The Art of War and Magic: The Sequel! (2/13)



Heck, its about time...

I'd like to apologise for my incredibly unprofessional lapse in writingness. Basically, I forgot how to resize images. For two months. But now that that's settled, let's continue with chapter two!

1. Sun Tzu said: In the operations of war, where there are in the field a thousand swift chariots, as many heavy chariots, and a hundred thousand mail-clad soldiers, with provisions enough to carry them a thousand mile, the expenditure at home and at the front, including entertainment of guests, small items such as glue and paint, and sums spent on chariots and armor, will reach the total of a thousand ounces of silver per day. Such is the cost of raising an army of 100,000 men.


War costs resources. When you go into kill a guy in EDH, you need to be aware that everything you do costs something. When you sling a fireball, it costs you a card and a whole turn's worth of mana (assuming it's not a wimpy fireball, like wimps use). If you send in your attackers, it costs you a turn's worth of creatures and the chance to use those creatures as blockers. In a quantum sense, whenever you attack one player, you lose the chance to attack every other player with that creature. When you let one attacker die so that another attacker can get through, you're losing, even if you kill that player.

Ask yourself when you construct your deck: "How many of my cards can flat-out kill someone all by their lonesome? How many of my cards can kill someone with a buddy or two? How long will it take for my X cards to succeed?"

Examples
Sharuum + Sculpting Steel + Disciple of the Vault = 3 cards, infinite opponents, one turn.
Earthcraft + Squirrel Nest = 2 cards, infinite opponents, two turns (because those squirrels don't have haste without a third card).
Eager Cadet = 1 card, 1 opponent, 40 turns.
General = 1 card, 1 opponent, (21 / power) turns.

Ask yourself: do you have what it takes to kill an entire table of opponents? To answer yes, you ideally need at least one 'infinite opponents' combination of no more than three cards, no more than two turns.

Bryndon's Grand Hokum of Deckbuilding:*
Chance of Victory as percentage = [(number of combos you possess) + (number of tutors you possess) – (the number of cards in that combo)] + [(your general's power) + (number of power/toughness boosting equipments) + ((number of auras that boost power/toughness) / 2)] + [(number of Wraths in deck) + (number of creatures with power greater than 5 and evasion)] x 100%


*Disclaimer: I never failed high school maths. In fact, I looked at my average results during the two year sample period I had available to me, realised that I peaked at a C- during the first half of the semester where you were assessed on introductory concepts and went down to a D+ during the latter half when I was being assessed on the advanced concepts. I waited until the last semester of Gr. 12 to drop Maths B (I was allowed a "spare class" because I was in English Extension), meaning that my report card states fairly clearly that I got a C-, ergo I passed, ergo I'm a mathematician, ergo this equation is clearly 100% accurate and scientifically tested.

2. When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.


Object lesson: the group I play EDH with used to play multiplayer with a slightly bigger group of people. Amongst them were two guys who turned up to every tournament together, built their decks together, shared advice and generally were inseparable. Except in multiplayer, where each and every game, they would start by ignoring the rest of the table to swing at each other. That's it. Did I join in, ever? No. No, I did not. They were quite capable of killing each other, time and time again.

In EDH, look for the two people who just want to kill each other first and the rest of the table second, in the ridiculously unlikely chance that they survive. Let them have their fight, don't bother joining in. They're expending cards on making the single opponent and themselves weaker, which is the ideal situation for you. It's worth noting that in a situation where two people are busy fighting each other from the time the game starts until one of them is knocked out, they're probably new to the game or new to multiplayer, which means they don't run very many Wrath effects. That's good, because their fighting and eventual losing is almost entirely self-contained.

3. Again, if the campaign is protracted, the resources of the State will not be equal to the strain.


Sun Tzu repeats himself, sometimes. When he does, that makes it doubly true. You cannot win a war of attrition against the entire table. You can play an aggro deck, but that's an entirely different kettle of fish, which will be covered in the "Of Fish and Kettles" chapter of The Art of War (which is chapter 7).

4. Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue.

Always attempt to be the "other chieftains". Keep a low profile until you absolutely have to show what you're made of to avoid being face-smashed. In the early to mid-game, there is one kind of monster that can attack: Angels; or, rather, big, evasive monsters with vigilance. Vigilance is king in multiplayer. It doesn't matter if a creature is equally good at attacking or blocking unless it will actually manage to do both in one round of play.

