CASUAL FRIDAYS #148: Closing Thoughts

Anthony looks back at the Hall, and tells you all how to graduate with honors from the Along School Of Multiplayer Magic…. Or he would, if you ever graduated. Also included: The entire Hall, sortable across colors and types!

Well, the entire Hall is out there now – and this link will download the entire spreadsheet that combines all colors and cards. Before I leave, I wanted to stress one last time some of the themes that this Hall – and Casual Fridays – has tried to develop for the multiplayer Magic community.

The Alongi School – Always Open, Year-Round, With No Graduation

There are as many ways to have fun in – and win – a group game as there are groups, and individuals within those groups, and relationships between the individuals in those groups. What works flawlessly in the first game of the evening could easily tank if you play it three games later. Your success with a deck (however you define success) is a function of at least the following:

  • The quality of cards in your deck
  • Your level of experience with the game
  • The quality of cards and experience with the game for each of your opponents (and/or teammates)
  • The number of opponents
  • How many of these opponents have seen your deck before
  • Your timing with key plays
  • How much attention you’ve paid to the metagame
  • Your reputation in the group, i.e. what kind of player your group perceives you to be
  • What kind of player you really are
  • Whether you spilled soda pop on the player to your left before he announces his attack
  • Whether the player two slots to your left spilled more soda pop on the player to your left before said attack
  • …And so on.

But to me, all of the stuff above and all the Casual Fridays where I’ve offered advice on this sort of thing boil down to three variables:

  • What threats you perceive on or near the board,
  • What threats your opponents perceive on or near the board, and
  • What actual threats you can produce.

In Hall language, rattlesnakes are naked threats to the next guy who annoys you, gorillas and spiders are threats that get carried through at varying levels of power and speed, pigeons are threats that grow with the size of the game, plankton are threats that everyone can point at each other, and cockroaches are recurring threats.

Threats, threats, threats. It’s all about threats. And politics, as defined so often at starcitygames.com or other sites, are not threats: Actions speak louder than words. Some players like to chatter incessantly about how they’re not a threat, or stay really quiet so that no one will think they’re a threat, or make buddies because they think they’ll look less threatening. These ploys are far less effective among experienced players than their proponents make them out to be. They’re good one-shots at best – you walk into a store where no one knows you, you sit down for a seven-player melee, and you surprise everyone with your ten-part combo. Congratulations – but you’re never fooling those six other players again. (And if you do, it says more about their gullibility than it does about the rigor of your philosophy.)

I’ve always preferred the kind of success you can repeat. To win when no one knows what to expect is an accomplishment worthy of praise. To win when everyone thinks they know what to expect is an adventure worthy of storytelling.

In our play group (and many others), there’s an unspoken tradition – when in doubt, hit the last guy who won. This isn’t done relentlessly or at the expense of other clear threats, but it’s a recognition that to get two earned wins in a row, especially with the same deck, you can’t just go on autopilot and rip off your clever combo. You cannot act outraged or astonished when you get a bit of random attention in game two. You cannot lie, or misdirect, or fool. You cannot play footsie under the table and make an ally, or leave the table at strategic times and expect not to get nailed. (Nothing screams good God in heaven please don’t hit me! more than getting up to poke around the refrigerator aimlessly. I admit I still try this every once in a long while, but I always return to less permanents and/or life than I had when I left…)

Just play the game. Play your heart out. Figure out what will scare the board into submission and get four copies of it. Find another card like it. Use four copies of that one in another deck – or the same deck, if you like. Play these decks with intelligence. Assess the real threats, and assess players’ perceptions of those threats. Know the difference. Chatter all you like – these are your friends – but don’t waste breath. Discuss the threats however your group is comfortable – during the game, after the game, before the next game, whenever. Be honest. Make the players around you better and stronger.

Because better and stronger players break with a more satisfying snap. They plump fatter when you cook ’em. And they generate a longer, better-smelling tread mark when their carefully plotted strategy comes to a screeching halt.

