Due to some technical difficulties on our end,
‘s SCG Talent Search article did not go up last Thursday. Because he was in no way responsible for the error,
has been given a bye into the next round of the competition. While
cannot be eliminated this week, this submission will still be taken into consideration by our judges when they are reviewing his work next round. Here is the article for your enjoyment, and feedback is still welcome.
Kenny Rogers is most famous for giving advice to card players:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â You’ve got to know when to hold â€˜em, know when to fold â€˜em;
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Know when to walk away, know when to run.
Now, I don’t know who Kenny Rogers is, what else he sang, or why the hell anyone would buy chicken from him, but I do know a little something
about playing cards. I already wrote about when to fold â€˜em in multiplayer in my
(Hint: if there isn’t a fat lady singing, stay in the game), and I’m not really built for running, so let me give you some more appropriate advice for Magic: You’ve got to know when to hold â€˜em and
when to be bold with â€˜em.
Make no mistake about it; the best way to win in multiplayer is to grab your table by their collective throats: slam down threats and beat your opponents with them until they run out of answers.
I know that some people will tell you that the key to winning in multiplayer is to keep your head down and not draw any attention to yourself until you finally play all the pieces of your seven-piece combo simultaneously on turn 19. However, I have to tell you that a) you can’t do that repeatedly with the same group of smart players; b) you don’t need to pretend that you aren’t trying to win in order to win; and c) smacking your buddies around is a lot more fun than hiding from them!* I’m not talking about using all your gas to take out the first couple of players and then not being able to take out the last opponent; I’m talking about taking control of a game and winning in the mid-game, rather than waiting for the late-late-late game. This means looking for, and taking advantage of, opportunities to seize the initiative and also building your deck with an eye towards being in the driver’s seat.
Fortune Favors the Bold
There are four reasons why playing boldly is so often better than sitting in the shadows.
I don’t know how to say this without being sexist, but in the last month I’ve heard three women talk about putting on “man pants,” so maybe this phrase is safe to use. This point is more philosophical than strategic, but it still stands: be a man! Play like you’ve got a pair! Show some cajones! *** I’m talking Jund style, baby!!
They really are out to get you:
Don’t kid yourself — everyone else at your table is trying to win. If they can assemble their win conditions while you’re still waiting to find yours, then you’ve pretty much wasted your time in this game, so you need to play with a sense of urgency. If you give your opponents too much time and space, they’ll use it to win, so get in there and hit them now, before it’s too late.
The answers are on their way:
Ever had one of those games where you got beaten down by an aggro deck and died the turn before you drew the answer that would’ve allowed you to stabilize the board? By that same logic, every turn that you don’t play your threat is another turn that you’re giving your opponent to draw answers. This is complicated in multiplayer by the number of players and hence the diversity of answers that they may be playing with. The odds that
they’ll have an answer right now are actually pretty low, especially in an active game, but it’s inevitable that they’ll draw into answers
if you give them enough time.
Not all threats are created equal, but there are a lot of threats that represent actual or potential card advantage for you even if they don’t go all the way. This can be as simple as a Craw Wurm that eats a mouthful of elves before dying to a gang block, a Spiritmonger that demands a block and a post-regeneration kill spell, or a Rite of Replication that requires a couple of pieces of spot removal and a sweeper. Seen through the prism of card advantage, many unsuccessful attempts to take control of a game will still get you closer to victory through attrition.
Failure â‰ Death:
A lot of people seem to be terrified of making a bold move because they think the rest of the table will kill them in response, and while this can happen, the risk is really overblown. Let’s say you get out a large tramply army and put your opponents in a position where they either have a Damnation or they die next turn. If there is a Damnation, then you have probably lost more than anyone else and are no longer in the strongest (i.e. most threatening) position. At this point, there’s no reason to expect that you’d receive any special attention. You’ve shown some powerful cards, but they’ve all gone to the bin, and you aren’t the only one playing with powerful cards. You’ve shown the potential to win the game, but everyone else will have their own ways of doing that to. No, unless you’ve shown something truly unique (like a broken insta-win combo), a failed bid for control won’t automatically mark you for death, and others will soon play something that threatens the table more than you.