5. Thus, though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been seen associated with long delays.


I don't recommend attempting to take on the entire table in a war of attrition, nor do I advise throwing out your big dumb monsters just because they're in your hand if you have no way of ensuring it actually connects or countermagic to back it up.

But – you need to do one thing each turn that gets you closer to winning. Drawing extra cards or getting extra lands are really great moves that let you dig for your win condition, all without scaring your opponents. When you get your win condition in hand, look around the table. Are there two Islands untapped? If not, it's time to end the game. Sitting around and waiting in the interests of letting a game continue means that you miss out on your big chance to win and lets the game state stagnate.

6. There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.


Obvious political soap-boxing aside, let's consider this in terms of Magic.

Real winners don't "toy" with their opponents. If someone is far behind on resources and you can kill them with absolutely no chance of retaliation, make the kill. Don't wait for any reason. If you do wait, one of two things will happen: you'll say something trite about "just wanting to see what their deck does", they'll do their thing and you'll die, at which point the game becomes meaningless because you're all like "But I totally had you on the ropes" and they're like "But then you were stupid". Alternatively, you'll spend half an hour of everyone's time rummaging about for your "totally sweet combo", only to realise that the seventh piece was exiled early on in the game. If someone is making you sit through their half-hour victory lap around the table, concede and shuffle up again without them.

7. It is only one who is thoroughly acquainted with the evils of war that can thoroughly understand the profitable way of carrying it on.



Let's turn that frown into a smile! I command it.
The subtle science of war profiteering is all in extracting value from your opponents. Early beaters are at their best when they have lifelink, have Curiosity attached to them, or are Ninjas. All these things improve your own situation even as they edge your opponent closer and closer to the sweet spot – the sweet spot of their freshly dug graves.

Later on in the game, profit comes from the big effects that let you take their stuff and use it for your own nefarious ends. For example, Mindslaver - yes, you can use it to lock a guy down, which is okay. You can use it to kill someone with an easily abused permanent like Necropotence, which is efficient but does nothing to offset the massive loss of political capital. You can use it as a substitute for diplomacy and just mind control a hapless rival into doing your bidding, or you can potentially use it to set up something "awesome" (according to anecdote, that still hasn't happened yet in the history of EDH)

8. The skillful soldier does not raise a second levy, neither are his supply-wagons loaded more than twice.


In the early game, everyone is busy with the "first phase of multiplayer", in which there is a turn or two of peace and quiet before someone tries to combo or someone feels it has become necessary to Wrath. During this time, you can squeeze your deck for card advantage, or spend your second turn tutoring for a combo piece instead of dropping a wall. But once the first phase is over, you cannot ignore the board completely in favour of improving your hand. When you tap out to draw more cards while an opponent has a legitimate threat on the table, that's the point where you're raising a second levy.

9. Bring war material with you from home, but forage on the enemy. Thus the army will have food enough for its needs.


Load your deck to the teeth with every threat you own, but if you have some spare room, might I suggest some budget utility cards like Ray of Command or even the incredibly accessible Rise from the Grave? Using your opponent's threats gives you diversity and this glorious feeling of power deep in your spine.

10. Poverty of the State exchequer causes an army to be maintained by contributions from a distance. Contributing to maintain an army at a distance causes the people to be impoverished.


Do not over-extend. The probability of a board-wipe is 1. If you play every creature as soon as you draw it, you will lose your creatures.

"Pro multiplayer" legends such as Alongi and the Ferrett do not play their big creatures just because they drew them. They hold them in their hand, because that's where your creature is safest. Then, when the inevitable board-wipe finally arrives, they drop them onto the field with a cruel chuckle.

11. On the other hand, the proximity of an army causes prices to go up; and high prices cause the people's substance to be drained away.
12. When their substance is drained away, the peasantry will be afflicted by heavy exactions.
13. With this loss of substance and exhaustion of strength, the homes of the people will be stripped bare, and three-tenths of their income will be dissipated;
14. While government expenses for broken chariots, worn-out horses, breast-plates and helmets, bows and arrows, spears and shields, protective mantles, draught-oxen and heavy wagons, will amount to four-tenths of its total revenue.



