Every multiplayer group you play with has certain, shall we say, tendencies. It’s a group gestalt that tends to encourage some behaviors at the cost of others. That’s going to happen when you put several people together and have them play a lot.
But if you know your group, you can start building decks that play to take advantage of your group’s habits. So let’s take a look at some of the splits that frequently occur in multiplayer groups, and talk about how to benefit from your local metagame!
Gentlemanly vs. Efficient
You can tell which group you hang with by asking one simple question: What happens if I get mana-screwed?
If your group quietly lets you alone to recover, because it would be kinda mean to kick someone when they’re down, they’re gentlemanly.* On the other hand, if they go, “Hey! Free attack!” and reduce you to zero in seconds, then they’re efficient. Not polite, perhaps, but one less mouth to feed is one less mouth to feed.
If your group is Gentlemanly, then there’s good news; you can skimp a little on your mana count. Since you’re generally not going to be punished too hard for a poor draw – but you will be punished in the late game for having too few threats in your deck — it’s in your best interests to shave one or two lands off your total count and stuff in an extra (low-cost) spell or two.
After all, they’re not going to kick you when you’re down. Take advantage of that kindness.
(It should be noted, however, that frequently one player can make all the difference here. If you have five guys who are gentlemanly and one bloodthirsty girl, your group becomes efficient whether you like it or not… Because you’re going to get your face stomped on by Liza if you stammer a little on mana development. Keep that in mind.)
Toolbox vs. Focused
I’ve been batting this question around since I started writing Magic, and I’m no closer to a conclusion. The question is this:
Should you pack maindeck artifact and enchantment removal?
It’s a significant matter to consider, because plopping in four Naturalizes means that you will not only have four fewer threats, but your chances of drawing a Naturalize when what you really needed was a Lightning Bolt or a creature will rise proportionately.
But on the other hand, enchantments can change the whole nature of the game. Sometimes you’ll just lose because someone put out a Repercussion** and now blocking’s just as bad as not blocking. In those cases, hey, you really wanted a Naturalize!
Anthony Alongi errs on the side of Toolbox — he hates to get caught with his pants down, so he’ll almost always throw in a random piece of Disenchant effect. I, on the other hand, hate to give up slots that actually carry out my deck’s scheme in exchange for reactive (and possibly dead) cards, so I tend to leave them out of my deck.
The truth is, though, that most groups either skew towards Toolbox theory or Focus theory — though there will always be a few who digress, in most multiplayer games you’ll find that the majority of people are packing insurance, or they’ve mostly gone balls-to-the-wall commitment to their strategy. (To quote Star Wars, “…And hope they don’t have blasters.”)
Thing is, if your group mostly skews Toolbox, then you can usually give up the Naturalizes. Why? Because nine times out of ten, that Death Pits of Rath will be annoying someone else just as much as it does you, and if there are three other players packing Krosan Grips, one of them will most likely off it for you. So you can get by with just one or two, perhaps with a tutor.
If your group mostly skews Focused, then the downside is that you have to pack a few Naturalize effects just in case. But the good news is that you can then go rampant with Hondens and Paradox Hazes and other handy effects, because nobody will be able to stop you once you put that enchantment down.
(Of course, if you’re playing White, then you can get the best of both worlds for a premium with spells like Akroma’s Vengeance and Austere Commands, but that’s six mana. Make sure your deck’s cool with six-mana spells. And Green, of course, has Uktabi Orangutans and Indrik Stomphowlers.)
Suitcases vs. Skinflints
Some will doubtlessly get upset that I called players who refuse to purchase singles as “Skinflints.” “We’re not cheap!” they’ll protest. “We just have different ways of spending our money!”
Yes. And your ways of spending your money don’t pay my paycheck from StarCityGames.com, the finest purveyor of Magic singles in the world, so you’ll have to deal with me giving you a slightly snarky nickname.
Don’t feel bad, though — my group is mostly Skinflints, and I still like them. They don’t buy boxes when the new sets come out. At best, they purchase one or two new cards for decks they want to build, meaning that in general, there’s a slow adoption rate. If you see a card like Flameblast Dragon, chances are it’s the only one, and they opened it in a tournament somewhere.
The Suitcases, on the other hand, come in two flavors: Old and new. The Old Suitcases have every card known to mankind, and will play decks filled with crazy Vintage-legal cards that few remember, but you’ll grow to hate; I myself have grown to loathe Moat over the past few months. New Suitcases, on the other hand, will always have all the cool cards for Standard, and they’ll frequently buy whole sets when they come out, and they want to build decks right away with the new cards, frequently making Block-legal multiplayer decks months before the season starts up.
