Adapting Netdecks For Multiplayer

Lots of netdecks – in fact, most of them – completely collapse when you bring them out of their duel environment. Let’s find out what sorts of netdecks make the transitions well – and what lessons they teach us about multiplayer deckbuilding.

“Oh,” they say, looking vaguely uncomfortable.”I didn’t bring a multiplayer deck. But I have this right here….”

They finger the freshly-sleeved deck box in their backpack confidently. It’s taken them to wins at FNM and good finished at PTQ. So this casual little table is no problem…

And if they’re stupid enough to choose the wrong deck, they get whupped.

It doesn’t help that most Standard decks are control decks of one form or another – and control decks don’t work in multiplayer. But then again, lots of netdecks – in fact, most of them – completely collapse when you bring them out of their duel environment.

So how can you adapt netdecks to multiplay? Let’s find out what sorts of netdecks make the transitions well – and what lessons they teach us about multiplayer deckbuilding.

The Lessons Of Psychatog

So let’s look at one of the two titans of Type II right now: Psychatog, Zevatog, Kaitog, Mowshowitzatog, Icopiedmydeckofftheinternetwholesaleatog, and, my favorite, Hotog – a deck I play with relish.

All of these decks have one thing in common – when you play them, everyone wants to rub your nose off with a cheese grater.

So it must be good in multiplayer, right? Well… No. In fact, Psychatog is one of the weakest Type 2 decks that you can play in multiplayer, and the reason is fairly obvious….

After 1.5x + .5y = 20 damage, you have burned up at least seven cards – and probably more, given that you’ve actually had to cast, like, other spells and stuff and protect your ‘Tog from other damage.

So you’ve burned up, say, about one-sixth of your deck permanently… To take out one opponent.

Try again. Somebody else is still there.

When you’re going multiplayer, you really need a win condition that’s easily reusable; something that you can fire, then blow the smoke off and reload. Psychatog, a creature which consumes huge amounts of resources to effectively kill someone, is a terrible creature in multiplayer.

Thorn Elemental? Yes, it costs more. Yes, you can’t pump it. Yes, it’s less defensible. But it’ll take someone out in three hits if they can’t kill it, and spike the next guy.

Do the math in multiplayer, children: Three hits and reusability is far greater than one hit and not being able to do it again.

(The lesson can be extended into, well, Extended decks – or old ones, for that matter. Combo decks can be pulled off in multiplayer, but they’d better hit multiple targets. It’s better to smash everyone simultaneously with a Replenished Pandemonium/Opalescence/Furnace of Rath combo than it is to drain them with old-school Necro. It’s better to use Pestilence in group decks, or something else that goes everywhere. In fact, pre-banning Extended decks have some of the most classic multiplayer combo decks – Fruity Pebbles, modified Necro, Replenish, and the like. Look there if you’re trying to come up with an unstoppable older deck.)

Psychatog: Out.

Trench Warfare

The other big deck of the format is CounterTrenches, which is basically a foil to Psychatog because it’s creatureless. CounterTrenches counts on stopping everything with a barrage of counterspells, then sacrifices a lot of land to create a swarm of Goblin tokens at the end of the turn.

Since everyone seems to be Xeroxing EDT to the point where he’s running out of toner, let’s look at the original deck:

4 Absorb

4 Counterspell

4 Fact or Fiction

4 Fire/Ice

3 Goblin Trenches

4 Memory Lapse

3 Prophetic Bolt

4 Repulse

2 Syncopate

2 Wrath of God

3 Adarkar Wastes

2 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

4 Coastal Tower

7 Island

3 Mountain

4 Shivan Reef

3 Skycloud Expanse

Well, once again we’re on the ol’ Psychatog problem: You can feel free to Goblinize three or four lands in a duel… But in multiplayer, that loss of mana might come back to bite you in the ass later on. But that’s not the real problem with CounterTrenches….

The problem is the fragility of its win condition.

If one Earthquake for one slips by, you’ve lost a lot of resources. A Wrath of God can destroy a lot. If someone puts out a Bloodfire Dwarf, you’re dead, for Chrissakes.

Now, let me tell you the first and most important rule about multiplayer decks: Assume that somebody will be able to destroy your cards.

Life will be a lot easier that way, trust me.

