Exactly Who's in Charge Here?

Posted in Serious Fun on September 9, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

I start off many card previews by telling tournament junkies to go away. It's not exactly a customer-friendly approach, and Wizards has my respect for letting me get away with it repeatedly. (The fact that they see their market in segments helps a great deal!)

But in this case, I don't mind if the tournament set tags along for the ride. They've got a few things to learn about casual Magic – specifically multiplayer Magic – and this is as good a time as any to teach them.

After all, I can't count the number of times I've read articles from Pro Tour enthusiasts who urge casual players to come swim in the shallow end of the pool. (What, you guys thought you were in the deep end?) Incidentally, articles like these are correct: casual players should engage the tournament scene far more often than we do. Too many of us come up with lame excuses to avoid tournaments, and it's ridiculous. New experiences stretch the mind. As Magic players, trying out something new should be second nature.

And so it works in reverse. Pros who have left casual play far behind – or never really experienced it in the first place – miss out on tons of new experiences. How many know how to evolve an offense in a five-player Hunt? How many can identify the proper threat halfway through a nine-player chaos? How many know what sort of deck to play as an Emperor?

These are strategic questions that players face every day – players in numbers far greater than those that attend (or even try for) the Pro Tour. Yet many pros don't live these nuances. Most are satisfied in their corner of the world, and assume that they've "moved past" casual formats. This is a mistake – not one that I care horribly if they make, since I have a large enough following without them. But I pity those that have not caught our religion, and so I will do them all a favor and invite them in. Read on, gentle pros! You are my honored guests, this week.

It's a great time to swing by, because the card I'm previewing this week will really test your tolerance:

Confusion in the Ranks

Man, I just lost a bunch of them right there, didn't I? It ain't exactly a money-draft bomb. That's okay. The rest of us will carry on.


The first thing you may notice about this card is that lands aren't exchangeable. That's nice. Can anyone think of a land that produces, say, creatures? Anyone? Anyone?

Let's go right to the videotape, Jim:


Spontanzauber (3)
3 Waylay
1 Akroma, Angel of Vengeance 3 Order/Chaos
60 Karten

Rules Corner: Exchanges

Exchanging creatures can be tricky, at times. Even pros may want to refamiliarize themselves with a few basic rules:

  • If there is not a legal target for exchange when your permanent comes into play, ignore the ability. This is like when Nekrataal comes into play and every other creature is black. You just move on.
  • For an exchange to take place, you have to be able to target the permanent you're getting. With Confusion in the Ranks, you can give up a creature with protection from red – but you can't get one.
  • For an exchange to take place, both permanents have to be in play when the exchange ability resolves. So you can't put an exchange of artifacts on the stack, sacrifice your artifact, and then "finish" the exchange. In that sense, an opponent can mess up your exchange by sacrificing what you target. Choose your targets carefully!
  • You can still use the rules to be mean. Think Aether Flash on the board, with Confusion in the Ranks. You play a Grizzly Bears. But Flash on the stack, then Confusion. Confusion resolves first: switch the Bear with your opponent's Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Both are alive when the exchange takes place. Then go to the next part of the stack: Aether Flash. Bears die. You laugh – politely, of course. We're not savages.)
  • For the advanced players out there – if two or more exchanges get on the stack somehow, be careful. Some veterans may remember an ownership trick with Phyrexian Infiltrator a couple years back – with two activations, one involving a (really poor) creature you control, you could stack them so that you ended up with both your opponent's creature and the Infiltrator again, leaving him with the misfit. With Confusion in the Ranks, that sort of thing won't work. The key phrase here is "target permanent another player controls". This will check both when you announce the target and when the ability resolves. If you don't control it at both times, you can't do it.

For questions on interactions with specific cards, don't hesitate to call upon the services of our resident level 4 judge, Rune Horvik, at ask@wizards.com. (He's a superior choice to me, since I'm only Level 1.)

The deck starts off as a perfectly capable red-white rhythm deck. The curve is fairly smooth, with plenty of inexpensive creatures to fend off early attacks. Lightning Bolt and Swords to Plowshares would fit nicely into a deck like this, though I don't use them here in favor of more creative choices.

After turn five or six, you get to the tricks. Kjeldoran Outpost (which I treat less as a land than a spell – thus 28 lands, instead of my normal 24) cranks out the tokens, using Confusion in the Ranks to trade for whatever strong creature is handy. Once all of your opponents have nothing but tokens or undesirable creatures, turn the Subterranean Spirit sideways to slay all the tokens. In an optional and highly nasty twist, you might want to have Burning Sands on the board to flush out opponents' lands as the tokens die. (Please, no emails about how tokens don't go to graveyards. Read the rules. Then email.)

