Baghdad Bazaar: The Lorwyn Multiplayer Review

A set analysis can be a daunting task, as you can spend days reviewing every possible implication and interaction in a block that R&D had months to put together. And the notion that all your research could easily be disproven in a two mere weeks does little for the nerves.

Fortunately, for my first set review "EVAH," I decided to use the most forgiving of lenses: the multiplayer format. Specifically, the Free-for-All arena (although many of the following points are also valid for Two-Headed Giant). Cards and combos that would be unthinkable in a head-to-head format suddenly become plausible. Since multiplayer is not yet DCI-sanctioned, there's no money on the line and no pressure to take out your opponents on turn 3. Or 4. Or even turn 10. (Although the Grand Royale in this year's GenCon was a step in the right direction.) Cards with a converted mana cost of 5 or 6 or higher no longer need to win you the game; they merely need to help you survive the other four people's attacks. Or win with a little added flair.

Timmy and Johnny love this format. Spike...not so much; his world is Standard. Here, however, his uber-efficient Tarmogoyf just draws four times as much hatred.

Anyway, in my last article, I talked about cards that come into their own in a game where some peoples gang up on other peoples--often not you. I'll quickly recap the major thoughts:

You'd best respect!

1. Mainboarded answers.
Multiplayer games don't have a second and third game you can sideboard for. Therefore, artifact or enchantment removal needs to be in the mainboard if you're ever planning to see it (Wishes aside, and there are none in Lorwyn). That said, it would help if your mainboarded Naturalize had a body to it, like Indrik Stomphowler.

2. Cheap blockers.
Gruul decks are bad enough when you play them one-on-one. Imagine playing with three to four others, with all of them aiming for you. A Wall of Glare might be just the thing to let you survive till the mid-game.

3. Effects that get more powerful with more players.
Think of cards like Syphon Mind, Blatant Thievery, or Brightflame. Even Browbeat is abruptly useable, as no one wants to be that one to get set 5 life points back. (At least, not with my group.) Sometimes it's not just the mechanics of cards that make them better in multiplayer; sometimes it's the subtle implications.

4. Effects that can make friends/useful slaves.
This has to do with the cheap (yet fun!) politics in multiplayer; effects that can spot-target another person or their permanents can buy you a temporary friend. A good example would be Compulsive Research vs. Counsel of the Soratami. Even the silly Howling Mine makes you everyone's friend until (hopefully) your win combo is in hand.

I'm going to throw in a few more ideas that have occurred to me since that article:

5. Long-term resource advantage.
Quick Boros/Grull-style decks work well in one-on-one play, but spending all one's resources to take out a single player leaves one dangerously open. Consequently, Free-for-All favors slower play styles. And, with that, cards like Vesuva, Walk the Aeons, or Phyrexian Arena that let you build up resources faster than your friends. Especially for combo decks.

6. Life-gain.
*Shudder* It takes a lot of courage to say this, but life-gain cards are actually pretty decent in multiplayer. When your friends are flinging Sulfurous Blasts or Squall Lines at each other, keeping ahead in life might be your only way to face down the scuffle's victor. Plus, life-gain can combo well with a lot of great multiplayer finishers like Coalhauler Swine or Bond of Agony.

All right! Our muscles are stretched and warmed up. Onto the set review!

Doing a card-by-card review of Lorwyn would be both tedious and pointless. Technically, every card can be used somehow, somewhen. And anyone can point out that Mulldrifter is a fantastic little package or that the Tribal Double Lands can be at least as good as the Ravnica Shocklands. My first goal is to spotlight the cards that come into their own in multiplayer. I'll arrange them by the aforementioned categories.

1. Mainboarded answers.

Akroma's Vengeance meets Solar Tide.
Or maybe it's just a metronome and a
Austere Command. The entire Command cycle is impressive. The White Command not only gives you the power of a Akroma's Vengeance for the same price, it lets you set up the board-reset to advantage you the most. The higher converted mana cost means it'll probably be cheaper to buy than a straight-up Wrath of God; but it should be both perfect for the slower tempo of multiplayer.

