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Finishing Off with Red and White

Multiplayer Hall, Part Three of Three

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The letter W!elcome to the third and last week of this year's annual Multiplayer Card Hall of Fame! We're finishing the hall with red and white. You can read the last two weeks here and here.

The Red Hall

Red, like blue, has a certain reactivity to it. (You cannot Shock or Pillage what isn't there.) But because it has an aggressive nature – and plenty of distributable damage spells – it has plenty of ooomph in group play. Since picking up some of blue's stealing and redirection capabilities, it's gotten even more dangerous.

The one thing red decks need to keep in mind when playing in group is the long game. Red often spends so many resources gaining an early advantage, it finds itself out of cards and/or removal before too long. Fortunately, this Hall suggests many solutions, ranging from Seige-Gang Commander to Dragon Mage to some of the cards from the past year:

Bringer of the Red Dawn
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Myojin of Infinite Rage
Ryusei, the Falling Star
Shunt
Tide of War

Magma Giant also gets listed as a similar card (to Crater Hellion); and Kumano, Master Yamabushi is certainly similar to Shivan Hellkite. The red hall is here.

Just about everything on the list has gotten enough press from me or my colleagues here at the site recently…except Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker (not counting the Intruder Alarm combo). When he's not breaking mirrors, Kiki-Jiki likes to sit there and threaten opponents with hasty creatures. He's a bit difficult to make work, in that you need another (non-legendary) creature in play. But even something as simple as a Keldon Champion can be helpful. Soulshift creatures should probably provide some good fodder as well. You can also mix and match with sacking effects like Altar of Dementia or Shisato, Whispering Hunter (and a non-legendary snake). In short, I may be too enthusiastic about Kiki-Jiki right now; but I'd like to give it the benefit of the doubt for what it does.

When considering workhorse uncommon and common cards for your red deck, consider the following:

Utility – Direct Damage: The lifelong standard is Lightning Bolt. For those of you unable to acquire this old-school common, Seal of Fire can actually be superior in many group play situations. Fireball is also perfectly usable in multiplayer, though you'll find yourself hitting just one target more often than not.

Utility – Artifact/Land Removal: I've found Pillage has no lack of excellent targets for the past year. That may die down a bit now; but it's still a top-notch uncommon. (If your group plays stuff like Karakas, you'll still have plenty of good targets!) Viashino Heretic has value even when there are no artifacts on the board. If you have access to neither of those, Mirrodin gave red plenty of decent tools, ranging from Detonate to the who-are-we-kidding-this-is-red Goblin Replica.

Early Offense: A specialty of red. It begins, but doesn't end, with Mogg Fanatic. Slith Firewalker, Goblin War Buggy, and Suq'ata Lancer are also all fine commons and uncommons.

Early Defense: Wall of Diffusion is fine even if no shadow creatures are on the board. You might also consider the testy Mogg Maniac.

Finishers: If you don't have access to many rare dragons, consider Dragon Whelp. Goblin Bombardment comes with some risk but plays well into many red strategies. I've already mentioned Fireball (and its brethren, such as Fanning the Flames).

The White Hall

I'm closing this year's Hall with what is probably the color with the most multiplayer momentum from the last three sets. On a roll since Onslaught block (Akroma's Vengeance, Windborn Muse, Wing Shards, etc.), white got plenty of goodness in Mirrodin block as well. Champions looks even better. Here are the top choices from what's new:

Auriok Champion
Bringer of the White Dawn
Masako the Humorless
Pristine Angel
Reverse the Sands
Yosai, the Morning Star

White went well beyond this list when looking at similar cards: Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (similar to Radiant, Archangel); Ghostly Prison (similar to Windborn Muse); and Myjojin of Cleansing Fire (similar to Mageta the Lion). White's hall is right here.

Underlying trends for white are very promising. Bushido as a whole is a very strong multiplayer mechanic which should generate plenty more Hall entries before the block is done; and I have my eye on both white "flip" cards to see if they're worthy of Hall mention next time around.

