Six Challenges

Posted in Serious Fun on May 6, 2008

By The Ferrett

Generally speaking, the words "Josh has the flu" shouldn't influence the flow of content at But alas! As it turns out, Josh is down with a stomach-churning bit of virus that's taken him out of action, and so we've had to put the "Top Eleven Most Interesting Multiplayer Cards in Shadowmoor" video on hold until his skin stops radiating that delightful shade of puce.

This is a shame, because Shadowmoor is one of the most powerful sets in multiplayer that we've seen in a long time. Josh and I both had a list of fifteen cards, any of which would have easily been one of the top five in most other sets... and our lists did not have a lot of overlap.

Shadowmoor is potent. So very potent.

And I will list off the cards I think you want to look at, just as soon as Josh can keep down something other than Saltine crackers and chicken broth. But while we're waiting, let me explain how I look at what I think are good cards for multiplayer, analyzing some cards along the way to show you the cards that were good, but didn't quite make it to the top for us.

The good news? Even the also-rans are top-notch in this set.

There are six basic challenges in multiplayer:

Card Exhaustion

The biggest problem in multiplayer game is that your one deck has to fight at least two other decks. Every card you draw? Your opponents draw, collectively, at least two cards that could potentially beat it.

That makes one-for-one trades a Very Bad Thing on the whole. If you use that Eyeblight's Ending to destroy your opponent's Angel of Salvation, then you're down a card (the Ending), and your opponent is down a card (the Angel), but everyone else still has a full grip.

That's why cards like Wrath of God are so amazing in multiplayer. When one card can destroy or neutralize several other cards, suddenly the economies of multiplayer turn in your favor.

Hence, what you often look for first are cards that are going to affect as many players as possible. Global destruction is also good, but let's take a look at a multiplayer card that caught my eye:

Kulrath Knight

Kulrath Knight is a solid multiplayer card because in the wake of Shadowmoor, there are going to be tons of counters hanging around just incidentally. You can build a deck to exploit the counter issue, of course.... But even if you don't, most decks are going to find that at least one or two of their biggest guys have become nothing more than glorified hat racks because they came back from a persist or got hit with something withery or got a +1/+1 token from an Oona's Blackguard.

There are a lot of counters on things, these days. And when one card can stall an entire army in its tracks, that's something worth looking at.

Now, did the Knight make my list? In the end, no, because it can draw incidental hatred. Maybe your opponent with the recently returned Twilight Shepherd wasn't thinking of attacking you... but since he now can't attack anyone with that Shepherd, you're stuck in his way until the Knight is gone. That makes you accidental enemies, and at a 3/3 body, it's not quite big enough to defend itself.

That's not to say it's bad, just that it didn't make the top five. I'd certainly play it in a deck, no questions asked. The Knight is very good. (And combine it with the non-evasive Midnight Banshee to make some very ugly choices for your opponents – namely, which one do they kill?)

Yet there are other ways to get around the card exhaustion issue. Instead of trying to find a card that neutralizes many other cards, you can also go with a card that requires your opponent to deal with it multiple times. The word you're looking for here is reusability.

That's why spells like Capsize and mechanics like dredge are so popular in multiplayer; any time your opponent has to spend multiple cards to deal with one of your cards, you're coming out on top in the exhaustion war. And if you can squeeze multiple effects out of that reusable card, then you're way ahead of the game.

Let's take a look at another top-notch multiplayer card: Kitchen Finks.

Kitchen Finks

Life gain is, as I've said repeatedly, much better in multiplayer than it is in duels (one reason that multiplayer is the Timmiest format EVAR, God bless it). Life gain stretches your opponents' resources even thinner; they may have the juice to do the collective 60 damage it takes to pound down every opponent in a four-man game, but can they do 70? How about 80? Every life point you gain is additional pain they have to deal with an already taut deck.

So getting a creature (which both attacks and blocks) that gives you life when it comes into play would be a bonus as it is. Getting two effects off of one card is the very stuff of multiplayer flexibility! Even if Kitchen Finks never came back at all, it would be a solid pick.

