Control Group

Posted in Serious Fun on December 19, 2006

By Anthony Alongi

Anthony Alongi was the guy who wrote this column before I did, including a lot of this year, so it seems only fair to pick two of his best articles for the end-of-the-year 2006 wrap-up. In this, Anthony does an excellent job on an old workhorse topic of multiplayer: adapting netdecks to your kitchen table. He does an excellent job here, dissecting a control-heavy blue-red deck and realizing (correctly) that Remand is not that good in multiplayer, moving to another idea entirely. It's a solid lesson: sometimes, you can’t port the totality of the strategy, and you’re better off going in a slightly more elbow-droppy, Legends-centric direction.

- the ferrett

This article originally appeared on April 11, 2006

Watch this space next week.

The bad news is, I have no preview card this week.

The good news is, next week I have a doozie of a control card. It may even be, dare I say, tournament-worthy. But whether it is or not, it inspired me to continue last week's theme of converting tournament decks into multiplayer decks – this time with control decks.

Please read the first article, especially the starting caveats about what people shouldn't overreact before, well, overreacting to anything that happens in this column. It will save you from a bit of message board embarrassment, because those boys love to copy and paste, yes they do.

Once again, I use the excellent resource that the "Swimming with Sharks" column by Mike Flores represents. Thanks again, Mike, for making my job easier! (This is why he does what he does. He knows it, he loves it. Why else do it?)

In future columns, I may take a look at older decks; but I was pleased to be able to find a very interesting control deck from Pro Tour Honolulu – this time from the Top 8.

Osyp Lebedowicz – Izzetron

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Recalling last week's article, there are six easy steps to converting a duel deck to a multiplayer-ready deck:

  1. Establish the Goal. Figure out what the deck is trying to do – the central path(s) to victory.
  2. Separate the Deck. The three piles are: the central path, basic land, and everything else.
  3. Let the Animals Sort 'Em Out. Use the six animal elements of multiplayer Magic – cockroach, gorilla, pigeon, plankton, rattlesnake, and spider – to rate the cards and determine what will work as you go from two players to more.
  4. Find Replacements. Pull out the cards that rate poorly, and replace them with cards that do their job better. Don't be afraid to raise the casting cost a bit – many replacements are specifically designed to handle more permanents or players, which means a higher casting cost is natural.
  5. Step Back and Check the Gaps. Check the deck (mentally or physically) against various aggression, control, and combo strategies.
  6. Play Away. See how well you've done, and adjust accordingly. The great thing about casual play is, you can tweak and tweak and tweak and never worry about the Big Event, because there isn't one.

So what happens to Osyp's most wonderful duel deck when we do this?

Examining The Core

Let's handle the first two steps in one quick move. There are perhaps five cards that actually do the "winning" in the Izzetron deck – Keiga, Meloku, Invoke the Firemind, Blaze, and (occasionally) Confiscate. Everything else is support staff.

So when rating the cards, the ones we're most interested in gauging are those five. How do they stack up?

The dragon stays

Keiga, the Tide Star: a terrific multiplayer card. It's actually better the more impressive the enemies' creatures are, up to a reasonable point. High in rattlesnake poison, and capable of stealing something game-swinging like a Verdant Force, Keiga isn't budging from this deck.

Meloku the Clouded Mirror: a decent card in group. Everybody probably has a story of when it was stellar – and when it was less so. What works: the threat of simple chump-blocking. What doesn't – the fact that you're giving up land development against more than one opponent. Meloku can stay, but we may trade out a couple of copies if we can think of something else.

Invoke the Firemind and Blaze: Many, many multiplayer decks end with these cards. And they're nice Plan B's. But I would like us to move away from the lemming-like thinking (I'm talking about us multiplayer enthusiasts here, not Osyp!) that X spells are necessary to win. We'll come up with something more creative.

Confiscate. Nice, but there are better models out there if you want to steal stuff in group games. Most of you probably already know what I have in mind. Suffice it to say, this slot will get a face-lift.

Before we move any further on the core, let's take a look at the supporting cast – because this is where some real change needs to take place.

Examining The Supporting Cast

As many readers have read in this space before, I believe Red and Blue can sometimes struggle in group play because so much of what makes the colors work has to do with dealing with things one at a time. Both colors do this very well – counter this, burn that, bounce the other thing.

Of course, the problem with this in multiplayer is that one-for-one often isn't enough. In team, maybe. But we're going to stick with chaos (free-for-all) for a while yet, and slogging through multiple opponents means you want each of your cards to be capable of two-for-one exchanges or better, as much as possible.

Electrolyze can do this. So can Pyroclasm. Everything else could probably use a little help. Consider the following options:

While Osyp's Crushing the Competition with……you might consider instead:
RemandA delaying tactic that focuses less on the spell stage and more on board position. I recommend going back to Invasion block for Jilt. If you want to keep things Standard, Steamcore Weird will hold the ground and pick off a troublesome creature; and Temporal Adept, while fragile, can stall the worst permanent from having an effect on the board for long. Want something more generic? Drift of Phantasms will do just fine, and will also find you an Electrolyze in a pinch.
Mana LeakA counterspell that absolutely stops the worst enchantments and artifacts you'll see. Go back to Apocalypse for Suffocating Blast, or stick with Standard and play next week's expensive-but-worth-it preview card.
Compulsive ResearchStrict card drawing with no discard drawback. It's okay for it to be more expensive – anything like Train of Thought or Deep Analysis is fine. Aven Fisher is another option, with a flyer attached to an extra card.
TidingsSomething a smidge less expensive or more impressive. At this level of mana in group play, you should be doing more fascinating things with five mana, like blowing up the board with a random Radiate, or setting out a Mind's Eye that will get you those extra draws over and over again. You could also consider another blockbuster creature, like Kumano, Master Yamabushi.
Telling TimeDeck manipulation you can use over and over. Sensei's Divining Top or (if you just care about draw) Jushi Apprentice.