Waylay (with errata that only allows play during combat phase) is a fantastic mid-combat trick – we used to think only blue could do stuff like this! The tokens will still leave the game at the end of turn, whether you control them or not. This makes them excellent even if Confusion is not out, since they'll avoid Burning Sands triggers. (If you sacrificed them at the end of the turn instead of removing them from the game, that would be a different story.)

Creatures with protection from red – like Silver Knight and Subterranean Spirit – are not eligible for taking (although they can be given away). The Haunted Angels are a fun twist – who wants to take your angel when it might end up in a fistfight between everyone else for the best four or five creatures on the board? Sure, they can backfire – but that's what Swords to Plowshares and the Order half of Order/Chaos are for.

The Opal Acroliths are finesse tools – they are not creatures when they are enchantments, and they are not enchantments when they are creatures. Lovely! As creatures they are virtually foolproof. As enchantments, they might get stolen – but not very many players pack enchantments that they want to give up for a simple 2/4.

Speaking of which. If you don't have Burning Sands (or don't want to be that focused on mana denial), there are plenty of other enchantments and artifacts that work quite well for you, no matter who owns them. What about Caltrops? Or Mana Flare? Or Howling Mine? The important thing is to avoid permanents that give a benefit to just "you". That won't last.

The next combo ought to sound familiar, since I just introduced it last week! One Dozen Eyes gives you the chance to steal just one good creature – or perhaps even five or six, if there's enough goodness on the table! I'll just use one in the following deck, since there are a few other cards a green-red deck has to offer:


So what are we doing here? Like the first deck, there's an order to your accomplishments, and a rhythm you follow. There is no acceleration to Confusion. (Why race to this card, when you can wait and see what quarry is available?) That means no acceleration to One Dozen Eyes, either – and despite what I suggested last week, that's perfectly okay. Here, the first salvo of your deck is a series of walls, to deter attacks and get some extra cards.

Starting turn three or four, the penumbra creatures come out. They're likely to survive a while, as long as you choose your targets carefully. In the mid- to late game, though, they will work with Confusion to give you the chance to exchange a token for something more valuable.

Of course, you may want to switch without waiting for combat damage – that's where Claws of Gix comes in. While you can't use the artifact to get something for nothing (see rules review above), you can force the creation of a shadowy token at will. And you can also defensively sack your own Penumbra Wurm if someone tries to steal it, leaving a 6/6 token in your possession and nothing for their trouble (except the creature they played).

Simian Grunts plays a role similar to Waylay in the first deck – an instant-speed steal that your opponent is unlikely to keep for long. Wall of Junk, as an artifact creature, can trade with either an artifact or a creature. It also comes back to your hand if anyone uses it to block.

Squirrel Nest is the Kjeldoran Outpost equivalent. If someone plays an enchantment, she can gain control of the Nest – but she won't be able to move it, and the land is still yours. Keep tapping it. Keep getting squirrel tokens. Meanwhile, you get control of the enchantment she played. So ultimately, as long as Squirrel Nest is the only enchantment on the board, no one will announce a player-sensitive enchantment. Of course, you can also just sack squirrel tokens to the Claws if you're just looking for life.

Since you're likely to have a diverse set of permanents in your deck to take advantage of Confusion, you'll be well-positioned to use a copy or two of Holistic Wisdom. But these are risky: someone might take one, and be able to use it just as well. Maybe you should replace them with Concordant Crossroads, or Seal of Strength, or something else appropriate. Depends on your group, and your collection.

Confusion in the Ranks

So what have we shown our friendly professional player so far today?

  • Multiplayer games have a strategy and a rhythm, just like a tournament duel. There's an early, mid-, and short game. Each of the decks above has to speak to it. Confusion in the Ranks is not an early game card. You do not play Mana Flare so you can hurry up and get to it. This card is about patience, and timing. It's a great symbol for multiplayer games in general (which is why I asked Aaron to let me preview it).
  • Multiplayer games are all about signals. Signaling means you don't have to spend resources to actually stop a threat. With Confusion in the Ranks on the board, you can send strong and clear signals with Penumbra Wurm and Burning Sands; or you can send subtle ones with Kjeldoran Outpost and Wall of Junk. Where "I win more" cards are extraneous in tournament play, in multiplayer play they are essential: in a format where the winner must kill multiple opponents, you have to "win more". Bloodfire Colossus is not overkill – it's barely enough to finish the job. Eight mana (nine, I suppose) is a bargain.
  • Multiplayer games require savvy threat assessment. An opponent's Crosis, the Purger may be a tempting target if you have a Confusion out. Can you think of any situation where you wouldn't want to take it? Perhaps so – you may want to wait, especially if you have a Waylay in hand. Wait until the last possible moment, and see if someone else will do your job for you. If not, you can always pull the trigger. (That's a signal, too, for next time.)
  • Multiplayer games require snacks. You're the newbie, Mr. Pro, so you bring ‘em next time. I prefer Taquitos, even though (or perhaps because) I have no idea what's in them.


