When I play Magic, I like to charge forward, spells a-blazing. People have a tendency to be cautious, especially in group games, but I say life's too short. I've got Lightning Bolts to throw and Xathrid Demons to summon. Let's get a move on!
... But. But, but, but .... Sometimes you want to wait and see what happens before you commit to anything. Sometimes you want to surprise people, to experience that beautiful moment when you leap out from behind a bush and yell, "GOTCHA!"
This lying in wait is most often blue's domain. Blue gets counterspells and bounce (both at once, in some cases) and is all too ready to step in when conditions dictate. Blue is the color of careful planning and plotting, waiting for the right moment to strike, so that makes sense. When it's not blue, it's usually white, black, or red, ready with instant-speed removal spells like Path to Exile, Slaughter Pact, or Lightning Bolt. Green has some fine pump and the occasional flash-y monster like Cloudthresher, but overall it has the short end of the stick when it comes to the waiting game.
Today's preview card doesn't really change any of that. But it does serve as a reminder that in our world, if you see something lurking in the bushes waiting to pounce, it's usually not a business analyst calculating the perfect moment or a brave soldier assessing the tactical situation. In our world, that thing in the bushes is usually ... a predator. You can't get much greener than that.
So watch your step, white wizard. Don't get too cocky, blue mage. You can strategize all you want, but you never know when your best-laid plans will lead you straight into the waiting maw of a patient, predatory, all-too-green kind of trouble.
- Side Note: Rules and Terminology
If you're confused by "cast" and "battlefield" in the card's text, you might want to check out the Magic 2010 Rules Changes article, which details several changes to rules and terminology that will be in force starting this Saturday. Monday's Prerelease Primer has a nice summary of the changes. There's also a 23K PDF with a bare-bones list of the changes, suitable for printing on one two-sided page.
- Three's a Crowd
If you play a lot of multiplayer, you know that "each opponent" and "an opponent" are two of the sweeter phrases you can see on a Magic card. People who stick to dueling might not think it's such a big deal; target opponent, an opponent, each opponent, what's the difference? Easy for them to say—they only ever have one at a time. We brave souls contend with half a dozen of the blighters on a regular basis, and we can assure them, it makes a huge difference. Cards like Taurean Mauler, Kokusho, and Agent of Masks are staples around the multiplayer table for a reason. Heck, I once single-handedly won two Emperor Draft games in a row by playing Myojin of Night's Reach. When one card can reach out and touch three, four, or even more people, it's worth looking at for multiplayer.
Like those cards, Lurking Predators scales up in effectiveness instead of down when you have more than one opponent. Now, don't get me wrong—most of the strategies and tricks I'm discussing today will work just fine one-on-one. A free creature is a free creature, and your opponent will have to play spells eventually. But it's in multiplayer that Lurking Predators really shines.
- Pile On
So how best to take advantage of Lurking Predators? First, and most obviously, you're going to want a lot of creatures, preferably big ones. You can still have "spells" thanks to cards like Briarhorn or Arashi, the Sky Asunder; all that's important is that word creature on the type line. Lorwyn's evoke creatures are especially good for this, as they give you "spells" to play early and good creatures later that do good things when they hit the battlefield. On the flip side, this means noncreature "creatures" like Savage Conception aren't so hot.
Lurking Predators is also not a combo with creatures with in their mana cost; sadly, this means Doug Beyer's brilliant preview card from last week, Protean Hydra, goes in another deck. (Or not. Worst-case scenario, occasionally you flip it and it enters the battlefield with no counters and dies, unless you have something like Gaea's Anthem; best-case scenario, you draw it and it's totally nuts, because that card is totally nuts.)
So what sorts of creatures do you want? Expensive ones are OK, since you won't be paying for them at least some of the time. Dramatic Entrance goes well with big creatures, too, and helps you get them down if you happen to (gasp) draw them. Also good are creatures that do something when they enter the battlefield, like the aforementioned Lorwyn evoke elementals or Woodfall Primus. And of course, when you're filling the board up with creatures, it never hurts if some of them are tough to get rid of, like Spearbreaker Behemoth or Simic Sky Swallower.
Fortunately, these are the sorts of creatures I like to play anyway.
- Opponents, or Opportunities?
Cards that rely on your opponents' actions are always interesting in multiplayer. As I said, having more opponents makes them shine. On the other hand, opponents are crafty animals, and odds are they're not going to cooperate. They might dodge your triggers by doing things other than casting spells, like cycling Decree of Justice or Resounding Wave; there's not much you can do about that.
In a duel, an opponent faced with Lurking Predators will probably calculate exactly how many spells he or she needs to cast to win the game, and cast not a single one more; in other words, Lurking Predators is probably more likely to keep a Shock in your opponent's hand than put a Vigor on your board. But in multiplayer, I've found, people don't tend to worry too much if their actions help you out—certainly not as much as if you've made it so that their actions hurt them. In other words, at most tables, you'll get more flak for a Soot Imp than you will for a Lurking Predators.
