Hello, and welcome to "Best Of" Week 2: Even Bester. There are a lot of articles in my half of the Serious Fun year that I'm proud of. I thought about choosing deck-building meditations Call Me Mr. Suitcase and Deck-Building Daze. I considered picking one of my more unusual forays, such as Elf Help, Food for Thought, or, my personal favorite article of the year, The Dragons. But those were love-'em-or-hate-'em experiments, and besides, The Dragons was only two weeks ago, so I'm guessing you still remember it.
Looking back through the archives, this article jumped out at me. Partly that's because it's about a format that I didn't expect to enjoy as much as I did, partly it's because the games were fantastically fun, and partly it's to remind you that I've become a much better photographer over the last few months. Mostly, though, this one sticks out in my mind because of the unexpected winner of the second game, a deck that quickly became a pet project and reminded me not to judge too quickly or too harshly.
'm feeling much better than last week (thanks to everybody who wrote in wishing me well!), and I'm ready to actually play some Magic. It's rather nice not to feel like a shambling zombie, even if it would have been entirely appropriate for Grixis Week.
Grixis is—let me put this bluntly—kind of a nasty place. It's got blue, black, and red mana, but no white or green mana to speak of. Without white to impose rules and green to make things flourish, Grixis is a place of unchecked death and decay. Lich-kings rule over crumbling necropolises, zombies and skeletons roam a landscape that is actually—skip the rest of this sentence if you're reading this right before lunch—made of rotting flesh. The few living humans have to skulk in the shadows just to keep from having their life energy harvested by some undead necromancer.
Grixis is big on recycling. There's no new life energy, ever, and that means every bit of life, every scrap of flesh, gets used and reused and re-reused. Demons terrorize necromancers, necromancers turn humans into zombies, zombies rot into skeletons, skeletons crumble to bones, and bones, apparently, are quite the fashion statement. The entire plane is a snake eating its own tail.
Say, that's rather a poetic image, isn't it? As it happens, that poetic image reminds me of a Magic format—one where everyone is part of a vicious, downward-spiraling cycle.
Uh, except fun.
Format: Attack Left or Attack Right
In Brief: At the start of the game, the table chooses left or right. Each player's creatures can attack only the closest opponent in the chosen direction.
Rules Rundown: By default, the attack restrictions cover attacking only; you can still play spells targeting whoever you want. If you feel that's outside the spirit of the format, though, you can use house rules to change it.
If the person you're supposed to be attacking leaves the game, you can now attack the next person around the circle. As with Free-for-All, the winner is the last player standing (or the first to get off a "You win the game" effect like Barren Glory).
There aren't any official rules regarding who can attack a planeswalker in this format, so it's a good idea to talk about that before the game if you have a planeswalker in your deck. It seems fair to say that you can only attack a planeswalker if you could attack its controller, but it could be argued that the rules only place restrictions on which players you can attack. Pick whichever house rule makes the most sense to you.
Other than the attack restrictions, this is a normal game of multiplayer Magic. Seating order matters, so you may want to randomize seating if you're worried about that sort of thing.
Pros: Remember a while ago when I wrote about the problem of who to attack in multiplayer? Yeah, none of that here. You don't have to worry about who to attack or who might attack you. This also means that you can pay a little less attention than usual during people's turns if they're not sitting to your immediate left or right. If your group tends to pounce on any player who falls behind, this format may take a little bit of the pressure off.
Because attacking is easier and you don't have to worry as much about defending yourself, this is a good format if you find yourself wishing your group were more aggressive. I like it best for smaller tables (two to four players), where choosing who to attack can have too huge an effect on the game.
Cons: Remember a while ago when I wrote about the problem of differences in experience or card pool? This format can have the unfortunate effect of making those problems worse, because that player with the killer deck is only really facing two opponents instead of three or four, only one of whom can actually attack. Also, you may find it boring at bigger tables to have several players whose turns don't make much difference to you.
A Little to the Left
To try out the format, I sat down with my friend Laura, my co-worker Dave, and Matt, a schoolmate of Laura's. "Attack Left" is the more common variant, so we decided to go with that.
