IntoTheAether Goes Giant Hunting

Posted in Feature on January 25, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Why two heads are better than one

It has been a long time coming, but I'm finally jumping back into online multiplayer. As you may recall, one of my first “Into The Aether” topics was the weird and wacky world of Emperor. Since then, I've jumped from format to format, waiting for my chance to return to the Multiplayer room. Now it's time, and there was no doubt based on reader polls which multiplayer format you wanted to see. It's time for my first foray into Two-Headed Giant.

Two-Headed What?

Some of you may be asking, what is Two-Headed Giant?

In brief, the rules of Two-Headed Giant online are thus:

  • Games involve one two-person team against another two-person team. Each team sits on opposite sides of a table, facing one another.
  • Each team starts with forty life, which is a shared total. If either player takes damage, it counts against your collective life total. Thus if you attack with an unblocked Deftblade Elite, you drop your opponents to 39 life. If your teammate follows that up with a Sizzle, the opposing team takes six damage (down to 33 in this case).
  • Each player can only attack (and block) the opponent across from her. It is an awfully helpless feeling watching your teammate getting his face smashed in whilst you sit behind a Wall of Swords (but we'll get to that).
  • Spells or abilities can target any player.
  • Global effects affect everyone.

If you've never played the format, our own Anthony Alongi provided a decent overview very early in his column and last week he was kind enough to revisit the psychology of team formats. He also featured a Two-Headed Giant deck in one of his Multi-Lab concoctions (deck number six). Once you understand the basics of play, these are excellent resources with regards to deck construction and play strategy.

Usually, online Two-Headed Giant involves decks made from an Online Extended cardpool. This isn't a hard and fast rule, however. I have seen Two-Headed Giant games spring up with Standard, Prismatic, Singleton, and even Prismatic Singleton decks as well.


Test of Endurance
Also, it's worth noting that some cards are just functionally different when it comes to Two-Headed Giant online. For example, Test of Endurance may sound like an easy win, until you realize you actually need to reach one hundred life rather than fifty (50 per head, which means 150 total for Three-Headed Giant!). What does Biorhythm do in Two-Headed Giant? Each team ends up with life equal to the total number of creatures that team controls.

Other cards are just downright scary. Kokusho, the Evening Star provides a twenty-point life swing when it dies (ten from their team, ten for your team). Cards like Megrim and the aforementioned Sizzle become hyper-efficient at killing an opposing team, while two teammates each playing with four Aether Bursts in their decks can bounce a lot of opposing creatures. As with all team multiplayer formats, it's nice to have spells that you can direct at your teammate instead of yourself when needed (Deep Analysis, yes. Concentrate, no. Fertile Ground, yes. Rampant Growth, no.), and as with all multiplayer formats, card evaluations are very different (Syphon Soul, good. Wretched Anurid, very bad.).

The great news for new Magic Online players (or just folks who have not yet wandered into the Multiplayer room), is that unlike Emperor, there isn't a strong subculture around Two-Headed Giant. The decks are highly varied, as are the players. There is no one “best strategy,” with a pretty healthy mix of aggressive, control, and combo strategies played on any given afternoon or evening. No taboos exist with regards to things like direct damage or discard (Syphon Mind is a favorite, actually), although as with most casual formats land-destruction is a real bummer. The atmosphere is fun and generally lighthearted. For people who have wanted to try multiplayer but have been unsure where to start, Two-Headed Giant is a nice entry point.

To top it off, Two-Headed Giant is usually the best place for “quick” multiplayer since the games run pretty smoothly. Games usually end by the midgame and there are spirited momentum swings throughout. At the same time, unlike some other formats, unless manascrew is a factor most decks get to “do their thing” before the game ends, and even manascrew can be less of an issue since you have a teammate helping you out, plus a nice healthy starting total to buy you the time to get into the game. All in all, it's a wacky and wackily-fun format to play.

Speaking of wacky...

