By GOD, Magic should be fun! Good Magic should make you leap out of bed in the morning and think, "Laws-a-mercy! I have a deck I need to build today!" Good Magic gives you something to think about when you’re bored at work. It creates friendships. It livens up an otherwise dull and dreary existence.
REALLY good Magic is a sore spot with your significant other, because she’s not really sure if you’d choose an afternoon with her over that Sealed Deck Emperor-format that you’ve never tried before. And you don’t want to tell her the answer.
Obviously, the most enjoyment is gotten from casual play. Because tournaments are no fun.*
But the problem with casual play is that people make up their own rules. There’s no board of standards for casual play— and yet it’s really easy to make up blowsy house rules that make things "fairer" for everyone, yet suck the life’s blood out of the game. Or just suck, period. There’s a lot of people out there who genuinely think that the "you can only attack the player on your left" rule is the only way to play multiplayer… but all that does is lock people into a modified duel, with one guy playing the part of offense and the other guy guest-starring as "defense".
Why play Magic with more than one person if it’s the same game?
The answer always comes rifling back at me: Because it’s the only way to make sure there aren’t pig piles. "It’s the only way to make sure that everyone’s playing fair!" they’ll say… but they don’t understand.
But fairness isn’t what keeps people coming back to the table.
And so, to make sure that everyone enjoys themselves, there needs to be a set of common rules for multiplayer — to create the maximum amount of havoc, encourage self-correcting metagames, and foster social interaction while still making it possible for newbies not to be consistently annihilated.
In other words, rules that force people to play WITH each other, not AGAINST each other.
Believe me, I know fun. You want fun. Fun is good.
And "Type WHO?" is fun personified.
Years of playing have taught me exactly what rules create maximum mirth for everyone. These are the rules I play by if I can, and I expect everyone else to play by them as well. Because if you do, you’ll wake up in the morning and say, "Hey! I’ve got a game today!" (And probably be missing a girlfriend**, too, but what the heck.)
It Must Be Multiplayer. It’s far too easy to create a single-player deck that can destroy your opponent. Creating consistent multiplayer decks that work more than once… ah, that’s the trick now, isn’t it? Anyone can create a deck that’s a single-time autowin, but can you find one that works consistently when three desperate players are ganging up on you?
Betcha can’t. Not if they’re anywhere near your level of play.
So multiplayer is the way to go. And incidentally, four people is the perfect number for Type Who, if you can manage it. Three’s a little too close to a duel-style game, and anything over six gets a bit too chaotic. (Unfortunately, it always seems like you have two people or twenty lining up.)
It Must Be A Free-For-All. Nothing beats the sheer panic, distrust, and mayhem that comes from four people who are trying to kill each other. You need to sit there, cards in hand, wondering where the next threat is coming from — or who might help you, if the price is right.
Sure, you can do teams — but where’s the strategy in that, for God’s sake? Pretty soon you’ll make team decks that function in unison, then you’ll learn to cooperate, and pretty the whole thing becomes another boring exercise in deck design.
Free-for-alls encourage ganging up on people, which in turn gives the not-so-strong players a chance to win. Remember what I said about encouraging a self-correcting metagame? If someone brings a deck that’s too powerful, everyone will direct every threat at him— and eventually he’ll begin to lose. No need to ban cards; your fellow players will effectively ban YOU if you’re too much of a pain in the butt. This ensures that everyone gets a chance.
This does not mean that ganging up is unfair. It means your deck is too powerful, and that you had better learn your lesson and play something that doesn’t create instant alliances. If you’re not having fun because everyone keeps pounding you, well… do you think it’s any fun for three other people to feel that you have to be out of the way before they can start playing?
Global Effects Are Global. No measly "only two player radius" rules here; global effects hit everyone at the table. If you pack something that powerful, it should hit everything at once; there’s nothing more satisfying than sweeping eighty creatures into everyone’s graveyard with a well-timed Wrath Of God.
There is also nothing more enjoyable than beating the living crap out of the guy who Wrathed you away from victory. As I said, multiplayer tends to be a self-balancing environment.
Four Card Maximum, Restricted Cards Are One To A Deck. Hey; we’re not crazy, here. There are guys who can make all-Mox decks, but we’re not playing with them. (Although God knows I’d love to have four Sol Rings in every deck.)
