I have said it before and will say it again: You need friends in multiplayer Magic.
4 Blinkmoth Nexus
4 Barter In Blood
Now, before we tramp further into this mass o?words I am about to unleash, let me define?friend? for you. A multiplayer friend is not going to buy you an ice cream cone because you had a bad day at work. Don?t expect a backrub, either. And you will never hear your fellow player say:?Oh, I know I could win this turn, but gee? I?m having so much fun. Here, you just take this Fireblast and cast it at me, why don?t you? I?ll sacrifice the mountains.?
Your multiplayer friends are not your buddies. You don?t have buddies. Your goal is to destroy everyone else sitting at that table. Not much room for pals.*
So who?s your friend?
Your friend in multiplayer is someone who?s not messing with you right now.
This is a good, if relatively fragile, state of affairs to be in. It doesn?t last forever? but the longer you can keep his attacks focused elsewhere, the longer you get to build up strength. You get more chances to win. If you can get all the players to be your pal for an extended period of time, then you?re almost inevitably destined to win.
So how do you get people to be your friend? There?s no spell in Magic that makes people like you, or Zvi Moshowitz would have found a way to break it by now. He?d be a superstar with babes hanging off of his shoulders and a small country under his thumb. We should all say a moment of silent prayer that Magic doesn?t affect your social skills at all.
The only thing that works is headology: in other words, playing the players. There are many tricks that should be in your arsenal: Here are the basics.
Don?t Attack Until You Have To. You?d think it?s obvious, but you?d be surprised how many moes I?ve seen who miss this. Busting out with a first-turn Raging Goblin and attacking someone at random is just plain stupid.?I shoot you, Pikachu!?
For one thing, you have no idea how strong their deck is? and kicking people in the butt before you?ve scouted their defenses is unwise at best. How do you know he?s the main threat to your deck? Maybe the chick next to you is the one with the anti-red deck and the Mother of Runes waiting to be cast. Starting the beatdown a tad early, aren?t we?
The other option may be worse: maybe this fine gent was just looking over his hand, saying to himself,?This is the best hand I?ve ever drawn!?? and now you?ve just walked up and kicked this behemoth in the butt. Who do you think is going to bear the brunt of his attacks now, bozoboy?
Remember: If he?s not attacking you yet he is your friend. Repeat after me: you never attack your friends. Instead, you wait until your friends become something else. And your friends stay friends until one of two things happen:
You?re pretty sure you can beat them, at which point they suddenly turn into?prey?, or: you?re pretty sure they?re going to be able to take you down in a few turns, when they morph right into the?threat? zone.
Prematurely starting a border skirmish before you?re ready for it is just dumb. Find out who the threats are. Build up your defenses. Then attack. Truth is, many times you can win a game by attacking just once? see the third strategy.
Keep Your Comments To A Minimum. Once they?re figured out that not attacking first is a fine thing, the next thing that amateurs do is to make a big show and dance whenever someone else attacks first.?Hey, look! Joe just attacked you, Frank!?
This reminds me of a drinking game I played once. I only needed to play it once. The hangover still haunts me on gloomy Sunday afternoons.
The game is called?U Chug?, and I wouldn?t advise it for anyone still packing a functioning liver. You need about two pitchers of beer for each player, and a game tends to last about forty minutes. The rules? and there is only one? are simple. The first rule is that one player is given the power of?U Chug?, and two things happen when he utilizes it:
The player he points at must chug a glass of beer.
The power of?U Chug? is then passed on to that player.
So what happens? It?s obvious, really: Revenge. Having just been forced to down sixteen ounces of foamy, bitter fluid, the new U Chugger of course throws it right back at the guy who gave it to him. So you have two morons flooding their stomachs with about seven pints of beer over the course of ten minutes, and the conversation goes like this:
?You chug!? (gulp.)
?No, you chug!? (gulp.)
?Well? you chug!? (gulp.)
?You chug! Take that, sucker!? (gulp.)
?and so on. Invariably, someone laughs at these idiots going head to head, at which point one of them turns around angrily, levels a finger at the guy who finds this so funny, and says:
Generally followed by a triumphant, James Brownian:
At which point the mocker becomes the mocked? and has to drink eight quarts of beer before the night is over.
The lesson here is simple: if someone?s under siege by someone else, they know it. Psychological tricks are not needed, and may in fact frequently backfire by making your friend feel manipulated. Stay out of it and keep your friend?s attention focused where you want it? resting squarely on your other friend. They won?t notice you until it?s too late.
Waiting won?t hurt. Now, I?m going to give you a lesson that you should pray your friends don?t read:
The quiet one always wins.
