Monster Slayers

Posted in Serious Fun on April 20, 2005

By Anthony Alongi

The personalities that make multiplayer great

Come on. After I smacked everyone's hindquarters two weeks ago with a reminder of what we all do wrong, you didn't think I would pass on the opportunity to pat everyone on the back for what we do right, did you?

Following are seven behaviors we can all present to make group games more fun. I tried to avoid the more obvious stuff – but chances are, some of you already do one or more of these things. If this all looks familiar, give yourself (and your group!) a gold star.

Slayer No. 1: The humorous touch

Nothing keeps a game fun and lighthearted for participants more than a decent sense of humor. The worst expressions in the world can get everyone laughing, if it's clear you're not serious.

Shrug off the land screw with an offhand comment. ("Good thing I didn't draw land again!") Celebrate land floods. ("This is the best card ever. Are you ready? Here it is…another mountain.") Accept that you're the target of a bunch of spells. ("Something tells me you folks see me as a threat.")

You'll be surprised at how a game where everything's going wrong for you turns into a bearable time – and maybe even an eventual win, since (a) opponents in a free-for-all game are less likely to smack you down if you're funny instead of annoying; and (b) your attitude will stay good, which is a prerequisite for doing well.

Slayer No. 2: The random move

Furnace of Rath

This one is a less certain bet than a good sense of humor, but I've seen it work. If a game is in the doldrums, something like Confusion in the Ranks or Biorhythm can shake things up. It gets people thinking a different way about the game, and often that's a good thing.

In general, random things that accelerate the game (e.g., Furnace of Rath) are more popular than random things that slow the game down (e.g., Hokori, Dust Drinker). That's not a hard-and-fast rule; but you may want to start with the accelerators and work it out from there.

Of course, as with all things on this list, it's possible to go too far. Use randomness in moderation. The more of a straight shooter you usually are, the more of a hoot it will be when you do something crazy at the right moment.

Slayer No. 3: The teachable moment

I've taken time in this space before to praise those who teach others the game. I'll do it again, in abbreviated fashion, today.

The Multiplayer Monsters

In case you've forgotten, here were the seven multiplayer monsters to be on the lookout for in your multiplayer game:
1. The Overreacting Orangutan
2. The Whining Willies
3. Apathetic Attitude
4. Mosquito-Blasting Bazooka Man
5. The Over-stiff Ego
6. Over-ownership
7. Center of the Universe Syndrome

The game – any game – will not survive without taking seriously our obligation to teach the next generation. It could be other kids in your school, or your own children, or just someone of any age you know at your local store or workplace. Magic is a social game, and being a good teacher can help you cement a friendship.

Teaching Magic well is a bit of an art. It is generally hard for the average Magic player – who tends to be intelligent, outgoing, and eager to demonstrate knowledge – to avoid coming across as pushy or arrogant. For those of you who have perfected the soft touch, my hat is off to you.

Slayer No. 4: The constant creative destroyer

Just about every group has one: the guy (or gal) who shows up just about every week with something different, who's always thinking up a new format, who's always trying out the card that everyone says can't possibly work.

While the rest of us toil with the same decks from week to week, these creative souls are more interested in moving on to the next great thing. They make the time for it, bless their souls, and I have no idea how they get it done.

What I find particularly interesting is when one of these constant creators does finally relent and allow a deck to survive for more than a few weeks at a time – or better yet, to return from the grave. It's like rekindling an old flame for them, I suppose.

Slayer No. 5: The scheduler

This one applies more to the in-person groups than to Magic Online (where a good game always seems to be a click away). It sounds incredibly boring to many of us, but the simple act of "getting the group together" is highly underrated.

Each group has a person who'll get edgy as the chosen weeknight approaches. Like pesky shepherds, they push us sheep around until we've figured out when and where we're playing.

In our group, which plays each Thursday night, it's my brother-in-law. Witness this (largely) true recollection of an average email string:

Friday morning:

Paul: Thanks for hosting last night, Joe! Okay, who's hosting next week?
Anthony: Yes, last night was cool. I can't host next week – the house is a mess.

Monday morning:
Paul: I haven't heard from anyone who can host yet. Any takers?
Todd: I don't think I can play this week – 50/50 at best, no matter who hosts. By the way, did anyone else catch Hitch last week? Pure cinematic perfection.
Anthony: Yah, Hitch was okay.

Sword of Light and Shadow

Tuesday evening:
Paul: Guys, what's up with hosting? Someone needs to step up!
George: Does anyone have any Sword of Light and Shadow for trade?
Bob: I have a few extra. What do you have in return?
Laura: I have a couple extra too. I can't host this week, but I'll bring them to wherever we are.

Wednesday afternoon:
Paul: Seriously. You guys are killing me.
Anthony: Anyone have any job openings for an otherwise unskilled bureaucrat? I'm thinking of quitting my job.

Thursday afternoon:
Paul: Okay, I give up! I'll host! No special format, show up 6 p.m. or after. RSVP.
Anthony: I'm in.
Todd: In.
Laura: I'll be there by 7 p.m.
Bob: In.
George: I'm in!

Blessed are the last-second hosts: eternal munchies shall be theirs.

Slayer No. 6: The benign trade

New players need to be nurtured. In any group of average means, there should be plenty of commons (and maybe even uncommons) left over. Once every few months, it doesn't hurt to filter through the collection, pull out surplus cards, and pass them on to the newest member.

Passing on a stack of playable cards – even if a lot of them are simply average, instead of great – is a tremendous help to new players. They don't want killer decks. They just want to be able to experiment.

When dealing with newer players, those of you who throw an extra uncommon or foil into a trade of multiple rares are doing good. You're letting the novice know this game is about more than crushing an opponent. You're setting up a long-term relationship. You're emphasizing the social.

Slayer No. 7: The threat assessment

I believe smart analysis of threats is the best way to win a game of multiplayer Magic – and it's also, not coincidentally, the best way to earn players' respect. By confining your targeted spells and attacks to those opponents who are best positioned to stop you, you do two things. First, you minimize "petty revenge" – the sort of counterattacks and tit-for-tat that can lead to disagreements and hurt feelings. Second, you demonstrate respect for your opponents – because it's clear you're giving your best game, and you're expecting theirs.

I am, as always, curious to hear from readers who have thoughts on what makes multiplayer games (and other alternate formats) great. Use the message boards to share; or feel free to use the email link below.

Anthony cannot provide deck help. He's cleaning his house in preparation for hosting Magic…someday soon.

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