Hello folks, and welcome back to the article series that explores the casual world. I am your guide, taking you into both the unexplored and the bustling areas of the land. Today I want to talk about a multiplayer theory that I call the Density of Creatures. Allow me to demonstrate with a situation at a five-way multiplayer table…
It is the fourth turn.
Played Troll Ascetic last turn and is looking around to see the table. Should he attack with the Troll or should he keep it back to block?
Dan is next to Steve and he has out a Fog Bank.
Sally is next to Dan and across the table from Steve. She has out a Birds of Paradise and a Joiner Adept.
Mike is next to Sally and across the table from Steve. He has out nothing but lands.
Heather is next to Mike and Steve. She has out Commander Eesha.
Steve decides to attack with a Troll Ascetic. There is little on the board that he fears coming his way. Who does Steve attack? He sees Dan and Heather, because they are sitting next to him. They each have a creature in front of him that can block the attack and survive. Steve sees that Sally has out two creatures and Mike has out none. Who will Steve normally attack?
Steve will likely attack Mike, because he has no blockers. Attacking Sally might be the best move, because Sally might chump block and lose a creature, but Steve, like so many of us, is not doing a massive assessment of the board when he attacks. He sees an open lane, and he takes it.
Have you ever dropped a decent amount of utility creatures on the board in front of you, and find that your opponents ignore you, despite open defenses, and go after another player with fewer creatures? If so, then the Density of Creatures in front of you was sufficient to push opponents away. Sometimes you don’t need a Silklash Spider or Commander Eesha in play in order to keep away opponents. Sometimes, all you need is several creatures.
When people come to play Magic, they are not always in a mood to do math, count up your creatures, and do work, especially in the more laid back casual environment of multiplayer. Have you ever been attacked by an Akroma when you had a Silklash Spider out, but you only had out a couple of creatures, when the attacker could have flown over someone else who had a bunch of creatures but no flyers? That has happened to me multiple times, with various incarnations of the attacking and defending creatures.
Players don’t always take a moment to read every card on the board.
Now, you cannot rely on it. Someone might notice that all of your creatures are 1/1s and 2/2s and decide to bring the heat with Silvos, so be careful using this strategy exclusively. However, be aware of it as an adjunct to other strategies.
When it Won’t Work
There are going to be times when this is never going to work.
In Smaller Games – The fewer the number of players, the less likely to you are to successfully use the Density of Creatures strategy. In a three-way game, you might as well not even try, but as your numbers get larger and larger, the likelihood of success also increases. Imagine a seven-player game. No one will read the cards at the end of the table, they’ll just go somewhere else.
When the Person is Next to You – Players might have a problem reading cards at the end of the table or across from them, but they are likely to notice your triumvirate of Grizzly Bears when they are looking for a place to send Kokusho. Then they’ll come your way, so be careful that you don’t rely on this to protect you from players that are next to you at the table.
When the Person is Already Interested in You – If an opponent is already paying attention to your board, then you are not going to get away with the Density of Creatures strategy. For example, if they have been attacking you, dropping a pair of 1/1 creatures is not going to slow them down. If you have been playing dangerous permanents like Mirari’s Wake and Mind’s Eye, and someone decides to watch the permanents you play in the future as a result, you cannot effectively use this strategy. You need to keep opponent’s attention elsewhere.
When Everybody Else is Locked Up – If everybody has an established means of defense, such as Maze of Ith type cards, then players looking to attack will look more closely at you, and find you have no real defense, only a number of modest creatures. This strategy works best when there is a path of least resistance, and you do not appear to be the best choice when in actuality you are.
When it’s Obvious – It may not be obvious from across the table whether or not your creatures have flying, so an opponent might just assume that some do, and the Density of Creatures strategy works. On the other hand, sometimes it’s obvious. For example, if an opponent has a creature with fear, it’s pretty easily to tell if the player across the way has any Black or artifact creatures out. The Density of Creatures strategy is not a panacea preventing all creatures from attacking you.
When You Shouldn’t Use It
It is very important that you understand that there are times you should steer clear of attempting the Density of Creatures strategy.
As you play more creatures, you open yourself to mass removal. When someone plays the inevitable sweeping removal, you are punished more because you used this strategy. Therefore, you need to know when to not use it.
When someone has a mass removal card in play, do not rely on Density of Creatures. Instead, try to force the player to use their Magus of the Disk or Pernicious Deed or Mageta the Lion, etc. Then you can try to run the strategy next by playing a bunch of creatures from your hand.
If you have another defense to rely upon, then stay away from this defense. You don’t want to lose all of your creatures to a Wrath effect. It’s okay to rely on a Kor Haven, Lieutenant Kirtar, Tawnos’ Coffin, or other similar cards. Lean on those instead of opening yourself to mass removal.
You could play creatures that can be sacrificed for effects when a Wrath of God goes off, such as Mogg Fanatic or Hapless Researcher. You could also play creatures that gave you various abilities while in play. Dropping a Cephalid Looter and using it three times before a Wrath goes off is perfectly acceptable. Running utility creatures that give you abilities you want before dying in another way to run the Density of Creatures strategy while also not opening yourself overly much to Damnation and friends.
Note that, although every color has creatures and defense it can run, some colors are going to be seen as weaker than others in defense. Run a Mono-Green deck and players will attack you with flyers even if you have out ten creatures, as they will just assume you don’t have flying creatures to block. You can run cards like Silklash Spider, sure, but also know your deck’s limits.
Here is an important tip I discovered. Don’t use dice as token creatures in multiplayer. Your opponent will not see them as creatures, and may attack you. By using cards, such as the token cards that now come in booster packs, you can keep opponents away by seeing a large density of creatures. However, this strategy may only go so far, since all the creatures will be identical. So move them around. If you made four bears off Grizzly Fate, then position them on your board around your other creatures, instead of having a green die set to four or having all four token cards out in front. Then it looks like you have a bunch more creatures, and you are ready for any attack.
Sure, you might want to use dice to hide your creatures, and then swing for a bunch of damage later on. That idea has merit, I admit. However, for defensive purposes, use cards and place them among your creatures.
Sometimes you can’t do this. If you cycled Decree of Justice for twelve, there’s no chance of you coming back with twelve cards and hiding them among your creatures. You might as well use a die then.
Sometimes, people recognize certain artwork, even from across the table. Run the original art Llanowar Elves, and people will know what you have. Run a different piece of art, and it might be unknown. Then people might see a bunch of creatures, and choose to attack elsewhere.
A good way to run the Density of Creatures strategy is to use removal to create an apparent path of least resistance somewhere else, by killing a blocker or two elsewhere.
It might also benefit you to have power and toughnesses other than 1/1. Sure, having out a Merfolk Looter, Daring Apprentice, and Hapless Researcher might keep people from attacking you, seeing your three creatures, but someone might ask the power and toughness, and saying 1/1, 1/1, and 1/1 will not put the fear into them. Have a Cephalid Looter at 2/1, or creatures with 2/3, 3/1, 3/2, 1/3 type numbers in order to benefit you.
Another way to really push this strategy is to increase the number of morph creatures you are running. The more morphs you have out, the higher your uncertain factor, and the more likely a player is to not attack you, because they do not know what you have. Back it up with some utility morphs, but also toss in a few bigger creatures like Exalted Angel, Quicksilver Dragon and so forth, in order to remind your opponents that you do have some bigger creatures under there.
Today’s article is shorter than my normal articles, but about the same length as many other weekly columns here on SCG. I had an idea, and I fully fleshed it out, and to add anything more would be superfluous.
Try out the Density of Creatures strategy, and you’ll notice that it can work keeping people away. Good luck!