Multiplayer Is An Art, Part 11: Playing The Cards That Should Have Been In Unglued

Only the Mighty Stijn could create an original multiplayer deck that used both Goblin Game and Thieves’ Auction… And make it work! Also includes a small strategical discourse on the nature of card advantage in multiplayer.

Is there anybody going to listen to my story – all about this deck I found today? It is the kind of deck that was so mean it made me sorry, still I didn’t regret a single play.


So when I would summarize all that I have said up until now, using only one sentence, I would use the following words:”I’m going to tell you about a deck I found under my table while cleaning my room.” It’s strange how I missed the sleeves (“Hey, I thought I had about sixty more a few weeks ago!”), but didn’t miss the cards because I have so many of them. And they were all crappy cards anyway. It’s not that I missed my Thieves’ Auction so badly for my new vintage tech. It’s not that I had thought up a new Extended breakthrough with my Goblin Games.

“Aha!” You cry out,”Stijn is going to write about a deck that doesn’t win! I mean, how can a deck with those two überbad cards ever win?” And those who cry out those words are right. The deck only won about two or three games, out of approximately twenty-five. But it got second place every other time. And what might be the trick to that? I’ll tell it to you, in time…

First, let’s look at the cards that make up the core of this deck: Goblin Game and Thieves Auction. Of those two, the Auction is obviously the best one, making for some fine tricks and some excellent combo’s. The Goblin Game will always just cost you half of your life points, because some jerk is always going to hide as many objects as his life total allows him to. So we are going to play all four Auctions, but will limit the Games to only one copy, because we just want to play it so badly…. But not so often.

Tricks concerning Thieves’ Auction are abundant, but the most obvious one is also the best one: In Dutch, playing”burn” means playing”brand.”* So when a red, one-mana casting cost instant with the name of Brand was printed, Dutch Sligh fans gathered on large squares in communal celebration. But then they read it, and quickly went home again. It didn’t brand or burn a single target. It didn’t even ash a puny Whippoorwill. But team RVWM rejoiced – for they now had yet another way to break Varchild’s War Riders. The Riders generate tokens like a Verdant Force, but the flip side is that the tokens come into play on an opponent’s side. Brand opened ways, to take them home, to the place, where they belonged.

And Brand has cycling – and cycling is broken.

4x Thieves’ Auction

4x Brand

1x Goblin Game

For those of you who are reading with their eyes closed: first play a Thieves Auction and let a single red mana swim around in your mana pool. Then, during the auction, which is always a humorous event in group play, only pick permanents you do not control yourself, no matter how badly you want them. For at the end of the auction, your Brand will show all those thieves out there whose property they were really possessing. This should create a nice advantage… But it’s not good enough a trick to build a deck with. So we try to enhance it even further.

A part of the love that you’ll feel when you see a Thieves’ Auction resolve might find its origin in the fact that all your effects are global. All your enchantments provide global effects, and all your artifacts are continuous artifacts. That way, we won’t miss them a bit when they are looted away by our opponents. Cards that are perfectly suitable for this are Mana Flare and Howling Mine. But since I don’t own any Howling Mines (not a single one; I just don’t like playing the card), I didn’t include them in the deck. And the fact that I do not like the card shouldn’t withhold you from using it in a deck like this, for it does suit the situation well.

It’s just that I do not want to have Werner draw additional cards.

Werner (you still owe me twenty-five Euros, man) is one of the best players in my playgroup – and in the end, games often boil down to a one-on-one show off between him and me, or we just win in a coalition victory. Werner thinks that drawing cards is so important for his victory that he will gladly have all his opponents draw cards with a Mine, just to draw one himself each turn. Where my decks only contain an occasional Treasure Trove or a single Braingeyser, his decks are often built from a skeleton of four Strokes of Genius, Ancestral Recall, Library of Alexandria, and Scroll Rack. And Howling Mine is used quite often, too. He even had a deck with some Necrologias. Can you imagine playing Necrologia in group?




Play Necrologia only during your end step.