I used a blue-black-red snow deck in honor of Grixis Week (although truthfully, the deck is mostly blue-red; black is a splash for Garza Zol, the Plague Queen). To my left was Dave, piloting his deck from the Box League he and I are in at work. It's some kind of weird four-color mashup centered on Sedris, the Traitor King. Across from me was Matt. I had never met him before and didn't know what he was playing, but it was in pink sleeves. I've learned to always fear a deck in pink sleeves.
To my right was Laura, running a gigantic pile of Naya cards she wanted to try. She'd been working on the deck before the game, and rather than hold things up trying to cut it down to 60 cards, she just added enough lands to make it run and called it a deck. She did, however, put serious thought into her mana base. That, or world domination. It's hard to tell from these scribblings:
I got an early Phyrexian Ironfoot, and happily considered how good it is in this format to be able to attack and block with the same creature. Vigilance, even fake vigilance, is some good in multiplayer.
Matt played Plains and Mountains, including a Sacred Foundry, but otherwise didn't do anything. Meanwhile, Dave's Blister Beetle ate Laura's Druid of the Anima (the only available target). On Matt's turn four, we got a glimpse at what sort of deck he was running when he played Ajani Vengeant, killing Dave's Blister Beetle with Ajani's second ability.
This prompted a discussion about how the "Attack Left" rule applied to planeswalkers. We eventually decided it was fair that only Dave could attack Ajani. This, by the way, makes planeswalkers a lot stronger than they usually are in multiplayer.
On Matt's next turn, things got worse when Ajani gained a partner in Chandra Nalaar, who pinged Laura for 1. Ajani kept busy by locking down Dave's lone Island, as indicated by a handy bottlecap reminder.
After a few turns of this, things were looking grim.
I played a Heider, Rimewind Master, knowing that Matt would have to tick down one of his planeswalkers to deal with Heidar before he started bouncing them. Sure enough, Matt took the bait, and Ajani went down to one counter to deal with Heidar.
Dave, meanwhile, was completely stuck without that Island, furiously cycling his Yoked Plowbeasts and Jungle Weavers to look for more land. This is what his deck does, you see; he cycles huge creatures, then unearths them with Sedris, the Traitor King. That's the plan, anyway. In this case, he was forced to dump one of his copies of Sedris when he ended a turn with eight cards in hand.
At one point, Dave aimed a Resounding Thunder at Matt, hoping to take down Ajani, but Matt had Seht's Tiger, of all things, shutting that plan down.
Dave did eventually kill Ajani, getting in there with two Viscera Draggers by unearthing them, but Matt had a second Ajani Vengeant to slam down into play the next turn. Oy!
I spent a few turns attacking Dave, who was still at a standstill thanks to Ajani. Eventually I had him lined up for the killing blow, but by this time both Ajani and Chandra were ready for their "Ultimate" abilities. Ajani would destroy somebody's lands, and Chandra would hit somebody else and their creatures for 10. I didn't attack Dave, because as soon as Dave was down, Matt could just hit me and Laura with one Ultimate each.
Laura and I both built up our creatures, but it didn't matter much. When the time was right, Matt took out Laura's lands with Ajani and killed all my creatures with Chandra, putting me at 6 life. He then played Molten Disaster, with kicker, for 6 points of damage, putting him at 12, Laura at 5, Dave at 2, and me at 0. I picked up my cards, but I didn't have to wait long; it only took Matt a few more turns to mop up Laura and Dave.
Matt technically won the game, but I think we all know who the real winners were.
So, there was lesson one about this format: if one player's deck is stronger than the others, that player is at a huge advantage in this format. If this had been Free-for-All, it would have been really hard for Matt to defend Ajani and Chandra against all three of us. But because it was Attack Left, and Dave had no offense to speak of, Matt had a free pass to build up to total ridiculousness.
Matt apologized for stomping us all, but I was glad to have learned the lesson about the format—not to mention to have seen two planeswalker Ultimates go off in one turn! That is a new one on me.