Exhibit A
The other cardinal sin of multiplayer is under-extending. Under-extending comes from the way you build your deck and the attitude you take to Magic. If you're very new, very paranoid or very sure that counterspells are the only cards worth playing, you're vulnerable to under-extending.

Under-extending is the practise of building your deck with reactive cards, like Doom Blade and Terror, instead of deterrents like Wall of Blossoms and Fog Bank. Spot removal has its place, but it's not the places in your deck reserved for early game defence. Spot removal is for killing generals, picking off utility creatures, and taking out imposing defenders, where mass removal won't do. Walls are for protecting you and preserving life points in the early game, so play them. Thanks to Rise of the Eldrazi coming out since I started writing this, there are now plenty of really, really good answers available to you. Spot removal is not the answer.

The difference between spot removal and the kind of removal that works in multiplayer is the "rattlesnake" factor, popularised by Anthony Alongi many years ago. If it just kills a creature, it wasn't built for multiplayer. Seals are absolutely amazing in multiplayer. In a magical christmasland scenario, you can play the card on turn three, use it and some parleying to buy yourself a free "fog" effect on turn four, count on a Wrath by turn five and not have to pop it until turn six, the point where most decks will be starting to play their beefier critters. Other amazing multiplayer removal cards are Ashes to Ashes, Reckless Spite, Slaughter, Snuff Out, Slaughter Pact, Sickening Shoal and Shining Shoal. You can also look into Swords to Plowshares variants that theoretically "make you a friend in the process", but don't count on the friend part.

15. Hence a wise general makes a point of foraging on the enemy. One cartload of the enemy's provisions is equivalent to twenty of one's own, and likewise a single picul of his provender is equivalent to twenty from one's own store.


What's better – Terroring an attacking creature, or using Ray of Command to steal another creature from the same opponent and have both of your opponent's creatures die in a blaze of glorious card advantage?

Grab the Reins is your best friend if you're playing red. It's an absolutely gorgeous card.

16. Now in order to kill the enemy, our men must be roused to anger; that there may be advantage from defeating the enemy, they must have their rewards.


When playing politically, you need to unite your allies against a common foe. The best way to do that is to give them a reason to be really angry with that common foe. In the context of the game, you can point out that they could potentially combo out (if your group hates combos) or if they're running a "jerkface" strategy. In these cases, it's best not to lie. Outside of the game, just lean back and ask your victim casually "Hey, I heard you're hanging out with Clarissa. Isn't that cool, guys? That he's dating Clarissa now? Yeah, I'm as surprised as you that Clarissa's decided to go out with him so soon after she left you. That's kind of weird. Anyway, it's your attack phase. Who are you swinging at?"

In terms of rewards, think about the rewards for yourself and for your allies when you size up an opponent. Will you get anything out of them being dead? (Perhaps their Rule of Law being gone will give you the free room you need to combo out, or perhaps their The Abyss is hampering your expansions.) Can you kill them in one go, or will they be able to attack back? If they attack back, can I afford to attack back? Will this turn into a full on war of attrition? How long can I last? Will someone join in on my side? How about his? If everyone ignores both of us, will one of them become a bigger threat in the time it takes me to finish this fight? Will I have to fight a war on two fronts?

17. Therefore in chariot fighting, when ten or more chariots have been taken, those should be rewarded who took the first. Our own flags should be substituted for those of the enemy, and the chariots mingled and used in conjunction with ours. The captured soldiers should be kindly treated and kept.


Take note of which cards really work for you. If they hit the field and your opponents simply slump in their chairs, consider devoting more deck space to cards that synergise with your winning strategies.

(I want you to know that I'm working really hard to abstract these concepts and then apply them to Magic. How do you go about giving a dragon a chariot, anyway? When the sentences are short or there's some four quotes grouped together, its pretty much "Abstraction in Action" time.)

18. This is called, using the conquered foe to augment one's own strength.


There is one point at which you can afford to leave a wounded player alive. You may remember a little-known franchise called Civilization. At times, when you are on the verge of killing an opponent, they will send a diplomat to your court and offer to become a vassal. If you accept, they enter into an unbreakable alliance with you and all their resources become yours to do with as you see fit. In Magic, there's no such thing as a truly unbreakable alliance, but there is a close substitute. In Magic, this is that marvelous moment when you reveal to your opponent that he's on two life and you're holding Sudden Shock. From now on, as long as you can keep 1R open, all his decisions will be relayed through you. This is a dangerous kind of alliance, but it's a fun relationship to play out.