But that's not all! The Kitchen Finks is wonderful, because you get 2 life and a 3/2 guy for three mana, and then another 2 life and a 2/1 dude when your opponents kill it! That means your opponents are not only having to deal with your creatures, but with 4 additional points of life gain.

And hey, if you have some way of adding +1/+1 counters to your Finks to "reset" them after the first big kill? Well, you now can gain 2 life at a shot, and your opponent still has to kill them. Repeatedly. What a deal!

The Finks are wonderful. Yet is Kitchen Finks in the top five? No, because at a 3/2 with no evasion it's probably not going to break open any ground stalls unless you do something crazy like slap a Shield of the Oversoul on it. But that doesn't make it any less of a nice utility creature that's worthwhile as an early drop in any white or green deck.

It may not make the top five, but you'll be seeing it in decks everywhere... and rightfully so.

That's Card Exhaustion. What's the next big challenge?

Global Removal

Twilight Shepherd
In most groups, someone's learned the lesson of Card Exhaustion and has doped out that global removal is the best way to get around it. So you can usually expect to have all of your grand armies wiped away at least once.

So when I'm looking over a new set for multiplayer, I'm thinking, "How can I foil that? I don't want my guys to get shuffled rudely off to the graveyard—what tools does this set give me to avoid that?"

The answer to that's already here, my friends, and I've written a whole article about it: Twilight Shepherd. The Shepherd is excellent at taking the global removal spells and making people pay for them.

(There's one other card that's even better than the Shepherd for casual play, however—a card that I seized upon instantly, that was a must-have on Josh's list, and even Ben Bleiweiss noted it in a article as his "pick for the sleeper hit of the set... Fantastic as a casual card." But we'll talk about that when we get to the Top Five. That's right, Twilight Shepherd is not in the top five. Talk about power!)

Surprise Factor

Anthony Alongi referred to this as the "Spider Factor"—i.e., cards that punish opponents at instant speed for making unwise choices, luring them into disastrous decisions. For that, you want cards that have a really powerful effect at instant speed, and are flexible.

Ideally, you're looking for the kind of card that can decimate someone when they look at you sideways. You keep your mana open, whistling the happy tune "Don't start none, won't be none," and eventually someone goes, "Hey. Maybe Ferrett doesn't have anything. I think I'll crush him like a bug."

Then, one card later, the dust is settled, and your opponent is discovering the cool fresh breeze that you can only feel when your pants are down around your ankles.

The perfect card for that? Mirrorweave.


Mirrorweave is the perfect Spider card, because it can be used offensively or defensively to great effect... and four mana's not a whole lot to hold open in multiplayer. In that sense, Mirrorweave's ancestor is the not-played-often-enough-anywhere-but-here card Reins of Power.

Mirrorweave can cause a combat step to blow up and disappear like dandelion thistles, simply by transforming everything into a creature with a power of zero. Buh-bye! But that's just a Fog effect, no biggie.

What it can also do is turn your invading army of 1/1s into trampling Gleancrawlers, after he's been so foolish to try to take you down. Or it can turn someone else's army into a horde of angry Angels, boosting someone else's attack to turn what would normally be a blunted offense into fatal damage. Or, if he's attacking with something large and evasive that you don't want to deal with, turn your men into something equally large and block it. Or shut off someone's Exalted Angel by cloning another creature.

Mirrorweave can't clear the board by turning everything into a Legend, and more's the pity. But it's a monstrous combat trick that can absolutely destroy the unwary opponent.

Did Mirrorweave make the list? No. It's too situational. Sometimes your opponent will have the only guy on the board, and then Mirrorweave is not your friend. Or all the creatures on the board will be hazardous to your health.

In any other set? Hoo boy, Mirrorweave would be an easy Top Five. But not in Shadowmoor!

Scalable Effects

Again, returning to (sigh) Anthony Alongi, we find his description of the "Pigeon" rating of a card—a card that "benefit(s) directly from having more players on the board, like Syphon Soul or Syphon Mind."

Why a pigeon? Because a pigeon is sociable. It thrives in urban environments. Alas, Anthony's old animals were supposed to be real-world critters, so he couldn't use the term "Sliver," but it applies. What you want is something that gets better the more opponents you have at the table.