A word on card choices. Every time a columnist on this site or any other suggests a card for a specific deck or play situation, at least three hundred readers rush to three deadly assumptions:

  1. "He forgot my favorite card!"
  2. "My favorite card would be much better here in all situations!"
  3. "It is imperative that I tell the author about this!"

Now, I'm all for peer learning, and many of you have very fine ideas. For example, Izzet Guildmage would be lovely in a deck named Izzetron. So would Submerge, Fork, and a few dozen other cards. Please realize, however, that the card choices here are illustrative, not comprehensive. By all means, talk on the message boards. Just do so with a dash of understanding and humility.

My point in this section is to get the reader(s) thinking not about exact equivalents from duel card to group card (e.g., efficient counterspell to more expensive counterspell) – but rather about what the card's doing broadly in a duel and what the replacement might do in group (e.g., single-card delaying tactic to longer-term delaying tactic, or card-drawing for the deck's primary solution to an actual alternative solution).

Back To The Core

Now that we're in the swing of tinkering with some of the cards, let's get back to that five-card core. The first change is the easiest: for one additional , you can go from Confiscate to Blatant Thievery. This is a no-brainer – Thievery was built for group play and you don't have to depend on an enchantment to keep the permanent(s) in your possession.

Instead of a Blaze or Invoke the Firemind, I'd rather see a creature with some board presence and capability to punish over and over again. I'd go with two choices: Kumano, Master Yamabushi and (wandering a bit outside of Standard here) Bloodfire Colossus.

Bloodfire Colossus
Bloodfire Colossus is a top-tier group card, full of "rattlesnake" and "gorilla". Now, if you're sitting there, staring at your computer screen, shaking your head, and otherwise wondering why you're wasting your time reading articles about cards as expensive as the Colossus, then all I can suggest is that you come on back once you've played a group game or two. If you can play those games with the Colossus, so much the better. Just remember: Colossus really costs nine mana, because you need that ready to blow from the start.

Kumano shouldn't get an argument from anyone. It's a relatively efficient 4/4 for five, with an amazing "cockroach" ability that can confound both weenie and graveyard recursion decks.

On to Meloku. I kept two copies in the deck, and then came up with two more Blue creatures that can work incredibly well in multiplayer: Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor; and Uyo, Silent Prophet. Uyo's a close moonfolk cousin to Meloku, and a nod to the fun instants and sorceries in group play you may wish to Twincast. Aboshan is simple board control – for three mana, you can hold even the largest army of saprolings at bay.

The deck below is one of several different iterations you can go with. The deck does not try too hard to fetch a specific bomb creature, so your expectation here should be to see what fun creature the deck digs up…and then use it. You can reduce the randomness by picking one of my several choices and getting four copies of it. They're all pretty expensive. For that reason, I did not change any of the lands; and I kept all four Izzet Signets intact.

Multiplayer Izzetron (bent a bit out of Standard)

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Testing And Finding Gaps

Where will this deck struggle? Perhaps most of all, it will struggle against a well-timed enchantment, like Glare of Subdual. It may also run across a deck with massive beef that it can't keep up with.

For that reason, you might want to consider specialty solutions. Memnarch is a nice Blue answer to permanents you wish you controlled, instead of your opponents. And if your group features lots of Green beef, you might consider the very simplest of solutions – Mark of Eviction, which can give opponents with creature-light draws fits.

I also suspect that even with fine restraint, you will find the four Suffocating Blasts to be "not enough". You'll wish you could stop all those darn creatures swarming out, and all those removal spells aimed at your creatures, and all that damage leveled at your head. This is the curse of reactive control decks – opponents don't know enough to leave you alone, and sometimes you have to give them a stronger signal.

If this is the case for you, consider taking out some of the instants and adding some "lightweight" signals to deflect early negative attention:

  • Seal of Fire can hold off multiple 2/2s at a time, since no one wants to be the one to lose their Guildmage when there's someone else they could attack with it.
  • Wall of Tears gives potential attackers a great reason to leave you alone – who wants to push uselessly against an 0/4 wall and then replay their creature?
  • Capsize or other buyback or flashback spells can surprise your opponents the first time – and the memory then acts as a "rattlesnake" to keep future attention away. Instants are naturally a bit better; but sorceries are fine. Forbid, Firebolt, Searing Touch – they can all work.

Leaving You With Some Homework

Last week, I found working with two different decks fun – it also got a bit confusing to write (and perhaps read). In dealing with only Izzetron this week, I hope I've gained some focus. But I also realize that some of you may want more! With that in mind, I hope some of you will examine another Top 8 Honolulu deck and give your thoughts on the message boards (please, not by email).

As Mike said himself when he reviewed it, it's not a pure control deck – but it does have some interesting control elements, and I'm curious to see what gets replaced and why by readers. What does a deck like this need to survive a multiplayer game?

Tiago Chan – Owling Mine (without sideboard)

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Anthony Alongi has been playing various Magic formats for over seven years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His latest book, JENNIFER SCALES AND THE MESSENGER OF LIGHT, releases June 2006.

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