19. In war, then, let your great object be victory, not lengthy campaigns.


In a general sense, you should play multiplayer because you love playing games with all your friends and you enjoy slightly longer games. But remember, "extra people" and "extra time" are a fundamental part of multiplayer. You don't need to do anything to improve on what's already a feature of multiplayer games. Play to win from the first turn of the game. It's a good thing if players die and its good if big things happen each turn that can end the game right there. If the game ends, you can fit in more multiplayer and everyone who died can come back to play again! If the game doesn't end, it won't be because everyone is traipsing around pretending like they aren't already holding their best cards, it's because there's legitimately awesome things happening each turn that are being met with legitimately awesome counter-threats.

Also, try this on for size:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/05/11/090511fa_fact_gladwell?printable=true

We can learn three things from this -
1) Victory is victory.
If you're not cheating and the cards aren't banned, any effective combination of cards that leads to victory is a good thing for you and for the health of your group. Games stagnate when you start refusing to allow your opponents to play their best cards. Its philosophically the same as giving everyone in the group a free Cranial Extraction/Counterspell split card.

2) Sometimes, you're the underdog.
When you're the underdog, you can either change the way the game is played or you can be flattened by a steamroller. Sun Tzu doesn't help us here at all. Why? Because if Sun Tzu really existed*, he was in the employ of a king, with the resources of a kingdom behind him. There was never a period in his life when he was "the underdog". Sun Tzu is the institution. Where possible, I'll try to point out how this affects his thinking and what you can do to fight the man/power/organisation/what-have-you.

3) If you play basketball against the Harlem Globetrotters, go for a full-court press.
(and you thought I was all about Magic. In fact, I have a lot of interests to keep me occupied. Finding a way to free the world from the iron grip of the Globetrotters' fascism is just one of the things that keeps me up at night).


If they win, we have to wear those shorts for all of eternity. Are your legs terrific enough to exist in that future?

20. Thus it may be known that the leader of armies is the arbiter of the people's fate, the man on whom it depends whether the nation shall be in peace or in peril.


In Magic, the game is never equal. One guy always has a better deck, one guy is always a newer player. You can still win if you accept that the process of beating a really tough opponent starts with deckbuilding. If you're on a budget, you can still play toe-to-toe with the big scary decks that eat lesser decks for breakfast. You can get great board sweepers, infinite combos, and big smashy-face creatures for the price of a booster. You can also pick up hosers for most killer cards for significantly less than the cost of the killer cards. Finding the Tinker - http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=sb20010607a - lays out the skeleton for the nine different kinds of competitive decks** and how each one in turn gets their face smashed in by another deck. In short - if you want to get good, or if you are good, it has nothing to do with cards or the luck of the draw or the rampant brokenness of the other guy's deck. It has everything to do with you.

In conclusion, what have we learned?
Thrashing your opponents all at once requires a deck designed to thrash opponents all at once, whether that means playing like an archenemy or playing possum until you can go in for the kill.

Your opponents are a valuable resource, treasure them and give them cuddles.

You cannot convince your pieces of cardboard to ride chariots (or "given a choice between staying on topic and having something relevant to say, I'll go for the second.")

The best way to achieve victory is to start trying to win from the very first turn.

In the end, a really good game of Magic has nothing to do with cards.

Join me next month (or sooner!) when we cover "Attack by Stratagem". I won't lie to you, there will be some gems and some of them will get strata-ed.

* Check out the wikipedia article to learn more about the guy we're covering: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun_Tzu

** Having only nine kinds of decks isn't enough, you say? It's okay. It seems like it cuts back on the number of possibilities, but consider this: a competitive fighting game could easily have nine different characters with a few hundred unique "moves" between them and be awarded for its variety. You can have a "red deck" and have it mean straight burn, ponza, "big red" or just "40 red cards from a shoebox plus 20 Mountains", or even Ashling+99 Mountains. Having nine deck types isn't a restriction, its a tool to help you understand what it is you're trying to make when you start building a deck.

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