I was not doing particularly well. I had no global destruction in hand, and there was not a single creature before me to absorb the damage that would come at my face. In fact, I had absolutely no tricks whatsoever, my deck having handed me nothing but land for the last four turns.
In the meantime, my opponents had grown large and fierce. To my right was an army of Elves, at least ten of them, who could wipe me out at a moment's notice. To my left? An army of mono-red Knights, backed with Earthquakes and other burn spells.
I was at eight life, I believe, but the numbers in my life total were irrelevant; all you need to know was that Elves could kill me no matter what I summoned, and the Knights could reduce me to two if I threw Akroma out. Without Akroma, either of them could wipe me off the map... And considering they were both at eighteen life, the six-point life swing wouldn't make a significant difference before my next upkeep.
Now, here's the interesting bit: What's the correct play here, with certain death upon the table and knowing that neither the Elves (Akroma flies) or the Knights (she has pro: Red) can block Akroma?
If you answered "Pass the turn," you win a prize. Because that moment is the perfect time for The Rabbit Play.
But in multiplayer – not often, but enough that it's worth noting – the correct play is "Do nothing, and hope your opponents choose not to kill you." In other words, you rabbit – crouch down in the underbrush and hope no one pays attention to cute little you.
Because I misstated earlier: the death you face is not certain. Before the Grim Reaper shows up on your deckstep, scythe in hand, your opponents must decide to take you out of the picture. And they don't always decide to do that, since they often have other people to worry about.
In this case, my opponents would have seen me laying land after land, with ten mana already on the table as I cast nothing. Which meant that either:
- I was holding one awesome ten-mana combat trick (which, given that I had at least one Rout in the deck, was possible but unlikely);
- I was stockpiling for a post-Wrath environment, which was also unlikely since given how vulnerable I was to a swarm onslaught, if I had a Wrath I probably would have cast it immediately;
- I had absolutely nothing in hand.
Thus, there were two opinions they could have of me now:
- I wasn't currently a threat to them and could be wiped out at their leisure;
- I was a threat, and had such awesome firepower in my hand that attacking me would be a very bad idea.
My fellow players were smart enough to read the signs correctly; indeed, I had bupkiss. For the next turn, at least, I could do nothing significant to interfere with their plans.
But let's change that dynamic. Suddenly, I hurl Akroma onto the table. What happens? Well, I'm immune from certain death... By one player. The Knights can no longer kill me that turn. The Elves, however, remain able to destroy me on a whim.
What's the difference?
Akroma gives the Knights an absolute incentive to kill me. They're Red. Akroma blows their whole game plan, and I can now kill them in three turns in the air with a creature they cannot block. Sure, I can try to convince them that the Elves are a bigger threat, but as a red guy they probably have ways of dealing with pesky Elves. They have no outs for Akroma.
Summoning Akroma means summoning an assault from the Knights.
Then there are the Elves. As mentioned, they can't block in the air, either, since they haven't drawn their Thornweald Archers yet. Despite the fact that they have a better chance of being able to remove an Akroma, they're very likely to say, "I really don't want to bother with this" and just drop you dead.
Remember, kids! Why kill a creature when you can kill the player?
Also, note the turn order: since they're on the left, Red will go first after I summon Big Wings here. Red, now forced to the point where they have to remove me, will axe me down to two life. Even assuming that Red doesn't have a stray Shock to spare, how much effort will it take the Elves to mop up that two life?
No, the strange thing about multiplayer is that in this rare set of circumstances, your best chance for survival lays in doing nothing. Yes, you're absolutely defenseless if you cast Akroma. No, you don't have any outs if someone decides to strike.
But your last, best hope of survival is doing nothing.
In a duel, that'd be crazy. After all, your opponent has no one else to attack, so he's going to go after you every time. You cast every threat and defensive card you can get when you're that low on life. But in multiplayer Chaos, your opponents have many people to choose from when declaring their attack phase. The Elves may decide that they don't want to leave themselves that open to the Knights' counterattack-and-burn. The Knights may fear an Overrun from the Elves, and thus not want to commit to defeating you.
Nothing's certain, of course. But ask yourself two questions:
- Will this card save me from being slaughtered if the players who can kill me decide to do it?
- Is this card a big enough annoyance that it gives them an actual incentive to get rid of me?
If the answers are "No" and "Yes" respectively, then the time may be right for The Rabbit Play. Flatten your ears against your head, do your best to fade into the woodwork, and hope to the high heavens that someone feels sorry for you. (Or, at least, isn't willing to commit the resources needed to expunge you.)
Fascinatingly, the time to Rabbit depends heavily on the cards you have in hand. If I'd drawn something little enough to absorb an attack but not ruin someone's day, like a Kami of Ancient Law or a Soul Warden, then playing it would have been a no-brainer. After all, it's not like being utterly defenseless against anyone who cares to look at you sideways is a good thing.
