Modern Trapping for Classic Style

Posted in Serious Fun on November 1, 2011

Everything old is new again. It's the refrain to a song that is old, yet probably new to you. Consider it a piece of the poetic justice that's Modern Week; without a past, the moniker "modern" means little.

Isaac Newton wrote, in a letter to Robert Hooke, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." He was referring, of course, to the mathematical forefathers that laid the foundations of Newton's greatest legacy, calculus. And, to be perfectly clear, Newton was also not known to be the most humble of mathematicians either.

I can write about the things I do thanks, in a large and substantive part, to the efforts of my Serious Fun forefathers: Anthony Alongi, The Ferrett, and Kelly Digges. Today we're taking a trip to a topic from the past, something quite old, and breathing freshness into it, making it new again. It's flavorfully descriptive, cleverly primal, and completely unofficial.

With apologies and humble thanks to Mr. Alongi for creating this framework, these are the animal elements of multiplayer cards.

    Lucky All-6's

There are six features to examining cards for multiplayer, and each feature represents a different purpose:

  • Rattlesnake, a warning to other players.
  • Gorilla, an aggressive or dominating effect on the battlefield.
  • Spider, a hidden bit of trickiness.
  • Pigeon, which flourishes with each additional player.
  • Cockroaches, strong enough to carry on right through death.
  • Plankton, which feeds everyone.

Each of these mean different angles, and like player psychographic profiles, these aren't necessarily exclusive to each other. For my part, I'll do the very best I can to pull examples that speak to just the animal element in question. To help facilitate making this interesting I'm also going to share some modules for each section under the assumption that I'm building a The Mimeoplasm Commander deck (because, well, I am).

Rattlesnakes are, for the most part, not sneaky. These are cards you play out front, in the full view of the table, to make a statement without necessarily stating anything. While nearly any card can have a bite to it, only some of them telegraph the bite in advance. Those are the rattlesnakes.

The point of using rattlesnakes isn't to make biting less effective—though giving your opponents the heads-up will certainly do that—but to encourage attention elsewhere. "Don't attack me!" is what these cards cry. "Go away, or I shall taunt you again!" is the sheepish cry you make from on top of your ramparts.

Classically, some examples of rattlesnakes include No Mercy, Quicksand, and Seal of Doom. In more modern times, rattlesnakes include Empyrial Archangel, Gomazoa, and Onyx Mage. For The Mimeoplasm specifically, here are some rattlesnakes I'm planning to include:

Maze of Ith, Mystifying MazeRattlesnakeMakes some attacks ineffective
Silklash SpiderRattlesnakeThreatens to take out flying critters
Vengeful Pharaoh, PropagandaRattlesnakeMakes attacking you more difficult
AttritionRattlesnakeTrade small fries for your big guys

Mystifying Maze, and its ancestor Maze of Ith, help direct attack traffic to neighbors, while Vengeful Pharaoh and Propaganda punish attacks against you directly. Silklash Spider and Attrition threaten to kill anything you don't like, which can be applied to shape other players' actions: the political aspect of hurting (or helping!) someone else is powerful.

Gorillas are the powerhouses you drop onto the battlefield. These cards, like rattlesnakes, are played visibly and openly but affect things immediately. The bigger, splashier, and heavier the effect the more gorilla it's got inside of it.

Using gorillas is often a function of getting things done; when opponents pull ahead, put too many things onto the battlefield, or hide behind a wall of defensive entrenchment, letting a few gorillas loose should rattle the game back into motion.

Classically, cards like Wrath of God, Rolling Thunder, and Akroma's Vengeance are good examples. In modern times, some examples include Phyrexian Rebirth, Damnation, and Contagion Engine. Our legendary Ooze calls for the following:

Maelstrom PulseGorillaPounds anything non-land into oblivion
Woodfall Primus, TerastodonGorillaArtifact and enchantment destruction on big bodies
Dread Cacodemon, Massacre WurmGorillaCreature destruction on big bodies
EvacuationGorillaResets the creatures on the battlefield all at once
Panglacial WurmGorillaSearch up a basic land, get a big dude too

Between Maelstrom Pulse, Woodfall Primus, Terastodon, Dread Cacodemon, and Massacre Wurm, there will be plenty of ways to wreck the battlefield favorably. Even better, most of these are creatures you can eventually recycle with The Mimeoplasm itself! Evacuation resets our leader (everything else too), and Panglacial Wurm can turn a late-game land search into a bonus body of appreciable size.

