CASUAL FRIDAYS #130: Biweekly, Bipartisan, And Bifurcated

Now on a slower pace, Anthony has time to think about life’s great questions: What is the best way to play Emperor with eight people? And what is the Secretly Forbidden Topic of StarCity?

For your reading pleasure this week: Two separate columns rolled into one. (If my new, biweekly pace distresses any of you, can read the first half now and save the rest up for next Friday.)

Part One: Spider-Emperor

Based on a question Mark Rosewater asked me a few months ago (“Is it possible to play Emperor with eight people?”), I prodded our play group to experiment with this format. The games we’ve had since then have been well worth it, and I encourage you all to try this as well.

Normally, when you reach eight players, there are all sorts of other things you could be doing. For example, you could be drafting. Or you could have four two-player teams, or two four-player without the emperors. Or chaos, or hunt, or any of the other number-independent formats. Eight is such a juicy number; emperor just doesn’t occur to folks.

But eight is actually superior in many respects for Emperor, because it (a) pushes some players further away from each other than in six-player, and (b) is easier to do than ten-player, which would be the next”ideal” step up from six-player. All you have to do is just tweak the rules a tiny bit.

You still attack with the players on the flanks. Your ranges are still your ranges (our group plays with a constant two-player range for targeted effects, and global effects for global effects). And there’s still only one emperor: All you do is add a second-in-command – a lieutenant-emperor, if you will – to one side of the emperor.

If F is the flank, and L is the lieutenant, and E is the emperor, you might get something like this:



Or this:



Or this:



We added a tweak called”castling,” which works much like its cousin move in chess. An emperor may choose, during his upkeep, to switch spots with any of his teammates. He may then take the rest of his turn, but after he is done you progress through the rest of the team that hasn’t taken a turn yet. No extra turns as a result of the move, or any of that garbage – you can figure out how to play it, right?

(Note that you can also play the two inner players as a two-headed giant, with forty shared life. You’d get the cooler”FEEF/FEEF” acronym, up above… But our group prefers the idea of a single point of accountability, and castling.)

Having an”expendable” inner player allows two different styles of deck to be played in emperor that usually don’t do so well – the completely mindless creature rush (on the lieutenant’s flank) and the near-pure draw-go (for the lieutenant herself). Normally, these decks aren’t resilient enough to blast through two different opponents. But if you split the aggro and control parts into two separate players, and they support each other, you can put on a pretty good show.

On the emperor’s immediate flank, a typical aggro-control deck is still often the order of the day. I’ve taken to using my Radiate deck, which has plenty of vigilant creatures like Serra Angel, in that slot.

Random team selection, and no kibitzing before choosing decks, led to the following configuration one game last week (emperor’s names in caps).



















It’s not important to remember everyone’s exact deck contents; I’m not going to get into too many of the game’s details. What I just want to point out is that each member of our team had what might have been the perfect deck for their position: Aggro-control for me, mass disruption-control for Theo (more on his mono-black deck in a moment), a targeting counter-control for Jerry, and a white weenie rush for Toim.

Theo’s latest emperor creation makes fantastic use of two Odyssey block cards: Mirari and Cabal Coffers. The Coffers make Mirari activation easy; and once he made the decision to go creatureless (so that every card can be reflected), the deck began to build itself:

4x Drain Life

2x Corrupt

4x Crippling Fatigue

4x Innocent Blood

2x Vicious Hunger

4x Unnerve

4x Chainer’s Edict

3x Mirari

2x Mutilate

1x Planar Portal

1x Yawgmoth’s Will

1x Mind Sludge

2x Diabolic Tutor

4x Cabal Coffers

22x Swamp

That may look like too much land for a monochrome deck, but believe me: Cabal Coffers are not lands. I don’t care what they say in the card type area. Cabal Coffers are fairly untargetable artifacts with a casting cost of about BBBB with the ability”if you control five or more swamps, your opponents get two target headaches.”

