In the parallel universe that I used to live in, Inflame was a truly killer card.
Here’s what I had to say about Inflame at the time when it came out:
"Inflame: Okay, I Pyroclasm, then I Tremor. Now I Inflame. Is there anything left on the board? Say, my big flying Dragon is? Great! Not the best of combos, but it definitely can work if you start building around it. Also great for wiping out the enemy after some board skirmish that you weren’t involved in. "
Enthused by this new and unique card, I ran out to build a red and black global-kill deck, centered around this and Avatar Of Woe. I used red for global destruction and used black for pinpoint annihilation of everything that was left. And you know what?
It would have cleaned up in my little Mirror universe.
Turned out to be a disaster in my current game.
Because there were critical differences in the way we played. Before, it was a group of all-casual players who occasionally scoured the ‘net for ideas; now I was playing with judges and ex-Pro Tour players who were playing modified combo decks – not necessarily full-out combos, but packed with little tricks like Recurring Nightmares and Bone Shredders/Avalanche Riders for board control. My old group tended to view the graveyard as a place for dead cards; these new people loved to bring things back with Yawgmoth’s Will and other cards. And they all played with global resets, so everyone was careful about playing too many creatures at once.
In past games, you could expect to see creature pile-ups galore, and periodically everyone would attack with everything they had, saving cards up to force creatures through or remove critical blockers. Even the more combo-style players had to put creatures out, because without them there was no defense against the constant onslaught. Global resets were rarely played (perhaps because there were perhaps three Wraths of God among us and only one Jokulhaups). And the graveyard, as I said, stayed untouched.
In THAT particular environment, my Inflamed Avatar deck would have gone over big. I would have stalled until there was a creature faceoff, goaded someone into attacking, and after every creature was wounded and hurting I would have Inflamed – and then brought out two Avatars. Say goodnight, Gracie.
But the greater reliance on enchantments meant that there were less creatures out there, and the global resets meant that I was frequently wasting two cards to kill the one big guy that was left out there. Once I dealt a critter critical damage, he was bounced back from the graveyard or bounced back into someone’s hand. Occasionally I did manage to kill enough to fill the graveyards in total – with four players, you wouldn’t think it would be hard, but it was – and then my double-Avatars would come out. But there was one other item I’d forgotten:
I used to be the longest-term player in my group. As such, I never had to worry about pre-Tempest cards. But everyone here played with a card that I personally never played with:
Every one of my angry Avatars was sent farming after a few shots.
But on the other hand, I had some decks that performed better because of it. All of the other players were always on the lookout for obvious combos, which I avoid like the plague, so I managed to do fairly well with my critter-pitching Sneaky Living Death deck; they were too busy stomping the living heck out of the obvious threats to notice how my graveyard was slowly growing. But that deck would have been laughed out of town by my first play group, who tended to destroy small creatures first. (I still don’t know why.) My Plague Witches never would have survived.
So I’ve already answered the question: Is there a metagame for multiplayer? You bet. Can you take advantage of this?
It requires analysis, some deckbuilding skills, and a fair amount of familiarity with the players – but figuring out what threats people tend to play can help you remove some flexibility from your deck. Remember: In multiplayer, you sacrifice efficiency for flexibility, so the more cards you can leave out, the better your deck will function.
Here’s some ideas to start shaping your game around:
WHAT TERRIFIES YOUR GROUP? My first playgroup despised Kird Apes like nobody’s business. I actually saw one player Disintegrate a Kird Ape INSTEAD of a token-fed Lord Of The Pit, simply because he couldn’t stand Apes. Obviously, you did not play with Kirds in my old playgroup* – and I’m willing to bet that there are a couple of irrational fears in your neck of the woods as well. Nothing bad enough that people tell you not to play it… but something your folk fear more than other threats.
With that in mind, what makes people go "uh oh" and start cranking up the Great Gears of Destruction when it hits the table? Is it pieces of some combo they all despise? Red burn decks? Lifegain? Old cards that nobody else can afford? When you find out what the terror is, you can safely leave out any cards designed to defend against such threats. Everyone else will gang up to kill these guys FOR you.
WHAT KINDS OF DECKS ARE BUILT? If you’re a casual player, putting together a deck to play this week is like picking a dress for the prom. Can you create a deck that will both win and leave everyone at the table gossiping about your prowess? And, of course, the other players always want to show off THEIR latest creations. Who brings what decks to the table? Figuring out what styles tend to show up repeatedly will help you narrow your deck – and help you win.
As I said, what I had before used to be creature control, perhaps suboptimal decks created with pride from scratch – now it’s Type I madness (quick big things) and pseudo-combo elements stolen from net decks.** As such, I generally don’t have to worry about a creature rush, but do have to worry about SPECIFIC creatures, artifacts, and enchantments. (You know which ones. You could name them.) Adapting to the metagame here would mean relying less on creatures and more on some form of counters or disruption. Or just go for my patent-pending Bouncing Weasels all-trample deck and punish them for NOT having good defenses.
From all reports, Anthony Alongi group tends to encourage elaborate soft-lock or weak combo decks with "fun" group play elements. What styles of decks tend to show up at your sessions? Take note. There may be cards you simply don’t need or that won’t work under your circumstances.
WHAT SETS GET PLAYED WITH? Knowing what card pool is being drawn from tells you what threats you can expect to see, and what threats you’ll never see. I never expected to see Swords to Plowshares in my old Tempest-starter group, but I’m weathering storms of them now. Likewise, if your guys are old-time players who only buy the power cards to keep their hands in, you can pretty much expect that a Blastoderm will be an effective surprise. Knowing who has access to what gives you power.
WHO PLAYS AGAINST WHO? There are natural rivalries in any group: Your job is to exploit them. Generally it comes down to the guy with the biggest card collection versus the guy who designs the best decks (I’ve seen it happen three times), although there are certainly other ones. Putting tourney players against other tourney players isn’t a challenge at all, if you’re a casual guy who doesn’t know any better. And sometimes two guys just have a mad-on for each other. Subtly encourage them, both on and off the field. Don’t forget to explain who has the better deck. (Hint: It’s the guy who’s losing.***)
The metagame. It exists. Use it to your advantage.
EDITORIAL QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What is the plural of "Wumpus"?
NEXT WEEK: Find Out Whether I Suck – The End Of The Eternal That Has Dragged On For FAR Too Long
* – Or, in my case, I ALWAYS played with them, mainly because for the mere investment of one red mana I could yank a Counterspell, a Lightning Bolt, or some other significant spell out of their hands. It was worth it.
** – Sheldon Menery, one of the people who I play with and fellow StarCity writer, claims that a Living Death deck isn’t a combo. Then again, he’s a judge. Dumping tons of 182 critters into the graveyard and bringing them back repeatedly with Recurring Nightmare is combolike, if not TECHNICALLY a combo.
*** – The guy who’s winning knows he has the better deck and wants to crush the most prominent opposition; the guy who’s losing feels humiliated and will start pulling out all the stops to take the winner with him. Just a thought.