March Multi-Lab Madness!

Posted in Serious Fun on March 25, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

Read the intro to Multi-Lab here.

MULTI-LAB PROGRESS

Welcome to our monthly installment of Multi-Lab! This is a service for multiplayer decks that readers send in to me. The ones I can help follow fairly specific guidelines, which you can read about in past articles. Before sending in your own request, please make sure your deck is right for Multi-Lab. A request that starts "I know you don't do tournament decks, but..." is stealing time away from those readers who take this seriously. You're still a special guy (or gal), but I simply don't have the time to help you out.

For those of you readers who have sent in multiplayer requests, thank you so much! As of this writing, I have finished responding to all requests from the first week. (This was the heaviest week, and puts me about two-thirds of the way through all requests. I'll be catching up to the rest within the next month, I expect.) If you wrote to me by February 18 and have not received any response, please resend your request and accept my apologies for somehow missing it. Please, if you wrote to me after February 18, do not check in with me. It just slows me down and makes me accidentally find and delete your original email. (No, I wouldn't do that last bit! But it does slow me down.) I will get to you. My readers over the years know this: when I say I respond, I mean it.

Let's get to the group play madness, shall we? There are quite a few Multi-Lab requests featured this week. Settle in!

Emails have been edited for length and clarity.

LAB PARTNER #1: THE FLOATING ONLINE HEAD (ONE OF TWO)

Hello,

I just read the latest article on the Wizards website and thought I would respond for the first time.

Here is a decklist (among the billions I'm sure you're about to receive) I would like you take a look at. Just to give a rundown, I only play online, so I have access to Invasion forward and I can get anything. I only play two-headed giant casual games.

This is a deck I have been working on and tweaking for about two months. It wins 80 percent of the time but I am always looking to do better! It's fun because it's not the typical Cleric, Elves, U-G type stuff you see a lot online.

TOKEN BEATDOWN

Download Arena Decklist
Creature (4)
4 Lightning Angel
Instant (9)
4 Aura Mutation 3 Harrow 2 Terminate
Artifact (2)
2 Mana Cylix
Enchantment (7)
4 Fervent Charge 3 Collective Restraint
Other (13)
3 Islands 3 Swamps 3 Mountains 4 Aether Mutation
62 Cards

It works well... basically bounce creatures to make tokens, kill enchantments to make tokens, and play a fervent charge or two and attack. The Firecat Blitz works well against removal decks or non-creature decks.

The only thing I really have a problem with is when someone uses a wish and grabs the exact card needed to screw me over: Tranquility or Akroma's Vengeance. I'm not a big fan of countermagic. I like to play aggressive and don't like to sit and wait. But what else can you do when someone can grab any card from his or her 10,000-card collection and basically say, "I win?" I hate those cards...

Anyways, Have fun reading emails. Thanks for taking a look.

Mike

Mike,

Thanks for writing in. Great little case study, I think.

First off, I like how consistent you make this deck. Building an online collection isn't easy, and I admire your ability to pick out the cards you need and build this thing carefully. I'm not going to pick on the stuff with only two copies, because I think "2x" for the right card is the right call.

So let's get to this Wish dynamic. A pain, I know. Wishes are designed for casual play, but sometimes it seems unfair that someone ought to be able to access an entire collection, just to hose your deck. In my opinion, you have several options:

First, you can do what you suggest, and invest in countermagic. But I don't like this approach, because you won't be able to count on the mana and the counterspell (even Evasive Action) being there when you need it.

Lavaborn Muse

Second, you can diversify your paths to victory. Wish cards can only wish for one thing at a time, and if you have alternate paths to victory, the opponent won't be able to wish quickly enough to stop both. Right now, you're already partway there - you have the sizable flyer, and the legions of tokens you can produce. Sometimes, I'll bet that's enough.

But what about direct damage? Would Tribal Flames or Ghitu Fire be a decent fit for this deck? What about Lavaborn Muse? Or milling? (Dreamborn Muse is too symmetrical, but shop around.) It might be very satisfying to mill a Wish into a graveyard.

Third, you could fight fire with fire, and come back with your OWN Wishes. Living Wish or Burning Wish would look really sporty in this deck - and then you could take out some of the more difficult-casting-cost stuff (like the Blitz or a couple of the Angels) in favor of smoother stuff.

Fourth, you could accept that 80 percent is pretty darn good! Continuous improvement is always a good idea, but if Wishes are really the only thing plaguing you, you should probably count yourself lucky. That means your deck is a strong creation that requires a specific metagame.

I'll hope you let me know what you decide and how it works out.

-AA

Some additional thoughts, for this column's readers: Magic Online presents some interesting challenges for Multi-Lab. First, the card pool is restricted to recent cards. Second, from my own limited experience, I know that the game play is quite different, in pacing and player interaction. So the issues that come up are both different in problem and solution. They're neat scenarios, and I encourage other Magic Online players to send me their dilemmas with active multiplayer decks.

