What Is the Deal with Wellwisher?

Posted in Serious Fun on March 11, 2003

By Anthony Alongi

ANTHONY, THE STUBBORN AMERICAN

First, the poll results on the Multi-Lab question from a couple of weeks back:

How often should I wrote Multi-Lab articles?
Every other week 3267 53.0%
Once per month 1895 30.7%
Every 2-3 months 421 6.8%
2-3 times per year 135 2.2%
Once per year 451 7.3%
Total 6169 100.0%

Now, here's the deal. I love you all dearly. (Yes, really! I think about you all the time. You're darling, each and every one of you. Even the whiners on the message boards.) But the once every two weeks thing was kind of a joke. I figured it would get 10, maybe 15 percent of you hard core fellows – especially after I reinforced the message that Multi-Lab is NOT for tournament decks. (Do I still get Multi-Lab requests for tournament decks? Yes. How do our public schools manage to produce students who cannot read, yet can manipulate keyboards long enough to copy, paste, and send me Upheaval-Psychatog decks?)

But half of you? Half? Are you nuts? Insane? Sadistic? Insatiable?

Okay, don't answer that. But as I said when I cast the poll, the results would guide me, not command me. I think my threshold is once every month. So that's where I'll end up. In two weeks, I'll do my next article focused specifically on Multi-Lab.

Yes, I just blew off voter opinion. How astute of you to notice. But if you stick with me here, you'll see this article is really indirectly about Multi-Lab, after all.

JUST HOW TOUGH CAN A 1/1 BE?

So I'm going through my Multi-Lab emails, and there's one sentence I keep seeing over and over again:

A buddy in my group plays with Wellwisher, and he wins every game with about 254 life.

Hold on. Rewind a second. Let's read that again.

A buddy in my group plays with Wellwisher, and he wins every game with about 254 life.

Yep, we read that right. Wellwisher. Wins. Every game. 254 life.

Now, even allowing for hyperbole (most of my readers are high school boys, and exaggeration happens every millisecond of every day for eternity), we have a strange situation. Wellwisher is a 1/1 for two mana. Its sole ability is to tap for lifegain. In other words, you skip the opportunity to play Priest of Titania for this. On your following turn, you tap it to gain a couple of life because you're a bad player and don't wait for the end of your last opponent's turn – or you swing for a mighty point of damage to the poor sap who hasn't found a blocker by turn three. You humiliate him, and he runs screaming from the table in madness, driven out into the snowy night never to be seen again. Victory is yours by default.

Okay, so it wins. I get that, in retrospect. But how does the 254 life fit in?

Seriously. It seems that an article is in order here. Patronizing jokes aside – and thanks for indulging, I feel a lot better now – I understand that an innocuous creature can slip under a multiplayer table's radar. We've all been in games where the Soul Warden, or the Puppeteer, or even the Royal Assassin lasts longer than seems physically or philosophically possible.

Whether it's one of the creatures I've listed or something completely different, the analysis is simple. A creature survives a multiplayer game because the board lacks one or both of two things: the means to remove it, or the will. I'll take each in turn.

THEY SHOOT ELVES, DON'T THEY?

Many of the Multi-Lab requests that list Wellwisher as a problem have one thing in common: they contain neither red nor black. How does a green-white deck stop Wellwisher? Well, friend, it doesn't, at least not with cards from recent sets. I mean, I suppose you could taunt and bait the Elf's controller until he got so furious with you, he attacked with it, at which point you could Chastise it, watch the Chastise get Syncopated for five by an interfering third player, and then use Vengeful Dreams discarding Basking Rootwalla to put up a double-deadly shield for that intimidating 1/1. But an awful lot of people around the table are going to feel awfully foolish if that happens.

So a first option to take out Wellwisher, if you see a lot of them in your group, is to run more of one or the other color. Here are five quick common or uncommon cards from Odyssey block that will help, in increasing order of finesse:

Okay, you got me: Shard Phoenix is a Stronghold rare. But I feel stupid having to suggest these cards to my readers. Wellwisher isn't surviving your group because you're not thinking of this stuff, is it? No, I think it's less a matter of means, and more a matter of willpower.