Between Theo’s deck and my Radiate deck, we pulled quite the nifty turnaround on the other team over the course of two players’ turns. It involved a very precise ruling on Radiate and our emperor targeting rules. I controlled a single Serra Angel, my direct opponent Gary had no creatures; but his next two teammates controlled about three each. My far teammate (Toim) had a few weenies out to Dave’s nothing.

Beyond the board situation, though, was cards in hand: every member of the other team had at least four, while most of our team was not so rich. For example, I only had one – a Radiate. Gary across from me had five, one of which I knew was a Repulse. He had the mana to play it on my Serra Angel, and I assumed he would do so when I tried to attack him.

On his turn, Theo played Unnerve… And sent it through the Mirari. Four cards for each opponent, and that one card blew away fourteen. Gary had only one card left – it had to be the Repulse. So on my turn, I attack, he plays Repulse… And I play Radiate on it.

Radiate’s rules text states that a copy must be made for each target the original spell could target. Since George can reach his two teammates (even though I can’t reach Pete myself), the irradiated copies extend to all six creatures on their side of the board. My teammates’ armies remain intact – and Theo is playing creatureless, anyway. I draw six cards. One of them is another Radiate, and another is Seize the Day. Mmmmmmm.

Unfortunately, before I can finish blasting through both Gary and Bill to get to Pete, the only player in our group willing to play Battle of Wits (Pete) gets that ridiculous card down, and the game ends because we don’t have a Disenchant at that exact moment in time. How strategic. What fun.

What followed was enough verbal abuse from Theo and me that I think Pete has been shamed into never playing the card again. But who knows; he’s stubborn, and delightfully erratic… And honestly, I’m not completely sure I want to squash the instincts of a chaotic player, anyway. The different styles in our group are what make playing so much fun. There, that’s about the extent of the positive spin I can put on it. Let’s move on.

“When to castle” is the question that often comes up with eight-player Emperor, for our group. In a different game, the enemy castled once after his immediate flank went down, only to find his new flank only one point away from dying. It’s best to think ahead if you’re going to castle, and make the move less to protect the emperor than to shore up the flanks while they’re still alive and viable.

Questions and comments about this format are welcome, as always.

Part Two: Moneyburst On Line

Two recent developments in the Internet world have gotten some Magic players in a stir over the past few months. Even though I’ve never really talked about either one, I get enough email on both topics to want to speak up. First and foremost is the….

(Yoops! The Ferrett here, informing you that Anthony’s accidentally stumbled into one of the Secret Forbidden Topics of StarCity – namely, Brainburst.

(Oh, we’ve gotten our share of Brainburst Premium essays, both positive and negative… But it’s the one thing I refuse to publish. If we publish pro-Burst articles, we’re encouraging you to give money to our competitors – and say, while I’ve got your attention, shouldn’t you spend a couple of bucks here to keep us in business? If we go with anti-Burst rants, it leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth because, well… We are competitors for your Magic dollar, after all, and it’s poor taste to trash the competition. As such, we’re completely the wrong forum for this and I have cheerfully tanked every article on the topic. Interestingly enough, though, Anthony and I agree completely.

(I discussed with Anthony, and instead – as a harmless topic that would offend nobody – we decided to discuss the current season of Buffy. Why?

(“For one thing, we can call give it this cool name that I’ve suggested – and the double entendre’s intended,” says Anthony.”Plus, it may piss off Toby.”)

WARNING: There is, as they say here, major Buffy spoilage.

Part Two: Anthony And The Ferrett On Buffy

Ferrett: So did you see the end of last night’s episode? My wife cried for half an hour. Good lord.

Anthony: Yeah, Mary and I kinda guessed it too, since we knew someone was dying and Willow’s eyes on the preview last week were kind of a giveaway… But they did a decent job making us doubt ourselves for short periods of time with

(a) Dawn (when she visited Spike, I thought that might turn ugly)

(b) Spike (who until he drove off on his motorcycle looked like a good candidate for suicide)

(c) Xander (because with three minutes to go in the show, when it’s just him and Buffy talking, you know it isn’t Buffy who’s going to kick it…not again, anyway). Plus, they were sneaky and put Tara in the permanent credits one last time.

