The city never sleeps. As the lines of wiped out commuters made their way home for the night, the bars and restaurants were just starting to fill up. I was feeling pretty chilled that night, winding my way through the crowds listening to some funky beats on my 'pod. I was in no kind of hurry, but I'm never all that hungry in hot weather anyway, so I passed on the fancy stuff and dropped in to my favourite noodle bar for a quick pot of worms.
"Singapore and sausage, diet coke for me, saucer of milk for the cat."
My cat sat up on the counter next to me, knowing perfectly well that it was not allowed to. "So," it said, "drafting tonight?"
The cat was teasing me, of course. It knew I didn't plan on drafting. After a hard day at work, a guy's got to relax, right? You might think there's a hundred games in town - and you'd be right - but the gentleman's game of choice has never been in doubt: Two-Headed Giant, Extended, Timed. If that got a nod and a smile from you, then good, you know your stuff. If not, read on anyway and you might learn something. Magic's finest hour isn't any of that sanctioned stuff for sure.
We headed over to the club - Magic Online's Multiplayer Room. Now, I won't lie to you. There is some serious dodgy stuff that goes on in there. I've seen six player chaos tables where four of the six lost connection and had to be booted. I've seen freeform games with guys running five avatars. And undeclared team decks. And then, there are the players who wander in with their four hundred card stack consisting of the ten 9th Ed drafts they lost all mashed up together. But in the gaps between all that crazy stuff, an extraordinary game is played that spans the world. And for the uninitiated, let me explain some of the subtlety behind the choices:
Why 2HG: Playing with a partner, you get a different game every time - and far more so than you would merely playing something like highlander. You have to think differently. And the game is way more social. Sometimes, you'll get a little table talk in a duel, but 2HG table talk is on a whole different level. It's not about trash talking your opponents, either - or if you really feel the need, I suggest taking lessons from the swordsmaster of Monkey Island in preference to asterisking your way around the bad language filter.
Cards that don't break
Classic #114: Wha?
Cards that don't break
Classic #114: Wha?
Why Extended: With online Classic only having a few more cards than Extended, you might think there's no point. Wrong. Extended is used for the banned list. Any time you want to play against a deck running 4 x Skullclamp, Classic is the format for you.
Why Timed: 2HG games are almost always over inside an hour and a half, so why is a two hour timer so essential? Well... turns out that all the clowns, asshats, terrorists and buffoons avoid timed games! So selecting timed is like saying: "I'd like to play with people who don't suck, please". You won't regret it.
That night, the Multiplayer Room was pretty crowded. The cat spotted a table with a couple of free seats and dashed between the legs of the kibitzers to reserve me a place. I sat down, greeted the other two players and started shuffling my deck. My cat prefers to watch than play most of the time, so we chatted while I waited for a partner. Looking around the room, I could see quite a number of players I recognised.
"Seems like a lot of big names in town tonight," I remarked.
The cat looked up from washing her ears and snorted in amusement, "Right. Like there are any big names in two-headed giant. I didn't see anyone arriving in a Rolls, did you?"
"No," I conceded, "But who turns up to a virtual space in a Rolls anyway? Might as well go the whole way and arrive on a flying pirate ship with laser cannons, right?"
"We walked," the cat pointed out.
"Well yes, but I didn't want to undermine my own metaphor thing, did I? The idea is that we're these super-cool subculture heroes. The reader of the article identifies with us a little but we're also role models as we slowly remove our shades and scope out the room. With a snap of our fingers, the hottest bar girl brings my Mai Tai over and..."
"The only part of that which made any sense," the cat said, "was the word 'subculture'. Even then, the 'culture' part is somewhat open to debate."
My cat was saved from my witty response which would totally have won the debate by the arrival of a fourth for our table, who totally won the game. But wait, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here. Let's talk about deck types in 2HG.
Traditionally in Magic, decks are divided into three broad categories: Aggro, Control and Combo. Very approximately, a deck is a Control deck if it wins primarily by stopping the opponent. A Combo deck wins by assembling some set of cards which, due to some interaction between them, are enormously powerful. An Aggro deck just aims to deal damage as quickly as possible.
