Five Steps to Building a Multiplayer Magic Deck

Posted in How to Build on January 26, 2016

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

So, you want to build a multiplayer deck?

Well, you've come to the right place!

Building a deck can be a daunting enough task on its own. You have to find all the right cards and come up with a strategy to take on one opponent at a time. Multiplayer multiplies that equation over and over again. Suddenly, it's not just one player you have to worry about, but two, or three, or four, or five...

Some cards and strategies become a lot weaker. For example, building a deck that wants to counter all of your opponents' spells is going to be difficult when you have three times the number of spells to counter! On the other hand, some cards and strategies become a lot stronger.

How can you separate those two out and build a multiplayer deck that is firing on all cylinders, taking everything into account?

A great question. So, let's get started with the five steps to building a multiplayer deck!

1. Understand

Your friends have told you it's time for multiplayer night! So let's whip out our card boxes, rifle through for some cards, and start building...right?

Well, hold on a moment.

As the philosopher Sun Tzu once said, "Know your enemies." The word "multiplayer" carries a lot more mystery than simply "Standard" or "Modern." What format exactly are you playing? The difference matters a lot!

At a surface level, it's certainly going to matter for things like figuring out how many cards should go in your deck. If you're playing Commander, you're going to need a 100-card singleton deck with a commander, for example.

But even more than that, it'll really dictate what kinds of cards you want to play.

For example, if you're playing a five-player free-for-all game where people can attack any other player they want, then you're definitely going to want some cards that encourage people not to attack you. On the other hand, if you're playing Two-Headed Giant, then something that works well with teammates, such as Crush of Tentacles or Imperial Mask, is going to be far more useful.

Before you even start building, understanding the rules of the format and what's going to be expected of you is crucial.

2. Strategize

Okay, so we've looked up the format, thought about what kinds of cards might be good, and now surely it's time for building, yeah?

Well, we'll get there. But there's one more crucial step to happen first: think about what your strategy is going to be.

Just like when building a typical one-on-one deck, your deck should have some kind of mission statement; some kind of plan or reason for existing. Why did you want to build this deck in particular? What makes it a particularly good multiplayer deck?

Now, this could range on a spectrum of "I like Dragons. Dragons are cool. Therefore, Dragons", all the way to "My plan is to use the extort mechanic to slowly drain away all of my opponents' life without even needing to attack," or even, if you are particularly dastardly, "I want to annoy my friends as much as possible!"

All of those are entirely fine. But you should think about your strategy—and then strategize as to what is going to make this good in multiplayer.

Let me tell you a story.

When I started playing Magic, I was playing a deck called Blue-Green Madness in tournaments. Essentially, it was built around discarding my own cards, such as Circular Logic and Arrogant Wurm, to creatures like Wild Mongrel so I could quickly attack my opponent and counter whatever they tried to do.

This deck was smashing people in the local tournament scene. So when I was at my friend's birthday party and his casual, multiplayer playgroup challenged me to a multiplayer game, I had no doubt in my mind I would smash them.

Well, it turns out I was indeed the one who was going to be smashed.

A strategy like that doesn't work well in multiplayer at all! It relies on elements such as quick aggression, spending your resources on one player, and countering spells—a combination of elements in the concept known as "tempo"—to defeat one player quickly. Which works great when you only have one opponent...but when three of them are breathing down your neck, you will soon find yourself swiftly defeating one of them and then leaving yourself completely defenseless to the others. (Which is indeed what happened.)

So, I'll ask you again: what is your strategy? Run through it in your mind. Make sure it is something that has the legs to work in multiplayer.

For reference, multiplayer games in general tend to go longer than normal games of Magic. There are more players to spread damage around to, the threat level can shift from player to player, and people are naturally defensive, since attacking too much leaves you open to counterattacks—and prompts enemies.

This means strategies that are better the more turns the game takes thrive here, whereas strategies that aim to end the game quickly are weaker. Ramp decks that want to play big creatures like Kozilek, the Great Distortion and huge spells like Storm Herd are so popular in multiplayer for precisely this reason.

Step 3: Profit.

You want to make sure whatever deck you build fits the format—both the rules and the play of the format.

3. Select

All right—it's finally time to select some cards!

Depending on your strategy, no doubt you already have some exciting ideas about where you'll start. I don't want to mess with those core cards you've selected for your strategy at all. Go ahead and put those in!

But once those are in, where do you go next? Well, there are a few things to particularly look out for when building for multiplayer that you might skim over normally. To get your mind in the right starting point, five to look at are:

"Each Opponent"

Many cards refer to each opponent rather than target opponent. (Or, by extension, each player rather than target player.) In normal one-on-one Magic, you may gloss right over this wording—but here in multiplayer land, it has its time to shine!

Cards like Syphon Mind or mechanics like the aforementioned extort do this perfectly. You can accrue a pretty massive benefit by using effects that hit all of your opponents at once. Just be careful to not draw all of their ire!