Ferrett: I didn’t guess… I read the spoilers, stupid me, because I knew someone was going to die, and I was hoping it was Spike – but it was not to be. Still, I said to Gin a long time ago that I thought Willow would be the Big Bad of the season, and by Gaw it looks like I’m going to be right.

(Incidentally, I like Spike, but I wish they would kill him – mainly because it’s really irking me that he’s not pushing someone over the edge. Xander should have killed him. Boring Boy should have killed him in his guest appearance. If Spike’s evil and acting like the jerk he is, logically someone’s going to get angry.. And Buffy’s little,”Oh, it’s okay that he tried to rape me because I love him” seems way out of character.)

Anthony: The only problem with this season is that it won’t make for good reruns. (Except for the musical.) (Tru dat – The Ferrett, who can sing every song word-for-word) I was watching third and fourth season reruns a few weeks ago, and loving them, and then as the fifth season hit (with Glory as the Big Bad), they started putting more cliffhangers and shocks at the end of each episode – and they didn’t punch as hard the second time, of course. It becomes more about the shocks between episodes, than the episode stories themselves.

Ferrett: Well, this season is also No Fun because, as I’ve said before, it’s Buffy vs. Minimum Wage. And Buffy’s losing. Hey, I’m underpaid, too; the last thing I want to see is one of my heroes getting her ass kicked by the same things that bother me. Also, it’s a stupid line; hey, a girl like this can’t find money the way that Angel does? She’s working the NIGHT SHIFT at a Burger King? Buffy can’t be a cop or a martial arts instructor? Come on.

I’ve also heard cryptic rumors of”SuperXander,” by which I hope that he finds the orbs and actually gets over his stupid insecurity complex. The man’s fought everything hands-down; sure, he’s not the best fighter or the brain, but SURVIVING should be enough. Not to mention that he has a decent job, access to more beautiful girlfriends than thou or I will prolly ever have, and good friends. Stop whining, Xander.

Oh, and Giles;”Yes, I know that she’s the most important Slayer in the world and saves us all from evil, but she really has to learn to fly on her own.” Hello… This is kind of like the President’s advisors all taking off for Bermuda because frankly, Georgie has to learn to handle Saddam and Sharon by himself or he’ll NEVER learn.

Bitch bitch bitch. I know.

Anthony: The Giles thing I don’t mind so much; and it really was the only way to get him off the series but still available for guest shots. 🙂

The Spike thing’s on my nerves, too. I seriously hope he gets that chip out, or learns to kill through it. (I thought something might happen to Dawn by some random bad human…like one of the evil trio…and he would get so pissed off he’d kill the human anyway, and do an Angel-like conversion after he kills his first human through the pain. See, we could write for this series…).

Xander – Either marry Anya, or get her (and/or him) off the series. I don’t want a season of will-they or won’t-they all next year. Cripes, just drill my head open. What exactly is the problem with getting married? Would it really kill the show to demonstrate that a secondary character can enjoy a fulfilling love life inside a marriage? Exactly how many babes can one loser run through? In any case, the orbs were smashed, so it looks like he peaked with his performance as Snoopy in the double-Xander episode last season.

Willow – I’m very interested to see how this magic thing works out. I assume they’ve pulled back on her magic because, if she keeps progressing, she’ll be more powerful than Buffy, which would be”unbalanced for the environment,” as we might say here in our own sport. But she’s been my favorite character ever since she protested the fact that her mother put her in a category without thinking…”I’m not part of any group. I’m me. I’m Willow group.” So damn cute. Plus, she could cast a spell and make me forget about all the dumb Magic plays I’ve made. Dream girl; too bad she swings the other way.

Buffy – Yes, become a martial arts instructor! And train Dawn, while you’re at it. (What exactly is she doing on the series, now, beyond alternately whining and cheering? An actual brass key would be more interesting to watch.). Otherwise,”li’l bit” is Spike food early next season.


Anthony Alongi

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