The Ego-Bruisers

Posted in Serious Fun on November 8, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

Right off the bat, I want everyone to understand my philosophy when it comes to blue-black in multiplayer.

In group games, blue-black exists to blow up combo decks.

That's it. Nothing else. Now, some of you may have other ideas about blue-black in multiplayer, with fancy "creatures" that "fly" and "attack" for "damage" – but when you get down to the fundamental value of this color combination, it's in stopping the lunatics.

I went through a phase in Magic Online where I actively sought to blow up combo decks – I was just getting tired of seeing Seedborn Muse, and Mirari's Wake, and Tooth and Nail, and Early Harvest, and skeighty-eight million other green-based cards that fed off of mana acceleration and big creatures. Don't get me wrong – I'm happy green's doing well in Magic nowadays. I just wanted to have some fun with the metagame.

And I did. I took full advantage of the online collection Wizards generously supplies its writers and I built a blue-black deck based on the following fragment:

Multiplayer deck fragment

4 Extract
4 Nezumi Graverobber
4 Willbender
4 Cranial Extraction
3 Bribery

Psychogenic Probe
It featured Psychogenic Probe as a secondary win condition (which was my attempt to make Cranial Extraction a bit funnier than it probably would have seemed on its own) and eventually punched through with a few tricky wizards or whatever I managed to Bribery out of an opponent's deck.

It did very well against the field for the short time I played it. It did such wonderful, extraordinary things! Willbenders re-aimed Early Harvests at my teammate. Decks that depended upon Sakura-Tribe Elder and Wayfarer's Bauble to find mana took eight damage at a time from Probes. Players with four copies of Kokusho, the Evening Star placed neatly in their graveyard suddenly found they had no Patriarch's Bidding left in their decks.

It was, in a word, magical.

Meanwhile, decks that were new and innovative – that is, decks I couldn't anticipate because I hadn't seen them dozens of times before – gave my blue-black deck fits. There were tons of better control decks that I couldn't beat. Heck, simple aggression decks filled with nothing but commons and uncommons could roll right past my fragile wizards and their flimsy defenses. And I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. I wasn't trying to show off with lots of rares – I was trying to let off steam against a lot of players who weren't putting any creative effort into their decks.

It doesn't surprise me at all that blue-black was the place I went. This bruising color combination has what I'd term "strategic assassins". Assassins aren't good at stopping waves of enemies already on the battlefield. They are, however, excellent at preventing generals and key personnel from getting to the battlefield in the first place. They're also experts in misdirection and disruption – an enemy has to be ready with a steady flow of soldiers, or they'll lose the battle.

If your group is playing too many combo decks, you should take a serious look at this color combination. Let's get into the questions I'm asking each guild week:


There's already a bit of talk out there about Circu, Dimir Lobotomist as a possible tournament contender. So we'll just glance over him, noting simply that he's good for multiplayer formats that want to control combo decks as well.

Bloodletter Quill
Bloodletter Quill is on my list as a great "blue-black" card in group games. While any color deck can use the Quill, only UB decks can repeatedly use it. You don't necessarily have to pay for each card, though that's the least painful way to go about it. You can draw cards for a while using only two mana, and then save a bunch of mana to clean up the Quill when it gets a bit full. Depends on how risky you like things. The overall point is that the Quill represents one of the cheapest ways for a deck to continually draw cards – it's high in the "cockroach" element I discussed a few columns ago.

You can use a few interesting cards with the Quill – most notably, Chisei, Heart of Oceans and Power Conduit. Heck, even Ferropede can be helpful here.

Another card that relies heavily on a reusable ability is Dimir Doppelganger. Assuming you have a way of getting creature cards into someone's graveyard (yours, or someone else's), the Doppelganger can switch identities with ease.

The Doppelganger probably benefits most easily from milling strategies, so I would recommend using it in decks already having fun with Mesmeric Orb and Dreamborn Muse. It also works well with our next featured card today.

Szadek, Lord of Secrets is a legendary creature which, like Circu, is getting a lot of buzz across multiple parts of the Magic community. He may be too expensive for tournaments; but he most certainly is not too expensive for us casual players.

While Szadek's most obvious use is in milling, he's also impressive as a source of +1/+1 counters for creative decks – say, Spike Rogue and/or Spike Cannibal decks – that feed off of such counters.

Mindleech Mass
Mindleech Mass is our final, and possibly most impressive, entry for new UB in multiplayer. Finding an open defender is so much easier in group games than in duels – and once he tramples through for damage, you can use a removal card in the defender's hand to blow up someone else's defenders. And then you attack that player, if and when you want to sample the cards over there.

Funny story: I once hit someone with a Mindleech Mass and ran across one of the very few absolutely unplayable cards: Master Warcraft. Wow, that was annoying. And countermagic is also difficult to steal with the Mass. But other than that, the Mass is a house in group play.


Nebuchadnezzar. This fellow doesn't work too quickly, but he works consistently. He rips apart combo decks, which is what most of this column is all about; so I couldn't have a list like this and not mention him. (Yes, Lobotomy does it faster and harsher. But Lobotomy hits one player, and is gone. Good ol' Neb can turn to the next opponent and enrage them, as well.)

Spinal Embrace. One of my favorite instants in multiplayer, period. I've written plenty on this card in the past. But the trick never gets old.

Breathstealer's Crypt. A nice showstopper, especially in decks that can overcome the life disadvantage. There are at least two ways: gain life (e.g., Spinal Embrace), or play creatureless. You can also use this with stuff like Wonder or Patriarch's Bidding, where you want the creature to go to the graveyard.

Note how well the Crypt works with Dimir Doppelganger, above.

Reverberation. Yes, it's mono-blue. But I want to recommend this very obscure card to those who (a) love weird corners of Legends and (b) have to deal with ceaseless waves of games that involve dumb "infinite damage" combos. Note the restriction here – this only works against sorceries! Even if your group uses Fireball and such all the time, you shouldn't have more than one copy in your deck – heck, a Willbender will do as much (or more) in many situations. But you may just get lucky enough to nail someone who attempts a game-ending Hurricane. That's good storytelling.


Cheap UB cards really didn't happen in Magic until Invasion block. Recoil is the measuring stick I use for good UB utility; Clutch of Undeath comes close.

For creatures: In addition to the excellent Dimir Guildmage and decent Lurking Informant, you should also consider stuff that can hold the ground and make untapping easier. Tidewater Minion has already proven itself excellent in limited formats for milling decks. Generally, good limited commons and uncommons make for excellent and easy acquisitions in a strong multiplayer deck.

For removal: Following the same logic, cards like Curfew and Terror should be okay. However, avoid using too much spot removal in a UB deck. Good control decks are already reserving some "spot removal" for combo pieces, with one-off disposable spells like Counterspell. Make sure your removal is either reusable (e.g., Chainer's Edict) or widespread (e.g., Infest).

Anthony has been playing multiple Magic formats for several years, and has been writing for much longer than that. His young adult fantasy novel JENNIFER SCALES AND THE ANCIENT FURNACE, co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and published by Berkley Books, is available now.

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