So hopefully that will encourage you to be a little more proactive, rather than allowing your games to drag on into ridiculously long deadlocks. In my experience, this will be a better way to play and a better way to win.
Carpe-ing the Diem
So what exactly do I mean by playing boldly? Basically, I mean not waiting until your path to victory is completely clear before starting down that path. Rather than being risk averse and worrying about what your various opponents might do to counter your threats or hurt you directly, you need to put yourself in their shoes and ask how many ways they have to deal with this threat and how long they have to find an out before you kill them. This style of play forces the tempo of the game by giving your opponents three choices: have the answer, draw the answer soon, or die. If they have the answer in hand, then you’re taking it away from them, and that means that they’ll be less able to deal with your other threats. If they take time to draw the answer, then you bloody them up a little bit while they’re searching for it, restrict their ability to threaten you (if playing the answer uses up their mana), and get more chances to draw your next threat. And of course, if they die, you win. The strategic logic of boldness is very simple, which is why military strategy has, since the dawn of time, emphasized rapid action, seizing the initiative, and cutting off your opponent’s options.
An example in an
by Bruce Richard shows the difference between our playing styles, as well as illustrating the potential advantages of playing boldly. He was sitting on a board full of tokens and decided to play a Day of the Dragons but felt at the time that it was probably a mistake. Granted, any of his opponents could’ve been sitting on a board sweeper, in which case he would’ve lost all of his Dragons
all of his tokens. But if they didn’t, he would win, and if they did, there’s an excellent chance that they would have swept away his token army next turn anyway, so he would only lose one additional card from this gambit. At worst, by making the bold play, he forces his opponents to play their answers now, rather than letting them wait to play them later for better card advantage; at best, he flat-out wins! Personally, I’m taking that chance nine out of ten times, and you know what? I’m winning five out of those ten games on the spot.
As another example of how we can overcome our timidity and play more boldly, let’s talk about one of my favorite cards in the world: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. I love to drop him and start blowing up the stuff that black and red decks traditionally can’t touch (stupid color pie!). Obviously, Old Nick is a major threat and therefore a major target for every other player, so the ideal time to cast him is either post-Damnation, before anyone gets any creatures on the board, or once you have plenty of blockers. But there are times that fall short of this ideal, when you might be scared of playing him (there’s a single Kor Firewalker on the board, for example) and hold off. Your feeling is likely to be “I know the Firewalker will attack Bolas, and maybe something else will, too. What if someone breaks my new toy?” and I’ve made that mistake myself.
What you should be thinking about, though, is that Bolas can race the damage from the weenie (he’ll be at eight loyalty this turn and still at six after the Firewalker). If someone plays a bigger creature, then you can steal that and use it to block the Kor, and Bolas will still be at four loyalty (and you’ll still be at eight mana). Sure, there may be a Ball Lightning or a Drain Life or even a Rootgrapple in someone’s hand that you don’t know about, but you’ll have to deal with those at some point anyway, and you have an excellent chance of gaining a decisive advantage
if you play him.
Playing boldly is mainly about how you play your cards. Playing Exsanguinate for twenty isn’t usually a bold play; it’s just the best way to use a powerful card. In the same way, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Akroma, Angel of Fury is an inherently bold card; she’s just powerful. The bold play is pumping all your mana into her when you swing, hoping to take someone out immediately (“Sure she dies to Terror; everything does. Do you have one?”). That being said, I think it’s possible to build a deck with an eye towards taking control of a game if the opportunity presents itself, partly through deck design and partly through card choice. It basically comes down to asking how fast your clock is and how resistant it is to your opponents’ countermeasures.
A classic example of cards that allow decisive play, especially for EDH, is the choice between Invincible Hymn and Storm Herd. Sure, a Hymn can gain you sixty or more life, and once you cast it, it takes a long time to undo it, whereas the Herd can be wiped out by any number of sweepers. Hymn is clearly the risk-averse option. But the Herd may be an unblockable one-turn clock that’s resistant to any spot removal this side of Maelstrom Pulse. Anyone not holding sweepers in their hand
would prefer you to cast a Hymn, and that’s why I would always choose Herd over Hymn.