Even in a relatively small game, you have three players. That means that to stop every threat, you must have three counters. Now, that’s not strictly true, since not every player will be casting a spell every turn, nor will every spell they cast threaten your win condition – but chances are good that you’ll need to cast two counters on several consecutive turns.

There are very few decks that can do that and pack a win condition along for lunch.

CounterTrenches is custom-built for dueling in that it almost is able to counter everything that presents a threat to it. However, it can’t sustain that wall of counters against three players all seeking to beat it – and when it comes down to it, CounterTrenches has only two ways to win:

  • Three Prophetic Bolts, and:

  • A sum total of fifty-two 1/1 dorks, assuming you sacrifice every last land in the deck.

Neither of these are likely to do sixty damage in the face of constant disruption from other players.

This is not to say that you can’t build a multiplayer deck that is based around countering – you just have to construct it differently. When coming up with a multiplayer counter deck, you want something that neutralizes a couple of major win conditions – generally creatures – so you can hold your counters back for the real threats.

Good examples include:

  • Humility + Orim’s Chant, that old time-saver, makes all creatures 1/1 weenies, then gives you one life for each creature attacking. You no longer have to fear creatures.

  • Unnatural Selection + Pure Reflection allows you to turn any creature on the board into a Reflection, then destroy it for no mana. Oops.

  • Ivory Mask makes it so nobody can target you, and all that direct-damage burn just falls right off. (Just make sure you don’t rely on cards that rely upon you as a target, like Quiet Speculation.)

  • Dawn of the Dead + Any kind of sacrifice effect allows you to present a wall of threats where any attack will lead to a gigantic chain reaction, so nobody will kill you.

  • Ensnaring Bridge will allow only 6/6 creatures and under to attack you, since you’ll be holding a bunch of counterspells. Wait. That sucks. Forget I said that.

Anyway, you get the idea? There are hundreds of cards that let you ignore entire categories of threats – and once your”lock” is in place and you’ve narrowed down the number of things that propose a threat to you, hopefully only one spell at most will pose a real problem to you each turn.

Unfortunately, CounterTrenches is built around the idea that it can counter all threats and win with a fragile condition – one that also causes you to give up future turns. Doesn’t work in multiplayer.

CounterTrenches: Out.

It’s Got A Good Beats, And You Can’t Dance To It After They Burn Off Your Legs

So what’s that leave us with… Lemme see….

Oh yeah! The old standby of Red Green Beats! Let’s take a look at Robert Will’s first-place Germany deck:

2 Arrogant Wurm

4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Flametongue Kavu

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Raging Kavu

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Call of the Herd

2 Chatter of the Squirrel

4 Fiery Temper

1 Overrun

4 Urza’s Rage

9 Forest

4 Karplusan Forest

1 Keldon Necropolis

5 Mountain

Now this is a deck with some potential. For one thing, it relies on creatures and burn, which are so omnipresent that it’s barely worth mentioning as a classic strategy; creatures are the standard of wandering damage, and burn is good for taking out whiny low-lives.

Get it? Low lives? Hey, I’m funnier than corduroy pillows.

(This isn’t the best build I’ve seen – the Chatter seems like a filler card and the Fiery Tempers seem like they should be Violent Eruptions to me – but it’s good enough.)

So what’s the problem with R/G beats? It relies on fast attacks. Unlike Psychatog and CounterTrenches, this isn’t a crippling flaw… But it’ll lose you games nonetheless. A lot of R/G builds depend on attacking, attacking, attacking every turn…

Say, who’s guarding your back?

Nobody! screams R/G beats, in a voice that sounds uncannily like the Cookie Monster. I can do twenty damage before you kill me! Yaaagh! Me burny nature! Grargh! Take your shot – while you shoot, me NUKE!

That’s true. But can you do forty damage before they kill you?


Howzabout sixty damage? Can you tap all of your creatures to deal out sixty damage before everyone else smashes your sockpuppety face?

Me not sure… Um… Can me consult Elmo? Him ticklish…

Shut up.

The point is, R/G has fat creatures that are aggressive, but they always need to be turning sideways. Without defense, you’re up the creek – particularly since when you’re busy burning and stomping and Blastoderming people to death, they’ll be shooting right back.

You could probably take a good R/G beats deck to a five-player table and come in second, maybe third… But you won’t be first, because by holding back your fatties you’ll be subverting your win conditions, and vice versa. What you need is some defense.