Oblivion Ring. I wouldn't put more than 2 or 3 in a multiplayer decklist, since you'll likely be holding onto it until the turn you're ready to make an enemy. That being said, this card is removal that can hit all, I mean six types of permanents and requires a specific sort of answer to be in the opponent's hand. Use it to cripple the biggest threat as the weaker players band together.

Wispmare. All the removal Evokers should be considered for multiplayer (although some are more cost-efficient than others). Imagine if Indrik Stomphowler was a split card with Naturalize. That's essentially what the Evoke mechanic does. Plus, Evoke cards can give you needed warm body to swing with, which makes the card useful even if there isn't an enchantment in play to destroy.

Shriekmaw. More of the same. Nekrataal's little-known cousin. Too bad the Blue one isn't so hot in multiplayer.

Ingot Chewer. The Evoke artifact killer. Sorry, no Nantuko Husk in this block.

2. Cheap blockers.

Deathtouch much?

Pollen Lullaby. If you plan on using this card, also plan on revealing it once you draw it (since game rules allow you to reveal information in a hidden zone you're privy to). Fearing losing the Clash, the other players should leave you alone for some time. Other than that...I wouldn't use this card so much.

Thoughtweft Trio. Certainly a cheaper option than Lairwatch Giant, and it can hold off a hoarde of enemy weenies.

Dread. The Ferrett already previewed this card here, so I won't step on his toes. This is hardly a "cheap" blocker, but no one will attack you for a very long time. (I'm not sure it's as "all that" as The Ferrett was proclaiming; but then again, it was his job to preview the card. And when you preview a card, you have to make it sound like the best thing since sliced cheese.)

Garruk Wildspeaker. Those 3/3's he makes work just as well as blockers, convincing your friend to attack elsewhere first. Plus, he's a great mana boost for those expensive creatures Green is always wanting to cast.

Wren's Run Packmaster. Deathtouch is one of those things that just make people not attack you. Not sure why that is.

3. Effects that get more powerful with more players.

She looks like my mom. No,
seriously. She looks just like
my mom. Should I be nervous?
Cryptic Command. I was going to pass this card off with a simple "It's the Command cycle; of course it's good!" until I noticed the key phrase: "Tap all creatures your opponents control." This can affect between 5 and 20 creatures, depending on the game state. Don't underestimate this card.

Forced Fruition. I can't decide if this is a Howling Mine-like way to make friends quickly or an obvious Megrim combo waiting to happen. Either way, it sounds like a load of fun to play.

Guile. Cards like Twincast and Spelljack are much easier to play in multiplayer, when you have that many more chances of copying a useful spell. This creature is no different, but be prepared to defend yourself against three to four uneasy opponents.

Sower of Temptation. A multiplayer game gives you more potential targets for the steal ability, but be prepared for angry opponents.

Cairn Wanderer. This is the definition of a card that gets more powerful in multiplayer. Just wait for one of the ubiquitous Wrath of Gods to hit first, then let the fun begin.

Dreamspoiler Witches. If you're thinking of a permissions/removal deck, this might be just the little extra boost it needs.

Faerie Tauntings. Just like the last card, but even more so. If you can protect your own, this sets you up for a Bond of Agony-style finisher.

Final Revels. A more expensive Infest, but with the option of powering an alpha-strike for a win.

Liliana Vess. Oh. My. Gosh. The combo takes a little help to set up, but the rewards in multiplayer could be well-worth the wait. Particularly with how often creatures hit the 'yards.

Weed Strangle. One of those Clash cards that just might be worth trying out in a Free-for-All.

Ashling the Pilgrim. Another Sulfurous Blast-style card that's useful in multiplayer.

Heatshimmer. More players means more good targets for this spell.

Consume Spirit? I don't think so!
Hurly Burly. Yes, this is an actual phrase; I heard it first in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Anyway, with this card and Rough//Tumble now legal, does this mean Red is shifting towards flier hatred as well? Hopefully R&D doesn't give them too many reliable weapons.

Incendiary Command. Too bad it's a sorcery, but it's still definitely got potential. The most promising modes in multiplayer are the 2 damage to each creature and discarding everyone's hand--a tactic that could work for or against you.

Thundercloud Shaman. A Sulfurous Blast effect attached to a body in a Giant Tribal deck. Worth a second look.

