(Editor’s Note: Sol Malka, who is up against me in this week’s "Writer War" poll at http://www.ccgprime.com/mtg/writers/m25.htm, wrote a hysterically funny piece on "Why You, A Casual Player, Should Vote For Sol Malka." I remain terribly amused.
(I won’t ask for your vote, my friends. I will simply note – *sniff* – that thanks to a $7500 tax bill, my dreams of going to Barcelona and rubbing elbows with the pros was utterly crushed this week. That’s right; I can’t afford the plane fare OR the hotel room in Spain now.
(And why do I owe so frickin’ much? Because I am quitting my job at the end of this month to become a freelance writer, and the quarterly taxes are killing me. That’s right – the irony is that I had my dreams of Barcelona crushed because I am pursuing my OTHER dream… The dream of becoming a full-time writer.
(But of course, it doesn’t really matter. Sure, you can vote for Sol – what does it matter to him? If he loses, he’ll just go back to the pro circuit. Whereas if *I* get voted out this week, I lose the ability to put "#4 most popular writer" on my submissions. And without that cachet, the editors I’m sending articles to will throw them in the trash. Without that money, I go hungry. My eight-year-old daughter starves.
(Just remember that Sol Malka IS WILLING TO STARVE AN INNOCENT EIGHT-YEAR OLD CHILD IN ORDER TO STROKE HIS EGO.
(Go ahead, VOTE for him! He’ll tell you he’s casual. But if you want to reward a man who OPENLY ESPOUSES CHILD ABUSE, then feel free. If you want to step on my other dream and crush me like a bug… Vote for Malka. Otherwise, you might remember that some people need the help.
(Incidentally, that address is http://www.ccgprime.com/mtg/writers/m25.htm. You’ll feel better in the morning. Really.)
I enjoy looking at dead bodies. I delight in the degradation of humanity and the idiocy of mankind. And I truly do love watching stupid people do even stupider things.
So, of course, I looked forward to the "Survivor" TV show.
Trapping sixteen volunteers on an island and watching them fend for themselves? All right! I pictured a "Lord Of The Flies" gone berserk, with terrified contestants fending off crazed animal attacks at midnight. I expected broken limbs, festering wounds, people beating each other with clubs and knives as they fought over dwindling rations…
Alas, it was not to be. CBS actually doled out rice and vitamins to the contestants so they wouldn’t die – which turned the show from a desperate battle for survival into Battle Of The Good-Looking Homeless People, where they all sit around their tent and beg CBS for more food.
Don’t believe me? In the last episode of Survivor, the contestants were whining because turtles kept stealing their fishhooks and eating their bait.
Let me say this again: Turtles, which have brains the size of walnuts, were outwitting six fully-grown people armed with knives, nets, and spears.
I, along with five million other viewers, leapt to my feet and shouted, "If the turtles are eating your hooks, then WHY NOT EAT THE TURTLES, YOU MORONS!?! THEY COME IN A BOWL! YOU HAVE A NET! YOU’RE STARVING! CATCH THE TURTLES, YOU MONOXIDE-POISONED LOUTS!"
But instead, the Baramundi tribe sat by the water, exhibiting all the vim and vigor one normally associates with coma victims, as turtles leapt out of the water like sleek green Whack-A-Moles and ate all of the hooks. "Oh, there goes another one," they’d say apathetically. "Boy are we hungry. Maybe I can go give Jeff Probst a massage or something."
AND THEN JEFF PROBST GAVE THEM MORE HOOKS.
So there was no fun to be had watching people die. But despite this crushing disappointment, something else unexpected happened: As it turned out, the challenge was not on surviving the wilderness, but in SURVIVING THE OTHER PEOPLE.
Because, you see, every three days the tribes vote one person off. The host, Jeff Probst, holds weirdo contests known as "immunity challenges," and the winner of that challenge can’t be voted off at the next session – but in general, "Survivor" is fascinating because you know everyone is looking to backstab you, but you really do have to form alliances to win. Who can you trust? Who’s on top?
