Casual Play: Multiplayer Combos

You can deal lethal damage to all opponents. You can deck everyone else. Or you can create an amazing hard lock and force everyone to concede.

I lead a dual life. Half of me plays tournament Magic, the other half plays casually. The tournament part got me to Detroit for the GP, but the casual part had me checking out dealers for janky cards like Rashida Scalebane.

How was the GP? I couldn’t draw the cards I needed. Round 4, I was paired against Aaron "Good Beats" Forsythe. In the Game, 1, he dropped a turn 6 Draco. The casual part thought that was a pretty cool play; the tournament part was fuming because I was stuck at four land and had Shivan Emissary in hand. I didn’t draw a land, and Draco beat me down. I would have topdecked a land four turns later, at which point I would have been at about -24 life. But enough about the Grand Prix – sealed deck reports are a bore to read.

My tourney half has been prepping for regionals. The current T2 environment doesn’t have a really good, viable combo deck. That leaves the casual part of me thinking about combos. Casual play combos are a little different than those designed for duels. In multiplayer, they are really different.

Why, you ask? Well, look at a classic combo deck like Sabre Bargain. Sabre Bargain used a ton of manipulation to get a Skirge Familiar and Yawgmoth’s Bargain into play. It drew cards via Bargain, discarded them to the Familiar for mana, and fed other permanents to Renounce for life to draw cards. Then it cast Soul Feast three or four times, used the life to draw more cards, cast Yawgmoth’s Will to let it cast those Soul Feasts again so that it could drain enough life to kill the opponent. This usually involved one massive, fifteen0minute turn, about three-quarters of the Bargain player’s library, and all of the permanents in play (except for the Familiars). Nonetheless, it worked and was capable of routinely killing opponents on turn 3 or 4.

In multiplayer, you could still blow through your deck to kill someone with Sabre Bargain. Once you’ve accomplished it, though, the other players will kill you at their leisure. In multiplayer, the goal is to kill ALL your opponents. All at once, if possible, otherwise your opponents may join forces to eliminate the biggest threat – you.

Practically, you can win the game a number of ways. You can cast Coalition Victory with the requisite permanents in play.* You can deal lethal damage to all opponents. You can deck everyone else (just don’t deck yourself as well.) Or you can create an amazing hard lock and force everyone to concede.** I’ll give some advice on the kill and decking options below, but first I want to go back to the Yawgmoth’s Bargain idea.

It is possible to use Yawgmoth’s Bargain to kill many people in multiplayer, but it is not easy. For one thing, it helps to have the Power Nine. Secondly, it is a fragile combo deck. If more than one or two opponents are playing Disenchants or Counterspells, this can be a problem. However, I did once build and play a Bargain deck for multiplayer games. I played exactly two real games with the deck. The first game it went off turn 1. The second it went off turn 3. In both cases, it killed everyone else at the table.

The bad news is that I don’t have the decklist anymore. The deck was built one or two years ago, before the last round of restrictions in T1. Here’s what I remember, then an explanation of how it works.

A Bad Bargain

2x Yawgmoth’s Bargain
2x Mind over Matter

2x Vampiric Tutors
1x Demonic Tutor
3x Crop Rotation
2x Enlightened Tutor

4x Mana Vault
4x Voltaic Key
1x Mana Crypt (all I had)
1x Candelabra of Tawnos (I think)

4x Lotus Petal
(5) one of each Mox
4x Mox Diamond

R Windfall
R Regrowth
R Ancestral Recall
R Wheel of Fortune
2x Stroke of Genius

4x Drain Life
2x Initiates of the Ebon Hand
1x Feldon’s Cane

R Tolarian Academy
12 assorted dual lands incorporating swamps and islands

I hope that’s right.

The deck was designed to get a lot of cheap mana down really fast, then get out a Mind over Matter and a Bargain. With a good draw, you can do that turn 1. Typically, that involves playing low cost mana artifacts, a land, Crop Rotating for Academy and generating a bunch of mana. Once you get Bargain down, draw a lot of cards – you can go down to one life if necessary (four life, if an opponent has an untapped Mountain and the possibility of a Bolt in hand). With all the low-cost mana, artifacts you will be able to drop enough mana to cast Mind over Matter. Once Mind over Matter is available to untap Academy or Mana Vault, getting mana is no longer a problem.