LAB PARTNER #2: THE FIRST DANNY

A reader named Danny writes in:

Anthony,

I just read your column about the Multi-Lab, and I think my prayers have been answered. I have a control deck that I've been told is rather good, but it really needs help in some instances, especially in multiplayer. In particular, one of my friends has the greatest graveyard reanimation deck I've ever seen. A first-turn Akroma is hard to beat. My deck is blue-white with an emphasis on enchantments. Here's my deck list:

BLUE-WHITE CONTROL

Download Arena Decklist

I know that some continuity is in order here, and I should get more copies of some cards, but I'm not sure which ones. I know that some of the issues with my friend's first-turn Akroma are just a matter of this being a slow control deck, but there must be something I can do.

Thanks!

Danny

Danny,

Solution to first-turn Akroma - Seal of Removal. I don't know how she's getting on the board first turn so reliably; but I'll wager it isn't by hard-casting. I'm also certain it requires three or four cards worth of investment - who wants to see that bounced?

Seal of Removal

So, 4x Seal of Removal. No broken bank there!

Let's go on. Man-o'-War is a good follow up to the Seal, and 4x this common can replace a whole bunch of the 1x expensive stuff you have. Throw the latter in another deck that needs the power.

Why is Bosium Strip in a deck that emphasizes enchantments? Ditto Chromeshell Crab (which requires investing a creature), Diplomatic Immunity (your few creatures should be strong enough), Silver Seraph (which won't pump many other things), Runesword, Quicksilver Amulet, Piety Charm, and Worship. Okay, Worship I can see.

I'd consolidate the creatures around the true solutions - Clone, Iridescent Angel, Akroma (sure, why not), Jareth, and Fog Bank. Go to 4x Fog Bank immediately, and add on the others as you can.

In blue-white, your graveyard removal options are limited but hardly nonexistent. Morningtide is the ultimate solution (2x would be more than enough); but more reliable would be the old favorite, Swords to Plowshares. Variants such as Exile or Second Thoughts or Chastise would also be fine.

Countermagic - how is that working for you? It seems really thin and inconsistent, and I'm guessing it doesn't show up at the right time. I'd consolidate down to a simple 4x Counterspell (or 4x Syncopate or Dissipate, if that graveyard stuff is really bothersome), and then look for bolstering other effects.

Maybe we could keep emphasizing bounce? (Be careful - lots of decks out there have stuff like Bone Shredder or Flametongue Kavu.) Sunken Hope or Equilibrium might be worth testing. Capsize almost certainly is worth your time.

Finally, Sol Ring is restricted in Type 1, which serves as the guideline for many casual groups. You may want to make sure your group is okay with your packing three copies, which just seems unfair. (Don't be sad if they tell you to restrict it. Now you can have Sol Ring in three decks!)

Flood and Recantation are also quite interesting. I'd invest in more of those, and let the other stuff slip away as you can.

Eventually, you'll have a fairly consistent bounce deck that can counter graveyard recursion strategies and survive those first few critical turns. A lot of what will make the deck better will be its predictability – sounds strange, but your opponents will become wary that you may have a Capsize in your hand, since you "always seem to have one". If the attention becomes faster and nastier, invest in more good walls like Angelic Wall and Wall of Tears.

None of these solutions are that rare or expensive! I hope you'll find them as effective, if not more so, than the rares you're currently sporting.

Hope this helps, and let me know how it goes.

-AA

Okay, I'm standing behind everything I wrote, but I made a big mistake with Danny: I completely forgot to point out to him that his land count (21 out of 64 cards) is probably too low. So Danny, if you're out there: kick up those lands to somewhere between 22 and 26, depending on the cards you settle on.

I'm also not sure I was as emphatic as I could have been with the idea of narrowing the deck's focus into sets of four cards that can be played early and well. Many, many casual players undervalue the first, second, third, and fourth turns. The commonly-held wisdom is that "you get a few turns to set up," especially in group play, and so who cares if you drop something early? In fact, you might get unwanted attention!

There's a lot wrong with that theory, and it would require an entire article to lay out my position. (Don't worry – I will, soon.) But in the meantime, I hope it's enough for me to say that a well-prepared player who plays with smart restraint has less to worry about than someone who builds their deck with no chance of stopping an early assault.

Let's take a look at a deck that may have the opposite problem – it comes out too fast, and needs staying power.

LAB PARTNER #3: THE WHITE WEENIE

John Adali writes in:

Here is a deck that I need some help on. It's classic white weenie (inspired in part by White Week!), but I want to make sure it can last for a multiplayer game (5-8 people). In my playgroup, we rarely play chaos or free-for-all Magic, the format usually is cutthroat-chaser (a bean is passed around; when you have the bean, the players on either side of you play as if it is their turn, and the person who has the bean can be attacked by the people on either side of him or her), or attack-to-the-left. All the people have Type 1 cards, myself included, but not a lot of cards from Invasion or newer. When we play a game, the metagame is dominated mostly by decks with heavy creature or enchantment removal (Swords to Plowshares, Disenchant, and the like). Recently, there have been a lot of regeneration decks, and a couple decks based around the shadow mechanic (yuck!). Fliers are usually the key to winning in my group, provided you survive long enough. Once in awhile, a person has a combo deck, such as Polar Kraken/Homarid Spawning Bed, Merfolk decks (not really a combo, but worth mentioning), and a Tradewind Rider deck (I hate that deck, he usually wins with it!).