Ashen, Dripping, Tainted Offering of Death (in the Evening)


Kokusho, the Evening Star
There are basically two approaches to playing Two-Headed Giant online. The first--and by far the most common--approach is to show up with your multiplayer deck and look for an open slot at a table. I'll cover this “pick-up game” approach today. The other approach is to actually build a pair of decks with a friend or Clan-mate that have synergy with one another, which I'll cover next week.

I'm trying to remember how I came up with the idea for pairing Genesis Chamber with Death Pit Offering for my first Two-Headed Giant deck. I remember scanning Champions of Kamigawa for good multiplayer rares, because I figured it would be nice to feature one of the newer cards. I looked at Night of Souls' Betrayal, the Myojins, Uyo, Silent Prophet, and eventually decided that Kokusho was the most wickedly evil of the choices.

I think about this time I started working on team decks with next week's mystery guest (more on this later!) and Genesis Chamber was mentioned. We didn't end up choosing the Genesis Chamber route, but I filed the idea away and started thinking about a Kokusho-Chamber deck that could sacrifice its creatures. Eventually I found Death Pit Offering, which made my Myr tokens better than everyone else's, plus Life/Death to a) give myself an army of 3/3 land and b) keep the creatures flowing from my graveyard. The deck came together beautifully, and this is what I started playing:

Life And Death

Download Arena Decklist

Theoretically speaking, it's cool to have a Zubera army that gets sacrificed to Death Pit Offering, especially if some of them are Dripping-Tongue Zubera. So far, though, in about a dozen games this has never really happened. I have also never been able to generate a massive number of 4/4 Bear tokens, though again this should be theoretically possible.

What has happened with the deck, and it feels like it's happened an unusual number of times, is that I have won games with armies of hulking land. Nothing is quite so surprising to my opponents as seeing a creatureless me tap one mana and attack with twenty-four points worth of offense.

Although it's not the most wildly creative deck I've ever built, this deck felt like a solid enough first Two-Headed Giant deck with which to play around. I watched several games before jumping in, then started showing up to play with my Kokusho monstrosity. I've now played the deck for over a week and am still loving it.

Speaking of loving my deck...

Myr For Everyone!


Death Pit Offering
In typical “Into The Aether” style, I decided to pick one of my weekly games to showcase it and show you what a typical Two-Headed Giant game is like. I didn't win with land or beat down with beefy tokens in this game... in fact, I didn't even win. But it was a highly entertaining tilt for the four players involved and our spectators, so I hope it makes for good theater here as well. Again, the goal here is to illustrate the sort of things that can happen when you sit down for a Two-Headed Giant game.

Setting Up

I entered the Multiplayer room, chose my deck, and looked for a new Extended Two-Headed Giant game. Ironman 21 had just started one, so I sat down and within seconds we had four players. It's as easy as that to get going, mostly because Two-Headed Giant is by far the most popular multiplayer format online.

The teams were me and Xile4you versus ironman 21 and Zero West. I sat across from Zero West, pitting Xile4you, to my left, against ironman 21.

It turned out that Xile4you was playing a Blue/Green Madness-based deck with a few additional tricks. Ironman 21 was packing Monored Dragons, while Zero West was with Monoblack Zombies. Quite a diverse field, all told, though we wouldn't know the contents of our collective decks until much later.

Turn 1

Xile4you won the die-roll, which unfortunately made me last in the turn sequence since games proceed clockwise around the table. I have a slow deck, so going last is not my favorite position.

As you might expect, not much happened in the first turn. We all said “Hello and good luck,” a few mulligans ensued (including two “Big Deck Mulligans” which are part of Two-Headed Giant play), and we started. Xile4you played an Island, ironman 21 played a Mountain, Zero West played a Swamp and a Festering Goblin, and I played a Forest.

This was bad news. The person across from me was clearly playing an aggressive Zombie deck while his teammate was showing Mountains. Based on the Island from my teammate, I was guessing he had a slow deck like me. At the time, I thought we might be dead before our decks could ever get going.