What I'm starting to like about white (historically my least favorite color) is the slightly broader range of goods it's bringing to the table. Rather than depending upon "stupid" life-gain like Congregate and Angelic Chorus, white mages can now do more clever tricks with Reverse the Sands and Exalted Angel. Rather than burdening an entire board with horrendous (yet classic) slowdowns like Kismet, white can selectively punish with Yosei, the Morning Star. Rather than a bunch of 0/4 walls with little personality…it has Glory.

From my perspective, that's where white began turning the corner – in Judgement, with Glory. The card was a terrific way both mechanically and aesthetically to offer protection. Protection had been pretty boring before then – but this bomb incarnation really opened up a bunch of creative possibilities.

Pristine Angel does something similar. Back when vigilance wasn't called vigilance, the non-tapping nature of angels was getting a bit routine. Pristine Angel offered some interesting options – tap but lose protection, but play lots of instants to allow untapping. Encouraging white to play lots of clever instants, rather than heavy-handed sorceries like Wrath of God, is a good thing.

Speaking of stuff at instant speed, the latest card to broaden white's horizons is Masako the Humorless. This may rapidly become my favorite white card. How much fun will it be to "overextend" and then punish some sloppy opponent who thinks being tapped out on creatures means you can't defend?

In fact, Masako combines extremely well with just about every new card listed above. (Reverse the Sands is the one exception, since it has its own agenda – see my preview article for ideas there.) With Auriok Champion, she provides a quick point of life and lets Auriok Champion shine a bit brighter against black and red. With Bringer of the White Dawn, she lets the beefy 5/5 trampler both swing and block. She untaps Pristine Angel at instant speed, always a good thing. And if a tapped Yosei, Morning Star can engage in combat unexpectedly, there's really no way for the battle to go badly!

So yes, white finally feels like it's getting the creative attention it deserves for group play. If you've hated white for a long time and are wondering how to build a deck with plains in it, try some of the following uncommon and common staple cards:

Utility – Creature Neutralization: Swords to Plowshares is the classic. Retaliate is the best replacement to date. Arrest (and other cards in the Pacifism family) and Humble are generally less effective, but have the advantage of being more humorous. (A Darksteel Colossus dying after being hit by Humble will stay in the graveyard.)

Utility – Protection: Shelter and Cho-Manno's Blessing are best at protecting specific creatures from inconvenient spells. (See the Hall for broader, more spectacular efforts.)

Early Offense: If you don't have access to Savannah Lions (which are rare anyway), fear not: turn two offers you more options than you could hope to take advantage of. Silver Knight, White Knight, Longbow Archer, Warrior en-Kor, Order of Leitbur (and offshoots), Steadfast Guard, Leonin Skyhunter…that's only, like, a third of the list.

Early Defense: Again, white should be strong early. Wall of Essence and Sunscape Familiar are two of many choices – and of course, many of those creatures listed on early offense can work even better on defense.

Finishers: I tend to think of mid-sized flyers when I think of common or uncommon white finishers. (Maybe the color wins some other way; but I don't really see it!) Your best bets are Phantom Flock, Angel of Mercy, and Voice of All.

An Uncommon Rarity In The Hall

Since we've just discussed a few uncommons and commons, it's a good time for me to note virtually all of the cards in the Hall across all colors are rare – and this year's crop is no exception. I do wish Wizards would print more commons and uncommons (like Syphon Mind or Night Soil) which can stand tall in the Hall. It doesn't have to come at the cost of a good limited format – witness Wonder, Narcissism, or Price of Glory.

Uncommon and common cards that make it into the Hall are, ironically, quite rare. While that may make them precious, I'd rather see them become a more everyday occurrence. They often showcase Wizards at its most creative and subtle (Talon of Pain, Wing Shards, Willbender, Veteran Explorer). What's more, a few eye-poppers sprinkled through the more accessible ranks (Isochron Scepter, Capsize, Bottomless Pit) help develop a larger, healthier base of young, creative deck-builders – which is good for both casual and tournament Magic alike.

