Magic Online has recently piqued my interest, and more specifically the Emperor format, and the role of the flanker. The default Magic Online Emperor format is range 1/1/1, meaning that all abilities, spells, global effects and so on affect directly to the left and right of the player. Because of this scenario, some spells become amplified in power that would otherwise find their way in people’s bad rare bin. For example, New Frontiers and Weird Harvest lose their symmetry when they affect only the people to the direct left and right of the emperor, same with Hunted Wumpus, Howling Mine and so on.
An emperor can have the best deck, with all the appropriate cards, but he will be hard-pressed to win if his flankers have divergent strategies to the ones required to improve team play. In short, a flanker’s role is to give the Emperor more resources (called”love” in game parlance) so he can, in turn, grant his flankers more lands and so on.
There are several variations on the flanker deck. Some dedicate themselves almost wholly to love for the emperor, with a few finishers like Darksteel Colossus, Living Hive, Visara the Dreadful or Duplicant (which remove the opposing Darksteel Colossus or best creature). Another popular choice is the Elf deck. Elves are an interesting metagame choice because they seek to take advantage of the overabundance of forests by sending through a huge Elvish Soultiller, and elves made larger and given forestwalk through Elvish Champion. The elf deck also starts out aggressively so can put the opposing flanker on his heels early enough to be a concern.
Whether you are a”strong side” flanker (able to attack immediately after the Emperor’s turn) or a”weak side” flanker (having to hold off the other strong side flanker while also strengthening the Emperor) you need a core of cards in your deck to be able to adapt to various strategies.
Here is my own flanker deck, which went through several modifications and improvements with the help of various excellent online players. The deck is broken down into the usual land, spells and creature ratios, with emphasis on some key cards.
This is the skeleton of a flanker deck. Your first few turns should see you dropping a Wild Growth or Fertile Ground on your emperor’s land. Accumulate all of these on one land, along with your other flanker, so that cards such as Twiddle, Deserted Temple and so on can directly target the single land and ramp up mana.
The Vernal Blooms and Early Harvests serve to exponentially increase the amount of lands or creatures your emperor will be able to grant you through New Frontiers or Weird Harvest. For those experimenting with cards such as Early Harvest and Deserted Temple, it’s critical to put a stop on your emperor’s first main phase (or second, as you all wish) so that you can use your spells and abilities on the emperor’s lands.
While some frown on the use of Wishes in Emperor (due to the swing they can create), I run one in case I need a quick bounce spell or card draw boost for the emperor. I have found that the Howling Mines are generally better for the weak side flanker, since the Emperor first receives the extra card. If the strong side flanker plays a Mine, then the opposing weak side flanker gets an extra card first…this can be risky. Deep Analysis is a quick and simple choice. It lets your emperor access sixteen extra cards during the game (when played with flashback) and they are quite splashable. The lone Cunning Wish… is in there because sometimes I need a panic button. Granted, I should probably have three more or none at all… but it has worked well for me. Typical targets have been Inspiration, Mana Short, Hibernation (to return all opponent’s elves to hand, and all of the emperor’s Hunted Wumpus), Opportunity, and Fog.
I prefer the role of strong side flanker, thus the Colossus and Duplicants. The former can quickly end the game (in one turn, if you have two of them out and the opposing weak side flanker has nothing out yet) while the latter is a toolbox of sorts. It can remove an opposing Darksteel Colossus, an Elvish Champion or any number of threats. If the only things to remove are yours or your emperor’s creatures, then you can simply choose not to remove anything.
Other good choices are Seedborn Muse, which will allow you to have a defensive stance, multiple kills with Visara and several tutor effects with a Planar Portal, Glarecaster and Krosan Restorer, which is excellent at untapping lands with multiple land enchantments. Glarecaster makes for some of the more interesting situations. I once saw an Emperor cast several Consume Spirits on his flanker’s Glarecaster. The flanker then sent all the damage to the opposing flanker (me, frown) thus eliminating him from play.
Living Hive quickly accumulates a force the opposing flanker must deal with immediately or lose. Since many emperors carry Coat of Arms, the insect tokens can serve as a kill by themselves. Visara or Kilnmouth Dragon serve to remove threats from the opposing flankers, sometimes repeatedly so with a Seedborn Muse in play.
For the weak side flanker, Elves are an excellent and affordable strategy. Taunting Elf can let your entire force through unimpeded, Elvish Champion can break creature stalls with his granting of forestwalk, while Wellwisher can act as a”virtual Moment’s Peace” through massive lifegain. Viridian Shaman can destroy opposing Howling Mines and so on.
The Moment’s Peaces and Flaring Pains are two sides of the same coin. One prevents all combat damage and has flashback, the other negates damage prevention with flashback, allowing damage to go through unimpeded. Savage Beating was recommended to me, and was an excellent addition to the deck. It allows you to”trample” over the flanker to the emperor by untapping your creatures and gaining an extra attack phase. Doublestrike can be handy too. It was critical in one game where the opposing flanker cast Equal Treatment and thus the tokens attacking her had to suffice for the kill.
In all this talk of Darksteel Colossus and massive trampling Green creatures, it’s important to speak of overkill.
Simply, don’t do it.
Trust me, it is very tempting to launch your horde of Darksteel Colossus at your opponent and bring him to -35 (and I have done so) but Emperor has a code of ethics which strongly frowns on this. No overkill, no land destruction, no direct damage except to eliminate creatures. Speaking of direct damage, Illuminate is a favorite choice of emperors, as they can eliminate one of their Hunted Wumpus or target a flanker’s Darksteel Colossus with it and draw into more help.
This, in essence, is the role of the flanker. The early game consists of building up the emperor’s resources, while the mid game is damage prevention while you get your creatures in play. The latter stages of the game involve attacks with your forces against his, and negotiating such attacks while protecting your emperor.
In closing, remember that when you sit down to be a flanker in a 1/1/1 Emperor game, certain things are expected of you. It’s understood that not everyone is familiar for the format and that it is played in the casual room, but a power imbalance can quickly be created if one side is armed more strongly than the other.
I encourage you all to sit at a table and watch a 1/1/1 Emperor game in full flight. It’s a game of massive swings, huge spells and epic victories. And it’s a game I hope to play with you, fellow Magic Online player, in the near future.
Cheers from Ottawa!
Mr_Davies_Lackey on Magic Online