Is Being A Cowardly, Sneaking, Low-Life Rat In Multiplayer Fun?

When I went to college, the game that was on everyone’s mind— much the same way that Magic is today— was a card game called Setback. And we played it continually. Every moment between classes, you could always find three to eight people sitting at the same table, dealing cards and drinking coffee. We used…

When I went to college, the game that was on everyone’s mind— much the same way that Magic is today— was a card game called Setback. And we played it continually. Every moment between classes, you could always find three to eight people sitting at the same table, dealing cards and drinking coffee.

We used to cheat, very openly. As a matter of fact, there was sort of a golden rule at the table: whenever you sat down, you announced your cheating status.

“I’m gonna cheat,” you’d say casually as you sat down to play. Everyone would just bob their heads and mutter,“Okay.” They were not in the last concerned that there was a low-down cheatin’ varmint sitting at the table.

Because the low-down varmint was clearly marked.

The game then took on another level: Figuring out HOW I was cheating. Was I taking cards from the discard pile? Not following when someone led trump? Pointing out imaginary hot babes when people were trying to concentrate? And most importantly, how were they gonna catch me?

If you got caught, you lost the hand. But more importantly, the guy who caught the cheater got to feel TOTALLY superior, won the applause and praise of everyone else playing, and got to utterly humiliate the bozo with the substandard sleight-of-hand. This made it way fun. As a result almost all of us cheated— except for a few honest, upright, noble players who, coincidentally, found that it was a LOT easier to spot cheats when they themselves weren’t cheating.

So we all were low-down, dirty skunks… and we had ourselves a hoedown. In fact, I had so much of a good time that I entirely forgot to graduate college, which probably explains why I’m writing Magic articles now instead of, say, earning a living.

So what does this have to do with Magic? Specifically, MULTIPLAYER Magic?

Glad you asked.

It has been said in other places that you should play multiplayer Magic to win. Bring out your best cards, and don’t care whether the other players at the table will converge to beat your head in if you play with that dang Sapromonium deck one more time.“Bring it on,” goes the theory.“Build a deck that can take on all comers, and let them taste your might.”

Whereas *I* teach you something different: Hide. Sneak. Cower. Make everyone else ignore you. Blame others constantly. Build decks that look like total piles, but secretly fire on the tenth turn to wipe everyone else out.


But can this be fun? I mean, for other people?

Of course it can. Because there is nothing that’s more soul-satisfying than beating the living crap out of someone who’s trying to fool you. And trust me, they will.

I mean, sure— ANYONE can make a deck that will be the best deck on the table in multiplayer. It doesn’t take that much effort to fine-tune a DojoDeck to work in a multiplayer environment. But there really aren’t that many deck archetypes that will stand up to the constant pressure of two or more angry players constantly beating down on you… and then the game gets real boring, real quick. It winds up being like this:

PLAYER 1: Hey, Anthony’s* playing his Scent Of Pestilence Deck.
PLAYER 2: Let’s kill him.
ANTHONY: Hey, that’s no fair that you beat me up all the time!

Oh, ain’t we having FUN?

The point is that, much like Poker, the fun to be had in Multiplayer Magic is not in the game itself.


And all the little psychological gimmicks are what make Magic fun again. Lying, bluffing, teaming up, making false allies, deciding whether someone’s REALLY a threat or just lying low— this is what makes Multiplayer Magic the game that it is.

Because basically, multiplayer Magic is pretty dull on the game level. Whoever has the best deck gets beat up, and he either can take everyone on or he can’t. Stripped down to its core, Magic is a big game of Rock, Paper, Scissors— certain decks always beat other kinds of decks. There really isn’t a lot you can do about it, and that’s why the Pro Tour is so abysmally boring. If you luck out and get the right matchups or the strongest cards, you win. Thanks for playing.

Ah, but multiplayer!

The fun is not just in swarming someone with your nine million Verdant Force Saproling tokens, it’s deciding whether Ron is really totally helpless… or whether he has some insidious trick up his sleeve like he usually does. Knowing that when you attack with said tokens, you’re taking the chance that Larry’s finally going to activate his Thrashing Wumpus to screw you over, simply because you beat him the last game. Much like my friends openly cheating at Setback, judging the personal rivalries and preferences of the guys who sit at your table adds another layer to the game that you’re just NOT going to get at a tournament. Learning to play the players is the sneakiest, weaseliest part of Magic.

And it’s the most fun….

….IF you do it right.

So a lesson of note: if you play with fine, upstanding players who routinely play by the numbers, create the absolutely strongest decks they can, and then go bash on the weakest player with all the subtlety of a Mack truck to the head, then by all means… start sneaking. You can do it. Start making insinuating comments, attack people who annoy you in psychotic ways that have nothing to do with winning, help people who have been kind to you in the past even if it hurts your own strategic position. CONFUSE them.

Play the players. You might lose more often, but you’ll have a lot more fun doing it. And secretly, in their heart of hearts, they’ll be glad to pound the sand out of a weirdo little player like you.***

NEXT ARTICLE: Buying A Victory With Empty Pockets

Signing off,
The Ferrett
[email protected]
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….

* – Some have speculated that this player might be Anthony Alongi. He isn’t. I just pulled a name out of mid-air, and Anthony showed up. Besides, THAT Anthony is a stick figure and THIS Anthony is a piece of dialogue, and we all know that Art** and the Written Word shall never meet.

** – And Art isn’t a real person, either. Nyah.

***– Incidentally, if there’s a group living in Anchorage, Alaska who’s looking to pound the sand out of a Ferrett, shoot me an email. I just moved out to this frozen wasteland and I know no one except for the moose that keeps wandering into my back yard. Danke.