Then you need to find an Initiate and you are good to go. The Initiate can turn all that blue mana black, which can power a lot of Drain Lifes. True, the Initiate will die at the end of turn, but so what? You will win long before then. Simply generate a bunch of mana, drain someone for twenty, use that life to draw twenty more cards. Play any mana artifacts you drew, discard the chaff and random lands to Mind over Matter to untap Academy a half dozen times, Drain Life on someone else for twenty, draw more cards, etc. If you have more than four opponents, kill four with Drain Lifes, then use Feldon’s Cane to put the graveyard back into your library and do it again. At that point, you will probably be at forty to sixty life and holding about thirty cards, so drawing the rest of your library after using the Cane is no problem.

The deck can stall early on. In testing, I found that I could get Mind over Matter or Bargain down turn 1, then would have to wait a turn or two to get the other half of the combo into play. The problem is usually lack of colored mana after Bargain, or cards once you drop a turn 1 Mind over Matter. You really want some card drawing early on, to have enough cards to prime the pump, as it were. But, so long as you have some cards in hand, the deck just keeps on working.

I am probably forgetting something. I spent a number of hours tuning it, but I know it had some flaws. For one thing, I don’t know if Ingrid and I owned a Candelabra of Tawnos at that time. It’s also missing Black Lotus and Time Walk – both of which would have been there if we owned them. Moreover, the deck does not have any counterspells. This was a metagame call – I built the deck to work once or twice, and assumed that no one would have anything that could counter or Disenchant on turn 1. That was the whole strategy – build it to go off fast, and hope no one drew Force of Will. It worked fine in my group, but it is still pretty risky.

Besides, the T1 restrictions last fall broke this deck. Now most of the tutors, things like Lotus Petal, Mana Vault, Crop Rotation and, of course, Yawgmoth’s Bargain are all restricted. It is probably still possible to make this work, but I will leave that for someone else… Someone who owns the complete Power Nine. Besides, I did this once. Once is enough.***

Let’s get back to some combos for the rest of us. We’re talking multiplayer, so the combos have to take out at least three other players. That rules out many of the famous combos – like those that end with "Stroke you for 300." Okay, I suppose 300 mana, Stroke of Genius and four Forks might work, but the odds of getting that off? No way.

Nonetheless, any combo that kills a large number of players is going to involve going infinite, or nearly infinite. You either need infinite**** mana, and then a spell to use it, or repeating damage. We’ll deal with infinite mana first.

Most of the classic methods of generating infinite mana work in multiplayer, provided your opponents don’t catch on and find ways of stopping you. Choose your poison. Palinchron / Mana Flare is nice, since if someone disenchants the Mana Flare, you still get a nice big flier. Cloud of Fairies / Equilibrium / Gaea’s Cradle is very efficient, if you like those colors. Power Artifact on a Grim Monolith is great, and only one color, if you have the cards. You can even use strange things, like Iridescent Drake, False Demise, and Ashnod’s Altar.

Or, if you want to make sure they never see it coming, try these:

1) Carnival of Souls, Soul Warden, Priest of Gix, Urza’s Incubator, Ashnod’s Altar, Haunted Crossroads, Fecundity or Foster. Of course, it means you have to play Carnival of Souls, and you kill yourself if the Soul Warden is not in play. Not to mention that trying to get a six-card combo set up leaves your opponents lots of time to kill you.

2) Argothian Elder and Maze of Ith. This one is much more subtle – and is actually playable to boot. The Maze of Ith untaps an attacking creature and prevents that creature from dealing or receiving combat damage – meaning that it can keep you alive until you go off. The Elder taps to untap two lands. The trick is to attack with the Elder, use Maze to untap the Elder, tap another land for mana, then tap the Elder to untap both the Maze and the other land, then repeat that process. You get one extra mana each cycle. This really works, since the Maze of Ith does not remove the Elder from combat, just untaps it.

Now, once you have sufficiently large amounts of mana, you have to do something with it. The simplest method is to use Fireball, and split the damage equally among all opponents, or Rolling Thunder and divide the damage any way you like. However, both spells require red mana. Not a problem with Palinchron / Mana Flare and the like, but you might need a color washer like Mana Cylix, Skyshroud Elf or Chromatic Sphere if your deck doesn’t run mountains.