Mechanics Made for Multiplayer

There are a number of mechanics that are actually designed specifically for multiplayer that you may just have lying around. For example, check out dethrone from Magic: The Gathering—Conspiracy or myriad from Commander (2015 Edition). It should come as no surprise that these work well in multiplayer—and now is the time to use them!

"Rattlesnake" Cards

There are many classes of multiplayer cards, and I won't get into all of them. (Although if you are interested in reading more on the subject, check out this article by Adam Styborski that covers it.) But one of the most crucial classes if you're playing against multiple players (read: not a team format like Two-Headed Giant) is the rattlesnake.

The idea of a rattlesnake card is simple: it discourages people from attacking you. Soul Snare is a perfect example of this to me. Sure, someone could attack you...but why walk into your Soul Snare when there's another perfectly reasonable opponent to attack?

I've seen Soul Snare act as Moat for the majority of a game before. If possible, you definitely want to try and find a way to divert people to other targets.

One step removed from this is also the "group hug" strategy of playing cards like Howling Mine so people don't want to kill you. This works to an extent, but depends vastly on who you're playing with; your mileage may vary.

Effects That Can Help Other Players

Many spells can enhance creatures or permanents on the board—not just your own! If you're looking to make an alliance, cards such as Spectral Searchlight or Relief Captain can be great. "Okay, so who wants this additional +1/+1 counter? I'll start the bidding at...don't attack me for the next two turns!"

Depending on the format, multiplayer can be just as much about politics as gameplay—and ways to slide those in your favor can go a long way.

Surge

It's a bit of a no-brainer, but if you're playing a format with teammates, surge is going to be incredibly powerful! You'll want to have a surge deck on your team to play cards like Crush of Tentacles for full value early on.

4. Plug

Okay, so you've got the format down, you've thought about your strategy, and you've even built most of your deck! What now?

The last step you'll want to take before playing is to plug any holes that might exist in your deck.

Bar the Door | Art by Ryan Pancoast

For example, the most common hole I see is ways to destroy artifacts and enchantments. While in one-on-one play sometimes you won't even see an artifact or enchantment, in multiplayer there are more players and tons of very powerful artifacts and enchantments that can come out and ruin your day.

One way to plug this is simply Naturalize. Another is to include some all-purpose cards such as Vindicate or Boomerang. But whatever your solution, make sure you can cover every permanent type. (Well, except for Fortifications. You're probably safe there.)

Aside from individual card types, look at your kind of deck. What do you look weak to? This part is just like building a deck for one-on-one play. If you're a slow, plodding deck that ramps up its mana to cast Eldrazi, add some cheap removal spells to slow down anybody who really wants to chomp at your heels. If you're a more midrange deck, perhaps add a big spell or two—the game is going to go long, after all.

After all that, it's time to play. Go forth and battle!

5. Refine

So, how'd that go?

The thing about multiplayer deck building is that it's never truly done. And a lot of the deck building actually comes after you've played some games.

Why is that? Well, because every multiplayer group is unique!

Imagine I tell you you're going to be in a race...but not what kind of race. It could be on foot. It could be on skateboards. Or maybe it's on jet skis, or by plane, or via jetpack. You don't know! You're just told to run a race.

Then, you bring your equipment to the race. And everybody else brings their equipment to the race. And you all go for it, a mix of every acceleration type under the sun.

That's kind of what multiplayer is like.

But you know what? The next race, I bet you'll find people bring more and more similar equipment. And the race after that, even more similar equipment. Until eventually, people are finally using jetpacks versus planes instead of rocket ships versus moon shoes.

And that's kind of like what refining your multiplayer deck is like.

To some people, multiplayer means casual, theme-based decks. To others, multiplayer means building the sweetest combo deck you can find. Those two aren't going to coexist in the same group very well. But once you play, you can find out—and then go back and adjust accordingly.

In addition to making power-level adjustments, there may also just be holes you need to plug. Maybe you didn't have enough artifact or enchantment removal. Maybe someone always plays a planeswalker-focused deck and you need to Pithing Needle. Maybe you just learned things about your own deck that didn't work well. Or maybe, just maybe, you're inspired to go back to step one and create an entirely new deck of your own.

And that, my friends, is the inspirational beauty of multiplayer.

Multitudes of Fun

One of my university professors once told me, "An artist never truly finishes their work—they just eventually give up."

For Magic deck building, I think I prefer, "A deck builder never truly finishes their work—they just get distracted!"

There are just so many great decks to build, and so little time! Playing one game of multiplayer often sows the seeds for three new decks I want to build!

And hopefully, with this guide, you're much closer to building all of them without any problems.

If you're interested in the multitudes of ways to play multiplayer Magic, be sure to check out this page where they are listed in detail. You will probably find something you've never heard of but just might want to try.

And that marks the parting of the ways for us this week. If you have any questions or thoughts at all, please feel free to message me on Twitter or ask me a question on my Tumblr (or anywhere else you happen to find me—even the grocery store is fine, really) and I'll be happy to help you out however I can.

I'll be back in two weeks. Talk with you again then!

Gavin

@GavinVerhey

GavInsight

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