Why is that? Why is echo so darned nice in multiplayer?
It’s not all that surprising if you look at multiplayer theory. Building a deck that needs to defeat multiple opponents involves a slightly different mindset than building a deck to tromp down a single schmuck. So let’s analyze the question of why echo creatures can be very strong in a multiplayer environment, whereas usually they’re wasted space in duel decks.
But to explain that, let’s take a walk through classic deckbuilding theory.
The Importance of Sligh
In one-on-one battles, speed is of prime importance. Long ago, there was a famous deck called Sligh, which was made of crap cards that nobody wanted to play with. Here it is – the cutting edge of deck technology from way back in 1996:
Back then, people were aghast that something as weird and untuned as this could win. Note the distinct lack of synergy that exists between Goblins of the Flarg, which is sacrificed if you control any Dwarves, and a deck containing five Dwarves.
(Some of the inefficiency can also be explained because this was an early Pro Tour where you had to use cards from every expansion printed to date... But fortunately, that requirement got removed early on.)
Who would play this when you could play cool cards like Serra Angel? Well, as it turns out, this deck was designed with a single goal: to use all of its mana each turn. The whole point was that it would always, always lay a first-turn threat, and then a second-turn threat, then a third-turn threat, and by the time you ramped to five mana to cast your cool Serra Angel you would be at five life and facing a horde of angry goblins and dwarves.
Or you’d be dead. That happened a fair amount, too.
What the Sligh deck emphasized was the importance of the mana curve. Your opponent wanted to cast his powerful cards, but those cards cost a lot of mana to cast. If you could overwhelm him with smaller threats, you could knock him off-balance before he got the requisite lands out to cast the big, splashy cards that everyone wants to play with.
What the Sligh deck did was put people on a clock.
Maybe it’s better to put a weaker three-mana spell in your deck instead. It won’t be as good as the six-mana spell, but you know that you’ll be able to cast it before you die.
Thus, an interesting tension began to arise in deckbuilding: How can you get the most power for the cheapest cost? Because time is a factor, Lois, and you need to get your threats out as soon as you possibly can. The ripple effect took over; people began to realize that sometimes, there was no substitute for a good six-mana spell, so if you couldn’t wait until turn 6 maybe you could cast things like Birds of Paradise and Mana Crypt and Grim Monolith to get that six-mana spell out a lot faster.
And so deckbuilding evolved.
We’ve come a long way from the days of Sligh, back when the one-mana drop was king. The cards these days don’t pack quite as much punch – there really aren’t that many good one-mana creatures, so the Standard environment now generally revolves around consistently getting your two- to four-mana spells out ASAP, and ramping up Signets and bouncelands to ensure that the big potent spells get out when you want them.
But the effect is the same. In a duel, you don’t have time to waste. Your opponent is going to cast his spells as soon as he can, and they’re always going directly to your face, so the prime importance is making sure that you get what you need the moment you need it.
You can hear Jack Bauer screaming into his Bluetooth: THERE’S NO TIME!
When Sligh Relaxes
...but that speed doesn’t necessarily apply in multiplayer. There are two reasons for that.
First, multiplayer in the absence of combo tends to run a little longer than duels. That’s easily explained by the fact that there’s just more to kill in multiplayer. As I’m overly fond of saying, in a duel your deck has to deal 20 damage, but in a multiplayer game it has to do at least 40. And Wizards knows all too well that this extra life slows things down – witness the recent Two-Headed Giant tournament ruling, where everyone now starts at 30 life instead of 40.
But there’s also the fact that coming blazing out of the gates in multiplayer means less, because you can disrupt less. It doesn’t matter what the heck you do to yourself in a duel; as long as your opponent’s at -1 life, who cares if you’re at 1 life and have no permanents? You’ve won. You can scrape yourself to the bone.
In multiplayer, finishing off Freddy First Opponent and being at one life with no permanents means Sammy Second Opponent will clean your clock. You can’t afford to go the Sligh take-no-prisoners route, where you deplete all of your resources; you need to hold something back for the long game, or you’sa dead.
What that means is in multiplayer, “speed” takes a back seat to “strength.” It’s better to have powerful cards than it is to have fast cards.
Now, that’s not an absolute! Silly players may take the Sligh theory into the current Standard environment and build a deck that’s mostly one- and two-drops... But they will find themselves outmatched, because even though “speed” is more important in duels, “power” still has a significant role to play. Likewise, building a multiplayer deck that’s all seven-mana spells will lead to ruin. There’s a balance to be had.