The Whole Hall

Now that you've seen the different sheets, here they all are in one link. I've got them sorted by combined score, but this is where sorting by other elements (expansion, color, type, cost, etc.) becomes a bit more fun. I'm already thinking next year's hall should have a column just for converted mana cost, to help folks with their mana curves. (Besides, I'd love to know the average for the Hall. It's not small.)

While we're talking a bit about combined score, some final reflections on the scores: as I said when I introduced this edition a couple of weeks ago, they're obviously quite subjective. I encourage each and every one of you to change the scores, the weights, and anything else to personalize the Hall for your own needs.

That said, I did notice something about how the cards laid out this edition that I found very satisfying – I found "chunks" of quality along certain score ranges. Put another way, the cards I consider truly powerful in group play ended up in about the order I wanted to see. I think after eight editions, I'm finally getting the hang of this scoring thing!

This lets me give the following advice for those of you designing (or playing against) decks with these cards:

If the card scores between 3.00 and 3.30: Most of these cards don't appear specifically designed for group play; but they work just fine with multiple opponents. A few tournament-quality cards happen to fall here just by virtue of their sheer strength (e.g., Arcbound Ravager, Exalted Angel, and Psychatog). The reset buttons tend to be pretty risky stuff with high potential payoff (Death Cloud and Devastating Dreams). I keep these cards in the Hall mainly for sentimental reasons, and because we'd barely have a land portion of the Hall at all if I didn't.

If the card scores between 3.30 and 3.80: Here's the bread and butter of the Hall – any one of them can send the game darting in a completely new direction, and there are certainly able finishers among them. While I could accept arguments that cards below 3.30 don't belong in the Hall, the cards in this range and above truly belong here. The reset buttons range from strict creature-sweepers (Rout and Bane of the Living) to massive resets with extremely low "plankton" scores because of their mana denial effects (Obliterate, Upheaval).

Incidentally, I think you'll find these rankings flip the most within this range when you change just a few weights.

If the card scores between 3.80 and 4.40: Once we breach the top 85 cards, we see some true multiplayer legends (Multani, Maro-Sorcerer) as well as cards obviously intended for group play (Blatant Thievery). These are the kinds of cards that require a bit more courage, since you will get attention when something like Forgotten Ancient or Coat of Arms comes down. Tournament favorites now include stuff like Aluren and Masticore – stuff I doubt they'd reprint anymore. The reset buttons include the venerable Nevinyrral's Disk and Balance.

If the card scores between 4.40 and 4.90: Looking at the top 25 (letting Eureka slide into the previous category), we're seeing the most powerful multiplayer tools in the game. All other things being equal, letting someone untap with one of the listed permanents (which is hard not to do if we're talking about Seedborn Muse or Awakening) comes about as close as chaos games get to guaranteeing the controller a spot among the last two or three players in the game. (Sorry, no one spell guarantees the win.) Once they're active and running, the only thing you can do at this point is cast one of the three non-permanent spells – Radiate, Living Death, and Thieves' Auction – and shift the momentum back in your favor!

At the top of the heap sits Pernicious Deed, still the champion in my eyes. The Deed answers more threats in group play, more quickly and reliably, and with more flexibility, than any other card in the game. Period.

Feedback Loops

Please read the instructions carefully before emailing me with feedback. The Hall has a long history of changing to meet reader needs, and the instructions will tell you the best way to think through and submit your issue.

Once you've gone through the Hall and read those instructions, feel free to let me know:

  • What other features would you enjoy in the Hall?
  • What could be done better?
  • What shouldn't change?
  • Who built the pyramids?

Over the next few weeks, I'll store up any feedback I get and use it in my planning for next year's version of the Hall. (The stuff on the pyramids, I'll keep to myself.) Thanks in advance for your help…now start building those decks!

Anthony cannot provide deck help. A rattlesnake, a gorilla, a spider, a pigeon, a plankton, and a cockroach have all walked into a bar, which set up a really hilarious (if rather risqué) joke that he's still telling someone else as you read this.

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