I don’t play in group games to win. I play in them to take a few people out before I go down and build on my reputation as a mean S.O.B.
– Chuck Myers, Richmond VA
I’ve got a Multani, Maro-Sorceror and a double-Rancored Weatherseed Treefolk in play, and am looking for someone to attack. It’s getting late in the day after all and somebody needs to get wrecked. I finally settle on two targets: Josh on my left, who’s got the highest life total, gets a visit from the pissed-off Treefolk. Chris McDaniel, also known as the Star Wars Kid, gets a lethally-large Multani turned sideways in his direction. He’s playing a group game Wake deck with the potential to go off at any point and kill us all.
As Josh starts to adjust his life totals and the Star Wars Kid starts to scoop his cards, Chuck pipes up.”Hang on a second. How big is Multani?”
There are eight guys still playing around the table. A quick tally of hand sizes puts Multani at 34/34.
Chuck looks at his hand thoughtfully, and then looks at me.”I have a response once damage is on the stack.”
My eyes narrow and I try to figure out what evilness he has in his two-card hand. Looking at my hand, there’s only one instant – a Berserk – and since Berserking the Treefolk would not be lethal damage to Josh, there’s no reason to play it. At least, that’s what I thought initially… Though if I’d actually cast it, I would have lived through the combat.
Instead, I posture.”I haven’t messed with you all game, Chuck. Star Wars Kid has got to go.”
Chuck just smiles.
“All right,” I say.”Damage on the stack.”
Chuck dumps 3RW into his mana pool.”Reflect Damage from Multani.”
My eyes flicker to my life total. Not coincidentally, it matches the damage Multani just put on the stack. I do a mental rules scan about redirecting damage dealt by an untargetable, and conclude that it’s a legal play, since it’s the damage that’s being targeted, not Multani himself. Trying to dump my hand of instants to shrink Multani won’t work either, since damage is already on the stack. I don’t even have any instants to try and wreck Chuck’s board position for spite on the road to Scoopville.
A bit perplexed at suddenly dying out of nowhere, I gather up my cards while Chuck gets a few high-fives and”nice-plays” from the rest of the table and picks out his bounty card. I note with a little bitterness that he snags the Firestorm I ponied up (in our group games, each player tosses in two decent rares or boosters, one of which goes to the eventual winner, and the other goes into a”bounty” stack that you get to pick from when you eliminate someone).
Standing up and going to get a soda, perplexion turns to friendly annoyance – and a twinge of competitive anger. I was playing to win that group game, after all. And killing me as I was set to kill someone else just seemed so doggone random!
I dig through my trade binder and select a card worthy of my wrath. I toss a Volcanic Island on the table and proclaim it as the bounty for the player who takes Chuck out the game.”Oh s**t!” Chuck laughs, and everyone eyes the dual land greedily and begins plotting his demise. Several turns later, Chuck goes down to a Quicksilver Dragon and a Roar of the Wurm token.
I meet up with Chuck outside as he smokes a cigarette. He grins when he sees me.”Damn, Bennie – a little pissed, were we?”
“It just seemed too random, Chuck. I would have held that Reflect Damage for when someone does something to me, not to save someone else.”
“I don’t play in group games to win,” he says.”I play in them to take a few people out before I go down and build on my reputation as a mean s.o.b. To make sure my legend grows.”
“The Legend of Chuck, eh?”
“Plus, when you have a chance to take the Ben-man down, you have to take it. Star Wars Kid is much easier to handle than you.” A couple of other guys who’d come out for a smoke break agreed.
When I drove home from the shop a little later, I did some thinking on what Chuck did and what he said and how different his approach to group game Magic was. When I build group game decks I approach it with two clear goals: How can I win a big group game despite people’s attempts to stop me, and how can I stop other people from winning before I do?
I try to be slick about it sometimes. I’ve played”goofy” Saproling decks that make tons of little innocuous 1/1 tokens, with silly stuff like Elvish Farmer, until I drop a Fecundity and start getting two life and drawing a card for each Saproling I sacrifice, add more fuel from the cards drawn with Spontaneous Generation, and ending things with a Gaea’s Cradle-powered Vitalizing Winds and a horde of 8/8s swinging. I’ve played”silly” Volrath’s Shapeshifter decks that all of a sudden take infinite turns with a Shapeshifter/Wormfang Manta that attacks into a Teferi’s Veil each turn.
The end result is that everyone at the shop fully expects me to have the ability to kill everyone at the table at any point in the game, and I’m a threat that needs to be eliminated regardless of what I have in play and how friendly I’ve been so far… So I find myself the target of”random kills” all the time. The watchword is if someone can take me down, they will, no questions asked… Because they figure they may not get a second chance.
Chuck, on the other hand, has built up a reputation as spiteful and mean to players who get on his bad side. He’ll burn up his resources and toss his chances to win out the window just to take a major bite out of someone who pisses him off. He’s a suicide bomber just looking for a reason to blow himself up and take others down with him. So people are reluctant to toss random beats his way.
The end result is that the Legend of Chuck tends to get him further in group games than I do. He may rarely win them, but he often sticks around to the end and takes out a few people along the way.
I really enjoy group games and enjoy the social interaction of really large ones. I like to stick around and participate for a good long time. So I guess I need to figure out how to rework my Legend to be more like Chuck’s. I can’t necessarily try and play weaker cards and lay back on the attacks, since everyone will assume I have a killer combo built in regardless of whether I really do or not.