It’s 10:00 p.m. and you’re sitting down at a table with four other players. Each of you pulls out your tried and tested deck, but you have no idea what the metagame is or how you’ll need to adapt. In a Type 1 multiplayer environment, you know that there are going to be wacky cards played. You can only hope that you will be the last one standing.
Sounds like fun? There’s Magic and then there’s old school Magic. I invite you to embrace the fun of designing and playing a multi-player deck. But in the play group I used to belong to, we had some rules that I would highly recommend:
1. No Cheesy Combos (Channel/Fireball, infinite combinations, etc.) This rule was easily enforced. If you refused to play by the rules, every other player would bind together to knock you out of the game. Not just the current game, but every other game that you chose to use the lame combo. Multi-player games can be ruthless.
2. Decks had to be at least 90 cards in size. Why? Just like the Prismatic games, having a variety of cards to play with can be fun and exciting. Your deck will never play exactly the same way in each game. Typically, the players in my group built 100 card decks.
3. Certain banned cards were allowed: Chaos Orb? Yes! Shahrazad? Yes, but not after 12 a.m. Be sure to work out the details with your group in advance. Here’s a little tidbit to remember: Dropping a Chaos Orb on a crowded table can be a heck of a lot of fun. You should see people's faces!
4. Bring more than one deck with you. If you’re playing all night long, build several style of decks. If you win one duel and there’s another match coming up, switch your deck to mask your playing style. Changing from a control deck to an aggressive one will throw players for a loop.
The rules above should be enough to get you started. Aside from a few modifications (allowing a few banned cards), the standard Type 1 restricted and banned list must be followed. Take your cards and see what you can build. The purpose is to have fun and not duplicate a Vintage tournament netdeck! I will include several decks through the course of the article to show you the type of decks that I played with in my large group games. Each deck that you build should have a different personality and a specific play style. Remember: learning how to build a deck that will outlast other monster decks is not easy.
You’re in the game for the long haul. You might be playing in a four player game or a 16 player game. You’ll never know. What you need to plan for is surviving a multi-pronged attack before you make it to your next turn. Here’s some advice: If you choose to build a Red burn deck, you might have lots of fun and take out one player, but you’ll be leaving yourself open for the rest of the game. Having renewable sources of damage and a good defense will help you survive. Having only burn spells isn’t going to cut it. Even with a fine-tuned burn deck, chances of your surviving an all-out attack from four other players will be slim.
Focus on your defense and think big! If you enjoy big fatties, then play that Shivan Dragon. Make sure that the creatures you play are the best of the best and give you the most for your money. This is not the time to play one shot deals like Ball Lightning (unless you have a way of reanimating them from the graveyard). The importance of building a good deck is to be able to focus on a target without appearing to be too much of a threat to everyone at once. For example, if you play many mass burn spells (like Earthquake), sooner or later you’re going to anger the entire group and people will turn on you.
Without a strong defense, you’ll be rolled over. Smacking someone with a Ball Lightning is great, but what are you going to block with if the other 3 players plan on attacking you before you get your next turn? That’s the fun part of multiplayer Magic; the format forces you to think in a different way. What works in a one-on-one game won’t necessarily work for the long haul.
When I build a multiplayer deck, I’d like to think I’m a jack of all trades. I need to find a way to: remove Creatures, Enchantments, Artifacts, and Lands. If I don’t have a means to do any of this, my chances of winning are going to be slim to none.
But sometimes playing a game isn’t about winning, it’s about good ‘ole revenge. What? Did I say revenge? Yep, that’s the beauty of multi-player games; you can play a nice long game and lose, but come back strong with a player hater deck.
Take a look at my “Burn, Baby Burn!” deck:
My “Burn, Baby Burn!” deck typically doesn’t win me lots of group games. However, I can normally take out one or two opponents. And that, my friend, leads me to my next topic…
Politics and the Kingmaker
In one-on-one play, the games are fairly straightforward. You attack your opponent and she responds in kind. However, the dynamics of a group game are much more complicated. The human elements of compassion and vengeance come into play. What do I mean? If a friend of yours was booted out early in the last game because he was mana screwed, you might think twice about beating down on him early in the next game.
My favorite reminiscence dealing with this topic is a story about two brothers. One brother would always protect the other brother—no matter what. Blood is thicker than water and our games proved it. No matter what the younger brother did to his older brother, the older brother would constantly defend his brother. No questions asked. But I am no innocent: my brother and I had an unwritten rule in that we would typically take everyone out on the board and then go head-to-head in a monster battle.
