Do we Even Want Official Multiplayer Rules?

So, I am reading and reviewing the Magic sites on a lazy Monday afternoon. I have completed my work for the day, finished an article for Scrye, set up a few meetings for Tuesday, judicially sanctioned one of my residents, interviewed a job candidate, and everything was looking rosy. Until it happened.

So, I am reading and reviewing the Magic sites on a lazy Monday afternoon. I have completed my work for the day, finished an article for Scrye, set up a few meetings for Tuesday, judicially sanctioned one of my residents, interviewed a job candidate, and everything was looking rosy. Until it happened.

I checked out www.magicthegathering.com for their Monday articles. I enjoy Mark’s column – I think it’s the second best on there. Only Anthony Alongi is better. (And frankly, I think that Anthony is the best writer on the ‘Net. If I could be half the writer he is, I’d be a most happy Abe.) I read Mark’s column, then moved to the vote for this week. One card versus two? I wish that they would have given some justification about why Confiscate has to come with Rewind, and what countermagic would look like without Rewind. And then I see it.

Maybe you saw it too – a little article underneath the major articles and features. A short little script entitled simply,”Multiplayer Rules.” Multiplayer rules? That sounds… interesting. I click on the link and read the article.

My feelings at reading the article were mixed at best. I felt interchangeably horrified and intrigued. We are going to have official multiplayer rules? Is this a good thing for multiplayer?

I have to wonder.

Now, before we get started, let’s get something very clear. I like change. I am hardly one of those people who disdain and bemoan change. I do not complain about the speed of the release schedule. I love tinkering around with things in order to make them better. If I ultimately decide to come down against Official Rules, it will be because I do not like the idea itself, not because I am against change per se.

Honestly, I am not sure how I feel. I am writing this in order to sort out my own feelings. Let’s just go through this logically, and maybe I’ll make up my mind by the end of the article.

All Those in Favor say”Aye”

In his article, Paul Barclay discusses several reasons why we should have multiplayer rules made official. To begin, Paul points out that, with an established set of rules, you can easily join an existing multiplayer group. Is this really that important? Are there thousands of players around the world wishing to join multiplayer groups, but not doing so because they do not know what rules that group is using?

In other words, is this really a deterrent? I doubt it. Currently, you can join almost any playgroup and adopt their rules of play in a week, maybe two. This is hardly a situation so dire that the rules need correcting.

The second point that Paul claims is that Wizards of the Coast customer service staff could answer multiplayer questions. Now by this point in the article, I was pretty upset with the whole idea. We are creating a swath of rules in order to ease transition into a new group and help customer service people?

Did I miss a major clamor in favor of giving customer service reps (Let’s just call them CSR’s for the rest of the article because I am already tired of typing the whole phrase) multiplayer information as well? This is hardly a major problem, keeping players up at night and sending them to internet forums to rant.

Now, I like Paul’s third point the best, if it’s true. With Official Multiplayer Rules™, R&D can create cards that are especially geared towards multiplayer environments. Anything that can help support multiplayer and increase the quality of cards is alright by me.

I have to pause, however, and wonder if there is a bit of a disconnect going on at Wizards. Mark Rosewater, Adrian Sullivan, Randy Buehler, and others have all stated that various cards were created for the multiplayer game, right? If cards are already being made for the multiplayer game (and they are), how do official rules help?

It’s obvious that some cards probably had multiplayer in mind. Take, say, Unnerve, from Urza’s Saga, which states that,”Each of your opponents chooses and discards two cards.” Note the use of the phrase”Each of your opponents.” If the card had simply said,”Target opponent discards two cards,” then Unnerve would never be more than an expensive Mind Rot. Instead, it is a powerful multiplayer tool, but in duels, it remains an expensive Mind Rot. That sounds like the personification of a multiplayer-specific card.

Of course, Unnerve is hardly the only card made better in a multiplayer setting. If you want a deep list of many of the best cards in multiplayer, then all you have to do is check out Anthony Alongi Hall of Fame. In fact, you can find many editions of it right here on StarCityGames.com in his archives. He is the fifth featured writer in the list, (and yours truly is second….)

I was making a point, wasn’t I? Oh yes, there are plenty of cards that either benefit from multiplayer by serendipity, or were designed with multiplayer in mind. How, then, does an official set of rules help in the formation of those cards?

Paul’s forth point is the one that really makes some players salivate. Once these rules take effect, it is a very short distance to sanctioning multiplayer, and maybe even having tournaments!

