Hey everyone, welcome to another installment of Dan’s Deckshop! This time we’re going to be talking about a deck idea I’ve had stirring in my mind for a very, very long time but never actually put to paper – despite a deluge of requests for it. Well, it’s time to finally roll up our sleeves and dig in to what’s already my favorite deck so far… Despite the fact we haven't even built it yet!
I’ve talked a lot about free-for-all multiplayer in this series so far, and for good reason. It’s an endlessly fun format common among casual playgroups. Its slower pace allows for a lot of fun cards to be played and the constant worry of painting a target on your forehead means that playing with seemingly-bad cards is a great strategy (awesome for building on a budget). Any format that makes a card like Feudkiller's Verdict into a powerhouse is alright in my book.
10 life and a 5/5? The Verdict is 'Win'.
However, there’s something that we haven’t talked about much about FFA yet - politics. Politics in multiplayer are tricky. Few decks can handle the united pressure of multiple opponents. If you can convince your opponents to attack each other and to leave you alone – you’re usually in a very good position. While they trade creatures and reduce eachothers’ life totals you can just sit back and stockpile killer cards to mop up afterward.
So how do you make friends with your opponents? Well, friends help each other out and making friends in multiplayer is often as simple as handing someone a present or helping them out of a tough spot. Sadly, in most games the best thing you can do is say, “If I don’t kill your Kozilek, Butcher of Truth – will you promise not to attack me with it?”
A Note About Backstabbers:
A lot of people have told me about players in their playgroups who make deals one moment only to renounce them a turn later and stab you in the back. This leads to hurt feelings all across the table and that's just not good for the group's fun. To deal with this, my public policy – which I follow rigidly – is that if someone goes back on a promise they made to me; I simply stop focusing on winning and focus all my efforts on making sure they lose. There’s no spite involved and I don’t recommend making a fuss, I just calmly proceed to focus on making sure that their backstabbing ends in their destruction.
Naturally, holding to this policy often keeps people from trying to trick you in the first place. If you’re having trouble with someone in your playgroup who thinks it’s fun to break his word and stab his friends in the back, I heartily recommend announcing and following this policy in future games. It’s amazing how quickly people start honoring their word once they realize that lying always ends in swift retribution. Then you can get right back to enjoying the game.
However, this type of favor has very limited appeal because you aren’t doing something nice for your opponent, you’re just offering to not do something bad to them. Plus, there’s only so many times you can afford not to make a good move – like destroying Kozilek. Eventually you’ve got to cast that removal spell on something worth killing.
If only we had some sort of card that could let us reliably hand out presents to our opponents. Of course, different opponents want different things. If only there was some kind of engine that could grant favors to multiple opponents at almost no cost to us--
You’re not fooling anyone Dan. You even said at the start of the article that you already had an idea for the deck.
Well, sure, but—
Plus, I already know exactly what creature you’re going to use.
You do? Seriously?
Yep. He’s a friend of mine and he’s obviously perfect for the deck.
Are you an agent now or something?
If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.
Not a secret agent, a… Never mind. Anyway folks, Armodon’s right – I do have the perfect creature in mind. He might be three colors but that’s nothing we can’t handle, and he’s ridiculously undervalued.
Yes, yes – we know Dan. It’s obvious who you have in mind. Get on with it!
That’s the creature you’ve been thinking about? Zedruu?
Yeah, she’s really good. Heck, Zedruu the Greathearted was specifically designed for politics. He’s even the headliner of the Political Puppets commander deck. Drawing extra cards and gaining free life is awesome, plus her ability lets you make friends and doesn’t scare anyone.
Yes, but her ability is expensive. You’d need to pay a complex assortment of mana and give away a permanent.
Don’t worry, I’ll run things like Prophetic Prism to help with mana-fixing and give me something harmless to donate.
Sure, because once you offer your opponent a Prophetic Prism, how can they possibly say no to you?
Wow, you weren’t kidding. His gifts only cost a single mana to activate, and he lets me give three different kinds of presents to my opponents. He can let me hand out creatures, cards or life… All the while being a pretty dangerous threat! He’s an efficient 4/4 for and can gain evasion, protection from the most popular removal colors, even make himself as big as a dragon!
I take it that you find him satisfactory?
You bet I do. He’s like the Santa Claus of Dominaria. His quest must be to deliver presents to children all around the world… In the form of creatures, life or cards. And he only costs a quarter of what Zedruu does! Wow, you actually helped out after all. Now I feel bad about calling that ivory poacher.
Certainly, certainly--… Wait… calling who?
Um, never mind. But you might want to put on some Darksteel Plate soon. Like, now.
Don’t worry folks, Armodon can take care of himself. What do you think they train him for? More importantly, he’s tossed a great card our way that I’m thrilled to work with. Like I’ve said, Questing Phelddagrif is a powerful threat on its own, but his abilities are usually a huge drawback in duels. However, in multiplayer we can turn that downside into an advantage by using it to make friends and recruit allies to our noble cause. Plus, with the card only costing $0.25 each, we can definitely run a full playset of the hippo-powered-powerhouse.
