Alfred Hitchcock’s definition of the perfect murder:
It’s going on right now.
You’ll never know it happened.
In a recent article, Anthony Alongi said that there were, and I quote,”No politics in multiplayer.” Anthony says that it’s all about power and strength Â— and to back this assumption up, he uses the quiz show”The Weakest Link” as an example. The weakest link gets hammered Â— goodbye!
Irony, thy name is Alongi.
Now keep in mind that”The Weakest Link” is a television show where contestants answer questions, and then VOTE OFF a person after each round. The Weakest Link isn’t necessarily the dumbest contestant Â— in fact, a common Weakest Link strategy is for the dumber contestants to gang-vote the smartest guy off the air.
In other words, THE VERY EXAMPLE THAT ANTHONY USES TO DENY POLITICS IN MULTIPLAYER IS COMPLETELY POLITICAL.
That alone should tell you how badly off this poor guy is.*
Anthony’s logic reminds me of the sadly-flawed arguments of the fundamentalist sects who claim that women are clearly inferior to men.”Women are born subservient to men,” they grunt.”They aren’t intelligent! Why, just look at our women! Plainly inferior!”
“But,” you say, raising a finger,”You purposely lock your daughters away from any sort of education or reading material. You don’t allow them to go out in public, or to talk with other men. You tell them how stupid they are every day, and sometimes you even mutilate them to keep them from running away. If they’re really that dumb, aren’t you spending an awful lot of time and effort to keep them away from anything that COULD conceivably make them intelligent or independent?”
“Plainly inferior,” they say, pursing their lips.
“And furthermore,” you continue,”Doesn’t the success of women elsewhere prove that you’re wrong? I mean, women are still discriminated against in America, but they’re slowly proving themselves in business despite the odds. Doesn’t that count for something?”
That’s generally when they walk away.
Now Anthony’s no misogynist, but his logic is as sketchy as a Far Side cartoon. He claims that multiplayer politics don’t exist — but then again, his playgroup doesn’t allow making bargains (well, occasionally they do, but they’d”just as soon not allow it at all”), they”frown upon” flashing threatening cards, and they go out of their way to avoid saying anything that could be construed as”table talk” or”agreements.”
Ya know, if I created that many house rules to ward off an imaginary concept, you might think I was doth protesting a bit too mucheth.
Furthermore, Anthony’s admitted that my methods of insidious underpinning WORK! Let me quote:”Apparently, (the Ferrett’s) behavior… is at least moderately successful.”**
So let me see… There is something which doesn’t exist, but at the same time his playgroup is working overtime to expunge any traces of it, and even though it doesn’t exist it works. Sometimes.
I think what Anthony is TRYING to say is,”I don’t like politics in multiplayer, and I stomp anyone who tries it because I despise the idea of it.”
That’s fine. A legitimate reaction. I don’t like combo in multiplayer, and I personally try to stomp them into the dirt Â— but on the other hand, I don’t stick my head in the ground, screaming”Nyah nyah nyah” while covertly tearing up copies of Sunder and Prosperity.
And it’s not just me. Todd Petit, a member of Anthony’s playgroup, has admitted in public that he does use politics against Anthony occasionally. Other folks have written in to me to tell me how I have helped them weasel their way into multiplayer success. Some people even give me hints for other columns.
In short, IT EXISTS.
Don’t believe the hype.
But on the other hand, I can understand why Anthony hates politics: He’s no good at them. Anthony’s idea of good multiplayer politics is terribly shallow.
I say this not as an insult to the great Alongi; his deckbuilding skills are far above mine, he plays well, and I know he can kick my butt in draft any time. (Not to mention that when it comes to writing, his Casual Fridays draws twice the readership that my pathetic columns do — in fact, Anthony is so superior to me on every level that I’m pretty sure if he lived in Alaska, my wife would be angling for an affair with him, my daughters would be calling him”Daddy” behind my back, and my boss would be screaming at me, shouting”Dammit, Ferrett! Why can’t you be more like Alongi over here?”)
But the examples he gives us to demonstrate multiplayer politics! Throwing a Rancor on an opponent’s creature in order to convince him to attack someone else isn’t politics; it’s stupid. Giant Growthing a monster BEFORE an attack phase to try to deflect an attack elsewhere isn’t clever manipulation; not only is it bad play, but you’ve given your opponent no reason to go elsewhere. You’ve committed your support and have nothing left to offer.
Jeez, if these hamhanded antics are all Anthony sees, no wonder he hates it.
For once and for all, this is The Ferrett’s definition of multiplayer politics:
Lowering your own perceived threat value while raising everyone else’s.
It isn’t about toadying (though occasionally you do toady), or currying favors, or anything as elementary as that. Effective politics, as in real life, is about gaining consensus to force your agenda through potential opposition.
And your agenda, in multiplayer politics, is to keep the threats aimed elsewhere.
And that is the difference. The Weakest Link does invariably get snapped —how do you define the Weakest Link? The power lies in controlling perception. We all know about fine, upstanding citizens in real life who got slammed by the media. Multiplayer politics is spin control. A lot of the folks caught up in some of the media frenzies may have been excellent, hard-working people… But they were viewed as the Weakest Link, and axed. Good-bye!
And that slacker clerk in some useless agency who never seems to get fired? He should be the Weakest Link… But politically, he’s protected.
The true weasel’s job is to make sure that someone else appears more vulnerable, and then getting someone else to swing the axe for you.
Anyone can do this passively; sitting back and watching the fur fly, then swooping in like a vulture for the kill takes little talent. But aggressive politics Â— namely, openly talking your opponents into things Â— is what gives Anthony the cold shivers, and it’s the most complex way to try to play the game.
Because just like real life politics, you have to have something to offer them.
