You Decide

Posted in Serious Fun on February 26, 2008

By The Ferrett

Today, I'm going to try an experiment: Rather than showing you a deck and telling you how it works, I'm going to show you three decks that I played last Tuesday, at my house, on Magic night.

The trick? I want you to guess how well each deck did.

It's not that difficult. You can often see a deck's strengths and weaknesses just by looking at what's in it—the card choices will tell you where it's vulnerable and where it's unbeatable. So instead of having me tell you what works in multiplayer, I'd like you to use your own brain cells. Tell me how each of these decks are likely to fare in a five-man game!

Goblin_GameOur playgroup last Tuesday had five players, if you include me. We play Legacy-legal decks, but we generally don't have to sweat the banned list, since we do play casually. Our decks run the lifespan of Magic; Paul has a complete set of every Magic set ever printed, Ian and I have a good (but not thorough) selection of cards dating back to Beta, whereas Jack and Adam make do with handfuls of more recent cards.

Combo shows up occasionally, but is generally frowned upon as a constant choice. We swap decks between every game, unless someone just wants to give a fun deck a second chance.

I could tell you about the players—and will, when discussing the aftermath—but ultimately, that doesn't have much to do with how the deck itself would fare. And no worries—I didn't get manascrewed in any of these games.

Ready? Let's go.

Deck #1

Hey, It's a Deck

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I wanted to make this from the day I first saw Grimoire Thief, and I finally made it happen. It's obviously a mill-and-fill deck, with an unbounded Millstone combo in the form of Intruder Alarm / Drowner of Secrets / Stonybrook Schoolmaster.

In case you don't see it, it works like this:



Stonybrook Schoolmaster
But aside from that, you can use Grimoire Thief to target the player you've elected Most Likely to Have Have-to-Counter Stuff. (Try the guy you suspect has mass removal.)

This deck's a little inconsistent due to me not having all the cards that I'd like to. For example, it really does need 4 Sensei's Divining Top to keep the card quality going (this deck, with the notable big exception, functions fine on three mana, but it wants to keep the Merfolk on top to trigger the Ink Dissolvers), but all my spare Tops are in other decks. (I'd probably cut the Merrow Harbingers and perhaps Intuition—a good card, but when I'm playing it it pretty much telegraphs that I'm going for the combo.)

Likewise, if I had multiple Merfolk Looters, I'd probably use them. And I wasn't sure which of the many white save-something instants would be helpful, so I sort of stuffed them all in. But the core's pretty solid.

But that's Deck #1. So how do you think this would fare at a five-man multiplayer table?

What I Thought Would Happen

I was pretty sure this deck would be a spectacular failure. Yes, it mills very efficiently, but it has a couple of key weaknesses:


  • It has no defense whatsoever... and really, there's not much room to squeeze it in. You can try Propaganda, of course, which helps a little, but what do you cut? The spot removal? The actual Merfolk? You don't have much space.
  • It's tremendously vulnerable to mass removal. You can counter it, of course, but if more than one player packs Wrath of God effects or Pyroclasm, you're going out with a bang.
  • Say, what does this deck do against fliers? Not much.

The core's pretty solid; there's just not enough room to address all of the vulnerabilities here. Then again, I don't build all of my decks for Maximum Power. I thought this would just be fun to play, and to watch how the other players reacted when I dropped a Forced Fruition onto the field.

This deck would have a great effect on the board. But unless I got the combo out—which, given that it's vulnerable to spot removal, I doubted—then I was pretty sure it'd mill a ton of cards, then go out under the collective bootheel of an enraged table.

What Did Happen

This deck turned out to be a kingmaker, but—as predicted!—a glorious, glorious failure.

It went about innocuously enough. Ian was playing Elves, Adam was playing Kithkin, Jack was playing his white-red Earthquake deck, and Paul was playing a crazy Slate of Ancestry / Saprolings / Day of the Dragon deck.


Grimoire Thief
We all built our armies quietly, but I began with a Grimoire Thief and made the first of two major mistakes: when I tapped it, I targeted Adam.

Because I saw white from Adam, I immediately thought he was playing his Karma / Magical Hack deck, which is massively annoying and whose counterspells would ultimately interfere with my plans more than Jack's global destruction would.

