Housekeeping items get us started this week:
1) ALL HAIL THE FERRETT. I have been told that all submissions to StarCityCCG.com must begin with this line. I don’t know why I haven’t seen other authors doing it yet; either they are in for a world of rabid-rodent trouble or our new editor is playing a rather nasty prank on me. Two T’s in ferret, indeed! Hail THIS, Rabbitt.
2) I HAVE YOUR EMAIL. Never have I been so remiss for so long in getting back to the kind readers who have taken time to email me. I am sorry. Do you care what the excuse is? No. But it’s enough, I hope, that there is one. For those who have sent in random hellos, words of encouragement, constructive criticism, questions, and Break this Card (Mana Cache) submissions, rest assured I have your fun thoughts and ideas sitting in my inbox…even though my wife has been threatening to delete you for some time.
3) BREAK THIS CARD. I was planning on announcing winners this week but the other members of my group were really helpful and timely in sharing their decklists with me, and I frankly find this sort of multiplayer analysis/sharing more rewarding. Break this Card results next week — really really really! — and then I think I will give the contest a (short, as in two or three months tops) rest.
4) MY WEALTH. I almost spit tuna out my nose when I read Omeed Dariani recent (and very kind) guess as to my independently wealthy status. Let me fill you all in on the dynamics of various Harvard graduate degrees:
* BUSINESS SCHOOL. This will make you lots of money. Googleplexes and googleplexes. (I’ve been waiting for a column to give me the opportunity to use that word. I regret I never heard the late great Carl Sagan utter the phrase, however.) Do I have this degree? No. That would have been smart.
* LAW SCHOOL. This will make you about the same amount as the Business
School. Do I have this one? No. (Insert your own lawyer joke here.)
* MEDICAL SCHOOL. Well, we could ask Michelle Bush for a firsthand account from within the Magic community, but the data I have suggest a slow start, followed by a rapidly increasing curve during your late 20’s. Do I have this one? No. Getting one requires actually touching needles. And, I think, corpses. (And maybe needles IN corpses.) Um, pass.
* PUBLIC POLICY SCHOOL. This is what I have, being as committed to world peace and proper economic development as I am. I’m not starving, but taxpayers and foundations aren’t exactly knocking down the door to give me a signing bonus either. Yet I got to pay the same trademark sky-high Harvard tuition, and receive (free of charge!) twice-annual admonitions to give yet more as an alum. (Are any of these people aware that Harvard is a *thirteen billion* dollar organization? Has anyone ever tried to COUNT to thirteen billion? Here’s a fundraising rule: If you have more money than you are willing to count out in increments of, oh, thousand-dollar bills, DON’T ASK
* EDUCATION SCHOOL. I was smart enough to steer clear of this one.
Excellent quality, don’t get me wrong; but this country still has no idea
what good teachers and school administrators are worth. We’ll all find out
as the baby boomer teachers start retiring, though.
I just wanted to set the record straight before you all sent in grant proposals to the presumed Alongi Foundation. Just remember: with Anthony Alongi, you get all the eccentricity, with none of the wealth that makes the eccentricity "quirky" or "lovable". Got it? NO WEALTH. (Pssst…Omeed…my wife reads these things. This was a close call. Be more careful, will you?!?!)
On to the week’s business.
I got a nice response to the various multiplayer deck ideas I threw out there a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to give out a bit more to you readers, but felt it might be more exciting and original to feed you ideas from elsewhere in our group. After all, I don’t win ALL the games. (I throw one or two an evening, to keep the heat off.)
So I proudly present to you eight more deck ideas. As before with decklists, I don’t spill all the beans; just enough to make a goopy brown mess on your shirt. (By the way, I had no idea what that dark slab was in canned beans until my wife told me it was BACON. Imagine that. I was avoiding the thing like the plague throughout my childhood and, to borrow a Tolkien term, my tweens. And now I find that I have been passing up SMOKED BACON for thirty years. What kind of idiot am I. So as a public service to the youth in the Magic community, I tell you: EAT THE CANNED BEAN SLAB. No need for you to go through the retrospective hell that I have.)