Wild Ricochet. Oh ho ho ho. I love the cut of this card's jib. Remember what I said about Heatshimmer? I'm going to stick this one in my Twincast/Blatant Thievery deck.

Cloudthresher. This time, a Squall Line on legs. Worth using against my multiplayer metagame, which focuses on fliers.

4. Effects that can make friends/useful slaves.

Arbiter of Knollridge. I can see this card doing two things: buying you a few friends after someone has landed a Kokusho in their graveyard; and perhaps setting up a funky win combo with Bond of Agony or something.

Brigid, Hero of Kinsbaile. This card is both a handy way to keep people from targeting you ("Attack me and DIE!") and to severely handicap the player you want to lose first. (Really, any card that says "attacking or blocking creature" falls in this category, but this card here is rather potent.)

I'd hate to see the dad...

Crib Swap. Instant-speed creature removal is always worth a second look, but being able to remove a hasty Akroma or prevent a Kokusho from hitting the graveyard will make friends like no other.

Oblivion Ring. I mentioned this one earlier, but open-ended spot removal that can take care of enemy Visaras or Oppositions will go far in buying allies. Especially if the affected player hit has no anti-enchantment in hand.

Ameboid Changeling. This card might work in a deck that doles out bonuses to particular creature types (Shared Triumph) or punishments (Engineered Plague).

Ego Erasure. Another good incentive for people not to mess with you or your hood.

Jace Berelen. This planeswalker is difficult to use as a win condition, but when used as a free Words of Wisdom or a targetted Obsessive Search per turn, it can keep you in till the very last turn of the game.

Wings of Velis Vel. The entire Velis Vel cycle, being able to target any creature, can help or hinder the other players. This is an example of one of the more useful ones.

Hunter of Eyeblights. As long as you can keep one alive, you can use this to make a slave of a friend's win condition. Fortunately, this is not one of those abilities that is messed up if your creature leaves play for a bit (ala Isochron Scepter).

Nettlevine Blight. This is a great way to destroy a stalemate or threaten a player into being an ally. Multiplayer games don't end quickly, and you're almost guaranteed of this card taking out an important creature and a few lands on the side.

Um...I couldn't think of a caption
for this one.

Ashling's Prerogative. This card can be set up to help your friends and hinder your enemies.

Hunt Down. Notice that at no point does this card mention any creature you control. Wipe out some of your friends' creatures the easy way!

Incremental Growth. Another spell that you can use to boost your temporary allies.

Lace with Moonglove. Green has so many of these spot-boosts in Lorwyn that I should stop commenting on them.

Lignify. A Utopia Vow that you wouldn't mind casting on one of your own creatures, time to time.

Nath of the Gilt-Leaf. Most people can't stand discard...unless it's hitting someone else. This card can destroy the hand of the "deck to beat," while putting chump blockers into play at the same time. I'd buy it for a quarter. I'd buy it for a lot more than that, actually.

5. Long-term resource advantage.

As you'd expect, Blue gets its share of options for drawing cards (Mulldrifter) or library manipulation (the new Portent). What surprised me, however, is how Wizards spread the card-draw loving around all five colors this time (Surge of Thoughtweft, Peppersmoke, Giant's Ire, Masked Admirers, etc.). It looks like we players won't have to dip so much into Blue anymore.

Sakura-Tribe Elder's much, much
bigger brother.
However, if you really want cards that will help set you up for the end-game, you'd best be turning to the king color of resources: Green. Here's some examples:

Primal Command. A sorcery, yes, but one that can be both a Feldon's Cane and an Eladamri's Call at once. Plus, a little life-gain on the side never hurt.
Sylvan Echoes. A Clash deck would have to contain many cards with high converted mana curves. Guess what Green's also good at? Powering out expensive creatures. I see a beautiful friendship here.
Seedguide Ash. This is decently priced for its body, and most smart players will stay away from the tempo boost and deck thinning that killing it grants.

