The Quest for Multiplayer: My Masterpiece

The Quest For Multiplayer Magic - My Masterpiece

The Origins

I'm a Blue-Red addict. I think my passion for the combination was triggered early in my Magic-playing life by this Stronghold preconstructed deck called "The Sparkler". I think this may be the most widely beloved precon ever, since pretty much everyone who's into precons says wonders about it, and I'm no exception. I find it hardly surprising.

This deck is a work of genius, and it's a shame they don't make them like this anymore. I think I can honestly say that no single thing contributed more to my advancement than this little gem. It introduced me to a new concept, the creatureless (or almost creatureless) deck. It had a great rulebook that explained its general goal, gave a few strategic tips (in much more depth and with much less hysteria than today's "New! Amazing! Filled with Useless! Garbage!, Mentioning every possible Amazing! Overwhelming! Three-Card combo! That will absolutely crush your opponents! Only when you actually play, it just Crashes! and Burns! Like the pile it is!" precons), and suggestions on how to improve the deck - and even a decklist with what an "Advanced Version" could look like. Good times indeed. I tinkered with it a bit, cutting some chaff and adding some of my best cards (and my collection was very small at the time, consisting of something like 15 starters and a few Homelands boosters) to create an extremely dominant deck among my friends.

Since then, I've made quite a few more U/R decks. Most have been sparkled by some card in the combination that I really liked. The latest such card is Izzet Chronarch.

I've always been a fan of Anarchist and Scrivener. I love graveyard recursion. Most of my decks tend to have some recursive element, if not being outright based on recycling stuff. That said, I've always found those two buggers a little overcosted and limited. Being limited to instants cuts you out from some of the most powerful effects in the game. Sorceries-only gives you access to those backbreakers, but blunts the ability to respond to opponents, which is especially critical in multiplayer. A mix seems sub-optimal, as the risk to draw the guys without suitable targets is too great (and playing eight or even six five-mana 2/2s is out of question).

Enter Izzet Chronarch. The added versatility for essentially the same cost makes all the difference, and led me to build this deck:

My MasterpieceMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
Creatures (12)
2 Izzet Guildmage
2 Flametongue Kavu
1 Scrivener
4 Izzet Chronarch
1 Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
2 Djinn Illuminatus

Noncreature Spells (26)
2 Lightning Bolt
4 Swords to Plowshares
4 Lightning Helix
1 Isochron Scepter
4 Sun Droplet
2 Crystal Shard
2 Dismantling Blow
2 Ghostway
2 Congregate
2 Wrath of God
1 Resurrection

Land (23)
1 Plains
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Mountain
1 Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
1 Volcanic Island
3 Steam Vents
1 Shivan Reef
1 Izzet Boilerworks
1 Flooded Strand
2 Hallowed Fountain
2 Adarkar Wastes
1 Coastal Tower
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Boros Garrison
1 Reflecting Pool

The Cards

I call it My Masterpiece, not because it's the best deck the world has ever seen, but because it's the most satisfying pile of cards I've yet to throw into the chaos jungle. I'm sure this looks like a pile. However, at the multiplayer table, this can often dominate five players actively attacking it, and this is when they already know what it does. Barring manascrew, I don't think this ever failed to win a game where everybody didn't know what it was up to.

It looks harmless at the beginning. You don't really do much besides playing Sun Droplets and removing whatever is attacking you until you hit six mana. By then, you're operating on full power and are very difficult to stop, barring graveyard hate (which is almost non-existent in my group).

The main plan for the deck, and the reason I added White, is the Chronarch/Ghostway interaction. With two Chronarchs on table, you can remove your creatures and, when they return, pick up Ghostway and another spell. This allows you, for example, to Wrath every turn without losing your creatures for 4WWW. Or just throw Lightning Helix at people's heads. Why do I only have two copies of this key card? Powerful as it is, it's kind of narrow. It's only really good when you're going for the win, or when someone plays a mass removal spell. It's a late game card, and I believe two is the right number here. Besides, while the Chronarch/Ghostway interaction is the inspiration for the deck, it's often not needed to win. Djinn Illuminatus plus Lightning Bolt make for some outrageous turns, often taking out multiple opponents in one swoop. And when there is no Wrath available, ten Swords to Plowshares make a good proxy.

