It’s never nice being a bully, but occasionally you have to kick someone when they’re down. I mean, here you are with this nice fat army of attackers, clearly in the lead in this friendly little game of multiplayer Magic you have here… And if you don’t beat one of the other players up with this temporary advantage you possess, they’re all going to gang up and take your army away from you.
Here you are, the biggest kid at the playground. Someone’s losing their milk money.
Who do you choose to beat the crap out of?
The obvious answer is, “The guy who’s the biggest threat.” But that’s handwaving, because “Figuring out who the threat is” is the biggest challenge in Magic. That’s like saying, “You date the girl who’s best for you” or “Pick the job that’s best for your career.” Come on, folks, there’s a zillion options to consider.
But I’m going to give you a concept I’ve been thinking of lately that’s helped me decide to who to stomp when I’m in the lead.
That concept is a deck’s Rebound.
Let me give a real-life example. I was playing an incredibly stupid mono-Green deck that, thanks to a long game, had both an active Naclatl War-Pride out and an Akroma’s Memorial. I was at roughly thirty life, and facing down the following players:
â€¢ Adam, who was playing a Test of Endurance and Greater Auramancy-based deck that had come within one upkeep away from winning the game but for my handily-stored Fracturing Gust. (Seriously. Nobody else had the enchantment removal, and he was at 84 life thanks to a Beacon of Immortality or two.) He’d been beaten down to 30 life, and had two fliers out, one of them a Reya, Dawnbringer. He had no Wrath of Gods in his deck.
â€¢ Paul, who was playing a reasonably nasty Glare of Subdual deck that did not currently have its Glare of Subdual on the board. He had a couple of solid groundpounders, but nothing over a 5/5 and nothing to stop me from coming over in the air. At this point, I had no Fracturing Gusts left in the deck (I was down to fifteen cards in my library total).
â€¢ Paul’s Wife, who had a White Soldier deck with Armageddon, Wrath of God, and a couple of Disenchants. She had a couple of fliers and a Maze of Ith.
Now. Who do you attack? You can pretty much stomp anyone you like, because you can attack Paul (who has four creatures out) with the Naclatl War-Pride and send the copied attacking tokens at anyone else you choose.
No, seriously, think about it. Make this interactive. None of them can stop you, at least for the next attack phase or two.
Who do you attack?
The obvious choice is Paul’s Wife. Since she’s cast at least one Wrath of God, she probably has more… And with her Disenchants, she can do nasty things to your Akroma’s Memorial. That’s pretty bad.
Paul, too, is a good choice. He has more Glares in his deck, and you don’t have a way of getting rid of them. At the same time, his existing creatures aren’t unmanageable and he doesn’t have much card drawing outside of potentially Harmonize or maybe ripping an Enlightened Tutor.
But my choice was Adam, even though Adam wasn’t the greatest threat to my deck’s strategy. Why?
Because all things being equal, his deck could rebound the fastest.
Adam already had out a couple of solid blockers. All it was going to take was another Beacon of Immortality (which we knew was in his deck) and whoops, he’s at sixty life again. Couple that with a timely ripped Test of Endurance, and when someone takes this army away from me, I lose.
Adam was the person with the swingiest cards. He didn’t understand why I was attacking him, accusing me of picking on him as I stomped him out of the game… But even from nine life, two or three cards could catapult him right back to where he started, just as annoying as ever.
I needed him out of the game because if I left him alone, he could easily rebound to become the biggest threat again.
Now, what happened if Paul’s Wife cast Wrath of God? Well, we all lose all of our creatures. That sets me back — but worse, it sets Adam up for another Beacon of Immortality or some other stupid life-gaining trick, and then we’re all desperately trying to rip enough creatures to get past his defense, hoping to knock him down to under fifty.
I can get rid of Paul’s Wife easily, but every turn that passes gives Adam another chance to gain a bunch of life. I need to knock him out of the game (or at least down to an untenable position) before she Wraths.
