Inspiring Fear, Reluctance, And Terror In Your Multiplayer Group

General Sherman, the man who burned Atlanta, has been much maligned in recent years — but ya know, he had the right idea. Hold on a sec, though. I’ve noticed that one of the odd things about the Magic websites is that the guys who write the LEAST about actually PLAYING Magic are invariably the…

General Sherman, the man who burned Atlanta, has been much maligned in recent years — but ya know, he had the right idea.

Hold on a sec, though.

I’ve noticed that one of the odd things about the Magic websites is that the guys who write the LEAST about actually PLAYING Magic are invariably the most popular and well-loved. Jamie Wakefield was huge before he left, and frankly he seemed to hit his high points when he was obsessing about Asheron’s Call. Everyone loves Anthony Alongi, and he’s writing less and less about Magic every day.

This seemed bizarre to me, as I like reading about actual Magic. But I have a theory. I think that you lot are actually just sick to death of this stupid game, but have spent so much time reading PTQ reports that you have actually FORGOTTEN HOW TO READ ANYTHING ELSE. You are therefore grateful when someone comes along and discusses any non-Wizards topic under the pretense of a Magic article, releasing you from the eternal drudgery of having to read about about how Necro-Donate is SO unfair for the ninety-seven millionth time. As far as I can tell, whoever writes these sort of things is showered with acclaim and letterbombs.

And so I have chosen to make a HISTORICAL DIGRESSION in order to liven up your lives. In the future, if you’re good, I might consider throwing in a tutorial on basic nonMagic reading skills can get your old skills back. I feel your pain.


General Sherman had a major flaw that’s made him very unpopular in recent years: He had a big freakin’ mouth. To put it in modern parlance, he trashtalked a lot better than he actually played.

Okay, this is the guy who, during the Civil War, basically stated outright that he was going to blow up everything he saw until the South gave up. And as stated, he trashtalked; this is the man who claimed he’d burn Atlanta to the ground, that he’d bring the South to its knees. Which he did; no arguments there, Atlanta was a big cinder after he got through with it.

But the fact is that his army was extremely genteel about the way they did it. For a guy who spoke about the South in such hateful tones, what people tend to forget is that he blew up buildings, he killed cattle, he annihilated factories… but he left the PEOPLE untouched. In fact, he took great care to make sure that women and children were spared, and held trials to hang men who touched the women. Compare that to tragedies that took place at My Lai in Vietnam, and even some of the recently-unearthed horrors of World War II… and Sherman’s March is starting to look downright compassionate in some ways.

Sherman’s also been painted as a guy who just liked to blow stuff up, a loose cannon out of control. There was certainly an element of that to his personality, but cutting a sixty-mile swath of destruction through Georgia was also a valid military strategy. Because let’s face it, taking a large army through intensely hostile territory is just asking to have all of your soliders picked off by angry locals who suddenly find the enemy camping out on their doorstep every night. It’s a lesson that’s been repeated again and again in military history: You can’t rest, bring supplies, or fight well with ten thousand resisting civilians biting at your heels. As witness Vietnam.

It wasn’t nice, but he did it — rather than deal with Southern Belles toting guns under their dresses, he made sure that all the civvies in the area would either get away from them or starve. And it had the added bonus of tying up potential reinforcements by forcing them to deal with the refugees.

Now. Was this something I’d really advocate doing? No, not unless it was a completely desperate time… but it could be argued that, for the North, it WAS desperate. And if you WERE gonna hold a big ol’ March To The Sea the way Sherman wanted, it was about as gentle as it could be under the circumstances. Certainly better than, say, an atom bomb or a Dresden-style sheet of napalm — tactics used by the US in later years to great acclaim. Given the choice between having my house burned down or having my house blown up with me in it, I’d hug Sherman and call him pappy.

If you want proof that it wasn’t really THAT bad a march, witness that thirty years after the war, people weren’t that upset about it. There wasn’t any particular hysteria over Sherman’s actions in the writings of the time… certainly not like there is now. Oh, it was bad, all the burning and whatnot, but they all got out with their lives and their honor (if not wealth and property) intact. It wasn’t until YEARS later, with the rise of the KKK and the Southern Freedom movements, that Sherman became hated — why? Because his actions could easily be seen as bloodlust, rather than a bunch of Not Very Nice tactics all bundled together. Because he did blow up an awful lot of property and caused a lot of pain. Because he served as a focal point for all the atrocities the North committed against the South.

But most importantly, it was because he had a big freakin’ mouth.

But you know what? If Sherman came back today, people would be TERRIFIED of him. Even if he was a lousy general, even if he still tried to fight using armies on horseback and ordered the replacement of all AK-47s with fine, hand-tooled muskets — our rival countries would STILL shy away from him. Why? Because here is a man who has stated that he’s not afraid to destroy you utterly, no matter what the cost to him.

This is the kind of reputation you wish to cultivate in multiplayer.


So why, may you ask, do you want a rep as a ravening, bloodhungry beast? The answer is, quite simply, you don’t. Nobody wants to play with people like that, and eventually they’ll stop playing with you because you keep drooling on the cards.

What you DO want is a finely-tuned notoriety for bloodily hammering down on those who offend you. You want that Bruce Banner/Hulk kinda image; ideally, your friends should be saying, hey, Fred’s a great guy and all… but if you attack him, you’d better kill him.

So why do you want it and how do you accomplish it? There are four rules, and the last is the most important:

1) SCARE THE SCRUBS. Remember, the first rule of multiplayer is”don’t attack until you can destroy”… but there’s so many bozos who don’t KNOW this rule that it gets annoying. They think that just because they have a creature out, they should be hurting someone.

