When Johnnie Knapp comes to town to play in YOUR multiplayer games, you all better dance a little jig, do a little dance, get down tonight.
Is it because he’s a stellar player? Nah. Johnnie’s good… But we have plenty of good multiplayers up here.
Is it because he’s a weirdo deckbuilder? Nah.
Is it because he’s a fun guy? Nah. Johnnie’s a great guy at parties, don’t get me wrong – but his late-night ramblings on how "The Matrix" is really clever propaganda disseminated by the REAL-world anti-machine freedom fighters, trying to prepare us all for the grim reality that awaits us when they finally cut us loose from our mechanical reality, well… It kind of tends to creep us out. We all sit a little farther away from Johnnie when he starts staring off into space with dilated pupils, shouting, "WAKE ME UP NOW! I’M READY TO FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT! DISCONNECT ME!"
Here’s why you should be happy when Johnnie Knapp – or ANY player of his ilk – comes to town:
HE’S A PLAYER WHO KEEPS HIS BARGAINS.
Oh, that makes me happy.
Let me explain; back when I started playing multiplayer, "making deals" was all part of the equation. There would be these huge creature standoffs on the table with such frightening beasts as Frankenstein’s Monster, Giant Spider, and – gasp! – Whipporwhill,* and we’d all be staring at each other across vast fields of angry beasties, waiting to attack.
I’d turn to the guy on my left.
"Pardon me, Guy On My Left,"** I’d say, looking slyly at him, "If you promise not to attack me for three turns, I can finish off Guy On My Right and take him out of the picture."
Guy On My Left would consider this, realizing that it wasn’t a bad deal – my army would be weakened, my resources would be depleted, and even if I managed to take Right Guy down in a single turn, he’d at least be down one opponent.
"I agree," Guy On My Left Would Say.
At which point I would then fire a fifteen-point Disintegrate at Guy On My Right, blasting him into oblivion, and attack Guy On My Left for three turns straight, fearing no retribution.
After all, I didn’t say that *I* wouldn’t attack HIM. Part of the game was wording things properly.
But that was the thing: Even despite such rampant sleazery, Guy On My Left WOULDN’T ATTACK BACK. He had made a bargain, and he would keep to it even if it meant his own demise. He had a duty to keep. He had honor.
(He also had a raging thirst for revenge, which meant that I got attacked first every game for the next three weeks… But it was worth it. Whee!)
So offers flew back and forth over the table like pigeons.
"I can take out two of his big guys and leave you alone if you promise to attack him with that Orgg for the next two turns."
"I’ll Disenchant that Presence Of The Master if you promise not to cast any enchantments I don’t approve of."
Agreements were frequent and nasty, and led to the amusing point of counterbargaining, since one hammered agreement could frequently mean an autoloss for those NOT willing to bargain. Thus, "If I cast this Wrath of God to save your butt, then you have to promise not to Counterspell any of my Fireballs" was frequently met with a frantic, "WAIT! If you promise to counter his Wrath of God, I promise not to attack you until he’s dead!"
Smart players in the catbird’s seat could easily win the game. (Well, until their demands got to be too obnoxious, at which point everyone decided that it was easier to gang up on them.)
This was Fun. This was Enjoyment. This was High-Powered Dealmaking, which added a new level of spice and strategy to the game.
Then I moved to Ann Arbor, got set up with a new group of friends, and met Neil.
"If you promise not to attack me for the next three turns, I’ll take out this guy."
"Okay," Neil nodded.
I attacked, taking said guy out.
"Well, he’s dead," said Neil, "So I guess I’ll attack you when you’re tapped out and defenseless. I win."
"WAIT a second!" I squawked. "We had a bargain! YOU MADE A DEAL!"
"But I can win NOW," said Neil, vaguely alarmed by my arm-flailing and gnashing of teeth, a look of slight confusion crossing his face. "Why shouldn’t I win?"
I leapt on top of the table and made a grand speech about honor, about the Dignity of Man, about how Oath-keeping and above all TRUST were the mainstay of Western civilization.
"Oh, I agree with that," he said cheerfully after I was done, applauding sincerely. "But one of the hallmarks of modern civilizations is that treaties only stand when they’re useful to BOTH sides. For example, we made treaties with the Native Americans, but broke them as soon as we realized we had a tactical superiority; and though this is undoubtedly shameful treatment which I deplore, Magic is a game of WARFARE – not of sportsmanship, nobility, and trust. And you, dear Ferrett, were foolish to offer a treaty to someone with so much to gain. See ya!"
And I was swept under by a horde of, ironically, White Knights.
I was annoyed at Neil for a long time – I couldn’t make agreements with him, since he broke them whenever they became disadvantageous for him – but I soon realized that Neil’s behavior was the norm. People GENERALLY didn’t keep to their word if it was to their disadvantage, and thus it was no use making them.