The magical words you're looking to see on the face of a scalable card are "an opponent." Not "target opponent," but rather "an opponent." You want something that hits everyone, granting you some sort of benefit in the process.

But—and to paraphrase Nemo, this is a big but—you want something that's triggered at no mana cost to you. I mean, a card like "Whenever an opponent draws a card, gain 2 life" would be awesome! Yet it gets less awesome if it's "Whenever an opponent draws a card, you may pay to gain 2 life," because then you tie up all your mana on triggered abilities and don't have any left over for defense of creatures.

(The one notable exception? Mind's Eye, which gets you cards. Cards are worth a single mana, and you'll recoup your five-mana investment quickly if it sticks.)

So what you want to do is scour the cards for an effect that costs no mana, hits everyone, and is ideally triggered by something that people have to do on a regular basis. And here comes...

Polluted Bonds

Polluted Bonds.

Keanu Reeves does not have a large enough "whoah" to cover this one, folks. In multiplayer, you practically have to lay lands beyond #6 to ramp up to your Dragons and Angels and Cans O' Whoop-Butt, and every land they lay will Drain Life them for 2. That's a very, very potent effect, and it just bubbles under our Top Five. Maybe Seven.

This one card could, without even really trying, put you up 20 life and drop your opponents by 20. That's a lot from a one-card investment!

So if it's so great, why doesn't it make the Top Five? Because at five mana, sans acceleration, by the time you can cast it your non-mana-screwed opponents will be at their five-drop and probably won't need to get to lands #7 and #8, making it tough to use properly. In addition, everyone will be coming after you like there was no tomorrow, since they can clearly see how obvious this is.

That said, combined with an Armageddon-style deck and some defense, this could be nasty—and if you go green-black for the acceleration, it could punish your opponents' choice of using Ravnica bouncelands fairly severely by getting this out on turn three.

This is a card that we could easily be wrong on; it depends on what kind of deck you drop it into. It's a card that you should be watching, and closely. Johnnies, start your decks!

Artifacts and Enchantments

There's always a paradox in multiplayer games, which generally don't have a sideboard: do you leave out the artifact / enchantment removal, thus leaving more slots open for you to damage or otherwise affect your opponents? Or do you put artifact / enchantment removal in and risk them being dead draws?

Considering that every piece of A/E removal can sit in your hand targetless, what you're hoping for with every new set is A/E removal that gives you a significant bonus for playing it. You want something that comes with such an upside that it makes the downsides of "no targets" worthwhile.

Enter Fracturing Gust.

Fracturing Gust

Fracturing Gust is at instant speed, which is always a bonus—you want to hold your destruction until the last possible moment, hoping to encourage your opponents to put down a few more breakables for you. It hits both artifacts and enchantments, making it flexible. It destroys all artifacts and enchantments. And when you play it, it's like a Congregate but for artifacts and enchantments, giving you a potentially huge boost to your life total.

The downside, of course, is that it is dead weight if your opponents have chosen to play without enchantments or artifacts, making these sorts of cards very hard to place without reservation into the Top Five. (Pernicious Deed also kills creatures, making it a great pick.) And it also costs five mana, which is a bit spendy.

Neither of that detracts from its usage as a killer utility card.


Oona, Queen of the Fae
Multiplayer is supposed to be enjoyable, so keep an eye out for the kinds of cards that look like they'll bubble up joy into your little Timmy heart. Is Oona, Queen of the Fae playable? Who cares? It's gonna be a hoot to Millstone your opponents' decks, and you'll get guys, and it flies.

Don't worry about the strategy. Take it out for a spin! Who knows, it might work!

Honestly, a lot of cards that seem fun are fun when the endless pressure of the duel deck is not pressing down upon you. That's the happiness of multiplayer. It's an environment where you can take out cards that would never cut it in a competitive Standard tournament and have them work. Is Rhys the Redeemed going to help your token deck? Give it a try, pal!

So look for cards you're going to enjoy. Cards that will give you an extra little shimmy when you cast them. Then throw 'em in the deck and see how they do!

Remember: Fun trumps everything. So go have some dang fun. And send Josh a get-well card while you're at it, because he's not having any fun at all right now.

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