If you don’t want to kill people with direct damage, then try decking them. Prosperity says everyone can draw X cards – meaning that a Prosperity for 1000 can kill everyone. However, everyone includes you as well, so if you don’t want to be content with being the person to force a draw, you need a way to avoid drawing 1000 cards. The best one I know of is Pursuit of Knowledge – a Stronghold rare. It allows you to skip drawing a card to put a counter on PoK. Removing three counters will let you draw seven cards – but that’s irrelevant. If you cast Prosperity for 1000, you will end up with 950+ counters on PoK and still have cards in your library. Your opponents, on the other hand, will have run out of cards to draw and lost.

Of course, Pursuit of Knowledge is an enchantment in a different color than Prosperity. If anyone Disenchants it in response to your casting the Prosperity, you lose as well. A better option is Whetstone: Pay three mana and each player puts the top two cards from his/her library into their graveyard. You can do this as many times as you like, assuming you have mana. Activate it 500 times, and everyone’s library is empty. It doesn’t deck you, since it puts cards into the graveyard – it doesn’t force a draw. So just pass the turn, and your opponents will each lose the game when they reach the draw step. The only things you have to worry about are having someone force you to draw a card ("Ancestral You!"), having an opponent that can put cards into their library during their upkeep (e.g., with Rishadan Pawnshop or Volrath’s Stronghold) or an opponent with Gaea’s Blessings in their library. Of course, you can play with some of those, too. Gaea’s Blessing is particularly effective here.

Another advantage to Whetstone – it is the only practical option that works with the Elder / Maze of Ith trick. The Maze only works during the combat phase, so the infinite mana is generated during combat. You cannot play sorceries during combat, so Fireball and Prosperity won’t work. The only other mass effect instant is Fault Line – the instant speed Earthquake from Urza’s Saga – but if you use that, have a CoP: Red in play.

Are there other options? Sure. Am I going to list them? No – other than to say that you can go the other extreme. For instance, cast Stream of Life for 5 million, then play Elfhame Sanctuary – or anything else that lets you skip your draw phase – and let people try to kill you before they deck themselves. If anyone gets close, Regrow your Stream of Life and do it again. Alternatively, kill your opponents by recurring Goblin Game.*****

It is also possible to kill any number of opponents by creating unbounded damage. Many of the classic tricks used in extended decks work, such as Goblin Bombardment, Enduring Renewal and a 0cc creature. Enduring Renewal, which puts anything going to the graveyard from play back in your hand, can be abused a number of ways. If you feel Goblin Bombardment / Shield Sphere has been done too often, try Enduring Renewal / Cathodian / Altar of Dementia and mill away. If you want to kill one opponent with damage while milling another, try adding a Kyren Negotiations to that mix.

For those that really like playing with bad cards, try this one. Kyren Negotiations, two Timid Drakes and an infinite mana engine, producing blue mana. Play the first drake, tap it to deal one damage via Negotiations. (No, summoning sickness doesn’t prevent this.) Then play the other drake – bouncing the first – and repeat.

Intruder Alarm can also power a ton of tricks, but this is long already and I’ll leave that for another time. I’ll close with a combo that actually works very well in any multiplayer game: It’s mono-blue, so you can protect the combo with counterspells and find it with card drawing, the cards are okay on their own, and the combo is not widely known: Thieving Magpie / Hermetic Study / Mind over Matter. Think about it. And if you are worried about decking yourself before you kill everyone, add Feldon’s Cane or Thran Foundry (Library of Leng doesn’t work.)

Until next time.


* – Anthony Alongi had a "Break This Card" contest on Coalition Victory – check that out if you want ideas for CV decks.

** – Most of these involve strange combos, like Lifeline / Fervor / Daring Apprentice / Arcane Labs. They also work best if your opponents don’t already have something that could kill you in play.

*** – Something my casual play group made it quite clear at the time that once was more than enough. Generally, we try to play decks that stay interesting for hours – and that have plenty of interaction. Watching someone spend five to ten minutes tapping and untapping on turn 1 – then killing everyone before they can take a turn – doesn’t count. But, hey, you have to show off once in a while…

**** – Okay, I know that, according to the rules, these are technically "unbounded," not infinite. I don’t care.

***** – If anyone really tries to win with infinite lifegain, I hope your opponents play Sabertooth Cobra and you die to Poison counters. I hope the poison is slow and agonizing. You deserve it.