CASUAL FRIDAYS #135: Your Opponents Have Less Answers Than Bernard Ebbers

There are nuances in multiplayer, just like in duel. They lie in the questions you ask that don’t have answers.

What do you suppose the ten most-used cards in multiplayer are?

It’s an unanswerable question, I suppose. But hang around; we’ll try to answer it together. It’s worth thinking about, because the better you are at answering the question – and you really only have to answer it for your own playgroup – the more successful your group decks can be.

If I had to rank the cards I saw most often in our own playgroup, I’d end up mainly with a list of utility cards that fit into a variety of decks. This is in no particular order, and just off the top of my memory:

Interesting, maybe… But this wouldn’t give an entirely accurate picture of our group. Every one of us has at least four or five (and more often ten or twelve) decks, and we each try to show different looks within each. So it wouldn’t do for me to have four Flametongue Kavu for all six of my decks that use red; it would be boring and predictable if I had four Jilts in every deck of mine that used both red and blue, and it would be downright stupid of me to use Counterspells in every blue deck. (Most seasoned group players will tell you that countermagic as a primary strategy doesn’t work against multiple opponents; even”safety” countermagic is risky.)

That means the information can’t be used to help you win more of your group’s games, or even just to have more fun. And that means I have to abandon that tool, and try to find another one for you.

Here’s another tack: Analyze the five or six broad categories of key cards that your group is reveling in, right now. The focus is on those elements that give decks their unique character, more than the constant bits (e.g.,”this deck uses mana!”). I’m most interested in what type of cards are getting played, for reasons that should become clear later on…

  • Game-breaking enchantments and artifacts. I would put cards that say deal-or-die-soon on them, due to their work within tough combinations or their relentless pace. Awakening, Equilibrium, and Mirari are three very different cards that all fit into this group, given the decks they appear in. (All three cards, in fact, currently appear in more than one player’s deck for our group – used somewhat differently across each pair, but sounding out the same alarm of impending doom.)

  • Controlling enchantments. Not so much artifacts, for the past few months. (A rash of Viashino Heretics led a backlash, for a while.) But Pernicious Deed has gone largely unchecked among multiple players in our group; and boutique tricks like Psychic Battle, Grave Pact, and Land Equilibrium have all defined decks that continue to do well.

  • Masses of low-toughness creatures. Goblins and elves, while not exactly in favor in Odyssey block, have just begun re-emerging, replacing a few decks that favored mid-range creatures like Viashino Cutthroat and Blastoderm. These ranks of weenies are usually behind some trick out of a recent expansion – for example, Priests of Titania to set up a fast Crush of Wurms – but sometimes it’s a simple case of classic weenie love (e.g., white shadow creatures).

  • Sporadic heavies. Largely gone from our group are the Oath, Sneak Attack, and Elvish Piper decks that brought out fattie after fattie through a fragile, single-point channel. But more recent creations still bring out a single enormous beast in good time that must be dealt with – a Worldgorger Dragon in the wake of an Upheaval, a Penumbra Wurm off of a Reincarnation, a Phantom Nishoba graced with a Zephid’s Embrace.

  • Recursion sorceries/instants, and recurrable creatures. Odyssey block kind of demanded this.

  • Non-basic lands. And lots of them. The weenie decks aside (and they’re an example of where this article is going), virtually every one of the decks I’ve described requires two or more colors. The vast majority use non-basic lands to get there.

Just in case this seems like a mundane list, I’ll repeat the things I mentioned above (and add a few others) that our group has not reliably seen for the last few months:

Three months from now, I can virtually guarantee that both of the last two lists will change, and flip-flop to some extent. There are other elements – strong mid-game creatures like Lightning Angel and Phantom Centaur, or basic utility like Swords to Plowshares and Viashino Heretic – that will probably not change much. The trick is teasing out those few trends that are likely to mutate over time.

Now That You See The Answers, Ask The Questions

Much of the multiplayer metagame you see in your own group is a response to a set of decks that probably did well about six months ago. Pernicious Deed did well against decks like Sneak Attack or Oath, which couldn’t cast their enormous creatures without the vehicle. Recursion plagued permission and/or discard decks that couldn’t keep up with multiple threats within a single card. Swarm decks ran over a brief re-exploration of mass land destruction among us (and in fact, some pack their own mana denial).