Now we’ve got our headline creature and our main colors. This is going to be Bant folks; which are filled with lots of goodies. First, let’s see about some other cards that we can use to hand out presents to our opponents.
I vaguely remembered picking up a strange bulk rare in a trade a while back. All I could remember was that it was green and had some effect that made me think, “Wow! That’s a great card… For your opponent.” Intrigued, I popped open my binder and began shuffling through to the bulk in the back. Finally I found the card on the second-to-last page and my jaw promptly hit the floor.
Oh heck yes! This Hunted Troll is exactly what we’re looking for. He’s an absolute monster on the table but is balanced out via the hefty drawback of having to hand our opponent a full Lingering Souls’ worth of 1/1 fliers. But here, like with Questing Phelddagrif, that drawback is actually an advantage. We get to slam down a ludicrously over-sized troll and make a new friend in the process. How many ways can I shout ‘yes’?
As I was checking the price for Hunted Troll my eyes popped twice. The first time was when I saw that Hunted Troll only cost fifty cents a copy. The second time was when I realized that trolls weren’t the only creatures being hunted in Ravnica.
A Ravnican Safari:
Dragons, Horrors, Phantasms, oh my! It was cool enough that Hunted Troll existed, but for it actually to be part of a cycle? That was just way too awesome. Obviously, the Dragon and Horror aren’t in our colors – but the Phantasm and Lammasu certainly are. We’re only going to want one of them though, you don’t want to absolutely spoil people with gifts – otherwise they’ll lose their meaning. Besides, there are twelve days of Christmas and it’d be great to have twelve Secret Santas in our deck too.
Between a 5/5 flier and a 4/6 unblockable for one less mana, I’ll take the 4/6 any day. Having a huge blocker around is great, and being unblockable is whole lot better than flying. Hunted Phantasm can play every role that a creature needs to in our deck – early defense, gift-giver and late game finisher. Hunted Lammasu just can’t hold up to that.
Normally we’d have to bear in mind that the downside of the Phantasm (five 1/1 goblins) is a whole lot steeper than the downside of the Lammasu (a single 4/4). However, this is multiplayer and if we hand our gifts out wisely – we shouldn’t bear the brunt of the goblins’ assault. Our other opponents will be the ones having to deal with the goblins while we sit back and wish everyone a merry, merry Christmas.
With our team of jolly giants taking up the field the board is going to be absolutely covered in creatures. Hey, I wonder if we can take advantage of that. Essence Warden is a multiplayer classic – gaining truckloads of life off everyone’s critters. If we have an Essence Warden out, we can drop a Hunted Phantasm for its normal value and gain six extra life for free. Then when we start pumping out tokens with Questing Phelddagrif we can profit off of every little hippo our lucky friends open up. Add that to the floods of life Essence Warden will be feeding us off of everyone else’s creatures too and we’ve got ourselves a powerhouse.
Sadly, not everyone knows how to appreciate a truly generous gift. I know it seems incredible, but some of our opponents might take their presents and then try to send them charging back in at us. But don’t fret, sometimes people need a gentle nudge in order to do the right thing. I think it’s time to crack out one of my favorite multiplayer staples, good old Propaganda.
I love this card. In fact, I play with it so much that my friends sometimes tease me for it. But I just can’t help myself, it’s so dang good! For just , every opponent suddenly has a very compelling reason to point their big armies of tokens at people besides us. It doesn’t just protect us, it also creates free damage by turning our enemies against one another. This card costs a whole $2 each, but honestly it’s a staple of every casual collection. There’s hardly a blue multiplayer deck in existence that can’t benefit from several copies of this card. Do yourself a favor and pick up a playset today, you’re going to be playing with it for years to come.
With Propaganda in our deck, we’re pretty safe from our gifts being turned against us – not to mention other peoples’ armies in general. But why stop there? I want to be able to grab a swarm of our goblins, faeries and hippos then bash people over the head with it myself. Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for my favorite card in the game.
My favorite card ever:
Mind if I borrow that?
I’m not kidding, this is unquestionably my favorite card ever printed. It’s simply ninja in multiplayer. For one turn we can trade armies with Jack over there and then take Jack’s creatures and throw them all at Jill. Or if Jane is attacking us, we can cast Reins of Power in response and yank all of John’s creatures then throw them in the way of the attack – obliterating both Jane’s and John’s armies. Then, after the dust clears we take our own creatures back and grin.
Reins of Power is one of those cards that can easily win entire games on its own. Casting it can often do an impression of a Plague Wind as you force the armies of two of your opponents to duke it out. Other times it can just kill an opponent outright. It also enables neat tricks that don’t often pop up. In a recent Commander free-for-all game, I was facing down my friend Carson who had clearly established himself as “The Threat” due to a nifty synergy between Parallel Lives and his commander – Ghave, Guru of Spores. He’d tapped out to cast Ghave and make a ton of saprolings, which of course were doubled due to Parallel Lives.
