CASUAL FRIDAYS #73: Catching Up With The Group

A few recent developments in multiplayer deck design that you might have fun with as well.

A few recent developments in multiplayer deck design that you might have fun with as well.

It has been a couple of weeks since I have had the time to really take a look at some fun plays and cards our group has experienced lately. Casual Fridays does shift its colors repeatedly; I like to mix in contests with card analysis with wacky formats with strategic thoughts with anecdotes. This darting around to satisfy a multitude of tastes allows me to annoy 90% of my audience at any given time. But I do believe that it’s the deck ideas and anecdotes that make up the heart of Casual Fridays, so I’m glad to get back to it this week.

Therefore, I present to you three substantial multiplayer anecdotes from our group’s recent past, complete with asides on specific cards, situations, and other assorted rants. To jazz it up, I provide alternate endings. You must guess which is correct! Answers come immediately after each.


Five of us are at First and Ten in South Saint Paul, which is another "occasional" venue for us when none of us feels like hosting. We’re waiting for the others to arrive before we practice some sealed deck, and so we do up a game of chaos. Pete uses this opportunity to unveil a new creation of his, blue-black with the following base:

4x Vile Consumption
4x Pendrell Mists
4x Chimeric Idol
4x Ray of Command
3x Ensnaring Bridge
2x Spinal Embrace

He’s got man-lands in there, too, for additional defense. Vile Consumption is one of those "hidden" cards in Invasion; nobody ever talks about it because no one ever considered it Type II worthy. Well, if Planeshift gives Type II creatureless decks a boost in any way, we may see a bit more consumption in the vile sense. (Hmm…wait…scratch that: a Vile Consumption deck that ran into another Vile Consumption deck would feel rather foolish, wouldn’t it?)

In the meantime, casual players can have a good deal of fun with this one. Vile Consumption is a massive heartache to mono-green, especially those decks that just went through a great deal of effort to produce fifty saproling tokens on their previous turn and now must give most of them up or die.

Combined with Pendrell Mists (and you may want Counterspell backup for Tranquility/Purify with this deck), you create a very nasty situation for anyone wishing to conduct a decent assault.

Now add the Ensnaring Bridge. We all know what THAT does.

The ultimate kick, though, is Spinal Embrace. Oh, I love this card dearly, and so does Pete. We cannot think of a single card more insulting than this one:

MEEK OPPONENT: "Um, I’ll attack you with these two creatures…"
EMBRACER: "I’ll take that fat attacking creature right there."
MO: "Oh, okay."
E: "Then I’ll untap it."
MO: "Sure, I guess."
E: "Then I’ll block your other attacker with it. If I had done this on MY turn, I could have attacked you myself; but you are not enough of a threat to me to warrant such hasty action."
MO: "Hmm. Yeah, nothing I can do about that."
E: "Your attacker dies."
MO: "That’s a bummer."
E: "I carefully chose the creature that would survive this combat, of course."
MO: "Gee, thanks. I’m glad I’ll at least get it back…"
E: "Not so fast. Is it the end of your turn yet?"
MO: "Um, yeah?"
E: "I sacrifice the creature."
MO: "Oh."
E: "Oops, I almost forgot, I gain life equal to its toughness."

Could you possibly DO anything else that would add to the offensiveness of this card? How about this for rules text:

Untap target creature and gain control of it. That creature gains haste until end of turn. At the end of this turn, sacrifice it. If you do, you gain life equal to the creature’s toughness. Then pick the card up out of that poor slob’s graveyard, de-sleeve it, and tear it up into pieces. Stuff all of the pieces into your mouth. If you do, chew them. At the end of the next turn, spit all pieces out over the owner’s library. Your drool gains haste.

I’m going to give myself a black mark for not honing in on this card in time for high placement in the Hall of Fame. I never think of Ray of Command as a game breaker – it has its moments, sure, and belongs in many blue group decks – but Spinal Embrace just shifts momentum beautifully, giving you two-for-one card advantage if you time it, choose it, and block it right, as well as a guaranteed death for the creature you steal and a welcome life gain swing that can resurrect your chances in a mid-sized multiplayer. If your group is does threat analysis the same way you do, you may even lose some heat from your opponents when they figure that they’d like to keep you around for a while.