In 2HG, things are very different. Each team of two players has 30 life, so the pace of the game is slower. When you clear the board, you destroy stuff belonging to both opponents. When you deal arbitrarily large amounts of damage, you still win. In other words, Control and Combo are very strong and, as you might expect, pairing one Combo deck and one Control deck is a good way to win. Now you might think that would mean Aggro decks would never show up on account of being woefully underpowered. Well... no they aren't.
You want to see how my partner's deck dealt thirty damage so quickly? Take a look at this:
|rchik's DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards|
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Uktabi Drake
4 Primal Forcemage
4 Yamivaya Dryad
4 Greater Good
4 Giant Growth
4 Evolution Charm
That's not an exact decklist. That's my transcription from memory. I saw every card at the time because... he drew his entire deck apart from a few cards. (And he could have drawn those, too, if he'd wanted to lose the game at instant speed.)
There are two cards at the heart of this deck: Primal Forcemage and Greater Good. With both in play, the deck can play one of its eleven hasty Green creatures (all of which have some kind of evasion-like ability), get pumps from the Forcemage, hit for substantial damage, then sac the creature to Greater Good for a hand refill. This process fuels itself and becomes fatal to the opponents remarkably quickly.
Why is this deck so good for 2HG? Well, to start with, the haste creatures make it somewhat resistant to the mass removal which most Control decks use to defend against Aggro. Secondly, the deck only runs a single Enchantment and no Artifacts. Even that Enchantment will typically make itself useful the same turn it is played, leaving opponents few opportunities to deal with it efficiently. But most of all, this deck is mono-colored and starts fast. With many of the strongest 2HG decks taking six or seven turns to become fully operational, this speed is a powerful weapon. Note the difference between this and a fast duel deck. It would be possible to deal 20 much faster, but that's not useful when the aim is to deal 30. (And, in fact, rchik's development of the deck took place before the rules change dropping the life total - it used to be 40 points per team!)
Of course, in 2HG it's unwise to play solitaire. And yet, in some ways an Aggro deck is perfect support for any partner. It puts true pressure on the opponents, forcing them to focus on the threat and expend resources. Had rchik's deck not gone the distance in this case, I would have been left with ten mana on the table across all five colors, an active Muse Vessel and a Grinning Totem. Oh, and a Mindslaver in hand.
"What was your deck all about anyway?" the cat asked, prodding it contemptuously with one paw, "Nothing much in there except mana acceleration and a couple of Mindslavers. Are you just trying to be as annoying as possible?"
James Stewart is just looking for decklists.
James Stewart is just looking for decklists.
"Not at all," I said, deftly avoiding the usual arguments over Mindslaver, "this deck is perfectly designed for its purpose."
"And what purpose is that, if not annoying people? Accumulating excess mana?"
"Nope. Looking at other people's decks."
So then I had to explain the whole concept to the cat.
What goes on in the Multiplayer Room is remarkable. Players from all over the world gather there to play. Some of them are extraordinarily dedicated to their art, too. These people are Magic players on every level - strategists, collectors, deckbuilders... and just playing to have fun.
But nobody cares, right?
Not true. Like Faith No More, I care a lot. And whilst Wizards spends millions of dollars promoting the Pro Tour and trying to persuade us to like a bunch of grumpy poker players, nobody promotes 2HG. Until now.
That, I explained to my cat, was the point of my deck. I was researching. Looking at people's decks. Because tough, dedicated, serious journalists like myself always have to go right in where the action is and get the story first hand.
"Hold on a sec," the cat held up a paw, stopping me in mid-enthuse, "Last time you got all excited about an online writing project was that bizarre thing about telling stories with Magic for which you got absolutely no entries to your competition. Exactly as I predicted."
"I got three entries. Two of them were pretty good too."
After reminding me that he'd won our bet, the cat took a quick victory lap around the Magic table, then stopped listening to me.
But joking apart, 2HG really doesn't get the coverage it deserves given its popularity online. So an irregular series of articles on the subject seems like a good idea. The "irregular" part being more a nod to realism than a planned feature.