Come on, guys — do you think that the NRA and the Christian Right really have intertwining agendas? One condemns murderers and wants to see them all dead, whereas the other is all about handing weapons out for easy kills and profit. And yet in real life they’re practically joined at the hip. Why? Because neither of them has won yet.
Or if that one gets your cockles in a knot***, howzabout that infamous Germany/Japan teamup?”Hi! We’re a bunch of racist idiots who want to kill anyone who’s not white and good-looking!””Why, hello — we’re a bunch of foreigners with epicanthic folds around our eyes… But we do happen to have large stockpiles of armaments and trained soldiers.””Well, hang on a second there — I’m sure we can come to an agreement.”
Do you really think that if Japan and Germany had won, they would have had that Princess Bride-style ending, where they all held hands and rode off into the sunset together? Hogwash. They would have started getting into all sorts of desperate infighting immediately like, say…
…Oh, I dunno — the US and the Soviet Union did after World War II.
Who was the Weakest Link there? Germany and Japan. (And Japan attacking Pearl Harbor is a pretty darned good lesson in Why You Should Leave People Alone Until They Attack You in multiplayer… And yet I digress.) And yet the US and the Soviets hated each other; even in the middle of WWII, we were scheming as to what we would do to handle the Soviets after the war was over.
In real life, people with vastly disparate goals team up all the time, creating some very odd alliances. Just because you have a couple of mutually-opposing goals doesn’t mean that you can’t team up for awhile… And that’s what a large segment of multiplayer politics is about. It’s about convincing someone else that taking some action is in both of your best interests. That you’re stronger together than apart. Yes, no doubt you’re out to win and they know that… But until you get to a point where you’re unstoppable, it never hurts to have Red Five on your flank, watching your six.
And the brilliant part about it is that you don’t even need to be in a winning position to take advantage of politics; there are all sorts of bargaining positions that don’t necessarily involve you being the dominant player. You can be the monkeywrench, you can be the dealmaker, or you can be Jiminy Cricket… All of which can buy you time until you can win.
Politics is about finding advantages for two or more people, while screwing someone who isn’t you.
Manipulating your opponents, which is in reality forging a mutually-beneficial agreement, can take many forms:
- “Say! I see that you’re playing a black/red deck, which is great for destroying me… But I know for a fact that he has Worship in his deck, and there’s not a thing you can do about that. Why don’t you destroy him, I’ll agree to get rid of his enchantments, and then we’ll bash each other like the cavemen we are?”
- “What? You can deal with enchantments thanks to an Anarchy? Great! Let’s try that again, then; if you attack me, then I have nothing left to lose. I will have no reason not to launch an all-out attack on you, giving up hope of winning, and I know I can get through for at least eight points of damage. Why don’t you go after mister whitey there, which gives you a few turns to build up your defenses, and then we’ll see?”
- “Look, my dear CF guy… If you attack me with that, I cannot directly retribute you. I will take the hit and cry pain. But on the other hand, I will inform everyone else at the table that now that you’re open, I have many creature-enhancing things here that will be gleefully thrown on any creature that wishes to assault an Alongian dome, old chap. Attack me if you will, but you will not win this game, I assure you.” He’ll hate it and he may attack anyway just to be spiteful… But someone else at the table will surely bite, allowing for a Rancored, Might of Oaked creature to smash across Anthony’s bow.****
Of course, you’d never be that blatant unless your opponents were terribly dense… But that’s the gist of them.
And those are the easy ones. I haven’t even started on the subtle methods of deflecting attention when you’re the best player, or figuring out how to work around each player’s psychological handicaps, or even building a deck that seems like it’s not very threatening.
But Anthony hates them all, mainly because when players start teaming up to cover each other’s weaknesses, he seems to feel that it cheapens the game.
But fortunately, that’s not true — mainly because multiplayer sneaking will never win you the game by itself. You need a good deck with good play, and that is 90% of the game. Sneaking is never going to win me a game against Finkel or Budde. I’m not going to pilot Dan Bock’s all-land deck to a win with just me and a nice voice.
A good player will consider politics to be the spackle of multiplayer. Nobody wants a house with cracks in it… But sometimes your deck misfires, only throwing out a couple of teeny critters and next to no lands. Other times there’s a threat on the board that you can’t deal with, so you need to get someone else to Plow or Pillage it. And then there are just those early games when someone’s getting poked to test their defenses, and you don’t want that guy to be you.
That’s when you want some edge that doesn’t stem directly from the cards. And that’s when sneaking helpfully creeps in, lending you a shadowy hand and a can of spackle to cover over the flaws in your house of cards. (What kind of stupid metaphor is this? — The Ferrett)
Politics doesn’t win you the game by itself… But it is another tool, an edge in your favor, and you’d be a fool to give it up if you like winning. Anthony’s crusade against multiplayer politics is like Friggin’ Rizzo’s crusade against Intentional Drawing — I agree that both men are principled. I believe that both men really feel for what they’re saying.
But both men are handicapping themselves for no particular reason. Unless you feel like starting off all your multiplayer games with a six-card hand, you mise well get used to using politics.
After all, a little UN action never hurt anybody.
* — Hey, at least I used”Survivor” as a relevant TV show.
** — The unexpurgated quote is”Apparently this behavior has been going on for some time, and is at least moderately successful, if the stories we hear are true,” for those who are worried I’m pulling a Rizzo and quoting out of context. I wouldn’t do that. At least not when his articles are so clearly accessible.
*** — This sounds a lot dirtier than it actually is.
**** — So how would I break Anthony? Simple. I would never actually ask anything of him, even jokingly. I would never in a million years beg a favor out of Meesta Casual. However, I would look at the other people around the table and see how I could start sending them Anthony’s way. Whee!