Turn 2

My teammate, Xile4you, played a Forest and then Compulsion. This would be great if we could live long enough to use it, but again signaled a slow start for us.

Ironman 21 played a Mountain and nothing else, which was a relief. Then Zero West played a Swamp, Maggot Carrier (dropping both teams' life total to 38), another Maggot Carrier (36), then attacked with his Festering Goblin (my team was down to 35). The race, as they say, was on.

I mentally tapped on the top of my deck and was happy to draw one of my several second-turn creatures. I played a Llanowar Wastes, then played Sakura-Tribe Elder. In hand I had Death Pit Offering, two Genesis Chambers, and Kokusho, so I was in good shape if we could survive for a while.

Turn 3

Xile4you played an Island, then rather than activating his Compulsion played Thought Courier. With Festering Goblin on the table, I sort of wished he had saved the Courier but the idea of getting two draw-and-discards a turn was clearly pretty tempting.


Dragonspeaker Shaman
Ironman 21 played a third Mountain, then Dragonspeaker Shaman. “Oh ho!” we all declared, and then chatted for a bit about Dragon decks. Meanwhile Zero West played a third Swamp, cycled Gempalm Polluter (our life dropped to 32), then attacked with his three 1/1s.

Now, the question was, should I have blocked the Festering Goblin with my Elder or one of the Maggot Carriers? I could have left all three alive, I suppose, but I really worried about Undead Warchief putting the game out of control. After some conversation with my teammate, I blocked the Goblin, sacrificed my Elder once damage was on the stack to get a Swamp, and the Goblin in turn killed the Thought Courier. Our life total was now 30.

I untapped and drew... no land. With three land on the table and both opponents playing creature-based decks, I didn't want to play Genesis Chamber yet. Besides, I had Caller of the Claw in hand. So I sat and did nothing, hopelessly sure we would be dying soon.

Turn 4

My teammate activated Compulsion to drop Roar of the Wurm into his graveyard, then played a Forest. We still had no defense, which was becoming worrisome. Ironman 21 then played Dragon Blood, prompting me to yell “Dragon theme deck!” then ironman 21 thankfully neglected to attack with his Dragonspeaker Shaman. He also didn't play a fourth land.

Zero West played a Swamp, then attacked with his two Maggot Carriers. I played Caller of the Claw, killed one of the Carriers, and our life total dropped to 29. Zero West then played a 5/5 Soulless One. Ugh!

I played a Forest, then attacked with my Caller. He rightly blocked with his big Zombie, which didn't bother me too much since I then played Death Pit Offering. At the end of my turn, Xile4you activated Compulsion to discard Narcissism.

Turn 5

Xile4you played a Forest, then passed the turn. ironman 21 played a second Dragonspeaker Shaman, meaning those Dragons in his hand would definitely be showing up next turn. For some reason he still didn't attack, though. Zero West had no such problems, and his turn consisted of doing nothing but bashing my face for six damage and dropping my team to 23 life.

On my turn, I played Tainted Wood, then Genesis Chamber, then Eternal Witness to return Sakura-Tribe Elder to my hand. Now my hope was that my 4/3 Witness and 3/3 Myr Token could play defense until Kokusho showed up. At the end of my turn, Xile4you played Beast Attack for a 4/4 token. Alright! Now we're talking!

Turn 6

Now is about the time when Two-Headed Giant games get crazy.

Xile4you thought briefly about tapping mana for something, then decided not to. Instead, he attacked with his Beast token to finally do damage to the opposing team, dropping them to 32.


Dragon Mage
Ironman21 tapped his mana to play a discounted Dragon Mage, getting a 1/1 Myr token thrown in for fun. Again, he waited to attack (thanks largely to Beast Attack in the graveyard). At the end of ironman 21's turn, his teammate Smothered my Eternal Witness.