That's not to say nobody will worry about Lurking Predators—I promise you, they will do so vocally—but they may not consider it an urgent issue, particularly if you seem disinclined to send your creatures toward them.
But it gets better. In multiplayer, unlike in a duel, not all of your opponents actually need be hostile at any given time. Some can be quite friendly, in fact, as I wrote about in my article Politics as Usual. If you have a friendly agreement with someone, they might even go out of their way to cast more spells, getting you more chances at free creatures.
One of the nice things about Lurking Predators is that even if somebody gets rid of it, they'll probably have to cast a spell to do so, so you'll get one pull anyway. But even if someone axes it immediately, friendly opponents might help you get more than that.
I can imagine a scenario like this: I drop Lurking Predators and pass the turn. Matt (pick one, I know lots) decides that this won't do, and on his turn, he casts Qasali Pridemage, attacks someone (for the exalted bonus, of course), and pops the Pridemage to kill my Predators. Andrea sees a chance to get on my good side, and casts Gifts Ungiven with the ability still on the stack, giving me an extra chance to get a creature. When she then picks me to split that Gifts Ungiven, I'll be more inclined to be charitable.
- The Spells Must Flow
While it's nice to think that your opponents might cooperate with your plans, that's not something to rely on. You may need to motivate your opponents to keep casting spells.
The easiest method I can think of is to play spells that reward them to offset the risk of giving you a free creature. Tangleroot is a lot more all-upside now that mana burn has been eliminated, so that might keep the spells coming. Horn of Plenty and Unifying Theory reward people for casting spells by letting them draw more spells to cast, and help you out as well. The granddaddy here would be Forced Fruition; with 60-card decks, very few people would worry about being decked, and it would certainly get them to cast more spells. This could easily backfire, if they happily draw cards and then kill all your creatures ... unless you have a secret backup milling strategy as Plan B. That's kind of an amusing thought.
The simplest solution would be to cast something so big (remember, your mana's not going to be busy) that people have to cast spells to answer it. You might also try using strategies that get worse when your opponents play spells, or better when they don't. Pardic Dragon, Ogre Recluse, and Pangosaur are all big beaters that can be stopped by people playing spells. Impatience or Predatory Advantage could make sure that there are consequences for not casting spells, too.
I'd be careful about putting your opponents in too much of a no-win situation, because the solution to that Gordian knot often involves your vulnerable life total.
My favorite method would be making it easier for everyone else to do things, because I like games like that anyway. Rites of Flourishing is awesome for this, giving people both spells to cast and mana to cast them, and any other Howling Mine variant—Font of Mythos, Kami of the Crescent Moon, whatever—will at least take care of half of that equation, and Mana Flare, Heartbeat of Spring, and similar can take care of the other half. Painful Howling Mine-type cards, like Spiteful Visions and Seizan, Perverter of Truth, add an element of urgency to the proceedings—although again, if it gets too scary, you'll end up under heavy pressure.
If all else fails, you could Mindslaver someone and make them cast spells. Even though you're making the calls, they're doing the casting.
- Top o' the Library
So far, I've been ignoring the fact that even if every nonland card in your deck is a creature, some of the time you're going to flip a land—if, that is, you don't do something about that. Fortunately, there's plenty you can do.
Sensei's Divining Top is king of recurrent library manipulation, and Lurking Predators is way more fun than the Top's frequent partner in crime, Counterbalance. But there are plenty of other options, Brainstorm and Sylvan Library could do good things if they're available, as could Scroll Rack and my secret EDH tech, Lim-Dûl's Vault. For more recent cards, Survivor of the Unseen might be worth considering (handy when you draw creatures you'd rather reveal).
There are plenty of other ways to put a creature on top of your library. Congregation at Dawn, Footbottom Feast, Reclaim, and others can set things up at instant speed, while Academy Ruins, Volrath's Stronghold, and Unholy Grotto can do so repeatedly. Cream of the Crop is by far my favorite option, as each creature you hit lets you set up the next one.
- Magic is Delicious
I had one last idea that I can't tell whether to feel wonderful or terrible about. Remember I said earlier that it's good to have creatures that do something when they enter the battlefield? Well, there are a few creatures that do something directly relating to spells when they show up—specifically, counter them.
I haven't made a list yet, but it would include Lurking Predators and 4 copies each of Mystic Snake and Draining Whelk. I'd add in some ways to get them back on top of my library, either from the battlefield (Sunscape Apprentice), from my library (Congregation at Dawn), or from my graveyard (Reclaim). I'd also use some of the methods above, plus perhaps other cards that go well with those creatures, like Momentary Blink. This deck sounds super-obnoxious and tons of fun, and I don't think it could achieve anywhere close to a total lock.
- Get Out There
Your first chance to play with Magic 2010 cards is this weekend at the Prerelease. Until then, check out the Visual Spoiler and keep tuning in to previews—this is an exciting time to play Magic.