Instead, I grabbed a handful of Kithkin. I was not pleased. Neither was Adam, as he attacked me down to 14 before I clogged up the ground with a bunch of tokens, courtesy of a Schoolmaster. Ian, sensing the Merfolk Threat, tried to attack for near-fatal damage with a Wirewood Pride, but a Pollen Lullaby (losing the clash) stopped him.

I began my milling process, targeting Ian because he'd hit me. Paul, meanwhile, had Natural Ordered into Verdant Force and was drawing tons of cards off of Slate of Ancestry, which was just fine by me. He'd be an easy mill target.

Jack put down a Bloodfire Colossus, which I couldn't counter despite having fifteen cards underneath the Thief. I thought my army was soon to die... But I was wrong. I was about to die.

Ian's hand was forced. Paul had just summoned an army of eight Dragons courtesy of Day of the Dragons and eight Saproling tokens. So Ian fired off a Hurricane for 15, killing everyone but Adam and himself. In response, out of revenge, I milled Ian's library down to four cards.

Adam merely had to Not Lose in the next four turns... Which he did. He won in the ruins of everyone else thanks to my colossal decking and Ian's colossal Hurricane, but hey! A victory's a victory.


Deck #2


It's Rogue Week at And though I'm not officially tasked with the job, I want in on this Rogue action, courtesy of the amazingly powerful Notorious Throng!

The Rouge Deck

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I call this deck "The Rouge Deck" because back when I edited full-time, handling all the reader submissions, I was always, always hearing about "rouge decks" that would break the local Standard scene wide open.


Notorious Throng
They meant a "rogue" deck, of course—an effective, tight little deck that nobody had foreseen, like a burglar in the night. But they kept typing "rouge," and I was always, always amused by the idea of people touching up their deck with makeup and face powder before bringing it to the tournament.

"My pretty deck," they'd whisper, rubbing the sleeves with lip gloss. "My pretty, pretty deck..."

This deck's power comes from two cards: Oona's Blackguard and Notorious Throng. I first learned of the Throng's power in a triple-Morningtide draft, where I plucked a Throng out of my first pack and never looked back. And it won me several games that I would have lost.

Time Walks with tokens? Not bad in multiplayer. Especially when, courtesy of a shadowed-up Infiltrator il-Kor and a forestwalking Boggart Loggers (potentially made even worse by a Stinkdrinker Bandit), I could potentially get ten 2/2 flying tokens that make people discard things.

W00t! I'll steal a victory, baby!

That's Deck #2. So how do you think this would fare at a five-man multiplayer table?

What I Thought Would Happen

Again, this was designed to be a fun deck, not a powerhouse deck. Because it makes one of the classic errors of a bad multiplayer deck:

It assumes it's going to carry out its own plan.

Aside from the pricey Violet Pall, I have no way whatsoever to interfere with my opponents' plans. If they clear the board? I'd better draw more stuff. If they strip my hand? No help. If they drop an Ensnaring Bridge or some ridiculous enchantment? Mise well pack it up.

This has a strong plan when it fires, but I'm at the mercy of whatever my opponents do.

Plus, this is extremely vulnerable to board-clearing effects. It relies on having several dudes on the table at once. In an environment without a Wrath of God, this could be awe-inspiring... but I wasn't betting on that happening any time soon.

If I lucked out and nobody had Wrath of God, then I'd probably win. If not, then it relied on what other players brought to the table.

What Did Happen

As it turns out, my opponents did pack mass removal. But it was the wrong type of mass removal. And as such, the entire game was settled by one card.

I forget what Ian was playing, and Adam was playing his annoying Magical Hack-style deck this time around. I got out some quick Infiltrator il-Kors and started beating down, with Notorious Throng in the wings and waiting to go.

That's when Paul shrugged and said, "I'm probably handing the game to somebody else, but hey—it's fun!"



Paul didn't have anything notable out. (I think he had a crap hand and was hoping he'd rebuild faster, then maybe topdeck a Swords to Plowshares to play with a single Plains.) But Jack did have something notable, since he was playing his green-black deck: Vulturous Zombie. And lo, a 26/26 Vulturous Zombie was a little too much for anyone to handle.

