Mastering Multiplayer

Posted in Serious Fun on October 2, 2007

By The Ferrett

Heya, kids! The new set has just come out this past weekend, and that means three things!

  1. Because I don't spoil myself on sets before they come out, I have no idea what the new cards will be at the time I write this... So I can't tell you what Lorwyn looks like for us casual folks!
  2. I will hold my usual "Most Powerful Multiplayer Card In [The Latest Set]" contest in two weeks!
  3. My laptop will die on me again!

Yessiree, I'm two for two on contests-to-dead-laptops. You can see why "contest time" fills me with worry. Apparently, the very circuits in my house are conspiring against me.

But "dead laptops" are what I'd like to start off by discussing today, because I need your help. You see, when the laptops died, they took you with them. And that distresses me, because you guys are some of the best stuff this column has to offer.

Mirri the Cursed
See, every time a new column goes up, I get somewhere between fifteen and fifty emails, depending on the controversy of the column. And you email me with some awesome stuff—decks, new casual formats, MP3s to play when I play Mirri the Cursed (don't ask), feedback telling me what you like or didn't like about what I wrote....

And, most importantly, ideas for new columns.

I can come up with topics all the live-long day, but none of that matters unless you find it useful. When you guys write to me and say, "How do I build a good Mono-Black Control deck?" then I know that hey, this is something people want. Likewise, if a bunch of you write to me to tell me, "I don't know how to beat this kind of deck," then I know perhaps it's time to write an article on foiling control strategies.

In particular, there were two articles where I asked for ideas to extend them into a series—this one and this one—and the faint creaky whirr of a dying hard drive consigned those emails into a bottomless abyss. ("I play Oubliette, targeting your PC." "Darn. No response.")

So I'd like to ask each of you three questions—with the understanding that you may have already answered them, and I just didn't see it—and ask you to email me at

1) Bug Report Blues

Do you have any bugs to report in your multiplayer group... Or suggestions for fixing other people's bugs? (There was one gentleman who emailed me with an awesome six-page email that contained some phenomenally detailed bug-reporting along with patches and fixes, but it is now lost to the mists of time. I wanna cat macro that: I MAED YOU A EMAIL, BUT MY HARD DRIVE EATEDED IT.)

2) Deck Archetypes

I covered Mono-Black Control, and there are a wealth of other multiplayer deck archetypes to talk about—which ones do you think are most important for me to cover next? (Heck, I'm tempted to take "Rebels," since they're a small but surprisingly winning archetype.)

3) What Should I Be Doing Better?

I've been writing Serious Fun for a year today as I write this, and as my anniversary rolls around I'd like to take a moment to survey what you think. What would you like to see more of in this column? What do I spend too much time on, and what could I spend more time on? Any and all advice will be considered; I'm genuinely curious.

(I know my biggest flaw: I don't really deal with formats other than Chaos Multiplayer. I'm aware, and working slowly to see what I can do, even as building decks for Two-Headed Giant and the like isn't something our group has traditionally done.)

That said, it's time to look at the newest set. No, not Lorwyn, silly! Well, I guess it's kind of an old set. And only available online. But it's something I haven't covered yet at Serious Fun, and given that we frequently deal with old cards, that feels like an oversight.

Masters Edition

When I saw this, I was so excited. See, I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who, and I said, "The Master's Edition? Man, that's gotta be a set blacker than Torment, packed with subtle yet fiendish mechanics that only the smartest people can make sense out of."

The Doctor
Creature - Time Lord
Tap: Destroy target creature.
G: Regenerate The Doctor. You may do this only thirteen times.

(Some wag is no doubt sitting there, his fingers itching as he leaps to go to the forums and say, "Wait a minute! You didn't say The Doctor was a legendary creature! You screwed up!" At which point I'd ask that person to go view The Three Doctors, The Two Doctors, and The Five Doctors, then ask him whether he's sure that you can't have more than one Doctor on the field at the same time.* )

But in any case, it turned out that while it was indeed a time-travelling set, Masters Edition was not about Doctor Who, but older cards that hadn't been printed in Magic Online. (More's the pity. I need more Derek Jacobi in my card games.) But given that so many casual games revolve around older cards, I thought I'd look at some of the best or most interesting cards from Masters with an eye for multiplayer—whether you play online or not.

Animate dead
Animate Dead

Necromancy or Exhume are still the reanimating tools of choice in Reanimator decks, but as of now only Necromancy is available online. Still, for a cheap Reanimator deck that can Buried Alive or Entomb something gigantic into the graveyard and then have it out while other people are still building their resources up, this is a good choice for a classic multiplayer deck.