Now, some will complain that this creates an artificial balance between the Power Nine haves and have-nots. This is true. Players with a Black Lotus and five Moxes are much more likely to win— unless, of course, you do as I do and say, "Hey! A Mox! OH MY GOD, HE’S GOING TO KILL US!"
The artificial advantage of Moxes is downgraded when you convince everyone that a guy who plays with a $1500 deck is a threat to be disposed of immediately. This is not hard to do. And if they’re willing to constantly be besieged by angry poor people, I say let ‘em play.*
No Global Color Hosers. This applies for much the same reasons that you have to keep both arms inside the bus: It’s for both of our protection. For one thing, it’s ridiculously easy to create a monobrown, all-colorhose deck that screws everyone — and that’s no fun.
But the flip side of color hosers is that they make you an autokill — put out a Chill, and suddenly the red guys HAVE to kill you in order to survive. Again, this isn’t fun… and generally it’s not fun for YOU. Because not only are they ganging up on you, but they’re genuinely angry that you played this stupid card.
I will admit to breaking this rule for White occasionally when I play a black deck, but frankly a white deck that can’t handle the occasional Dread of Night was going to lose anyway.
Incidentally, creatures with Protection from some color or a targeted hoser — Stromgald Cabal, for example — are fine. But anything that’s going to hang around (Light Of Day) or basically destroy someone’s game (Perish) are right out.
No Sideboard. Taking away the player’s reliance on situational defense creates far more interesting deck designs. When you can’t change your deck to react to surprises, you’re forced to balance efficiency against flexibility. Do you come up with a quick deck that will crush everything but die horribly to one or two threats… or come up with a slower deck that has an answer to every threat, but no particularly GOOD answers?
Not only does it make the deck designs wilder, but you speed up games by not having everyone wait while Mister Suitcase Full O’Cards pumps up his deck.
Tabletalk Is Allowed, Even Encouraged, But It Must Be Vague. When you’re teaming up with someone for survival — as will frequently happen if you’re doing it right — you may not share card information or make specific requests. You can’t say, "Hey, if you can kill that Avatar Of Will, I can make him Diabolic Edict his Morphling."
The most you can do is say, "Can you take care of it?" (But feel free to inflect that sentence any way you please.)
Why? Because frequently you’ll be teaming up to try to punch through some player’s defenses — which is encouraged — but the "no specifics" rule stops the two best buddies from ganging up and ruling the table. There must always be the element of chance in alliances; otherwise the strangers at the table get shafted.
Besides, NOTHING more amusing than watching two theoretical friends having the following conversation:
"Can you handle that?" (Points at Avatar.)
"No. Really. Can you handle that?‘Cause if you can, I’ll take care of the Morphling."
"All right, fine. Take care of it."
"THAT’S taking care of it? You PACIFIED it?"
"Hey— I thought you said you could handle the Morphling!"
"I meant I could GET RID of it!"
"Hey, I thought you were going to attack, buddy…."
"ATTACK A MORPHLING? ME? I only have a Drudge Skeleton out!"
"You could have had a Howl or something…."
And so on. The point is, you want people to feel like they really can’t rely on other people, especially when they can.
Creatures Must Be Declared As Attackers Before You Say Who You’re Attacking. Nobody gets to say, "I’m attacking Fred with my double-Rancored Hunted Wumpus".
Instead, you declare the Wumpus as an attacker, let everyone’s natural fear and loathing cause them to act prematurely… and, after the carnage has resolved, then tell Fred that your Wumpus is wumping him.
I admit that this won’t affect serious players. I am well aware that the current Sixth Edition rules state that this tiny change doesn’t really make any difference, since the damage, blocking, and declare attackers phases are handled separately. However, I’ve found that the psychological pressure tends to make the newbies go ballistic without warning. And that’s always more fun.
The Level of Enforcement Varies Inversely With Your Experience. If you’re some guy who just bought his first starter deck last week, we’ll actually look at your hand and suggest what spell you should play next, and why. If you’ve been playing for three months, we’ll let you play another spell if you genuinely didn’t realize that Protection From Black meant that you can’t Terrorize my Nightwind Glider.
Six months experience? Heck, we’ll let you pay that echo upkeep during your main phase… because you meant to. At a year, occasionally we’ll let you rearrange the way you tapped your lands so you have that blue mana that you should have had. If we’re feeling generous.