WISH FOR WILL ON THE WELLWISHER

The calculus of group games (and duels) is pretty simple: if it's not a threat, don't waste a card on it. A Wellwisher falls into the category of those cards that are tough to see as a barrier to victory. They prolong games, sure – but a Wellwisher is never going to kill you. (The answer to Test of Endurance is Naturalize, not Shock.)

The problem becomes one of tempo, if the Wellwisher survives. In a duel, you can feel an inflection point more easily – your opponent's life total drops, then drops more slowly, then stops dropping, then rises, then rises rapidly. You don't need to be a genius to see the momentum moving from one player to another.

In a group game, it's more difficult. Fortunes change more quickly – but it's often hard to tell who the ultimate beneficiary is when, say, someone plays Tremor and a Wellwisher dies along with four other creatures controlled by four different players.

Because the inflection points are more subtle – and the effects of a given cause foggier to see – players tend to be more cautious. Why should I play my Fault Line now? Sure, the Wellwisher's annoying – but my own life total is fine, and the Elf mage isn't hurting me yet, and I'm having fun watching that other guy waste combat phases to offset the lifegain. Let's see how things pan out.

It's because of this (quite rational) thinking that irrational things happen – each player has a logic that says leave the innocent alone, and so the innocent survives, until it's not so innocent anymore. By then, key removal cards are spent, armies are tired, and everyone else is just fighting for second place.

Why doesn't someone just have more willpower, and torch the darn thing early? You can wish for this, but it's against human nature – at least the first time the Wellwisher deck gets played. We don't respond to threats we cannot perceive.

Maybe the next time the Wellwisher hits the board, someone might see it as important enough to kill early. But even that is no guarantee – often, a known threat survives because the other players are playing "chicken" to see who can go the longest without burning their own card on it. It's a fun game of Magic to play; but you can't then complain at the end that no one removed it.

So what is to be done?

SEALS AND SUBMARINES

Board effects come in two forms – permanents and transitory spells (sorceries and instants). Forget sorceries for a moment; they're too slow. When you want to get rid of something in multiplayer, it's best if you do it at instant speed. Your own turn is too precious to you to waste on slow-motion effects.

So if we look at a simple Wellwisher-killing card – say, Shock – we have two broad options: Shock itself, and Seal of Fire. One stays unknown in your hand, one stays visible on the board. Which is better? In most cases, I'd say Seal of Fire is superior to Shock in group play: what you hold off with the enchantment, plus what you kill when you do sacrifice it, usually tallies up higher than what you kill with the instant.

But that assumes the board is fairly aggressive, and players are wondering whom to attack with their early Grizzly Bears. What if everyone's playing stuff like Wellwisher, and holding back?

The most satisfying kills are those that set up a bit, and outthink the thinker. The guy controlling Wellwisher sees a Seal of Fire, and says to himself: at least I can get off one shot of life gain in response, if it dies. But what if he couldn't?

What if by the time the Wellwisher's ability resolved, there were no Elves left because of a nasty surprise? Say a Bane of the Living morphed, or Pyrokenesis went off, or Artificial Evolution lashed out? (Wellwisher is now a Snake, or an Orgg, or an Incarnation, that reads: ": Gain life equal to the number of [Snakes/Orggs/Incarnations] in play.")

My point here is not to tell you that you need rares to take care of Wellwisher. (That would just be pathetic.) My point here is that Wellwisher does not make for a creative deck. The elf is, in fact, almost an insult to creativity. Response must take one of two forms: first, you can be similarly blunt and Fireball those pointed ears into next week. Or you can demonstrate the sort of artfulness you wish its controller had, and Bind the blasted ability as it dies to the blunt guy's Shock.

Either way, your group should be paying more attention to this card. And quickly, please – I don't think I can take many more requests to fend off this well-wishing monster!

Anthony may be reached at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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