As an additional cost to playing Necrologia, pay an amount of life. Draw an amount of cards equal to the amount of life paid.

And still he managed to win with it more often than I would have liked. So why does he play all these cards while I never do? I guess I’m just a little less patient than he is. He can sit around, slowly gathering lands for his huge X cost, so that he can Stroke at end of turn. During his next main phase, he plays that Wrath of God, Necromances that Gurzigost and then lays down a Spellbook so he doesn’t have to discard a thing. I don’t often have productive turns like that. So why would I put myself at such a disadvantage? Don’t I want that much card advantage too?

I just get my advantage in other ways. I try to gain some by playing Striped Bears over Muscle Sliver. If you build your deck well, that single card is worth more than that potential embiggening of your Sliver. In a good deck, a single point of power shouldn’t have to matter. And the loss of speed, you ask? Speed isn’t as important in multiplayer as it is in mind-Magic. When you’re attacked by another bear because you don’t have one yourself; just take the two. It will give you a valid reason to beat the bear’s owner into oblivion in the near, near future. Or just try and divert the attack by looking menacingly.

I’m also a big lover of Dismiss, where Werner is more often seen playing Forbid or Mana Drain. While those cards are great in duel, I’d rather play the cantrip. On the long run, it all comes down to who has the most good cards.

Destroy any Citanul Flute on sight. Use your Wasteland to prevent an Urza’s Blueprint-owner from paying the echo for it. Waste your Dismiss on that Whispers of the Muse that has been bought back. And why? When you hold on to that Dismiss to go and counter something with it that he has drawn with his Whispers, what did you gain with the cantrip? When you save your Wasteland, the opponent might as well find a Dust Bowl to destroy your Wasteland with. And he doesn’t mind paying two cards to get rid of your single Wasteland, he’ll just merrily tap his Blaupausen again to pull this little disadvantage of him straight. And when you try to kill a creature that was summoned via a Flute, its controller will only lose some time – for another copy can be whistled up at will. And when you’re too late with realizing your folly but then try to destroy the Flute anyway, the merry piper will just whip out a tune that attracts Mystic Snakes. Prevent opposing advantage before it overwhelms you. And cover your own advantage.

What happens when I play a Phyrexian Gargantua? You get scared by the picture… But pay no further heed. But what happens when Werner Ancestrals in your end step, finds a Stroke with it, and abuses it like wild? You try and beat the crap out of him, for that’s some serious card advantage he just bestowed upon himself right there. The man must be stopped. As for me, with the Gargantua, you pay no heed – for you have a White Knight to hold it off. But still, I gained two cards with it… One of which might be the Alter Reality I use to send your Knight into oblivion after I pretend I overlooked its protection.

And that’s another thing. When you’re looking for disenchant effects or creature kill, first try and find something with buyback that suits your needs. When you can’t find a satisfying card, look in your Flashback department. When you still haven’t found what you needed, search for a fitting cantrip. As a last resort, look for a card that can do as much as possible. So go for Allay first, then include Distorting Ray, then play some Aura Blasts and this row ends with a card as versatile as possible, like Creeping Mold, Disenchant, or Vindicate.

Oh, and hitting multiple targets, like with Serra’s Liturgy or Peace and Quiet, those cards should be judged individually. Peace and Quiet only works in specific circumstances; better avoid it. Hull Breach always works, and sometimes gives advantage, too; that’s much better. I myself consider Serra’s Liturgy to be top notch. Pay now, and destroy lots and lots of enchantments later. And artifacts. Serra’s Liturgy is so abundant that it even blows away your opponent’s Cameos, Diamonds, and Mindtones. That might seem trivial, but those subtle differences often contribute to our major, glorious victory.

