On Thursday night, as many Pros were preparing for their rigorous test of skill, ability, and (consult thesaurus for additionally redundant noun) acumen, six strange little folk gathered together in one of the practice rooms and started what may be a new feature at certain Pro Tour events: an informal Multiplayer Invitational.
The Invitational was begun as a friendly challenge between myself and The Ferrett, my editor at Star City. We always figured when we found ourselves at the same event, we ought to gather some people together and do something that might be fun for our readers to read about. We wanted to make sure that more tournament-oriented players were also involved, because both The Ferrett and I believe that there's much that the multiplayer and duel cultures can teach each other.
So a list was rapidly drawn up, including some of the top names in Magic and Magic writing.
Then that list was crumpled up and thrown away, and we asked the following people instead:
First, Randy Buehler from Wizards asked if he could join in our reindeer games. It would have been rather stupid of us to say no. Then the Ferrett sought out two popular Star City authors who draw slightly different audiences from my own -- Michelle Bush, well-known for her strategic thinking and provocative writing, and Sheldon Menery, who is largely known for his fabulous mustache. Oh, yeah, he's a Level III judge, too.
Having Randy already on board, we extended an invitation to Omeed Dariani, since that created a great little Wizards - Sideboard - Star City linkage and we just couldn't imagine having a multiplayer experience without someone spouting out new flavor text for every over-costed global effect card that hit the table. Being at six players, we felt rather full; but a last-minute plea from Michelle and The Ferrett let Chad Ellis, a fellow Dojo refugee, join our reindeer games.
That had to be it. Sorry, we weren't very scientific about the invites and I am sure there were hundreds of people we could have reasonably considered. But these seven made for a rather motley crew, and the next invitational could just as easily have seven completely different people. Hey, organize one of your own at the next Pro event or Grand Prix near you! It's not like there are Pro Tour points at stake.
There will be at least two or three other recountings of the events; here is my brief take on how the event fared.
First, Omeed dropped out with regrets; Sideboard duties had prevented him from preparing a deck for the event. (We required one Type II deck, and one Extended.) So the six of us sat down, decided we would play Type II decks, and took turns in the following order (first turn determined randomly...really!)
- Anthony Alongi
- Randy Buehler
- Sheldon Menery
- The Ferrett
- Michelle Bush
- Chad Ellis
Let me take a moment now to describe my deck. (I'll do a full analysis of the deck in a forthcoming Casual Fridays.) Our group back in Minnesota had worked a bit together on this; we decided the best way to go was a "Punisher" method that set up "stay away!" warnings to other players. Best bet in Type II: Seals.
I love Crosis, and I love Spinal Embrace. But those two together, throw some Seals of Doom and Seals of Removal in, and we had the base of a deck. I borrowed Glacial Wall tech from Adrian Sullivan's PT: Chicago effort to combat Blastoderms and Chimeric Idols, Ghitu Fire tech from Mike Pustilnik's successful deck at Chicago, and Dancing Scimitar tech from...well, nobody. But those and Metathran Transports, I knew, would be my best bet against flying rebels.
That's enough to get us started: early seals and walls, followed by Crosis and burn. Let me emphasize: early defense is really important to this deck. Half the deck is geared that way, which is a decent-sized commitment for a group game.
My opening hand contained an island, a swamp, and a mountain, along with Spinal Embrace, Metathran Transport, and a couple of other goodies. Great!
The game starts. Nobody does an incredible amount the first couple of turns. Randy shows random lands, Sheldon shows white-green, The Ferrett shows swamps, Michelle shows forests and islands, and Chad shows mountains and islands. When Sheldon lays down a River Boa, at least three of us are slightly concerned.
First blood was through the Boa: Sheldon showed fourth-grade style how much he likes Michelle by pestering her. Shortly afterward, Randy set down a Ley Line. (You don't remember what that does, either? I'll remind you: each upkeep, the active player can decide to put a +1/+1 counter on whatever creature they want.) Soon, Ferrett has a Marauding Knight, Michelle has a Collective Restraint, Chad has a Blind Seer...and Anthony...
...discards on his fourth turn!
Randy followed up that impressive play with a Phyrexian Infiltrator.
And on it went. When I got land, which was rarely, it wasn't what I needed. (I had 28 mana sources in the deck, at least half of which are blue.) Randy's good randomness soon produced an Infernal Genesis, which milled a critical island into my graveyard. (Oh yeah, I didn't get any tokens from that, either.) Sheldon picked two successive turns to pound me down to six life with his growing army of snakes, idols, and what not.
While I wasn't doing anything, Randy found a Chameleon Spirit, announcing black and taking tremendous advantage of the black minion tokens everyone had been producing through Infernal Genesis. The Ferrett tried to use his minions to finish me off, but I was able to fend them off with a Tsabo's Decree that I had been saving for a less dire emergency. Since Sheldon had Waxed the Genesis, I was at least not facing any more...unless someone else decided to finish me off.
I was beginning to get very frustrated, and when I finally played Crosis at four life, and then watched Randy steal it with the Inflitrator as he tried to come in and kill me, I was pretty much ready to die.
And then my hero, The Noble Chad Ellis, saved me by Dominating the Chameleon Spirit, which pulled it out of combat and kept me at four life. Chad's explanation? "I'm not ready to see him die yet." Hey, he thought he'd find me useful. And as he would soon found out, I was indeed useful.
I drew a second blue source of mana on my next turn... a Salt Marsh, which came into play tapped. I looked at my single blue mana, my other untapped non-blue mana sources, and the Spinal Embrace in my hand...then I looked at that Chameleon Spirit, and I said a little prayer. I prayed for ONE MORE ROUND OF MERCY from my colleagues, so that I could start to fend for myself like a real multiplayer wizard. All I needed, I swore silently over and over, was to get that chance to show what the deck could do.
