Commander (2014 Edition): Multiplayer Edition, Part 1

Posted in Serious Fun on November 11, 2014

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

I like to take each set of cards and look through them for the multiplayer goodies. There are cards that are good in multiplayer and duels, but I want to focus on the cards that really shine in multiplayer games. The cards that are better when you add more players.

Not surprisingly, there are quite a few in a Commander product, so this is going to be a two-parter. I'll cover white, blue, and artifacts this time around with black, red, and green coming down the road (likely early December). Let's get started!

The Offering Cycle

I discussed Sylvan Offering at length while previewing it, but I would be remiss not to mention the cards here. The Offerings provide an interesting dynamic we haven't seen much in multiplayer games. In duels, the Offerings are simply cards that gives you both the benefit or punishment. It is up to the player casting the card to create a situation where he or she best takes advantage of the new board state. Everyone suffers equally when Balance is played, but if your deck is ready for it and it happens exactly when you want it to happen, equal is anything but.

In multiplayer, the Offerings can be thought of the same way—the caster being best prepared for the new board state. It also offers the chance to gift someone, playing a political game, or working with a particular opponent (or opponents) against a single player. While there will be times when you have an Offering in hand and wished that you were the only one getting the benefit, I'm looking forward to those interesting situations where these cards shine.

Deploy to the Front

In many multiplayer groups, Congregate is among the most hated cards. Congregate gives the caster 2 life per creature in play. Some of you, whose games are awash with mass-removal spells, don't really understand why that would be a big deal. To the rest of us, whose four- and five-player games often involve 30 or more creatures, Congregate is just miserable. While I understand that some players scoff at cards that just gain life, lifegain in those kinds of numbers can give players time to rebuild defenses or make all-out attacks without worrying about dying to the counterattack. Congregate is miserable.

So instead of a massive lifegain, Deploy to the Front offers creatures. Which would you rather have, a 1/1 creature or 2 life? A 1/1 creature can chump block much larger creatures, or attack, while 2 life is lost very quickly. In those 30-creature games, would you rather have an impressive 60 life or 30 1/1s? Don't forget that if you are running Deploy to the Front, you are probably running some way to pump your creatures.

Oh, and if you have a second Deploy to the Front...

And for the doubters, I understand Congregate only costs four mana and is an instant, so you could cash it out at just the right moment. There will be times when a seven-mana sorcery just won't be as good. Token creatures are also vulnerable to mass removal, but if there were already that many creatures on the battlefield, wouldn't the mass removal have been played? I can see Deploy to the Front bringing many games to a quick end, particularly when it is followed up by...

Fell the Mighty

When I was talking about the Offerings, I mentioned how they were similar to cards that provided the same effect for every player, but that the imbalance comes because player casting it is better prepared for it. This is where Fell the Mighty lands. It is a mass-removal spell designed for the player who is running smaller creatures. This is the mass-removal spell that doesn't force you to wait until your next turn to attack. Many times, I would carefully set up a Day of Judgment, holding creature cards in my hand, waiting for the turn where I could maximize the card. I would see my opening and wipe the board, then use my remaining mana to cast a creature or two, hoping to swing the next turn at all the overextended players. By the time I could attack, at least a couple of my opponents were still vulnerable, but a couple others had recovered better than I had hoped. This would often leave me with only a very weak attack, and thinking that my time would have been better spent just creating a more powerful board state.

Fell the Mighty gets around that. Play it, then equip your smaller creatures and lay a beating on those opponents relying on Demons, Angels, and Sphinxes. Fell the Mighty isn't going to fit in every white deck you build, but where it does fit, it will work far better than Day of Judgment or other, less particular mass-removal spells.

Domineering Will

I understand that this spell doesn't give you creatures to use on the attack. The idea that this card is only good on defense turns many players off. I too prefer cards that are flexible and offer a variety of uses. Consider these options:

1. Blocking

This is the most obvious of the choices. You are just taking the three best creatures available and using them to block. This is the "saving your skin" option. You really aren't concerned with the creatures themselves, you just want three dudes to stand in front of attackers. If they happen to die, all the better. This isn't an exciting option, but it is practical and gets the job done.

2. Stopping an attack

Domineering Will says that you gain control of nonattacking creatures. When you don't want a player to attack, or more specifically, to attack you, don't wait until after combat has started and attackers are declared to use Domineering Will. Cast it during his or her first main phase, when all creatures are nonattacking creatures! You can take away his or her three best attackers. Your opponents will know that if they attack you, their creatures will likely die to their own creatures. They may not even attack anyone else if taking their three best creatures has left them unable to make effective attacks.

3. Destroying the worst creatures on the battlefield

The opponent with a creature that just constantly regenerates? The Avatar of Woe that keeps killing your best creatures? The Eldrazi that threatens to end the game for everyone? If these creatures don't die while blocking, they'll die fast enough to Carnage Alter or whatever sac outlet[1] you are running. In this case, you are using Domineering Will as a kill spell for those creatures you just can't seem to get dead through normal means.

