Spinning the Top: Meet the Multiplayers
By Devin Malko on March 18th, 2009 · Filed in Multiplayer, Casual · Comments not available just now
Spinning the Top: Meet the Multiplayers
We should definitely play this card...
You're just a little short on gas money this week, that PTQ is just a little too far away to go to this time, you can't quite find enough time to sit down for a full eight-man, or maybe you can't even find eight men (or women) for a full draft, what are you to do? How will you get your Magic fix this week? Well, if you are anything like the 8,923 million multiplayer Magic lovers  then you may be about to find the joy of larger multiplayer Magic.
Multiplayer Magic, as I'm sure many of you are aware, is a term that is usually used to refer to Magic games of more than two players (though I have heard of certain tournament formats with frequent opponent changes referred to as "sequential multiplayer" but let's not go there now, tis a silly place.) Now that I've gotten my mandatory Monty Python quote out of the way I would like to talk seriously about how multiplayer Magic differs from more traditional dueling, and how you can both win games and win friends in the process.
I play at least 95% of my Magic in multiplayer, and it has just as complex and interesting a metagame as any tournament scene out there. You can apply the same levels of focus and time to playing good, solid multiplayer as you can to top-eight-ing a PTQ, and yet many otherwise serious players avoid/don't succeed in multiplayer. I believe that this originates in three major differences in the nature of the game, which lead to five major deck building changes, which when combined properly will allow both the freshest newbie and the seasoned PTQ hunter to get what they want out of Magic "down time."
Multiplayer Differences to Think About
Now, the first, most obvious difference between your even your laziest, most casual FNM and the hardest-core multiplayer group is that you need to do more than 20 damage. This means that the ability of a deck to squeak out narrowly-tuned wins by getting exactly to 21 will not prove victorious or enjoyable in multiplayer Magic. This can have dramatic effects on deck design (Hint: Burn decks need to play some very particular cards to work) or some slightly smaller ones (Erratic Explosion needs to become Kaboom!). Just like mana curve and the need for a fair deal of speed dominate the concerns of deck designers for dueling, this difference is the dominating maxim for the construction of successful multiplayer decks. The number of opponents will continually be a factor that needs to be consciously considered in all of our further progress towards deckbuilding.
...but its teammate stays home when
playing with seven friends.
The second point is closely related to the first, but arguably gives veteran players the greatest shocks in multiplayer; you can't fight all of the people all of the time. Yes, to win you will eventually have to be going for the throat of all remaining players; however, start the game out this way, and you'll never see that endgame scenario. 2 points of damage on turn two may not be worth angering the person who is going to have overwhelming board position on turn eight. This isn't quite as big in determining our card choices as the first difference, but it cannot be ignored. Instead of showing us which cards to play like the first difference, it shows us what cards not to play. Playing certain cards that immediately force the entire table to be your enemy is usually a bad idea. Cards like War's Toll and Dovescape will create a level of opposition from the table that a single deck will be very hard-pressed to resist until the very late game. Both cards, and many more, encourage us to make soft locks on our opponents, but even if we lock six of seven players out of the game, we still have to fight that one player, which can be very hard if our point removal doesn't get through our own Dovescape. While the first difference helps us sculpt the basics of our deck, this idea will help us determine which cards that look good need to stay in our tournament binder and which can come out to play. To this day I've yet to see a multiplayer deck use Counterbalance in a way that didn't result in a quick and curse-filled death at the hands of many angry opponents.
The third major variance is probably the easiest for veterans to understand, it but gets fresh players all the time. In an eight-man game, you can't have more resources than all your opponents combined. In Standard you may play mana ramp and be used to having mana advantage over your opponent, but no multiplayer deck can do more than seven opponents combined. This leads to some well-tuned, seasoned control decks drowning in multiplayer on the simple basis of too much to do every single turn. This rule will mainly help us adjust our play style, but it will also keep us away from certain deck designs that don't really take all opponents into consideration. A deck like All in Red, which in Extended can make use of its blistering speed to lock an opponent out, is always going to be a bridesmaid in multiplayer. A turn one Deus of Calamity keeps only one opponent out of the game, and then someone else, who has land you've never touched, simply Wraths it away - and suddenly you have an empty hand, you've killed no one, and at least one player is very, very angry with you.