As I’ve said before: no guarantees these decks will work in your group. Rares are fairly intense here; I provide workable alternatives where possible.
DECK #1: PETE’S INDENTURED GOODNESS
When Nemesis came out, Rackling and Viseling were instant targets for the multiplayer set. "Prosperity!" we all cried out when looking at the Viseling, and "Bottomless Pit!" as we all looked at Rackling. (If you didn’t cry out like that, you missed the memo.) I even suggested a possible deck in a previous column. So parts of this deck ought not to be too much of a surprise to anyone. But Pete put on some nice original touches, and so I go through a near-complete decklist here:
KEY CARDS: Viseling, Iron Maiden, Prosperity, Indentured Djinn, Vexing Arcanix, Evacuation.
METHOD: After setting up a workable defense with zero-cc creatures (Ornithopter, Phyrexian Walker, etc.), Pete seeks to get people to draw more and more cards. (Yes, he has Howling Mines in here as well.) After punishing more aggressive players with the Djinn, he lays down a Viseling and/or Iron Maiden and seeks to sweep the board of most players within a few turns. Path to victory is either damage from artifacts (most common) or milling (in a prolonged battle with a lifegainer). Evacuation clears the board of nasty tramplers, avatars, etc., makes everyone’s hand huge for the Iron Maiden damage, and still allows him to reset his zero-cc defense quickly. (And recast the Djinn, to bait players with more draws.)
Vexing Arcanix is just in there to tease the white mage that can’t draw a Disenchant. It’s absolutely cruel. The poor sap will keep guessing "Disenchant" and showing Plains to Paul, discarding and getting hit for two each time, and then get frustrated and hiss "Plains!" to play the percentages, and then reveal the Disenchant. Whadda hoot.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: Pete says it works just about anywhere in multiplayer, and I agree; but I appreciate it most in team, when the kill cards don’t hit your teammates but still nail the opponents.
WEAKNESSES TO CONSIDER: If you play this deck, be aware of its sensitivity to burn. A couple of Rebounds or Misdirections probably wouldn’t hurt if you see lots of red in your group.
REPLACEABLE RARES? You really do need at least one or two Iron Maidens, even with four Viselings (since the Viselings are susceptible to creature removal). They’re really inexpensive. The Vexing Arcanices are absolutely unnecessary, and are simply there for Pete’s sadistic tendencies. Replace with Ticking Gnomes, if you want to do damage; or Opportunity for flexible card-drawing. Evacuations are also cheap rares, but you could make do with four Withdraws or Undos (or even Curfew) in a real pinch.
DECK #2: BEN’S BIG RED TREATS
Ben usually employs very subtle tricks on his way to an intricate combo; but I’m posting this deck since it’s a more aggressive side of Ben. I enjoy the way it just identifies a path to victory and screams to the world how it’s going to get there. Of course, as with most red decks, if the wrong kind of opponent shows up, it’s toast.
KEY CARDS: Cinder Giant, Hulking Cyclops, Balduvian Horde, Rathi Dragon, Aether Flash.
METHOD: Ben lays out Seals of Fire and Aether Flash as early as possible (Fire Diamond help) to slow down creature development. Big nasties come out soon afterward. Hey, it’s monored, how much nuance did you expect?
He plans to test it with Scoria Wurm and Fervor, soon. We’ll see about that.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: Just about all of Ben’s decks work best in Hunt. (Note: you can find descriptions of all sorts of multiplayer formats, including Hunt, if you go to www.magiccampus.com and poke around.) This one is no exception.
WEAKNESSES TO CONSIDER: A sturdy white deck will laugh at this. A Thran Lens to make Aether Flash damage colorless might be advisable, or even a straight color-hoser like Anarchy, if you expect much white in your group.