But your mana curve can be a little chunkier than it would be in a duel. It almost has to be, because you’re going to need the maximum amount of power to turn the tables your way.
That’s the first reason that echo’s nice in multiplayer. In a duel, spending two turns – the first turn to play it, the second to pay the echo – to put out a big creature would normally leave you a threat behind, as your opponent casts two spells to your one.
But things are a little slower here. You can burn a turn to put out something echoey and happy.
If it was just that, then echo still wouldn’t be that good. But there are three other rules of multiplayer theory that account for echo’s strength:
The “Wider Targets” Rule
In a duel, if you spend a turn to play some echo creature, chances are darned fine that your opponent will kill or bounce it. I mean, why not? What else do they have to do? There’s one guy to kill, and you’re it, so why not mess with your dudes?
Oh, what the hell. If it’s not bothering you, let it live.
That explains why your creatures are more likely to be killed in duels. You’re the single target. Whereas in multiplayer, the drawback of echo – namely, you can waste two turns playing it and then watch it get offed – is a lot less. When Dragons and Akromae and Stuffy Dolls are on the way, is a Flamecore Elemental really worth the expenditure?
Which means that an echo creature is much more likely to survive and be worth your mana investment. That’s good.
The Early Deterrent Rule
In a multiplayer game, it’s good to have an early defense that’s strong but not overwhelming. If you don’t play anything until turn six, there’s a good chance that everyone will puppy-pile your defenseless butt until you’re dead.
The reason people have car alarms is not because it’s a foolproof way of deterring thieves. It is because all other things being equal, a thief will trigger a car alarm and then figure, “Hell with this, there are quieter cars I can steal.”
Echo helps you to have an early defense that is stronger than anything anyone else has on the table, because echo cards are by definition more potent than a normal card of their mana cost. That’s good.
The Recyclability Rule
In a five-player game, your opponents will collectively be drawing four cards for every card that you draw. That’s an overwhelming advantage for them, even if they’re not all ganging up on you; yeah, you can play the GIGANTIC OVERWHELMINGLY POWERFUL SPELL in your hand, but with four players drawing cards every turn there’s a good chance that someone will pluck an answer for it.
You’re outmatched from the get-go in multiplayer. Thus, your only chance is to build a deck for brute efficiency – something that can win the long grind of attrition wars and come out on top. As such, the best multiplayer decks feature three things:
A Sadder Rule
Remember when I said that it was a lot less likely that your echo creatures would be targeted? Unfortunately, the “Card Advantage” rule here is at odds with that: While your creatures are a lot less likely to be targeted, they’re much more likely to die to a Damnation or a Barter in Blood or a Sulfurous Blast or some other global destruction spell, simply because there are more players to cast spells like that and those spells are so good in multiplayer. But I didn’t say that echo creatures were perfect for multiplayer... Merely that they were good.
• Recyclability. If someone kills your dude, as they inevitably will, who cares? You have a way of getting it back. Good multiplayer decks can reuse cards multiple times, either with self-retrieving critters like Eternal Dragon or with graveyard recursion spells like Academy Ruins.
• Card Advantage. It’s the classic example in the “Card Advantage 101” seminar: Your one Wrath of God card can kill three of your opponent’s creature cards. Thus, playing cards that affect multiple targets at once is a Good Thing, given that you’ll be outdrawn every time.
• Multiplicity*: If you can only play one card at a time, make sure that card can do multiple things at once. Howzabout a Firemaw Kavu, which can destroy at least two creatures and block or attack to potentially off a third? Or a Subterranean Shambler, which will destroy all those Saproling tokens not once but twice... Or a Crater Hellion to destroy everything four toughness or less? Or a Bone Shredder to destroy someone’s dude, or a Multani’s Acolyte to draw a card, or a Hunting Moa to make your guys bigger or trigger Simic events, or....
So let’s sum up:
• Speed is less of a factor in multiplayer.
• Your echo creatures are less likely to be targeted, so they’re probably not wastes of mana.
• They’re good early deterrents.
• They’re awesome sources of card advantage.
• They’re awesome sources of card advantage.
Now do you understand why echo is pretty nifty?
What’s that? You want examples? Oh, fine. And one of them is even Standard-legal! (See, Unca Ferrett listens.)