I responded by slamming down Reins of Power and yanking control of his army. I attacked another player with the team then sacrificed all of Carson's saproling tokens to Ghave's ability – putting the +1/+1 counters on things I liked. After that, I finished up by sacrificing Ghave to himself and took my own guys back again.
Yeah... That was pretty awesome.
Astonishingly, this powerhouse card is dirt cheap compared to what it should be. Being reprinted in Commander only has a tiny bit to do with it, this card has been a deadly little secret since long before then. Heck, the card came out in Stronghold and still only cost a dollar for the longest time. Now it’s down to fifty cents a copy and there is simply no excuse not to run it. Reins of Power is always incredible, and here it’s better than ever as it lets us play with the massive armies of creatures we’ll be generating for our opponents.
We're hearing that a lot with this deck, aren't we? “This card is normally strong but because of these special circumstances it’s even better.” Oh how I love the smell of synergy in the morning!
While we’re on the subject of cards that are even better in this situation, want to see the ultimate ‘let’s be friends’ spell? This is the sorcery equivalent of the hunted creatures, it’s got a significant drawback in duels but in multiplayer… Well, enough teasing. Let’s unwrap this amazing new present.
It's a secret:
See what I did there?
Garfield’s ghost! I can just see casting this spell, slapping a big grin on my face and asking, “Okay, who wants to be friends with me? Let’s say we both draw twenty cards?” I’ve gone over and over how important card advantage is, and how it’s even more important in multiplayer, but we’re not talking about a three-for-one Forked-Branch Garami right now. We’re not even talking about a six-for-one Barter in Blood. We’re talking about a potential twenty for one or more! Sure, we won’t get to hold onto all those cards; but who cares? We’ll get to fill our hand up with the best things in our deck and make a friend in the process.
Considering the raw power of Trade Secrets, it’s tempting to throw four into the deck. After all, it’s only fifty cents a copy. However, if we cast one Trade Secrets we’re probably going to draw enough cards that we’ll find another by the time we’ve emptied our hand again. With that in mind, I think three copies is enough. It’s not like we’re counting on it to make the deck work, but if we do draw it – things are going to get fun fast.
Holly hippos, this is looking awesome. I can’t believe how much raw power is being packed into the deck, and all at budget prices! The hunted creatures just seem unfair in multiplayer and Questing Phelddagrif is an amazing friend-making engine. Combined with the life-gain of Essence Warden, the defense of Propaganda, the incredible card advantage that is Trade Secrets and the ninja-like Reins of Power – Friendship is Magic just screams fun! The moment we bring this concoction to the table it’s going to change the whole dynamics of the game by scattering presents left and right and making everyone into our friends. Even better, we’ve still got nice slots left in the deck to make things even cooler--
Hey, if it makes you feel any better – the deck’s shaping up great. I’ve got a whole playset of Questing Phelddagrif headlining the list.
What? You don’t seriously have a full playset in there, do you?
Sure I do. It’s a great card and it’s the core of the deck.
Don’t ignore me.
I’m not ignoring you!
Have you really forgotten your own rule? You’re only going to want to see one Questing Phelddagrif at a time – since you only need one on the field to use its abilities. Having more than one out there is just dead weight.
Now with a whole ten slots wide open it’s time to plug some holes. First off, I'd like to have a way to deal with the various dangers that come up in multiplayer. With all our abilities to make friends and influence people we should usually be able to get someone else to do things for us – but it’s nice to have an answer just in case. Oblivion Ring is a great choice. It’s a slick part of anyone’s card collection, a cheap and versatile answer to just about any problem in the game. If you don’t have a playset already, what the heck’s been stopping you? Oblivion Ring can answer just about anything, even planeswalkers have to go sit in the time-out chair when Oblivion Ring comes down. We’ll throw in four copies to give ourselves a nice out to anything crazy someone else might be running.
With Oblivion Ring in our deck, we’ve got just six more slots to fill. I think the deck could use a little extra punch to finish off the game, and that Hunted Troll is looking awfully silly with no trample attached. If you’ve already read my Kamigawa Strikes Back article, you’ll probably remember how useful equipment can be to finish the game off. Here we want something that’ll be good on all of our creatures, some form of evasion for Huntred Troll and a power-boost for Hunted Phantasm and Questing Phelddagrif. It’d be great if this equipment could turn Essence Warden into a credible threat too. A quick search of Gatherer later and I’d landed on an old friend.
It's clobberin' time!
Behemoth Sledge is exactly what we’re looking for. As the equipment version of the old powerhouse Armadillo Cloak, this sledge gives us trample for Hunted Troll as well as lifelink. I talked a lot about how great life-gain is in my last article, Dark Side Rising and multiplayer hasn’t changed since then. This would be a great card for the deck even if it didn’t also give our guys +2/+2. The toughness boost helps us here more than Loxodon Warhammer would because it makes our Essence Warden into a rather respectable 3/3 instead of a fragile 4/1.