REPLACABLE RARES? Just about all the beef, except for the Cyclops, is rare. Any red beef will do, as long as it has at least three toughness (and I recommend five, in case you decide you’d like to put two Aether Flashes out…but then you’re looking primarily at rares again). Earth Elemental would work well. Storm Shaman wouldn’t be TOO bad. Maybe you even have an odd rare you thought you’d never use (Flowstone Mauler?) sitting in your box. In a pinch, cast a Crenellated Wall before the second Aether Flash, and then use whatever you like!
DECK #3: BILL’S SHREDITION
Bill really liked Urza’s block. This deck is a pretty clear testament to that. He hasn’t changed it much through Masques block, and it’s still pretty effective. Like all mono-decks, it sacrifices some utility for single-minded purpose.
KEY CARDS: Attrition, Abyssal Gatekeeper, Bone Shredder, Haunted Crossroads, Corrupt
METHOD: For those who are younger to this game than Urza’s block: Get a Gatekeeper out, then an Attrition. Sack the Gatekeeper to Attrition. Everyone loses a creature. You also get to wax the largest creature on the board. (In our group, we read D’Angelo’s ruling on the Gatekeeper as disallowing the controller of Attrition’s target to sack that to the Gatekeeper. Even if your group reads differently, the largest creature will go to the sack.) Works similarly with Bone Shredder.
There’s better recursion than Haunted Crossroads, but the Crossroads work really well in an environment where a decking deck (like Pete’s above) is around. Unearth would obviously also work well here, and Bill has used them. Corrupt is the finishing touch.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: Loves the hunt, works just fine in chaos. Avoid teaming with this.
WEAKNESSES TO CONSIDER: Above all, the creatureless mill-style deck, that often doesn’t care too much about life total or creature status. Also watch an enchantment-laden or artifact-laden deck (anything from Enchantress to Tinker-style) that can cope with, or even benefit from, cards hitting graveyards.
REPLACEABLE RARES? Attrition is rather key to the deck, but if you have the rare Grave Pact instead, I’d certainly consider that. Nothing else in the deck is rare, so one or the other shouldn’t break you.
INTERMISSION: WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR?
Well, I’ve set up the first three decks in this article as mono-color. As I’ve hinted already, monochrome means risk. Risk in multiplayer is usually pretty bad, since the more players there are, the more certainty that someone will have the wrong opposing color. The three decks above have all been successful enough — and not just in restricted-target hunt — to see play more than a few times (though Ben is only an occasional member, so I’m guessing a bit with his). Pete’s deck has a very respectable win rate in full chaos, in fact, and not just within our own intellectually incestuous group. I think many group players, even experienced ones, continually underestimate the impact artifacts will have on the field. All it would take to wreck a deck like Pete’s is a Shatterstorm, Shattering Pulse, Purify, even more than a couple of Disenchants — and yet these cards don’t see play often enough. Confiscate? Creeping Mold? Does YOUR deck use these? Make sure it does. If you don’t want dead cards, use spellshapers that fit your deck’s theme, or other pitch effects like Masticore or Flowstone Sculpture. (Look! Two more artifacts!)
Let’s look at some two-color decks.
DECK #4: DEREK’S IMMINENT STORM
Have I introduced Derek yet? He’s an occasional group member like Ben, and comes up with pretty creative stuff. He hosted a night of "3cc or less" Magic recently, and came up with this surprise-based gem. It never went off, but he and I share a theory on that, which I’ll explain below:
KEY CARDS: Howling Mine, Prosperity, Rhystic Study, Spellbook, Firestorm
METHOD: This is a near-one-time-only, surprise-the-heck-out-of-everyone kind of deck. (I hate this kind of deck, as anyone familiar with my deckbuilding philosophy knows; but I truly admire the use of red here.) Basically, you don’t show your red until you absolutely have to. Put out the benign Mine, so everyone loves you. A Spiketail Hatchling will help against some early burn and can chumpblock if needed. Prosperity to get more friends. Ya, ya, everyone still loves you. Make sure that Spellbook is out. Boy, look at all the cards in your hand.
