It’s almost time for Regionals. I have been doing my usual in-depth preparation; I have built a bunch of decks and played a lot of games. Unfortunately, almost all the decks are only legal in Type One, and over half the games have been Emperor – so don’t look for any Regionals tech here. Nothing I have built beats U/G Madness.
Not that I haven’t tried. R/B land destruction. R/G land destruction, with and without Seedborn Muse, Death Match/Squirrel Nest, Reprocess, Mana Echoes – you name it, if it breaks the rules of Magic, I have tried to build a deck around it. However, none of those decks can deal with flying 6/6s on turn 4, unless they are so twisted to face that matchup that they autolose to anything that’s not U/G.
I suppose that giving details on the decks that don’t work might inspire someone to find some amazing fix and design a winning deck… But since Regionals is less than a week away, now might be a little late. Hey – procrastination always was my best thing.
Instead, I’ll talk some about something I actually know – multiplayer strategy. These are some general precepts I have developed over time – and one reason why I win more than my fair share of the multiplayer games. (That, and making sure I don’t play opponents with skill or deep card pools.)
I’ll try to distill what I’ve learned in over five years of playing a lot of multiplayer into a couple pithy words. That makes it more of a challenge. I’ll decide how many words, and what type in the only logical way: I’ll roll dice.
Shake, shake, shake, rattle.
So I’m a gamer. Could be worse – if I was a mime, this article would be a link to a postage-stamp-sized silent video clip. (No, that would not be more informative.)
Eight words. Verbs. Okay. I’ll start with the obvious.
No, I’m not recommending six guns at sixty paces. It’s easier than that – just draw more cards than your opponents and you will win. Card advantage is a critical part of designing a tournament deck, and it is just as important in a multiplayer deck. If you have about the same quantity and quality of cards, but you draw more of them than your opponent, you should win. It’s pretty obvious, but a lot of people in multiplayer games just don’t get it. Card drawing is good. Some card drawing engines have the drawback of looking threatening (like Necropotence or Yawgmoth’s Bargain), but anything that can refill your hand is solid. Try sticking two good card drawers in your deck – even something innocuous like Inspiration, Jayemdae Tome, or Collective Unconscious – and see what happens.
Drawing cards wins games. The format does not matter. Even in some stupid”eight-card deck, mulligan to seven cards in hand at all times” format, I want an Ancestral Recall in my opening hand. (Of course, in a match where we start with one-card libraries, I won’t target myself…)
Some multiplayer decks look like – heck, are – a jumble of cards thrown together at random. That doesn’t work. Decks need to have a reason for existing, some theme or general purpose, and then need to be built to that theme. Adding cool cards just because you like them is almost always a mistake. (Not one I’ll ever make, of course. And if you are looking to check decklists in my previous articles, don’t bother. Those are all typos.)
Seriously, though, decks need to be designed – even casual decks. You need to think about the mana, the colors, the options, and the synergy. I discussed mana in detail a few weeks back, so I won’t say more now. Limiting colors limits mana problems, and decreases the likelihood of color screw. If you are splashing a color, make sure there is a real need for that color.
Synergy is a little trickier: Synergy involves making sure your deck works well together. It is more than just making sure it isn’t in conflict (like Living Death and Phage the Untouchable, or Gurzigost and Nimble Mongoose). Conflicts like that wreck decks, but synergy involves more than lack of conflict – it involves having the cards work together better than they do alone. For example, Bottle Gnomes is a reasonably useful card by itself. Corpse Dance and Bottle Gnomes work together pretty well.
Corpse Dance, Bottle Gnomes, and Gravepact? Now that’s synergy.
I’m going to cheat and use one word for two concepts.
The first is that you should have the ability to stop an opponent’s primary strategy. You should be able to beat back a rush, destroy a critical combo piece, bounce a serious threat, or destroy a critical land. (Of course, there are critical lands – they are generally spelled G-L-A-C-I-A-L C-H-A-S-M or T-O-L-A-R-I-A-N A-C-A-D-E-M-Y.)
You can think of it another way – if you cannot nullify your opponents’ threats, then you are merely hoping that you can get your deck to do what it wants to do faster than they can get their deck to do whatever their deck does to win. The problem is that if they have a way of nullifying your win condition, being faster may not be enough.
I tend to win because my decks are pretty good at not losing. They nullify the opponent’s win conditions, then find some way to win – often because the opponents concede. That’s especially true when my win condition is a solid lock and an Obstinate Familiar.
