Building for Multiplayer

Posted in Reconstructed on October 14, 2014

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.

Multiplayer is a very different game than normal one-on-one Magic.

Since this column began, one of the most widely requested topics is to look at casual multiplayer. Most of the advice I provide week in and week out is general deck building advice for one-on-one matches. Now, granted, a lot of that deck-building advice also applies to multiplayer—but there are certainly some key differences.

There are a lot of different ways you can build decks. In tournaments, you usually build purely to win, hoping to just crush your opponent in game after game. But in casual multiplayer, you can you build for politics, build for a theme, build for the format—or build for countless other reasons.

Today, I want to take a look at what some of those reasons might be, and how you can improve your decks even when going down those paths. Let's take a look at a smattering of your decklists and talk about how they could be tweaked—with an eye toward casual play.

Ready? Let's go!

Building For a Strategy

In what is perhaps the closest to how you would build for one-on-one play, one common way to build casual focused decks is around a strategy—and a strategic theme you need to be sure to turn the dial up on all the way. You want your deck to ooze your strategy. (Sometimes, quite literally. ...ew. Okay. Not that literal. Just with the creature type.)

The Mimeoplasm | Art by Svetlin Velinov

But even with something like this, which is only a few paces away from what you would normally do with deck building, there are still some important elements to consider. But first, let's take a look at one such decklist sent my way:

Drew Lipold's Burning Devour

Download Arena Decklist

One of the foremost things I look for in a strategy-based theme like this is if I can look at the deck and instantly identify what it's about. And here I have no trouble at all. I see Dragon Fodder. Awakening Zone. Mycoloth. Young Wolf. Dragon Broodmother. Oh, and the deck is called Burning Devour, which was a slight tipoff. This deck is clearly taking advantage of devouring creatures to make something large happen.

So, what are some missing elements?

Well, there are two things I would look to tweak.

The first is that it's important to evaluate every piece of your strategy in the context of multiplayer. In general, when thinking about games, you have to take everything you know about a normal game of Magic and remember there are going to be multiple players doing these things. As a result, you can expect longer games (more people to attack, plus politicking means that attacking isn't always right) and, most importantly in this deck's case, more removal spells.

Yes, that's right: the more players at the table, the more likely they are going to be able to kill off your beloved creatures. And to make matters even trickier for a deck like this, the kneejerk reaction to a 10/10 Mycoloth, regardless of who the real threat might be, is to "KILL IT NOW BEFORE IT TAKES OVER THE TABLE! OH, AND ATTACK ITS OWNER TOO!"

Mitigating this is going to be key to success.

There is a fork in the road you can take here: either you need to be the "bad guy" at the table and play some kind of protective measures—like a card that grants hexproof like Privileged Position or Ranger's Guile—and suddenly become a huge threat in a high-risk, high-reward maneuver, or else allow your creature to die knowing you still reaped a benefit.

Personally, I'd opt for the second one. A good way to get all of the attention thrown on you is to start protecting a gigantic threat. Instead, you can build your deck to make that okay.

Young Wolf is a great start on creatures that get better when sacrificed. More cards in that vein, like Strangleroot Geist, could be good to consider. Additionally, ways to recoup your losses on that creature tend to look innocent. Options like Greater Good and Momentous Fall are nice ways to ensure that even if your creature is doomed, you're still getting benefit out of it.

Oh, and haste too. Something like Fires of Yavimaya would help you at least get an initial smack in.

That's point number one I'll bring up. Point number two is that this deck doesn't have a lot to deter attackers. Deterring people from attacking you is, frankly, one of the most important things you can do in multiplayer.

Many, many moons ago (however many moons back April 2003 would be—calling all moon mathematicians!) Anthony Alongi wrote a piece on different kinds of multiplayer cards. (The article then had a marvelous refresh done by Adam Styborski in a time...well, far fewer moons than whatever the previous number of moons ago was. Okay, it's probably time to kill the moon analogies.) He called these cards "rattlesnake" cards, in that they played their rattle and dissuaded people from attacking you lest one little action on your behalf cause their board to crumble into ruin.

This deck could use some more rattlesnakes. (Or, as I know all of my Tumblr GavInquirers will point out to me if I don't take the opportunity here: "I'm sick and tired of not having enough mana-loving rattlesnakes on this mana-loving plane!")

There are many cards in all of Magic that you could consider for the role, but something like Bloodshot Cyclops certainly gives off a menacing glare: "Kill my friend, will you? How do you feel about getting 10 damage flung into your face?" You can go the other route as well and put cards on the creature that truly dare the opponent to kill it, such as Pattern of Rebirth.

Regardless, looking for a few good rattlesnakes would do this deck well. Just know that Wizards of the Coast doesn't recommend looking for actual rattlesnakes. That's probably a good way to dissuade people from playing cards near you, but it's also a bad way to stay alive, so I guess it's your call really.

Building For Politics

There's one thing very, very unique about multiplayer Magic.

In a normal game of one-on-one Magic, you can look back at how you played turn-by-turn and recount any errors you may have made, maybe noting the actual card play that lost you the game. If you want to look into it really deep, you could even talk about some of the bluffs you could have made or tells you gave off that, if changed, would have helped you win.