Back to the deck, and this game. Pete has out Vile Consumption, Ensnaring Bridge, and Pendrell Mists, and has six mana available to threaten a Spinal Embrace. Someone (I think it was Jerry, a newer player I keep meaning to introduce to you) plays a Dingus Staff, which of course penalizes players for having creatures go to their graveyard. Pete lets out a whoop of joy; I have no idea what Jerry was thinking.

Because now we’re in the following situation:

"At the beginning of your upkeep, for each creature you control, pay 1 and one life or sacrifice that creature and take two damage. Virtually no creature you control may attack with any hope of success. [Pete had one card in hand.]"

It’s like a slow, painful Wrath of God. Dave is playing red with Sneak Attack (but hasn’t found a Sneak yet); Bill is playing mono-white (more on that later on); and I am playing my smashmouth white-green-red deck that leads up to Skizziks and Rith. (Who had Rith and Armadillo Cloaks in a deck without Fires before Brian Kibler did? That’s right, I did… And my own absence from the Top 4 in Chicago can be very easily explained by the fact that I felt I should give the "big names" of Magic just a small break from my dominance. So I threw a couple of qualifiers, and presto! Kibler becomes a legend. It’s okay, Brian, you can thank me later for the idea.)

So with the Vile-Pendrell-Dingus lock on the board, which of the following happened?

a) The controller of the Dingus Staff recognized his enormous error and begged us all to let him take it back.
b) I topdecked an Aura Shards, the card made for these exact situations, and then started blowing all this stinky garbage up, Dingus Staff first.
c) I topdecked nothing, and everybody attacked ME with their 1/1 creatures.

Space to think about why those who like space to think and those who hate space to think just can’t get along…Add that to the list of pro versus casual, netdeck versus rogue, geek versus jock, StarCity versus less cool sites, Mark Rosewater versus the rest of us, and every other "distinction" that barely serves a theoretical purpose in the thrall of an egotistical end, much less a practical one in the service of increasing understanding of the game. (Hey, look! Another distinction.)

The answer is (b). (Amazingly enough, (c) didn’t happen, though it would hardly have surprised me. Whiiiiiiiiine….) I did indeed find an Aura Shards, and given the state of the board (and the Rith, Wall of Blossoms, and two Skizziks in my hand), took out the following, in order: Dingus Staff (with Wall, same turn), Vile Consumption (with Rith, following turn), and then Pendrell Mists and Ensnaring Bridge with two Skizziks.

I forget who won. Probably not me; I usually remember winning in situations like that. But in any case, we stared into the abyss and then crawled out – heroically, I might add. Unless Pete won, in which case I guess we climbed right back in again.


Pete, Carl and I are playing three-player chaos. I am foolishly attempting to use my Fade to Black deck (fading/recursion), which has an outstanding record in team and a pathetic one in isolation. Pete is playing a mono-red Laccolith deal. Carl is playing an experimental black-green deck that mirrors the Roshambo from Invasion block (Carl doesn’t know this; he just came up with this on his own, I think). Uses the following base:

Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
Natural Affinity
Crypt Rats
Spidersilk Armor
Death Pit Offering

I’m not sure of the quantities; right now, the deck looks like Carl is experimenting with several different cards and only has one or two of each in there. It performs unevenly, but is very cute when it manages to turn all lands into creatures and then wipe out everyone’s but Carl’s (note the Spidersilk Armor).

Now I bring this deck up for three reasons, none of which are "I bet you never thought of a deck like this." In fact, from reader emails I received around when Prophecy came out, I’m pretty sure many of you toyed with something similar, and a few of you like Carl had the time and energy to actually do it. Here are my points:

First point, I like watching decks in early stages as they try to figure out "what’s good". Multiplayer games are often at their best when everyone is testing out three or four different cards for a given three- or four-card slot. Tournament decks have to do their playtesting ahead of time to be successful, but multiplayer decks should be considered successful if you have something really strange and unlikely happen at the event itself. Right now in my rebuilt Grave Pact deck has single copies of Delraich, Coffin Puppets, and Volrath’s Stronghold, and a couple of Phyrexian Negators, just to see what will happen. (Right now, I think even with supportive Claws of Gix the Negators have to go, I bump up the Coffin Puppets, and keep the Delraich at x1 or x2).