Zero West played Lord of the Undead, beefing up his Zombie army and gaining a Myr. He attacked with just his Soulless One, which I blocked with my token. At least I had staunched the bleeding for once.

On my turn, I played a second Genesis Chamber, then my back-from-the-dead Sakura-Tribe Elder, gaining two 3/3 Myr tokens for my efforts. I now had three 3/3 creatures and was ready for whatever came next. I desperately hoped Xile4you could deal with the Dragon Mage, though, since I didn't want to lose the Kokusho in my hand. At the end of my turn, my teammate discarded a Wild Mongrel to draw a card with Compulsion.

Turn 7

Xile4you didn't let me down. He untapped, played an Island, then played Duplicant targeting the Dragon Mage, and added two Myr to his side of the table in the process. He attacked again with his Beast token, which was blocked by a Myr token.

Undaunted, ironman 21 played Imperial Hellkite, gaining two Myr. His teammate Zero West then played another Maggot Carrier (our life dropped to 21, theirs dropped to 30, his Soulless One became 7/7), received two Myr tokens, then used Lord of the Undead to get back and play his Festering Goblin for two more Myr.

“This game is pretty good,” ironman 21 said.

“Lotta tokens. Heh,” Xile4you added.

Zero West attacked with only his Soulless One again, and I blocked with all three of my creatures. He assigned damage to the Sakura-Tribe Elder and one of my Myr, so I sacrificed the Elder to get another Swamp. I now had five land on the table along with a single Myr, two Genesis Chambers, and Death Pit Offering.

I drew and played a Forest, then played a 7/7 Kokusho, the Evening Star to nab two more 3/3 Myr tokens. Roar!

Turn 8

Xile4you decided to flashback his Roar of the Wurm on his turn, getting a 6/6 token. He then played a Wild Mongrel with his two remaining mana, netting two more Myr (tokens galore!). With a 6/6 flying Hellkite on the other side of the table, my teammate wisely held back on attacking. Man I wish he had found a Wonder.


Kilnmouth Dragon
Ironman 21 played a Mountain, thought for a bit, then played a 13/13 Kilnmouth Dragon (two more Myr).

“Kilnmouth is plain wrong,” a spectator said.

“Got another Duplicant in there, Xile?” I asked.

“I wish I did,” he responded. Sigh. After that we talked for a bit about the biggest Kilnmouth Dragon, Broodstar, and Cranial Plating creature we had ever seen. Big numbers were bandied about. Then we got back to work.

Zero West cycled a Gempalm Polluter for three again (18 life for my team). Then decided not to attack. He certainly had enough small creatures to start throwing his troops at me in earnest, but none of my guys would have died in the process.

The Topdeck Gods loved me, and I drew a second Kokusho. I attacked with my 7/7 Dragon Spirit, dropping the other team to 23 life, then played another. Both Dragons died, sending our opponents to 3 life and us back up to 38). I received two more 3/3 Myr in the deal, too. Immediately afterwards, I wondered if I should have attacked with my Myr to see if he would have blocked all of them. Ah well.

“Nice play,” Zero West said.

“Hey, Xile4you, discard a Wonder please,” I said.

“Haha... yup,” he answered mysteriously.

Turn 9

Digging time! Xile4you used Compulsion to discard a Forest... no Wonder. Then an Island... no Wonder. He had two mana open and a Naturalize in hand (he informed me via Private Message), but activated his Compulsion again by discarding a Forest. Since the numbers weren't on his side, he couldn't attack to any reasonable effect. I think we figured out the math and were still one point short of killing them.

“Well this is interesting. It comes down to my draw,” ironman 21 commented.

I'm thinking, “If you say so, but I'm still liking our chances. The Dragons pretty much need to stay back on defense, and I've stabilized my side of the board. Your teammate can't safely recycle his Maggot Carriers, and I can start on the offensive next turn thank to the life pad. We're gonna win!”

Ironman 21 drew. “Yes!” he exclaimed, then “gg.”