I got in a few attacks, but Oona's Prowler chump-blocked and then I died. Ian died. Then Paul died.

Adam, who was lucky enough to have out a Circle of Protection: Black and had a Signet on the table, stalled Jack for the next several turns. (Ian, Paul, and I played and finished a full three-man game while waiting for that game to end.) Jack couldn't draw his enchantment removal to save his life—quite literally—and packed it in after Adam got a Capsize online with enough mana to buy it back.

But as predicted, it lost. If I'd had the space to squeeze in a counterspell or two—maybe Faerie Trickery, just to keep the theme—then it might have gone differently. But I don't know how Rogue that is!

Deck #3


My old green-black deck is one of my classics – heck, I wrote about it in my second Serious Fun column. But I had a bunch of good green and black cards lying about, and I wanted to build another green-black deck.

The problem, as usual, was that I had too many good cards. I wanted to stuff the 4 Grim Feast in there, but how could I also get my Krosan Tuskers and my Cranial Extractions and my Dreads and my Phthisiseseses all in there?

I looked at various builds for a long time, but the problem was that these were cool cards. I was itching to play with them. Leaving any of them out just seemed to be missing the point, but I had to leave them out or reduce them to a pitiful one-of.

One-of. That was the word. Why not build a Highlander deck? There can only be one of each non-basic land card! It'd be uneven, sure, but then I could play with lots of cards—and better yet, it'd never play out the same way twice! And I like that idea.


The Other Green Meat

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That's Deck #3. So how do you think this would fare at a five-man multiplayer table?

What I Thought Would Happen

I put it together, and the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. It was going to be an erratic deck, of course—I had no tutoring to get cards on demand, and with a Highlander deck I couldn't count on redundancy—but it had a lot of power. There were a lot of cards that could swing the game on their own, some global removal, and a fair amount of recursion.

Aside from being a little too erratic for its own good, this one hewed pretty closely to the best principles of multiplayer: Recurse, thin, and control. So assuming it didn't get kayoed by mana, I thought it would do pretty well for a collection of random rares.

What Did Happen


As it turned out, this deck's success was based on three key factors:


  1. The power of Genesis;
  2. Friendly politics;
  3. A pair of key wrong decisions by Adam.

But let's outline what was happening.

Ian was playing his surprisingly effective red-green beatdown deck (which has one of Ian's highest win records, and I'll have to get his decklist the next time I talk about aggro in multiplayer). Adam was playing his blue-black "kill 'em and steal 'em" deck, which kills and/or Bribery and/or Control Magics whatever you have.

Paul was playing a contraption filled with too many Propagandas and Ghostly Prisons, and little weenie guys. We couldn't figure out what his theme was, but this was Paul. His decks are usually too good for the table—so far above that generally, we smash them down. He's good about it, though.

And Jack was playing blue.

Let me reiterate that: JACK was playing BLUE.

You have to understand that Jack is our beatdown player. His decks always smash face one way or another, hulking with large creatures. He's the sole aggro guy in a sea of control decks, and he cuts our game speed in half. He is, as he's so fond of judging other decks, "completely metal."

So for him to break out a blue deck was worthy of note. We all gasped. Our boy Jack was branching out.

The beatings started early. I got out a Wall of Roots for defense, and Ian—sensing nowhere else to go with an early Predatory Hungered Kird Ape—went for undefended Jack.

"Way to go, Ian," I said. "Jack breaks out a blue deck for the first time, and this is how you reward him? Nice job."

Ian admitted it wasn't exactly Pavlovian.

I was happy. I'd gotten out a Dirtcowl Wurm—or, as Paul referred to it, "the moo cow"—and it was swelling to gigantic proportions. Then Adam stole it. Worse, Adam then played Animate Dead on Paul's plainscycled Eternal Dragon and hit me for four.

"You sure you want to do that?" I asked. "There are other threats."

"I always hit you first," he replied, making his first mistake. "It's the smart move."

"Fine," I said. "You won't have another creature for the rest of the game."

I do believe in tailored vindictiveness as a useful function in multiplayer. If someone won't leave you alone, make their lives miserable until they stop picking upon you. And so I ignored everyone else and set out to destroy Adam.

