ultiplayer games take more time.
Time Stop | Art by Scott M. Fischer
While a game of Magic is typically a ten- to twenty-minute affair, dialing up the player count turns those ten minutes into upwards of an hour or more. Commander and its decks, packed with wacky, wild, all-different-from-each-other cards, adds another wrinkle to things: Just reading and understanding what everyone else is doing takes time.
It isn't fun to sit and watch others do their thing for what can be the length of an entire Standard game before it's just your turn again.
Solving this issue is complicated. Players are people, and everyone will react differently to new information and situations. What works for you and your friends may backfire in a spectacular manner for someone else. Today's article covers several ways others have managed to keep the pace going. Find what might work best for you and give it a try.
The Unstoppable Force
The most obvious way to speed the game along is similar to the most obvious way to grind the game to a halt: Use abilities and effects that force other players to do what you want. Just as "prison" decks have their array of artifacts and enchantments to lock down the battlefield, "chaos" decks force everyone into actions that change the game. David shared a deck he uses to that effect:
I have Commander decks specifically designed to speed up the game. My favorite is Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, a classic Gruul build. The goal of the deck is to stop extra turns and tutors via Stranglehold, and just attack. If the card says "players must attack" it went into the deck. Most notable here is Avatar of Slaughter, who forces everyone into combat, with double strike for good measure.
It also aims to sweep enchantments and artifacts off the field, to ensure creatures are unfettered in their quest for lower life totals. Traditional white-blue prison decks are less confining once the way is cleared with a Vandalblast and Multani's Decree.
Ruric Thar keeps cards coming for everyone in the form of Heartwood Storyteller and Rites of Flourishing. Those full hands require extra mana, delivered in the form of Heartbeat of Spring, Mana Flare, Zhur-Taa Ancient, and my personal favorite for flavor and function—Overabundance.
I keep the damage flowing to everyone in the form of Ruric Thar himself, along with Burning-Tree Shaman. These two make sure that if you're not attacking, you're taking damage for doing anything else.
Playing Ruric Thar is a lot of fun, because he's tough but fair. Nobody is singled out, the global effects apply to everyone. Games go much quicker once everyone has extra cards and mana, and creatures are required to get into the red zone!
David's Ruric Thar
While David's deck is built to make bashing happen, he included a resource bump for everyone else. That's another classic approach to keeping games moving: ensuring everyone has something awesome to do, and the mana to go do it immediately.
That's the aim of "Group Hug" decks, personified by their usual commander, Phelddagrif. I've discussed Group Hug twice before: once as a favorite Commander archetype some bring to the game, and earlier as something to model for the "Bear Hug" type of deck. This is what Group Hug looks like:
Lou's Relentless Hugs
Group Hug gives other players something to do but typically doesn't focus on winning itself. Don't think that those decks can't, though, or you might end up with a face full of Phelddagrif.
Bear Hug is based on the same principle of "giving things to other players," but it also actively looks to deal damage and find a way to win along the way. One of the two decks David (different from above) sent in is what I'd consider a Bear Hug deck, with a Bear Hug commander in Nekusar, the Mindrazer:
I help the speed of games in my playgroup by playing either my Nekusar or Ruhan deck. Nekusar has tons of card draw to help keep things moving and can kill people with Nekusar damage or one of the two combos (Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch or Niv-Mizzet/Curiosity). Ruhan speeds things up by cutting through any table talk, and with tons of ways to make Ruhan unblockable and enormous, he usually one-shots people.
My playgroup will often play a variant to help speed things up too. We've played Bang-gic (using roles from Bang! to determine objectives for different players), as well as pentagram, among others.
This deck isn't really very fast by itself and as such doesn't win that often but everyone drawing a bunch of cards does speed up the game.
This deck is still in its first iteration and I haven't been able to put all the cards that I've wanted to in it. That doesn't stop it from killing someone on turn five every now and then. Additionally, the amount of table talk that the pilot of the deck needs to engage in is almost zero, so that also speeds things up.
David touches on a lot of good points here, too:
- Including a few "surefire win" combos to draw into can break stalemates and end games that are just dragging on.
- Giving everyone more resources lets them find something to do right away; dealing damage while you're doing it is a bonus.
- Dealing a surprising, unexpected amount of damage can reshape the battlefield.
But there are other ways than just creating decks that push everyone else around. Modifying the rules for Commander can help expedite games too, as Nate shares:
Our group has each player start at 30 life. This can make a dramatic effect on the overall length of the game without giving a very noticeable advantage to the aggressive decks. We also like to cap each game at four players.