Likewise, if Paul gets Glare of Subdual, I’m moderately hosed — but on the other hand, he doesn’t have that many creatures out, and Glare doesn’t mean he wins the game. It just bogs it down, making the game slower — oh, and hey, did I mention that Adam’s deck is the one most likely to benefit from all of this extra time?
Adam already has Reya, Dawnbringer out, so you know he’ll amass a recycled army over time. Every turn that passes is going to make it harder to attack him… And his deck, since it doesn’t have to win via combat, can put out an enchantment that I can do nada about except try to slog through his fliers.
Summed up, we have:
â€¢ Paul’s Wife’s deck, which can (at best) Wrath of God and then cast a handful of soldiers. Not a real threat to a guy at thirty life, and it gives me time to recover.
â€¢ Paul’s deck, which can get a Glare of Subdual to slow down the game, but he won’t be able to control the entire board of me, Adam, and his own wife just yet even if he rips it the next turn.
â€¢ Adam, who is a handful of cards away from being in a winning position.
I went for Adam because his deck had Rebound — it could come back from unwinnable situations with just a couple of key cards. And even when I had knocked him down to nine life, I didn’t leave him alone, because with a Reya out, well, he was just getting harder to attack.
Now, Adam was mad. “Why are you attacking me?” he asked. “I’m at nine life! I have no cards in hand! What am I going to do?”
The answer is, of course, “Do something crazy to win the game.” I could see a single ripped Congregate suddenly shooting him out of control. Paul’s Wife didn’t have that kind of capacity in her deck. Neither did Paul.
So Adam went. Which leads to lesson #1:
All things being equal, take out the guy whose deck is most likely to come back from nowhere.
That’s the thing you’re looking for — Rebound. Most creature-based decks don’t have Rebound, since they’re generally low on card advantage; they have to cast their guys one at a time and then attack with them. Generally, you’re looking for decks with weird combos in them or alternate win routes.
Mono-Black Control, with its Damnations and Corrupts and Innocent Bloods? That has Rebound. A Pickles deck with Vesuvan Shapeshifter and Brine Elemental and Fathom Seer? Definite Rebound. Even a Glare of Subdual deck has some real rebound with a lot of critters on the table, which is why I knocked Paul out of the game next.
So if you’re looking to hurt someone, catch them on the Rebound. Which leads to lesson #2:
When building a deck, try to build in Rebound.
That’s a fancy way of saying, “Build decks with swingy cards when you can.” Decks with cards that change the whole game state — whether that’s simple as a Damnation or as complex as a Reverse the Sands — are generally better than decks without them.
What you’re looking for are cards that change everything, preferably at instant speed. One of the reasons Reins of Power is one of the greatest Blue multiplayer tricks of all time is that it completely reverses the flow of power. If someone has an army that you can’t handle, well, Reins of Power makes sure they die and not you.
Rebound also comes in the form of recycling. Eternal Witness may not be the biggest Rebound card on her own, but she does allow you to get back that card that people had so much trouble with. Rebound means that any card you get can shift the entire game, and you want to be able to shift the game, multiple times, at will.
Ironically, the next game saw me taken out thanks to this very principle. I was playing my R/W deck, and had just taken poor Adam out (again) after he had decided to come after me with full vengeance with his Slivers deck. I had a Balefire Liege out and tapped out to cast a Firemane Angel. I was at ten life.
Jerry, wisely, used Backlash to tap the Angel. Then he used another Backlash to tap my Liege. Then he came in with just enough fliers to kill me.
Afterwards, I flopped my hand onto the table. I had a Lightning Helix, a Duergar Hedge-Mage, another Firemane Angel, and a Spitemare. My rebound was considerable; the very next turn, I could have cast the Spitemare to lock up the ground and gain three life while doing three to whoever looked threatening, then do another six damage (and gain six life) from the Helix at instant speed, then gain life with the Angel on my upkeep and attack.
Now that’s rebound. And Jerry was precisely right to kick me while I was down.
The Here Edits This Site Here Guy
Next week: I talk about the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and also pick the top casual cards in Eventide. Late, I know, but cast your votes now!
P.S. — No worries, Adam won the game after that. He hardly ever 0-fers the whole night.