In other words, questions have been answered. Once you know what those are, you need to ask new questions.

Here are a few examples of decks and cards that I’ve used or seen recently that seek to confound one or more of the trends above:

RADIATION SEIZURE DECK: Of course I was going to build a Radiate deck – whether it was a good idea or not. But the specific deck I built (and I’ve only tweaked it a bit since then) did three things. First, it pinned its”trick” on an instant or sorcery (Radiate, and Seize the Day as a question unto itself… It still surprises me how many late games are won with a double-attack where opponents do not expect it). This presents a problem that very few decks that respond to enchantments and artifacts will be ready to handle. So in a way, I’m trying to keep one step ahead of the metagame.

Second, the deck’s creatures are very capable of smashing weenies, from the weenie-that-acts-like-a-fattie Goblin Legionnaire to the untapping masses of flyers the deck uses. And third… It uses no enchantments or artifacts, other than Aura of Silence. The Aura represents a long-lasting answer to the controlling and game-breaking enchantments and artifacts our group still depends on… And then is disposable if it’s targeted. This means that any other players who show up at the table lookin’ to fix enchantment- or artifact-heavy decks will have dead cards against me, but very live cards against other opponents.

(See, people? There IS such a thing as politics in multiplayer. You just can’t let the politicians know they’ve been elected. Of course, I never admitted any of this, and none of you can prove that it isn’t just The Ferrett putting words in my mouth to make himself look better. – The Ferrett.) (That’s dastardly! – The Ferrett, torn between admiration and outrage at the irony of it all.) (Hey! – The Ferrett.)

SPINAL EMBRACE AS A SINGLE CARD. I use Spinal Embrace in a couple of my decks, and the reason it still works after several months has a lot to do with why Radiate works – our group hasn’t adjusted to it, yet. The right answer has a lot to do with blue and countermagic, or white and protection; and there just hasn’t been enough of that around. The fact that it works beautifully against occasional fatties, and helps me outlast waves of weenies, is gravy.

STUPID DRACO TRICKS, AGAIN. While I put my Stupid Draco Tricks deck (for an early version) on ice for several months, I’ve brought it back out again. Part of this is lunacy, since Viashino Heretics are still around and more removal is probably coming soon; but part of it is simple hope that the instant-speed tricks will take care of that problem while the complete lack of enchantments in favor of instants like Artifact Mutation and Ghitu Fire (when played +2) will confound some decks… Sort of like the Radiation Seizure deck. The stupid Draco tricks also include Masticore, which is really good against the weenie decks. If I were more ambitious, I’d move the Masticores into a deck with a better shot of winning; but I’m too darn lazy and emotionally attached to Mr. Sweet Sixteen.

GRAVEYARD DESTRUCTION. I am stunned that no one in my group has done this yet, even though I’ve said this multiple times up here on the Internet, where they can all read what I’m thinking. (And before you ask, gentle reader: Yes, my friends read my columns. Well, most of them do, anyway. Smart-ass.) I suppose I’m as slow as the rest of them, since I haven’t built my own Morningtide/Repopulate/Tormod’s Crypt/Eater of the Dead deck, yet. One of us has to catch on soon. Don’t we?

The Ebbers Silence

My point here isn’t that you should all build decks like mine and expect to win. (Good thing, too – The Ferrett, gaining back some ground even though he didn’t write this aside, either.) (HEY!!!! – The Ferrett, who doesn’t have anything left to do with Anthony’s articles anymore.) My point is that you should go through an analysis of questions and answers much like the one above. You may not see very specific results in a short time. But you ought to see a gradual improvement in your board position, over long series of games.

What you do with that better board position is up to you. Players like me prefer to press it, offering rattlesnake after rattlesnake to warn opponents away from my (hopeful) path to victory. Other players are content to back off at that point, storing up more cards in hand until they can guarantee themselves a sweeping win. Either way, your questions should not be the ones being answered. Your questions should, like the Congressional Committee grilling Worldcom executives, be met with an uncomfortable silence.


Anthony Alongi

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