I Would Like to Parley

Posted in Serious Fun on June 17, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

I hope all of you are enjoying your time with Conspiracy. I know my group is very excited about Conspiracy. How excited? This excited:

As I write this, we haven't had the chance to crack into those boxes, but by the time you read this, I will be bloated and sated with many drafts of Conspiracy!

I wanted to spend this week talking about parley. This ability in Conspiracy is often confused with the term parlay. Parley refers to opposing sides meeting to discuss terms. It is most often used in relation to a stoppage in battle where the sides get together to discuss the terms and try to come to a resolution to stop the continued bloodshed. The term is appropriate for any meeting of sides to come to discuss. Parlay is what you do when you turn $1,000 into $10,000 on the stock market.

We'll start by breaking parley down into its most basic parts, then try to understand the card advantage aspect of parley. Finally, we'll look at the cards themselves and try to determine their value in our multiplayer games.

Selvala, Explorer Returned | Art by Tyler Jacobson

Breaking Down Parley

Every card with parley has these component parts:

  • Each player reveals the top card of his or her library.
  • For each nonland card revealed, you get some "goodie."
  • Each player draws a card.

Let's look at each in turn.

With everyone revealing the top card of his or her library, you (and everyone else) knows what card everyone is getting. This is also the place where the players who can control the top of their libraries get an advantage. That player with a Sensei's Divining Top is going to do what is best for him or her. That may mean drawing a great card and letting you get your goodie, or it may mean sticking you with a land, knowing that the next card down will be the card he or she is looking for, and no one will know what it is.

Sensei's Divining Top

This is the part that most people will fixate on right away. This is, theoretically, why you are running the card in the first place. What you need to keep in mind is that most decks in multiplayer games run about 40% lands. This means that if you are in a five player game, and each player is flipping his or her top card blindly, you'll likely hit three times. You could hit zero, you could hit all five, but the odds say that, on average, you'll hit three times. This is obviously a very rough number. If the players in your group tend to run only one-third lands, your percentage goes up. If you are in a six-player or three-player game, the likelihood of getting your "treat" will go up and down accordingly.

Don't be that player who sees the card and only ever thinks of the time when everyone will flip a nonland card. Be realistic and understand that relying on parley hitting on any number is a fool's game.

Finally, each player draws a card. So many players simply don't see the downside of this. If everyone is drawing a card, it is all a wash, so who cares, right? It is just a throw-in bonus, right? This isn't a bonus at all—this is a serious drawback. Giving up cards to each of your opponents is not generally in your best interests. Let's take a more in-depth look at how card advantage works in multiplayer games.

Parley Card Advantage

To really understand the cost of parley, you need to understand card advantage in a multiplayer game. While Mike Flores explains this in far more detail here and here, let me give you a quick basic primer. In a one-on-one game, if you play Hero's Downfall and destroy your opponent's Nyx-Fleece Ram, everything is even. You used one card to eliminate one card your opponent controlled. There is no card advantage there. Instead, if you used Hero's Downfall on your opponent's Nyx-Fleece Ram enchanted with Blessing, your opponent lost two cards and you only lost one. You gained card advantage. If the Ram had been enchanted with Ghostblade Eidolon, the Eidolon would have turned into a creature, so there would be no card advantage.

Hero's Downfall
Nyx-Fleece Ram

This logic continues to hold when you draw cards. If you play Divination, you spend one card to gain two cards. You net one card, so you gain card advantage against your opponent, who gained nothing. This is relatively straightforward so far.

Let's add some more players to the game. Abe, Bruce, Charity, and Denise are playing in our game. Abe plays Hero's Downfall, targeting Bruce's Nyx-Fleece Ram. Abe is even on card advantage because he used a card to eliminate one of Bruce's cards, right? Not really.

Abe lost a card and Bruce lost a card, while Charity and Denise lost nothing. Abe lost card advantage. Let's say Abe played Day of Judgment, killing Bruce's Nyx-Fleece Ram, Charity's Hero of Iroas, and Denise's Sylvan Primordial. Everyone is down one card, so Abe did not lose card advantage, and no one gained. If Denise had three Elvish Mystics in addition to her Sylvan Primordial, Abe, Bruce, and Charity would have gained card advantage, since they each only lost one card, while Charity lost four cards.

So how does this work with parley? If Abe plays Selvala's Enforcer, he replaces it with the card he draws, but Bruce, Charity, and Denise all get cards as well. Abe spent a card and gained a card, while everyone else just gained a card. Parley costs you basic card advantage.

Day of Judgment
Selvala's Enforcer

So let's put a kink in the logic. Card advantage assumes everyone else in the game is an opponent. If you were playing a Two-Headed Giant game, you and your partner would both get to draw a card. This would lessen your card disadvantage. So how important is card advantage in a multiplayer format?

While you have three opponents (in our imaginary sample game), not all of them are trying to kill you all of the time. Perhaps someone else started the game out like gangbusters, and now everyone is focused on killing that player. Perhaps you have a board state that makes it impossible for one of your opponents to do anything to you, so that person is looking elsewhere for targets. Perhaps you are using Selvala, Explorer Returned, every turn, offering a pseudo Dictate of Kruphix (everybody cheers!), and that is encouraging the other players to attack elsewhere. In these and many other situations, giving up a card to an "opponent" just isn't all that bad.