I created this deck by attempting to focus on fast, efficient creatures, and also a life-gaining theme. I tried to follow the mana curve to be very fast, in order to get out my creatures quickly. Here's the decklist:

WHITE WEENIE

Download Arena Decklist

Please don't worry about card costs; just suggest the best cards you think, with the exception of the "Power Nine" cards (I don't have that much money!). Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

Cheers!

John Adali

John,

Okay, let's take this a layer at a time. First, your group is playing with lots of spot enchantment and creature removal, you say. That seems to be an invitation to a blue deck with stuff like untargetables or Misdirection. So consider that, on the side.

But you're in monowhite, which is cool. I can work with that! I'm going to start off thinking of stuff like Shelter and Reverent Mantra. (Glory also works here; but I'd like to come up with stuff you haven't already read in past articles.) I'm also going to think that if I can avoid enchantments altogether, I'm giving opponents lots of dead cards - or giving them a reason to hit someone else, which will start a lovely firefight elsewhere! I think your bean format is flexible enough to sow petty feelings out there, isn't it?

Regeneration points to Wrath of God and Rout - you're already heading in this direction, which is natural for white. Which you use depends on how your group operates - in a fast environment, you'll need to stick to good ol' Wrath. But if your group gives you time to set up the instant-speed sucker, go with it!

Up the Blinking Spirits to four. Wrath-Spirit is classic for a reason.

The Exalted Angels are excellent, but slightly less effective when you have no other morph creatures to fake people out with. Whipcorder or Ironfist Crusher would be fine here. (The Crusher is particularly nice if you use Shelter/Mantra, as I suggest above.)

Debt of Loyalty

Now for the tricky part. As I hinted above, an enchantment-free deck may be a good idea, given where your group is right now. I know how cool Crusade and Spirit Link can be; but you will free up a LOT of your deck to do things your group may not expect. For example, Preacher. Two is nice; but since you said money was little object, four would be better - and white doesn't do this often! See also Debt of Loyalty, which in a field where people expect to regenerate their creatures is pretty funny.

Realize that Maze of Ith is UNrestricted in Type 1 now - so if you have only one copy because you don't think you can have anymore, add up to three more! See also: Kor Haven. Count these lands as spells, not mana (even though the Haven produces colorless).

One of my favorite tricks is Aura of Silence - yes, an enchantment, but hardly a typical one, since you can sack it to get use out of it. (Note that its ability works against all opponents, according to errata.) Seal of Cleansing is an inferior option for the lower cost, in my opinion; but that may work too.

That leaves Tradewind Rider. I'm surprised this is surviving in your group, which has so many potential solutions showing for it; but I can't imagine Wrath/Rout wouldn't take care of it. Consider a single Feldon's Cane to bring back what gets countered, and put the emphasis on Rout if countermagic rules. Timing, of course, is everything with that spell, and you'll have to watch the blue mage carefully. But you appear to be someone who probably already knows that!

I hope some of this is helpful. Let me know how it goes!

-AA

Additional notes: While I didn't say so explicitly in the email, I think John's basic problem is finding ways to keep the white deck frosty as it slugs through multiple players. To do that, it needs to take more advantage of classic combos like Wrath of God and Blinking Spirit – and innovative twists like Debt of Loyalty in a regeneration-rich field.

A bit more on my idea of removing all enchantments – every once in a while, I think it's a good idea to throw your group a curve. Creatureless decks are one option; but I think in an age where Naturalize has made so many green mages enthusiastic, you can really give lots of opponents dead cards simply by making new kinds of choices.

LAB PARTNER #4: THE SECOND DANNY

Another Danny (with a different email address, but you never know!) writes:

Hi there, Anthony. My name's Danny and I'd like to first start off by saying thanks for opening this great service. :)

Now, down to business. I already have a five-color deck to play against my friends. Usually, we have around 5-7 people playing when we do multiplayer games. Anyway, my deck is always changing.

FIVE-COLOR LEGENDS

Download Arena Decklist
Quicksilver Amulet

I haven't got it right down pat, but my basic strategy is undying creatures, fast and creepy. Such cards to pull off this strategy are Dragon Arch, Mirri's Guile, Quicksilver Amulet, Hunting Grounds, Genesis and Reya Dawnbringer. Usually, the creatures I bring out make me the best target but they're the only ones I can trust to slaughter my enemies soundly. Their power/toughness ranges around 4-6. As you can see, most of my creatures are legends. I have a thing for legends and they often have neat abilities. I don't like doing weenie decks because I've used that strategy over and over to no end.