I think two copies are good enough for now. Once we have one out there isn’t much need for another. Plus, we only have fifteen creatures in the deck at the moment – four of which are Essence Warden. We don’t want to run into a situation where we have a ton of equipment in our hand and no creatures to equip. If we add in more creatures, we’ll probably up the Behemoth Sledge count too.
Actually, now that I think about it, the deck has just about everything we could want at the moment. We’ve got our core engine of gift-giving, huge swings of card advantage, equipment to power up our creatures, defense against creature swarms, huge blockers, a versatile removal spell and even an ‘I win’ card in Reins of Power. Sure, we could add in a few more creatures or removal spells, but at this point I think I’d rather address our mana-base. We’ve got a three-color deck on a budget, so we won’t be able to use amazing lands like Flooded Grove or Forbidden Orchard to help us out.
Instead, let’s grab that artifact Trained Armodon made fun of earlier. Prophetic Prism replaces itself instantly upon being cast, gives us something to do on turn two and fixes most all of our mana problems for the rest of the game. It’s great early on and a fine top-deck in the late game too, as you can easily just cast it and draw your next card with mana to spare. Another option is Armillary Sphere, but I just like the fluidity of Prophetic Prism more at the moment (not to mention the chance to stick it to Armodon). Either artifact would work just fine though.
This manabase is just begging for a playset of Seaside Citadel but I refused to give in to temptation. Seaside Citadel costs a full $2 per copy, and there’s no way I’m going to go that high on a land when so many readers have called budget-building their favorite thing about the column. If you have some lying around, by all means throw them in.
I ran about twenty hands and their subsequent five or six turns with the above mana-base. To my surprise, it seemed to work out pretty dang well. Prophetic Prism both gave me a chance to draw new lands and fix my colors, while the Ravnica bounce-lands and good old Terramorphic Expanse kept my colors humming. The deck has a surprisingly low mana curve for a multiplayer deck too, so getting stuck on land drops isn’t nearly as big a deal here as in most lists.
What struck me most about the test games was that I almost always had something to do. Whether it was dropping a pair of Essence Wardens and then gaining twelve life off my first Hunted Phantasm or casting Propaganda followed up by Trade Secrets (tested with only the draw-four variety to examine the worst case scenario) to pull me out of any troubles I might be having. Operating on its own, the deck gained tons of life; made huge creatures and kept tricks up its sleeve like Reins of Power. Set into the storm of free-for-all multiplayer where our gifted tokens should be slamming into our opponents for us as our newly-made friends rally to our cause… The deck could truly be a force to be reckoned with.
And wow, total the cost of all those cards up and you get just $28.15. Even better, a lot of that money is being sunk into collection staples like Propaganda, Oblivion Ring, Reins of Power, Trade Secrets and similar. Not only does that buy you what’s looking like an unbelievably fun and powerful deck – you also get to nab a bunch of cards you’ll be using for years to come.
It was time to take the deck for a spin. I knew right away that this was a deck I wanted to own, so I took the leap of faith and ordered the cards from Channelfireball. Sadly, they only had two copies of Questing Phelddagrif left in stock – one of which was a pre-release foil. But hey, it’s shiny and I really wanted to try this deck out. I ordered the cards, filling the hippo with an Armillary Sphere for now, and knew that I’d have them in time for my college’s pre-D&D Magic session. However, I just couldn’t wait till then – I sleeved up the list on Cockatrice and got some of my college playgroup to sign up as well. It was time for some three player free-for-all.
“Well Dan, what’ve you got this time? More black magic?” Chad asked, a mix of wariness and anticipation in his voice. I smiled, “Nope, I’ve remembered Magic is about making friends.”
“Thank god,” Carson let out a breath, “I don’t like it when my creatures die.” I laughed, “Don’t worry Carson, you’ve got a friend in me.”
I kept a hand with Hunted Phantasm, Trade Secrets, two copies of Prophetic Prism and some lands. I can’t tell you how good it felt, my hand was loaded with so much raw power it was frankly astonishing. Already if I never got another draw step for the rest of the game, I was in very good shape. The Prophetic Prisms would fix my mana and draw me extra cards, Hunted Phantasm would hold the ground as a ridiculously huge blocker with the best evasion in the game tacked on and Trade Secrets would refill my hand after I ran out of gas. Plus, both Hunted Phantasm and Trade Secrets both gave me ways to give presents to my opponents. I was definitely looking forward to this game.
Things started off surprisingly fast for multiplayer. Carson ran a Young Wolf out on turn one and Chad answered with a Diregraf Ghoul. “Wow, this is multiplayer right?” I asked. I heard a chuckle over my headset. “Remember what you said about my Birthing Pod/Undying deck last week?” Carson asked. I remembered, “You mean when I talked about adding River Kelpie and Power Conduit… Oh.”