How would I retool a Standard R/G beats deck for multiplayer? There are two ways to go:

One, you could drop the elves and maybe the Birds. Multiplayer is slower, and frankly, your need to accelerate to a second-turn Call isn’t quite as impressive when that Call has to phone home a whuppin’ two or three times as often. I’d put some wall-like creature in there like Ancient Spider, or perhaps go further back for a good green wall like Wall of Roots or Wall of Blossoms.

Or you could go with mana accelerators that gets better as the game goes on, like Werebear. Early in the game, it’s an accelerant; later on, it’s a 4/4 monster holding the home front. You can also leave all the Elves in, going with Llanowars and Quirion Elves, and then drop an Elvish Champion or two to turn them into viable late-game threats.

One other thing I’d do would be to create some reusability in your win conditions – and since speed is not of the essence, you can topload your mana curve with bigger and more impressive fatties. Nemata, Grove Guardian is a great R/G beats game-ender, mainly because she’s large and a wonderful sink for excess mana. Another option might be Nut Collector, which creates a never-ending stream of 3/3 creatures as long as you can protect it. And I already mentioned Thorn Elemental.

R/G Beats: Maybe.

Darkness Falls

Okay, we’re out of the generally-accepted top three –

(Oh, you could throw U/G tempo in there as a top deck if you wanted – but did you learn nothing about threat management? You can’t bounce three people’s creatures out of the way long enough to kill them with an Aquamoeba; it’s got the weaknesses of Psychatog and CounterTrenches. Opposition? Shut up.)

– and hey, look! We have the black forest! (Say, weren’t the black forests supposed to be in Germany?) That’s right, G/B decks. How would, say, the Brazil Regionals Champion deck work?

2 Laquatus?s Champion

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Mesmeric Fiend

3 Spiritmonger

4 Wild Mongrel

4 Beast Attack

4 Call of the Herd

4 Chainer’s Edict

4 Duress

4 Pernicious Deed

12 Forest

3 Llanowar Wastes

9 Swamp

Actually, looking at it all, not bad.

You have some large, reusable damage sources in the form of Laquatus’ Champion and Spiritmonger. You have no counters, so you don’t worry about that; in fact, all of your cards are threats.

And here’s the big thing: Remember when I told you to assume that all of your cards will be killed?

Here’s the second rule of multiplayer: Since everything gets popped eventually, the player who can recycle the best usually wins.

Now, that’s not always true – but it’s true more often than you think. If you have some form of graveyard recursion, you’re generally pretty damn well-off. And this style of deck is practically nothing but recursion – Beast Attacks! Call of the Herds! Chainer’s Edicts!

This deck is a practical bouilliabaise of two-for-ones, folks – and that’s tight in Em Pee. Not to mention the fact that by having regeneration, the high-end creatures are effectively reusable infinitely as long as you have the mana for it.

(And again, if you’re playing with older cards, you definitely want cards that recycle – there are countless ways to do this in pre-banning Extended, and you should look through the archives to see what was prevalent back then. Oath decks are still popular in multiplayer; there’s a reason for this.)

However, B/G packs some pretty sucky cards in multiplayer, too – Duress is fine when you have one target, but in multiplayer it means that you’ll be pissing off the wrong player one out of every three times. (Unless you have some method of looking at everyone’s hands, of course… But that’s a different deck.) Ravenous Rats has the same problem, and Mesmeric Fiend breaks the first rule of multiplayer.

So how would we fix that?

Well, we could make the discard global by going with Earsplitting Rats – but since our opponents choose, that’s pretty suckworthy for four mana. Probably our best bet is to take the third rule of multiplayer (wait for it) and go global.

Anthony Alongi rating Pernicious Deed the #1 gold-colored card, and by God this may be the first time he’s ever been right. It serves to warn off people, it has great synergy with the Spiritmonger, and it can handle pretty much anything. Putting four Deeds in this deck is never a bad idea. Also, since as we mentioned the top-end can be higher, you probably could go with a full compliment of Champions – but a better choice would be Crypt Angels to reanimate your critters. A Yawgmoth’s Agenda might not hurt, either… But I think frankly, you’ll be best off packing a Tsabo’s Decree for instant-speed global annihilation.

For the early game, I think we can safely replace the four Duresses with four Cremates, or perhaps Coffin Purge – in this incarnation and threshold-heavy environment, you’ll never be sad to see them, and at least they replace themselves or do it twice.