There's also a few Lorwyn artifacts that can help you conserve your resources. They'll work fine with any color, but I think they'd benefit Green the most:

Colfenor's Urn. Although you're up the creek against a Akroma's Vengeance, this card can give you all sorts of card advantage if unanswered. And a chance to get those expensive creatures back.
Deathrender. Imagine being able to put in a Guardian of Cloverdell for free. I see this card as being very, very breakable...just think of "187-effects" like Nekrataal's. Keep an eye out for combos that use this card. But even Spikes will appreciate this card: it's the first equipment I've seen that not only prevents the 2-for-1 trade that enchantments set up, it stops it from being a trade at all.

6. Life-gain.

Ajani Goldmane. For only 2WW, he gives you 2 free life a turn. Plus, he can make your cheap defenders stronger. Plus, he's immune to most of the removal out there, and he can pump the very creatures that protect him. Subtle enough not to be a giant bull's eye, yet perhaps the tool you need to both bump you into the late-game and give you a final, massive win condition. Ajani gets my vote for multiplayer MVP from Lorwyn.

Brion Stoutarm. (Yes, but how does he gain life from chucking people? Does he eat them afterwards?)

And, sadly, that's pretty much it for Whitish. Straight-up life-gain has been delegated to Green this block; White has to use a creature somehow, with Lifelink or something like Soaring Hope. (Which has already gotten the official Sorrow's Path Trophy for Excellence.) Here are some of the better Green choices:

Elvish Eulogist. In this article, The Ferrett names Elves as the strongest tribe in multiplayer. I can certainly see the promise for just the Lorwyn elves as well. Here's another card to complement your Wellwisher.

Heal the Scars. After all, no one said it had to be your creature...

Primal Command. And I mentioned this earlier.

Oh look! A bonus section!

7. Cards to straight-up avoid!

Here are cards that will get you killed (or worse) in a Free-for-All.

"Attack me now!" never looked so good.

Favor the Mighty. Although this card does little in and of itself, everyone else at the table will be waiting for the Darksteel Colossus that goes with it. Expect immediate hatred.

Oona's Prowler. This is enough of a Juzam Djinn gamble in a one-on-one game. In multiplayer, expect this card never to swing for 3 when it matters. And to help that one friend of yours that actually uses a Madness deck.

Exiled Boggart. More of the same.

Thoughtseize. This new Duress might be the thing to cripple one of your three/four opponents, but it'll spook the rest into taking you out quick-like.

Gaddock Teeg. I think this will be a fun card in Standard. In multiplayer, however, it's just going to tick off your friends and their Burn/Syphon decks. This card might make you more of a target than it's worth.

Howltooth Hollow. You probably don't need me to tell you that only a Myojin of Night's Reach would really be able to set this game state up in multiplayer. And if you do that, you probably don't need the special land to win anyway.

8. Final, overall impressions.

I've not done a set review before; and as such, I hardly trust any initial vibes on the overall mechanics, interactions, etc. However, that doesn't mean I didn't notice a thing or two...

a. The Tribes.

Since Lorwyin focuses so heavily on the Tribal theme, most of the cards can only be examined in the context of a Tribal deck built to abuse them. Technically, any tribe/deck can win if it's not bothered until the end-game. However, here are my thoughts on the Lorwyin tribes that have the best shot:

The Kithkin.
The Kithkin tribe, true to their spoilers, are adept at controlling the combat phase (Galepowder Mage) and punishing people for attacking you (Surge of Thoughtweft). Their synergy should buy you time until the end-game.

The Merrow.
Although the Lorwyn Merfolk have an Azorius-flavor, most of their effects can hit only one player (Drowner of Secrets) or permanent (Merrow Reejerey). They're better fitted for one-on-one action than Free-for-Alls.

The Goblins.
The Goblins suffer from the same problems as the Merrow: a lot of great, pinpoint effects that can control a duel but just draw flak in multiplayer.

The Faeries.
Faerie Trickery looks like a fun, new Hinder. And it's a pretty good representative of Faerie power--metamagic trickery and countering. "Teh", I mean Teferi would be proud; but don't expect the effects to go far in multiplayer.

As if Legacy elves needed any more help.

The Elves.
As I mentioned before, Elves have been rated highly for multiplayer, with explosive speed, overall power, tutoring effects, and life-gain. The same is true for the Lorwyn elves. Not to mention we have some tribal-based removal now. Mix them up with the Legacy elves or don't; either way, they're a force to be reckoned with.

