This week in Serious Fun, we’re going to revive a “favorite feature” from my Casual Fridays days: the Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame.
I hope you have some extra time today. This is going to go long...and we're not even going to make it a third of the way there!
IF YOU DON'T KNOW ABOUT THE HALL...
Q: What is the Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame?
A: It is the longest-lasting, most extensive, and just plain burliest effort to catalog and promote the most exciting cards in Magic for group play. To borrow the phrase I used over five years ago when I kicked this thing off, these are the cards that make multiplayer games great.
Q: I don't play many group games. Is the Hall still for me?
A: No. You're not allowed to read it. Go away.
Q: All right, I'll play group games. So, will there be classics like Swords to Plowshares?
A: Classics, yes. Swords to Plowshares, no. A card like Swords to Plowshares is excellent, and should be a top consideration in any deck running white. But it's not a card that gains much from the transition from duel to group play. As such, it's more of a "staple". I suggest a few staples in the text portions of the Hall; but you won't see them on the actual list.
Rather, the cards in the Hall are those that take clearer advantage of a larger pool of players, one way or another. Where Swords actually becomes a bit weaker as you add more opponents (since each copy has more targets it wishes it could remove), a card like Wrath of God or Congregate becomes much stronger. So expect that sort of thing.
Q: Wrath of God and Congregate, eh? So all the cards in the Hall are white?
A: You're not very bright, are you? No, not all the cards in the Hall are white. We’ll release colors gradually, over time. Each of the five colors will list 40 cards. (This number grows a bit, each version of the Hall. It used to be 20, but recent expansions have been good to us multiplayer enthusiasts!)
In addition to each of the five colors, you’ll see sections for artifacts, gold card, and lands. Historically, these categories have had less entrants than the colors – this time around, there are only 30 gold cards and 17 lands. Mirrodin pumped in enough realistic prospects for me to justify 40.
Q: Is this an official Wizards list?
A: No – and it wouldn't mean anything, even if it were. I am not a Wizards employee, and there are probably plenty of staff there who would rank the cards differently. They're all wrong, of course; but they have that option.
Q: So all you do is make a list of all the different cards, and you get paid for this? Nice racket.
A: What's the problem? Ben Bleiweiss does this all the time.
No, seriously, as Ben and I can both tell you, lists like this are not as easy as they look. The research demands are considerable. And in the Hall's case, there's more than a list; it analyzes each card with specific criteria and uses those criteria to give an approximate ranking of the card among its brethren. It makes clear why certain cards work in multiplayer (and, by implication, why some don't). And there are similar card references, and comments with many of the cards that suggest combos or countermeasures. But the animal elements really make the Hall.
Q: Hang on, animal elements? What the heck are those?
A: Different cards are good in group play for different reasons. Long-time readers have heard of these before. I've named each reason after an animal it emulates:
- Rattlesnake cards warn off predators and redirect attention – think of how you react when an opponent plays Thrashing Wumpus and all you have are 1/1 creatures. Chances are, you're heading somewhere else.
- Gorilla cards smash the board and gain massive card advantage in one punch – the easiest cards to notice, like Obliterate or Rout.
- Spider cards surprise opponents into making foolish choices, and gain card advantage by setting traps. An example here would be Spinal Embrace.
- Pigeon cards benefit directly from having more players on the board. Think of Syphon Soul or Syphon Mind.
- Plankton cards allow multiple players to participate, and feel a bit like a feeding ground – along the lines of Awakening or Wishmonger.
- Cockroach cards have persistent, repeatable effects that just keep showing up in the game. Flood, Masticore, and Genesis are the sorts of cards that drive the rest of the table buggy.
Lovely, no? It's like having my own little zoo/asylum.
For each animal element, I assign a score on a scale of 0 (lowest) to 8 (highest):
0 = Nonexistent. Antithesis of element.
1 = Very low. Element rarely applies.
2 = Low. Element may apply in special cases.
3 = Medium low. Element has some presence.
4 = Medium. Element available fairly readily.
5 = Medium high. Element applies easily.
6 = High. Element defines cards.
7 = Exceptional at element.
8 = Ultimate. Best in color for element. (Only one per element per color.)
So, to illustrate, let's take how various red cards rate along the rattlesnake element. Recall that rattlesnake cards warn away potential attackers and targeters.