A Little to the Right
The other bright side is that it really hadn't taken very long, so we had time for another game. We didn't want to change seats, but we also didn't want to play "the same game." We decided to switch to "Attack Right" to see how it felt. It was immediately obvious that it was more different from "Attack Left" than you might think. Instead of ending my turn and waiting all the way around the turn order to be attacked, I passed the turn to someone who immediately attacked me.
Matt said he'd go with a less aggressive deck this time. I still didn't have any idea what he might be playing, but at least it wasn't in pink sleeves this time. I decided to shuffle up my Esperiffic deck from the Box League. I'll have to tell you more about my league deck another time, because there are two other decks I want to show off.
Laura brought the 60-card version of her "Changeling Lord" deck that I've mentioned a few times. It's an unlikely five-color monstrosity that relies almost entirely on the Lorwyn duals for mana. And somehow, the mana always works. It's freaky.
Lorwyn / Shadowmoor Block
You wouldn't need this many dual lands to make a similar deck, especially if you cut out a color or two and upped the numbers on some of the easier-to-get lords, but this is by no means a budget deck.
Dave, meanwhile, was playing a deck of my design that he had picked mostly because of its name. Last week, you might recall, I mentioned " a very bad Kamigawa Demon / Ogre deck." This would be that deck. I warned Dave not to play it. I told him I had tried to make sure the name was as bad as the deck. But he wanted to give it a try.
What's that? You want to know what the deck was called? Oh, very well. Dave went into battle piloting...
...Ogredrive. Yes, really. "Ogredrive." Roll that around your tongue a bit. Say it out loud. Ogredrive. Can the deck possibly be bad enough to match that pun? I'll let you judge for yourself:
I had never actually played the deck, but with that name, I couldn't bring myself to take it apart. And it's a good thing, too, because what followed is the best game of Magic I've played in a long time, thanks in no small part to the wackiness of Ogredrive.
I played an early Ethersworn Canonist, causing Dave, Matt, and Laura to grumble at me. My Canonist was marked for death; I could see it in their eyes. These, I could tell, were people with multiple nonartifact spells to play.
Matt, by the way, turned out to be playing green-blue—a man after my own heart.
Laura managed a turn-three Taurean Mauler off of three different Lorwyn duals.
The Mauler got hit by Snakeform when it attacked Matt, leaving it as a 1/1 with two +1/+1 counters—not actually that small, but small enough for a blocker to trade with it. My Canonist also died, to Nameless Inversion from Laura.
After playing down a few unremarkable Ogres, Dave played Seizan, Perverter of Truth, and that made things really interesting. The life totals started ticking down, and nobody was going to run out of gas. On the other hand, we might well run out of life. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to happen in a hurry...
...and that went double when Matt plunked down Rites of Flourishing. I love that card! "No more mana-screw," it says. "No more waiting for your big spells. No more running out of things to do. Let's go nuts!"
That meant that Laura's fifth turn was even more eventful than Dave's.
Eventually Matt played a second Rites of Flourishing, along with an Overbeing of Myth, so now everybody was drawing five cards a turn, playing three lands, and losing 2 life—except for Matt, who was drawing six cards. Nuts!
As you can see from that photo, the life totals were getting perilously low at this point. Even though there hadn't been many attacks—Laura's huge team had kept me back, which kept Dave back, which kept Matt back—Seizan was exacting the price for his card-drawing assistance.
I managed to play a second Ethersworn Canonist, Sphinx Sovereign, and Master of Etherium, but Laura killed them all with a Nameless Inversion for the Canonist (again) and two changelings to destroy my heavy hitters, thanks to Reaper King. At this point Laura's board featured Reaper King, Mad Auntie, Merrow Reejerey, and Sunrise Sovereign backing up War-Spike Changeling and Amoeboid Changeling. We noted that Laura could use Amoeboid Changeling to mess with Dave's Ogre / Demon dynamics, but it never happened, probably because Amoeboid Changeling was a 6/6 trampler with better things to do.