I Shriekmawed his Eternal Dragon. Then I chump blocked the Wurm (after he Ray of Commanded my Saber Ants) and played Genesis.

Naturally, he stole it, tapping out to do so then passing the turn to Jack. Jack tapped an Island.

"Don't cast a creature," I said, holding up my hand. "Just trust me."

"Really?" Jack said. And indeed, Adam had walked straight into my Damnation, which allowed me to recurse my Shriekmaw the next turn with Genesis, ready to kill anything else he played and/or stole. Which I did. Then did again. And again. I'd forgotten just how strong Genesis could be in the late game!

Adam, in an attempt to recover, played Bribery. And it was there that he made his second mistake: Rather than targeting me, the guy with plenty of ugly one-of black and green fatties, he went after Paul.

Which is understandable. Paul has Very Expensive Decks. He's a die-hard collector, and in fact he is so amazingly generous he gifted me with two Kokusho, the Evening Stars at the beginning of the game session simply because I'd said I was still in search of a full set. His decks aren't always Power Nine-worthy, but he owns several sets of the Power Nine and plays with them.

So choosing to go after Paul wasn't indefensible. After all, if tradition was to be upheld, Adam would get a powerful, rare guy. But the best creature he could fetch was Zur the Enchanter, because all of Paul's guys had a power of one.

See, Paul's deck turned out to be a rather fiendish combination of Zur the Enchanter and other one-power creatures (including Bone Shredder), ultimately culminating in an Altar of Dementia and....

...wait for it...


Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker
Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker.

"The new and improved Lifeline!" Paul cried happily as he began sacrificing his creatures at the end of every turn to the Altar, bringing back the Bone Shredder to kill everybody's creatures, and milling everyone fiercely. And Shizo, Death's Storehouse, that happy scrappy caretaker, returned them all with ease.

I put a stop to it with a Decree of Pain, drawing three cards in the process. (Needless to say, he sacrificed all his guys in response.) And then I got a Deathrender down on a Weatherseed Treefolk, making for an ugly choice: kill the 7/5 trampler and let me put something from my hand into play (and get the Weatherseed back), or let the 7/5 do its work?

Sure enough, Adam chose to take down the Treefolk, and I in turn put the Avatar of Might out. That, plus some Caller of the Claw tokens, finished Adam off.

Oh, I could have attacked someone else. In fact, the fact that it now cost eight mana per man to attack Paul (thanks to three Propagandas and a Windborn Muse) probably made Paul target #1. But I had told Adam that I would cost him the game, and I meant it. Next, I took out Ian, just because I could and an aggro deck is not something I wanted to tamper with.

After the dust had settled, I was down to 5 life. Not a good place. And that's when politics began to win.

See, Jack was unwittingly the kingmaker now. I doubt he knew it—heck, I wouldn't have known—but he probably could have reduced me to 3, making it a lot harder to commit enough for me to get past Paul's defense.

Yet Jack had the ultimate tech against Paul (and, seemingly, our whole table): Reduce to Dreams. He returned everything to Paul's hand, and then—not only because I had shamed Ian away from him for a bit, but because I'd warned him about my Damnation—he took Paul out instead of going after me.

He knew that taking me out was probably the right choice. But he went for Paul. And then, two turns later, I'd demolished him and taken the game.

Wee haw.

(For the record, we played four games that night—I won two [including one that I shouldn't have thanks to a freakish run where Paul only drew four lands over the course of sixteen turns], Adam won two [including the mop-up scenario from the Merfolk deck], and Paul won one. Ian usually does a lot better.)

Bonus Question

If Adam had targeted me with Bribery, what creature should he have gone for? Here's what was left in my deck at that point:

1 Krosan Tusker
1 Spike Cannibal
1 Phthisis
1 Wall of Souls
1 Dread
1 Golgari Guildmage
1 Big Game Hunter
1 Vhati il-Dal
1 Nezumi Graverobber
1 Weatherseed Treefolk
1 Cranial Extraction
1 Diabolic Edict
1 Constant Mists
1 Engineered Plague
1 Grave Pact
1 Grim Feast
1 Tsabo's Decree
1 Twilight's Call
1 Liliana Vess

I have my own choice... And in fact, I think it's the clear winner. But discuss in the forums.

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