Never give up.
Quitters never win.
You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.
We've heard these statements repeatedly throughout our lives, but many don't seem to realize that these words of wisdom don't just apply to goals in life (and hockey). These words also apply to multiplayer Magic.
Too many players draw a card and all but give up. You can see the player's shoulders slump, get the disgusted look on his or her face, and then slam down the card he or she just drew with the other sixteen lands already in play. "That's it, I'm done," the player announces, scooping up cards. The player looked at the board position and it is apparent there is nothing he or she can do to stop Tyler from winning the game. Even if Josh has a way to stop Tyler, it just means Josh will let Tyler kill the player first, then take down Tyler. The situation is hopeless. There is nothing in the player's deck that will save him or her from inevitable demise, so he or she concedes.
Someday, I'll discuss why conceding is just a poor sporting attitude, but let's consider the situation we described above. What if Josh had drawn Final Judgment? It would reset the board, and our Conceder would have given up a chance to start from scratch.
In many games, your opponents are not always your opponents. While alliances may not last forever, there are plenty of times when they last long enough. An opponent who doesn't want to see you dead might be willing to use Phelddagrif to give you several 1/1 Hippo tokens to survive the coming attack. There are plenty of cards that allow one of your opponents to give you a helping hand. So even in situations where your deck offers you no hope, you might still be saved by a random Sylvan Offering.
I can't tell you how much I love cards like this. Death by Dragons was an instant favorite for me, as it took full advantage of multiple opponents. Sylvan Offering, part of a cycle of Offering cards, does much the same. This takes the "Hunted" cycle of creatures from Ravnica: City of Guilds and expands it into new territory. These cards offer the caster and an "opponent" a benefit. Now it is up to you to choose who else will get the benefit.
Two important things to understand about Sylvan Offering:
- You don't have to choose the same opponent for each half of the card. You can split the Treefolk and the Elf Warrior tokens between two opponents. Sometimes you want to spread the gifts around and Sylvan Offering lets you do that.
- The turn order really matters. At first glance, it appears none of the creatures have haste, but that isn't really true. If The Threat has finished his or her turn and on your turn, if you give the tokens to Amy—who is the next person to play—she can attack with those tokens on her turn. While they don't say haste, they might as well say haste to The Threat. If The Threat gets his or her turn immediately after yours, he or she will get her turn to deal with all the new Treefolk and Elves on the battlefield. Obviously, the first scenario is better for you and Amy.
Sylvan Offering is such a flexible card. Consider the following situations:
You and one or more opponents are facing a dominant player (aka "The Threat"). If you cast Sylvan Offering, making X equal six, you are putting 24 points of power onto the battlefield. It is rare that a single card can make that level of power.
You and your opponents are all on equal footing. In these situations, you have to really think about where you want those tokens to go. Do you want the player who is showing Mardu colors and is likely running Butcher of the Horde to suddenly have access to several Elf Warrior tokens? Is one opponent more likely than the others to have a counterspell or mass removal? Perhaps you can make that player a little more reluctant to use it by giving him or her something to lose? Perhaps it is best to spread the wealth, so no one opponent grows as quickly as you do.
You are The Threat. In these situations, you probably aren't all that excited to give your opponents creatures that you know you are going to have to deal with later on. This can be a problem, but we'll come back to this in a minute.
To me, there are two types of decklists where Sylvan Offering shines. The first involves your standard Group Hug deck. Your Howling Mines, Phelddagrifs, and Death by Dragons are all cards of similar style. You can build these decks in such a way that your opponents have no interest in attacking you. You are the one giving them extra lands, cards, life, and (with Sylvan Offering) creatures. You stock up and sit there with a mitt full of cards, plenty of land on the battlefield, and a quiet smile on your face as your opponents pummel each other, leaving you with a single opponent whose life total is dwindled and cards in hand are exhausted.
The other style of deck that works with Sylvan Offering is a type of Bear Hug deck. This deck does much the same thing, but basically stuffs the benefit down your throat while hurting you with it. Nekusar, the Mindrazer is an example of that style of deck. "Here, have an extra card per turn, take 2 points of damage." Pretty soon you are drawing four or five cards per turn, and taking 2 damage per card drawn.
