The Art Of Retaliation

If you are going to lose, make sure you take names and numbers and get to work on paybacks! Be the alpha male – or female! The next time someone takes you out or performs an otherwise despicable act, do your best”Godfather” imitation and kiss them on the cheeks! Pull out pennies and stick them in their eyes! Rub garlic on your dice! And above all, let me show you how to do it!

Now, what was the first thought that went through your mind after I said that? Did you agree? If so, did you just shrug your shoulders and go,”Yeah, but what can you do? It’s a game, and sometimes you just lose!”

Or are you one of those who claim that losing doesn’t bother you at all? You just play for fun, and winning be damned!

Or are you like me – where every loss eats you from the inside, making you tremble with inner rage and mutter promises of revenge to come?

(If you thought,”but I never lose,” then this article just might not be for you, Kai.)

However you feel about losing, what I intend to accomplish with this article is not to better your play skills so that you lose less often (there are better authors on this site to help you with that), but to make you care more about losing and how to”get even” with those who slight you so that people will think twice about coming your way during multiplayer games.

I have earned a reputation in every playgroup I’ve ever been in for being the”one to stop,” and I’m proud of it. I enjoy the challenge of trying to pull off my dominating combos while everyone at the table tries to stop me, and if you’ve seen some of the decks I’ve listed here at StarCityGames you’d understand why they do it. What I don’t like, however, is when people concentrate on taking me out without paying any heed to other threats at the table, or stunting their own development at my expense until I am out of the game. What really gets my goat, though, is when people gang up on me from the start and take me out before I’ve even played a permanent.

This has happened so much lately – actually, since I began writing for StarCityGames – that I have gone back to my Italian roots and started to apply the Mafioso”code of retaliation.” This is also known in some circles as”Eye for an Eye” or”getting my pound of flesh.” Now, this isn’t to say that I’m a bad loser and that I don’t appreciate other people’s good plays- I do, and I’m always the first to remark on a good deck or game when I’ve been the victim of it. This doesn’t mean, however, that I have to like it.

As a matter of fact, I remember it. No, I go farther than that: I catalogue it; I categorize it; and when the opportunity arises, I exact revenge for the transgression, no matter how minor – but I do it with as much class and style as possible!

Most people would think that if you played a lot of eight-person chaos games and won a quarter of them, then you are doing fantastic. Percentage-wise that sounds good; that’s twice what you’d expect by chance alone. Some people would be satisfied with that. I, however, am not. Would I be satisfied with 33%? No. 50%? No. I am not satisfied with less than 100%. Obviously, I don’t win 100% of my games, but that is the goal I go into each game with and I expect to win every time. (Unless I am trying to teach a player a lesson… But more on that later.)

You’ve gotta have confidence in both your deck and your ability – but not to the point that you exude arrogance and trash-talk everyone at the table (though sometimes it’s fun to do, it will make you a target if you do it constantly!). You’ve gotta be 100% yang to their 0% yin.

What’s that? Yin and yang are supposed to represent balance and equality? If you are 100% yang and 0% yin, it still adds up to 100%, doesn’t it? It still forms a circle! To me, that’s balance, and I am not afraid to wave my yang in your face. I expect to win!

Okay, so I don’t win every game; I admitted that already. And I already said I hate losing, so – how do I cope? What helps me deal with the pain of losing? Simple: Plotting revenge. I remember the crucial plays of every game that caused me to lose, and I store the information away for later use. One thing to remember about most multiplayer gaming groups is that, for most people present, there will be a next time. You will develop history. You will create running feuds with certain people; and this is, in fact, natural. Throughout most of human history, feuds have carried on for generations: the Hatfields vs. the McCoys; the Dodgers vs. the Giants; the Germans vs. the French (I surrender). These rivalries are good for the game, as long as they stay good-natured and never deteriorate into juice-bottle throwing contests. (Note: if you try this with me, be warned: I used to pitch, and I drink Sheaf Stout.) The crucial thing to remember is that sometimes you are powerless to respond to the asswhipping you are receiving, and you must realize that there is nothing you can do about it during that particular game and you have to just take it like a man.

Keep that mental notebook open and take notes though, because it won’t be long before you return the favor. Let it fester in your heart; let the wound suppurate and the pain remain fresh; because what goes around eventually comes around. It might be the next game. It might be next week. The point is, the time will come, and you will have your revenge!

What then, exactly, constitutes a punishable transgression? How do you mete out justice? Before continuing I want to make one point very, very clear: Every transgression is punishable!

A transgression is any play someone makes that either sets you back personally, or advances another player towards victory! Obviously this broad definition encompasses most any play anyone makes during the course of the game; and to take note of every time someone deals a single point of damage to you would be trite and petty. I personally don’t care – I remember them all! I do, however, break down the transgressions into three categories: minor, major, and Punishable by Death. I also have a fourth category, which I’ve invoked but once in my Magic career: Absolute Damnation.

I’ll illustrate the categories of transgressions with some examples. The typical multiplayer game usually proceeds with people playing it cool early on, with those controlling creatures attacking those who have no blockers or smaller creatures. As long as the attacking player is spreading out the damage, I have no quarrel if I am hit once (though this is technically a minor transgression). If the player is concentrating his attacks on another player, I have no quarrel. If he is concentrating on me, then I have a quarrel and this becomes a minor punishable offense; however, if these attacks result in my being taken out of the game then it becomes Punishable by Death. In fact, any blow or event that results in me losing is Punishable by Death and I remember the event accordingly.