That has nothing on multiplayer Magic.

Literally every second of every multiplayer game that has three or more players alive is an opportunity you can say words that will greatly influence the outcome of the game. Just take a second to think about that.

In every single moment of the game, you have a chance to make a game-winning political play.

I'm willing to wager that, if you were a political mastermind, you could guarantee yourself a final-two spot at practically every multiplayer game you ever play. This dynamic certainly changes up how you think about the game—and how you build decks for it as well. Behold!

Psieye's Pawn Shop

Download Arena Decklist

Being a Pro Tour champion and knowing how to navigate your way around the effect a single Avarice Totem has on multiplayer are two very different things.

Psieye, our psychic superhero from a parallel universe New York where everything is the same except for that people wear more bowler hats and cell phones randomly drop their connections to 911 (or at least that's the universe I'm imagining in my head right now—nobody break my dreams over here), has taken a number of politically charged cards and stuck them into a single deck.

Avarice Totem? Yeah, that's a big one. But you'll also find Bazaar Trader to "freely" give things away. Diplomatic Immunity? For your new teammate's creature to punch through an opponent, of course. Look how generous you are!

And, then of course, you get down to the final two and everything starts to break down for your former "ally" as you steal things and keep them permanently thanks to Nephalia Smuggler and Ghostly Flicker.

Ah, multiplayer. This is the kind of deck that seems so innocent to have around until it bares its fangs and sinks right into your neck when you think you're safe.

The number one thing I would tweak about this deck is just making sure it can win.

One mistake I see a lot in casual multiplayer deck building is to get so hung up on making sure your core theme works that you forget to ensure you can actually win. It's like building a totally awesome house with a sweet bathtub and even a kitchen with those banana-hanging things to make your bananas look fancy, but then forgetting to build any doors on your house so you can't easily enter or exit.

Now, I can totally get why our resident superhero Psieye would need to live in a secret lair that is difficult to access and allows practicing telekinesis on out-of-reach bananas. But for us mortals, we need doors. And in general, I would like some more doors here. (And by doors, I mean win conditions.)

Meloku the Clouded Mirror is a completely reasonable start here, and really you could pick any win condition that you like and it would be fine.

I just want to make sure you have enough of them. You don't need to run them out early—you can hold them in your hand—but just making sure you can close the game once it's time to duke it out with anybody you may have allied with is very important. Avarice Totem and things like Liquimetal Coating plus Master Thief are great, but you can't always count on that working, whereas having a few more bomb creatures in your deck will go a long way.

Building for Flavor

Now we start getting into territory that is far off the beaten path. In fact, it's more of across the hilltop, through the mountain, and past the sphinx. Flavor decks!

Let's take a look at one such of this breed:

Hiroki Asada's The Rakdos

Download Arena Decklist
COMMANDER: Rakdos the Defiler
Tribal instant (1)
1 Not of This World
99 Cards

Here's a Rakdos-themed Commander deck. With Rakdos at the helm, Hiroki has chosen to make this deck an embodiment of what the Rakdos stand for!

If I were to make a flavor-based deck, the first thing I would do is search for all of the cards related to Rakdos or of the Rakdos guild. But then, that's not enough—you have to go deeper. That's where I think Hiroki did an especially great job on this. Rakdos means embracing speed and recklessness, so there are cards like Need for Speed. Rakdos likes randomness and leaving things to the chaos of chance, so some cards such as Chaos Warp and Reforge the Soul come in there.

However, if you're going to do a flavor-based deck, I personally have one major rule: do as much flavor as you can! If you're going to commit to a flavor deck, you have already accepted you are going to make sacrifices in the name of theme (and fun!) so I feel you should dive in as deep as possible and make it as flavorful as you can.

In this case, that means I'd like to see more cards with Rakdos in the name or that are Rakdos themed and have the watermark. I feel this deck is actually a little light on things that are directly from the guild, which is the number one thing I'd expect from a deck about a guild. (And Rakdos isn't exactly known for its subtlety.) After that, I'd love to see more wacky chaotic effects like Grip of Chaos to really push the chaos of it all. And then, finally, don't forget some party cards! The Satyrs of Theros know how to party well, and perhaps some lessons could be picked up from there.

Another great way to support your theme is to have a cool, alternative-play format to play with it. Here was a cool example of a very death-themed Archenemy deck:

Toyoharu Sonohara's Der Erlkönig

Download Arena Decklist

Of course, when it comes to fun, that really is subjective—so if you wouldn't enjoy any of these tweaks to a flavor-focused deck, keep it with what would make you happy. At the end of the day, just make sure you're having fun with it!

Building for...Commander 2014!

I hope you enjoyed today's look at some of the elements to consider when building multiplayer decks! It's something I've never really had the opportunity to write about—and it's fun that I did!

Speaking of Commander, in two weeks, I have my Commander (2014 Edition) preview card! As a result, there won't be any deck challenge for this week—but you'll definitely want to tune in then as I show it off.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or feedback on this article, I'd love to hear them! You're always welcome to send me a tweet or ask a question on Tumblr and I'm guaranteed to see it.

Thanks for reading! I'll be back next week with something a little unique that I'm excited about.

Talk with you again then!

@GavinVerhey GavInsight

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