Haste Not Always Makes Waste

Posted in Top Decks on April 3, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Multiplayer games take more time.

Time Stop | Art by Scott M. Fischer

While a game of Magic is typically a ten- to twenty-minute affair, dialing up the player count turns those ten minutes into upwards of an hour or more. Commander and its decks, packed with wacky, wild, all-different-from-each-other cards, adds another wrinkle to things: Just reading and understanding what everyone else is doing takes time.

It isn't fun to sit and watch others do their thing for what can be the length of an entire Standard game before it's just your turn again.

Solving this issue is complicated. Players are people, and everyone will react differently to new information and situations. What works for you and your friends may backfire in a spectacular manner for someone else. Today's article covers several ways others have managed to keep the pace going. Find what might work best for you and give it a try.

The Unstoppable Force

The most obvious way to speed the game along is similar to the most obvious way to grind the game to a halt: Use abilities and effects that force other players to do what you want. Just as "prison" decks have their array of artifacts and enchantments to lock down the battlefield, "chaos" decks force everyone into actions that change the game. David shared a deck he uses to that effect:

I have Commander decks specifically designed to speed up the game. My favorite is Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, a classic Gruul build. The goal of the deck is to stop extra turns and tutors via Stranglehold, and just attack. If the card says "players must attack" it went into the deck. Most notable here is Avatar of Slaughter, who forces everyone into combat, with double strike for good measure.

Stranglehold
Avatar of Slaughter

It also aims to sweep enchantments and artifacts off the field, to ensure creatures are unfettered in their quest for lower life totals. Traditional white-blue prison decks are less confining once the way is cleared with a Vandalblast and Multani's Decree.

Ruric Thar keeps cards coming for everyone in the form of Heartwood Storyteller and Rites of Flourishing. Those full hands require extra mana, delivered in the form of Heartbeat of Spring, Mana Flare, Zhur-Taa Ancient, and my personal favorite for flavor and function—Overabundance.

Heartwood Storyteller
Overabundance

I keep the damage flowing to everyone in the form of Ruric Thar himself, along with Burning-Tree Shaman. These two make sure that if you're not attacking, you're taking damage for doing anything else.

Playing Ruric Thar is a lot of fun, because he's tough but fair. Nobody is singled out, the global effects apply to everyone. Games go much quicker once everyone has extra cards and mana, and creatures are required to get into the red zone!

—David

David's Ruric Thar

Instant (1)
1 Inferno
99 Cards

While David's deck is built to make bashing happen, he included a resource bump for everyone else. That's another classic approach to keeping games moving: ensuring everyone has something awesome to do, and the mana to go do it immediately.

That's the aim of "Group Hug" decks, personified by their usual commander, Phelddagrif. I've discussed Group Hug twice before: once as a favorite Commander archetype some bring to the game, and earlier as something to model for the "Bear Hug" type of deck. This is what Group Hug looks like:

Lou's Relentless Hugs

Group Hug gives other players something to do but typically doesn't focus on winning itself. Don't think that those decks can't, though, or you might end up with a face full of Phelddagrif.

Bear Hug is based on the same principle of "giving things to other players," but it also actively looks to deal damage and find a way to win along the way. One of the two decks David (different from above) sent in is what I'd consider a Bear Hug deck, with a Bear Hug commander in Nekusar, the Mindrazer:

I help the speed of games in my playgroup by playing either my Nekusar or Ruhan deck. Nekusar has tons of card draw to help keep things moving and can kill people with Nekusar damage or one of the two combos (Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch or Niv-Mizzet/Curiosity). Ruhan speeds things up by cutting through any table talk, and with tons of ways to make Ruhan unblockable and enormous, he usually one-shots people.

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Curiosity

My playgroup will often play a variant to help speed things up too. We've played Bang-gic (using roles from Bang! to determine objectives for different players), as well as pentagram, among others.

David's Nekusar

Planeswalker (2)
1 Chandra, Pyromaster 1 Jace Beleren
99 Cards

This deck isn't really very fast by itself and as such doesn't win that often but everyone drawing a bunch of cards does speed up the game.