Amoeboid Changeling never even got its chance at Matt, though, because Laura crashed in with Sunrise Sovereign, Reaper King, and War-Spike Changeling. Dave decided he'd prefer it if Matt lived a little while longer as a buffer, so he played Wrecking Ball on Laura's Sunrise Sovereign. Laura, calm as can be, played Shields of Velis Vel, turning all her creatures into Goat Bear Cephalids—and, oh yeah, Goblins, letting her tap Mad Auntie to regenerate Sunrise Sovereign. That took the Sovereign out of combat, but it also meant that Reaper King was a 10/11 Giant Goblin Merfolk (etc.) with trample.
Matt responded by dying to lots of trample damage. It seemed like the thing to do.
I was sorry to see him—and his Rites of Flourishing—go. But I was probably about to destroy the Rites anyway, because I had played Scourglass on my previous turn.
Meanwhile, Dave had pounded on me some after Laura killed my big creatures. He had enough Demons and Ogres to kill me as soon as I passed the turn. So, on my upkeep, I tapped Scourglass, going from this...
I hadn't touched a single permanent of my own, but I'd taken out everybody else's creatures, with one notable exception: Reaper King, it turns out, is an artifact.
...And then I drew Tezzeret the Seeker. He got to do his Garruk Wildspeaker impression, untapping two of my three Esper Obelisks. I then played not one but two Tidehollow Scullers. I aimed the first one at Laura, and when I saw two ways to kill a Tidehollow Sculler—Nameless Inversion and Avian Changeling—I realized I'd have to take them both. It was a good turn, all told.
This, predictably, did not make Laura happy.
Dave got back in the game quickly with a Sootstoke Kindler and Oni of Wild Places, getting back a Blood Speaker that had died to Scourglass. He didn't attack, despite the Oni having haste, for fear of Reaper King. He then passed the turn to Laura, who got her revenge on me when she drew Shapesharer.
Shapesharer's Reaper King trigger let her kill one Tidehollow Sculler...
...getting her Nameless Inversion back to kill the other Sculler...
...getting her Avian Changeling back to trigger Reaper King again...
...and kill Tezzeret, just for good measure. One good turn deserves another, I suppose.
That pretty much wiped me out, but I was in trouble anyway. Remember how Dave returned Blood Speaker to his hand? He played that, plus a Scourge of Numai for good measure. Then all he had to do was weather an attack from Laura and, on his next upkeep, sacrifice Blood Speaker to search up Rakdos the Defiler, who is, of course, a Demon.
Down came the mighty Rakdos. Remember how Dave played Sootstoke Kindler? The Kindler, it turns out, can tap to give Rakdos haste. In came the Demon (and away went half of Dave's non-Demon permanents).
I'd love to say that I had some clever instant kill spell to punish Dave for attacking with Rakdos, but I had nothing. Instead, I was forced to try Matt's strategy of dying to lots of trample damage.
Now it was just Dave and Laura. But Laura didn't have a Scarecrow in hand to kill Rakdos. She played down another lord or two and passed the turn back.
It didn't look like Dave had quite enough damage to finish the job... and then he played Torrent of Souls (!), getting back a Gutwrencher Oni that had died to Scourglass.
Dave attacked Laura with every single one of his creatures, at the cost of all but two of his lands.
The game belonged to Dave—and Ogredrive! Maybe it's not such a bad deck after all. I think I'll spice it up a little, swap out some of the weaker Ogres, and keep it around.
Left or Right?
We decided that we liked Attack Right slightly better than Attack Left. It was sort of strange, at first, to attack "against" the turn order. Once I got used to it, though, it felt very natural to pass the turn to someone who would then immediately attack me. That meant that I could more or less space out during Matt and Laura's turns.
Whichever way you attack, though, this is definitely a different multiplayer experience from Free-for-All. It's way less political and a little faster paced, and I quite like it.
So, what about you? Have you ever played Attack Right or Attack Left? If so, how did you like it? If not, do you think you'll give it a try? And, just for kicks, for those who've tried it: did you attack right or left? Jump into the forums and let me know!