So what can you expect? Decklists. Interesting nuggets of strategic wisdom. Random namechecks for cool players I've run into online. And potentially even match reports on particularly interesting games - though don't get too excited since there isn't one today.
When the cat returned from its victory lap, I informed it that I expected its help with my articles.
"What do you expect me to do?"
"You get to do the bit where you pick out an interesting card or strategy and write briefly about it for the benefit of anyone who hasn't seen it before."
"Because you're too lazy? No thanks. I've got a busy sleep schedule this week. No time."
"Oh, I sympathise. I'm too busy to feed you. That's how busy I am. If only someone would take some of my burdensome article writing work off my hands."
We played several more games, and as the evening wore on, the cat became more into the idea of the column I'd proposed. By the end of the evening, he was introducing himself with the line: "I'm a famous internet writer. He's my butler". The second part was a bit too close for comfort.
Emboldened by our success at turning paper sideways and at being international Magic journalist superstars, I talked a few people into giving me decklists. Amongst them was a guy named roobarb9, whom you will doubtless have seen in the Multiplayer Room if you're in anywhere near the right timezone. (Note to the rest of you: yes, you live in the wrong timezone. Sort your lives out!)
I'll let you take a look at the list first. Discussion later.
First thing that probably jumps out at you if you're an experienced player is the low land count. Is that wise in 2HG? Well... all is not quite as it seems here. To start with, there are four Birds of Paradise, two Farseek and two Living Wish, any of which can find additional land. Secondly, the deck runs three Krosan Verge, which play like two land each in most circumstances. Lastly, if the deck can reach five mana, it then has access to Mirari's Wake and Gilded Lotus to cast big spells with.
Next thing that catches the eye is the number of one-ofs and two-ofs. There are two reasons for this. First, the deck runs several tutors, so even a one-of serves as a good tutor target. Second - and more importantly - 2HG is a casual format. The aim is not usually to construct the most outrageously powerful deck possible. Yes, this deck runs a lot of powerful cards, but it's geared up to be versatile more than focused. Tuning a deck is important to casual formats just as it is for tournament play, but the tuning is carried out with different goals in mind.
For me, though, what makes this a particularly well constructed 2HG deck is something I noticed watching it play. It's very interactive. The deck is controllish in nature and roobarb9 pilots it well, playing close attention to both the specific threats the opponents are playing and his partner's deck and how it wins.
It's also very pretty, since roobarb9 has taken the time to get hold of foil versions of every single card in the deck!
Glancing over the decklist, my cat shook its head sadly.
"Do you have any idea," it said, "how many cans of tuna I could buy for the price of that deck?"
"Lots?" I hazarded.
"So that's your idea of a Hero of 2HG is it? Someone with an expensive deck?"
"Not necessarily. Anyone who's fun to play with, doesn't disconnect when they're losing, plays a good game, builds good decks, and generally makes my time here more enjoyable. You don't need an expensive deck to achieve that - rchik's deck won't set you back many tickets - but equally, I've got no time for the kind of inverse snobbery where people with four Chrome Mox and all-Foil decks come in for criticism."
There are plenty of low cost
alternatives to expensive
There are plenty of low cost
alternatives to expensive
There's something I should clarify here. I said earlier that the city never sleeps. But individuals within the city, people like me, don't do so well without sleep. After half a dozen matches it was definitely time to call it a night.
Just as we were heading out of the door a scruffy-looking student type ran up to me calling "Wait!". He then unrolled a piece of paper from his pocket and began to read from it.
"Suppose I... want to send in... a decklist. What is... the email address... to do that?"
"Dude," the cat whispered to him, "that was rubbish. Completely unconvincing."
"It doesn't work that way," I replied, unwilling to deviate from my cleverly prepared script, "there's only one way to feature in Heroes of 2HG. You have to play the game. If I'm watching your game or playing against you or with you and you or your deck seems interesting, you could make the big time. But if you're not there... If you're not playing games... you're not part of the scene."
I flipped my shades on and we walked out into the cool night air and noise, lights, and smells of the city.
(Then I removed my shades again. Because I wanted to see where I was going.)