Dictate of Kruphix

How bad is it, exactly? Well that depends on your situation, the opponent, the decks involved, and a hundred other variables. Welcome to the joy of multiplayer Magic!

The Goods

So on that note, let's look at each of the cards and see what they offer.

Rousing of Souls

Rousing of Souls: So, if we are in a five-player game, based on the numbers we looked at earlier, you will likely get three 1/1 Spirit creature tokens with flying, a card, and the other four players will all get a card. Obviously, the odds of getting three Spirits goes up or down, depending on the number of players in the game.

Lingering Souls, for the same cost and same sorcery speed, guarantees two Spirits, and no one draws a card. If you happen to be playing black, you can even flash it back and get two more spirits. Midnight Haunting, for the same cost and instant speed, guarantees two Spirits. Spectral Procession, for three white mana and sorcery speed, guarantees three Spirits. With all these other options, how badly do you want to roll the dice and try for five spirits, all while gaining a card and giving a card to your newfound (and possibly short-lived) friends?

Selvala's Charge

Selvala's Charge: So everything I said about Rousing of Souls? They all apply the same here with a couple caveats:

  1. You are paying five mana. Let me be Mr. Obvious for a moment: five mana is more than three mana. Way more. A three-mana creature should be a 2/2 creature that gives you something interesting. A five-mana creature should make the other players sit up and take notice because you just changed the battlefield. Do three 3/3 Elephants change the battlefield?
  2. Do 3/3 creatures break through in your play group? In Conspiracy games, a 3/3 is a solid dude, but in my regular multiplayer games, 3/3 creatures are an annoyance—you can deal with them, possibly with the card you drew when someone else played Selvala's Charge.
Selvala's Enforcer

Selvala's Enforcer: Parley on a permanent means finding ways to activate it repeatedly. Blinking the Enforcer shouldn't be too difficult. The problem is that blinking the card eliminates the benefit of the +1/+1 counters. Rats.

If a five-player game will get you three counters, you are paying four mana for a 5/5 creature and a card, while giving out four cards to your opponents. I understand that the Enforcer could be a 7/7 creature in the right circumstances, but I'm not sure I'm willing to give out that benefit when I could just play Deadbridge Goliath or Polukranos, World Eater. I understand they have great upsides.

Woodvine Elemental

Woodvine Elemental: If you like living dangerously, Woodvine Elemental may be just the creature for you. In that five-player game, you can expect each of your creatures to get +3/+3 until the end of the turn. Do you attack an opponent, expecting to get this bonus, thus maximizing your attack, or do you assume you will miss completely, and treat any bonus to your creatures as extra damage?

Parley happens at perhaps the worst time for you. You have to commit your attackers before you know your bonus, yet your opponents all get to see exactly how big your creatures are before they block. They also get the card from parley before they block, so they have a last chance to draw something that can save them.

In spite of this, I still like this card. If you are building your deck around the card, you are likely using plenty of low-cost creatures that have trample or some other evasion, so the extra points can really get through. And if you happen to have a second Woodvine Elemental, the parley bonus could be ridiculous.

Selvala, Explorer Returned

Selvala, Selvala, Explorer Returned: (everyone cheers!) This is the one that everyone is talking about, so I saved it for last. I look at Selvala as a Howling Mine (everyone cheers!) or Dictate of Kruphix (everyone cheers!). The mana that Selvala offers is completely unreliable. In that five-player game, you are likely to get three green mana, but you could get more or less. You need to tap it first, just to find out how many other lands you need to tap to cast a card. If you tap it and just lose the mana because you didn't get enough mana to cast what you wanted, everyone will read that and be waiting for your big play when you can finally play it.

It is better to forget about the mana and treat the card as a way for everyone to draw a card. You gain some life and everyone draws a card. They draw the card when you want them too, and only as often as you want them too. This will let you use Selvala to block when attacked (a 2/4 body for only three mana is pretty solid), and still draw cards. Using Selvala this way means everyone knows they are getting cards and you can likely ignore your card disadvantage, knowing that giving out those cards is probably getting you a couple of breaks here and there from your opponents. Besides, this Howling Mine lets you see some of the cards your opponents are getting, and occasionally gives you the mana you need to cast something. I like Selvala, Explorer Returned as a way to make everyone cheer, rather than a source of mana.

In spite of that, I tried building a deck with Selvala, understanding that the mana isn't reliable. I don't see Selvala as the feature card in a deck, but she can be a great support character. If you can run Selvala with Seedborn Muse, the amount of card drawing everyone will enjoy should make your games wild!

The Prodigal Explorer

Download Arena Decklist

End of Parley

The value of parley rises and falls, depending less on the number of players in the game and more on what those players are going to do with the cards. If you expect to be the target more often, parley may not offer enough upside for you. If you think you can send those extra resources elsewhere, perhaps you can parlay parley into several fun wins!

Bruce Richard

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