In other words, it’s just like multiplayer.*
Anthony Alongi has long said that there is no such thing as politics in multiplayer, and he’s threatened to write about it again in the near future. But politics in multiplayer is like politics in Survivor; technically, you don’t have to. If you’re strong enough to win all of the immunity challenges (multiplayer translation: you can play the right cards at the right time) or if you’re valuable enough that people don’t want to vote you off (translation: nobody wants to remove your cards from the game just yet), or if everyone ignores you (translation: if ev-REE-whun ig-NOARz yu), you can get by without a lick of politicking.
If, however, like most players, your deck is good but not THAT good, then a little politicking will go a long way to cover up the gaps. (And frankly, considering the one time I saw Anthony win anything was thanks to his sucking up to Chad like a professional remora, I’m gonna have a hard time listening to him talk about how multiplayer politics "don’t exist." It’s kind of like George Bush going on about how the electoral college "Doesn’t really make a difference.") So what I’m going to do here is take the various "Survivor" approaches and show you how they work in multiplayer:
THE RUDE-Y AWAKENING.
Rudy (from Survivor 1) was an old, homophobic coot who, had he been born in earlier times, would have been skulking around the Ozarks with a shotgun and fending off "revenooers." His main claim to fame was that he hated everyone on the island with a crotchety passion; he hated Richard the "fayg," thought the women were too pushy and the men too wimpy. And he complained vividly at first.
Then he realized how much everyone hated him, and that basically he wasn’t strong enough to win any immunity challenges because he was older than Strom Thurmond, and so he wisely adopted another strategy:
He SHUT THE HELL UP.
And it worked.
Pretty soon there were bigger fish to fry. Sure, Rudy didn’t really help out around the camp – but there were people who were bigger threats out there, and everyone else swarmed about them, spending their time and energy trying to get them the hell off the island first. It’s not that they didn’t want to get rid of Rudy… But there was always somebody else who had to be dealt with first. They’d get around to Rudy. Eventually.
Rudy said nothing as people did their work for him. He had learned that if you’re quiet and don’t do much, people will focus their attention on the people who appear more dangerous. And while they’re over in the other corner whomping them, THEY’RE NOT WHOMPING YOU.
This fine strategy of keeping his head down got Rudy to the final three… But he lost an immunity challenge and got voted off. What can we learn from Rudy?
1) If you do nothing and don’t aggravate anyone, you can actually last a long time as other people pick on the more evident threats.
2) But eventually you have to fish or cut bait – and if you can’t come through when the opportunity presents itself (by either winning that final challenge or destroying an exhausted opponent), then you’re doomed to be forever the bridesmaid, never the bride.
3) Politics does not win you the game alone.
THE KELLY FRIEND-AND-OVERREACH.
Kelly wasn’t your smooth politician. She pretended she was your friend, got really close, made nicey-nice… And then backstabbed you. In other words, Kelly couldn’t just break an alliance with you; no, Kelly had to make you feel like your BEST FRIEND IN THE WHOLE WORLD just STABBED YOU THROUGH THE HEART WITH A SALT-ENCRUSTED SHRIMP FORK.
Needless to say, she did not make many friends. Or rather, she made lots of friends and then she treated them like they were freshly-glistening boogers.**
So everyone hated Kelly. She realized it was down to the wire. So what did she do? She pulled off the unprecedented feat*** of winning FIVE IMMUNITY CHALLGENGES IN A ROW, ensuring that despite their best efforts nobody could vote her off. She got to the final two.
But here’s the thing: When it gets down to the final two, all of the former Survivor members vote to determine the final winner. And Kelly thought that everyone would hate her main competitor, Richard, more than they hated her – mainly because Richard lied and backstabbed and betrayed people, too. Unfortunately for Kelly, Richard never really claimed to be friends with anyone. Richard made alliances. Richard didn’t break people’s hearts. In short, Richard was OPENLY slimy. And so the tribe made Richard the first Survivor winner, and Kelly became a footnote in Survivor history.****
What can we learn from Kelly?