Purphoros, God of the Forge works well with Sylvan Offering. If you cast the Offering for enough mana, you can kill everyone at the table before they can enjoy the gifts you provided them! But what happens if Purphoros doesn't kill those opponents? Giving your opponents creatures simply becomes a huge downside to the card. You might as well use Army of the Damned or White Sun's Zenith with Purphoros if that's how you intend to use Sylvan Offering.
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite offers a certain sense of satisfaction with Sylvan Offering. If you spend seven mana on Sylvan Offering, you'll get an 8/8 Treefolk and six 3/3 Elf Warriors while one of your opponents has a 4/4 Treefolk and six dead Elf Warriors. That seems fair! Although Elesh Norn is just limiting the "downside" of Sylvan Offering. Here again, going with White Sun's Zenith is still a better call. Your opponents get nothing and you get 4/4 Cats.
Blood Artist (and Suture Priest), however, are more what I want. If your opponents are going to get a prize, they need to pay the price; preferably twice with a second Blood Artist on the battlefield.
The goal of the deck is to play a large Sylvan Offering, then leave your opponents hoping you don't give them the tokens. The deck is best explained by breaking it down into its parts.
The Creature Tokens
The Priest of Titania, with the help of her varied and sundry Elf friends, will provide the mana the deck needs for a massive Sylvan Offering. The best part is that the Offering feeds itself. Casting a Sylvan Offering for just four mana adds six Elves to the battlefield. Since the Priest of Titania counts all Elves, not just yours, you'll have a minimum of seven mana coming from the Priest. If you have a Primal Vigor, things can get a lot crazier. If you repeat the scenario above, that four-mana Sylvan Offering produces twelve Elves, giving you thirteen mana from Priest of Titania for the second Sylvan Offering. That gives you 48 Elves entering the battlefield using only the mana from a Priest to cast it! Add a Suture Priest and you are gaining 26 life and an opponent could be losing 26. With that kind of crazy, you'll want to save some of that mana for a Massacre Wurm on the same turn!
I've already started explaining the Pain Package. Suture Priest is out there causing problems before Sylvan Offering is even cast, causing anguish for your opponents as soon as they receive their gifts. Blood Artist only hurts if they let their gifts die. That does seem fair; if they won't take care of your special presents, punish them! Screams from Within moves from one Elf token to the next, leaving your opponents to hear each one wail in turn; with the Blood Artist or Massacre Wurm around, your opponents will die a slow painful death for their failings. Massacre Wurm can even do the job all on its own, providing the sickness to kill the tokens and providing 2 points of life loss to the controller. Massacre Wurm has been a go-to guy for me since I first laid eyes on it.
Benefits of Sylvan Offering
I needed some Elves to pump up the Priest, so I thought I'd take advantage of Sylvan Offering here as well. Heedless One looks at all the Elves in play and gets that big. While the plan is to kill your opponents' Elves, why not attack another opponent with a massive Heedless One first? Wellwisher gives you huge life bumps, as she sees all the Elves from Sylvan Offering. This can be particularly advantageous in those situations where you are sharing your Elves with an ally and going after a shared foe. Every turn, the Wellwisher pumps up your life total, preparing you to withstand possible backstabs.
Sometimes things are not going your way. For whatever reason, you were unable to eliminate the Elves you generously gifted and now fear you may be the target of your own gift. Phyrexian Rebirth lets you reset the battlefield, leaving only your large artifact creature. I'll leave you to count the number of Elf and Treefolk tokens that died to produce your massive monstrosity. Oh, and if Primal Vigor is in play, this Horror artifact creature token will double as well!
Sylvan Offering is a great card for multiplayer games. There is always a chance you'll survive, even when you can't save yourself. Strategy, diplomacy, or just brute force destruction: Sylvan Offering can fit your style. I recommend hoarding your Elf and Treefolk tokens; you'll be needing them!
1: Wise words from The Great One, Wayne Gretzky. (return)