Carson chuckled back. I swallowed. River Kelpie is one of those cards that divides the world into two types of people: People who think it’s bad and people who have actually seen it played.
Rant About River Kelpie:
Even at its worst, River Kelpie usually gives you a 3/3, blocks (probably killing a guy), comes back to draw you a card and then blocks again. That’s 3-for-1 card advantage and a lot of life saved all for . That’s a pretty good deal, and that’s how bad the card is at its worst. At its best you can draw a million extra cards off of persist, undying, flashback, retrace and reanimation effects.
As if that weren’t enough, the Kelpie draws you cards whenever anyone brings something back from the grave – enabling a surprising number of, "Oops, I win" moments when an opponent is playing one of the many grave-based multiplayer strategies. A solid blocker, a seemingly unthreatening presence and the potential to draw a bazillion free cards make River Kelpie one of the best budget multiplayer creatures of all time.
And yet, I’ve walked into about five different card-shops since the Kelpie’s printing that have twenty or thirty of the blue beasties filling their bulk bins. Seriously, Guardian Games – one of my favorite game shops ever – had about thirty copies of three specific cards in its junk-rare bin last time I checked. One was Scambleverse, another was Molten Firebird and the final was River Kelpie. Heck, I remember heading down to my local gameshop after Shadowmoor first came out to pick up a set of River Kelpie only to find the store-owner thanking me profusely for buying them.
All this meant that the Undying Wolf staring me down was suddenly very, very dangerous. Sure, it was just a little guy but when combined with a Birthing Pod, River Kelpie and Power Conduit (which can reset undying and persist creatures at will) Carson was clearly packing a card advantage engine of unbelievable power.
Of course, I wasn’t worried. Friendship would conquer all.
Chad made a beeline for Carson, knowing his aggressive zombie deck didn’t have a hope if Carson started resetting all his blockers off of a Power Conduit. I helped out by dropping a fourth-turn Hunted Phantasm and tossing the five goblins to Chad. Suddenly Chad had the power to attack around Carson’s Kitchen Finks but Birthing Pod came down and traded his Strangleroot Geist’s first life for another Finks. There was clearly no way Chad could break through and a second Power Conduit from Carson sealed the deal. I could have kept tossing more tokens to Chad but I wanted to spread the love around.
“Hey Carson, you want to be friends with me too?”
“Sure thing. Do I get some awesome goblin tokens?”
“Better.” I smiled and laid down Hunted Troll. “Have four 1/1 fliers.”
“Gah!” Chad groaned, “This isn’t fair.”
“That’s why you don’t play rush decks in multiplayer.” Carson reminded him in a sage-like voice. Chad just snorted, “Well, I made an impact – that’s what I care about. Time to go out in style.”
The zombie-wielding planeswalker turned his team sideways and charged the whole army into Carson. Carson took some damage but kept the fliers around, they’re great evasive threats. I mean, I’d just handed him a free Lingering Souls worth of creatures.
“Guess that’s game.” Chad laughed. “Yep.” I smiled, untapping and casting Reins of Power.
A cry of shocked anguish leaped out of Carson. “Time to trade armies,” I beamed, taking his whole team (including the faeries I’d handed him and the Hunted Phantasm he’d stolen from me) and sending them all into the red zone.
This card brought to you by Charlie Sheen.
“I can’t believe that card’s a thing.” Groaned Carson, “Why can’t you just run Wrath of God like a normal person?”
“Why kill when you can control?” I grinned, “Besides, this deck’s all about making friends. Hurting lots of creatures isn’t very friendly.”
Sadly, it wasn’t to be as Carson and I both lost our first creatures to an Innocent Blood from Chad.
I blinked. “Wait… You’re not running that deck, are you?”
Chad grinned. “I’ve felt the power of the Dark Side. It flows through me.”
I swallowed. I knew how powerful that deck could be and with me having only a few big, important creatures out an any given time – it would be deadly for my deck to go up against alone. Luckily, Chad had made a mistake by cluing us into it so early on. If he’d kept quiet about what he was running for a few turns, we probably wouldn’t have focused on him. Normally it wouldn’t matter much, but my deck needed his to die first if it was to have a chance at living.
However, I also knew from Carson’s Pride of the Clouds that he was playing an aggressive flying deck he’d put together that very day – despite his earlier chastisement of Chad for doing a similar thing with zombies in the last game. If Carson killed Chad too quickly, I wouldn’t have the time to stabilize.
Over the next several turns I helped Carson by giving him a small army of goblins in exchange for not doing anything to hurt me until Chad had fallen. Soon Chad was clearly dead on the board against them plus Carson’s existing army. “Chad,” I said as he contemplated his situation, “How about this? I’ll help you out too if you promise not to cast any mass removal spells – unless it’s just you and me left alive.”
