So I had created a really crappy deck and I was dying.*
In a burst of enthusiasm (while slapping a deck together during the last fifteen minutes of Farscape, as usual), I decided to create an all-blue deck to show off my four shiny new Force of Wills. I created my "Dagobah deck", as I called it, since it had no real threats of its own; it was, instead, packed with Control Magics, Briberies, Deflects, and other miscellaneous annoyances. It could do nothing by itself. However, with all of the various overtaking-style spells, my opponents would be hurt by – as Yoda said when asking Luke to enter the dark cavern in The Empire Strikes Back – "only what they brought with them".
Ah, but I stalled at three land for six turns, and by then my opponents had built up armies. Fellow writer Sheldon "Here Come De Judge" Menery sat to my left, wielding a Living Death deck that had proven it could completely annihilate the field if it was left to its own devices. Across from me, fellow StarCity writer David "Buy More Moxes" Phifer had a small army of Elves out – as did the guy to my right, and they were both whomping Sheldon for all they were worth. They knew that they had to kill him before he could Living Death and go off, and as such they could ignore me.
Thanks to my crappy deck, I had sat through all twelve turns of this game without casting a damn thing. Four mana is what you need to cast Control Magic, Steal Artifact, Rewind, and another Control Magic – all of which were in my hand. The armies on all sides of the tables were ignoring me in a desperate attempt to smash Sheldon’s face in….
…and Sheldon knew I had it.
Because I DID have a Counterspell.
The fate of the game was in my hands, because I could cause Sheldon’s downfall right now… or let him Living Death, and go off. (I knew he had a Death, because quite frankly nobody around our table holds their cards correctly, me included – but I had been assuming he had a Death for three turns before I got that glimpse anyway, so it was a moot point.) And any player at that table could kill me in a single turn.
Down to five life, Sheldon gave me a VERY hard look… and cast it.
Why did I screw him?
Because, quite frankly, he was the best player there. Sheldon is a DCI Judge who has played nationally, and he makes very few mistakes. He is a smart cookie. And although the odds were against it, one of the other players could have decided to go after the BIG fish first, giving me time to draw into the one card that could save me – Evacuation – and possibly stage a comeback.
Was that likely? No.
Was it POSSIBLE? Yes.
So Sheldon got counterspelled, died a horrible death, and of course they all tore me to pieces the next turn.
Game over, and one rather pissy judge staring at me angrily over his glasses.
Can’t say I blame the guy. I’d be angry, too.
Because he’d been subtly but been evidently been hosed by his fellow players the entire night. Of course, his being land-screwed twice wasn’t helping – but I had brought him down in one turn with a double-Oaked Thorn Elemental (21 to the dome!), and then other players had smashed him in the face JUST after he’d begun recovering from an extended period of manascrew. Three full games went by before we even discovered what his deck DID.**
And it happened as the night went on; now that I was aware, I saw the political boundaries forming up to pick on Sheldon. Alliances were formed against him, and they didn’t go away until someone who was viewed as even MORE of a threat sat down at the table.
Which brings me to the purpose of this article:
HOW DO YOU SURVIVE WHEN YOU’RE THE THREAT?
Because every table has a Sheldon. Sometimes it’s been me, since I’ve frequently been the old man at the table, the guy with the freaky pre-Tempest cards and weirdo mass-death decks. (It used to be instant death for me to play a Goblin, since my bizarre Goblin deck was much feared.) I’ve seen it be the ex-PTQ player playing at a table of amateurs. Sometimes it’s the crazy deckbuilder, the guy who designs the decks that come out of left field to destroy everyone. Sometimes it’s a frickin’ Judge, still smelling of Brussels, who intimidates everyone with his knowledge and worldliness.
When you’re in the Threat Seat, you’re automatically playing up a notch. The default target for spells is you, UNLESS someone else draws people’s attention away. If you’re manascrewed, people are afraid to just leave you alone to build up strength. Everything you lay down is viewed with just a bit more consideration.
(This, incidentally, is my sneaking suspicion why a lot of Pro players hate multiplayer; either they really ARE playing with oafs who don’t know their Lava Axe from a hole in the ground and wipe the floor with them, or they get ganged up on and continually lose. And since Pro players tend, almost by definition, to enjoy winning more than anything else, losing a lot due to so-called "cheap wins" is humiliating.)