That said, without Exhume, the "fast Reanimator" deck falls prey to any stray Naturalizes hanging about. Zombify on turn four after a Buried Alive on turn three is still pretty decent (especially if you do something silly like burying Bladewing the Risen, Bladewing's Thrall, and the large dragon of your choice), but not as terrifying as "Turn one Entomb {Gigantic fattie}, turn two Exhume."

We shall see. Definitely a good place to start, though.

Arcane Denial

The classic political counterspell. "Hey, I stopped your dude, but you get cards—so you're not mad, right? Right?"

They generally are. Consolation prizes are great, but that's assuming you weren't getting a regular prize in the first place. Let's have this conversation:

"Sir! I'm here to tell you that you just won a million dollars!"

"Really? That's awesome!"

"Yes! And—oh, wait. Your friend over here just stopped you from getting a million dollars. But instead, you'll get a check for two hundred and fifty dollars. You're not mad, right? Right?"

That said, Arcane Denial is good in some circumstances because a) it's a hard counter, b) it's , and c) it does draw you a card. I've seen it used well in some decks. I've seen it used terribly in a lot more.


The original land destruction spell, this is noteworthy because it's the ideal way to shake up control-heavy formats. Control decks like a lot of land. Armageddon, assuming you can fire it at the right time, shuts their strategy down.

Of course, the old-school strategy of "first-turn Birds of Paradise, second-turn miscellaneous threat, third-turn Ernham Djinn, fourth-turn Armageddon" won't work (though it might in Two-Headed Giant). You have too many targets to kill before they come back online, and most people will try to pop one of your dudes on the way out, leaving you offenseless. Still, used sparingly and cunningly, an Armageddon deck can be quite potent at keeping everyone's "I lay infinite land and cast big things" strategies in check.


Not as powerful in large games as you'd think, since it a) finishes off only one person, and b) loses you the creature afterwards. Still, with the current templating, you can play the amusing "spoiler" role of Berserking someone's Akroma, Angel of Wrath to take out player #1 and rob player #2 of future Akromage.

Diamond Valley

It's vexing because it takes up a land drop, yet it doesn't tap for mana. But even so, a card that shuts down "Steal your creature" strategies, allows you to get some edge in what would otherwise be an even trade in combat (you still lose your guy, but you gain life for it!), and allows for an instant-speed, beneficial sacrifice outlet for a Grave Pact-based deck (or infinite life in an en-Kor / Tireless Tribe deck). Not bad.

Eater of the Dead

Given the abundance of dead dudes in a long multiplayer game (and the frequency with which those bodies get recursed), this would be a good card even if it just ate your opponents' Zombify targets. But you know, slapping something like Arcane Teachings on it wouldn't hurt.


It's no Swords to Plowshares—one of the best investments any white-loving player can make in real life. (Get four today!) But this does remove things from the game, regardless of color, and it nets you the life, making it compete for the "three-spot removal spell" with Wing Shards in White Control decks.

Goblin Grenade
Goblin Grenade

Let me tell you a story that happened this week: I was at 7 life, and pretty much helpless. Josh, on the other hand, was sitting behind a Dimir Doppelganger that was currently in the shape of an Angel of Despair, plus some other flying 4/4, having stabilized the board after being dropped down to a measly 5 life. He was about to take control.

Ian, packing a host of Goblins, attacked me instead of Josh.

"Why me?" I asked. "I'm not the threat. Josh is."

"Yeah," Josh said. "I'd target me..."

"Nah," Ian said, putting fatal damage on the stack for me. It resolved, and then on his main phase he Goblin Grenaded Josh out of the game.

(Ironically, Ian lost to the other Goblin player after a hard-fought battle.)

Goblin Grenade is insanely powerful, doing 5 damage to the face (if you like) for the mere cost of a single mana and a Goblin token from Empty the Warrens. I'm not a fan of Goblins in Chaos Multiplayer (or any format where your opponents get multiple attack phases to your one), but if there's anything that's going to make this deck work other than Lorwyn‘s new and happy Goblins, it's the Grenade. And if Lorwyn‘s Goblins are good, well, the Grenade makes them more insane.

Homarid Spawning Bed

Another classic blue enchantment, there were some crazy combo-style decks with it in the day. Or you could just sacrifice Scornful Egotist to it, which Abe Sargent did in a deck that I found extremely funny.

(Congrats to Abe, by the way, for making it to his 200th article! Abe's one of the best casual writers around. He's awesome.)

Island of Wak-Wak

I never played with this. I just love its name. Who came up with this, Aflac?

Lightning Bolt

I hate to quote my own articles, but this is something I should just say again:

Lightning Bolt
Okay, let me say this: It was a good thing that Wizards stopped printing Lightning Bolt. Say what you will, but the formula for Magic looks something like this:

A one-mana spell removes X invested mana.