0 = Spellshock. This card used to be in the Hall, but fell victim to the new rating system, which balances its wide effect with the fact that it's a hard card to make effective in group. It invites attention – not because it's annoying (though it is), and not because it deals damage (though it does), but because it directly penalizes players for not paying attention. That's just silly, from a rattlesnake's perspective. The rattle isn't on the snake to invite you in for a closer look.
1 = Violent Eruption. Typically, cards that are high in spider are low in rattlesnake. That makes sense – you don't want to set a trap for someone and then warn them about it! Eruption is meant to nail someone who takes some bait (e.g., makes you discard).
2 = Sizzle. Generally, if a card is "neutral" about the element, it gets a 2. Yes, "neutral" is different from "medium". Cope. I grade on a hard curve, and the simple fact is, a card like this neither denies the rattlesnake element, nor embraces it. A lot of sorceries get rated "2" for rattlesnake – you could force the card to be a standing signal (e.g., with Bosium Strip), but do you really want to?
3 = Hand to Hand. This card isn't really going to push attention away from you on its own. But it ties together with specific strategies that aren't completely unreasonable – e.g., big creatures with first strike – and can, in the right situation, scare off multiple opponents. But that's more of a matter of luck.
4 = Dragon Roost. Now we're getting somewhere. This is an average (that is to say medium, not neutral) rattlesnake card. It tells an opponent, "if you come after my boss, you will get a nasty smack." Of course, this assumes you have 5RR open, have only two or three opponents, and aren't facing unblockable creatures or instant-speed bounce. That's the difference between Roost being a 4, and being something much higher.
5 = Tahngarth, Talruum Hero. Against most decks, Tahngarth is a force to be reckoned with. Carefully applied, he can kill most creatures – and with pump, he can probably off the rest. But he takes damage himself, and is not immortal. Solid. Not perfect.
6 = Chain of Plasma. Here's a real interesting one – an instant that has a high rattlesnake quality! That's because of its chain aspect, of course. You're giving people an opportunity to smack you back, but does anyone seriously believe you won't retaliate again? It still depends on your deck being built right – heck, any card does – but even on its own, it has a clear "don't you dare" quality to it.
7 = Shivan Hellkite. When you get to level 7, you essentially have hit the top. (What I give an 8 is occasionally random, because I can't choose between two 7's!) The Hellkite can strike back at instant speed, cheaply, without tapping, and nails both players and creatures. In a "pinch", it can also swing for five through the air – and keep pinging as it does so. It's hard to think of a card that's built to punish more readily than this one…unless…
8 = Furnace of Rath. This is a beautiful threat. The mere presence of cards in your hand makes this thing frightening. I can accept a quibble that since it needs other cards, it ought to rank below the Shivan Hellkite (which, technically, also needs other cards – mana). But these rankings are not completely scientific, of course, and the point is to get people talking about them. The Hellkite and Furnace are both in the same league.
That ought to be enough to let you read and enjoy the Hall. Read the next section if you want to change the Hall.
IF YOU WANT TO CHANGE THE HALL...
You can just look at the lists I make for the Hall and accept them. But I find most in the Magic community are tinkerers – people who want to know why things are the way they are, and see if they can do better. The Hall is fairly easy to change, and those of you who download the spreadsheet(s) and want to make your own version can certainly do so.
If you post your own Hall somewhere else – say, on your own website – I expect full attribution. I imagine Wizards will want a mention, too, since it's their cards.
See the sheets themselves for instructions. Changing the values of the cards themselves – "I think Radiate is better at the pigeon element than Alongi does, so I'll give it an 8" – is the most direct route. None of the cells are locked, so be careful with those in the "com" column. I've set this up so that the combined formula automatically calculates for you.
Another way you can disagree is in how important an aspect is. For example, I believe the "rattlesnake" part (weight 21) of the card is more important in multiplayer than the "spider" part (weight 14). As mundane or silly as that sounds, the weights I give those elements are the most important numbers on the list. If you want to change the Hall, there's no faster way to do it than playing with those six numbers. You'll find them in the "weights" box, toward the bottom right of each part of the Hall.
Once you change data, you'll want to re-sort the list. I generally sort by column M (combined score for the card), then G (rattlesnake) and then H (gorilla). Use the auto-fill capability of Excel to renumber the list.