Spider cards aren't cards like Giant Spider. In fact, most of Magic's Spiders would be best classified as rattlesnakes: they nudge flying attacks to be aimed somewhere else. Actual spider cards are the sneaky jabs that take opponents by surprise. These are the cards that by themselves, or in concert with an innocuous companion, create a situation you're taking advantage of.

While basic spells like Terror and Doom Blade are somewhat like spiders, the real deals encourage your opponents into reckless endeavors. When you present a situation that someone else can't resist jumping in on you have just the place that spiders love to weave a web of intrigue.

Classically, spider cards include Spinal Embrace, Ray of Command, and Desertion. In more modern times, you can find examples in Harm's Way, Moonmist, and Village Bell-Ringer. When I think about The Mimeoplasm, I'd like to see the following:

Vedalken Orrery, Winding CanyonsSpiderCan cast anything in response to your attack
Spinal Embrace, TangleSpiderMesses with combat in incredible ways
WillbenderSpiderChanges spell targets like nobody's business
Slaughter PactSpiderTapped out, but not defenseless
Snapcaster MageSpiderFlashing back things out of nowhere

As you can tell, I enjoy spider cards and the interesting things they can do. Vedalken Orrery and Winding Canyons are two Commander classics I enjoy; casting all sorts of creatures and spells whenever you could cast an instant is surely going to result in unfortunate circumstances for opponents.

Willbender is the ultimate sneaky, as altering a spell's course is usually a pretty good thing for you. Slaughter Pact can give you muscle to fight back while you're missing mana, and Snapcaster Mage gives things without flashback the ability to stun other players. And, of course, I still love Spinal Embrace and Tangle, two of the cards I recall seeing used to great effect in my first few games of Commander.

Pigeons are an entertaining lot. These are the cards that specifically call out to multiplayer, and significantly grow in value every time someone sits down at the table. Thriving off of more players is a pretty sweet idea if you like playing multiplayer.

Pigeon cards, though, are selfish when used. You not only benefit from using them, but get much more as the players stack up. However, pigeons are the meat and potatoes of multiplayer, and a handful of "more for your money" cards will always make an appearance.

Classic pigeons include Verdant Force, Congregate, and Innocent Blood. More modern pigeons can be seen in Infectious Horror, Blood Tyrant, and Exsanguinate. For Oozing into games, I'd bring the following:

Verdant Force, Lurking PredatorsPigeonMore players, more free dudes
Anowon, the Ruin Sage, Syphon MindPigeonMore players, more things your opponents lose
Rhystic Study, Consecrated Sphinx, Mind’s EyePigeonMore players, more cards you draw

Verdant Force gives us a slew of tokens, useful for defending and sacrificing (recall Attrition above), and fellow classic Syphon Mind is a hot number early or late in the game. Rhystic Study, Mind's Eye, and the copiable Consecrated Sphinx are ever-present card-drawing engines for Commander.

It's Lurking Predators and Anowon, the Ruin Sage that you should keep an eye on. One should provide a fairly steady stream of free creatures, while the other will whittle away at a board filled with bodies. Despite the fact that they often work against each other, I can't help but smile when I see the flock descending onto the battlefield.

Cockroaches are annoying. Cockroaches are disgusting (to other players). Cockroaches help survive even the apocalypse. Like the primeval bugs that have been around for hundreds of millions of years, cockroaches keep you in a game far longer than any other type of card.

Using cockroaches is a bit of a bore. Because they don't really die, or bring things back repeatedly, they work against creating a variety of situations. And the scuttle of annoying, undying bugs will call out gorillas your opponents are packing. Combining pigeons and cockroaches are the most elementary of multiplayer strategies: get more and keep it longer.

Classic cockroaches are exemplified by Spiny Starfish, Enduring Renewal, and Breeding Pit. More modern takes include Spearbreaker Behemoth, Angelic Destiny, and Nuisance Engine. For our most favored of Oozes I'll be packing:

Academy Ruins, Volrath's StrongholdCockroachA recycling program for the graveyard-conscious
Gutter Grime, Gleancrawler, Oversold Cemetery, Essence of the WildCockroachThey just keep coming back for more
Blue Sun's Zenith, Beacon of Unrest, Green Sun's ZenithCockroachGet what you want, and possibly get it again too
Trade RoutesCockroachTurns lands into more cards when you need them most

Academy Ruins and Volrath's Stronghold are lands that return things to your library, and lands have a tendency to stick around once they hit the battlefield. Gutter Grime, Gleancrawler, and Oversold Cemetery make the most of throwing creatures in the way of oncoming attacks, or funneling them through cards like Attrition.