My ultimate goal, though, is to pull off something sneaky; something they won't expect...Tsabo Tavoc kills off other legends. My friends often have deadly legends so this is a way to protect me from them. Alexi, Zephyr Mage bounces my opponent's creatures back to their hand and I can even kill their creatures/artifacts with Starke then bounce him back to my hand as soon as he gets transferred over to the opponent. By discarding to Alexi, I build up my graveyard for threshold for my Hunting Grounds. If I discard creatures and if Reya is in play, I bring them back to play in the upkeep or just bring them back to my hand with Genesis. I can also use Denying Wind to remove cards from my opponents' libraries so I don't have to worry about them using their most threatening cards on me. My Fires of Yavimaya speeds up my creatures and my Mirari's Wake aids in pulling out spells faster. I have this Invulnerability combo that if I use the right creature and enchantments, it can make me invulnerable to attacks. The main card of this strategy is Spirit of Resistance. I protect it with my Fountain Watch then protect my Fountain Watch with my Steely Resolve. After that, I just need to pull out cards that are of each color. So far, I haven't managed to get it out into play. I'm thinking of adding in Diabolic Tutors to bring out my best cards. My counterspells are to prevent others from countering my spells and to stop them from pulling out something devastating. What do you think of my lands? I have quite a bit of painlands there but I can add in Blessed Wind should my life get too low. I'm also considering using Crovax, the Cursed and bringing in Centaur Glade to provide for his needs.

More often than not, my big creatures remain in my hand. My opponents know how to disable my fast creature playing. I've only managed to play Reya twice ever since I made the deck.

I hope this provides an interesting read.

Thanks for your time,

Danny

Danny,

Thanks for writing in! You told me more about how you hope the deck works than about how it actually reacts (and sometimes fails); but I think I can piece it together.

As you've learned, the problem with this sort of deck is that everything costs or whatever, and if the shortcut to play them is lost, they sit in your hand.

But even without that, you go through an awful lot of contortions to get out a near-invincible army when there are plenty of cards that can still wreck you. If I were advising someone in your group against you (and who knows? I might have already!), I'd just tell 'em to run Akroma's Vengeance or Pernicious Deed. In one short main phase, they can wreck what you've taken turns to build.

So I always worry about decks like these, though I try to be as helpful as I can. Where I'd start is in accepting that your legends are darn good – good enough that they don't need elaborate schemes for invincibility. If you want to protect them, that's great - but keep cards back in your hand to do it, so that you can surprise your opponents into making a bad move. In the right situation, something as simple as Shelter can accomplish in two seconds what you've been taking entire games to get done.

And for heaven's sake, you have Genesis! Why are you even worried?

Lots of these are probably 1x and 2x because that's all you have - I know the feeling! But you might want to pay careful attention to what three or four Legends are having the most impact (I'm guessing Alexi, Silvos, and Akroma), and try to up their presence. Note that these are all mono-color, which might have implications for the Dragon Arch. Maybe you pull back on those that are too specialized (Tsabo), and count on other means to get rid of threats.

Which brings us to your non-creature spells. Here, I'm less enchanted with the 1x's. Do you want to protect your Legends, play them faster, pump them up, or give them haste? Pick two, and stick with it. :-) I'd probably pick protection and acceleration, myself. Drop the Fires, Denying Wind, Probe, etc. and stick to the deck's knitting - putting out real headaches for your opponents. You list all these things your deck CAN do. Can you count how many times your deck has actually done ALL of them? Give your deck a chance to flourish, in a more focused range. If you want to do a variety of things, use a variety of decks. One deck can never be all things to a deckbuilder.

Yes, countermagic is a good response to something that will kill one of your legends. You know what else is? Another copy of that Legend. I think countermagic is a bit overrated in group play - you're so busy trying to stop everything, you're not using your mana to get your OWN deck going.

I don't want to sound like I don't like this deck - I think it's great. And it's obvious you enjoy it too, which is more important anyway! But what moments do you enjoy the most? I'm guessing it's when one of those Lightning Angels pound away, like they always do. (They always do, I imagine, because there are four of them. I love consistency!)

Speaking of consistency. I don't think mana would be much of an issue; but if it is, you might consider dropping to four colors. Black seems like the weak link in this deck - I'd recommend dropping it, and giving yourself more chance to hard-cast what gets "stuck" in your hand. You will need more than 21 - good 60-card decks usually have 24, or even more. Either add blue to support the heavy counterspells (which means take out the artifacts, which you have only three of anyway), or add another color and take out the counterspells (which means you could play around with legends in other non-black colors).

IF you add more legends, try to find copies of what you have, and at least stay away from stuff like Starke, with his . This deck can't do , , , AND . (I have visions of your deck collapsing, exhausted, after trying to do all you demand of it!) Maybe this is a deck that splits in two - one that controls with its legends, and another that pushes with them. That's up to you, of course.

