, your gravestorm count—check the recent Oracle change, it works!), and then play your storm spell for lethal.

The Phyrexian Altar allows you to generate mana, often allowing the combo several turns before it would otherwise go off. Without the Bitter Ordeal, you can still generate an arbitrarily large number of Charge counters on your Spawning Pit, or an arbitrarily large Carrion Feeder. Disrupting the combo requires either destroying the Enduring Renewal, destroying your sacrifice outlet, countering your zero-cost creature spell, or removing the creature from the graveyard in response to the Enduring Renewal trigger. I often play in environments where Naturalizes are few and far between, Counterspells virtually unheard of, (and who would waste one on an Ornithopter anyway?), so this works very well... the first time they see the deck, anyway.

Aaron D.'s Bitter Ordeal

If your group allows Skullclamp, use it! With Phyrexian Altar, and Enduring Renewal, it allows drawing an arbitrarily large number of cards, and is still excellent when non-infinite.

–Aaron D.

My pick for most powerful multiplayer card in future sight is Bitter Ordeal. Me and my friends are bored individuals who often play games of Magic in class, usually Two-Headed Giant. We all played at the release event for future sight and wanted to see how cards would fare in 2HG.... So we mixed old and new cards and played, and Bitter Ordeal screwed over our opponents severely.

There was one game where after a couple of trades in combat I played about three spells, and my partner played one, then after my partner played Volcanic Awakening blowing up five lands, afterwards I played Bitter Ordeal and pulled out nine more.

In another instance my Festering March came into play with our opponent's board full of Saprolings due to Sprout Swarm, and I Bitter Ordealed to pull out several cards that would have allowed my opponent to win (including, ironically, Nacatl War-Pride).

–Bryan C.

I tend to like cards that have the potential to do something awesome. This may be quite difficult or impractical to pull off, but the looks on my opponents' faces if I do are quite rewarding. I would therefore like to nominate the card with the most destructive potential yet—a card that says, "Remove each opponent's library from the game."

I have some plans for this card in one of my "casual" (meaning that I play with my friends, and there are no restrictions) decks, but for this mail I think I'll make a Time Spiral Block deck that tries to do something similar.

Knut S J's Bitter Ordeal

The plan (which is the megalomaniac plan of a mad villain) goes like this.

Preparations: If I think people aren't going to kill me quickly, I might try to mulligan into a hand containing at least some combo pieces.

Early game: Stay under the radar, and destroy any sufficiently threatening threat coming my way. Hope to find combo pieces, or play demonic collusion for them.

Going off: If creatures or artifacts can safely stay on the table, there might be some Nether Traitors, a Basal Sliver and/or a Hivestone on the table.

Otherwise, six mana is needed to start the combo. The Traitors pretend to be Slivers and die/resurrect/die making any amount of mana, as well as putting any number of permanents into the graveyard. The excess mana is to be spent on Mirari copies (since you should have at least one Mirari or one Demonic Collusion in hand) Pact of Negation provides some counterspells in case someone wants to do something. Better yet, wait until the blue players are tapped down.

If everything goes according to the mad plan, each player is targeted by enough Bitter Ordeals to remove their libraries from the game. (without me mana burning to death). A backup plan would be playing a bunch of Tendrils on every creature in play, but that's not nearly as much fun.

The question is if this will work the second time I try it. :D

–Knut S J

Bitter Ordeal has the nifty gravestorm mechanic, allowing it to copy itself for every permanent you manage to shove into the graveyard in a turn. More players means more permanents to send packing. Also, Bitter Ordeal allows you to search for any card in an opponent's library and remove it from the game, so what it does is equally effective against the control player and the person who just loves his crazy creatures. You might even be able to completely deck someone who has drawn a lot of cards during a long game. And, last but not least, Bitter Ordeal abbreviates to BO—something that can be truly devestating at a full table. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

So what does a deck looking to exploit gravestorm look like? I'm thinking a little something like this:

Nathaniel C.'s Fear the BO

The basic idea of this deck is to ramp up to Damnation, Wildfire or Boom (playing Bust) then follow up with Bitter Ordeal. Hissing Miasma discourages attackers in the early turns, when you're trying to get enough mana on the board, and the totems and signets keep you from suffering too badly from the mass land destruction. An ideal set-up would involve suspending a Nihilith or three the turn before you drop one of you mass destruction spells, so that you'll be able to yank the counters off them and put them on the board once everything else has gone to the graveyard. In fact, if you can't get a hold of Bitter Ordeal for some reason, Damnation plus Boom with suspended Nihiliths is a good second option, especially since you'll most likely still have mana sources on the board. And a Detritivore suspended when you play Wildfire or Boom can be back-breaking. Ordeal will let you search out any removal that could be a danger to your creatures, and then you can just keep swinging for the win, using totems to speed up your damage potential if you need them.