The politics of the playing field are more complicated than you might expect. First, you want to ask yourself: “what are the relationships each of the players have with each other?” Are players married? Dating? Close friends? Brothers? Does one player not get along with another? If you can learn the ins and outs of the relationships among the players, then you will have a better idea as to where you stand. Anyone who has played a multiplayer game must make this choice: “who do I attack first?”
And that’s the beauty of a multiplayer game. The games are more complicated and need to be thought out. No one wants to be seen as the aggressor because he will be weakening his position and leaving himself open to attack. In most free-for-all multiplayer games, there is a build up phase. Here’s a typical breakdown of a free-for-all group game:
Phase 1: Build up
Phase 2: Weakest (or most powerful) person is attacked
Phase 3: Another player helps defend the weak person
Phase 4: Feuds break out between players
Phase 5: And then there were two…
Phase 6: Victory
If you played Game 1 and knocked out a friend early in the game, don’t be surprised if your friend trains his guns on you in Game 2. Be prepared for the onslaught. Politics can make or break a game. I’ve seen players try to bribe other players: “Hey, if you tap that Serra Angel, I’ll buy you a soda!” It’s actually kind of funny to see what type of deals players will make to stay alive in a game. Some words of advice: Learn to either take the high road by avoiding the politics or play to win. A multi-player game consists of allies, betrayals, and forming secret alliances.
Another important political aspect is the role of Kingmaker. If you’re about to be knocked out of the game, you have a choice: Go out in a blaze of glory or go silently? Often a person being knocked out can be put into the position of Kingmaker. If your hand is filled with creature removal, burn spells, or you have several Icy Manipulators on the board, you can damage the opponent who took you out, to strengthen remaining players. And in large games, when it comes down to three players, the weaker player can set up another player for the win. Your role may not be that of champion, but you can be the person who puts the King of the match on the throne. And don’t be surprised if the newly made King remembers you in the next game. Ah, politics. You either have to love them or find a way to survive them.
If you’re not into playing the political struggle, here’s a deck that will help you stick around and pull off a win:
My “Leave Me Alone” Deck:
You’ll notice a good amount of defense in the deck and some non-targetable creatures. Again, a good defense makes an excellent offense. Pay attention with how you build a deck and you can remain powerful without appearing to be a threat. Although, a well-played Multani, Maro-Sorcerer will definitely help you win the game.
Remember, multiplayer Magic is all about learning to play the game of life. Do you make friends easily or are you the anarchist who wants to take everyone down? Depending on your play style, you’ll need to find your role and adapt in order to survive.
Your group will need to make some decisions. Over the years, I’ve played these different types of multi-player games:
Free-for-all Cutthroat (attack as fast as you can)
Free-for-all Peace (5 rounds of peace)
Attack to the left, defend to the right
I prefer the Cutthroat approach. Games take less time and they’re lots of fun. I’ve learned that playing five rounds of Peace (no players can do damage to any other player) usually just builds the game up and drags out the match. A good multiplayer game can easily take over an hour. Be sure to work out the details with your group. Each player will have his or her own thoughts about what type of multiplayer game to play.
Another rule that we instituted is that the first person does draw when going first. In a large game, the balance of drawing on the first turn helped the person who went first. There are many differences you can add to a multi-player game (pretending that a mana flare is always in play or that you have 40 life, etc.), but I’ve found the free-for-all Cutthroat game to be the easiest to play and the quickest to finish.
In playing the game, my group followed the simple rule that we could only block attackers coming directly at us. We could not block for an ally or friend. We also couldn’t share anyone’s mana. Keep it simple and your games will go faster and be more enjoyable for everyone involved.
If you haven’t tried the multiplayer format, give it a try. The decks listed here are old school and are not that powerful. My group played with only the cards we owned. But we came up with some fun inventions. No matter if you want to play online or in person, I suggest that you play Type 1 games with the rules listed at the beginning of this article. Decks will be powerful and you’ll be sure to see some cards played that you never knew existed.
I’ll leave you with my brother’s “Bruise (Black and Blue)” deck. Enjoy, and I invite you to post your group decks in the comments section. Let’s have some fun with this!
Thanks to Goblinboy for editing, Alex for the banner, and votan for pictures.