Then around turn six or seven, Firestorm with X = 15 or 18 or whatever it takes to win outright in one fell swoop. (You have to have as many targets as you do damage, so you’ll have to hit creatures as well. This can be tricky, but ought not to be impossible.) It should win the record in your group for most damage dealt for fewest mana.
Derek made two fatal mistakes (and I think he agrees with me here): Winter Orb and Citadel of Pain. Derek’s been playing for years and loves the Orb, and saw it as a means to slow down the game until he had enough cards to blow everything up. Citadel of Pain, however, seems to work contrary to the Orb; and I didn’t think to query Derek on it before I wrote this article. It does appease aggressive players a bit, since they like the tap-out style of the card; but they’ll be so ticked to see the Orb they’ll still come at you. (I did this very thing to Derek, twice. Man, I hate the Orb.)
So Derek never got to play this trick, but showed it after he got clocked out of the second or third game in a row. We were all very impressed. Not impressed as in, "man we just got killed by a really cool strategy", but impressed as in "whew!…glad we got rid of that guy…weren’t those Orbs annoying?" That wasn’t what Derek was after, of course.
I do love this deck idea, though, and hope he keeps it together to bring it, say, to Mirkwood or some local shop, just so he gets the thrill of seeing it work at least once. It really ought to.
WORKS BEST IN: To be determined. Unfortunately, as soon as everyone sees what it does, even without the Orbs it won’t work much of anywhere.
REPLACEABLE RARES: Well, if you don’t want your opponents to hate you out of the game, replace the Orbs with something less annoying, like a shrill, deafening shriek of chalk against an unending chalkboard. Firestorm is central to the deck, but I don’t think you need four with all the card drawing. Three ought to do it.
DECK #5: DAVE’S EQUAL OPPOSITION
I hate to feature blue-white, but any time I can show a deck in those colors that doesn’t feature Congregate, I go for it. Note that Dave has since moved his Oppositions to a Squirrel-Prison-style deck (that is, green-blue using Deranged Hermit, Gaea’s Cradle, Opposition, etc.) that has wreaked no small measure of havoc on the group; we’ll treat that one some other time.
KEY CARDS: Opposition, Equilibrium, Palinchron, Radiant Archangel, Blizzard Elemental
METHOD: Yes, Blizzard Elemental can work! It costs more than it should, for both casting and ability, but there’s no denying what a pain it is to cope with in a mana-insensitive environment like multiplayer. Saprazzan Skerries also work here as rapid mana to get either one of the enchantments, or a decent blocker like Wall of Swords, out. Bits and pieces like Cloud of Faeries also work well in early game. You can protect Opposition and Equilibrium via countermagic, or something more imaginative like Fountain Watch. Radiant comes out once you’re relatively certain you can counter a Wrath or Hurricane.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: Dave liked this best in team, but felt it was rigorous enough to handle small to mid-sized groups of chaos. Depending on the format and environment, Dave would occasionally side out the Equilibria for Propagandas. (This proofed him a bit harder against chaos attacks.)
WEAKNESSES TO CONSIDER: Counter-heavy blue, which is thankfully not too common in multiplayer formats. Dave liked its chances against green, but he and I can both see Hurricane (and other green anti-flying tech, like Squallmonger or Spitting Spider) as a clear threat to success. Put countermagic in like Dave did, and use it sparingly. Also don’t be afraid to hold back a bit: with the huge casting costs involved, time is on your side.
REPLACEABLE RARES? Dave went all out in costs for this deck, so rare-allergic players have their work cut out for them. Propagandas can replace either enchantment, but not both. Palinchrons are rather unique but any heavy blue flier would stay true to the spirit of the deck. Peregrine Drake comes closest to Palinchron ability/weight. You’ll be adding targeted bounce (simple Boomerang should be fine) to replace Equilibrium, anyway, so you can always save the Drakes in a pinch. Blizzard Elementals can be
replaced (rather effectively, I believe, though you lose the flying) by another rare, Blinking Spirits, or the ever-tough-to-find uncommon, Serra Angel. I’m not being very helpful here, am I? Listen, some decks just need rares. Skip this deck if you don’t have a bit of money to spend. There are other options.