Aaron has set this up so anyone can read these Hall articles – but if you want to see the full thing and download it in a way suitable for editing, you need Microsoft Excel, or a program that can read such a spreadsheet. Please don't contact me or Wizards if you can't figure out how to use Excel's functions, basic or advanced. That's what that annoying paper clip help-dude is for. Let's you and I keep the conversation on Magic.
Bear in mind that neither Wizards of the Coast nor I personally are responsible for any issues your computer may have with Microsoft Excel or this Hall of Fame. If you download the spreadsheet, you take sole responsibility for any technical needs you may have to view and/or use it. The computers that created and use this Hall are well-protected against viruses – but no one can guarantee 100 percent safety on the Internet anymore. Use your head, and keep your anti-virus software up to date.
Future versions of the Hall will probably have information such as expansion, full rules text, and more advanced combo/countermeasure possibilities. It will depend on my time, and the frequency of updates. (Once a year seems right.) I'm certainly open to hearing from you if you wish the list had a certain feature.
IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHY YOUR FAVORITE CARD ISN'T IN THERE...
There are literally hundreds of cards in Magic that are reasonable candidates for the Hall. They are, at the very least, decent in group play. But they're not in there, for one of three reasons:
1) SIMILARITY. Making a list with both Jokulhaups and Obliterate as separate entries seems silly, doesn't it? I thought so. So when I come across cards that do similar things (Misdirection and Deflection, Exalted Angel and Warrior Angel, and so on), I choose one based on how I feel that day and use that. Yes, sometimes I'll pick a more recent version. I do it to get you to feed more money into the corporate machine. I also do it because more recent cards are more familiar to most of my audience, and I'm not a jerk and I want them to feel welcome when I do articles like this.
2) SOLIDNESS. Solid cards are, well, solid. They are useful. But they're not spectacular in group play. Consider, for example, Rhox. Who wouldn't want to control one of these in a five-player chaos? But this is a card that doesn't pump enough pistons among the animal elements – it gets something like a 4 in rattlesnake, 5 in cockroach, and a 2 in everything else. That puts it at 2.84. Nothing wrong with that.
But there are hordes of cards just like it – from Morphling (a smidge above 3.0 and almost on the list) to Fire // Ice (made the gold list before at 2.7 or so, and now a victim of the fact that I'm not growing the gold list to 40 entries until the worst card on it can beat Morphling!).
IF YOU WANT TO GIVE FEEDBACK ON THE HALL...
Reasonable people disagree. So do a lot of people who are completely nuts. If you're in either category, you may want to write to me and give me your perspectives.
But I'd appreciate a bit of discretion on your part. Something like this has the potential to get out of hand, and being able to respond personally to each email means a lot to me. Each version of the Hall takes about 60 hours to create. I believe it's reasonable to ask you to take 60 seconds before writing. Please use that minute to do the following with the spreadsheet you download:
- Make use of the "weights" box at the bottom of the spreadsheet. I didn't lock any cells, so go nuts. By changing the weights – or even the ratings of the cards themselves – you can get the Hall to list cards the way you want. See? Problem solved. The Hall looks super now, doesn't it?
- Make use of the "test a card" box at the bottom of the spreadsheet. If you enter values for your card and it ends up at (an honest) 3.5 or so, I'd probably like to hear about it. Just make sure it isn't terribly similar to something else I've listed.
- If you still have a card or issue for the Hall, back your argument up. The Hall has been refined six times before this version. But it's not infallible. Neither are you – and you haven't been refined at all, no matter how hard your loved ones try! Seriously, do your homework, show your logic, and then feel free to let me know what you think. I'll give prompt answers to those who put effort into their opinions.
Okay. Time to start talking cards. We'll start with white and blue today.
THE HALL OF PEARL: WHITE
White in multiplayer feels very natural to many casual players. It sports some of the most amazing defensive tools in the game – from high-toughness creatures like Jareth, Leonine Titan to board-sweepers like Wrath of God. It gains you life, protects your creatures, and otherwise keeps you alive.
Normally, that's not enough in a duel – you can't just stop your opponent from winning; you have to actually win yourself. But in a multiplayer game, the dynamic is different. A little stalling can do some good – specifically, it can keep you alive while two or three other opponents eliminate each other. So slow paths to victory seem more in place, here.