So what can you do?
FOR GOD’S SAKE, DON’T GLOAT, YOU MORON. Oh yeah, what a great idea: Sit down at the table, flash a blinding white Tom Cruise-style grin, then casually mention how you’re going to wipe the floor with everyone like they were Mop-N-Glo.
Got news for ya, Sparky; they aren’t going to wait for the third piece of your infinite-damage combo to hit the table. Like frightened rabbits armed with Uzis, they’re going to shoot the duck! Shoot the duck! And then you’ll be wearing your beak on the wrong side of your face, wondering why this sneaky duck deck didn’t fire like you wanted.
When you sit down, be nice. Mention how you threw together this deck at the last minute. Or how it’s a great theme deck that’s fun to watch. Or inform them about this bizarre combo that takes forever, but works well if you can get it out. Jeezum crow, you’re not even sure if it’ll work properly!
Oh, and shrug a lot. People like uncertainty.
SLEIGHT-OF-MIND. The reason you’re in the Threat Seat is that people think that you really know what you’re doing. Take advantage of this by being scared.
By this, I don’t mean that you should leap up on your chair, quivering with fear and shouting, "Eeek! A Dryad!" – I mean that since you’re already viewed as someone really competent, you can paint a target on someone else merely by visibly responding to their play. If you’re worried about something on the table, you are implying that they’re a bigger threat than you are. And who they gonna hit then?
Be subtle. Just mutter, "Jeez, a Gaea’s Cradle? You know what that means***," and nod knowingly – or take it to the next level and actively start trolling for responses. "A Furnace of Rath? Can anyone handle that? I can’t, and that’s gonna hose EVERYONE." Set someone else up as the fall guy – you won’t always succeed, but you will at least confuse the table and diffuse the attention.
MAKE MISTAKES. Assuming it’s a casual table (and most are), you can throw out a bit of propaganda by screwing up in ways that you can easily take back. Tap the right mana, then play the wrong card – a big one – as if you weren’t really paying attention. "Sheldon, you can’t play that Armageddon with two mana." "Oh, crap! I meant to lay down a Soltari Monk. Can I take it back?"
Now does tipping your hand screw you? No, because now everyone will be far more cautious – and if you adjust your playstyle so that YOU’RE overextending while everyone else is now playing conservatively, you can get the upper hand.
Or, alternatively, you can misplay a minor combo’s timing – well, not if you’re a judge – or pick up and read a couple of fairly rare and wordy cards with a pinched face, as if confused by this new wonderment they have laid down before you. (Of course, it may be a card that you used to design decks around, but a little pretending never hurts your image.) The idea is to make yourself appear just a little dimmer, just a bit less of a juggernaut and more of a normal guy. "Hey, if he has to read the flavor text on that Eye of Singularity, then maybe we can ALL relax a little!"
ALLIANCES. Remember, and especially in a game with four people or more, you are probably not the only one who is losing. Quite often there are other mana-screwed people (as I was) or creature-light people in the midst of a standoff (as I was), or just generally dumb players (as I was). These people (as I was) are frequently able to cast ONE spell that is game-changing, but haven’t cast it yet because they’ll immediately bring the wrath of the entire table down upon them, and frankly they’re hoping that everyone pounds on you for long enough that they can stabilize.
Repeat after me: Hopeless players are valuable resources.
If you are very close to dying, look around the table and try to find the OTHER absolutely vulnerable player, who is generally sitting between two titans who are ganging up on you, and make him an offer. Don’t whitewash it, or make it sound like you’re being friendly. An archetypical speech of this nature might read:
"Look, Ferrett, you can probably stop my Living Death here – but you’re going to die the turn after they kill me anyway. So I’ll make you a deal; you let my Living Death go through, and I won’t attack you until I take care of these two guys. It probably won’t take me that long to knock these other two chowderheads into the dirt, but who knows? You might draw the answer in the meantime. It’s not much, but it’s a chance. Whaddaya say?"
"Look, if you have anything that can let me live for another turn, play it. I’ll be able to kill these two guys, I’ll leave you alone until they’re dead – and by then you might have a chance at me. Can we gang up here?"