Hmmmm…actually I think I have to do another digression here. We’ve got two more points to go through; somebody remember that…

I owe it to Gary, who’s been playing for less than a year, to let everyone know that Gary won a nice, long multiplayer game that it didn’t look like he could win. Toward the end of a grueling five-player game, in which Theo’s Dancing Gnomes/Chimera deck and Pete’s Vile Consumption deck (above) peaked early and then got swept out, Gary and I found ourselves both playing black decks with nasty tricks. Toim was playing white-blue control; but he felt content to sit back while Gary’s recurring Plaguelord and Thrull tokens battled it out with my Grave Pact contractors.

Finally, Toim felt like my Grave Pact had to go. In deep gratitude, Gary finished him off shortly afterward, and then turned his full attention to me. I was at thirty life and he was at four.

It takes nothing away from Gary’s solid play, I hope, for me to present to you my impersonation of my own Grave Pact deck that evening:

"Wooooo-hoo! We’ve got a partaay goin’ on down here at the bottom of the library! All you hot lady Grave Pacts, we’ve got no cover charge too-nite! So come on down and gather ’round!"

That’s right, all three Grave Pacts were having a little get-together, all smooshed together within the last fifteen cards of my library. Hey, it’s a game of chance, and I should have packed two Vampiric Tutors in there. My bad. I really need Grave Pact in situations where black fatties are conspiring to crush me. The fact that Gary had graveyard recursion made things worse; gang blocking was not an option.

So I died, and Gary won. He got all excited, like ten-year old boys will (he may be older than that, but it’s hard to tell), and did some trash-talking after the fact. Trash-talking after you win, of course, is not nearly as impressive as trash-talking BEFORE you win. Of course, both flat-out beat the snot out of trash-talking before you LOSE – the camera cuts to Me. So in penance, I will post this story and give Gary his shining moment of glory. Heaven knows when I will get this opportunity again.

I believe we were working on three points related to Carl’s green-black deck?

Second point, a random thought while I was staring at Death Pit Offering one day: don’t Death Pit Offering and Rukh Egg go together pretty well? I’ll grant that it would be better if the Eggs were a three-drop, but you should still be able to go: First turn, Blood Pet; second turn, Abyssal Gatekeeper; third turn, sack Pet for fourth mana for Rukh Egg; fourth turn Death Pit Offering and watch each player lose a creature as you put out a 6/6 flying Rukh. Smash, rinse, repeat.

Third point comes after this multiple choice on what happened in this game, after Curt played Spidersilk Armor and Natural Affinity, and activated his Crypt Rats for two:

(a) I tapped and sacked my Elvish Lyrist to rid Curt’s lands of that pesky Spidersilk Armor that seemed to be gumming up their fantastic journey to the graveyard.
(b) I stared at the Elvish Lyrist in my hand, and sighed, wondering when I would draw a Forest again.

Hey, what do you know, stupid luck, I was prepared again. Correct answer is (a). Anyway, my third point was that group environment where enchantments are fragile is a good one. I was playing the Grave Pact deck later on and had to admire how badly a first-turn Lyrist from Pete just hosed me.

Here’s a public wish, related in a "not-directly-related-but-related-enough-that-you-wouldn’t-want-them-to-have-children" kind of way to Curt’s deck and this anecdote. I wish black had a way to deal with enchantments.

Let’s take a brief look at how each color deals with their weakness:
* Blue should not be able to get rid of any permanent for good. But they can bounce them or counter them, which gives them a shot at dealing with them.
* White should not be good at spot removal, especially of creatures. But it does have very conditional spot removal, typically with a drawback (e.g. Last Breath).
* Red should not be able to handle enchantments. Heeeey…Let’s put them on the list, too.
* Green should not be able to handle creatures. But in a pinch, they CAN use Desert Twister, an inefficient but still effective card.

So we look at black and red, and they get NOTHING to help them with enchantments. (Black has Phyrexian Tribute to deal with artifacts; red has plenty there.) Red has Anarchy, maybe, which is nice if the enchantment you want to get rid of is white but is otherwise useless.