Now, all this takes some time to set up. This deck doesn't have many early plays except for the cheap removal. And anyone with some multiplayer experience knows that's usually not enough; your opponents see you defenseless and will probably take their chances. They'll eat removal, sure, but meanwhile you've burned a card you wouldn't have if you had a blocker out. So how do we get that time?

Sun Droplet is the MVP here. This card is an absolute house, and I would go as far as to say it could be the best multiplayer artifact ever. A bold claim, I know, but apart from Nevinyrral's Disk, Oblivion Stone, and Mind's Eye, I can't really think of any others that can compete. It's cheap, gets better the more players are around, gets better in multiples, doesn't draw too much hate (nobody wants to waste their precious, precious artifact removal on a stupid lifegain card, as long as you're the one tracking life - if it's someone else, expect the poor schmuck who has to hear "on the upkeep, gain 1 life" and write it down every single turn to throw the first Disenchant he draws at it), and makes attacks feel rather pointless. It's unbelievable the amount of time this little gem buys.

As for the rest of the card selections:

Swords to Plowshares - a no-brainer, the best pinpoint removal spell ever is an auto-include in any White deck, even more so when you can machine-gun it courtesy of Djinn Illuminatus.

The Dragon - I like to have at least one big finisher, and here I opted for Niv-Mizzet. This is one of the few situations where the sub-optimal card isn't there because of lack of better choices. The obvious card here would be Eternal Dragon; it gets you any color of mana you need via fetching duals, and is self-recursive. However, I find myself including it in every deck containing White, and it's getting old. Niv-Mizzet seemed like fun, and he does win games when he lives. I am, however, considering trying Numot, the Devastator in his place, because he seems... well, devastating!

Lightning Bolt - Why is the best burn spell ever a two-of? While it is probably better than Lightning Helix in a duel, in multiplayer Helix clearly wins out. Bolt is redundant one-mana removal with Swords to Plowshares, great for inspiring The Fear in your opponents for their attacking creatures' safety during the all important early game, before Sun Droplets are online. But most of all, it is in the deck because Lightning Bolt + Djinn Illuminatus = 21 damage to the noggin, GG an alarming amount of times, something no other burn spell can replicate (pun intended), at least not as easily.

Come to think of it, that Urza's Saga expansion symbol looks like
the one from
Unglued, if you squint a little. I wonder...
Congregate - just in case you've never seen this in multiplayer action and never read an article by the other multiplayer guys around the net: this is the best lifegain spell ever made for multiplayer, and probably will always remain so unless R&D lose their minds. You'd think they only get this silly in Un- sets (Granny's Payback is obsoleted from the word go). Make it into some kind of B.F.L. (Big Friggin' Lifegain) and the thing is probably still busted. It's not unusual for this to net 50+ life; it is very rare to use it for less than 20. And the look on your opponents' faces when you play it, replicated, with lethal damage on the stack? Priceless.

Izzet Guildmage - doesn't have the explosive potential of Djinn Illuminatus, but is a good early play, giving you a blocker on turn 2 and access to copying action on turn 4.

Dismantling Blow - I don't like being defenseless against artifacts and/or enchantments, and this is, in my opinion, the best option available if you have access to White and Blue, especially in a deck like this, with no straight card draw.
One word of caution, though. Be wary when playing this only for the sake of drawing two cards. I did that once, in a wide-open 6-player game. Everybody was developing their board positions, with no real feuds active. I was lacking in gas, and wanted to fill my hand. After a quick survey of the table, I decided my brother's Counterbalance (accompanied by Sensei's Divining Top) was the greatest threat. He was countering some stuff here and there, although not everything he could, and thus wasn't drawing much heat (maybe he's smarter than me?). He saw his top three, no 3cc, so a happy Mexaboy draws his two cards. I never got to play them, though. His next turn brought Scepter-Chant, targeting me every turn thereafter. He never even attacked me once. The other players, seeing my Big Bad Deck (it's built a reputation since its debut) defenseless, just pecked on me until I was dead, despite my warnings on who the real threat was. My brother just kept quietly building his board and dominated them one by one.