Why? Because the quiet one is the one who?s been moving shiftily in the background, building up his troops while everyone else is breaking out in open warfare. The quiet one is watching all of his friends burn through all of their cards to defeat his other friends? and then he?ll swoop in at the last minute to take over the ruins.
The quiet one is America after World War II. He is Microsoft sneaking in while IBM dukes it out in the mainframe area. He is John Wilkes Booth, creeping into Ford?s Theater.
She is the threat.
My friend Shannon is not a great player. Her decks aren?t particularly strong because she doesn?t play Magic that much. And she never attacks. And do I mean ever? if she had her way, she?d just play with twenty walls, twenty forests, and twenty Wanderlusts and watch everyone slowly bleed to death. To quote Chauncey the Gardener, she likes to watch. When she attacks, she breaks out in hives.
But she has whipped my butt in any number of games because everyone ignores her. We all play around poor old Shannon, fiercely infighting and scoring reckless victories? and then she comes in and cleans our clocks when there?s just one guy left. Why?
Because she hasn?t been hurt.
The quiet one may look like no target, but count his cards: If he?s got more than four cards, he?s still a threat and you should take him down right now? while you still can.
That said, the smarter ones among you are asking the right question:?Hmm? how can I be the quiet one??
Good question, my friend!
For one thing, see Rule #1: Never attack unless you can win. And I don?t mean?knock one guy out?? I mean win. If one of your friends is down to four life and has no creatures left, leave him alone. Your other friend can take care of him. You should just keep building up resources.
(The danger here, of course, is that the guy at four life may suddenly turn into the quiet one if you ignore him for long enough. Give your opponent? wait, friend! I meant friend!? two turns to take the bait and kill the poor slob. If he doesn?t take it, then slaughter the poor guy and switch gears.)
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Black Lotus
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Burning Wish
1 Darksteel Colossus
1 Demonic Tutor
2 Flooded Strand
4 Force Of Will
3 Gifts Ungiven
1 Goblin Charbelcher
1 Mana Crypt
4 Mana Drain
1 Mana Severance
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mystical Tutor
3 Phyrexian Furnace
2 Polluted Delta
1 Skeletal Scrying
2 Snow-covered Island
1 Sol Ring
3 Thirst For Knowledge
1 Time Walk
1 Tolarian Academy
4 Underground Sea
3 Volcanic Island
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Blue Elemental Blast
1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
1 Chainer’s Edict
1 Coffin Purge
1 Cranial Extraction
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Gorilla Shaman
1 Lava Dart
1 Mind Twist
1 Primitive Justice
1 Rack And Ruin
1 Red Elemental Blast
Secondly, you can?t just sit it out unless your friends are really obtuse. Even the dimmest of opponents will eventually realize that they?ve all battered each other into the under-ten life range, while you happily sit at twenty or so with an armada of waiting creatures.** The trick is to participate without participating.
You have to affect the game in a very subtle way? so people remember that you were doing things, but not in a threatening way. It?s an art form that?s incredibly tricky to pull off, but a lot of it is just sniping: Carefully. Indirectly.
Don?t blow away anything outright, but occasionally lend a Might Of Oaks to that little Thermal Glider taking on the flying, untargetable Morphling. Disenchant that killer Necro with a rueful shake of your head:?Man, I can?t let that hit the table.? Counter the seventy-point Congregate. Keep your hand in so people remember you?re there? but only affect stuff that would eventually threaten you, and even then casually keep your hand over your life counters.
And attack when your army gets to be ridiculous. If you have two Thorn Elementals out, sometimes it?s actually more psychologically effective to throw one away. Send one lumbering over at a friend who you?re pretty sure will be able to demolish it? and you have just attacked, given one of your friends the satisfaction of knowing he?s hurt you, and reduced your threat level in the eyes of everyone else.
They?ll be thinking: Hey, he just attacked. I guess he?s not strong enough yet. And they?ll shuffle you to the back. What they don?t know is that the two Might Of Oaks and the Dark Banishing in your hand would have slaughtered the guy? but it?s not the time yet.
(An important note: Only send an attacker at someone who?s got his hands full with someone else. You don?t want him being able to attack back, after all.)
If you can keep invisible through the game, you?ll win. Tread that thin line and you?ll be walking in the path of victory in no time at all. You freakin? coward.
Why Grand Moff Tarkin Was Right: Ruling The Table With Fear
* – Note how cleverly I avoided using the phrase,?There can be only one?. Crap. I just did it. I guess I?m not so clever after all.
** – But by God if they haven?t noticed, don?t point it out to them.