4. Opening up an opponent

Domineering Will gives you a way to eliminate an opponent's defenses. In this case, you are using it on your turn. You simply take the creatures just to get them out of the way of your attackers. Most players have a rough time dealing with an attack when their three best blockers suddenly disappear. I recommend giving the creatures to someone who can eliminate them. If you aren't running a sac outlet (and if you're running Domineering Will, why aren't you?), certainly someone else on the board is and would love to have three creatures to churn away.

5. Helping a potential ally

There are times when you are going to want to see someone survive an attack they have no business surviving. Domineering Will says "target player" for a reason. Whether you are giving your own creatures to someone else to try and keep him or her in the game, or giving a different player's creatures to someone to help him or her to survive, Domineering Will is a great way to make friends and keep allies alive.

Dulcet Sirens

Just as Domineering Will lets you take creatures that are "reluctant" to get involved in combat and force them into the breach, Dulcet Sirens forces opponents into bad attacks. Cards like Alluring Siren and Courtly Provocateur also force opponents' creatures into combat, but the Dulcet Sirens forces the creature to attack a particular opponent. In multiplayer games, you'll often find at least one opponent who can be attacked without any loss to you. That player who is mana-screwed or flooded. It makes the Siren's ability not all that exciting when you force a wimpy utility creature to attack and all it does is leave that creature tapped. You wanted it dead!

Dulcet Sirens forces the creature to attack an opponent with a deathtouch creature, or a creature with first strike. When you want a creature gone, it is gone!

It can also be used to force a creature that you are vulnerable to...go elsewhere. Akroma, Angel of Wrath was probably going to attack you this turn, but you can just send it elsewhere. Again and again and again. Dance puppet! Dance!

Assault Suit

I like how this works in multiplayer games. Assuming you don't need the equipped creature to block, you can give it to your opponent in the hopes he or she will attack with it. So what sort of creatures do you want to give to your opponents?

My friend Uriah previewed Assault Suit and he suggested Phage the Untouchable. Having Phage attack someone on every person's turn does sound like a great option!

The downside to the card is that it doesn't force your opponents to use it. If they want, they can just let it sit there. That seems pretty boring, so I looked at creatures that must attack every turn. A Darksteel Juggernaut seems like a good, straightforward plan. Dauthi Slayer would likely mean at least one of your opponents is taking 4 damage on each player's turn. Ulamog's Crusher must attack every turn, and an opponent would have to suffer the annihilate 2 not just on your turns. My personal favorite is Emberwilde Caliph. Your opponents will be attacking each other and the controller of the Caliph also takes damage.

Another option during Commander games is to use your commander! Commander damage counts no matter who controls the commander, so if your commander is attacking on each player's turn, the commander damage has a good chance of quickly hitting 21. I recommend Zurgo Helmsmasher. Your opponents have to attack with him and, since they control him, he will always be indestructible and will likely see many +1/+1 counters due to his frequent attacks. Animar, Soul of Elements is another, more dangerous option. Your opponents will either not cast spells, reluctant to return a bigger Animar to you, or they will cast cheaper spells and give you a big fat Animar. This is a dangerous play, but it will certainly make things interesting.

Crown of Doom

When I do these lists, I always like to include one card as a warning. Here is your warning.

Crown of Doom sounds great. You pay three mana to cast it and two more to give it to one of your opponents. Then everyone who attacks that player sees their creatures get a big bonus. I'm betting you'll even play a deck with many smaller creatures, so you get an even bigger benefit from Crown of Doom. This all sounds great.

What really happens? You spend three mana to cast it and two more to give it to one of your opponents. Once you've done that, you have completely lost control of it. Crown of Doom becomes a hot potato for your opponents to pass around and you have no say. The controller chooses a player, other than you, to wear the Crown. Who these players choose may benefit you or it may not.

The tricky part of the Crown lies in your seating arrangement. Let's take a five-player game as an example, with the standard clockwise turn rotation. If you are Mrs. White and you cast Crown of Doom, giving it to Mrs. Peacock, what happens? You can attack Mrs. Peacock and get the benefit the Crown offers, then Mrs. Peacock gets to go. She pays two and passes the card elsewhere. If you were hoping to make Peacock suffer, don't count on it.

In that same seating arrangement, if you give the Crown to Mr. Green, you'll get to attack him with the Crown's benefit, and so will Peacock, Mr. Black, and Miss Scarlett before Mr. Green can get rid of the Crown. After this round, you will once again lose control.

The Crown of Doom can make for an interesting sub game, but unless you don't mind who is wearing it, don't bother.

And that wraps up Part 1. Hardly a complete list, but we hit on the interesting ones. We'll see what the other colors have to offer in Part 2!

Bruce Richard

1: A "sac outlet" is a card that gives you a way to sacrifice a creature for some benefit. Sac outlets are commonly seen in decks that run a combo, where the sac outlet converts creatures into another resource needed for the combo. Many players run sac outlets as a way to kill creatures they have stolen or borrowed from opponents, or as a way to keep their valuable creatures from falling into enemy hands. (return)

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