Flametongue Kavu - a pretty obvious choice in a deck that seeks to abuse CIP effects, and great early defense.

Crystal Shard - Another of my pet cards, this has amazing versatility, saving your guys from removal, allowing you to reuse CIP abilities, and setting back opponents who end their turn without two mana open.

Resurrection – while this may seem a little off, this deck really hates it when people are gunning for the Chronarchs. A single one of these will allow you (in combination with Crystal Shard or Ghostway) to get every Chronarch in the bin back into play, adding to the deck's resilience.

Isochron Scepter – with all those cheap instants, it would be stupid not to throw my single copy in, although I'm not sure I'd add more if I had them.

Lands – I'm really happy with the mana base. While 23 lands with no accelerators might seem short in a mana-hungry three-color deck, I rarely have mana problems. The Karoos help a lot here.

You might have noticed it adds to 61 cards. Again. I don't know why, but I can't seem to trim some of my multiplayer decks down to 60. I usually have no such problems building for duels. Call me a scrub if you will, but I blame it on the need of diversity the added foes bring. Sometimes, you just can't fit everything you need in 60 cards.

Mizzy in Comboland

One thing that may seem glaringly missing to some of you is the absence of infinite combos. With such combo-friendly stuff like Izzet Guildmage, Djinn Illumminatus, and Izzet Chronarch, why don't I have some way to win the game in one fell swoop (Pact of the Titan + haste or some sacrifice outlet comes to mind)? Allow me to sidetrack a little from the deck to share my view on combo.

He who never sinned...
I did throw an arbitrarily large combo at the people I was playing with, once. It was in college, with a playgroup that never really took off (not because of my "nasty" combo, but because of general lack of commitment the game by the guys there). It was (yet) an(other) Intruder Alarm deck. To my defense, I'll say it was very silly. It featured something like a ten-card combo, with only the two copies of Intruder Alarm I had, and involved Equilibrium, Ornithopter, Krosan Restorer (for infinite mana), Prodigal Sorcerer (for infinite damage), Memnarch (for controlling everything on the table), and Lightning Greaves (I seemed to really need to give haste to something, and it was nice protection for the fragile creatures). They were not very experienced (although the decks were not awful – they were certainly better than mine) so they never saw it coming. I actually went off against an active Avatar of Woe, which I eventually took control of, being repeatedly untapped (I dunno how, it had something to do with Neurok Stealthsuit but it sure made the combo even more difficult to execute). I recall this very fondly, because this one I felt like I really earned it. I do, however, also remember that the game was being awesome up to that point and then suddenly – BOOM – "Let's all go home guys, there's no time to start another anyway…"
Basically, I don't like it. It's not that I think combo is unfair. Far from that, multiplayer has a way of balancing everything - if you fire an overwhelming combo, chances are in the next game you won't live long enough to do it again.

So, what's the problem? Note that I have no qualms with combo in duels - I like my "arbitrarily large damage to the face" as much as the next guy, and actually need to get my fix every now and then. However, in my opinion, it goes against the very essence of multiplayer. What I like most about group games is the potential for epic battles. The amassing of powerful armies, only to be taken down by some powerful spell. The politics, the temporary alliances, the backstabbing. The outrageous comeback from the player who was spared on the brink of death. The guy dominating the entire table, with victory almost in his grasp, only to be taken down by the unlikeliest card, ripped from the top at the last possible moment... Combo typically takes one of these epic games and flushes it down the toilet. Everyone is trying to establish their position, and suddenly it's all over - all that's left is a bunch of long faces and a guy with a stupid grin on his face. Imagine that for their assault on Troy, the Greeks had, instead of employing Achilles, gotten themselves a timeshifted atomic bomb! While it would certainly be more efficient, what would you rather read about? The magnificently cunning and bold plan of the Trojan Horse, or the big crater that was left after the Trojan Nuke?

