The Izzet Strike Back

Posted in Serious Fun on September 11, 2012

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Multiplayer is an animal worth wrestling. There's no other way in Magic to play with several friends simultaneously. Whether it's tall stacks of cards in Commander or forty fancy-picked cards constituting a Draft deck, multiplayer is where good plans shine brightest.

And since so many of you are excited for the Izzet to return I decided to take this week to speak from their perspective, mixing the intelligence of engineered action with the passion of blowing things up. If we're going to "turn it up to eleven," I hope we've put in the work required to keep it from taking us out with it (which will happen from time to time when we first test things).

While the eight rules for multiplayer Magic are helpful for seeing things through the eyes of multiple enemies, how that works out for each of us is a little difference. Today, we'll walk through looking at planning for multiplayer with a decidedly red-and-blue theme.

This means that I'll touch on technology and power—specific cards and effects that are flavorfully useful, as well as explaining why some cards are what we're looking for. Unlike an Azorius battle plan, which would be built on methodical suppression and rule creation to impose order on everyone else, our Izzet line of thinking produces excitement, explosions, and change, even if we're still putting our thoughts into things upfront.

And, of course, there's a Return to Ravnica preview in here as well. You won't miss it when we get there. Trust me. (For simplicity's sake, check out the other awesome Return to Ravnica action in the Card Image Gallery: I'll be making many references to new cards you can soon use yourself!)

Art by Seb McKinon

Probing the Icy Depths

Great thinkers all agree: Knowledge is power. What you know is often more valuable than you realize, as any Dimir would kill you for sharing. The Izzet do plan ahead, if only as far as their passions lie, and gathering information is always required. While the Dimir might steal it through unseen observation, and the Simic might methodically catalogue it, the Izzet are much more direct in taking observations.

The quietest part of any multiplayer game is usually the first few turns. Lands, mana-making spells, and general resource growth are the usual suspects. Direct, aggressive action is uncommon, since it's rare you want to be the villain from the start. If you're looking to maximize your plan's success, figuring out what everyone else is up to is vital.

There are a few spells that help us do this:

  • Blood Oath might have been a Constructed powerhouse way back in the day, but if you want to test what types of hands they are crafting you can punish them for guessing correctly. I've already heard "I wish I had a Blood Oath." when describing last week's creature-laden Commander deck.
  • Telepathy is the nuclear strike option, but it will get the job done. While revealing everyone else's hands is certainly useful to you, the fact that yours stays hidden will provoke some ire (and suspicion) from around the table.
  • Gitaxian Probe is more Dimir than Izzet, thanks to its stealthy manaless Phyrexian payment plan. It also works wonders as a quick check on someone before unloading your salvo: That "Pay 2 life" option keeps our mana open while replacing itself with a fresh card.
  • Planeswalker's Mischief is similar to Blood Oath, but much harder to maximize. As Izzet plans go, this is great! A card at random is a bit less informative, but when you hit the right card (Your opponent groans.) you feel exactly why the Izzet keep doing what they're doing.

Some opponents will always share precisely what's in their hand: Honesty is part of their plan, too. For your own safety, and for everyone else being uncooperative, checking hands lets us engineer on the fly. But there are other ways to understand what an opponent is up to.

Target the Power Generators

Whatever you have planned requires power. The same holds true for opponents. Artifacts, overflowing lands, and creatures that generate mana are hallmarks of multiplayer action. The question isn't "Will opponents play these?" but "What will they do without them?" Making opponents react to power loss is an effective way to force their hand.

  • Ruination is often the bane of decks that play most or all of the colors. Even decks that are just one or two colors can be packed full of lands that do the dirty work for opponents. If you've planned ahead and avoided having too many nonbasic lands, Ruination won't be so troublesome for you. With their lands taken out from under them, opponents will react swiftly to implement their actions (and displeasure). In a similar way, Shatterstorm punishes those relying too much on colorless trinkets, like the upcoming Chromatic Lantern.
  • Earthquake can clear away an entire board of creatures and reduce player life totals while you're at it. Anyone who plans to make an Elven army muster mana will be displeased at losing everything. Sniping more colorful creatures, like Birds of Paradise or the new Axebane Guardian, can be equally problematic for foes.
  • Gavin Verhey's preview last week, Havoc Festival, puts the game into high speed. Some players use life as a resource (See Gitaxian Probe above.), and plan to gain life as a way to have more to spend. Havoc Festival, and other "Players can't gain life" effects, cap shenanigans and force those looking to spend life to do it sooner rather than later.

Making people act now is the entire point of using spells like these, sadistic inclinations aside. You're not Rakdos, are you?

When you make others react to your plan, you can plan to plan for that. You can call it going deep, but in multiplayer the result is often far more chaotic. Just because you cut away artifacts doesn't mean the business end of the next one cast won't be leveled at you. This means you want to be planning to plan on the move.

Art by Willian Murrai

Lessons From the Mire

Multiplayer is ugly. The variety and intensity of everyone's actions create a swamp that can bog anything down. The problem isn't the swamp of players, as some might first think, but your ability to use force for full effect.