Yay for sanctioned multiplayer events. I would love to increase the profile of multiplayer, and this is the best thing that Paul has going for him with his reasoning. I suspect that many other players of the multi game agree with that sentiment.

Yet, let’s slow down a bit before we get all crazy. Paul did not say that there would be multiplayer Pro Tours and championships. He did not say that there would be regular tournaments. He did not even say that multiplayer would be sanctioned. All he said was that there were no plans for multiplayer to be sanctioned, but if player demand is more than expected, hey, they’ll consider it.

So, maybe there is the off chance that official rules will lead to sanctioned tournaments someday. It just won’t be today, not this year, and probably not for several more years at least.

Is the hope of a future sanctioned format worth the trouble of a sanctioned set of rules? I guess the answer to that question depends on what the trouble might be. Let’s take a look, then, and see what possible harm might come from having official rules.

All Those Opposed,”Nay”

Before I sat down to write this article, I read the proposed rules that were posted on the site. I decided to test the current rules by looking at a major potential issue. Are Portal and Unglued cards considered part of the Official Rules?

Guess what? No comment at all on Portal or Unglued cards. Since this was an addendum to the Magic Comprehensive Rules, I looked up the issue in that document. The Comprehensive Rules state that certain cards may be banned in tournament play, and to check the tournament rules for that.

Let’s get this clear. In other words, according to the Magic Comprehensive Rules and the Multiplayer Rules addendum, any card that has been printed can be played in multiplayer, period. (According to about twenty minutes of research, I am willing to accede that there may be an obscure rule elsewhere that I didn’t see.)

It is becoming increasingly clear to me that each group will have to modify the”Official Rules of Multiplayer” significantly. What group will allow every card printed in multiples of four? No Type One B&R list, at least? Our multiplayer group usually allows you to play any deck. so long as it is legal in at least one format. For example, you could play four Frantic Searches, if you want, but then you could not play Tolarian Academy (As no sanctioned format that has an unrestricted Frantic Search allows Academy).

There are other issues that I noticed when reviewing the Multiplayer Rules. Take split attacks, for instance. According to the Multiplayer Addendum, you can split attacks. I know some groups that do not allow split attacks in order to change things up. Now split attacks will be official. It’s official, but also optional. What’s with optional rules in a document that is supposed to bring consistency to the format?

Another issue is how they view range. Let us suppose that eight players are seated around a circular table and we number them 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. If we institute a range of, say, 2, for the game, then that means that spells from player 5 should be able to affect all players seated 3 through 7. No problem so far. What if player 5 plays Volcanic Eruption on four Mountains that player 3 controls. Those Mountains are destroyed, certainly, but who takes the damage? Some groups would want the damage spread seats 3 through 7, like normal. Others would argue that the Mountains are exploding over at seat 3, so the damage should be dealt in seats 1 through 5. Who is right?

Normally, you’d say that neither group is right, what we have is merely a matter of style. Of course, since we’ll soon have Uber-Official Multiplayer Rules of Certainty, we’ll know which group is right.

Let’s recap. Each group will have their own rules as to what cards are allowed, what sets are banned (No Unglued here!), deck construction rules, range, attacks, targeting restrictions, and so forth. That’s hardly a streamlining set of rules.

This brings us to our basic problem. Multiplayer groups are unique. A group with mostly new and casual player might look for one thing from the game. A group of competitive players who get together and try to smash face might want something completely different from the game. Should one set of rules apply to both?

Won’t you be defeating the very purpose behind consolidated rules if those very rules are constructed in such a way as to foster differences?

There’s definitely some food for thought there. Now, let’s take a look at some specific cases from our group, and look at how the Official Multiplayer rules would handle them.

Case Analysis

Spells on the Stack: Our group has ruled that everything on the stack is removed from the stack if a player dies. When one of our players tries to play Obliterate, we try to burn the player out instantly, in order to stop the Obliterate from occurring. However, note that it may be much more flavorful to allow Obliterate to still happen.

You can’t stop a Prodigal Sorcerer from dealing one to you by killing the sorcerer after it taps and the ability is on the stack. You have to target the ability (with, say, Bind) or target the target (with, say, Circle of Protection: Blue). It is easy to argue that players should be treated similarly, and that their spells on the stack still resolve.

The OMR (Official Multiplayer Rules) agree with our group. They define an object as anything owned by a player, including spells and abilities on the stack. All objects leave when that player loses, so spells on the stack would also leave. Your group, however, may find it a bit cheap to eliminate an annoying spell by eliminating a player.