1) It doesn’t matter how many people you piss off as long as you can back it up. Kelly got to the end because she won all the challenges; you can win multiplayer with a deck that takes on everybody.
2) But in the end, people really hate betrayal. If you’re going to make alliances, don’t suck up to people; you’ll either annoy them and target yourself for destruction, or you’ll break their heart and they may retaliate from the grave. Be businesslike. Lie with a straight face. But don’t ever pretend you’re not in it to win.*****
THE SECRET ALLIANCE.
The original tribe created a secret alliance, where they got together before the Tribal Council vote and determined who would get bumped. In other words, they had a secret voting bloc. In the end, everyone was totally outraged that these folks had stacked the deck, but the Secret Alliance pretty much won the day.
What can we learn from the secret alliance?
THE SECRET ALLIANCE SAYS:
1) The alliance won. They also pissed everyone else off. Were they players in real life, nobody else would play with them. Therefore, if you want to have fun in multiplayer, don’t be a jerk and team up before you hit the table. If you want to win, go ahead – but considering there’s no million-dollar prize for playing with you, don’t be surprised if people stop showing up.
THE ALICIA OVERSHADOW.
Alicia (we’re on Survivor 2, now) was a large, incredibly strong weight trainer. She looked like the Incredible Hulk, only with better biceps. She spent her first few days in the camp walking around picking up random things – logs, alligators, helicopters that flew too low – just to show how strong she was.
As the days went by, everyone got skinnier and more malnourished, but Alicia actually gained muscle mass, apparently breathing in steroids from the air itself. There wasn’t a physical challenge that Wonder Woman here couldn’t win. At one point there was an immunity challenge that involved standing on a log over freezing, ice-cold water… And Alicia, even though she wasn’t in the slightest danger of being voted out that week, balanced herself atop a ten-inch circle for ten hours just to show people she could do it. Then she went and did handsprings until all the remaining tribe members jumped on her and held her down.
The next week’s immunity challenge involved brains, which was a tougher call for Alicia, and she lost. Everyone then voted her off, because if they kept her around they might never get the chance to vote her off again.
What can we learn from Alicia?
1) Strength is important. Very important. It can win you a lot of immunity challenges, and it can win you a lot of games. But if you show off at the wrong time, when you start showing off just to rub everyone’s face in How Good You Are, then everyone gets terrified of you. And they will all cheerfully band together to remove you at the next available opportunity.
2) So if you’ve got a winning hand, just take out enough to win. Don’t go overboard convincing people how invincible you are… Because from that point on, the slightest weakness will be your demise.
JERRI, JERRI, QUITE CONTRARY.
Jerri was an utter bitch.
Now keep in mind that as an editor, I find the word "bitch" mysogynist – and frankly, the Magic community has enough trouble dealing with women as it is. So every time I see the word "bitch," I edit it out and replace it with something more generic. So just to keep my articles consistent with the rest of Star City, I will rewrite the phrase "Jerri was an utter bitch" to be something less inflammatory:
Jerri was a total bitch.
Boy, wasn’t Jerri a bitch?
What a bitch Jerri was.
I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. There WAS no other word for Jerri. She complained about everything, she had all the personality of a dried dog turd, and nothing anyone ever did was good enough for her. If you were to give Jerri an apartment, rent-free, in downtown New York, she would immediately complain that her parking space was too small. They say "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade"; Jerri’s motto seemed to be, "If life gives you lemons, make everyone’s life a living hell until they die. Then eat their lemons."
But Jerri actually lasted for a very long time. Why? Because she made an alliance, and she was actually very strong. She could accomplish things for the tribe. And so they kept her in.