But if I'd plucked a Blinding Angel off the top of my deck, then it might well have been time to pull The Rabbit Play. Considering that both the Elf and the Knight decks won via the attack phase, a Blinding Angel would have been a major threat to both of their game plans, and they probably would have objected via a judicious usage of the Red Zone.
What about a Firemane Angel? Ooo, tough call. I'd probably cast it, but depending on the temperament of the people to either side of me – whether they hate lifegain, how much they fear fliers – it could backfire big-time. But again, in that case it's almost certainly better than being defenseless, falling in that nebulous zone between "Big enough to be respected" and "So big that people won't feel comfortable until it's gone."
Now, the question must be asked: Did The Rabbit Play work in this case? The answer is, sadly, "No, it didn't" – even though The Rabbit Play, judiciously used, has won me other games at this very table, plucking a well-earned victory from the slavering jaws of defeat. But therein lies the other piece of strategy – some advice that comes in handy when you're the strongman at the table.
The question at hand: When should you finish someone off?
In this case, the Elf Guy gauged my likely defenselessness and said, "Okay, I can kill him right now. Do I have to worry about his deck?" And depending on what kind of deck I had, the answer could have been "No."
For example, if I was piloting some kind of Tribal deck (gooooo, Kithkin!), there really would have been nothing I could do to Mister Elf aside from "lay one creature at a time." And, as has been established, one creature wouldn't be big enough to be a threat. As a Tribal deck of his own with greater board position, he could wait.
Or if I was piloting some sort of blue-based control deck, the worst I could do would be to steal his biggest Elf with some sort of stealy thing. As the controller of many Elves, I wouldn't care that much about a Counterspell or two; as long as the player in question didn't have a way to clear the board **, I could outpace him.
But Mister Elf asked a very vital question: "What can this deck do?" And the answer was right in the second paragraph:
As an Elf player, he was absolutely correct in looking at the helpless White Board-Clearing Guy and saying, "You know, I'd better kill you before you draw Wrath of God and then play some huge threat like Akroma, Angel of Wrath." Which was, in fact, my secret plan – the best thing that could have happened to me, had The Rabbit Play worked, was that I drew Akroma's Vengeance to clear the board and then started Ye Smaquedown with Big Wings here.
Mister Elf then asked a second very vital lesson: "What would be more damaging to me: having all of my carefully-obtained Elf army being sent to the graveyard, or a full-out attack from the guy with the Red Knights?"
The answer was clear: Barring something crazy like "Blaze you for ten," Mister Elf was far better off ensuring that his Elves were safe from mass removal. And so my rabbit ploy was transformed into a tasty stew. Well done.
There's a third question to be asked here on occasion: Namely, "Is it worth keeping this player around so a stronger player has to deal with him?" If a deck isn't much of a threat to you, but you know that the current Alpha Wolf is inconvenienced by it, sometimes it's better to leave someone on the field and force them to mop up. (Naturally, if you're the one who's dominating the playfield, it's better to destroy any potential rivals. You never know when those alliances can backfire.)
So, sometimes you want to keep other players around for politics, forcing stronger players to deal with them – and in other cases, it would cost you too much in resources to kill them. But if the path appears to be clear (and you're pretty sure that it is a clear path and not an insidious trap), then you need to judge whether the time is right to swing the executioner's axe (and why is "Executioner's Axe" not a piece of Magic equipment yet?).
Thus endeth the lesson for the day.
Speaking Of "Heat Drawn To Impact"....
Last week, I discussed the nature of Gaddock Teeg – a guy who had an impact big enough to force a response from other players, yet not strong enough to handle the backlash. I wondered what sort of animal would best illustrate this conundrum.
And did I get suggestions? Oh, you know I did.
- The Elephant Factor – Based on the phrase "Elephant in the room," the heat-drawing card is so big that everyone can't ignore it. (Matthew D.)
- The Lemming Factor – One person goes to kill you and everyone follows. (Rob G.)
- The Peacock Factor – It draws a lot of attention, but doesn't do much. (Brian S.)
Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted the email of the fine gentleman who suggested the animal "Shark."
But look at the statistics. We're terrified of sharks. But what are your actual chances of being bitten by a shark? Even if you swim off the Florida coast every day, it's still pretty abysmal. The ratio of "oceanic dips to shark bites" is unfathomably large (if you'll pardon the pun). And not every shark is a man-eater.
Yet people fear the shark. Mention that there's a shark around, and people go running. A shark's potentially dangerous – but in real life, it never seems to work out that way. Somehow, the lurking horror of a shark just never actually arrives except on very rare occasions... Much like Gaddock Teeg or Naclatl War-Pride.
I'm not sold on this terminology, mind you. But it's in the lead.
* - There's a case to be made for Akroma, Angel of Fury in this deck, but a) I don't own any, and b) if I did that, I'd want four Exalted Angels in there just so people wouldn't automatically cap it when I laid a morph.