Make that ratio too big on average, and it starts getting ludicrously weighted towards Red. Which is to say that if Green invests two mana, on average, for a Grizzly Bears, having a one-mana Shock take out the Bears isn't an awful thing for Green. But most people don't play Grizzly Bears — they play creatures with abilities, so really that one-mana Shock generally removes three to four mana worth of creature, hitting something like an Aven Cloudchaser or a Mindstab Thrull.

So what you have is a one-mana spell that, barring some counter-trick, effectively trumps anything up to three mana, and sometimes four.

With Lightning Bolt, however, doing three damage with one mana means that any creature under five mana is pretty much useless. Sure, you have the occasional spikes in the curve like Juzam Djinn that can absorb a Bolt without blinking.... But mostly, you're going to nail Kavu Climbers and Hungry Mists and Hyalopterous Lemures by the dozen. Your opponents have to cast six-mana spells like Craw Wurms before your one-mana spell won't chump them.

In other words, the more efficient the burn, the worse creatures get.... And the more people start turning to pure control decks. This is bad. It's also why Swords to Plowshares hit the out-of-print stack.

That said, you will take my damned Lightning Bolts from my fingers when they are cold and dead. They're that good.


Every bit as good as you'd think. Does tend to draw the hate, though, and you do collapse in an ugly fashion if someone cacks it.

Mystic Remora

It sounds crazy, but I actually found this to be a lot better than you'd think in multiplayer games. Like Rhystic Study before it (or, actually, given the order in which they were printed, after it), nobody wants to pay the mana in the early game and so you wind up drawing three or four cards for the investment of very little mana. It's not great, but some decks can very much abuse it—and it gets worse if your opponent is packing a lot of card drawing and tutor effects.

Admittedly, it's only noncreature spells. But it's still worth a look.

Nevinyrral's Disk

The only way I got through life as an editor when this was still legal was remembering that it is "Larry Niven" spelled backwards. No, really. And nobody ever spelled it right, making life that much harder.

Obviously, it competes for the spot of Pernicious Deed in multiplayer decks, and the Deed is better in most cases since it can be used immediately and can target a set level of mana. But the Disk has the advantage of being more readily available to more decks and blowing up everything—which, given that I've found myself facing down a Simic Sky Swallower once or twice without having seven mana handy, isn't your worst bet.


I talked about mono-black earlier. There are a lot of nasty multiplayer decks that abuse the heck out of this. You might want to start thinking about that yourself.

Sylvan Library

In case you don't know, you can combine Sylvan Library with Abundance to draw a boatload of cards. How? Well, in the trend of "quoting previously published articles," I'll steal a page from Adrian Sullivan:

Abundance/Sylvan Library is one of the most potent card-drawing engines out there. What does it do? Well, Abundance can be activated to replace your draw with its own effect. Therefore, if you activate Abundance for each of your draws (including the two Sylvan draws), you never actually draw a card. Instead, you get to reveal a card with the Abundance three times and keep all three without losing life. Most people name "Land" once and "Spell" twice when they get out the combo, but I'll let you name what you want.

I suspect many newer players don't know about this. Well, now you do.

Thawing Glaciers

It is the ultimate land-thinning land, and if you have a land-hungry deck you should get four immediately. I'm not trying to be hype-ish here, but seriously, I lost to a mono-black deck that packed Thawing Glaciers after my own Armageddon because he replaced all of his lands. I didn't. That was painful.

Vesuvan Doppelganger

I've discussed the joys of Clone before, and Vesuvan Doppelganger‘s more flexible, either killing legendary creatures at will or becoming your worst nightmare. In multiplayer, you generally have a surfeit of targets to choose from in the late game, making this extremely worthwhile.

Varchild's War-Riders

Johnny will be a little disappointed to know that Varchild's War-Riders has been the go-to card for years in a very specific deck:

  1. Get War-Riders out.
  2. Give your opponent a zillion creatures.
  3. Punish your opponent for having a zillion creatures with something like Netherborn Phalanx or Poisonbelly Ogre or Stronghold Discipline.

Still, there still are a variety of ways to punish opponents for having creatures, and by Gaw I'm sure Johnny's right on it. Right, Johnny?

Zuran Orb

Just don't. Yes, it will gain you life. Yes, it's a good card. Yes, it combines well with Crucible of Worlds.

But it makes games go on forever, and usually doesn't win you the game so much as it does stall it interminably. Zuran Orb: JUST SAY NO.

* He'd have a lot better point if he said that the templating is old and it should read, "G, put a regeneration counter on the Doctor: Regenerate The Doctor. If the Doctor has thirteen or more counters on it, sacrifice it." Okay, he has a point, but the writing's not as snappy.

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