Worst of all, being the guy with the combo deck is usually a lose-lose situation, at least for me (I can understand that someone who has winning on top of their priorities might disagree). If you try to combo out and fizzle, good luck in lasting another round. No one wants to give you another chance to go off, so you'll be ganged up upon mercilessly. If you succeed, you get the rush from the win, of course (and I like, it, I won't lie), but it leaves this kind of sour taste in the mouth. Like you took some shortcut. Like you didn't earn it.

Interestingly, my group seems to share this point of view, though we never talked about it – I have yet to see one of us playing a combo deck (though one of the powerhouses of the group, Palito's Bird Deck, certainly seems like one sometimes). I'm sure someone will bring one sometime. I will not be the one to draw first blood, however.

Playing the Thing

The deck is a blast to play, and one of the things I like most about it is that it works equally well in both my favorite formats: Chaos Multiplayer and Emperor. On the emperor's seat, it's an amazing force. It is powerful and dominating without being overwhelming or ruining the fun. It doesn't really keep other people from playing the game (apart from the occasional Ghostway/Wrath of God silliness), and some ganging up and attack on its key cards (graveyard hate is especially nasty) can take it down. It also holds its own in duels.

I would like to talk about how the deck actually evolved from its first build, and how it fared from session to session. However, even though my earlier article was written first, this deck is actually over an year old (versus a couple of months for the Black one), had lots and lots of changes that I didn't record and was played extensively by and against me (by Inês, who is often too lazy to build her own decks, and my brother – who managed to win with it despite ganging up and some horrible play mistakes), so the details are sketchy.

I will, however, share the story of my favorite game I didn't win. It was a six-player chaos game, and the deck was performing just right. I had already eliminated three players, the ones which I considered the biggest threats, leaving me to face a neutered Elf player (which was empty-handed and had a bunch of lands and a single Llanowar Elf in play) and my brother's White deck which posed no real threat despite its WorshipPaladin en-VecAuriok Champion combination in play to my Djinn Illuminatus and Chronarch. I was at a comfortable life total, had a Sun Droplet full of counters, and had just played the Djinn, leaving me with just a Volcanic Island untapped for the Lightning Bolt in my hand. I passed, planning to get back Swords to Plowshares next turn, remove my brother's creatures and throwing replicated Bolts at his face, leaving me at ease to work on the other player's high life total. Pipina (the Elf player) drew her card, threw a puzzled look at it for a while, then her eyes sparkled. "Does this do what I think it does?" she asked the owner of the deck, showing him the card. That's when I knew I was doomed. She tapped all her lands, and slammed Biorhythm. This put me at 2 life. My brother was now within Bolt range, but protected by Worship. I killed her Elf in response, putting her out. The life I gained on my brother's upkeep was useless as his pro-red creatures sailed past mine, sealing the deal. Harsh? Yes. A glorious end to a glorious game? You betcha!

I'd also like to note that despite my opinion that it's only evolved for the better since the debut, its record is getting worse. It has become the Deck To Beat, and it shows. I used to be able to sneak by with sketchy hands and little early defense. Now I have to mulligan more aggressively, play tighter, and really hope for early Sun Droplets, or I risk being ran over. My suffering of the Best Player Syndrome also doesn't help. It still wins its share of games, but not as easily as before. Still as enjoyable to play as always, though!

Final Thoughts

After the article was already well into writing, and almost fully planned, I managed to get four Cunning Wishes, which I think are great additions to the deck. Replicating them is very nice, because you can get the ones already removed from the game and keep fetching whatever you need. It is untested in this form, so I won't say much about it. I simply took out the narrower cards in the deck (Congregate, Dismantling Blow and Resurrection – which now sits in the sideboard as a Wish target in the form of Miraculous Recovery) and made a small adjustment to the mana base. I will now carry with me a pile of 50+ instants that might come in handy. And with this, I finally trimmed it down to 60 cards!


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