A held promise is strategic; a held promise is exchanging a disadvantage – say, not attacking someone when you could hurt them badly – in exchange for an advantage – say, one of your opponents biting the dust. Balancing and weighing the advantages and disadvantages, and making the RIGHT ones, is an integral part of the game I used to know.
But in an honorless group, agreements have no meaning, and you wind up getting all the disadvantages (like, saying, being attacked after you take out an opponent) and none of the advantages.
People don’t like getting shafted – and plus, it makes it less fun to play, since you wind up being VERY pissed at your friends. So you don’t do it. It’s not worth getting that angry.
But I’ve spent years wishing for the old fun of bargaining to come back. It never has. And multiplayer has always been less fun ever since.
Ah… But dashing through the snow…
It’s Johnnie "Knecropotence" Knapp!
"Necropotence?" you ask. "Isn’t that the bah-roken enchantment which just got banned from everywhere, including White House bathrooms and the backs of McDonald’s parking lots? The one that allowed you to trade life for cards?"
Yep. But once upon a time, it was viewed as a very bad card and perhaps a crap rare…. Because who would trade life for cards?
Who would take that kind of stupid risk, putting yourself closer to death?
Who would give your opponents that potential edge?
And they were right. In a lot of decks, that sort of disadvantage WOULD be stupid. Necro is, in fact, an exercise in risk. You can’t throw Necro into every deck, or even every black deck… But if you put the right cards in conjunction with Necro, then suddenly the power of ALL the cards become magnified exponentially.
Force of Will? A great card suddenly becomes insane.
Firestorm? Hey, a crap rare suddenly becomes your pal.
These cards all have drawbacks, but put together, they work.
Much like the dual drawbacks of agreements in multiplayer.
You see, an agreement between two players, if done correctly, puts BOTH at an advantage. "You don’t attack me, I kill him." The advantage is that you gain the time to do your dirty work in relative safety, and he gets to be minus an opponent. You’re both up a notch, at no cost to either of you.
The cost comes to your opponents. Who aren’t in on the deal. And as such, don’t get the reward that comes with the drawback.
Necropotence: "Who pays life for cards?"
Player Agreements: "Who makes agreements that hose them?"
With Johnnie arriving in town, the balance of power starts to shift, like soft mud atop a hillside making that first, subtle "glorp" sound as the weight changes… and mutates the whole hill into a rolling, boiling landslide.
Paradigms are changing like diapers, now.
If I truly trust Johnnie not to wipe me out the minute my back is turned, that frees me up to attack Sheldon consequence-free – who does NOT keep, or even believe in, agreements.
Everyone loses. But us.
Suddenly, simply by virtue of being able to effectively ignore each other’s presence for an agreed-upon number of turns and to focus our attentions elsewhere, we become more powerful. More focused. We are free to do more without fear of recrimination – and recrimination is the largest threat in multiplayer. With that safeguard in play, Johnnie and I, the agreers, can occasionally overextend ourselves and not pay a penalty – whereas Sheldon, David, and all of the other Oathbreakers DO pay one.
Like Necro and Illusions, suddenly two cards find a synergy.
And suddenly, like a bad game of "Survivor," people have to start playing our game or lose.
Does this mean that Johnnie and I will become an unstoppable force, like the Wonder Twins or maybe even Cagney and Lacey? Of course not. We’re here to win. And we’ll frequently be in positions where one of us won’t WANT to make deals — after all, the deals have to be worth BOTH of our whiles.
"Um, if you promise not to attack me, I won’t attack you."
"Um, thanks, Johnnie, but I note with interest that you have a Seal of Cleansing in your graveyard. Bye-bye, little combo!"
What this DOES mean that suddenly, now there is an edge that only two people at the table can take advantage of. And the smart people at any table will grab on to every advantage they can.
I think our playing field is sufficiently intelligent enough to see the deal.
And so it is with great clamor and exultation that I ask of you: If you’re playing multiplayer right now, are there any Johnnie Knapps at your table? Is there anyone who’s brave enough to take the risk of occasionally sticking to a bad deal at the risk of winning more games?
Because if they are, you might have a little Knappropotence action on your hands.
And the art of the deal is Good Times For Becky.***
Note: Finally updated site after seven-month lag, but it’s terribly, terribly foul
* — Hey, The Dark had just come out. That’s all we HAD back then, and we had to kill Mastodons to boil their fat to make oil for our brass lanterns so we could play at night. Leave us alone.
** — That was really his name. Back in those caveman days of The Dark and mastodon oil, people had simpler names. That why me named Ferrett.
*** — There are now so many "Bad Times For Becky" references on the net that I fear it will cause a dark cloud of Bad Karma to settle over fair Becky. Thus, I feel that there must be a countervailing balance of "Good Times For Becky" to come forthwith. Therefore, all enjoyment I now possess I will to Becky, simply to make her life easier. Thank you.