My favorite deck is Krenko, Mob Boss. Sometimes the deck will play like an average aggressive tribal deck, but it has the possibility to go off like a combo deck on any given turn to wipe multiple players. I think one issue is that Commander players play with powerful cards, but just because a card is powerful doesn't mean that it can win you the game.
Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon + Goblin King—There are many decks that can produce a steady stream of 1/1 tokens, but if those tokens can't connect with a player, they're not worth much. Making my horde of Goblins unblockable and at least 2 power helps to make them a force that can easily deal 30 to 40 damage each turn. This combination is made very real by other universal pump effects for my Goblins, like Goblin Warchief, Quest for the Goblin Lord, and Shared Animosity.
Goblin War Strike/Mob Justice/Goblin Bombardment/Kyren Negotiations/Furystoke Giant—These are all cards that translate into guaranteed damage. It's very important to have a large amount of redundancy so I'm able to consistently draw into one of these cards that can simply end the game, given I have enough tokens in play.
Insurrection—This is an easy way to spend eight mana to end the game. Many Commander games can come down to massive board stalls where it becomes very difficult for anyone to profitably attack another player. Insurrection isn't a new or innovative choice, but there's a reason it's considered a Commander staple.
Thanks for the great articles!
Changing to 30 life is a subtle shift in the ability for anyone to deal lethal damage to everyone else. In a four-player game, that's a saving of 40 life, an entire player under normal Commander rules. Other small tweaks include using shortcuts such as using a fetch land (Arid Mesa, etc.) before the end of the turn immediately before yours, but allowing a new choice to be made if that player wants. Everyone uses shortcuts of some sort, so if your group is spending a lot of time waiting for other players to finish finding cards in their library, it might be worth looking to see how that process can happen faster.
There's one other way to help make games move, and it's either brave or foolhardy. I'll let Matt explain:
I find that the best possible strategy in getting a Commander game to move quickly is to offer a target. Namely, myself. I have two Commander decks that generate a lot of frustration/anger in my opponents; the first is an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic lifegain deck which easily sets me at 80+ health each game, and a Phenax, God of Deception mill deck. The Phenax deck elicits more emotion, by far. When I am constantly crushing a player's deck, countering spells, and discarding his or her hand, that player is going to make very quick moves to attack me. Odds are, so will the others playing, so that the Dimir deck drain doesn't destroy them in turn. When every player has a clear goal in mind (namely, knock me out of the game), turns tend to go quickly, with spells played almost immediately and creatures focusing attacks on me. My turns move quickly too—generally, I mill someone with Phenax's ability, attack for more mill via Nemesis of Reason and Trepanation Blade, and cast something like Glimpse the Unthinkable.
Basically, all of my games turn into lightning-fast-gang-up-on-Matt games. For an economically restricted deck, it sure does its job well! The only thing that could create a faster game would be a card with "Target opponent reveals cards from the top of his or her deck until you stop grinning evilly, then puts the revealed cards into his or her graveyard."
If you want everyone to focus in on one player, it seems fairest to try and make yourself that target. There is a depth of strategy in multiplayer games, core among them the idea that you shouldn't make yourself the threat until it's too late. Doing so from the get-go is aggressive, but as Matt points out it gets things moving.
Fortune favors the bold, after all. (For a bonus "Target me!" deck, check out the Mogis, God of Slaughter deck I shared a few weeks ago.)
The Unmovable Force
Whatever you choose to do to keep Commander games moving I hope it's something that works for you. Next week is the start of previews for Journey into Nyx, and I can't wait to get started. This week's question is one for everyone who loves to make mana out there: What's something awesome to do in Commander using a ton of colorless mana?
- Feedback via email
- 300-word limit to explain your idea
- Sample decklist is requested (does not count against word limit)
- Decklists should be formatted with one card per line with just a leading number, such as "3 Mountain"—just a space (no "x" or "-") between the number and the card name, without subtotals by card type. (Submissions that don't follow this rule will be ignored.)
- Name and email required (non-personal information to be used in column)
Join us next week when we look into the face of the inscrutable. See you then!
Adam "Stybs" Styborski joined DailyMTG.com in 2009 to take over Serious Fun, before switching over to begin Command Tower in 2013. With his passion for Commander and community inclusion, you'll find plenty of opportunity each week to share your thoughts about everyone's favorite casual format.