One of the benefits of being a casual player is that a card like Confusion in the Ranks does not need to pass a smell test. (Believe me, if I open one of these in a draft, I'll be as annoyed as any Grand Prix champion.) Nor need you be strict about the cards you use around it. You do not have to be strategic with Confusion in the Ranks.

After all, with a name like Confusion in the Ranks, why do we have to be orderly and strict? You can pursue a dangerous, or even fruitless, path. The bravest – or perhaps least orderly – among you might consider these options, very few of which are Standard-legal:

  • Aluren – I've given you some instant-speed ideas above, but this is the ultimate. Even in a deck prepared to deal out the right kind of creature, you risk incredible reversal of fortune at exactly the wrong moment.
  • Basalt Golem – "So okay, I give you the Golem and take your Frost Giant. Then you attack me with the Golem. I block with the Frost Giant. The Frost Giant dies. I then put a 0/2 token into play and steal…Basalt Golem again?"
  • Coalition Honor Guard– Flagbearers are an interesting case, when you're opening up the entire board to theft. (That said, Coalition Flag isn't as interesting as you might think, since once it's on a creature you don't control, it goes into the graveyard as a state-based effect. This is because of rules text on the card itself.)
  • Cowardice – This doesn't seem to make much sense at first, does it? Well, it makes more sense if your real target of control is artifacts and enchantments, and you just want to keep creatures off the board. Confusion in the Ranks and Cowardice can be a powerful metagame choice, if artifacts dominate your group's play. (I don't know why I'd mention that this month, hum-de-dum...) But it's still not going to be easy to make work.
  • Dual Nature (or Pure Reflection). You play a creature card, triggering a token and an exchange. Stack them right, and you exchange first, then get the token to exchange for another one. But everyone else will be doing this also. With Dual Nature, the tokens will even stick around to get exchanged! Remember the names of the tokens, because at some point, someone's going to kill a creature, which impacts certain tokens…but not others.
  • Eureka (or Show and Tell) – Who drops anything good with Confusion on the table? Of course, you could play out Confusion during a Eureka. Note that the permanents come into play one at a time, not simultaneously – but the triggered effects won't fire until all the permanents have come out and Eureka has resolved. So, the players who drop the big guns early in the Eureka rotation will see their stuff come in, do nothing, then Confusion will come in, then all the little stuff that people dropped after they saw Confusion was coming will race in and exchange with the big stuff. Have a blast.
  • Grip of Chaos – One freakish red enchantment deserves another. Note you only choose at random from among other players' creatures, not your own.
  • Karona, False God. I know, I know, I'm mentioning her too much lately – but honestly, it's appropriate to list her here! There might be benefit to playing her in a Confusion deck, since you're likely to equip yourself to get her back at key moments. But it's also disconcerting to think of how many other players may be able to seize her before their time.
  • Lifeline – As much as I hate Lifeline (what it does, how it was written, what effect it has on games…you name it, I don't like it), I have to admit the prospects here are hilarious. The creatures should be so busy coming back into play and exchanging for each other, no one should be able to get a darn thing done. Make a deck once, demonstrate the idea, and then never play it again.
  • Portcullis – Set aside any issues of whether or not there are already two or more creatures in play. The rules implications alone are terrifying. Go to your nearest rules site, and make sure you understand fully what Portcullis does with comes-into-play effects. If you're still confused, Rune is available at ask@wizards.com. (I just don't think he's working hard enough, folks, so I'm throwing business his way.)

If any pros are still with us by now (and I tease them as a group, but I also happen to know a few enlightened ones who drop into the column now and again!), I hope I've given them a greater appreciation of how nuanced the multiplayer game can get. The number one thing cards like Confusion in the Ranks teach us is that Magic comes in a million different flavors. Miss the diversity, and you're missing a huge part of the game. Multiplayer Magic is calling you. Pick up that third player! And welcome to our confusing world.

You may email Anthony at seriousfun@wizards.com. He cannot give deck help to readers…not even to Kai Budde.

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