But eventually, Jerri got on everyone’s nerves… Kind of like a dental drill, whirling rusty razor blades through the tender pulp underneath your gums. She was on the team that had the upper hand; Jerri and company had a numerical advantage over the remaining members and could vote them off one by one. And yet Jerri was so annoying that they broke strategy to vote her off.
Let me repeat: A winning team, who could have won without a hitch, actually chanced losing just to get Jerri off the island.
So what can we learn from Jerri?
1) Even if you’ve got a strong deck, if you’re annoying enough people will band up to take you out. There are several cards in any multiplayer group that just piss people off no matter what; for some groups it’s lifegain. For other groups, it may be Lifeline. Or counterspells. Or old, expensive cards that they can’t afford. In any case, find out what annoys your group and then DON’T DO THAT – even if it’s a good strategy otherwise. Sometimes people will perform kamikaze attacks just to get rid of cards they hate playing with.
THE AMBER BLINDNESS.
Amber was Jerri’s friend. We think. Because quite frankly, we’re STILL not sure what Amber is like without Jerri.
Amber spent the majority of the show hanging around Jerri like an oversized colostomy bag. Amber never said anything on her own; she merely echoed what Jerri said, turning her into kind of a human Mister Microphone. The two of them were inseparable, and there was a running theory among "Survivor" fans that perhaps Amber was a robot that ran off of the static electricity generated by Jerri’s body.
Amber had no personality. Amber survived only because Jerri liked her.
Then Jerri got voted off.
As I write this, Amber is currently adrift******, wondering what to do with her life now. Her old alliance is gone, and she’s not sure who to trust. But one thing is reasonably sure; unless she finds a new alliance, and soon, she’s going to be very very gone.
So what can we learn from Amber?
1) When designing a multiplayer deck, having a single win condition is a bad idea. Sure, occasionally you have a combo deck that can go off in one fell swoop and kill everyone – but even then, people have counterspells or Disenchants at all the wrong times. If you, like Amber, rely on one thing exclusively for a win, you could be seriously Up The Creek if that card gets neutralized or removed, like Jerri was. Good multiplayer decks have a fair amount of redundancy and flexibility in them.
Mike was an insane Kucha warlord. Mike was hungry, so Mike went out and stabbed a pig to death WITH HIS BARE HANDS; then he carried it back to camp, gutted it, drew streaks of bloody warpaint on his face with pig guts, and then ran around screaming, "YES! I AM THE PROVIDER! BOW DOWN TO ME, O PITIFUL ONES!"*******
Mike was, in short, utterly frickin’ nuts. Then one day he passed out in a campfire and burned his hands so badly that the flesh hung off of them like a bad papier-mache project. They had to fly him off the island, and he never came back.
What lessons can we learn from Mike?
1) Um… Don’t take mana burn?
2) Hell, I have no lesson here, I just miss Mike.
3) But wasn’t it really cool when he torched himself? Now THAT’S the Survivor I was looking for!
* — And, on Survivor, everyone is kind of repulsive. Not that I am implying that most Magic players aren’t lovely, handsome people. Well, maybe Brian "Dreamboat" Kibler.
** — But on the other hand, this led to the single coolest speech in the history of television. Remember Sue’s great moment in vitriolic rage, the almost Shakespearian speech about the rat and the snake? Me too.
*** — Of course, considering this was the first time anyone had ever played Survivor, EVERYTHING was unprecedented. But we digress.
**** — Kelly Wigglesworth.
***** — Unless, of course, you really CAN’T win, in which case you should feel free to beg or plead. It can’t hurt.
****** — Okay, technically speaking, as I write this the entire show was wrapped up months ago. This is the odd thing about Survivor; whatever has happened can’t be changed, but we don’t know it yet. It’s history, and yet at the same time it’s vibrantly alive and fluid. I kind of like that about it.
******** — This part got cut from the actual show, but trust me, it happened. Amber told me.