–Nathaniel C.

Taking advantage of another person's removal is gonna be hard. Looks like if you want a job done right, you need to do it yourself. So how are you gonna "do it yourself?" Well, you need mana, removal, sacrifice, and/or hate.

Have a lot of mana? Play a lot of spells that send things to the graveyard, i.e. lots of removal. Have stuff to sac? Try running Blood Pets, cute little guys that you can sacrifice, but sacrifice for mana, mana you can use to cast that Bitter Ordeal. Sac three Blood Pets to cast Bitter Ordeal and that's a guaranteed gravestorm of three—weak but ergonomic! Better yet, invest in Seals. Seal of Fire and Seal of Doom are great little gravestorm-enablers, getting you both sac-ability and removal! On the unlikely draw of three Seals of Fire, two Mountains, a Gemstone Mine, and a Bitter Ordeal, that's a turn-three gravestorm for six (or seven if you used up all three counters on the Mine)! Again, kinda weak for multiplayer, but that should be more than enough to take down a combo deck, or maybe even two. Of course anything that allows you to sacrifice permanents will help so also look to Greater Gargadon, Strip Mine, creatures with echo that you don't wanna pay, any of the Time Spiral Block Thallids, etc. etc.

—Christo R.

Bitter Ordeal is the strongest multiplayer card in Future Sight. In a good multiplayer game, lots of permanents will hit the bin, and quickly, too. For an example in a deck:

Anthony R.'s Bitter Ordeal

Pure demolition.

–Anthony R.

Now. Aside from people's distressing tendencies to relate body odor to Bitter Ordeal, what candidates do we have left?

  • Korlash, Heir to Blackblade—A great, undercosted finisher in a mono-black deck.
  • Molten Disaster—a burn spell that can't be countered but will sometimes hurt you more than it hurts others.
  • Gibbering Descent—A card that has a lot of potential, but little defense.
  • Bitter Ordeal—A combo-style card that's probably usable in a variety of combo decks, but makes it very unfun to play.

Gibbering Descent gets cut. But Kyle B., for such an awesome analysis, I'll give you a signed Gibbering Descent anyway! Come on down! Free prizes for everyone!

Okay, not you. But everyone else. Sorry about that. I'd give out free prizes to all of you, but alas! I can only throw out a couple of extra cards per contest. You know how it is.

Korlash, Heir to Blackblade
Likewise, Korlash is indeed awesome, but there isn't quite enough distinction from other great black creatures to make it a standout. It is indeed potent, no question, but without evasion it can be chump-blocked endlessly by a Goblin Snowman. And if you're going to pair it with other spells—as you no doubt will—then, as I said, it starts becoming a redundant black finisher. So reluctantly, it gets cut.

That leaves us with two standouts: Molten Disaster and Bitter Ordeal. And this is really tough, because I'm stuck with a card that's fun to play once versus a card that doesn't do quite as much, but will probably be seen a lot more often.

In other words:

  • Molten Disaster, which everyone and his mother with a Red deck will play, and it'll blow out a lot of people because it's more overall useful.
  • Bitter Ordeal, the card that will see play in dammit-not-that-deck-again, a deck that people will groan when they see it.

Unfortunately, this is a power-measuring contest. And in a large game, the Ordeal can definitely cripple people, and it gets around Counterspells (by nature of its gravestorm), and it really does have a variety of uses.

Bitter Ordeal
And who built the best Bitter Ordeal deck? Well, it's slightly cheesy to use an old combo to enable a new card, but then again "cheesiness" is the name of the day when it comes to the Ordeal.

Aaron D. takes the prize. And lo, there was much weeping. Sorry 'bout that, but I gotta call 'em like I see 'em.

On the plus side, I'm willing to bet that you'll see Molten Disaster and Korlash more often than Bitter Ordeal... At least, if you're lucky.

Next Week: It's a Theme Week for the weasel, and then—*ghasp*—the Nacatl War-Pride is chosen!

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