Off Topic: Learning to Lose

New Phyrexia got spoiled a little bit early. Like most of the Magic community, we are all doing our best to ignore the smell of fart in the room. We know who did it and everyone is pretending it didn't happen. Thankfully, the stench didn't linger for too long. It quickly dissipated into anger over the controversy of professionals getting a theoretical advantage. To me, it almost felt like players were more upset about the latter. Well, I guess no sense in crying over spilled information. Luckily, there will always be more spoilers. Commander spoilers. Smells better in here already with that fresh cardboard smell. Mmmmmm…the smell of fun.

This reminds me of the casual accusation. I think I have mentioned it before. Every so often, I get the competitive itch and try my hand at the tournament scene. The regulars I know will ask me why I am there. Their squinty faces express puzzlement. "Why are you here? I thought you were a casual player?" I'll never understand why players think a person needs to be one or the other. I can't enjoy both? The hardest part about going back and forth is flipping the switch. It is hard shutting off that competitive edge and everything else that goes along with it. I find the need to remind myself of certain principles.

You Can't Win Casual

Back in the day when playing Magic was free online, a friend and I would terrorize the multiplayer boards. I'll admit I was a jerk. My friend would help me stall the game while I set up a finisher. My notorious play was laying down a Mortivore, stall, and eventually casting a Rout on my opponent's end step the turn before mine. I would usually follow it up with a kicked Desolation Angel. Maybe, I might just put another Mortivore onto the battlefield before I blow up the world. If there were trophies for being a $#@!, I would have won many of them. I've come along way since then and believe myself to be a very effective politician. Unfortunately, I don't have any plaques or trophies to validate my awesomeness. All I can ever show for my accomplishments is friends or enemies. Enemies who pray I don't how up to game or friends who enjoyed our games together and look forward to future battles.

I'm sure I haven't been the only one to fall into this trap. Looking back, multiple factors influenced my behavior. We all start in the lower ranks of planeswalking. Our initial desire is to become better. I remember gorging myself on article after article to find ways to improve my game. The veterans would hack away at my decks like I was nothing. All of my enemy's cards, decks and play were superior to mine. I wanted nothing more than to be able to stand toe to toe against my superiors. I continued to follow the path towards the darkside till I was winning and winning a lot. It took awhile for me to realize that winning was all I was doing. I wasn't having fun anymore. No one was having fun.

People Let You Win

Winning casual games depends more on your opponent's choices then your own. I'm not discounting deck tech or a person's level of skill. In multiplayer, there are two or more opponents. I only have seven cards in hand at the beginning of the game. They have fourteen or more. It is very conceited to think I can take down say five other players with only my play skill and deck tech. If five other players focused all their resources on taking me out of the game, the likely outcome is I would lose. There is simply no way, minus a game of Archenemy, I could win. The ratio of my cards against theirs is one to five.

If I do win, it is because Billy used his Swords to Plowshares on Sara's Blightsteel Collosus instead of my Darksteel Collosus, Wasteland on my Andy's Cabal Coffers out of spite instead of my Academy Ruins, and etc. If I were playing against one other player, I bet your bottom dollar my opponent would have used his/her Swords to Plowshares and Wasteland on my Darksteel Collosus and Academy Ruins. I won because my opponent's focus and energy was redirected somewhere else.

A large casual game is like storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. A person can't storm the beach on a solo mission and expect to be victorious. There are about twelve gun turrets willing to argue otherwise. If you survived a game of Commander, it was because some planeswalker was slinging their spells at some other unfortunate soul. A single spell at any given moment would have ended my game. A good game will often have a player asking: why me?

League of Extraordinary Magic Players

Once out of the mind-frame of: I have to beat everyone, the next big step is to acknowledge a game of casual is four players and I against one other player. A person needs to realize they don’t just start a game with seven cards. A player actually starts the game with forty two cards. Each card is a resource I can manipulate or control. In a round about way, I am talking about politics. That is a later subject. What I want to focus on is players really need to act as each card on the table is their own. Each other player is my lackey. Opponent A’s Primeval Titan is mine. Opponent B’s Phyrexian Arena is mine. Everything is mine. A Sleight of Hand, a pact made, a bargain here, and I can get Opponent A to attack Opponent C with Primeval Titan and Opponent B to use those extra cards drawn to sling at Opponent C.

I can imagine that some people may be reading this and going, well duh. However, time and time again, people are entranced with only the cards in their hand. This isn’t standard; it is multiplayer. Winning entails more than you. Storming a beach takes more than one guy. A successful player needs a team of assassins, friends, and pawns. Let me put it another way, somebody casts a Wrath of God. I have a Charging Troll in play. I have a Repulse in my hand and mana to cast it. I could bounce my troll and save it. In the situation, I am only thinking myself and being blinded by the need to win. What I should do is save the creature that will have the biggest impact on the game. If I had the option, I should save the Primeval Titan. It is not my creature, but I am willing to take that chance for the opportunity to watch the owner of Primeval Titan take revenge on the player who cast Wrath of God. Is this politics? Yes. Is it the smartest play? Maybe not. However, if I have my head stuck in the sand and only focus on myself, I won’t see those plays or build decks capable of those plays.