“Similar deal to Carson then?”
“I think that could be arranged.”
“Great,” I smiled, casting Hunted Troll and giving him several blockers. Questing Phelddagrif tossed him some more life as well, keeping him in the game. He survived long enough to cast an Exsanguinate for seven, gaining 14 life and following that up with a Corrupt, targeting Carson’s Pride of the Clouds. He was back in the game. After all, what are friends for?
My next turn I cast Trade Secrets, handing the extra cards to Carson so he could expand his assault. We both drew a bazillion extra cards, and I had to discard eight from my hand, which had been nearly empty before the spell was cast. Of course, discarding those extra cards didn’t matter – I’d just drawn until I effectively put together my ideal hand. It was like tutoring for seven cards at once!
Carson thanked me for the cards and summoned a flock of spirit tokens off of Spectral Procession and a flashed-back Lingering Souls. I tossed him another swarm of five goblins off of another Hunted Phantasm and Chad just couldn’t hold up under all the pressure. He couldn’t find a Mutilate and fell to another blow from Carson’s friendship-enhanced army.
“Well Dan,” He smiled, “Chad’s down… Looks like it’s you and me.”
“You tell me,” I laughed, laying my ninth land and dropping three copies of Propaganda onto the board.
Whoa, slow down! Let's talk about this...
“Gkk!” Carson gulped. His swarm of tokens was unstoppable en masse but paltry before the united onslaught of my enchantments. He’d have to pay every time he wanted to attack with a creature as long as all those enchantments were in play. It completely shut him down to only attacking with one token a turn as his other dozen fliers hung around looking for birdseed. Meanwhile, I had Hunted Phantasm; a 4/6 unblockable threat that could bypass his army with ease.
Carson managed to draw an answer for one of the enchantments, but I answered back by playing and equipping Behemoth Sledge in the same turn. Suddenly my 4/6 unblockable was now a 6/8 with lifelink too. There was no way Carson could hope to race and he was soon pummeled into submission by my sledge-wielding phantasm.
I changed up decks after that, but I was super-excited for the weekend when when my cards would arrive from Channelfireball and I’d get to play with them in person. We gathered an hour before our D&D session, which I DM in order to fill out my nerd résumé, pulled out our cards and got to gaming. Chad was busy at the moment; so it was all Carson, Chris and I.
Chris ran out his blinking Golem deck, which features Blade Splicer and friends along with such flickering hits as Conjurer’s Closet to keep making more friends. This is actually a really powerful strategy, since it’s a constant source of sizable free creatures. When you see the words, “constant” and “free” together in a sentence while talking about multiplayer deck design – that’s usually a really good sign.
Despite this, Carson quickly steamrolled the game with his Wurms deck. The deck is simple but powerful when no one is running sweepers. It kicks out a bunch of mana-elves like Joraga Treespeaker and Elvish Archdruid to power up a Genesis Wave for some-ungodly-amount-of-mana… And drops about half his deck onto the board in one fell swoop.
Meanwhile, I cast an Essence Warden alongside a Propoganda and hoped no one would notice me. I helped both Chris and Carson out with free goblins and faeries respectively. In exchange, both agreed not to attack me while the other was present. It wasn’t exactly a hard sell, both Carson and Chris had huge armies of creatures that were only barely holding the others in check. Eventually though Carson’s end-game was stronger and he ended up casting Genesis Wave for 26, dropping the top 26 cards of his deck onto the field – including such hits as Engulfing Slagwurm, Bellowing Tanglewurm and more. I gained a ridiculous amount of life off my Essence Warden, skyrocketing over 60, but both players still had more than enough power to deal lethal to me on the table that turn.
Or so they thought.
Carson made the smart and friendly move by attacking into Chris, he was clearly the bigger threat and we’d agreed not to mess with eachother in exchange for the ten goblin tokens I’d tossed his way free of charge (which had helped keep him alive in the early stages of the game against the faster Golem deck). Chris blocked with his many first-strike golems, which happened to laugh in the face of the Bellowing Tanglewurm’s attempts to intimidate them, but eventually he fell under the weight of the wurms.
“Hey there,” Chad said, coming back with his dinner and looking at the board. “Is Carson organizing his deck?”
“Nope.” Carson gave an impish grin, “That’s my board.”
“Wow, you’re dead Dan.”
“Three words Carson.” I smiled as my turn came around and I tapped four lands. Carson moaned. “You’ve got to be kidding me, please tell me you don’t have—
Yep, just gonna stand here and keep bein' awesome.
“I still can’t believe that card’s a thing.” Chad laughed helplessly, “Well, at least you’re not playing Day of Judgment.”
“Of course I’m not.” I winked, “Like I said, destroying things isn’t very friendly and this deck is all about making friends.”
“Can I be your friend next game?” Chad asked. “Me too!” Carson piped up. Chris slapped a hand onto the table, “Save friendship for later, we have dragons to kill!” This was a fair point, so we postponed the rest of Magic until the next day.