Recommendations for Winning More Multiplayer:
Say no to cards that only generate tempo
1. Value Card Advantage over Tempo. Small little drops may be great at getting to 21; in fact, most formats are full of decks that ride the back of three- and four-drops to victory. They maybe even capable of easily hitting 30 when playing with the Legacy card pool. But 60 and 80 are simply out of your reach. Being able to create minute advantages through early drops and mana-accelerating effects will not be enough to win large multiplayer games of Magic. So what do we do without our Jackal Pups? We change our thinking just a little bit. Tempo, the art of taking advantage of time, has almost no meaning in four- to eight-man multiplayer. While this doesn't mean you need to play "The Deck" and hope to go the distance with only two Serra Angels, it does mean you can't expect Mogg Fanatic and Boggart Ram-Gang to kill three players. Ball Lightning, that great red creature, is a great example of exactly what kind of deck-thinking to avoid. Trading a card for no effective change in gamestate will not win whole games, just skirmishes between you and one other player.
187s are some of the best creatures
2. Value Board Advantage over Hand Advantage. Since Wiessman and before, control decks have attempted to execute a series of one-for-ones, followed by card draw to allow them to outdistance their aggro counterparts. However, in multiplayer Magic, one-for-ones should be considered the least acceptable play. Trading a bear for a bear is not usually a good play because of the subtle resource imbalance of multiplayer. Think of this: all eight players in a large game have a bear. If you defensively trade bears, you've lost 100% of your creatures, and only taken away 14% of your opponents' creatures. Even Dismiss, a prototypical card advantage generator, is rendered less effective: in a duel you gained 1 CA against your one opponent. In eight-man, you've gained 1 CA against 1/7 of your foes, so that same seventh of card is back to haunt you. Outdrawing the whole table takes tons of mana and at least two cards a turn (and that's for Tidings on ). Removing 100% of your opponents' creatures can be accomplished for four mana and two cards (Wrath and your replacement bear). 7/2 = 3.5 CA against the table, which is a solid, solid play. These sort of plays can also be used to generate a lot of virtual card advantage. Nekrataal removes one bear for +.14 CA, but it also invalidates all the other bears as attackers, thus netting a situation +.86 CA, thus getting a full card's worth of advantage out of your Nekrataal. This kind of card advantage, essentially advantage that takes place on the board as opposed to in a hand, is the kind that will take you to the last two or three players and will allow you to finish off your opponents. This doesn't mean rapidly overextend yourself and put all your resources on the board; it just means to shy away from cards that exclusively generate hand advantage. When we do play draw spells in decks (and we will), it's not to create card advantage (though a Tidings makes a little bit in multiplayer) but to refresh our options and potential for board interactions.
There are somethings this can do
That even Superman can't
3. Learn to make bigger plays. To kill seven players, one cannot expect to get the entire way on the backs of 2/2s for 1 or 3/3s for 2. At some point you need to cast every veteran's nightmare: The big "Timmy" creature, or the huge "little kid" Fireball. While it is possible to make and play multiplayer decks that can totally avoid Terror and Counterspell hurting you, a certain degree of endgame threat potential needs to exist for decks to be able to win consistently and without creating an ennui of endless games where you are put completely on defense and unable to strike out effectively. While a card like Loamdragger Giant seems pretty poor in the world of Morphlings, Psychatogs, and Tarmogoyfs, in multiplayer it's a far better threat than Psychatog, Wild Mongrel, or Boggart Ram-Gang. Its simple size allows it to perform tasks "better" creatures cannot. The ability to force chump blocks, and the reusable speed it has in killing a player gives it advantages over Psychatog. To kill a player in three swings, Tog will eat four cards a turn for three turns. Twelve cards to remove at best 15 non-lands from play; a pretty poor trade when you have to repeat the feat for five more opponents. In Odyssey block, it seemed worth it - you won, didn't you? But in eight-man, all you've done is killed that same 14% of your foes, and in the process used up your hand and your graveyard. Now, we obviously don't need to play a vanilla card, but most multiplayer decks need to possess a good deal of true, game-ending creatures. Reusable ones.
He's smiling because he's winning
4. Learn to toolbox. Last year no one would recommend that TEPS pack main-board Disenchants. The goal was to kill your opponents before they played something like Enduring Ideal or Dovescape. But in multiplayer, speed is far less important. Just like the earlier point about tempo, a deck needs to be able to do something late game, and that means being able to deal with problematic creatures, spells, and artifacts/enchantments. Every time you sit down in multiplayer with a deck packing four of Naturalize, you will get a use for each and every one, usually as soon as you draw it. Coupled with this lack of speed is the increase in number of cards drawn. Even the fastest straight aggro deck will be able to get at least seven to ten draws more than "normal" constructed, even with a fast hand. This allows us to pack a "toolbox" even in decks lacking tutoring and card draw. Indrik Stomphowler is one of the best uncommons in multiplayer for exactly this reason. It gives us that board-based card advantage (see above) that is so essential to winning games of multiplayer. If nothing else, toolboxing is worth it for your sanity. A deck with no Disenchant effects (or at least Boomerangs) will have multiple games where you get to a point where you are completely removed from relevancy, and no one really enjoys that.