Most of the time, the answer is "Screw off, pal." That’s fine; simply mark them down for an instant and humiliating death the next game. But every once in awhile, you’ll find someone who’ll shrug and say, "Why not?" And he helps you.
And why not, indeed? I’ve won games based on last-minute, desperate alliances. It costs you nothing, especially if you’re going to lose anyway. By talking straight, and letting the other guy know that you’re just offering a chance compared to the certain death that will come thundering across his borders once you’re dead, it works. Sometimes.
And for God’s sake, KEEP YOUR PROMISES. Idiot. They don’t trust you as it is.
PLAY WITH LESS OBVIOUS CARDS AND SLOWER DECKS. Tourney decks ramp fast, and produce major threats by turn five. Inexperienced power players tend to produce multiplayer decks that perform likewise. This will get you Bernied**** quickly.
Multiplayer decks need to be artificially slowed down in order to reduce the APPEARANCE of threats. Most single-player decks tend to be pure offense, which works great when you’re fighting a single front. Offense takes the place of defense, because while you’re busy punching your opponent in the face he can’t hurt you. This approach does not work in multiplayer. There are too many faces to punch.
Let me say that again, only louder: OFFENSE IS NOT DEFENSE IN MULTIPLAYER.
Normally, Wildfiring with a Covetous Dragon and a couple of Monoliths (but no Voltaic Key) in play is a minor risk in a single match; you’ll be set back a bit, sure, but chances are that the game will be over before your opponent has a chance to restabilize.
But how about in a four-player game? Your Dragon will have to successfully attack ten times before you’re positive that all of your opponents are dead – and that’s assuming that they won’t all band together to take out Mister Annoying Dragon Guy. And unless your group is a bunch of New Skete Monks, they will.
Single-player games use early-game offense to gain board superiority. Multiplayer games use early-game defense to SET UP board superiority -and you need a far better position than you do in single-player. Subtle concept, I know, but that’s the reason why Blitzkrieg-style games usually fail and slower multigames do well.
This has two very important ramifications:
1) Going on the offense before you are prepared for EVERYONE’S retaliation means that you are overextending yourself – and that’s a kiddie play. Much like little Timmy playing every creature just because he can, attacking prematurely because that’s what works in tourneys is the same thing – overextention. Same stupid move, writ larger. Don’t commit to an attack unless you’re prepared to take on the entire table, or are reasonably sure that nobody will interfere. And, as the Known Threat who can easily trigger a game-ending alliance, you should hold off on taking any aggressive maneuvers until you have no choice.
2) Since you in turn do not have to worry about getting up a combo out in three turns before someone can plow you under, you can take your time. Relax. It is entirely possible, and sometimes is in fact preferable, to put out moderate defenses and then hard-cast everything on turn nine, rather than furiously Necropooting your way to a speedy conclusion.
PREPARE WELL, YOUNG PADAWAN. Remember, weaselling is a part of the game – but it’s insignificant if your deckbuilding skills aren’t up to par. Multiplayer decks require more than a modified tourney deck, and if you don’t create something that takes advantage of the environment, then you deserve to be decapitated. Go read my past articles if you ain’t already.
NEXT WEEK: Creature Feature
* – Astute readers may note that, in Casual Friday #54, Anthony Alongi was complaining about how I wrote about Threat Detection before he did. And you may also note that THIS column, which is all about how to avoid being see AS the threat, was pretty much covered by Anthony in HIS column – and I wrote this column last week.
Obviously, we’re ripping each other off here.
Also, Mister Alongi has leveled some spurious claims in my direction, despite the fact that he’s apparently too disorganized to handle footnotes properly.***** But that’s okay; despite the fact that I hold him like a small bug wriggling in the grasp of my tremendous editorship, I shall not take revenge. His next column, an editorial on why women are just too darn stupid to vote, will be left completely untouched.
** – When we DID see what his deck did, we discovered it was a Super-Marogeddon deck using Wildfire in place of Armageddon and Multani, Maro-Sorceror in place of a regular Maro. He wiped us out one by one. I think I should have picked on him more.
*** – It means this guy has to be dead before you can play your own.
**** – As in, "Weekend At."
***** – And why not? They work wonderfully at segregating potentially-irrelevant topics off to the side, where no one ever reads them. Like this.