An example of a major transgression involves the use of direct damage. If someone is liberally tossing around Lightning Bolts and Shocks without concentrating on any one person, this is fine if there are no creatures in play (though stupid, if you ask me). If someone is hitting me more than anyone else with direct damage, that constitutes a minor infraction; but if there are palpable threats on the table that he could take out with the heat instead of me (even if they are my own creatures), then it becomes transgression: major!

Other examples of minor punishable transgressions include:

  • Killing my creature if it isn’t attacking you

  • Countering my spell even if it doesn’t directly threaten you

  • Destroying my land

  • Making me discard

Other examples of major transgressions include:

  • Stealing my creatures and beating me with them

  • Concentrating all your spells on me; getting others to gang up on me

  • Stealing my beer

And as I said above, any act resulting in my losing a game is considered Punishable by Death. This could be the final attack or Shock that kills me; the Brain Freeze that decks me; or even the Mortal Combat that gives you the victory. These events shall be noted in the Akashic records and acted upon at a later date.

So, how do I mete out justice? Pretty simple, actually: for minor offenses, I try to respond in kind – though not always immediately. Knee-jerk responses, such as banishing someone’s creature immediately after they have killed mine, are usually a poor exercise in judgment and could cost me a valuable card that would be best used later. No, no… I will sit back and wait for the proper moment, whether it be in the current game or a following one, and take out one of their creatures at the most opportune time possible, such as just before they have declared a block.

(When I was in Houston, I added some flair to my paybacks by whipping out an old Rage card called”BitchSlap” and holding it an inch from their face every time I got even with someone!)

The payback for major transgressions really depends on the offense. If someone is going all-out to attack me in an attempt take me out of the game early, then I will go into dueling mode and try to stave them off. If they are stealing all my permanents, emptying my hand, or destroying my land, then I will go into defensive mode and just try to weather the storm. In these cases, there usually isn’t much that I can do in the present game… But you can bet I will have an answer to the problem in my next game and will press the offenders heavily. If someone continues to harass me game after game far more than other players, then I will go into Punishable by Death: Elimination Mode and play them mano-a-mano with my best dueling deck within the confines of the multi-player game, over and over again, until they cry uncle. I have some pretty savage dueling decks that fare well in multiplayer, and I’m not afraid to use them! (My Sneak Attack excels at this kind of punishment.)

Avenging a Punishable by Death infraction can take several forms, but usually it involves no more than applying a killing blow in a game whether or not I win. This applies if someone took me out but didn’t win. However, if someone took me out and won the game, then I won’t rest until I’ve done the same to them. Repeatedly.

Now, I mentioned a fourth category of punishable offenses, Absolute Damnation, and that I have only ever applied this form of retaliation once in my life. Sometimes a transgression is so flagrant, so vile, so depraved that one has to devise a punishment to fit the crime. A simple one-time (or ten-time!) retaliation is not enough. No, the offender must feel the continuous sting of the whip each and every time he shows his face at your table, once and forevermore. I’ll tell you the story behind this, and what I did to punish the offender.

In my playgroup in Arcata several years ago, there was a guy who was a decent enough fellow but an absolutely horrific Magic player. The thing is, he thought he was good, and he went out of his way to try to prove the point by constantly attacking the best players at the table without paying attention to the game state or caring whether he won or not, as long as he took one of the better players out with him. Well, one day he was playing an artifact mana/burn deck during a ten-player game – creature less, mind you – and somehow he managed to accumulate twenty-one mana by turn 4. So, what did he do? Why, he unleashed a Fireball for twenty straight at my head!

By itself, this would have been no more than a major transgression Punishable by Death: Elimination Mode for weeks, but it turned out to be far, far more…For the game lasted 4 hours, with everyone staying in the game until the bitter end. This took place at my friend’s house, and there was no one else around so all I could do was look through trade binders or sit and watch what was a boring slow deck clamp down the table – a deck, by the way, which the one I was playing would have dealt with easily. To make matters worse, the guy who took me out sat there gloating, asking me over and over how it felt to be watching! And of course, once the game finally ended everyone else was tired and didn’t want to play another game – so I wound up basically wasting my entire evening because of this jerk.

I had to plot revenge…

At first, I considered just using my dueling decks and simply annihilating him every game we played, but he was such a poor player that the challenge in that was non-existent (and he was a major-league whiner anyway). No, I decided to punish him in a way so subtle, so innocuous that he would never catch on to what was happening: I decided that he would never again outlast me in a game. I did this by simply always monitoring his life points each game and hitting him for just enough to put him below me, but never so obviously that it seemed I was singling him out. A point here, a bear for two there… As long as his life was lower and he went out before me, I was fine. I personally only delivered the killing blow once in any of those games, when I was on my way out from someone else’s attack and I Psionic Blasted him in response! And in the remaining times I played with him, he never did outlast me – and he never caught on!

That, my friends, is retaliation at its finest!

To wrap up, just remember that if you are going to lose (which you should never accept and always despise) make sure you take names and numbers and get to work on paybacks! Be the alpha male – or female! Also remember, nothing that you do is ever a transgression. You are not liable for your actions, only your opponents are! The next time someone takes you out or performs an otherwise despicable act, do your best”Godfather” imitation and kiss them on the cheeks! Pull out pennies and stick them in their eyes! Rub garlic on your dice!

Get even!

Tony Costa

[email protected]