Now I did use the word”piper” back when I was discussing Citanul Flute. That doesn’t mean you have to play with cards like Piper’s Melody. Sure, you can shuffle back a nice amount of creatures with it – but what has it gained you? Better threat density in your deck? Look, thinning your deck (or filling it with more good cards) is all fun and games, but please just use Gaea’s Blessing. It draws you a card. And while it might not restock your deck at the same speed that Dwell on the Past does, it does keep you on pace with the situation you’re in right now. Gaea’s Blessing on turn 5? Didn’t cost a thing except two spare mana. But is that a Dwell on the Past there in your opening hand? Better hold on to it quite long, for it isn’t going to do much good before turn 15 or something.

And has it occurred to you too that people you see for the first time in your store, but who still have three trading binders filled with rares, always play an Altar of Dementia deck? Every single time. And when they bring a friend, he is wielding an Oath of Druids deck, but not a good version; just a version that plays Verdant Force and then Stampeding Wildebeests a token back each turn. But my intention with saying this is giving you another reason for playing Blessing over Dwelling. It saves you from humiliating death-by-Altar, death by decking yourself as a result of some bad Oathing, and worst of all: Death-by-stranger. (It’s not that I do not like new people to play against, it’s just that new people tend to think they’re the best and that they are surely going to win. These are the kind of people that step in traps like the UN-deck with both feet. They feel superior, and therefore spend no attention to the guy that just has a Propaganda and a Fountain Watch out.)

And when you’re looking for something to fill up your deck with, don’t go for the Opts and the Sleights of Hand. Sure, they’re good spells, they make it seem like there are less cards in your library and yadda yadda yadda… But they don’t do anything. You’re playing multiplayer now, where speed isn’t a necessity for life. Try and play Concentrate, Fact or Fiction, Raven Familiar, or Ray of Erasure instead. All of those spells give you either more cards, the choice of one out of multiple cards or a funny effect. And then one might ask:”What good might such a funny effect do me?” And I’m here to explain.

Ray of Erasure



Target player puts the top card of his or her library into his or her graveyard.

Draw a card at the beginning of the next turn’s upkeep.

So it mills somebody for one? And it cantrips? Yes, all that. And this card helps build character, too. Play it on an opponent on your first turn because you are land light, and watch the crowd cheer when you mill away a Wrath of God or an Obliterate. People will love you for playing such a stupid cantrip. Sometimes. In other times, you might just mill away a land while mister opponent has four in hand… But then he will thank you for it. So the card always makes somebody happy – either the player you milled or the players you haven’t. But the best part has yet to come. Did you know why I ever started playing four Rays of Erasure in much decks? In the first place because it doesn’t cost a thing. But Opt doesn’t cost a thing, either. The reason I went for the Ray is the illustrated in the following scenario:

“Look, he lays down a Goblin Bombardment.”

“And look, there’s an Ornithopter!”

“Watch out, he’s playing an Enlightened Tutor!”

“This is a great disturbance in the force, we all shall die!”

(In a Noble, Herculean Voice:)”Nil desperandum. Please let the Tutor Resolve. Yes, all done? Now put that precious little Enduring Renewal in your graveyard. Tata.”

(And there was much rejoicing :)”Yay!”

But back to the card advantage argument: The largest reason that I do not do it is that it takes space to fit in those cards. I know that when you actually play them, it is like freeing up more space than they took in the first place. Aber wann Werner, etwas Disenchant, he has just spent one of his two or three Disenchants. Sure, he might find the Disenchant a tad earlier than I do – but I can find more on the long run. He has to think whether it’s worth it to spend a disenchant on that Snake Basket or not, for he only has a limited amount of explosives. Card drawing is okay, but I just prefer playing with more good cards. He might get them sooner… But in the end, it doesn’t really matter. In the end, we are both ragged and worn down by the other players. And then it comes down to who has the most cards left, my general observation is as follows: Werner has to try and beat me early in the game, or I will try and beat him at the end of the game. Sometimes he succeeds; other times I succeed. But every time, good times are had by all, and that’s the most important part.

