FINAL JUDGEMENT: Multiplayer Rules

The tenor of "Final Judgement" has been moderately official and serious lately, so it’s time to lighten up a bit. There aren’t really any official multiplayer rules, and I’m not suggesting that this column should replace them. It’s just that a number of columnists here, notably , David Phifer and , are huge multiplayer fans,…

The tenor of "Final Judgement" has been moderately official and serious lately, so it’s time to lighten up a bit. There aren’t really any official multiplayer rules, and I’m not suggesting that this column should replace them. It’s just that a number of columnists here, notably The Ferrett, David Phifer and Anthony Alongi, are huge multiplayer fans, and I’ve already admitted a personal enjoyment of our Friday night sessions (which we missed last week due to someone whining about a headache and too much work to do-like editing a massive web site is work!). I’ll lay down what I’ve seen as the best way to go about multiplayer games and interpreting cards that were obviously meant for only two-player games.

Being a more casual game, multiplayer is more likely to be chaotic, with players having wildly divergent rules knowledge. Unless you’re really out for blood (or perhaps there are prizes on the line), regular readers of "Final Judgement" should help out their opponents, due to their vastly superior rules skillz. I write this thing so you can beat up on people in sanctioned events; in casual play, take the opportunity to teach, not to screw over. You’ll end up enjoying your future games a good deal more.

In all the chaos that is a multiplayer game, priority generally goes right out the window. Folks fire off abilities and resolve them before anyone else has opportunity to respond. Some devious players wait to see if someone in the gang responds, then tell everyone to back up because they wanted to do something. The best way to keep it orderly is to use a modified version of the existing priority rules. The active player always has priority. When he’s finished, pass priority around the table to the left. A player who has passed priority doesn’t get it back until it’s come full circle around the table. The stack doesn’t begin to resolve until everyone has passed. Like normal rules, once one ability has resolved, the active player gets back priority.

I’ll use our group as an example. Ferrett is the active player, with me to his left, then David and that annoying guy who plays life gain all the time. Ferrett is playing his Bouncing Weasels deck and it’s his upkeep. With Stampeding Wildebeests and Wall of Blossoms in play and a Giant Growth in his hand, Ferrett puts the Wildebeests beginning of upkeep ability on the stack, then passes. I’m not a fan of letting anyone bounce weasels, so I respond by playing a Fireblast, targeting the Wall (we won’t talk about the smarter play of targeting the Wildebeests), then pass. David, sucking up to his buddy Ferrett, plays a Giant Growth of his own on the Wall. (As if – The Ferrett) Annoying Life Gain Guy has been irritated at David, so he Counterspells David’s Giant Growth. Ferrett, having watched all this and wondering about the eventual fate of his Wall, finally gets priority again. He plays his own Giant Growth. Everyone else passes. The stack resolves, and after a bunch of other stuff happens (hey, you’ve been reading the column, figure it out yourself), Ferrett puts a green creature back in his hand (presumably it’s the Wall).

A long-standing rule in every group in which I’ve played has been that a player’s permanents go with him when he gets killed. This is a pretty good rule, because it can keep players in the game a little longer. If I have Treachery on Annoying Life Gain Guy’s Serra Angel, I’m pretty likely to help him stay around until I really don’t need that Angel any longer. I’d add a State-Based Effect to the list for this purpose: Permanents and tokens owned by a player who is no longer in the game are removed from the game.

Let’s say we’ve tired of seeing Annoying Life Gain Guy play first turn "Plains, Ivory Tower, Go." We’ve beaten him down to three and I’ve stolen his Serra Angel. I attack him with his own Serra (we call that insult to injury). After the combat damage has been dealt, he dies. There’s another check for State-Based Effects before the active player gets priority, so the game sees a permanent that belongs to someone who’s elsewhere and removes the Serra from the game. Most often we’ve played that this doesn’t trigger any "leaves play" abilities, but if you want some fun, let them. (Actually, I don’t think that it’s come up, but if it did I certainly would argue that it did trigger them – The Ferrett again) Not many cards would have a real impact here (Goblin Shrine comes to mind), but it could nonetheless be fun. Agree on this rule with your group before you build a deck around it.