I hope some of this is helpful! Thanks and take care,

- AA

I always get nervous when I get emails like Danny's. (This Danny, not the last one.) It's obvious the guy's been playing for a while. And I edited out a bit of history he gave me with this deck – it's gone through multiple iterations, and this is just one step in a long evolution for him. I've tried very hard to respect that. But at the same time, I don't think someone writes in seriously to Multi-Lab if they don't feel that something's a bit wrong.

I suspect I haven't told Danny anything he doesn't already know. Guys who play as long as he does know full well that they don't expect their deck to do everything at once, all the time. And I know that, too. But then I think we fool ourselves if we wonder at our deck's inconsistency.

You can have a deck that's stuffed full of 367 different ideas, and see one or more of them go off about 10 percent of the time. The rest of the time, you'll get stuck with powerful cards in your hand. Or, you can have about a dozen different decks, each with a few really neat and focused ideas. Each one will work about half the time – and by "work," I just mean make an impact on the table.

So I wonder why some veterans don't take that second path. You get to build more decks, do more creative things, see more interesting things happen, be less predictable, and change stuff up in more permutations. What's not to like?

Focus is not about tournament Magic. Focus is about Magic that lets you do what you want to do, when you want to do it.

MULTILAB PARTNER #5: THE LONELY CARRION WURM

Chase Bronstein writes:

I play in a small group of with 3-4 others. One of my favorite decks to play is a mono-black deck utilizing the torment nightmare creatures and spot removal to eliminate threats and then win with my big creatures like Visara the Dreadful and Laquatus's Champion. The problem I'm running into is whenever someone plays a mono-red burn deck my creatures never last long enough and I get overrun before I can lay my game-winners down. The cards I most often find sitting in my hand are Do or Die and the Shade's forms. I was also wondering if you knew any other creatures I could replace the Wurms with because once people's graveyards fill up they're pretty ineffective. Here is the decklist:

MONO-BLACK

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (5)
4 Terror 1 Diabolic Edict
Enchantment (4)
1 Grave Pact 3 Shade's Form
Land (3)
3 Cabal Coffers
Other (31)
21 Swamps 4 Mesmeric Fiends 4 Faceless Butchers 2 Carrion Wurms
60 Cards

Thank you for your time and advice,

Chase Bronstein

Chase,

I have three broad thoughts about your deck, each made up of lots of specific ideas:

CONSISTENCY. You've got a nice, consistent early game full of 4x this and that. In the late game, you break down into lots of 1x options, which is fine for a few of the rares but not very dependable. You may need to find some uncommons and commons (Carrion Wurm and Drain Life are the right direction!) that can reliably give you a mid- to late-game. You'll be surprised how much just making your deck more dependable can help you when the burn is on.

OFFENSE. Aside from the Champion, and maybe the Wurms, you don't give this deck enough punch to finish off the last couple of players. I can never tell how good a given group is without actually seeing them; but with most players and groups I've played in, I'd expect this to last pretty well through two opponents - not much more. You're depending too much on the other players to fight each other off - yeah, sometimes that works, but it's not as satisfying as putting the hurt on yourself!

More creatures would be better than some of the 1x non-creatures like Haunting Echoes and Grave Pact, in my opinion. (Grave Pact is one of those cards you need to lean on, and you can't with only one copy. Just set it aside, until you have enough to build a deck with it.) You should expect your creatures to last every game - but you should be able to replace them, in some form. More earlier creatures would be nice, so that your opponents might be exhausted by the time the Champions arrive. Somewhere in the 2-4 power range, preferably with some kind of evasion. Hidden Horror would be a good choice, if you don't have something stellar like Hypnotic Specters sitting around, waiting for you to use them!

Even Withered Wretch would be great - a nice, solid two-drop that will hose the occasional recursive opponent. Yeah, the Wretch! Stick with that.

The other cool thing about the Wretch (other than the fact it's uncommon) is that it improves your Carrion Wurms (yay!), and can set you up for another common - Exhume, which should replace the Raise Dead in your group. That way, you can get the Champions back out more quickly if they die.

The Shade's Forms stick in your hands (as creature enchantments almost always do!) because you don't have enough creatures yet. More creatures will improve their chances...but I'm still gonna take 'em out. Why? See below.

3) DEFENSE. Terror is excellent. I'm just going to suggest you experiment, when you can, with Seal of Doom. This gets opponents firing in other directions, which in turn makes your offense more potent (see above). And more Diabolic Edicts are always good.

But what this deck really needs is dependable mass removal. Plague Wind is too expensive, and Do or Die too unreliable. (I'll keep the Wind in there because, well, it KILLS EVERYTHING, but I gotta question how often you get to use it!) Why is this? Because burn decks run little red weenies, like Goblins, and you need to off them.

Haunted Crossroads

You've got a couple different choices. Pestilence or something like Plague Spitter wouldn't be horrible, though you'd want to ditch the Fiends. Abyssal Gatekeeper might be even better (a common, and as powerful at times as Grave Pact). But really, you want the -X/-X stuff, and that's Infest (uncommon), Massacre (uncommon), or Mutilate or Bane of the Living (both rare). Some combination of these across four slots will be nice for you - you'll kill some of your own creatures, of course; but that's the nature of black. And that's why you need to have Exhume.