A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I was talking about a deck with Thieves’ Auction in it. I talked about how it was good to include global effects in it. The above three pages tell you why I didn’t include Howling Mine, so that leaves us with:

4x Thieves Auction

4x Brand

1x Goblin Game

4x Mana Flare

The Mana Flare is particularly nice because all our funny spells are as expensive as a death star. I’ve never seen a price tag attached to one of them… But I reckon they don’t come with every second can of Heineken. I know that choosing only a Mana Flare is slim pickings from the rich orchard of global effects, but I thought up something that symbioses even better with the Auction.

Think about what happens when you have a lot of permanents – but then, when the Auction resolves, you suddenly have none. The Auction would still give you an equivalent part of permanents, so that you still come out equal after resolution? But who would want to throw away all his permanents right before a Thieves’ Auction? The man that gets rewarded for it, that is. Throwing away your lands in the direction of a Zuran Orb tastes good. Creatures can be recruited as cannon fodder by the Goblin Bombardment crew… But for creatures, I’ve thought up something even better.

Over here in Europe, when you pronounce the verb”to phase,” it sounds like you’re saying”to party” in Dutch. And it’s certainly a party when your creatures phase out just before a 4RRR costed spell resolves! For they come back from the celebrations during your next turn… But still in your possession. So it’s good when your beasts are able to phase out. By the phasing ability, at will, as a triggered effect or whatever. But the phasing ability limits your possibility to time the Auction. So the last two phasing habits are preferred. Only one more language trivia and I’ll tell you which phasing animals (which are, ha ha,”party animals” in Dutch) I selected for my deck.

“Phased out,” in the Netherlands, is Hollandised to”uit-ge-phased”‘ with”ge” just being some required junctional syllable. But uitgephased also means”done with partying.” We right here are childish enough to laugh about that.”Look, he’s had it with partying, he’s going away.” Very funny; you English speakers are certainly missing out on a lot of fun. With kicker (ribbit). I fog with my Lull.

Mist Dragon: the ultimate annoyance creature.”Let me respond to that,” >point at Mist Dragon<“Flying.”

Mist Dragon

4UU, Summon Dragon 4/4, Mirage Rare

0: Flying

0: Loses flying

3UU: Phases out

And on and on. Give it flying at every possibility, and let it lose flying every time you get priority. And when someone who gets irritated by you and your stupid dragon tries to waste said dragon, he’ll be disappointed when it phases out. A Hurricane? Walk a little. An Earthquake? Fly over it. The Apocalypse? Phase out. And it costs only six mana, so it will hit the board on turn four when you’ve got one of your four Mana Flares in play.

The other phasing effect will be granted by Teferi’s Veil. It makes all your creatures phase out at end of combat whenever they have attacked. And it only costs 1U, saving all our creatures from sorcery speed removal! This allows us to play any creature we like, a long as it has a certain sort of evasion so that we can phase it out at will quite reliably.

4x Thieves Auction

4x Brand

1x Goblin Game

4x Mana Flare

3x Zuran Orb

4x Mist Dragon

3x Teferi’s Veil

11x creature with evasion

A few miles south of here, Muse is playing. Rammstein is playing. Faithless is making some music. Pinkpop is almost the largest Dutch festival being held each year. And I’m not there. I’d rather write? Or was I too late with buying tickets? It’s just not my favorite music.

A certain writer has once said that ideas flash around the universe like tiny particles. When such a particle hits a living organism, that organism experiences a stroke of genius resulting in the idea it just got hit by.** The writer then goes on with lamenting the fact that most good ideas have probably just hit frogs and tadpoles. But there is at least one good idea that has hit me….

Do all our creatures have the ability to phase out? Yes, they do. And what did I just suggest as a thing that can be survived by phasing out? Correct; it’s an Apocalypse. I already hinted at this deck in my Reins of Power article, for I told you about the Teferi’s Veil with Apocalypse trick back then. I suggested Thieving Magpie as a very suitable creature back then, too, and I am certainly going to suggest it again now. In the beginning, before the world goes away, it serves as a blocker. But in the post-apocalyptic landscape, it draws us cards like mad, thus ensuring our timely recovery. And by playing four Apocalypses, we enlarge the chance of a theologically impossible event: multiple Apocalypses in one game.