Notes On The Complete Attached Hall

The spreadsheet this time around has all five colors, as well as gold cards, artifacts, and lands. I’ve presorted the list so that they’re ranked by the COM score column (and where there’s a tie, I favor the rattlesnake column, then gorilla). As always, you are all welcome to fiddle with your downloaded copy however you like. Here are some notes to read before doing so:

First, you have to realize that from about #220 down, the Hall suffers a basic imprecision – since I only include the cards already let in from each color, and different colors have different entry thresholds, it’s perfectly possible to think of, say, a green or blue card that could push the last few cards off the list. Do let me know about such cards – but at the same time, recognize that the list can’t be”pure” as long as I insist on letting in 35 cards from each color (as well as the more arbitrary thirty-five gold, thirty artifacts, and eighteen lands).

Second, I threw in columns for rarity and set, which I didn’t expect to do until the next version… But some readers asked really really nicely and so I found some extra time. In the next version, I’ll try to put in every expansion a given card is in (as well as alternate rarities for stuff like Hurricane), but for now it just lists the first printed expansion and rarity for a given card. This needed to get done quickly to get in at all, so let me know where I mistyped and I’ll fix on the next version.

Third, if you click on the”All Separate” tab sheet, you’ll get the sheet with all the cards neatly separated by color. (Next version will have a feature so you can separate the single sheet by color.) Toward the bottom right corner of this sheet, you’ll find each color’s averages compared to the others, so you can get a sense of where the colors are strong/weak here in the Hall.

Finally, if your computer will not accept/translate the download, let me know. Just don’t be frivolous. Try hard, first, and seek out computers (for example, your college’s computer lab) that are likely to do better. If you’re truly stuck, I certainly want to help you! I may not get to your request immediately, but I will try to translate the spreadsheet into a format your computer will accept (it’s currently in Microsoft Excel 2002).

Once And Future Sets

So what’s the Magic expansion with the most to offer multiplayer? Well, before you rush to the spreadsheet and sort by expansion to find out, you should realize two things. First, large sets are naturally going to be very well represented – Odyssey, Invasion, Mercadian Masques, and Urza’s Saga all post excellent numbers (15-20). But what’s really impressive is when you find a set that is a third the size but still puts up nearly as many cards in the Hall – Weatherlight, Stronghold, Apocalypse, and Judgment all fit this mold because they get between ten and twenty entries, too. Those are the sets where you get the distinct impression that Wizards was trying particularly hard.

The second thing to realize is that it’s in my nature to look at new cards and hope for the best out of them. So Onslaught, being both a large set and the most recent, is the largest in the Hall with over twenty-eight entries. (This is also good for the Hall, because this way you don’t have to look at the same damn cards.) Newer sets also benefit from my tendency to push the older versions into”similar cards” boxes – don’t forget that Wrath of God and Armageddon don’t get counted toward A/B/U’s numbers! Old-school cards are still good, but the Hall, like Magic, needs to stay fresh.

That said, once you’ve sorted by set you’re welcome to be appalled that I only have one card from The Dark, one from Homelands, two from Fallen Empires, three from Alliances, five from Antiquities (though, ironically enough, no artifacts!), and six from Ice Age. Even you Invasion block fans may be startled to see only two Planeshift cards. You all have access to a”rate your own card” feature at the bottom of the spreadsheet, feel free to enter your own values for cards you don’t see, and let me know how they do! (I’ll say it again – be honest. I was tough on the cards I like, and I’ll expect the same from you if you write in.)

The next Hall of Fame will likely contain forty cards from each color, and perhaps more artifacts and lands as well. If you want to contribute to it, let me know. Casual Fridays is done with – but I’m still playing just as much (if not more!) Magic, and I still want to hear from you!

You can find the entire Hall, ranked from #258 to #1, here.


Anthony Alongi

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