If you still have room (or not enough Exhumes), put in Haunted Crossroads. This is a neat, subtle recursion spell for multiplayer because it warns players not to bother killing your stuff - and it also is a dependable defense against milling, if your group ever sees that.

There you go! Notice I didn't touch Cabal Patriarch, or Visara, or Planar Portal. I do value rares, even if you only have one - they just have to complement your deck, and not throw the curve wildly out of whack. Good early drops like Withered Wretch and Seal of Doom will be as important as - if not more important than - a good-looking rare.

I hope some of this is helpful! Let me know how it goes.

- AA

Additional notes: Yeah, I'm still a big fan of Withered Wretch. Just about every Multi-Lab request I got that used enough swamps heard about that one. As I said during Zombie Week, it has to be tried to be believed. It's not incredibly flashy – it's just darn, darn good.

Haunted Crossroads is another "frequent referral." I always find it humorous that Masques block, where Wizards tried explicitly to downgrade black's recursion for a while (and upgrade its discard), contains what may be the best recursion enchantment ever for the color – at least for multiplayer. (Recurring Nightmare probably still wins out for duel-oriented folks.)

MULTILAB PARTNER #6: THE FLOATING ONLINE HEAD (TWO OF TWO)

In another Magic Online request, Chris Peterson writes:

Hi there,

Here's my submission for a Multi-Lab evaluation. I'm just playing online, and primarily two-headed giant. Do you have any pointers for this deck?

The biggest problems I've had are land destruction, like Desolation Angel or a ton of Pillage or Stone Rain.

My logic for this deck is that two-headed giant rarely makes it to a late game. So the expense of the Battlemages with both kickers isn't a problem. The rest is to get a variety of mana or more castable spells.

Chris's MTGO deck

Download Arena Decklist

Thanks in advance for your time,

Chris

Chris,

Thanks for writing in! Most decks do have problems with sweeping land destruction, but you're particularly vulnerable because your mana base is so fragile. Even a Stone Rain, as you say, can be devastating.

A team deck has to be able to reliably support both yourself and your teammate. Your multi-color approach, and your single copies of cards that may or may not help (e.g., Hanna, Ship's Navigator), is begging for inconsistent, undependable performance.

You need to pick three colors - I'd say red, green, and black - and make them the focus of your deck. You've already got three Thunderscape Battlemages, and multiple copies of Pernicious Deed; so to me this is the clear combination.

-2 Allied Strategies
-1 Eladamri's Call
-1 Fact or Fiction
-1 Fertile Ground
-1 Frenzied Tilling
-1 Hanna, Ship's Navigator
-1 Mirari's Wake
-1 Slate of Ancestry
-1 Sterling Grove
-2 Stormscape Battlemage (this hurts - but you can build a separate blue-white-black deck, and they'll work more fluidly there)
-2 Nightscape Battlemage (optional - you could leave in, but they're not as exciting)
-1 Thornscape Battlemage (same deal)
-3 Sunscape Battlemage
-3 Island
-4 Terminal Moraine
-1 Dromar's Cavern
-1 Krosan Verge
-1 Treva's Ruins

18 spells and 10 land. We can fill those slots with commons and uncommons that will give your deck speed and consistency - that's way more important in team play than diverse utility.

+1 Flametongue Kavu (I'd say +3, once you can; but I get the sense your online collection is still growing)
+1 Harrow (still good in a three-color deck - go to four copies as soon as you can!)
+4 Wild Mongrel
+4 Terminate
+4 Skirk Commando (attack one player, morph and hit a creature controlled by the other)
+3 Skirk Marauder (diversifies morph base, gives you alternate method of Shock damage)
+2 Hull Breach (or Naturalize, depending on what you find you face)
+3 Swamp
+3 Forest
+4 Mountain

I'm setting aside considerations of sideboard, since you have a whole collection to lean on. I know I'm cutting down your Burning Wish options by going to three colors - but you asked me what would make you less vulnerable to land destruction, so I'm telling you. I also believe that if you try this deck for a while, you'll find it runs FAR more smoothly, and gives you the feeling that you're a reliable teammate.

You might consider:

-2 Burning Wish
+1 Slice and Dice
+1 Restock

Let me know how it goes! I hope this has been helpful. In general, I think your collection is in that place between supporting one deck and two. Time, I think, to split off into two decks. I hope you try it.

- AA

Additional notes: first, more on this idea of five-color versus three-color. What a dilemma! And online collections can have a hard time getting even commons, I know – you really need to invest in packs (or drafts, which would be my option). I see some really great spells I'm asking Chris to give up. Most of them are white – Sunscape Battlemage, Global Ruin, Rout (!), and so on. But if Chris is getting knocked out of contention because of land problems, he needs to get quick support from his mana base – and be ready to recover faster than he currently can.