The Horsemanship Problem: As expressed in an earlier article of mine entitled Bring Portal into your Casual Game, Part I, playing Horsemanship creatures as written can be a bit overpowering. Giving Red and Green access to these cheap creatures that are essentially unblockable in most groups is unfortunate. Some players could horde up on Horsemanship creatures, and then attack with them. Imagine Sun Quan, Lord of Wu being played as Horsemanship is written. That’s nasty.

Our group has ruled that flyers can also block Horsemanship creatures. It’s a solution that is in flavor while also allowing Horsemanship to retain some power without being overly broken. This has worked well in our group, and allows some players to experiment with Horsemanship creatures without requiring that everybody else get some as well.

Of course, the OMR would not allow for Horsemanship to be ruled as such. Horsemanship is what it is, and that’s the end of it.

A Question of Proxies: Our group allows proxies, but we reserve the right to chide anybody who uses them. We also usually request that people who use proxies also own the card. One Zombie deck has proxied Coat of Arms. Whenever the owners play it, we bitch at her about her proxies. We still allow it, it’s just the price you pay.

The OMR would disallow proxies from being played as well. Just cards that have been printed. However, I would be interested in knowing whether the Comprehensive Rules actually speaks on the matter of the Collector’s Edition. From my quick review, CE cards would be allowed, but I am not sure, and I would appreciate a judge chiming in on the issue.

If my interpretation is correct, then the default would be to allow CE cards in decks, but no other proxies. Your group may or may not be thrilled by this, and again, may want to change that to no CE or allow all proxies, whatever you prefer.

What About Leaves Play Effects Again: According to the current OMR, if I play a Faceless Butcher and remove one of your creatures from the game, then when I die, you do not get your creature back. What is the reasoning behind that? In regular Magic, there is nothing you can do to my Faceless Butcher that removes it from play that does not allow it’s leave play trigger to be placed on the stack. You can’t bounce it, shuffle it into my library, bury it or remove it from the game without it going off. Why should a player dying be any different?

Again, your group may disagree with the OMR’s ruling. Personally, I’d argue that a permanent under the control of a player and owner who dies does not go to the graveyard, is not removed from the game, etc because those zones cease to exist. Therefore, the only triggers that occur are”removed from play” triggers, such as those on the Nightmares.

Sleeper Agents Return: A couple of players in our group are really fond of Sleeper Agent. I’ve played Jinxed Idol a couple of times myself. These are permanents that are bad for your opponent, and which you do not want to control. If you play a Sleeper Agent and hand it to your opponent, do you want to get it back when that opponent dies?

This is an interesting question for all multiplayer groups, actually. What happens to a dead player’s Sleeper Agent owned by a current player. Does the Sleeper Agent return home? Does it die, it’s task complete? Maybe it goes to a random player?

The OMR sends the Sleeper Agent home, and well as Jinxed cards, Avarice Totems, and other permanents that are sent by you to another person. This is very cruel, though. Imagine me playing Donate on my Illusions of Grandeur. Suppose the player that I give it to keeps paying the upkeep, and then concedes to give me my Illusions back when I can’t pay for it anymore. Should I be able to concede to give you your Sleeper Agent back, which then kills you because you are at two life? Is that an appropriate use of the rules?

This is an interesting case, and I’m not sure how a multiplayer group should handle it. I remain unconvinced that the OMR has the answer.


I know that the current incarnation of the Official Multiplayer Rules is just a draft, and that these rules are subject to many changes. I also really like the idea of sanctioned multiplayer events. However, I am skeptical of several things as well.

If we do not get sanctioned tournaments, I feel that the entire exercise is moot. None of the other benefits that Paul Barclay states hold up or are important. The rules themselves are so generic, and include optional rules, that multiplayer groups will still be different. Informed CSRs of multiplayer rules are hardly a reason for major changes like this. Plus, R&D has been making multiplayer cards for years, how will having streamlined rules help?

It just seems like an awful lot of work to do on the hope that sanctioned tournaments will come someday. Even if multiplayer ends up being sanctioned, will there be events? 1.5 is sanctioned, and yet it is the backwater of tournament Magic. Even Type One barely has tournaments.

Additionally, is the crowd that is oriented towards multiplayer Magic the sort of crowd that will support tournaments? I have no clue, and I doubt that anybody knows.

As such, I remain tentatively optimistic but also quite cynical. I think that this may be a big straw man project, but it may work out well. I guess all we can do is wait and see. That, and make our voices heard.

Until Later,

Abe Sargent