And Apocalypse kills everything, even the best creature on the board. Even much so when that creature is a Zephid… But we don’t get that here very often.

Now we are going to think up a creature that will also help us out in the post-apocalyptic landscape, while not being completely useless in the beginning. And while being a fun card to Auction with. We already have the Mist Dragons to lay the smackdown on our opponents, but we’re a little light on blockers that are ought to keep us alive before the big bang. So I got a warm and fuzzy feeling inside when I saw the following creature at the prerelease:



creature – illusion


Whenever Scalpelexis deals combat damage to a player, remove the top four cards of his or her library from the game. Repeat this process when two or more of those cards have the same name.


So it has a large behind to keep us safe with in the beginning. It will be a wanted object during a Thieves’ Auction when we fail to phase it out or want to fool somebody with Brand. And it will be annoying the hell out of our opponents when it survives the Apocalypse. We’re going to instantly put four into our deck when the set gets out for sale.

Another blue flyer I liked, I found in Werner’s deck. It was a very aggressive flyer, 6/1, with a weird ability. You have to skip your next turn when this Wormfang Manta comes into play… But when it leaves play, we get to take another turn after this one. And kids, remember how phasing in doesn’t trigger come into play effects, while phasing out does trigger”leaves play” effects? This rule, combined with the Manta, gives us as many turns as we like, as long as we phase out the Manta every turn. This can be easily achieved by enchanting it with Vanishing, or by letting it phase out with Teferi’s Veil. When no player has a flying blocker, it can go all the way on its own. Thus, when phased out during an Apocalypse, it can win you the game when you can quickly find a Veil to do the trick. But because the Veil doesn’t survive the Apocalypse, and because infinite combos aren’t really that much fun, we’re only going to incorporate a single Manta in our decks.

To make our deck more child-friendly, we are now going to insert a familiar an amiable character in it. Willy the Whale, also known as Free Willy, has filled kid’s hearts with joy all around the nation for years. And Magic players who want to sink some mana from their overburdened pools have been letting Willy make his famous jump for years too. It is just a good blocker, 3/5, reasonably costs three generic and two blue mana, and can fly for a blue mana. This will cause all our burning mana problems to become a thing of the past. The only problem with this card is that it has been called Killer Whale, rendering all kid-friendliness moot. A name with Kill in it can’t be good.

This list shows us our progress:

4x Thieves’ Auction

4x Brand

1x Goblin Game

4x Mana Flare

3x Zuran Orb

4x Mist Dragon

3x Teferi’s Veil

4x Apocalypse

4x Thieving Magpie

4x Scalpelexis

1x Wormfang Manta

2x Killer Whale

As we can see, we are now in desperate need of some lands. It’s just not realistic to expect Eladamri’s Vineyards and Rainbow Vales to head your way consistently. So let’s take faith in our own hands we play with some mana sources ourselves. This being only a two-color deck might make outsiders think that the mana base will be a piece of cake… And it will be, for us experienced deck builders. We start with the four Volcanic Islands that are always prepared when I build a deck. But in this deck, better not replace them with Shivan Reefs when you’re short some Volcanic Islands. We are probably going to need those life points.

What else do we want from our lands? We want them to not be present at the time of a Thieves Auction or an Apocalypse. This can be done by finding phasing lands, or by finding bouncing lands. The only phasing land I could find was Teferi’s Isle, and I once pledged a vow never to use it. The only bouncing land that I could find was Ghost Town, but that can only bounce during an opponent’s turn. So I was left looking for something else. And I found lands that bounce other lands – namely, the Lairs. Crosis’ Catacombs are very suitable for playing as a prelude to a Thieves’ Auction. The fact that you have to discard your hand when Apocalypse resolves makes it a little less good, but that’s where my other solution kicks in.