As a huge fan of Invasion block, I know the allure of five-color decks. (I still don't have the heart to take apart my Draco deck.) But I think there's a time to commit to a different path, and Chris may be at that point.

The beauty of Multi-Lab is, it's not my decision. I can sit in my armchair and wax all I like about deck focus and mana curves and whatever else – but if Chris hates this advice, he can walk away. I'll understand.

MULTILAB PARTNER #7: THE ANNOYING ACTUARY

There's a few things you should know about this next submission. First, Todd Petit is a player in our group. Second, he's an actuary. (Do I really need to say any more than this? Very well.) Third, the deck really does suck. It sucks when it wins, and it sucks when it loses. So I make no apologies for my reply.

Mr. Alongi,

I have been playing the following lock-the-board-down-deck in my group and lately have been having poorer results. My group immediately recognizes the contents of the deck and pounces on me whenever I bring this deck out. I really want to follow the Alongi principle of "playing the best cards, but having the ability to back up the statements you are making." I think your writing is so great and I find myself staying up late every Monday night and refreshing the magicthegathering.com page until your column appears (usually around midnight EST). I would appreciate any thoughts on how you could help me improve this deck and bring the winning percentage up a bit.

No Lands for You

Download Arena Decklist

The object of the deck is to get a Land Equilibrium in play and then blow up all the lands. Then no one can play any further lands an eventually you will draw into your Moxes and be able to ramp up to 3 mana to drop a Barbed Wire and slowly win the game. The Feldon's Cane helps to prevent decking yourself. The problem occurs when the group I play with recognize the deck. They immediately attack me with all available resources and although I can reset the board once or twice, I find myself losing to 1/1 weenies that keep nipping me. (Yes, I am aware of the irony of losing in that manner).

Land Equilibrium

I would appreciate any help that a true master of the multiplayer game could provide. Golly, just a reply from someone as esteemed as yourself would make my day.

Your number one fan,

Todd

Isn't he a stinker? It's all right; I have a Harvard degree, and I know how to deal with actuaries. It's important to know that Todd hates Pernicious Deed. Here's the reply I sent him:

Dear Tood,

I spenda lot of time redding your email and fassh8oning this reply every reeder is reealy important to me so lemme help u where i can.

Yur deck looks like sooo much fun, i get that same feeling like when i'm on a rollycoaster and get 2 excited and then wanna throw up. Does your group usually feel that way? You shood ask em.

If your group reconnizzes this deck as soon as you play it, they must be reelly reelly smart. You shood probably lissen to them if they're telling u to burn it.

Meantime, you could try Persnickity Deed. I hear that's good. Put em in instead of Land Equilliby.

Good luck and keep the faith.

P.S. I have a "preferred readers" list. Send me $20 each week, and I'll send you my article in advance of midnight EST. Like, say, 11:43pm.

Now, before any readers get any ideas, I'd like to say that this is the only deck in our group that uses any of the Power Nine. Todd's just a show-off.

And do you know what's most annoying about this deck? He's not following my deckbuilding rules. I mean, I spend an entire Multi-Lab column telling people over and over: run four copies of your cards. Run four copies. Run four copies. And then like a dork, he comes waltzing in with his single-copy-of-every-card deck. Never mind that it makes sense because he has specific tutor capability and he knows the rules well enough to break them and just about every other deck he has follows the conventional logic: he chose this deck to plague me. And he deserves worse than I gave him.

Okay, just to make clear to everyone that he and I were only joking when we zinged back and forth, and we truly do respect each other, I actually called him in to help our last partner. I did this for two reasons: first, the card in question is a card Todd uses flawlessly; and second, I just thought it would be fun to open the Multi-Lab up, just this once, to another voice. Todd is a solid, if unspectacular (zing!), player in both group and duel formats (he has qualified for the Pro Tour at least once), so I'm not being completely random here. Without further ado:

LAB PARTNER #8: THE BATTLING PSYCHIC

From Paul Martin:

Anthony,

First, I'd just like to say that your Multi-Lab idea is really cool and that I enjoy reading your articles. I was recently trading with a friend of mine and noticed psychic battle. I immediately saw how funny this card would be in a multiplayer group and got it from him. At first it was just a joke, but I tried a really rough deck and noticed that it works very well with soothsaying. One of the trade conditions was that I had to build a deck out of the card if he gave it to me, so I decided to build a Psychic Battle/Soothsaying deck.