The Giants.
Thundercloud Shaman could make a Giant-theme deck work in multiplayer. Other than that, pure size doesn't matter as much in multiplayer as it does in Limited duels. The Giants are best paired with some other color or tribe.

The Elementals.
I don't know if I'd build an Elemental deck based around just the Lorwyn representatives, but the Evokers and Incarnation cycle cards certainly pack a punch. I'd use Elementals, not as a tribe, but as options for maindecked removal or special tricks.

The Treefolk.
Timber Protector makes Treefolk plausible in multiplayer. Sit back behind a non-WoGable wall, wait for the others to settle their differences, then trample in with something like Dauntless Dourbark. And Doran, the Seige Tower certainly helps with a defensive strategy. Treefolk are at the top of my list for multiplayer playability.

The Goats.
What? Goats? Hopefully this turns out to be more than just another Steamflogger Boss. I want a Goat tribal deck. I wants it!

Keep in mind that cards like Caterwauling Boggart and Elvish Branchbender can make for some pretty interesting synergies between tribes. Without resorting to cards from other sets, though, it's difficult to judge if they'd be any better than a mono-Tribal deck. We'll find out in time, I'm sure.

Four out of five doctors say Magic players like things being ranked. So if I had to rank the tribes' potential in multiplayer, I'd pick Treefolk first, then Elves, then Kithkin.

b. The Colors.

With Kithkin as the major White creature type, and Ajani as a solid card to back up defensive strategies, White is in second place for colors for multiplayer useability. White's always been good at holding off impending disaster and spot-removing troubling creatures, and its resilience should give it a solid chance in Free-for-All.

Blue has always been good at controlling a single player on the other side of the table. Merfolk and Faeries are no different. But they're woefully underpowered against three to four opponents.

If you're dipping into Black for Elves, then good for you. If you're going for Goblins, you'd better be backing them up with the Onslaught block.

Same as Blue and Black. Red is excellent at pinpoint damage, but it's only cards like Ashling's Prerogative that can go the distance in multiplayer. So unless you're planning to hang back until the end-game, when there's only one other player to worry about, don't go mono-Red in multiplayer.

I'm going to take a moment to make a bold prediction. After looking at the bonuses and boons of each color/tribe, my money's on Green for multiplayer. Or Green and some splash. Green has the lion's share of reliable life-gain, solid defenders, spot boosters, long-term resource advantage, and decent game finishers. You could go either the Elvish or Treefolk route (or both) and come out with solid decks.

c. New Mechanics.

Unless the friends you play with are complete N00BZ, they'll understand the importance of removal...instant-speed removal. And the more people there are at the same table, the more likely there's someone who can clear your side of the board at the worst possible moment. Plus, a Champion creature is hardly the topdeck you need after the frequent board resetters like Wrath of God or the Stone. I'd avoid this mechanic in multiplayer like the Pox.

Although not as risky, this mechanic is best alone unless you have a deck built to abuse it (like Erratic Explosion or Kaboom! decks). That being said, the mechanic is slightly more powerful in multiplayer than in duels, as all cards that use Clash say "Clash with an opponent." In other words, you can pick on the weenie aggro deck in your group; punish it for its cheap, efficient spells; and get something extra out of the deal. If nothing else, the mechanic fits in with the chaotic, haphazard action of most Free-for-All games. Just a thought.

(Hmm, all the new mechanics this block start with C. Coincidence? It's conceivable.) I see this making more of an impact in Standard/Limited. I don't see this making any difference in multiplayer unless all your friends are already playing with Tribal decks.

The Planeswalkers.
If the other mechanics left me feeling underwhelmed, the inclusion of the Planeswalker type more than made up. Thanks to the slower speed of the format, planeswalkers are much more viable in multiplayer. Plus, they're flavorful, they're fun, and Multiplayer emphasizes these values more so than other formats. The five we've been given are certainly all useable in multiplayer; I look forward to new additions to the card type.

And those are my thoughts! What are yours? Any cards or themes I missed or undervalued for multiplayer? Any you think couldn't possible be worth all the hype? Let me know in the forums! I'll meet you there.


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