DECK #6: TOIM’S WURM-FINDER
A rather straightforward big-creature deck for those of you who like the wurms.
KEY CARDS: Belbe’s Portal (?!?!?), artifact mana (e.g., Thran Dynamo), Wurms (Nesting, Mungha, etc.), Storm Cauldron
METHOD: He uses artifact and creature (e.g., Vine Trellis) mana to get in Portal/Wurm range, casts a Storm Cauldron to make mana manipulation trickier for the more land-dependent opponents, and brings out da funk, brings out da wurms.
It’s a nice, basic strategy. Every group game should have a deck like this, which says, "I’m not up to too many tricks, just going to put big nasties out and wait for the last two or three players standing." It adds more to the mid-game than yet another five-piece combo that bounces/burns/destroys everything.
The one trick, nicely applied here, is the Cauldron. I love what Storm Cauldrons do to a game. Other players don’t know whether to love the controller for letting them bring out more lands per turn, or hate him for making all their lands bounce. I personally think it’s great that I can bounce my more precious nonbasic lands anytime simply by using them to cast instants. This was a neat, creative touch for Toim, and almost make up for the fact that he’s using Belbe’s Portals as a path to victory.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: This thing is still in development, but early trials are promising for just about any format. May handcuff a teammate unnecessarily with the Storm Cauldrons.
WEAKNESSES: Really, the deck has enough utility in wurms (which can remove most other creatures), Spidersilk Armor (which keeps back flyers), and disenchant capability to handle many things. The largest weakness I see is the choice of Belbe’s Portal. I plan on finding a way to trade Toim some Quicksilver Amulets on favorable terms. Urza’s Incubator wouldn’t hurt, either.
REPLACEABLE RARES: Enough artifact and creature mana would make the Portals — or any rare alternative — less necessary. Nesting Wurms are the most important wurm here, since the first one gets three more in your hand and you may need that defense by the time you cast it. More expensive wurms can be replaced with less expensive wurms. What’s not to like?
DECK #7: GARY’S BRUISER
Gary and Toim are the newest players in our group, and I’ve picked two decks from them (Toim’s green-white above, and Gary’s blue-black here) that I feel show an important step in group-think evolution. Those readers who are also a bit newer to the game might pay extra attention, here. What is really smart about Toim’s and Gary’s deck is the use of instant speed. I’m not being patronizing, here: there are many tantalizing sorceries out there, and we all love using stuff like Wrath of God and Fireball when we can. But
instant speed — and knowing when to use it — is even more critical in multiplayer than it is in duel, because the bombs are bigger, the landscape can change several times between your turns, and the capability of retaliation is a potent and effective threat.
So Toim now hurls wurms out at instant speed, end of last opponent’s turn, even if he has the mana to hard cast them on his. And Gary…well, I think Gary’s learning to like a bit of the control.
KEY CARDS: Alexis Zephyr-Mage, Waterspout Djinn, Undertaker, Bone Shredder, Rhystic Study
METHOD: Uses counterspelling for game-changing artifacts and enchantments, and black removal for persistent creature threats. The Rhystic Study feeds the spellshapers nicely, and the Djinn is recurrable if you don’t wish to bounce a land down the road. Djinn is looking to be path to victory, with Alexis bouncing potential blockers as you’d expect.
WORKS BEST IN FORMAT: The deck may need one or two more beef cards to last against more than three or four players. Hasn’t been played in team yet, but I think it will work swimmingly there.
WEAKNESSES: An artifact on the board is likely to stay there. And like most control decks, it doesn’t care for lots of small but potent threats, like burn and swarm. Gary has Bottle Gnomes in a more recent version – is there a deck that DOESN’T use Gnomes well? What a great card.