Here is the decklist:

Psychic Battle Deck

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (8)
4 Counterspell 4 Rewind
Enchantment (10)
4 Soothsaying 2 Dream Halls 4 Psychic Battle
Land (24)
22 Island 2 Lonely Sandbar
Other (2)
2 Crawl Space
60 Cards

Since the deck revolves around soothsaying and Psychic Battle, I figured I should put four of them in! I put a lot of expensive cards in (like Time Stretch and Blatant Thievery) because they work well with Psychic Battle. Because the mana cost in this deck is higher than normal, I put in Dream Halls (we don't really ban or restrict any cards)…

Some problems I can see are with Dream Halls being used against me…also, cards that don't target…and cards that can cause me problems when they are already in play (such as Spike Weaver). Blatant Thievery and Counterspell could probably handle those…

Decks others use include a green/white deck with lots of big creatures, enchantments, and Winds of Rath; a zombie/cleric deck that uses Wrath of God with Rotlung Reanimator; one guy that'll play anything from a morph deck to a token deck with Alter of Dementia; and a Terravore deck. Any help you can give me would be much appreciated.

Thanks a lot,

Paul Martin

Paul,

Blatant Thievery is a masterstroke in this deck, serving a dual role exceedingly well. Who needs finishers when your opponents will provide them for you?

But first things first. Defense. Paul must stay alive while assembling his trap. I am not a full believer in the "most people leave me alone" defense. The two Crawl Space function well in this capacity, but in reality limiting attackers to two might not be enough. I am recommending 2 more walls, and I like the Wall of Tears in this role, or the sneaky new wall from Legions, the Wall of Deceit.

There is no plan to get the Battle into play quickly, or to have it in hand when it is needed. Mono blue does provide some very effective tutoring with Intuition, so I think at least two copies are in order here. Mystical Tutor is a nice "panic button" when you need to get a high casting-cost sorcery to the top of your library in preparation for a Psychic Battle. And since there are many high casting cost spells in the deck, I am also adding three Sky Diamonds to the mix.

Now that we've survived the early game without much damage, and can get the Battle into play quickly a perhaps protect it, we need to worry about those sweeper spells. Eight counterspells is probably too many. The Rewinds are too expensive and do not provide a good enough benefit. I'm cutting 4 of those and replacing them with two Force of Will. Foil would also work. It's often necessary to counter when tapped out, as you often will drop a Battle on turn 4 or 5 and then "hold your breath" as you wait to untap. These pitch counterspells would also provide a way to use the redundant Battles or Soothsayings that are bound to show up in hand.

Psychic Battle

After the soft lock is in place, the deck needs to win. Four Tidal Krakens certainly could do the job, but as Paul points out, a Spike Weaver can ruin his day. I like more options in this role. Ideally, the option would be able to deal damage outside of combat and still serve as defense. Unfortunately, blue does not provide many ways to do this. So I think I will up the count of Blatant Thievery to three to better ensure that if one of my opponents has a way to win the game for me, I will be able to take it. I can see these replacing the Time Stretches – these are a bit too much on the side of "win more" that I care for (that is, you only win with them when you were probably going to win anyway).

I still need to find room for all my changes – I'm going to suggest removing Dream Halls, if that's not too sensitive. If that's okay, you then can take out two Arcanis the Omnipotent, since refilling your hand is not needed. Your call, though.

My changes, in summary:

+2 Wall of Deceit
+2 Intuition
+3 Sky Diamond
+2 Force of Will
+1 Blatant Thievery
+1 Mystical Tutor
-1 Island
-2 Time Stretch
-2 Arcanis the Omnipotent
-2 Dream Halls
-4 Rewind

Todd's Proposed Psychic Battle Deck:

Psychic Battle Deck

Download Arena Decklist
Creature (10)
4 Fog Bank 2 Wall of Deceit 4 Tidal Kraken
Sorcery (6)
2 Time Spiral 4 Blatant Thievery
Artifact (3)
3 Sky Diamond
Enchantment (8)
4 Soothsaying 4 Psychic Battle
Land (23)
21 Island 2 Lonely Sandbar
Other (2)
2 Crawl Space
60 Cards

Paul and Todd,

I agree with Todd's assessment of the deck, short of removing the Dream Halls and both copies of Arcanis. I'd remove only one copy of Arcanis, keep the Halls, forgo the Sky Diamonds, and hope that Soothsaying will get me out of manascrew.

Todd was too modest to mention it, but he has an excellent blue-green Psychic Battle deck that supplies a couple of different things: first, smashmouth creatures like Rhox and Penumbra Wurm; and second, Sylvan Library, which helps adjust the top of his library. Paul, if you wanted to take on a second color, that's what I'd recommend. (Todd's also tried black, with mixed success. Neither he nor I think red or white would team as well as the other two colors.)

I like closing out with Psychic Battle – it's a blast to play. Those of you who managed to scoop one or two up should try it out here and there, and then if you like it, get four copies to build a dedicated deck. It's stellar in team play, where you reduce the chances that someone lucky enough to out-battle you is your enemy!

Thanks for working through an extra-long article. I hope it was as fun and informative reading as it was responding.

If I can make a short request of future Multi-Lab submitters – and this is optional. If you put your decklist in simplest form, like this...

4 Card One
4 Card Two
1 Card Three

...then it will help me and Aaron get these articles up. That makes us more inclined to continue Multilab, and gives me more time to answer requests! But don't sweat it if you forget.

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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