Multiplayer, Tournament Style

Current scuttlebutt around the watercooler is that Wizards, with its first deployment of “official” rules, is attempting a foray into multiplayer tournaments. Will this destroy the sanctity of the casual player’s realm by throwing a few sharks into the fish pond? Or will it become a paradise for those estranged individuals who long for more social interaction in Magic?

Current scuttlebutt around the watercooler is that Wizards, with its first deployment of”official” rules, is attempting a foray into multiplayer tournaments.

Will this destroy the sanctity of the casual player’s realm by throwing a few sharks into the fish pond? Or will it become a paradise for those estranged individuals who long for more social interaction in Magic?

I’ll leave this debate to those more adept at arguing the pros and cons of the issue. I’d rather just tell my story.

A few Saturdays ago, I drove 4-1/2 hours to play in a PTQ, played for three rounds, and made the long trip back home.

By myself.

If I were a true, bubbly socialite, I am sure I could manage to get in a wonderful conversation with some fascinating young individual that had a Hallmark Hall-of-Fame life story that would leave me awestruck at a world filled with such wondrous people. Truly, I have met a few of these people and have garnered some incredible friends while mired in playing Magic. Unfortunately, I am not a bubbly socialite and this time I was at a serious Magic tournament.

This meant that much of my Saturday was taken up wandering around a tightly-packed store, straining to see at least a somewhat inviting face to maybe do some trading. I didn’t have much luck, and ended up resorting to my emergency boredom relief supplies – a Reader’s Digest and a few Palm Pilot games. Sitting in a stuffy, crowded game store on a surprisingly cool July afternoon trying to kill time is not typically my concept of a rip-roaring good time. Let’s face it – Magic is just more fun with friends around.

So, how do you get those anti-establishment idealists out of the basement to come experience a little variety and provide company at tournament? I think the recent Prereleases have clued us in on the answer – just let your friends know you need them to play on your team. In my experience, there has never been a lack of willing bodies when team season rolls around.

Proclaiming the merits of team tournaments won’t necessarily cause Wizards to perk up and take notice; however, if we start playing multiplayer in a tournament structure, the sanctioned tournaments might start to materialize. I’d just like to present a few types of multiplayer formats that could easily be incorporated into the current tournament system.

Emperor Draft

How many times have you trekked all the way to the Magic store on a Tuesday night, waited thirty minutes past the scheduled start time, begged and pleaded with a few friends on the phone, only to get turned away because the maximum you could muster for a draft was six people?

Instead of having to go home or get stuck playing a lopsided, unsanctioned draft, why not ask the people around if they’d be willing to play a pick-up game of emperor draft?

What exactly is Emperor Draft? Essentially, it is a six-person draft where the six people are divided into two teams of three. Of the three people, one is chosen to be the emperor and the other two are Lieutenants (see the multiplayer rules for a full description of playing Emperor). Each person must play only with the cards that they themselves have drafted. The proper seating arrangement for Emperor Draft should be as follows:


Lieutenant B1 Lieutenant A2

Emperor A———————Emperor B

Lieutenant B2 Lieutenant A1


Lieutenant A1 Lieutenant B1

Emperor A———————-Emperor B

Lieutenant A2 Lieutenant B2

Note that the Lieutenants who draft next to each other do not play each other. When I’ve played this format with friends, we’ve been blasé about keeping this order correct. However, in order to keep things fair, it is important not to play the person you are drafting next to, since the player to your left controls your destiny for two out of the three packs.

I’ve given a logical reason for wanting to attempt this format, but I want to leave you drooling to try this out for yourself. I was introduced to this format earlier this year, and I fell in love with it. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate normal draft?

This format intrigues me because it breaks the rigid thought barrier of card rating. With six simultaneous players, some of the more readily ignored cards become powerhouses – Leonin Elder can easily net twenty life for a player. Decks can become more focused with an emperor providing backup support in the form of removal, counterspells, and simple combat tricks. There is a lot of exploration to be done to determine which cards should be drafted and which cards should be drafted when you are playing Lieutenant vs. Emperor.

Another layer of complexity that makes Emperor draft interesting is collusion. And it’s actually legal. While drafting, there will always be one opposing Lieutenant and one opposing Emperor on either side and two away will be teammates. As a drafting Lieutenant, you can help shape your Emperor’s hand and your other Lieutenant’s hand by giving the person something she can’t pass up. For example, you open a pack with Vulshok Sorcerer, Ferocious Charge, and Qumulox. You are playing Red/Green but not Blue. Fortunately, the next person you will be passing to is the Emperor. Picking the Vulshok Sorcerer or the Ferocious Charge will force the Emperor to either take the Qumulox and lose a pick or draft a useful card and allow your own Lieutenant to pick up the Qumulox. Even though the role of Emperor sounds flashy, the Lieutenants really control the power in this type of draft.

Another aspect that would also be worth experimenting with for those who take pleasure in bending the rules focuses on signaling. There is a general rule in our group that no table-talk is allowed, i.e., you can’t advise teammates on what to do or what you have in your hand to indicate how to declare an attack, block, etc. One person in our emperor draft group has come up with an ingenious solution around this problem: using his cards to signal certain reminders. His actions are not so underhanded as to get around the system – he merely uses it to his advantage. For example, he may decide to tap Mirrodin’s Core right before a Lieutenant declares blockers to indicate that he has support to allow the Lieutenant’s blockers to survive. I am sure several minds are already churning on ways to legally abuse the system.

Although relatively simple in execution, Emperor Draft is rich in terms of strategic thinking, especially considering its status as a fledgling format. If you’d like to hear more discussion on the subject, read Anthony Alongi article.

Emperor Sealed

Team Sealed already exists and has now become a regular feature at the Pre-release. I enjoy Sealed immensely, but team sealed suffers from one severe drawback: there aren’t enough cards to support three solid decks. Though some people revel in the challenge of trying to eek out a few wins with the worst deck, there are plenty of others who get weary of being bludgeoned for five rounds. I know I am one of those people. I also find Team Sealed to be a bit lacking in overall creativity, as it seems the decks quickly form themselves into draft archetypes.

Emperor Sealed tries to eliminate both these problems by providing a different venue in which to play Team Sealed. Similar to Team Sealed, emperor sealed requires all the cards (two packs from each expansion, one tournament pack from the base set) to be pooled together to create three separate decks. The only difference is that instead of playing three standalone matches, each team plays best 2-of-3 in emperor-style.

Much of the strategy relies in building the right deck for each team member. Instead of trying to force cards, colors, spells and creatures between players, you can take advantage of the emperor in two ways:

1) defense from the lieutenants can allow the emperor to play with devastating spells or combos that are typically too slow to incorporate in one-on-one combat or

2) the emperor can provide the main source of removal support so the lieutenant decks can be heavily creature-focused. Many decisions may be dominated by the cardpool and this format will still suffer from the broken-deck syndrome; however, there are more options to explore in emperor sealed. For example, one teammate can play a removal-light, mono-color deck that, while not usually feasible in team sealed, can be an effective strategy in emperor sealed.

Just like Emperor Draft, Emperor Sealed can also take advantage of the table for signaling. This feels a little more empowering than watching helplessly as your teammate makes one critical mistake and lets the win slip away.

If Emperor Sealed has piqued you interest, I encourage getting the attention of your local tournament organizer. Put in a polite request for running a separate Emperor Sealed event at the prerelease or as a casual tournament on a Magic-barren weekend.

If you want to try your hand at one of these limited Emperor formats, I will offer one piece of advice: Crystal Shard is insane.