Games Four, Five, Six and Seven
Throughout the next four games the deck just kept humming. I’d occasionally have mana-problems early on, but Prophetic Prism was usually enough to deal with them. One time though, after laying the first three lands in my starting hand I didn't draw another land for five full turns. Even additional draws off of casting three copies of Prophetic Prism couldn't pull out the land I needed. Finally I just cast Trade Secrets to dig into my deck for some land drops. It turned out that I wouldn't have drawn that third land for six more turns; a string of bad luck that would have killed me in any other game. However, with the blue sorcery I was able to dig eight cards down into my deck and pull out the mana I needed to rebound and win the game.
One of the amazing things about “Friendship is Magic” was that it just had so much raw power to play with. By casting a string of unbelievably undercosted creatures and turning their draw-backs into newfound friends, I was playing with a huge advantage in every game.
“Why don’t we ever just band together and kill you?” Chad finally asked while we shuffled up for our sixth game, after I’d racked up my fourth victory – having lost only once due to Carson being awesome and killing a crucial land I needed with one of his Acidic Slimes, stealing a well-deserved victory from Friendship’s grasp.
“Because he’s our friend!” Carson reminded him. I laughed, but it was true. Any deck that wins too often will quickly get dogpiled. However, this requires a united alliance of several players against you. Usually, that’s easy to accomplish. All you need to do is remind everyone that the evil deck keeps killing them and people quickly rally to the cause. But with Friendship is Magic something a little different happens. If someone doesn’t want to be your friend, you simply don’t give tokens to them and they quickly die under the weight of all the free gifts you give to your other friends.
All it takes is a single person who still wants to be your friend and suddenly all the other players are dealing with someone who has fourteen free 1/1 tokens on the board, four of which fly, and no tokens of their own to defend themselves with. People tend to learn the true value of friendship very quickly.
You've got a friend in me. You've got a friend in me. You got mana problems? Yeah, I've got em too but you've got a friend in me...
One great example of this happened right at the end of playtesting. In the second-to-last game a new player named Gabe, a friend of Carson’s, joined in and got to see the deck for the first time. I hit my third turn and asked, “Okay, who wants to be friends with me?”
“I do!” Carson exclaimed, startling a cat. Gabe shrugged, not knowing what was coming. “Sure, me too I guess.”
“Alright, why should I choose either of you to be my first friend this game?” I smiled. Gabe jumped on this before Carson could say anything, “Because if you’re not going to be friends with me – I’ll pound your face in with my soldiers.”
“Friendship isn’t about making threats.” I wagged my finger, turning to Carson, “Carson, enjoy your five goblin tokens.”
“Awesome!” He rubbed his hands together as I cast Hunted Phantasm, gaining six life off my turn two Essence Warden. With some more help from a Hunted Troll Carson began to take over the game with a token army and an emblem from Sorin, Lord of Innistrad as I laid down two copies of Propaganda. When he saw the second copy though, he began to bite his lip. He’d seen this situation before.
“Gabe… With those enchantments out, I'm not sure I can beat Dan. Would you want to ally till he’s dead?”
“Carson… Is that what friends do?” I cautioned him in a stern voice. He winced, “Well, we didn’t make an official deal this time...”
“True.” I laughed. I didn’t want to make a fuss about it. Besides, if they both teamed up on me I still thought I had a decent shot. There weren’t many soldiers left on Gabe’s side of the field and my Propagandas seriously limited their options. Plus, I had a Behemoth Sledge in hand to slam down on my Hunted Phantasm. If nothing of mine got destroyed I could probably win the race. “It’s your choice Carson.”
He paused for a lengthy moment, biting his lip. “Sorry Dan," He breathed at last, "I really don’t think I can beat you one on one with those enchantments out. So how about it Gabe?”
“No.” Gabe replied. I was shocked. So was Carson. “Gabe,” he said in the quiet, patient tone of someone speaking to the slightly-mad, “I can kill you this turn. I won’t if you agree to help me beat Dan.”
“Not going to happen.”
“Why not?!” Carson exclaimed. Gabe puffed out his chest, “Because I’m Dan’s friend and I’m not going to betray him.”
I beamed. Gabe had discovered the true meaning of Friendship. True to his word, Carson killed him that turn and then proceeded to lose to my unblockable Hunted Phantasm despite casting Notorius Throng for ten free tokens off Gabe’s last stand.
I couldn’t let Gabe’s sacrifice be in vain. “Gabe,” I said as we shuffled up for the next round, “That was great of you. I’m going to help you out a lot this time, that’s what friends are for.”
“Sounds good to me.” Gabe grinned back. Carson squawked, “But Dan, what about me?” I winked, “Well Carson, who’s the better friend? Someone who accepts defeat rather than betray me or someone who takes the gifts I give him and then tries to convince the other to turn on his benefactor?”
Carson groaned; the sound of learning.