The recent re-emphasis on strong weenies is an intriguing development. On one hand, small creatures don't exactly dominate a board where creatures like Beast of Burden and Lhurgoyf rule. On the other hand, weenie decks recover from Evacuation or Armageddon more quickly – and if they fly like Leonin Skyhunter, they can do enough evasive damage over time where size is less important.
When it comes to "staples" – those basic building-block cards that wouldn't make a Hall of Fame, but are nonetheless important – consider stocking your decks with cards like the following:
- Swords to Plowshares, the spot removal that's too good to reprint;
- Longbow Archer, one of the best turn-two creatures around;
- Disenchant, which hasn't completely left white yet (see Altar's Light);
- Soltari Visionary, a beating for enchantment-based decks;
- Mother of Runes got a boost from the Onslaught block's bevy of Clerics;
- Shelter is a terrific cantrip as you save a creature from certain destruction;
- Embolden is a combined surprise and threat;
- Order of Leitbur and its variants are all excellent, against black or other colors;
- Angelic Wall is an efficient flying defender; and
- Savannah Lions is the original white weenie.
But enough of staples and general comments. The top ten multiplayer cards for white give a great view of what the color has to offer – from protection to board sweeps to rules play to land manipulation to creature removal.
10. Reverent Mantra. Protection to all creatures is a valuable commodity in multiplayer – you can prevent damage, keep an army alive, or make a wall of defenders moot. To do it while tapped out is even more extraordinary.
9. Aura of Silence. How important does this card become when a set with over 100 artifacts arrives on the scene? Errata make this card affect all opponents, not just one. It's one of the best utility cards you can find – not many of these make the Hall.
8. Balance. If you're surprised this ultimate board-and-hand sweeper is not #1, welcome to a different set of priorities. In terms of tournament card quality, most players put this #1. But this list isn't about tournament card quality – it's about what makes multiplayer games great. Part of what makes a game great is being able to play your deck. Balance ruins that. But don't weep for Balance – #8 is stellar placement, and the differences among these ten cards is minimal.
7. Wishmonger. I love that this will annoy tons of people – Wishmonger over Balance! But it's true. There are simply other aspects to multiplayer than gorilla. Wishmonger is an unusual combination of what I'd call pigeon and plankton – a card that benefits more people, the more people there are. That's part of what makes multiplayer great.
6. Second Sunrise. Mirrodin does get a card into white's top ten. This destruction-reversal card is going to revolutionize the way many groups play. Will blocking schemes get more aggressive? Will attacking schemes become risker? Will Wrath of God mean anything? Is Pernicious Deed still worth it (you get the Deed back, but you're often tapped out and can't reactivate)?
5. Parallax Wave. Even without an Auramancer, this card does insane things. Whether enjoying comes-into-play abilities, removing a set of blockers, or protecting your own assets, even a Wave you use four times sticks around for two rounds. That's an eternity in multiplayer, once the mid- and late game start cooking.
4. Oath of Lieges. It's hard to underestimate the number of players that have never played this card, ever. But in group play, it can be even more strategic than Howling Mine, since breaking the symmetry is not difficult. (Any effect that requires the sacrifice of a land would work.) Or you can leave the symmetry, and just enjoy the acceleration the game experiences.
3. Limited Resources. One of the nastiest cards in group play. Use in conjunction with Capsize to slowly squeeze out the other players, land by land. But be warned: there are groups that will simply not tolerate a Limited Resources deck more than once.
2. Mageta the Lion. Reusable Wrath of God – where's the problem? Well, the two-card activation cost isn't easy. But Odyssey block gave us a lot of reasons to put up with the inconvenience – threshold, madness, and flashback are all easier in combination with this natural-born leader.
1. Glory. I ranked this a bit lower when it first came out, and simply underestimated it. It is a one-card reason for your opponents to play graveyard hosers like Withered Wretch. It's perfectly good on the board, but of course you eventually want it dead, where its benevolent corpse will grant your surviving army untold powers. The threat, power, and reusability are all there – and that's what makes a #1 card happen.
If you want to see the specific stats on these ten cards, and the other 30 white cards in the Hall, you can view and/or download the white Hall here.
THE HALL OF SAPPHIRE: BLUE
Blue loses power in multiplayer. You have to make sure you're driven by card advantage, because it's easy to lose that focus when blue mages are used to a simple counter and/or bounce strategy to keep themselves in a duel.
