Sometimes, you forget how fun Magic use to be. I’m not talking about back in the days of Urza block where every card was good. I’m talking about back in the days when we tournament players just started playing Magic. Moving from being a casual player to a tournament player is a lot like a kid becoming an adult, if you think about it. You don’t find stuff you did as a kid fun anymore. In fact, some of us might make fun of kids (and shame on you if you do. I mean, no one was born an adult right?).
So why am I talking about this? Well, a friend of mine and I entered the Two-Headed Giant sealed deck event at the Prerelease instead of a regular flight. We opened Living Inferno,Golgari-Grave Troll, Firemane Angel, Ghost Council of Orzhova and Debtor's Knell between us, along with some pretty cool removal like Faith's Fetters, Pyromatics, Savage Twister, and Brainspoil. We made R/G/w and B/W decks. We did pretty well, and we also had a lot of fun. In between matches, we had time to get a couple of games in before the next round. We would also generally be talking about multiplayer, since that was what Two-Headed Giant was. We were still talking about it after we went 3-1, won 10 packs, and started to head back to my house.
All this talk got me thinking of the good ol’ days, back when I was in high school, and every Friday night after the Magic tournament ended we would all go to Denny’s and play multiplayer. It was a really small tournament crowd (about 8 people), so everyone went. This went on for a couple of months, and then the Denny’s went out of business and no other place open that late would let us play cards. But it was fun while it lasted. . . .
Why play multiplayer?
So why play multiplayer? Why not just play Constructed events forever and ever? There are a couple of reasons:
Bigger card pool: You might be saying, “What are you talking about? The cardpool is the same!” Yeah, there might be the same number of cards overall, but there is a very different number of playable cards in each format. In Standard, there are probably a little over 50 playable cards, but for multiplayer, the list gets a lot bigger because the strategy is different (I’ll get to that later).
Cheaper: Most of the cards that are playable in multiplayer are also pretty cheap, because multiplayer isn’t a popular format. Constructed is by far the most popular, and the cards that sell for the most are generally going to be ones that are best in Constructed.
Multiplayer is always different: Constructed has a strict set of rules that players must follow, but with multiplayer, you can play variants and house rules if you want to change it up (I’ll mention some of these variants later). The addition of more people to the game makes it hard for the games to be the same, so you never know what to expect.
More fun: Multiplayer is always more fun than Constructed. The only reason Constructed is more popular is because a) it is both fun and competitive, and b) Wizards makes more money off of Constructed than Multiplayer games, so that’s why there are more Constructed tournaments. Constructed will bring you intense competition and the satisfaction of winning a game. Multiplayer will bring you relaxing game play with some close friends, and a good, cheap way to kill a lot of time.
Believe it or not, there is more to multiplayer than just throwing down Serra Angels. But the strategy in multiplayer is far different from the strategy of Constructed.
The most important rule
Like I said before, there is a HUGE difference in the strategy of multiplayer and the strategy of Constructed. In Constructed, the way to win is to do something to your opponent that wins you the game, whether it’s decking them, playing Battle of Wits, or simply reducing their life total to 0. The key word is you. As in, your opponent isn’t going to help you win; you have to do it yourself. In multiplayer, you don’t have to kill your opponents until it’s down to one-on-one, and that makes all the difference. So what’s the most important rule? Survival. You don’t have to win in multiplayer; you just have to “not lose.” There are a couple of ways to go about not losing in multiplayer.
Don’t draw attention to yourself.
If you get anything out of this article in terms of strategy, this is it. In the early stages of the multiplayer game, people are simply playing creatures and setting up. But when they are able to play their big spells, who do you think they are going to use them on? The guy that looks like the biggest threat. I don’t care how good your deck is, you can’t try and take on five other guys.
What’s the best way not to draw attention to yourself? Well, the best way is not to play cards that piss people off. In a two-player game, playing Tooth and Nail and getting Sundering Titan and Kiki-Jiki might be a good strategy. In multiplayer, however, that strategy isn’t going to last that long because, out of the 20+ other cards in your opponents' hands, one of them is going to be some kind of removal, and guess what they are going to target?
And do you think that after they kill your creatures they will just sit back and not attack you for the rest of the game? No, they will keep attacking you because they want to kill you before you pull off another Tooth and Nail and kill them.
Make them not want to attack you.
In just one-on-one, the only available person to attack is your lone opponent. But in multiplayer, you have a wide variety of players to attack. If people don’t attack you, it makes it harder for you to lose the game, right? And if you don’t lose the game, it means you win, which is the whole point.
Your opponents have to have a reason for not attacking you. One way to keep people from attacking you is to threaten them with retaliation. For instance, you have a 5/5 out and your opponent has a 4/4 flier out. He’s thinking about attacking you, but he figures that, if he attacks you and deals 4 damage to you in the air, you will probably retaliate and attack him.
You can go a step further and keep them from attacking without having creatures to attack them back. If you had a 3/6 guy out and your opponent had a 5/5, he would probably rather attack a player he can damage than just attack you for the hell of it. So basically, what I’m saying is, building a defense can be a good thing, because it makes people not want to attack you (Yay!!) and it doesn’t draw attention to yourself. (Double Yay!!!)
In theory, you could still keep people from attacking you without having creatures at all on the table. If you have a hand chock-full of removal, and you make it known that you are only going to use it on anyone who attacks you (whether it be by telling them or showing by example), then they will probably take the hint and not attack you. Of course, this isn’t always the best strategy because some random guy with an elf deck could swing at you with six creatures. In the end, you need a little bit of all strategies to keep your opponents from attacking you.