Believe in your tools, and make sure you call upon some good ones:

  • Splashy monsters can raise anything you want from the muck. Chancellor of the Spires, Sphinx of Uthuun, and the screaming Hypersonic Dragon are all different ways to use force, but each adds something unique. Having a diversity of ways to engage opens up getting what you want when you want it: If you never bring it you can't play it!
  • Living in the moment has advantages. Cards like Shunt, Wild Ricochet, and Reiterate all take what opponents cast and turn them into things for you too. Turning classics like Terminate and new favorites like Dreadbore into risky decisions will keep opponents off-balance.
  • The stack isn't the only place to find treasure when things get sticky. Act of Aggression, Word of Seizing, and Planechase 2012's Mass Mutiny all make others' toys yours for a turn. More permanent ways include Switcheroo and Mind Control. You can also try Clone, Rite of Replication, and Sakashima's Student during an attack step (for maximum surprise value).
  • If you happen to dabble in a little extracurricular guild action, then you have even more ways to take advantage of opponents: Rise from the Grave, Unburial Rites, [Next Week's Preview], Karmic Guide, and Adarkar Valkyrie all access things opponents bring, too!

Prior planning prevents poor performance, but planning to plan on opponents' plans is pure Dracogenius. Just because you know games will go awry doesn't mean you can't experiment on things along the way. Letting your opponents supply components is part of the fun (and easier to tune if you're probing them for clues).

Giving in to the Power

Plans need not be subtle. While working ahead to be ahead is a fine way to break down multiplayer, there will always come a time when true power is needed. Moving from a side role, manipulating your things, into the power position wielding true power is exactly how the Izzet end a battle.

Their new mechanic, overload, is precisely this tipping point. Check out Mizzium Mortars and Street Spasm.


Mizzium Mortars Street Spasm

Both of these have an initial mode that makes short work of one thing. Mizzium Mortars kills all but the toughest of monsters; Street Spasm is an almost-Heat Ray way to take out something offensive. Each of these can be dialed up to unleash incredible power against everything that isn't yours. Today's preview is exactly this same deal. Meet Cyclonic Rift:

Cyclonic Rift

Cyclonic Rift is exactly the type of card Izzet multiplayer can use best. It's almost Disperse, except it only messes with opponents' things. Early in the game it can slow someone down, probe for their reaction to bouncing, or even break up something awesome before it has the chance to crash into you. Its normal mode is perfectly suited for everything Disperse could do to opponents.

When you overload it, though... damn. It isn't Upheaval—a more troublesome cousin from a very different time in Magic—but it feels just as powerful. When you're stuck in the mire, or an opponent's plan is about to fully unfold, Cyclonic Rift resets everything of everyone else's. And let's be explicitly clear here:

Cyclonic Rift is an instant. You can, when patience is the better virtue, wait until the precise moment before overloading the awesome. Seven mana isn't cheap, but for what you can do it's priceless:

  • In the middle of combat you can wipe the battlefield clear. Breaking up attacks in the middle of the attack is tough, so opponents won't be expecting it.
  • At the end of an opponent's turn you can put everything nonland back to his or her hand... where your opponent will have to discard down to seven without something like Reliquary Tower helping out. Even then, holding your former battlefield in hand is definitely less than helpful.
  • When everyone is casting their biggest permanents, sending multiples back might keep them from full strength for multiple turns, as they can't replay everything immediately. Three Dragons is sweet, but needing three more turns to get them all back into play can be far too slow.

This is the secret sauce for Izzet multiplayer: Going over the top for the kill. When you know what everyone is doing, and how they're going to do it, resetting their things puts you right where you want to be! It doesn't matter that Dragons are coming back, as you can now plan for them better than before.

And if you've planned accordingly throughout the game, they won't be able to catch back up before your plan proves the greatest.

Cyclonic Rift | Art by Chris Rahn

Guilded Focus

Being excited to see the Izzet again doesn't mean you're necessarily one of them. So I asked for clarification after taking the Guild Quiz to tell me with a guild poll:

Which Ravnican guild do you match up with?
Izzet () 2314 18.2%
Azorius () 1883 14.8%
Simic () 1681 13.2%
Dimir () 1468 11.5%
Golgari () 1208 9.5%
Orzhov () 1113 8.7%
Boros () 1037 8.1%
Selesnya () 984 7.7%
Rakdos () 633 5.0%
Gruul () 423 3.3%
Total 12744 100.0%

While I hoped to see more Boros out there, Izzet taking almost 20% alone is pretty stunning. In fact, more than half of you answered that some sort of blue-tainted guild is where you belong. Just remember: The Boros Legion will always be there to maintain order, whether you like it or not.

And if I have to wade into the fray imposing order, I can promise that you won't like it. Trust me.

This week I'd like to ask something that might give even the greatest lovers of blue pause.


Jace, Architect of Thought Vraska the Unseen


Which new Planeswalker do you want to use more? Jace, Architect of ThoughtVraska the Unseen

This is less about popularity—it's obvious that Jace has his fans—than style: Using newfound allies is always fun, and knowing which you want to see in action can tell me where I should steer some attention.

Of course, I might just pick the opposite if it suits my plans best. But I'm sure you already planned for that, too. Join us next week when we go even deeper. See you then!

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