If ALGG* had surprised everyone by Lightning Bolting and killing me (assuming we didn’t die of heart attacks when he played a non-white card), my Treachery would be removed from the game as an SBE**, giving him back his Serra.

What about effects on the stack belonging to a player that dies before the stack resolves? Remember, removing the source of an ability doesn’t remove the ability, so it still goes off. If the ability calculates or refers to the now-dead player’s permanents, use the Last Known Value. Let’s use a variation on the Bouncing Weasels example above.

ALGG has already shocked us all by playing with red, so we’re less surprised by what is to come. I Fireblast the Wall. David Giant Growths the Wall. ALGG sacrifices his Cinder Elemental to do 7 damage to David. Ferrett, not really sure what to do because he hasn’t yet read this column (Um… as editor, don’t I usually read this FIRST? – The Unusually-Interjecting Ferrett), plays his own Giant Growth. Everyone passes. The Wall becomes 3/7. David dies. The Wall becomes 6/10. It takes 4 damage and then bounces back to Ferrett’s hand.

Most cards these days clearly reference "target opponent" vs. "all opponents" or "target player" vs. "all players". Use your common sense when it comes to interpreting older cards. I’m sure your group can agree on something. At the very least, "opponent" always refers to a player other than yourself. If you can’t, drop me a line at [email protected] and I’ll figure it out for you. And speaking of interpreting older cards, any card that once read "during <phase name>" now reads "at the beginning of <phase or step name>." You put it on the stack at the beginning of the referenced phase or step, so there are no more weird infinite loops. Most of these pertain to the upkeep step.***

Many multiplayer groups, mine included, have a rule banning "color hoser" cards like Gloom and Light of Day. This is a good rule. Nothing is worse than just sitting and not being able to do anything while seven other players take their turns. What constitutes a color hoser? It’s any card that assigns a penalty to or destroys a particular color (or single type of basic land). Is Snake Pit (green Enchantment: Whenever an opponent casts a black or blue spell, you may put a 1/1 Snake token into play) a color hoser? I’d say no, but my group says yes. Is Thran Lens? I’d say no. Blood Moon and Primal Order are fine cards to play because they don’t attack a particular color. Permanent types (creatures, enchantments, land, etc.) aren’t protected. Again, get the consent of your normal play group. If you all can’t just agree, email me and I’ll help sort it out.

There are two rules I’d like to propose for multiplayer games. First is free mulligans. It’s not like too many folks play combo decks anyway. If a player doesn’t have a decent land draw, let him redraw with seven new cards. Getting penalized the extra card is extra tough in a game where you need to defend from multiple players.

The second one I’d like to see is for each player to start with more life. Even thirty is enough to let a player not worry about getting killed by a quick Thorn Elemental/Giant Growth/Berserk. It keeps the game full for a longer time. It sucks to be the first guy out in a large game and then have to watch for an hour.

Now a bit on etiquette. Playing Balance is bad form. Targeted land destruction decks (not the occasional Avalanche Rider or Strip Mine) are too hostile and should be rewarded with getting tossed from the group. Don’t grab other people’s cards without permission. Don’t weary them with stories of how you once had a 34/34 Lhurgoyf.**** If you’re playing at the local card shop, support the owner by either buying cards or buying drinks. Clean up after yourself. And don’t steal other people’s trade binders.

Multiplayer games are the pinnacle of social Magic. It’s an opportunity to get together with friends, do whacky things, and have a laugh. The style of decks you’ll see are different. They’re more likely to "do cool stuff" than to just go for the kill. Cards that never get played in two-player games see action in multiplayer. Social pressures and group consensus rule. Great players can play alongside the inept and still enjoy themselves. And the best player doesn’t always win. But I still do MOST of the time.

And that’s my Final Judgement
Sheldon K. Menery

* – Annoying Life Gain Guy. I was tired of all that typing. If you needed to check here to figure that out, are you sure you wouldn’t rather be playing Pok?mon?

** – State-Based Effect. Have you been paying attention at all?

*** – You’d be surprised how many players can’t name the five Phases: Beginning, First Main, Combat, Second Main and End. Untap, Upkeep and Draw are steps within the Beginning Phase.

**** – Trust me, we’ve heard it before. A story about how you had an nothing but an Icy and a land, the guy across from you had a regenerator and someone had an immense Multani and you tapped the regenerator might be okay.