Mustn't be Afraid to Dream a Little Bit Bigger Darling

Currently, I am constructing a Commander deck around Hanna, Ship's Navigator. I fell into the winning trap myself as I started to pull out cards. The pile grew as I added Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, and cards like Persuasion. Besides being a really boring deck, I was trying to win. I wasn't thinking beyond my deck and what I wanted to do. Take Path to Exile. Great card. In the end, it will only do one thing. It will remove one creature out of the multitude of creatures I will encounter in the game. How about something with a little more kick like Insurrection? Now we are dreaming. The card gets absolutely crazy. I can stuff my deck with tons of cards like Maelstrom Pulse, Vindicate, and Putrefy. However, they won't win me the game, well, most of the time. Insurrection sure will though.

When a player has a good stuff deck, it is usually a sign the person doesn't play a whole lot of casual or still has standard on the brain. Sure, Vindicate is good against my Baneslayer Angel. Fine, I'll cast Myr Battlesphere, then Razormane Masticore, followed by Bonehoard, and finally Steel Hellkite. Even after all my permanents are gone, I draw Open the Vaults. Large games can swing around in a heartbeat like that with big plays. What are you going to do now with that Path to Exile in hand? Dream a little bigger.

Advocating for Bad Cards

Click to see some of the best creatures ever made for multiplayer.

Multiplayer takes a whole different mind frame when examining cards. It is hard to make the switch sometimes. I love the advocate cycle for multiplayer. They are awesome little creatures with powerful repeatable effects that can heavily influence the politics of the game. My favorite is Spurnmage Advocate. My ally gets attacked by Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. I let my ally sack four permanents, tap my Spurnmage Advocate to destroy Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and give my ally back two of the cards he/she sacrificed. Heck, the advocates don't even have to be useful to be effective. I can target a Blightsteel Colossus with Nullmage Advocate. At the same time, I return an ally's Grab the Reins and Swords to Plowshares back to their hand. If I don't feel like being nice, I can usually find something relatively harmless to return in a game with five other people and bountiful graveyards.

Think Multidimensional

Once out of me, me, me funk, different strategies open up and it expands deck building. Two cards that get over looked often are New Frontiers and Weird Harvest. Sure, it might be nice to have some synergy in my deck when adding these two gems, but the cards expand the game play. Weird Harvest has saved many games by allowing other players to search for problems in the game. In a game where Nicky has gone overboard recurring bad stuff with Academy Ruins, casting Weird Harvest allowed Sam to go fetch up an Avalanche Riders to save everyone from recurring Mindslaver hell. Cards like Weird Harvest are what I call multi-dimensional cards. It can be good for me and other players in the game.

I'm not just talking about Howling Mine. Proteus Staff is as multi-dimensional as it gets. It has three uses. I can use it on one of my puny creatures, help an ally ramp up to a bigger creature, and I can also use it against an enemy to rid the table of something troublesome. I would consider Swords to Plowshares to be a one dimensional card while Weird Harvest is two dimensional, and Proteus Staff being three dimensional. 3-D cards are vital because it expands the game play politically and strategically in essence giving me a lot of flexibility. Otherworldly Journey is a great 3-D card. I can save an ally’s creature, one of mine, or temporarily get rid of an enemies for a lethal attack.

Therefore, when considering two draw spells, I believe the correct choice is to go with the spell that says target player. It may seem odd at first even with the flexibility. The standard is I should be the one to draw cards. The problem is drawing cards from my deck may not always be the optimal choice. In a game where people are playing with creatures that need to unequivocally die, I may not have the deck best suited to deal with all the threats. Ken is playing deck full of creature removal. It would be much more effective to give Ken cards to deal with all the threats.

Crowning the King

It is always interesting to see how people fight to the bitter end in a large game even though that player may have no hope of winning. I suppose it is only natural since the web these days are filled to the brim with articles about winning, how to win, ways to win more, things to change to win, and how to keep on the winning train. In truth, thinking a player can always win in a game with six people is a little conceited. The odds are five to one. Those odds are not the greatest. Eventually, a casual player needs to come to terms with the fact they have no hope of winning. A valiant effort to stay in the game is honorable, but sometimes plain foolish. This doesn’t mean a losing player is devoid of a role to play in the game.

Even though players have less control over winning, players do have a lot of control on who wins the game. I can remember many games where I was one of three people still standing. I had already lost. The great news is I had enough of a board presence to sabotage one of the other players. If I attacked Sam, he would have to block and lose a single creature to my enormous Mortivore. This would in turn cause Sam to lose to Nicky and vice versa. Sure, I may not win the game, but I get to decide who will win. This can be said for the rest of the game as well. I have a lot of power in any given game to ensure Bob doesn’t win. Bob is always playing some mega combo deck. I can instigate a feud to ensure Bob drains all his resources against my attacks leaving him vulnerable.

Fun in the Summer Sun

Personally, I can’t wait for Christmas in June. It can be reasonably assumed the new Commander decks will cause an influx of new players into the format. Thus, I have a favor to ask. Be nice to Arthur and don't touch his loaded die. Eames would appreciate it.


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