This first deck is a slow controllish build revolving around re-using effects to destroy your opponents – some of them are cool echo effects, others are just standard ol’ effects. Check it out.
The goal with this deck is to stall and destroy your opponents’ creatures – which means that if the bulk of your opponents are packing combo decks or decks featuring heavy creature destruction elements, this is probably not the deck for you. But if you’ve been swarmed by Saprolings and gigantic critters lately, you may want to take a look.
This deck has a couple of routes to victory, depending on your style:
1) Buy time until Akroma, Angel of Wrath shows up, then mop the floor with her. Yeah, that’s how broken that silly little Angel is in multiplayer; sometimes, she just wins.
2) Brightflame for a zillion life by wiping out someone’s opposing army, then lay down a Volcano Hellion. If necessary, rinse and repeat by returning the Hellion to your hand and then doing it again.
3) Attack with your dudes, pounding them with double-striking Stonecloakers.
• Magus of the Disk does not sacrifice himself to use his ability, so you can pay the one mana to put the “Destroy all creatures” effect on the stack, then Whitemane Lion him back to your hand. You’ll lose the Lion, natch, but that’s a small price to pay for a reusable Wrath of God.
• Do I really need to mention that a single Whitemane Lion can reuse Firemaw Kavu, so that you can simply pay to deal 4 damage to something and not bother to pay the Kavu’s echo cost?
• Subterranean Shambler and Crovax can do a surprisingly efficient job of wiping out a troublesome army of 2/2s, assuming they’re not white.
• Remember, Stonecloaker’s in there not only to serve as a nasty flier, but to help shut down any recursion engines. Think carefully about what card in a graveyard you’ll be removing.
• If you absolutely, positively have to have a card survive until your next turn (like Magus of the Disk), don’t just throw it on the table. If you can, wait until you have a trick like Dawn Charm or Bathe in Light, and play it with two mana free.
That said, think carefully about your opening hand with this deck, as it’s both mana-hungry and mildly prone to early-game stall. You need lots of mana to get this running, so don’t keep a mana-light hand – and if you get the “all bounce creatures” hand of multiple Lions and Stonecloakers, don’t be afraid to throw it back, either.
The other deck, which is distinctly not Standard-legal, is a deck that I’ve been playing for over seven years – meet Señor Stompy!
Yeah, I know – it’s sixty-five cards. I probably should trim it down to sixty (or perhaps sixty-two, in honor of Wakefield’s classic “Secret Force” deck), but this deck’s just so fun to play I can’t decide what to throw out.
The theme of this deck is the quick rush, and like the previous W/R package it too struggles to win when playing against multiple destruction-heavy decks. But in a small, four-player game it can often prove to be overwhelming.
The theme is simple:
1) Get out your elves. Make a lot of mana with Priest of Titania and Rofellos, and draw some cards with Multani’s Acolyte. If you’re lucky, you get Gaea’s Cradle and just explode in green.
2) Play Stampeding Serow (I play with Stampeding Wildebeests, but the effect is the same). Don’t attack just yet unless the path is absolutely clear; spend a few turns recycling Wall of Blossoms and Multani’s Acolytes to draw a boatload of cards.
3) When you’re ready, either hard-cast a big fatty (you’ll have the mana) or attack with a swarm of weenies and Vitalizing Wind them out of existence. They never see it coming, and be sure to use Rancor to maximize that ugly trample damage.
No, what will kill you here is targeted destruction. The guys in my group know that Stampeding Serow is the lynchpin of the deck and target it appropriately (though this deck can trip over accidental wins with third-turn Natural Order into Multani, whoops, sorry about that Mister Blue Bouncy Guy With No Defenders).
The two echo creatures don’t seem like much, but with Serow they’re huge, getting you tons of cards and creating big ol’ armies of 2/2s with Deranged Hermit. (I used to have Hunting Moa in here until I discovered the Overrun power of Kamahl, but the Moa is also quite nice at swelling little 2/1 Acolytes into Rancored, unstoppable beasts.) Good stuff, baby. Good stuff.
|* Yes, I know that multiplicity does not mean “multiple uses.” It just sounds cool. Leave me be! And yes, I know this is pretty much the same concept as “Card Advantage,” but I draw a slight distinction between a card that can destroy multiple cards in one shot and is then used up (like Wrath of God) and another that can destroy multiple cards and remain around to do damage. Alas, classic card theorists make no distinctions in this. Perhaps they are far wiser than I am.|