Play off other peoples' emotions.
Politics plays a big role in multiplayer. If the US just started randomly bombing countries, do you think they would just take it in stride? In the same way, you don’t want to just start attacking random people. If you screw someone over (by killing their creature, or attacking them), make sure they can’t somehow get you back. The key is to not make too many enemies.
While some of your actions will make enemies, some will also gain you allies. One of the obvious things that will gain you an ally is preventing damage to someone else’s creature with a Master Apothecary. But you could also gain an ally by Mortifying one of his enemy’s creatures. You probably gain an enemy, but you also gain an ally. You could probably gain more than one ally by killing a threat that everyone on the table worries about. They won’t attack you for the rest of the game, assuming you don’t give them any reason to.
If you don’t have any “allies” yet because it’s the very beginning of the game, you could try and play off their emotions with a little acting. For instance, I get mana screwed and I don’t get any creatures in play for the first six turns. From people attacking me, I’m down to 5 life and someone has 5 damage in attackers that can hit me. The smart thing to do would be to attack me, because I can’t attack back, and he won’t gain an enemy since I’m dead. But if I start complaining how it sucks to be mana screwed, the guy might feel bad for me and not attack. Some people think this is a dirty trick, but then again, some people think that its not “honorable” to kill someone who got mana screwed (I think if you get mana screwed, you either built your deck wrong or it's just statistics catching up with you; nothing wrong with attacking them in my book).
The basic form of multiplayer is T1 Free-for-all. But depending on the group you are in, you might want to make some house rules. For instance, you might change the format to Free-for-all with only Extended-legal cards if most of your group is new to the game, or you could restrict it as far as T2 or Block. It just depends on what you guys agree on. If most of the people involved in the multiplayer group only like playing [i]Invasion and Onslaught Blocks, you can use just those Blocks.
I mentioned Free-for-all as the basic form of multiplayer. There are many other variants, and I’ll list some with their explanations here:
Emperor – It’s a three-on-three team competition. All of your team is on one side of the table. One of your teammates is called the Emperor and he sits in the center of your group. The other two guys are called the Lieutenants. You lose when the emperor dies. The catch is that you can only attack the player one person away from you in any direction AROUND the table. So generally you attack the Lieutenant across from you and, if you kill him, you can go straight after their Emperor. You can also pass cards to your teammates. This lets your Emperor play creatures and hand them out to your teammates, so they aren’t just sitting there doing nothing.
Two-Headed Giant – There are official rules for Two-Headed Giant here. [The CompRules also contain the official rules for other multiplayer variants discussed in this article. -Ed.] But in general, it’s two-on-two and the team that gets their opponents from 40 to 0 wins.
Rogue – This format is a lot like Free-for-all, but before the game, you pass out a card to everyone face-up (the cards should be numbered 1 thru however many players there are). This is your “number.” Then you pass out another set of cards face-down (the cards should be numbered the same way). This number is the person whom you are allowed to attack. You can only attack the player number on your card, but once you attack him, he is allowed to attack you back no matter what the numbers are. If both of your numbers are the same, that means you are a “rogue” and can attack anyone (keep in mind they can attack you back if you do). The first time you attack someone, if you are a rogue, you should flip the other card over to prove it so no one thinks you are cheating.
Vanguard- In this game you make a list of simple static abilities like, “All creatures gain haste,” or “All spells cost more to play.” Try and get 5-10 abilities. Then randomly select one, and that effect is true the entire game. It’s fun because you have to design your deck in a way that it will gain an advantage from most of the abilities on the list. And the game is different every time because the effect is different.
Mo’land – There’s an interesting story here. This is a format I made up originally for Constructed because I got bored of the regular format for a while and wanted something new. I was an online judge for e-league at the time, so I ran a “Mo’land tournament,” meaning that I had to post the rules online. I posted the rules, ran the tournament, someone won it (not me), and that was the last time I ran a “Mo’land tournament” on e-league because I stopped playing Apprentice.
That was about three years ago. I was trying to do a Google search for the website with the rules list, hoping that somehow it would still be around, but knowing it probably wouldn’t. What’s funny is that I found a rules website, but it wasn’t the one that I put on there. Someone else put up an official Mo’land rules website that had similar rules for the format, but with the same name. All this time, they were using a format I created three years ago for online tournaments. Am I the only one that appreciates that? If I had patented that name I could be making millions (OK, not millions)! If only, if only. . . .
The original rules are here, but the people that I play this format with have updated the rules a bit. In the “new” rules, any card with the word “land” on it anywhere is banned (this makes it impossible to abuse the lack of lands in your deck). You can remove any card in your hand from the game and put into play a land that produces the same color(s) of mana that you would have to spend to play that card. So this means Cromat is a painless City of Brass. Other than that, it’s just simple Free-for-all.
So what have we learned? Multiplayer is good, cheap fun, despite not being as popular as Constructed and Limited formats. Don't forget that there are tons of different multiplayer formats, including Free-for-all, Emperor, and Rogue. Be creative and make your own format for multiplayer! I've shown you my invented format (Mo'land), so don't be afraid to come up with your own set of rules. We talked about Multiplayer strategy. Remember, the Golden Rule of multiplayer strategy is survival, so don't draw attention to yourself.
I've said all I can say about multiplayer and how fun it can be. All that's left to do is have fun making decks and hanging out with your friends.
Editing: Dr. Tom)