If you’ve won any kind of DCI tournament, you’re on your own. And yes, you are still expected to use your PTQ expertise to help out Mister Starter Deck over here.
Advice Is Freely Given… And Worth Every Cent. Feel free to show people all the little finicky stack tricks that will hose your opponent, or remind them about the permanents they have in play that will save them. Go ahead and give advice about cards they COULD have in their hand: "If you have a Humble, play it now." Point out game-critical cards.
But also feel free to NOT remind your opponent when it benefits you. Or to suggest that he hit the wrong target. Or encourage him to waste a card on someone else’s Nicol Bolas so you can finally play your own.
And by the way… your opponents are giving you advice. I’m sure it’s every bit as good as your own.****
Sportsmanship Is Enforced. If I hit you with an Eradicate, as I frequently do — it’s one of my favorite MP cards — then you let me look through your deck and hand and graveyard like the card says. No trash talking. If someone had a game where won because they pulled off some really creative and cool combos, congratulate them — don’t sulk. If you’re winning because you have the big cards and someone else can’t afford them — don’t gloat. The whole point here is to have fun, and if you’re a real jerkweed then we don’t want you here.
Take It Lightly. I talk about winning. I say it’s the most important thing. I lie. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself, and let everyone enjoy themselves. Do that, and everything else is candy.
Good luck! And spread the good word of Type Who? to ALL your friends. I’m sure you will.
CONTEST UPDATE: We currently have 55 entries — and I’m still waiting for more. Many of you emailed me asking questions about the play environment, which is why I wrote this. All contests take place in the mythical world of Type Who? Remember, all of you really need to prove How Much I Suck.
NEXT WEEK: Beating Type I On A Type Zero Budget
Visit The Ferrett Domain if you’re not easily offended. Matter of fact, stay away if you’re offended at all. Probably it’s best if you leave now, really…. * — Most people will admit that tourneys will burn you out if you follow them for too long — I say that’s because they’re not fun. There are only three things that are really fun about Magic: Deck design, good play, and social interaction. And the tourney scene usually fails miserably at providing any of these beyond the most meager quantities.
Tourneys do, of course, require good play — but "good play" is not the same as "flawless playing", which is another beast entirely. Remembering to pay your echo upkeep and memorizing the exact sequence of steps to manipulate your stacks properly involve some fun in learning to get them right — but really, how many times can you play the same Opalescence deck and get excited about it? It’s cool the first couple of times you slam someone for twenty, but eventually it gets old.
You can also get social interaction at a tourney, but it doesn’t come while playing. You don’t get to really chat during the high level playoffs, or smile, or be friendly— you’re out for blood, and everything else falls by the wayside. Sure, there can be plenty of laughs on the sidelines, but don’t expect to trade rumors about that fantastic new line of corduroy pillows***** between upkeeps. Ain’t happening.
As for deck design? Hah. There’s Cabal Rogue, and everyone else at tourneys steals their decks from the net, simply because they can’t afford not to. Net decks are like the gun replacing the sword in ancient Japan. The Samurai thought the gun was dishonorable, dangerous, and impersonal — and they were right. Unfortunately, guns were also darned effective, and anyone who tried fighting a .44 Smith & Wesson with their katana wound up dead, fast. 98% of the time, there is no real deck design in tourneys — there are only slight variants on The Killer Decks, refined and guaranteed by the ‘net to be the deadliest pieces of cardstock around.
(And incidentally, don’t tell me about your tech. Calling the swapping of three or four non-critical combo cards "deck design" is like me telling you that I’ve rewired my house when all I’ve done is changed a fuse. Deck design really has to be fairly radical before it counts.
(And incidentally to the incidentally, Sealed Deck and Draft are the closest thing to "fun" you’ll find in tournaments. I like Sealed Deck, even though I personally suck at it. But more on THAT later, too.)
**— Or boyfriend. Whatever. It’s hard not being sexist.
***— Incidentally, having recently started playing with a bunch of Power Niners, I will be writing a column on "Destroying The Power Ten" ****** in the near future.
**** — This does NOT apply to beginning players, to whom you do give genuinely helpful advice. But the better they get, the worse your advice gets.
*****— If you haven’t heard about the corduroy pillows, feel free to email me. I’d be surprised.
****** — Power Nine plus the Force Of Will.