This could well be the deck that makes it all the way to the end, if you do it right.

B/G: Probably.

It Doesn’t Matter If You’re Black Or White

Strangely enough, one of the strongest multiplayer decks may well come from Alex Shvartsman – it was a much-feared deck before Regionals, but like the master of the house in a bad Agatha Christie book, it died a horrible death the night before it arrived. Let’s take a look:

14 Swamp

2 Plains

4 Tainted Field

4 Caves of Koilos

4 Nantuko Shade

4 Ravenous Rats

4 Spectral Lynx

4 Phyrexian Rager

3 Braids, Cabal Minion

2 Mortivore

4 Chainer’s Edict

4 Duress

3 Gerrard’s Verdict

4 Vindicate

Why is this so strong? Well, it’s lacking certain things, but it has two things that are very strong:

It has a global annoyance effect and a global card. Braids affects everyone. Admittedly, you’re not going to get the broken”Duress, Verdict, Vindicate, Braids” draw with this one, but making everyone sac a land every turn is not something people are used to. The core of a good deck is here. Also, you have the amazing Mortivore, which gets bigger the more graveyards there are and it regenerates. These two cards are good signs.

It’s very flexible. Creatures? Edict ’em or prevent ’em from coming out with Braids. Enchantments or artifacts? Handled.

Now, what are the problems? Well, it has Duress, Ravenous Rats, and Gerrard’s Verdict – and we just noted, single-player discard is troublesome. What could go with this deck to improve it?

Well, let’s go with something very strange that will help protect your Braids early on; Shelter. Shelter is a great surprise card, it replaces itself, and some people will always be trying to pop her at the end of the last player’s turn. We can also throw in an underlooked Type 2 card, but a great multiplayer card: Plague Spitter. Again with the global effect, we ping everyone once a turn for one card – and as an additional bonus, if you’re sick and tired of Braids, you can sac the Spitter and get rid of her with its double-upkeep ability.

Which brings us to the third rule of multiplayer: When possible, use cards that affect everyone. There’s no sense in using cards that only hit one person when you have”across the board” cards like Mortivore, Braids, and Spitter.

The last card I’d put in would be a mixture of Wrath of Gods and Tsabo’s Decrees, just to improve your total flexibility as far as creature-handling goes…. And again, maybe some limited graveyard recursion, since you have very few big threats. (The threats that you have get larger the longer the game goes on, though.) Either way, this is a deck that would do a fair job as far as handling (or at least annoying) multiple people.

But still, there’s one deck that’s even more global than that – and nobody plays it anymore. Know what it is?

Balancing Tings.

It’s easier to pull this off in multiplayer, since you can discard down to zero, sacrifice your lands, and come out with a truly colossal Terravore – perhaps forty or more! Better yet, you can save your Orim’s Chant slots for other things, since your chances of seeing a counterspell are slim.

The only problem is that experienced players may well know what you’re trying to do, and will gang up on you to no end. Still, it’s a very powerful deck with a strong global effect and a frickin’ huge creature.

Balancing Tings: Definitely.

What Other Decks Can We Learn Lessons From?

Reducing Threats. Burning Bridges might be an interesting choice for multiplayer – it’s inflexible as hell, since it can’t deal with enchantments or artifacts, but it does manage to make a creature-based strategy almost useless for everyone. You’ll have to pack a lot more burn or at least a reusable source of it for large games, but this is a great example of removing a class of threat from your mind.

Kill Everyone. Mono-black is a very powerful choice for multiplayer, since with Cabal Coffers it can ramp to very powerful threats right away – like Legacy Weapon, insane Nantuko Shades, and Haunting Echoes. Plus, Diabolic Tutor allows for some good searching. But most important of all, Mutilate is an almost-guaranteed board sweeper and Shambling Swarm will always have a target. My advice: Cut the land removal spells and throw in a few more Echoes; they’ll always have fine targets.

But If We’re Talking Truly Global…. I’d have to say that the deck I’d choose if I really wanted to win?

Battle of Wits.

May God have mercy on my soul, it’s fairly consistent, it’s fairly quick – and although everyone might well be smart enough to team up with you, throwing in Solitary Confinements and other damage prevention could well help you live to see the win. If nobody has enchantment removal for one turn, you win. Gah.

Signing off,

The Ferrett

[email protected]

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