5. Appreciate Recursion. As I've talked about extensively above, almost all multiplayer games are going to get out of the early game, and usually make it to what would usually be considered the extreme late game by duel terms, for at least for a couple of the decks at the table. The game will be played to accumulate card advantage by way of the board by at least a couple of the decks. With this in mind, you can start to imagine that any cards that allow you to make use of expended resources again begins to have an appeal, both in virtual card advantage and in simply providing more things to do. Wrathing away a Genesis and a Mullrifter doesn't have quite the same appeal as Wrathing away two Psychatogs. Whenever you get this sort of free cards it allows you to gain advantage over your opponents without spending any cards at all; it allows you to keep your cards in hand to continue to deal and react with new events. The ability to selectively choose the resources you acquire can lead to spectacular blowouts where you simply get everything you need every time. Cards like Genesis and Oversold Cemetery allow you to strike your foes even when your resources have been consumed by normal game play and would otherwise be out of play for good. As a result, you'll seldom see a good multiplayer deck with absolutely no way to take advantage of these expended results.
These cards are even better on turn 20.
Ideas in Action
To demonstrate some of these ideas I've built a little bit of a demo deck that is built along these lines. It's not the most powerful deck of all time, not even the most powerful multiplayer deck at most tables, but it has a certain level of fun and exciting plays that can impress a table while keeping you in the running for winning the game. You'll notice the deck is not super expensive, but at the same time I haven't shied away from some expensive cards that really help the concept flow.
I'd just like to review a couple of the card choices and how they relate to the ideas we discussed:
Syphon Mind may be the best multiplayer black card ever printed. It does some universal hand damage without too much mana, but usually draws you at least three cards. So a black Concentrate that comes with "discard three cards" is simply too good to pass up. When playing Swamps in multiplayer, Syphon Mind should be played.
Vindicate is the perfect definition of flexibility and toolbox universality. Really cheap, too. The only downside is sorcery speed, which ties up your mana (that's more important for a board control deck in multiplayer) but it's worth it. The advantage to this over Oblivion Ring, which seems a lot cheaper, is that someone will blow away enchantments at some point in a long game, and that scary baddy showing back up is never fun, especially now that the resource to deal with it has been expended.
Oversold Cemetery is really, really good late game in this deck in bringing back any number of creatures over the course of turns. It may not activate very fast in this deck, which is the reason for only packing two and counting on the Top and Demonic Tutor to find them.
Karmic Guide and its echo really likes Oversold Cemetery - Zombify and a blocker every turn? It really plays well in this deck, and protection from Terror is not to be scoffed at. You are much more likely to have this creature still be around as the blocker you thought it was going to be when you cast it.
We have a "big play" suite in Akroma, Dread, and the Myojin. Pristine Angel is fun with its pseudo-vigilance and high level of protection, which can help you delay the deployment of your Wraths, Vindicates, and Nekrataals until you are sure that a creature is really a threat to you in particular.
Urborg, Cabal Coffers, and Consume Spirit combine to form a cool little combo that you can really use for instant late game reach-and-wins.
The above part of the deck can deal with recursion, delay, and make some big plays these last cards form the toolbox part:
Demonic Tutor is obviously the best tutor every printed. It's not too expensive, and if you play in casual formats where you can run them, I wildly recommend a playset. It's very, very good on turn two, and not bad at any point after that.
Sensei's Divining Top provides great card selection and occasionally card draw that otherwise wouldn't be in the deck. Divining Top sees an amazing amount of play in larger games, as the lost tempo of one, two, sometimes three mana a turn poured into the top doesn't set us back too far.
Leyline of the Void allows you to make a four-drop that can simply tell some opponents that they are not playing this game with their full deck. Heavy recursion decks will see this card on turn one (once in a while, obviously) and just be down half their game plan from the get go. And, if you need it right now, Demonic Tutor is happy to oblige.
This deck isn't fully tuned but it can be really fun to mess around with. The first time you Wrath a Lark into the yard and it brings out Stillmoon Cavalier and a Karmic Guide that brings the Lark back, you'll feel a little dirty bit of fun. Wrathing over the head of the Myojin and then pulling the counter can make you feel on top of the world, and gives you the large plays to sit down against almost any multiplayer deck.
Good luck and have a good game!
By Devin Malko on March 18th, 2009 · Filed in Multiplayer, Casual · Comments not available just now
About Devin Malko
Devin Malko is rabid multiplayer fan with an intense love of every way he has yet run into of how to play Magic (even EVE/EVE/EVE draft). He attends Rensselear Polytechnic Institute and can often be found either playing in the largest multiplayer game he can get their club to play, or finding some way to play Ichorid in whatever the format du jour is.