The second meaning of Nullify is to make sure you don’t play into your opponents’ strategies. Don’t overcommit on creatures if someone is playing Wrath of God, and don’t play all your lands if someone plays Armageddon. Don’t play critical enchantments or artifacts without ways of protecting them, or at least recovering them from the graveyard. And so on. That’s just common sense.
I’m not saying you need to outguess your opponents. Sure, if you are smarter than they are, you can win – but unless you know a local mad scientist who does brain matter transplants, however,”get smarter” is not going to be good advice.”Make fewer mistakes” and”practice more” are good advice, but those involve work and effort, and – frankly – are pretty boring.
I prefer letting my opponents outguess themselves. I want them to think they have figured out what my deck will do, then have it do something else entirely. I want them to think about all the wrong thing, kill the wrong creatures, Disenchant the wrong enchantments, Shatter the wrong artifacts… And only then discover that I’m playing land destruction.
Mystery writers call obvious clues that lead nowhere, and exist merely to mislead the reader,”red herrings.” No matter what color of deck I’m playing, I’m splashing for red herrings.
I am a firm believer that politics does have a place in multiplayer games. I want to provide assistance to opponents. I will interfere in combat, provided the end result is a bit more balanced. I want people to see my presence in the game as a plus. That’s even better than looking manascrewed, ineffectual or simple”not a threat.” It is much better than appearing to be the person that poses the biggest threat, or needs to die first.
I do play Reverent Silence, and cast it for the alternative casting cost where everyone else gains life. It’s beneficial to everyone except the person with the killer enchantments. There are lots of other cards that benefit everyone, but I still have a problem forcing myself to play Howling Mine and so forth. Tournaments have ingrained in me a fear of those cards unless I am playing a deck that absolutely breaks the symmetry; even I don’t always practice what I preach.
In a big chaos game, it is almost impossible to prevent everyone from attacking. Killing every creature on the board is just too hard. It is much easier to make everyone attack someone else.
Here’s a simple situation: The opponent has two grizzly bears. You have a Wall of Blossoms and a River Boa in play. The calculation is pretty simple: if you have mana available to regenerate, he won’t attack. If you don’t, he can attack, and you will either take two damage or trade the bear for the boa.
Let’s make it a bit more complicated – he still has two bears and you have a Wall of Blossoms and a Spike Feeder in play. You have mana available and a Seal of Strength on the table. Now you have the possibility of sacrificing the Seal to pump the Spike Feeder, then moving the Spike onto the Wall and killing both creatures, or trading the Spike Feeder for a bear and gaining four life after damage is on the stack, or a lot of other options. You have more options, so the opponent has a lot more to think about.
And here’s the dirty little secret to casual and multiplayer games – people are not going to want to think long and hard. If you present them with a mess like that, they are not going to attack you – they will attack someone else, who does not present the same problems. In most cases, you don’t need to have an indefensible position – a complex position is often enough redirect attacks. It sure works for me.
The ideal ending to a multiplayer game is not getting a big creature out and smashing everyone down. It isn’t even getting a solid lock and a short-term clock. Here’s the ideal ending to a multiplayer game.
“You’re all dead. I win. Now let me explain what just happened….”
The second best is,”Now that you are all defenseless and helpless…”
In multiplayer, being threatening is a bad thing. It makes people attack you. It makes them kill your creatures and wreck your position. Just attacking in general is almost as bad. You never want to annoy anyone, at any time, unless you win as a direct result. Okay – you can also annoy someone if it stops you from losing, of course, but it is better to get someone else to do that. For instance, if you have a Swords to Plowshares in hand, and someone is attacking you with an unblockable Phage the Untouchable, let someone else kill her instead. If – and only if – no one else will act should you Plow the untouchable one.
Obviously, you cannot live by this advice all the time. Unless you are playing a combo deck, you will probably have to attack several times before you get to lethal damage. Those attacks are far safer, however, if you can make sure that your opponents cannot retaliate. It is always better to devastate your opponent’s board position, then attack before they can reestablish it. Control wins games.
The eighth word is gamble. Sometimes, you cannot establish control or dominance, and you just have to roll the dice and see what comes up. Remember, however, that Gambling is not simply trusting to luck; a skilled gambler knows the odds and understands what probability means. (That’s why no professional gamblers play the lottery – the odds are against them.) At any point in the game, you can calculate the odds of various outcomes, then calculate your strategy accordingly. If your position is likely to get better, wait. If this is the best you are going to get, then go the win. Just remember, for any good gambler, it is science, not luck.
Okay, eight words to sum up my philosophy of multiplayer.
If only there was some simple mnemonic to help everyone remember them. Ferrett, help me out here, please? (HUNDROOG! – The Ferrett, literally laughing out loud at this)