I tossed a swarm of faerie tokens Gabe’s way, giving his soldiers the back-up they needed to go in against Carson. Gabe’s soldier deck powered out an early Door of Destinies followed by Captain of the Watch and a whole bunch of soldier lords. However, he quickly ran low on cards and Carson managed to stabilize his defenses.
“Running low on cards, huh Gabe?” I asked sympathetically. “Yeah,” he sighed, “I don’t quite have enough. I just keep drawing lands.”
“Let me help with that.” I chuckled, laying down Trade Secrets. “Please, pick me!” Carson piped up. I smiled, “I’d love to Carson, but Gabe died rather than hurt me last time – good friends don’t let that go unrewarded. Want to draw a bunch of cards Gabe?”
Let's be study buddies.
“Definitely.” He smiled back and he picked up four cards while I drew eight, discarding what I didn’t want and keeping a potent hand filled with Reins of Power, a second copy of Propaganda and an Oblivion Ring. Gabe quickly powered out his new soldiers and built up Door of Destines to seven counters, making his army absolutely massive. He quickly knocked Carson out of the game… Then pursed his lips.
“Well,” I smiled, “We’re friends right? Why don’t we call it a draw then?”
Gabe laughed, “Sure, let’s do it.”
6-1 (I count the last game as a moral victory for both of us).
Final Thoughts Friendship is Magic was simply awesome to play. Every card in the deck simply drips with power in this type of strategy and some of them can blow a game away all by themselves. As if the cards alone weren’t strong enough, the synergy is just gorgeous. Hunted Phantasm is stupidly powerful in free-for-all multiplayer, as is Propaganda – but they get even better together as Propaganda locks down the tokens Hunted Phantasm gives to your opponents. Reins of Power is so powerful it can win games on its own if played at the right time, but it jumps from, 'awesome' to 'ridiculous' when you can hand a swarm of creatures to your opponent and then steal them back to attack for the win. Essence Warden is a multiplayer house already, but it gets absolutely obscene when your Hunted creatures are dropping five or six creatures on the board when you cast them. Everything just works so well together - it’s a thing of beauty.
Friendship is Magic felt like a perfect wedding of raw power and killer synergy all wrapped up in a neat ribbon of fun. However, I did notice the opportunity to make a few changes. I’m always looking for ways to turn my three color decks into two color decks in order to help with color consistency. While playing the deck, I noticed that thanks to Trade Secrets and naturally conservative play; I almost always had something better to do than to drop a Questing Phelddagrif onto the board. Hunted Troll and Hunted Phantasm were both more powerful than the hippo and made more friends right away. As good as the hippo was, I only used it during one or two games to any significant extent. Often I found myself discarding it after drawing ten or twelve cards off a Trade Secrets. It was nice just running two copies of the hippo and having an extra Armillary Sphere for mana-fixing.
However, with Questing Phelddagrif suddenly looking mediocre in the deck, our major reason to play white falls away. Oblivion Ring was a great tool to have, but Beast Within could work just as well, or even Naturalize. Behemoth Sledge is a bit better than Loxodon Warhammer here, but I noticed that the few times I felt a bit overwhelmed in my games – putting a sledge on an Essence Warden probably wasn’t going to help much (plus, if you built my spirit deck from Kamigawa Strikes Back you probably already have some Warhammers lying around). Cutting white would also let us ditch Prophetic Prism for something more substantial.
If you wanted a quick transformation to straight green/blue, it might look something like this.
I really like how so many cards in the deck cost a mere three mana. I always had a lot of things to do from early in the game and because of the raw power level of these cards, casting a Hunted Phantasm, Trade Secrets or Propaganda is just about as relevant on turn nine as it is on turn three. Early game or late game, Friendship is Magic always has something to do.
For the last three slots I added in a Naturalize, a Fog Bank and another land in as well – giving us another answer, a bit of extra early defense and a slightly higher land count. These could be anything though, they’re totally open slots that you can play with at your leisure. The deck's going to work just fine no matter what you slip into those slots so feel free to tune them to your playgroup.
One thing I can say though is that whether you try out the Bant version or the Simic version (also known as, 'Friendship is Science!' due to the Simic Guild's love of research); Friendship is Magic is a seriously fun deck to play. It feels great to be able to hand out gifts like a jolly elf at Christmas and make a lot of friends in the process. I’ll definitely be playing the deck again and again over the coming months and I’m certain I’ll have a blast every time.
Dan Felder has been playing Magic ever since his friend tricked him into sitting down for a game in fifth grade. He loves Magic far more than he should and has a special affection for budget deck-building and casual play. He hopes to one day pick up the legacy of his favorite Magic authors and write the Building on a Budget or Serious Fun column for Magicthegathering.com.
Dan's currently a game design student at Oregon State University as well as its Senior Game-Research Lab technician and analyst. If you want to talk game design, deck design or anything else - feel free to send him a PM.