Giant Plays

Posted in Serious Fun on March 11, 2008

By The Ferrett

It's Giant Week at, and I thought about writing this all in very big letters, like a giant. But then I realized how silly that would be. After all, if it's Giant Week, then I should write the column...

like a Giant would see it. Can you imagine being a Giant mailman, traipsing through the happy fields of Lorwyn? All of the addresses would look this small! You'd probably get Giant-sized eyestrain trying to read mail like that. But on the plus side, assuming you could read text that small every day, and your big, Volkswagen-sized fingers could pick up the teeny, teeny mail of the Kithkin, you could probably cover your entire route in just three or four steps. That's what a Giant does. Covers lots of space. And then, at the end of the day, you'd probably have to spend a good hour

...wiping squished Elves off of your boot. But then I thought a column like that could get pretty annoying.

Then I thought, "What if I wrote a column consisting entirely of the words Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum?" Kelly nixed that one pretty quick.

Then I thought about writing a giant-sized article. Something novel-length! But then I realized that the winners of the currently-being-retooled "Winner of the Most Powerful Multiplayer Card in [Set X] Reader Challenge" articles were almost invariably editor-crippling behemoths—fifty pages of crazy rules texts, bizarre decks, and neat asides. I've written giant articles, and if I sent yet another one to Kelly on Giant Week, he might just break down in manly tears.

(Sheesh. I give him an easy-to-edit "Fee, Fi, Fo Fum" article and he rejects it. I give him a giant article, and he doesn't want that, either! Kelly is the Goldilocks of editors.)

So alas, I cannot write an article as a giant. (Other ideas including putting on boxing gloves and trying to type on my keyboard as a giant would, forcing everyone who came to to read articles at a screen resolution of 1920x1080, and adhering to the manipulation of suitably brobdingnagian-scoped verbiage in an amusing attempt to engender a jocular representation of a voluminous—dare I say giant?—vocabulary.) So I decided to write about something else.

That would be giant plays.

Hammerfist_GiantSee, two weeks ago, I discussed three decks I had, and how I thought each of them would do at the table. Two of the decks I thought would be a lark, and they turned out to be pretty lightweight; the third was a singleton deck that I thought would do well, and in fact it won that very evening.

Why did I think it'd win? Because it had a lot of elbow-dropping, face-smashingly powerful cards.

In other words, the kind of play a giant loves.

I've talked about politics in multiplayer games time and time again, but too many people think that politics means "playing with a deck that does nothing, hoping to weather the storms of other players." And admittedly, playing passively will occasionally score you some wins.

But great multiplayer decks have giant plays—big, swingy cards that make everyone dance to your tune. Cards like Biorhythm, which suddenly leaves Mr. Creatureless Deck feeling very, very dead and Mr. "I Play with One Big Finisher" feeling very, very vulnerable. Cards like Profane Command, which suck the life out of one player and let you smash through the defenses of the next. Cards like Living Death (or an active Liliana Vess), which can bury your opponents' living creatures while bringing back the guys they worked so hard to kill for a second go-round. Cards like Mirror Entity, which turns your casual army of weenies into towering hordes.

I love diplomacy. But let me, the largest proponent of politics ever, admit that I've won more games with good cards than I have with good negotiations.

A giant card—also known, in some pre-tribal areas, as a "Gorilla" spell (but c'mon, you think a gorilla's less powerful than a giant?)—is the kind of card that wins games, mainly because if people don't have an answer to it, they lose. And asking questions—specifically, "Can you handle this?"—is almost always a better winning strategy than answering them.

(After all, if someone answers, "Yes, I can handle this," then that doesn't necessarily spell defeat for you—you'll probably have a turn or two to try again. But if your answer to his question is ever "No, I can't handle that," then you're probably about to lose the game.)

"But Ferrett," you cry! "I play with these powerful cards in my game, and everyone gangs up on me and kills me! The only way for me to win is to play underpowered piles of jank!"

Ah, but that's probably not true. See, the trick with giant plays is that you have to make them at the right time. Yes, giant plays will cause giant repercussions if you're not careful. But there are ways to play giant spells without dying, and to do that you have to think like a giant. And here's the trick to proper giantry:

Dumb giants swing at every target they see.

Wanna see what a dumb giant looks like? Take a look at the troll from The Fellowship of the Ring (as directed by Peter Jackson in 2001). Easily distracted, he flailed away at everything that looked bright and shiny with that big chain of his, and then everyone pecked away at him until he died.

Imagine if that troll had hung back in the doorway! Oh, he'd have taken a few ugly arrow hits... but if he'd picked his targets and only swung when he had a clear shot, he could have gutted Aragorn with a single hit.

Yet he was so harried, switching targets all the time, that even though he had the most powerful weapon in the room he didn't know how to use it. So take the lesson: If you're a smart giant and not some dumb troll, you only swing when you're going to connect.

Desolation_GiantWait for the blue players to tap low, so you can get past their Counterspells! Wait for everyone to commit as much to the table as possible before dropping that Damnation, so you can take as many creatures down as possible! Hold that Mirror Entity until you can play it and activate it in the same turn, so even if they pick off the Entity, you can still punish them by swinging with an army of 5/5s! Don't play that Chameleon Colossus on turn four, when any four-damage spell will kill it!