REPLACEABLE RARES: The beautiful bouncing mage can be replaced with more traditional and common bounce. The Djinn can be replaced by lots of blue flying beef, or black ground-pounding beef. Other than that, the cards are very accessible. Like Toim’s, this is a nice, flexible deck that ought to appeal to those players with a few months under their belt and want to assert a bit of control over their destiny in group, for once.
DECK #8: THEO’S CHIMERRIFIC DECK
We close this week’s offerings with what I consider to be one of the best decks our group has seen this year — not because the cards in it are particularly explosive, but because the way they hang together is just real slick. Chimeras are a creature type out of Visions that never really fanned out for anyone, and there is the occasional casual player out there who tries to pull them together for something fun. I defy them to come up with
something better than this.
I’ll give a nearly full decklist, modifying it one or two cards to reflect the way Theo would like it to be, after a couple of trades:
Karn, Silver Golem (optional)
search/tutor capability of choice
some white utility
Urza’s Power Plant
For those of you unfamiliar with the Chimeras, here are the basics: each 4cc, 2/2 Chimera has a basic ability (flying, trample, first strike, non-tapping to attack). You can sack it to give its ability to another Chimera permanently. And Corpse Dance: 2B Instant. Buyback 2. Put the top creature card from your graveyard into play. That creature gains haste. Remove the creature from the game at end of turn.
METHOD: The Chimeras don’t look like much singly, and even all together they look shabbier than slivers, but this deck isn’t about looking good. It runs Diamonds to get a Chimera out turn three if possible. Turn four, with luck, is Chimera #2: and then the fun begins. They do nothing extraordinary until one is about to leave. Sack, give the other Chimera said ability. As more Chimeras come out, there is nearly always at least
one that manages to survive and maintain an ability or two. Eventually, a Corpse Dance with buyback is played, and before the creature would be removed from game at end of turn, you sack it to give another Chimera the ability.
This is not a combo-style play. You will not keep the same Chimera, with all of its bells and whistles, for long. But it is a relentless recursion of sackable creatures, each one living surviving brethren stronger than before. It is nearly invulnerable to targeted removal, resistant to mass removal, and can cope with burn through recursive Gnomes. It can keep pace well enough with other lifegain decks, and of course laughs at protection
from color cards. (You could play Rune of Protection: Artifact; but who maindecks that?)
WEAKNESSES: Recurring removal, like Shattering Pulse or Barrin, presents a stalemate of sorts. Staples like Disenchant and Pillage are useful but not the panacea you would expect. The true trick to stopping this deck is twofold (1) waxing each Chimera as it comes out, alone, before it can interact with any others; and (2) countering or fizzling the Corpse Dance. You can imagine how often that gets coordinated well in a chaos game. Once I had a deck that supplied me with a couple of Viashino Heretics, and that
looked promising; but that just got me an 8/8 flying trampling untapping first striker in the mouth. Did I get help? Noooo.
REPLACEABLE RARES: The Corpse Dances are rare but non-negotiable. The Chimeras are uncommon, and also non-negotiable. The Bottle Gnomes are uncommon and highly recommended. Karn is optional; honestly, a Crenellated Wall would do just as well (and might buy you a friend here and there). The Scrubland[/author]“][author name="Scrubland"]Scrublands[/author] would work okay as basic lands (one plains, three swamps). Theo uses a Balance in the deck, but that’s just rude. You could get away with a Ticking Gnomes, Swords to Plowshares, something like that.
I hope I’ve given a broad enough sampling of potential multiplayer decks. This week’s offerings, combined with my own from a couple of articles back, ought to give you new ideas on aggression, control, and combo; mono- and multi-color; rare-infested and rather common-based; and across all five colors and artifacts. If readers feel there are any gaps, let me know. I’ll be happy to feature decks from a specific angle, if there’s demand for
it (e.g., "more milling decks!" or "good green/blue combos"…whatever). What we haven’t tried, we’ll make up.
Before I close, a big THANK YOU to my entire group for sending me decklists and strategies. I had no idea you guys actually *thought* about the decks you threw together!
COMING SOON: In addition to Break this Card results, a "how low can you go?" format and, down the road…a Dream Team?