I’m also a big fan of cards like Decree of Pain, Cruel Ultimatum, and even the Ã¼ber-budget Dregs of Sorrow as sweepers that put you in a position to make decisive plays over the next few turns. Sure, you might earn some hatred from the rest of the table, but they were all planning to kill you anyway, and now you have a nice full hand while they have empty boards. These cards will sometimes give you the time to put the game away before anyone can recover.
To some, red may represent the bold play better than any other color, with cards like Insurrection, all of those firebreathing critters, and a general disregard for long-term consequences. Personally though, I love green for its ability to drop hard-to-answer threats. Here is one of my favorite EDH decks, which is designed to take control early and never let go.
1 Traproot Kami
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sylvan Ranger
1 Eternal Witness
1 Farhaven Elf
1 Troll Ascetic
1 Yavimaya Elder
1 Brooding Saurian
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Dauntless Dourbark
1 Wickerbough Elder
1 Wolfbriar Elemental
1 Acidic Slime
1 Arashi, the Sky Asunder
1 Garruk’s Packleader
1 Kodama of the North Tree
1 Silklash Spider
1 Weatherseed Treefolk
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Pelakka Wurm
1 Spearbreaker Behemoth
1 Woodfall Primus
1 Myojin of Life’s Web
1 Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1 Cream of the Crop
1 Emerald Medallion
1 Journeyer’s Kite
1 Moment’s Peace
1 Night Soil
1 Sylvan Library
1 Kodama’s Reach
1 Krosan Grip
1 Weatherseed Totem
1 Beacon of Creation
1 Defense of the Heart
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
1 Greater Good
1 Momentous Fall
1 Stonewood Invocation
1 Vernal Bloom
1 Perilous Forays
1 Soul’s Majesty
1 Desert Twister
1 Lurking Predators
1 Summoning Trap
1 Wild Pair
1 Not Of This World
1 Eldrazi Conscription
1 Tooth and Nail
1 Squall Line
Like all casual decklists, this one isn’t perfect (in fact there are two cards that could be replaced by alternatives that are
in this deck. What are they?). However, it has a very simple and effective strategy: play threats that defy the rest of the table’s ability to answer. You have Maze of Ith? I’ve got shroud. You have Damnation? My boys are indestructible. You have chump-blockers? I have trample. Fireball? My critters are too big. Kill them? They come back. Each of my main threats is immune to at least one of the main ways of dealing with critters, so that it isn’t enough to have an answer in your hand; you need to have the right answer. Almost everything else is card advantage, further protection, or ways of cheating threats into play.
A deck like this (and I feel this archetype is eminently buildable with almost any card pool on almost any budget) is all about asking questions that your opponents will struggle to answer, and that’s a nice position to be in.
Finally, a caveat to go with the carpe: knowing when to make the bold play is primarily a tactical decision that depends on the game state. I’m not saying that you should always rush in, guns blazing, without any consideration of the risks. I’ve had plenty of times playing a nominally aggressive deck where I just couldn’t draw enough threats. In games like that, I tend to shepherd my resources a little bit more, keep my creatures back on defense and be very wary attacking into open mana or pissing off someone who appears stronger. What I’m saying is that a lot of players have a tendency to accentuate the risks and minimize the rewards, and if you do this too much then you’re giving away a lot of games you could’ve won. One of the biggest mistakes that new players make is passing up profitable attacks, and I still see traces of this type of thinking even in seasoned multiplayer veterans.
There are turning points in most multiplayer games where a single decisive play can allow someone to take control of the game. It isn’t about who has the most powerful cards or the biggest threats or the most answers; it’s about timing and boldness. Are you watching out for those opportunities? Is your deck designed to take advantage of them? Most importantly, are you willing to take a chance to win the game? I’ve started to get a feeling for when a table is vulnerable: when folks have run out of either threats or answers or both and are sitting on a cool hand of nothing. Exploiting these opportunities has gained me some fun stories and more than a few victories that I couldn’t have earned without bold play.
* This is why there are plenty of fetishes based on spanking, ** but none based on playing hide-and-seek.
** So I’m told.
*** Or alternately: Be a woman! Play like you’ve got a pair of ovaries! If you don’t have cajones of your own, kill the nearest man, tear off his and wear them with pride. (I don’t speak Spanish, so I’m assuming here that cajones is a type of jewelry worn by men, similar to â€˜bling.’)