If you're going to be heaving around giant-sized spells that change the whole tone of the game, then you must connect, and connect hard. You have to kill people in one shot. To do that, you must play to maximize the effects of that spell, and you must anticipate the most likely disruptions and play to minimize them.

This often involves some uncomfortable waiting. You might take a couple of arrow shots to the eye while someone pokes you with an Elf or pings you with their Ballyrush Banneret. That's okay. You want to entice them to put all of their happy little Kithkin down onto the table so you can rob them blind with that global destruction spell.

Be stoic. Take your beatings like a Giant.

Yet the troll from Lord of the Rings has another lesson for us: Watch him as he fights. He's flailing. Every time he swings wildly, he's off-balance for the next blow, leaving him wide open for the counterattack! Which leads to the next giant hint:

Never cast a giant spell unless you can follow it up with something good.

That Biorhythm? It's not powerful on its own. It's powerful when someone's just cleared the board with some Wrath of God-style effect, and you have two creatures, and you take out three guys with one eight-mana spell.

It's not so good when someone else has eight men and you have two. That Biorhythm might just kill you if Mister Eight Men decides he doesn't want to see what else you have in your deck.

The point is that giant-sized spells will often kill you if you play them willy-nilly! Just because you're a big stompy ten-foot-tall bemuscled oaf doesn't mean you can abandon strategy. Yes, this giant spell will have a huge effect at the table... but will it put you into the pole position when the dust is settled?

If not, then hold it! Make every shot count.

Likewise, Wrath of God effects should only be played when you have guys in your hand, waiting to recover from the Wrath of God. Don't play a Boom unless you have an active Land Tax, waiting to put lands into your hand! Don't play Insurrection unless you can kill so many people that the survivors won't finish you off!

(And with Insurrection, you did wait until the green player with the potential Fog effect was tapped out, right? And that the red-black player couldn't pick off enough of your creatures at once to make a hash of your overwhelming attack phase with stolen men? Good boy. That's part of "swinging when you can connect"—thinking about everything that can go wrong, and accounting for that in your plans.)

A smart giant thinks about where he'll be after his big ol' spell resolves. If you won't be any better off, then nine times out of ten there's no sense in playing it. (Sometimes you have to play the card right then or die, but usually that's the sign of a game you were about to lose anyway.)

The thing about giant effects is that they're not love-taps. If someone survives a giant card, they know they missed certain death by that much. It's not like shrugging off a Shock, or taking a hit from some 2/2 flier—a giant card makes people go, "Whoah, that would have taken my head off!" And so, of course, they react quite strongly.

You must not allow survivors when you're playing with giant cards. One shot, one kill. That's your goal. Playing a giant card when you're just going to annoy people means that you'd be better off keeping it in your hand!

Sure, it's fun to fire off a Damnation the instant you get the mana for it. But the questions you have to ask are:

  • "Will this Damnation wreck everyone right now?"
  • "When the Damnation has resolved, will I be in a position to not only defend myself, but to start taking the fight to others?"

If the answer is no, then be a smart giant. Hold back.

This leads me to my last three hints on playing the big spells correctly in multiplayer, and they're all related to one core principle: giant plays need giant mana. It's no coincidence that the lowest-cost spell we've discussed here is four mana, and they go all the way up to eight. That's a lot. But then again, if there was a one-mana spell that destroyed all creatures, made all opponents discard their hands, and gained you 20 life, then I'd think Wizards had made it a tad bit undercosted.

Big effects require big mana. That's just the way of things. And big mana means proper mana bases. If you play with the "forty spells, twenty land" rule, you're going to get killed. A lot. You want to pay some serious attention to your mana base. You want to think about things like the Ravnica bouncelands, or green mana acceleration spells that put land into play (like Hunting Wilds or Recross the Paths), or the Ravnica signets, or the Urzatron lands for huge amounts of mana on demand.

Put some serious thought into your mana. When you're a giant, you need lots of land to move around. Getting stuck at four land means you're going to be a little cramped.

(Once again, I'll redirect you to the best article on mana ever written.)

Second, even if you have the mana, you don't want to run out your big guns early. Bide your time to make sure that it counts. The later the game goes the more likely it is that your opponents will have to burn cards to people's other threats, so save up your own if possible! If you can drop your Platinum Angel when everyone's burned up all their other removal, you're in the catbird's seat.

(Of course, if you're at a passive table, you might want to try dropping your big guns early to force them to react, throwing them off-balance. It all depends on your local metagame.)

And lastly, remember that a deck can't be made up of all giant spells. You risk making a deck that's utterly unstoppable, as long as no one messes with you before you get to turn seven.... and how likely is that? No, what you need is a deck with some potent, face-smashing cards, and some support cards that will help you survive until turn seven.

Just because you're a giant doesn't mean you should forget the little guys. The early plays will help you get set up for the big plays, so always remember to have a wide spread in your deck! Put some walls and early attackers in there just so you're in the game the whole way through!

Think like a giant. Make huge plays. Have the world tremble at your approach. They will know your name when you lay your vengeance upon them.

Ho ho ho. Mean giant.

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