Gratuitous Violence
He played a Mountain, then played Gratuitous Violence. My guess is that he had the Violence in hand and was waiting for another Mountain. Too bad Xile4you didn't have that Naturalize mana handy, and too bad ironman 21 had such beefy Dragons, because we died in the ensuing attack. Still, what a great game.

Anyway, my hope is that gives you a taste of the Two-Headed Giant experience. Drop in and play a few games... You will see wacky things like Beacon of Immortality, Heartbeat of Spring, Nuisance Engine, and Possessed Portal. Fun fun!

Speaking of fun...

Next Week... Surprise!

As I said, there are two approaches to playing Two-Headed Giant. Instead of building a generic deck, it's also very possible to team up and build a pair of complementary decks to play. When two players put their collective minds to it, the sort of tricks and fun they can achieve are limitless.

To demonstrate what I'm talking about, I went out and recruited a partner for next week's article. I'm not going to say who it is yet, but I will say that a) you know this person well, and b) you have not yet seen this person playing online. We've already made our decks and teamed up once or twice and may be doing so again throughout the week. Suffice it to say, you should get a huge kick out of my Two-Headed Giant partner-in-crime next week.

Speaking of partners in crime...

Guest Columnist Update

Likely as you are reading this, my future guest columnist is toiling away at his or her article. I mentioned last week that I had narrowed the field from a hundred or so initial entries to a final five. Each of the five finalists have already received their instructions from me, and the deadline for their final drafts is Monday, January 31st. After that I'll pick the winner, and my guess is you'll see the results sometime in February.

In case you see (or know) them online, below are the five finalists, in no particular order. I've also included an excerpt from their initial e-mail to me to give you a taste of what angle each author brings to the contest. Without further adieu...

  • Thehubby (“As a member of one of the oldest, most recognizable Clans in MTGO, Only Hell Will Fill Your Void, I feel confident in my abilities to present you with an article that will uphold the good traditions of Magic Online.”)
  • Chainmaster (“...journalism is kind of where I would want to go with a Clan article. I think that a lot of readers would be interested to get to know more about the functionings of the huge Clans, and some interviews with the people who make those Clans stay together would be a good way to do it.”)
  • Godot (“I founded the Spoon Clan during the Magic Online beta, so I've been immersed in Clan culture for quite a while. I have many opinions and insights to share on the pros and cons of Clan life (mostly pros).”)
  • la_mills (“I've actually spent quite a bit of time setting up and switching Clans depending on what kind of Magic Online I am playing at the moment, so I can definitely offer up the good points of Clans.”)
  • jgg3 (“As the current Captain of Sub1600, one of the more prominent Clans in MTGO, and one of the earliest members of same (no jokes about still being sub-1600!), I am often asked the question, "What is a Clan good for, anyway?" In fact, I did a little write-up on just that in the Clans section of the Magic Online forums.”)

There you have it. I, for one, can't wait to see what these folks cook up. The real question now is... what am I going to do during my week off??

Speaking of being off...

The Garbage Can

Heed the Mists


I'm not sure if I make more mistakes in my articles than the other columnists or if I'm just more prone to obsess about those mistakes. Whichever the case, I often find myself each week wanting to clarify or correct something from the week before. From now on, when I have such corrections I'll be posting a “Garbage Can” section to clean up my messes.

Last week I previewed Heed the Mists. Unfortunately, I was blatantly mistaken when saying the man in the art was Sensei Hisoka. Embarrassingly enough, it was R&D member Devin Low who pointed out to me that the young, handsome fellow in the card is not the old codger depicted in Hisoka, Minamo Sensei or Hisoka's Defiance. Yes, the card refers to the mists of the waterfall next to the Minamo school and yes, the flavor text is from the school's headmaster. But the art is apparently one of Hisoka's students, just some generic Blue Wizard. Bummer.

You know who isn't generic? Next week's mystery guest! Oooooo... it's going to be fun! Let's kick some Foriys tail!


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