But there are plenty of excellent strategies to explore as you tap Islands, and all the recent hubbub about lowering blue's power level relative to the other colors really doesn't mean spit to most casual groups. That's partly because such groups generally access a Type 1 card pool; but that's also because blue's recent powerful spells (e.g., Day of the Dragons) are perfectly reasonable in a slower-paced environment. So there's still lots to do if you love blue, whether it be stealing, redirecting, stalling, or other trickery.
When it comes to "staples" – those basic building-block cards that wouldn't make a Hall of Fame, but are nonetheless important – consider stocking your decks with the following:
- Fog Bank, one of the most frequently used defenders in group play;
- Seal of Removal, as protection against recursion-related bombs like Scion of Darkness;
- Man-o'-War, for the same reason and for excellent rhythm play;
- Ophidian, generally known as one of the better creatures in Magic;
- Exclude, a specialized counterspell that's almost always useful and replaces itself;
- Brainstorm, to set your deck up properly or protect against discard;
- Raven Familiar, an excellent variant on Impulse;
- Aquamoeba, an inexplicably amazing two-drop for blue;
- Fact or Fiction is amazing card draw; and
- Morphling is this color's resident rare – even with multiple people gunning for it, it's a fine finisher in many group decks, and will hold its value if you invest in one or more.
And the top ten multiplayer cards for blue? Here they are:
10. Willbender. Other Misdirection-style cards come in lower on the list; what set Willbender apart was its status as a permanent. Even if you don't bounce it or "de-morph" it somehow, you still have a 1/2 Wizard, which can help toward anything from a rigorous count by a Supreme Inquisitor to a warm body count for Collective Unconscious.
9. Spelljack. Counterspells no good in multiplayer, did I say? Well, when you pay 3UUU, sometimes you get one good enough. This one certainly is, particularly when you can snag a powerful instant with it, such as Tsabo's Decree or Radiate.
8. Quicksilver Dragon. Like Silver Wyvern, this dragon can deflect unwanted spells. Unlike its older (and smaller) sibling, it can do so as a nasty surprise. It's the sort of morph that ought to stand the test of time, along with Willbender, Mischievous Quanar, and Chromeshell Crab – all of which are in blue's Hall.
7. Arcanis the Omnipotent. For those blue decks that insist on counterspells (and may I suggest Confound here, so that you can fake a lack of preparation as you play this legend with only 1U open), try the only Ancestral Recall on a stick – Arcanis. By setting off a constant flow of cards, you might just be able to keep pace with the opponents gunning for this creature – and you.
6. Standstill. A sudden chill falls upon any crowd that understands card advantage. Timing on this card's triggered ability is important – refer to a rules site, and know how the stack works.
4. Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor. It's a shame we we've only seen cephalids over the past couple of years – and it doesn't look like we'll see many more for a while. Still, there are a few quality ones that work with this card (and of course, the Emperor can tap himself) – and the big ability is the Deluge on demand, anyway. The card practically guarantees you status of kingmaker, if not king, for as long as it's on the board.
3. Cowardice. While it slows a game down, it's still fodder for tons of creativity. Any card that turns Urborg into a super-Erratic Portal has to get respect. Combine with untargetables like Deadly Insect to bring in the win quickly – your friends will at least appreciate that.
2. Psychic Battle. I love being able to promote two-dollar rares. (Sometimes these go for 99 cents, depending on the store and how much Invasion stock they have.) Like many of the best symmetrical multiplayer cards, you can play this one of two ways: (1) straight up, and allow random events to occur; or (2) with Scroll Rack, Sylvan Library, and other means to stack the top of your deck.
1. Zur's Weirding. A combo piece, to be sure (see Words of Worship) – and I don't love combo pieces that much. But the Weirding can go beyond life gain cards, and does two big things at once in giving perfect game information and pushing players to use resources strategically. It has such a long-lasting, powerful effect and increases each player's impact, that it stands above every other blue card.
If you want to see the specific stats on these ten cards, and the other 30 blue cards in the Hall, you can view and/or download the blue Hall here.
Stay tuned: black, red, and lands are coming up in the next installment.
Please do NOT email Anthony with suggestions regarding the Hall of Fame until you have read the instructions on the spreadsheets. Thanks – this will help him respond to you faster. For other matters, you can reach him immediately at email@example.com.