When creatures phase out at will, why not make our lands into creatures? Faerie Conclave and Ghitu Encampment are excellent calls in this deck. Animate them, charge with them, phase them out, and then cast a random expensive red sorcery. The only problem with this scenario is that Ghitu Encampment will most probably be blocked – blocked to death – so we just don’t play as many Encampments as that we play Conclaves. It’s as simple as that. The added bonus with playing more basic lands over Lairs and Man-lands is that good old basic lands don’t come into play tapped, not do they stunt your mana development in any other fashion. Another benefit is that, should an ‘uncontrolled’ auction resolve (that is, an auction without a Zuran Orb, Brand, or floating mana for an Apocalypse in the same turn (Watch those opponents get mad when you pull that off!)) people will be more likely to pick another, better, land over your puny basic land. Play fourth edition white bordered lands for that very purpose. Don’t play your APAC and Arena stuff. Do not get your Beta basics out of the closet. But go get those cards you use to keep the garden table support points at the same height away from there and put them into your deck.

This will be the last list of the article, I promise to you.

4x Thieves’ Auction

4x Brand

1x Goblin Game

4x Mana Flare

3x Zuran Orb

4x Mist Dragon

3x Teferi’s Veil

4x Apocalypse

4x Thieving Magpie

4x Scalpelexis

1x Wormfang Manta

2x Killer Whale

4x Volcanic Island

2x Crosis’ Catacombs

4x Island

6x Mountain

2x Ghitu Encampment

4x Faerie Conclave

And now for something completely different: Dutch politics. You people might have heard of the populist right wing guy who was running for prime minister here: He was called Pim Fortuyn, and had large support from the rabble.”The Islam is a backward religion.””Close the borders.””Scrap the first article from the constitution!” The first article was the one that proclaimed that everybody’s equal. I must admit that he was quite a funny man to look at. He was ashamed of nothing, and during public debates he made sharp jokes. But when he was verbally attacked about his political party and its viewpoints, he removed his microphone.

Still, he got massive support. No one had held it for possible that such a man could rise so fast in the Netherlands. And then he got shot at a parking lot. The land was shocked, and the press talked about”American events.” (Is it common courtesy to shoot politicians over there, then?) But since the law prohibited the removal of a person from the election ballots in this stadium of the elections, we Dutchmen were allowed to vote for a dead person. No one had ever seriously heard of the man a few months ago, but now almost twenty percent of the people voted for him… Even though he was dead. The votes just passed on to another person from the same party. Luckily, Harry Potter got a lot more votes. Just try and find some pictures of Dutch news, and I’m sure you’ll find our future prime minister there. He bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Potter.

But the reason I tell you all this is as follows: try and find a copy, albeit real or virtual, of Nomad Mythmaker – who bears an uncanny resemblance to Pim Fortuyn. Look at the man telling the story. I never heard that much laughing during a prerelease. Look! He only died a week or two ago, and now he already has his own card! Good thing they call him a Mythmaker here, too. He should also have had the ability to bounce black creatures. Or to be able to destroy Ali Baba and Ali from Cairo. Or to change the first article of the comprehensive rulings (Only Magic cards are allowed? We also want Battle Tech and Jihad!) (On second thought, let’s not have Jihad cards. That’s a backwards game.) I think I’m going to cut out the picture and paste it over a spare copy of False Prophet.

But Nomad Mythmaker is also a very good card with the following ability:

W, Tap: Put target enchant creature card from a graveyard into play enchanting a creature you control.

This can be abused in several ways I can already think of, of the top of my head. I’m going to try and build a deck with it. You’ll hear from me again as soon as I try it out.

Emperial Regards,

Stijn van Dongen


* – Brand is also the name of a particularly nice brand of beer. I pity the foreigners who only know our”specially imported Heineken.” It’s a good thing we export it, for any sensible Dutchman or woman wouldn’t drink it if only a single other type of beer were available. If no other beer is present we just drink it with our eyes and nose closed, as to at least limit our perception of ourselves drinking Heineken.

** – Don’t worry, it is the same writer who claims that the world is as flat as a penny, shaped in the same way, and is carried around on the back of four large elephants. When asked where those elephants should stand on, then, he replies:”On a giant turtle, of course.” And the turtle, A’tuin, swims through space.

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