This, to me, is a decent-sized problem, both for casual and tournament environments. Black and red are my favorite colors, but I NEVER play the two together unless I’m using a third color as well. I’m trying to think really hard of a single unsolicited red-black multiplayer deck idea I’ve gotten from a reader in the past year…Not coming up with anything. (Break this Card doesn’t count.) And how many fantastic red-black cards in Invasion (and perhaps Planeshift) are not being used in Type II decks because the color combination can’t stop Parallax Wave or Saproling Burst?

Let’s accept that if Wizards were to read this and succumb to my reasoning, it would still be four or more expansions before they could include something. In that case, I am hoping that gold cards would still be "in favor." That’s because I’m thinking it should be both red AND black, to reward adherance to those two colors and to continue to penalize mono-red and mono-black strategies, if that’s some sort of gospel.

Of course, it should be expensive and difficult, since I’m not stupid and I know enchantment removal shouldn’t be these colors’ strength. Perhaps something along the following lines:

3BR Enchantment
As an additional cost to play Dissonance, sacrifice a creature or a land. When Dissonance comes into play, remove all other enchantments in play from the game. Players may not play enchantment spells. When Dissonance leaves play, return to play all enchantments removed from the game with this card and remove Dissonance from the game.

Or something like that. The idea is something that temporarily suppresses enchantments, so that you can get off an attack or burn somebody for the last time. Black and red, in their essence, are "noisy" colors that would deal with the awesome power of enchantments the only way they can think of: Shouting even louder.

I think its identity as an enchantment, and its disallowance of further enchantments, keeps infinite loop problems away. There’s probably a still million rules problems with Opalescence and/or Replenish…But aren’t there always? Let the DCI worry about that.

Back to anecdotes.


Elvish Champion hasn’t gotten much press since it came out. I’ll grant that an Invasion-only environment isn’t very exciting for elf decks; but try the following base, suggested by a Pete deck:

4x Elvish Champion
4x Priest of Titania
4x Elvish Lyrist
4x Llanowar Sentinel
4x Stream of Life
4x Hurricane

Smashmouth elf decks are always rather fun. You see the path(s) to victory easily, here: Win a life war with massive Streams and Hurricanes; beat down opponents with beefy, forestwalking elves. Pete’s even testing out Llanowar Elite here, since even inefficient 6/6 tramplers at nine mana are not too difficult to cast on the third or fourth turn. I think he should also slip in an Eladamri or two, as well as Skyshroud Elite given the number of non-basic lands our group runs. (And why not Rofellos? — The Ferrett)

Pete, Bill and I were playing a three player game one night. I go first, drop a mountain. Pete goes next and drops forest, Elvish Lyrist. Bill goes next and drops a forest. Back to me, forest and Skyshroud Elf. Back to Pete, forest and Priest. Back to Bill, forest and Priest.

Suddenly, I feel inadequate.

So we’re all playing Elf decks, except mine isn’t really an Elf deck; it’s a red-green that happens to use Skyshroud Elves so that other people’s Priests of Titania can make more mana. I do not charge extra for this service; I do this out of the goodness of my heart and a desire to get out of bad matchups extra early.

Guess what happened over the next five or six turns:

(a) Anthony stabilized quickly, putting out multiple walls and other blockers capable of fending off Pete’s forestwalking elves.
(b) Bill put out a Coat of Arms, making Elves even freaking huger.
(c) Pete had another Priest of Titania out on turn three and about twelve mana available to him by turn four, allowing him to put out four 10/11 Llanowar Sentinels.
(d) (b) and (c). Oh come on, let’s not even bother; we all know it was this one, right?

I was able to hold of Pete for exactly one turn with my own sizeable Skyshroud Elf and Mogg Maniac (what I wouldn’t have given for two more!), but then the Elvish Champion hit the table and they all gravitated to my Forest, it was all over.

Elf decks should be blitzing again through casual groups by now. Old versions splashing Fireballs, middle-aged ones using Coat of Arms and Eladamri, and new ones using the Champion (and Deepwood Elder). Pack your Extinctions, Tsabo’s Decrees, and Engineered Plagues. And try to leave your forests at home.

COMING SOON: Please note that Break this Card for Coalition Victory is now CLOSED as of midnight last night. (I’m pretty sure we hit 100 easily, since there was a nice little email flood this past week; but I’m not certain since some emails contain multiple entries. I’ll sort it all out and let you know next week.) I’ll announce five winners for the contest sometime shortly after PT: LA.

Anthony Alongi
[email protected]