This usually isn’t going to kill you; moes like this usually go around the table in round-robin order, happily plinking everyone in turn. But it CAN weaken you if you’re the only person without any defenses yet, and every point of life is critical when you have three people breathing down your neck. You can’t afford to have somebody just hitting you because they can.

So you make them scared to touch you.

My friend Tim had an excellent approach. The first time someone attacked him randomly, he leapt out of his chair, levelled a finger trembling with rage at the hapless miscreant — and screamed at the top of his lungs,”THAT’S IT! THAAAAAT’S IT! YOU’RE GOING DOWN! REVENGE IS MINE! MINE, I TELL YOU!”

He had a slight smirk on his face to let you know he wasn’t ENTIRELY serious, but it was still intimidating as all heck.

For the rest of that game, Tim aimed every resource he had at taking the new guy down. And let them know it.”I’m attacking… oh, let’s see… I guess I’ll be attacking THE WENCH WHO TRIED TO KILL ME!!!! GO IN, MY MERFOLK FRIENDS!!!! DESTROY!”

He had no concept of personal safety at times like this. He left himself wide open for attack, leaving not a stitch of defense behind. He ran himself out of cards throwing everything at the guy. Sometimes he even killed himself on purpose, manaburning himself so he could cast the spell that killed his hated enemy. He always lost… but he generally killed the new guy that game, or at least made it so it was impossible for him to win.

And then the next game started. We all shuffled. Drew. Laid down our first lands. And Tim started putting down more Merfolk and on his first attack said,”Oh… I think I still had some unfinished business here. LEARN THE LESSON! ATTAAAAAACK!”

As I said, he was grinning. Evilly, like a mudshark, but still grinning. He would usually annihilate his opponent nonstop for two games, and then coolly call off the vendetta.”I guess we’re square now, huh?” he’d say, offering a smug hand of friendship.

At that point, the scrub had generally made a resolution never to attack Tim again, even if he had four 26/26 Thorn Elementals and Tim had nothing. You could see their hands shaking when they looked at him.

Tim had done his job. He was a nice guy, then he was a murderous beast, then he was a nice guy again. He had successfully made his play. And he never forgot the Second Rule Of Kamikaze Play, namely:

2) BE REASONABLE. Treating every offense as a personal slight will get you hated very quickly. And you’ll also be a jerk. The reason Tim got away with his outrageous antics was because he could turn it off on demand… and because he didn’t get offended by regular gamestuff.

If someone has a large army and they attack you, just nod and start doing the math — hey, it’s part of the game. If someone casts a Wrath Of God, wiping out all of your carefully-cast defenses because some other guy is pounding him and he can’t take it any more, wince… but take it with aplomb. Heck, if some guy counters YOUR Wrath Of God because HE has a lot of defenses he can’t afford to lose, shrug and bear it.

And especially, most of all — if you’re losing, DO NOT GET BENT OUT OF SHAPE.

The point here is to not get put out when a) you’re attacked by someone who’s bent on taking you down, or b) you’re hosed by an effect meant for someone else. These are all just Things That Happen, my rabid friend. Going along with these roadbumps will set everyone at ease; it will remind them that you are, after all, just playing a game and are a fair and equitable player when not aroused to action.

3) …BUT BE RANDOM. You can also, depending on your mindset and your frame of mood that day, sometimes tolerate c) — someone getting rid of something really powerful that you own, simply because he can’t chance that you MIGHT aim it at him. However, it pays to occasionally go ballistic on people like this, just to make ‘em wonder whether it’s worth their time.

Remember. If you go nuts EVERY time someone counters your Morphling, eventually they’ll give up hope and start attacking you every time just to get you out of the way so they can play freely. But if you NEVER go nuts, then they have no fear of countering whatever they see fit. The trick is to go into your”Deranged Assassin” act randomly; make them wonder — can they get away with it this time, or will the Wrath Of Ferrett come screaming down on their heads for this affront?

Gambling makes everyone nervous. Make them gamble.

4) BE A SHARK. But the one time you don’t want to be random is the Prime Directive of kamikaze playing. There is one rule you want to have engraved in everyone’s brains:

If You Attack Me, You Had Better Kill Me.

Make sure everyone knows that, like the shark that you are, if someone draws blood you’re going to go for the kill. If someone hits you, they’d better be prepared to deal with an assault back.

You want your opponents thinking,”Can I take him now? Can I REALLY take him? Are my defenses truly strong enough to withstand the furor of this man sitting across the table from me? IS IT WORTH IT?”

What will happen if you do this right is that nobody will attack you unless they’re 100% sure of victory… and certain victory is much scarcer than you think. They’ll be afraid to take chances on you — and will instead attack the meeker players, anxious that the effort involved in killing you might weaken them to the point where someone ELSE will swoop in and win the game.

I’m not saying that you should go for the all-out, winning-be-damned attack that Tim went for. (On the other hand, going completely psycho once in awhile keeps everyone appropriately nervous.) The”raze it to the ground” approach gets you fear, but loses you games… and you do want to win, don’t you?

What you do is simple: Wait. Hoard cards during the quiet times. Be patient, calmly assessing the board. And then, when someone eventually attacks you — reveal your strength. Triple Dark Ritual, then Terror that Thorn Elemental, Dark Banishing that Juggernaut, Diabolic Edict when he has two creatures left — and one of them’s a Morphling. Destroy his incoming forces calmly, then mop up the rest with your creature armada.

Then, when it’s your turn, play Extinction and name”Shapeshifter” . Bye-bye, Superman. Oh, and have I mentioned I’m ATTACKING now?

Basically, you want to create the impression that you can handle anything thrown at you with ease, then attack back with furor. Do that consistently, and you’ll be rewarded with hesitance and fear.

Use it well.

NEXT ARTICLE: Why The Good Cards Aren’t Fun Anymore

Signing off,

The Ferrett

Visit The Ferrett’s 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….