David's Ruhan

This deck is still in its first iteration and I haven't been able to put all the cards that I've wanted to in it. That doesn't stop it from killing someone on turn five every now and then. Additionally, the amount of table talk that the pilot of the deck needs to engage in is almost zero, so that also speeds things up.

—David

David touches on a lot of good points here, too:

  • Including a few "surefire win" combos to draw into can break stalemates and end games that are just dragging on.
  • Giving everyone more resources lets them find something to do right away; dealing damage while you're doing it is a bonus.
  • Dealing a surprising, unexpected amount of damage can reshape the battlefield.

But there are other ways than just creating decks that push everyone else around. Modifying the rules for Commander can help expedite games too, as Nate shares:

Our group has each player start at 30 life. This can make a dramatic effect on the overall length of the game without giving a very noticeable advantage to the aggressive decks. We also like to cap each game at four players.

My favorite deck is Krenko, Mob Boss. Sometimes the deck will play like an average aggressive tribal deck, but it has the possibility to go off like a combo deck on any given turn to wipe multiple players. I think one issue is that Commander players play with powerful cards, but just because a card is powerful doesn't mean that it can win you the game.

Game-ending cards:

Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon + Goblin King—There are many decks that can produce a steady stream of 1/1 tokens, but if those tokens can't connect with a player, they're not worth much. Making my horde of Goblins unblockable and at least 2 power helps to make them a force that can easily deal 30 to 40 damage each turn. This combination is made very real by other universal pump effects for my Goblins, like Goblin Warchief, Quest for the Goblin Lord, and Shared Animosity.

Blood Moon
Goblin King

Goblin War Strike/Mob Justice/Goblin Bombardment/Kyren Negotiations/Furystoke Giant—These are all cards that translate into guaranteed damage. It's very important to have a large amount of redundancy so I'm able to consistently draw into one of these cards that can simply end the game, given I have enough tokens in play.

Goblin Bombardment
Furystoke Giant

Insurrection—This is an easy way to spend eight mana to end the game. Many Commander games can come down to massive board stalls where it becomes very difficult for anyone to profitably attack another player. Insurrection isn't a new or innovative choice, but there's a reason it's considered a Commander staple.

Insurrection

Nate's Krenko

Thanks for the great articles!

—Nate

Changing to 30 life is a subtle shift in the ability for anyone to deal lethal damage to everyone else. In a four-player game, that's a saving of 40 life, an entire player under normal Commander rules. Other small tweaks include using shortcuts such as using a fetch land (Arid Mesa, etc.) before the end of the turn immediately before yours, but allowing a new choice to be made if that player wants. Everyone uses shortcuts of some sort, so if your group is spending a lot of time waiting for other players to finish finding cards in their library, it might be worth looking to see how that process can happen faster.

There's one other way to help make games move, and it's either brave or foolhardy. I'll let Matt explain:

I find that the best possible strategy in getting a Commander game to move quickly is to offer a target. Namely, myself. I have two Commander decks that generate a lot of frustration/anger in my opponents; the first is an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic lifegain deck which easily sets me at 80+ health each game, and a Phenax, God of Deception mill deck. The Phenax deck elicits more emotion, by far. When I am constantly crushing a player's deck, countering spells, and discarding his or her hand, that player is going to make very quick moves to attack me. Odds are, so will the others playing, so that the Dimir deck drain doesn't destroy them in turn. When every player has a clear goal in mind (namely, knock me out of the game), turns tend to go quickly, with spells played almost immediately and creatures focusing attacks on me. My turns move quickly too—generally, I mill someone with Phenax's ability, attack for more mill via Nemesis of Reason and Trepanation Blade, and cast something like Glimpse the Unthinkable.

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic
Phenax, God of Deception

Basically, all of my games turn into lightning-fast-gang-up-on-Matt games. For an economically restricted deck, it sure does its job well! The only thing that could create a faster game would be a card with "Target opponent reveals cards from the top of his or her deck until you stop grinning evilly, then puts the revealed cards into his or her graveyard."

—Matt