(I should add that New Suitcases are frequently not the result of obsessive gamers wanting every card in the set, but rather new players looking to build up their collection. The result’s the same, though; you’re facing Shadowmoor-style decks.)
If you have an Old Suitcase in your group, that means you can expect to see some crazy combos — and a lot of the crazy combos will involve enchantments and artifacts, since those are the neatest stuff. So even if your group is mostly Toolbox, you’ll probably want to pack some more Disenchantment, because they will be casting weird stuff that will ruin your day.
New Suitcases, on the other hand, tend to have decks that revolve around new mechanics a lot more — when Shadowmoor came out, you betcher buns you’d be facing a lot of Wither-based decks. In that case, you can frequently anticipate the metagame by putting in a couple of cards that gently hose the mechanic du jour (a Blowfly Infestation, for example). And if there’s a new hot card, like Cruel Ultimatum, they will try to break it, so be prepared with something irking like a Hindering Light.
Also, it’s worth noting that New Suitcases often have decks that are — surprise! — modified versions of Standard decks. If you have a New Suitcase player, you can expect to see a Reveillark combo or Furystoke Giant somewhere along the line, which means you can often anticipate his deck before he gets going. (That said, to do that you do have to pay some marginal attention to the Standard scene.)
Combo-Friendly vs. Combo-Haters vs. Combo-Crazy
This is not a measure of whether your group likes to see combo, but rather a measure of “How often combos fire at your table.” If they’re rare, where they happen only occasionally, then you’re mostly a combo-hater group — whether by social pressure or lack of cards, it just isn’t something you have to watch for. If they happen often enough that it’s not worth noting, you have a group that’s combo-friendly.
(Note that I’ll count any infinite loop as a combo, even if it doesn’t win the game — if you can Fog infinite times, that’s generally close enough to count.)
The bad news is that in combo-crazy groups, where combos are the default win, you’re not going to win with creatures. You’d better start a combo of your own, find a format that’s less able to pull off combos, or leave the group.
In combo-hating groups, the good news is that they’re wide open for you to win, if you want. You just have to play combo. Yay!
In combo-friendly groups, your decks should include a couple of cards designed to shield against it. Split-second is every combo-breaker’s friend, and sometimes things that just futz with the rules of the game (Rule of Law, or the new and snazzy Ethersworn Canonist) will stall them long enough that you can convince others to kill them.
Consistency vs. Non-Consistency
One of the reasons I rarely share my decks is because I don’t build them to be efficient. I like twos and threes because I dislike consistent decks.
When I play, I want every game to be different. Hence, I drift towards decks that have a variety of cards, so I never have the same game twice. It’s not that I don’t have decks that don’t routinely fire — I have a Cleric deck, a Merfolk combo deck, and an Elf deck that have four-of in almost every slot — but when I know what I’m setting out to do at the beginning of the game, I get bored.
That’s not to say that this is good strategy, though. Realistically, my decks should have a clear gameplan and follow it through. But I’m not playing purely to win; this is how I relax.
The question is, what does your group do? Are they mostly piles of cards with one- and two-ofs that look cool, or do people build consistent decks that do the same thing almost every time?
If they’re consistent, well, you’re in trouble if you’re a one- or two-of guy like me, because your decks won’t be as strong. You’re going to need to build in more defense into your decks, because consistent deckbuilders tend to have much tighter mana curves — and if you don’t have some wall in the way to stop their onslaught, they’re going to come after you. You have to have early plays, or you’ll get swarmed.
The good news is that if you can break their plan, they’re frequently helpless. The more skilled consistent deckbuilders will build in redundancy, recycling, and alternate win conditions (when possible), but their commitment to a theme means that if you can break that theme they have nothing. Whereas the non-consistent decks sometimes have a spell that seems crazy, but wins the game because it’s right at the right moment.
(That said, I have to emphasize that strategically, it’s a lot better to build consistently.)
If they’re not consistent, again, you can get a little sloppy on the mana, because you won’t be under as much pressure, and what becomes of paramount importance is the strength of your hand. That said, it becomes harder to read what your opponent is going to do, and sometimes you’ll just get pantsed when it turns out that hey, that copy of Biorhythm that Jack threw in randomly kills you!
Wrath vs. No-Wrath
I believe I have written about this before.
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That’s just a few examples; there are doubtlessly more. If you have any ideas on attitudes you can take advantage of, please — sound off in the forums!
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy
* – Even if they’re mostly women. Hey, “gentlemanly” can mean “cultured” or “genteel,” so just let it slide, k?
** – A card I have recently resurrected in our group. Woot!