There is a theory of parapsychology that says that BELIEF DEFINES REALITY. In other words, all those X-Filey things like ESP and telepathy actually do exist… but they’re dependent upon the good will of others to make them happen. If you put The Amazing Kreskin in a room with a bunch of doubting scientists, their skepticism causes miracles to fail. In other words, it’s all in your attitude.
I doubt this, mainly because the Amazing Kreskin once hit my friend Mark in the head.
You see, Mark was a surly teenager (™) back then, and his parents took him to a show. Kreskin, a well-known psychic, tried to hypnotize him— and when he asked Mark whether he was feeling sleepy, Mark said“No”. (Mark claims that he was polite, but let’s be fair— can a Surly Teenager™ say ANYTHING without sounding sarcastic?) At which point Kreskin walked around behind him and surreptitiously smacked him, hard, in the back of the head and muttered,“Play along, kid.”
Now perhaps I am reading this wrong. Perhaps the Amazing Kreskin knew that Mark’s studied disbelief would ruin the vast array of supernatural tricks he had planned for the evening, and was simply taking proactive measures to ensure Mark’s willing cooperation by administering the cranial smackdown. But I doubt it.
But then again, if I DID doubt it I’d never know. Maybe people are asking their grandmother’s disembodied heads for advice down at the bank, and I’m not seeing it. It could be that one-twelfth of the population really SHOULD watch out for a mysterious stranger today, simply because they were born in the month of Aquarius. I just don’t know. It could be that my incredulity about parapsychology is protecting me from poltergeists, demon possessions, and voodoo curses. That’s a nice idea.
Likewise, there are those who believe that weaseling and cheap psychological tricks have no effect on a multiplayer game. The game of Magic is about strength, strength, and more strength.
And for them? They’re absolutely right.
My friend Neil is possibly the most serious child I’ve ever known. Oh, he takes great glee in everything geeky and fun— comics, Magic cards, action figures, roleplaying— but he approaches them all with the gravity and seriousness of a doctor treating tonsillitis. As such, when he got into Magic, I expected that he would immediately begin collecting, then sorting his cards into various arrays, then start churning out deck after deck of finely-tuned dynamite cards.
I was correct. Neil took to Magic and immediately became one of the best deckbuilders I’ve ever seen, basically coming up with his own Ponza Land Destruction deck from scratch— and he wasn’t even reading PTQs or tourney reports back then. He just KNEW what he should do, and instinctively chose pretty much the same cards and mana mixes that the classic Ponza decks had. In other words, Neil was a monster.
As such, Neil became a hurricane force in our multiplayer games. But there was one thing about Neil that frustrated me to no end:
He couldn’t be played.
Neil didn’t believe in alliances unless he was losing— and then he’d immediately break the agreement the first chance he got. He could not be taunted into attacking, or goaded into not attacking. He invariably shot down the key cards in everyone’s decks in descending order, based on mathematical analyses to see which were the greatest threat to him. Like The Terminator, Neil scanned for the biggest target and shot it down, playing bloodlessly and efficiently.*
Neil believed in one tenet of playing: Strength. And strength came from deckbuilding and flawless playing.
That, I could not argue with.
Not with him, anyway.
So I abandoned, sadly, my clarion calls to action— and didn’t even try to get him not to attack when it came down to it. My best weaselly tricks slid off of him like eggs on Teflon, so why bother? I stopped trying with Neil. Now, dear readers, you may think that this is the end of my saga. Surely this is the point where I give up, admit that my tricks are of no use, and slink away. But you are wrong, because there was one option left:
I played everyone else.
Because most people aren’t like Neil. Most casual players are in it for the fun of it— and they don’t have twenty hours a week to think about deck design, won’t spend the evenings planted in front of“Ally McBeal” relentlessly shuffling and goldfishing, shuffling and goldfishing the way we do. The fact that you are reading this right now indicates that you are serious about this, and may in fact be slightly deranged. That’s okay.
You’re my kind of people.
Just realize that your relentless quest for perfection is not everybody.
And as such, I took the more casual players and got THEM to attack Neil. I got THEM off of my back when they were big, and made them feel sorry for me when I was small. I convinced them to be random when they should have been methodical, and vice versa. And most importantly, I constantly pointed out what a great player Neil was to my faithful comrades, and in doing so painted small targets on his head.
They were NOT perfect players. And imperfect players can be made to make mistakes in your favor.
If you were to ask Neil, he would say correctly that he had never been suckered in by my futile ploys. In this he is entirely correct.
But he might also go on to say that, since HE has never been played, psychological maneuvering must therefore have no effect on Multiplayer Magic. In this he would be wrong, because I know there are games he lost because I sleight-of-minded somebody to take out his threats… when they should have been watching mine.
In other words, it DID have an effect.
Look, I’ll be honest: Weaseling is a fairly small part of multiplayer Magic. If I were to break it down into percentages, it would go something like this:
Good deckbuilding: 50%
Skillful playing: 20%
Luck of the draw: 15%
Getting the local metagame right : 5— 10%
Weaselling: 5– 10%
In other words, Weaseling is less than 10% of the game, and possibly even as little as five percent if everyone at the table is a Neilish player. (Although the difference between“judging the metagame” and“Weaseling” gets very hazy at times.)
So why spend so much time on Weaseling, then?
BECAUSE I’M THE ONLY PERSON WRITING ABOUT IT.
It’s a small niche, but it IS my own. And even if it’s not as critically important as, say, reading great deckbuilding seminars like Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar great article on mana bases (found at http://www.starcitygames.com/mustread/000323salazar.shtml [Pete, I don’t have the code handy]), it still deserves attention.
What, you think Soccer announcers are going to sit in a booth and say,“Alex, I’d tell you about the great play Pepe there just made, but let’s face it. Nobody cares. America could give a rat’s cancerous butt about soccer—fly-fishing tournaments get more press than we do. Why bother? To heck with this, I’m going out for a pizza.” Of course they won’t. It’s a small sport, but one that deserves attention.
Likewise Weaseling. It won’t win you every game, nor will it win even a MAJORITY of games. But it counts.
So the next time you sit down to play, bring a good deck. Play well. Get good draws. But don’t believe that Weaseling doesn’t exist, because it does.
And pretty soon, you’ll see dead people.
NEXT ARTICLE: Finally, Some Real Useful Deck Info!
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really….
*— I should note that this makes it sound like it was no fun to play with Neil. This is completely wrong. I love a big challenge, and Neil was it— and Neil wasn’t obsessed with winning, he was obsessed with PLAYING THE GAME RIGHT. If you made a great and astounding play, Neil would cheer for you, and he gave advice to novice players who were making dumb moves. Basically, Neil’s a fun guy. He also reads my columns and keeps giving me feedback whenever I screw up.
**— But he doesn’t. Which is good. I’d hate for someone I played with so regularly to not notice what a sneaky trickster I can be. I ran this article by him at his request, and his exact quote was,“You’ve hosed me plenty of times, indirectly, using Storn*** as your assassin. THAT was always frustrating as hell… but good playing.”
*** — Yes, that’s THE Storn Cook, famed artist of many CHAMPIONS RPG tomes. Aren’t you impressed at my fabulous connections?