Blue Sun's Zenith, Beacon of Unrest, and Green Sun's Zenith all do pretty solid things for a big deck, but more importantly they shuffle themselves back in to your library to be used again. Essence of the Wild just won't go away; it takes a battlefield-wide fumigation to exterminate it. And Trade Routes is a funny little card that converts lands, drawn or in play, into different cards. As the game winds on you can convert extra mana into extra stuff to do!

Finally, plankton is the reason some of us enjoy multiplayer so much more than duels: everyone can get in on something. Plankton, the root of the food chain, feeds games by giving players things that they want.

Plankton are the cards that inspire "Group Hug" decks that work to help other players, rather than hinder or hurt them. This doesn't mean using these cards is necessarily detrimental to your own approach, just that instead of splash damage it's splash awesome getting painted about.

The classic plankton of Magic include Mana Flare, Arcane Denial, and Howling Mine. In the modern era you can see it represented by Spectral Searchlight, Death by Dragons, and Maralen of the Mornsong. With our Ooze buddy in mind I settled on the following:

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Heartbeat of Spring, Gauntlet of PowerPlanktonMana for everyone!
Jace Beleren, Font of Mythos, Temple BellPlanktonCards for everyone!
Gate to the ÆtherPlanktonPermanents for everyone!

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth will help fix mana for any other deck running black, while helping ourselves to more through Cabal Coffers. Heartbeat of Spring and Gauntlet of Power will also power up mana for others, but as long as we have something to do with it we'll be happiest.

Jace Beleren, Font of Mythos, and Temple Bell are all modern twists on Howling Mine, flooding the game with the juicy bits that keeps the game flowing. Everyone likes drawing extra cards, some just more than others. Finally, Gate to the Æther is a bit of a pet card for me, and I'm usually a little too excited to see the flood of awesome happen after I manage to get it onto the battlefield.

    Combined Attack

These animal elements aren't hard rules or secret descriptions used internally by the likes of Mark Rosewater and Tom LaPille, but they serve a useful way to group and describe the different cards you'll run into playing multiplayer. In fact, I probably won't make many references to these ideas in future articles, but the concepts are a great reminder that there is much more to multiplayer than just more players and other cards.

The two source articles I used can be found here and here. While you're at it, go read some of Anthony Alongi's other articles. They're great stuff, especially if you enjoyed today's deviation from the usual Serious Fun!

However, there's something to be said for multiplayer—and all other gaming too—when introspection and discussion revolve around how others are experiencing and enjoying things than "How do I trick everyone else into letting me win?" There are great expanses of strategy and efficiency that can be learned elsewhere; if applying it to multiplayer is your bag, I'm sure you can find fellow compatriots in the forums and elsewhere. Just don't forget to throw it all out the window if that's bogging down your local troupe!

Speaking of local troupes, last week's recap of playing Horde Magic was something many of us seemed to enjoy. I know I really loved the tenacity and teamwork required playing against an otherwise inert pile of cards. With the polls working as desired, I asked you to share which tribe you wanted to see the next time we decide to horde some fun:

Something more esoteric (Sound off in the forums!)3907.0%

Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised that many of you are nothing less than Magic masochists. Dragons? Eldrazi? Those are some fierce tribes, with very powerful representatives. Looks like Hard Mode Horde just got kicked up to the next difficulty level! Some of you have shared some neat ideas around these tribes, so keep them coming for when the Horde comes back, with a vengeance.

This week I've decided to stay on the clinical feel of things and run a little pop quiz. You can jump in the comments to share your thoughts (or cheat and see what others are saying first before answering), but I hope you find classifying some of these cards a little difficult.

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Pernicious Deed?RattlesnakeGorillaSpiderPigeonCockroachPlankton

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Daybreak Ranger?RattlesnakeGorillaSpiderPigeonCockroachPlankton

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Batterskull?RattlesnakeGorillaSpiderPigeonCockroachPlankton

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Novablast Wurm?RattlesnakeGorillaSpiderPigeonCockroachPlankton

Which of the animal elements is most expressed in Arashi, the Sky Asunder?RattlesnakeGorillaSpiderPigeonCockroachPlankton

I look forward to seeing your responses. Join us next week when I'm running late!

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