I got it. For another round, with a small Phyrexian Infiltrator to my name (Randy had lent it to me as he took Crosis), everyone just decided I wasn't worth the effort. Several other players had large attackers, a few big flyers...and so I wormed through, one last turn.
As Chad completed his turn, he played...Hired Giant. Quick like lightning, I searched for an island. Then Chad was done, my turn came, I untapped my Salt Marsh, stared with relief at my three blue mana sources, and then drew....
...another island. Such a humorous deck I have. Playful little piece of crap. When I get home, I think I will return the favor by dangling it over an open flame for about half an hour.
But the four blue sources did allow me to do two things: cast Spinal Embrace during my own "combat" phase (can you guess how silly it looks to announce your readiness to go into combat when you have no creatures?) and take the Chameleon Spirit, which sat and did nothing since there wasn't a chance in hell I was going to risk losing it in combat; and play a Metathran Transport, which could chump the few huge flyers out there and stop just about everything else.
Then the Spirit was sacrificed, and I went from four life to sixteen...still behind most of the pack, but no longer anyone's patsy.
From there, the game was the story of consolidating power. Chad gathered a lot of it, Dominating a River Boa and Rhox over time. The Ferrett displayed quite a bit, showing some fat creatures, burn, and Tsabo Tavoc. Sheldon already had it, with an array of potential attackers and a Kor Haven to discourage any unwanted attention. Michelle by this time had two Collective Restraints out and four different basic lands, as well as a couple of Vine Trellises; no one was going out of their way to go after her.
This left Randy, who had my Crosis. And I wanted it back.
And I had a Phyrexian Infiltrator.
But I didn't want it back. So on the end of Chad's next turn, I exchanged the Infiltrator for (pick one):
- (a) my own Crosis
- (b) Chad's dominated Rhox.
- (c) The Ferrett's Tsabo Tavoc.
- (d) Michelle's Vine Trellis.
The correct answer is (c). The Ferrett had no islands and the one creature who could reliably kill Crosis and a great deal else. Plus, he was going to help me get back Crosis; I was sure of it. And he did: in response to my Infiltrator move, he tapped and waxed the Dragon Legend. Bang, into my graveyard.
Have I told you about my "family" cards?
I have three foils in my Type II deck: a foil Urza's Rage, representing my one and a half year old son (I like to think of him as manually dexterous enough to work the controls of one of those things); a foil Ghitu Fire, representing my five year old daughter (I like to think of her as not taking too much crap from anyone); and a foil Crypt Angel, representing my wife (and let's just not go there, folks...it's enough to say she's an angel; she reads these damn things).
The foil Crypt Angel, regrettably, had been milled out of the game with Randy's Clear the Land a while back. (Are we all cataloguing the things that Randy has done, intentionally or no, to screw me over so far? Good.) But I had another, non-foil Crypt Angel in the deck. Let's suppose this represents my elusive second wife -- call her Cookie. Cookie was somewhere around there, and if I called Cookie sweetly enough and plied her with enough gifts and assured her that my first wife was well out of the game, well maybe she'd show up.
All right, before I get into enormous trouble, let's talk about some terrific plays that others made during the course of this game.
First, Randy tried to cast Thieves' Auction. This was fifteen or so rounds deep into the game, with at least sixty permanents on the board. Chad countered it, for which he took some verbal heat; but let's be honest. Thieves' Auction is funny to CONTEMPLATE. It is funny to CAST. The additional humor gained from actually piling up and separating back out seventy permanents, however, may or may not outweigh the work. Great play Randy, great play Chad.
Second, about two or three rounds after that, Michelle looked at the board before her, including two different younger dragon legends and Sisay, as well as a full complement of basic lands . . . and cast Coalition Victory.
Chad did not counter this one; he seemed inclined to let Michelle win in this most excellent fashion. But before I could even take priority to turn her Darigaaz blue and sack my Seal of Doom, The Ferrett stepped in and cast Tsabo's Decree, naming legends. This completely wrecked Michelle, as she was holding two additional Dragon Legends and another Coalition Victory (now useless).
Third, Chad did a little beatdown with borrowed fatties, using Sheldon's Rhox to slam The Ferrett out of the game, and then Randy. Neither Sheldon nor I felt like doing much to help either of them. The Ferrett seemed certain that with another turn's grace, he might have been able to burn Chad out; but I'll let him tell that story himself.
With Chad, Michelle, and Sheldon remaining as my only opponents, I felt the time was right to start slamming. My Cookie had indeed shown up (though she's not NEARLY as lovely as my "foil" wife!) and brought back Crosis. (Crosis, by the way, represents my dog, who also purges regularly.) Crosis then demonstrated to Chad the virtues in having flyers who could block; or I suppose couldn't, if they weren't there.
With Michelle vainly seeking a path to victory with the few green creatures (and a few remaining minion tokens!) under her control, Sheldon and I growled futilely at each other for a while.
Then my daughter showed up, all foil-like, and just smacked that judge all the way back to Level 1.
Michelle counted her library - earlier Accumulated Knowledge had let her race through it earlier - and found only five cards left. She conceded gracefully . . . and I decided I would write this report, after all.
I'll write more about how the deck works, and the dynamics of the game, under separate cover. I would like to thank all of those who played for helping make this event fun. We gathered quite the crowd of pro spectators in that tiny practice room. I hope they found the diversion entertaining, and I also hope they felt inspired to try it themselves, after the weekend was over.