Alternative-cost instants in multiplayer play

The Traps We Set

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Every Magic card has at least five animals in it. And a plant.

Look closely and you'll see what I mean.

In the past, I've talked about one card or another having a "rattlesnake" value in multiplayer play. I make a lot out of this because I firmly believe that you can't win a multiplayer game unless you give your opponents a real reason not to attack you. Bargains, silence, and/or expressions of hurt feelings don't do diddly. Speak loudly and carry a big stick--that's what works.

'Misdir Spider'But it wouldn't be completely honest of me to hammer a single note like that when there's usually a lot more going on in multiplayer. Depending on your group's culture--and the experience of its players--you may want to call upon the other animals/plants that your cards have to offer:

(This is, of course, an official list that everyone at Wizards R&D uses all the time to balance the color wheel, develop new mechanics, and make Eighth Edition card selections. Also, Richard Garfield uses the entrails of the larger animals to forecast the future. I am that important.)

(Also, yes, I know plankton is technically not a plant. It's in the Protista kingdom. Now let's stop playing Crocodile Hunter and get on with it.)

Today, we're going to focus on the "spider" cards. They're the cards that give you card advantage because you set a trap for your opponents. You wait for your opponents to target you, or attack you, or whatever . . . and then you've got them where you want them.

This is most fun, of course, when you're tapped out.

"Oh, you're tapped out? Well, I'll just Swords to Plowshares your creature."

"Oh, you're tapped out? Well, I'll just Earthquake for 6."

"Oh, you're tapped out? Well, I'll . . . . "

Well, you'll do nothing, punk.

Over the years, each color has gotten some cards you can slam down when your opponents least expect it--at instant speed and when you've got no mana available. In multiplayer, the superstars are not necessarily the cards that come to mind.

I'll give you at least two choices from each of the five colors, in ascending order of power.

Green

Hard as it is to believe, green somehow got screwed in this category! While green does enjoy Vine Dryad, there are few good green instants that you tap lands for, much less those you don't. So our list is short and less than spectacular. Invigorate lets you give life to one opponent so you can hurt another. Refreshing Rain may be the only strictly life-gain spell I play nowadays. The Rain can really come through in amazing ways, especially against the hell-bent black deck that overcommits to deal the final blow.

Red

Fireblast is typically a bad idea in multiplayer (though there are some neat tricks in Seismic Assault - style decks using Planar Birth). Taken at face value, however, the card gives you one target for the cost of three cards. Dealing 4 damage to target creature or player is not a lot when you have multiple opponents. Instead, consider Pyrokenesis, which keeps your mana base strong and lets you hit up to four targets.

The other red instant to consider is Downhill Charge, which is a nice way to completely surprise an arrogant opponent who thinks your attacking Goblins are "really cute." People have completely forgotten about this card and what it can do. Remind them.

Black

Endowed with one of the best sorceries you can use for free (Massacre), black ranges from mediocre to impressive when working instantly. Contagion is pretty good, but Snuff Out and Spinning Darkness are usually better.

But the real casual-play champ is Dark Triumph. In an age of threshold and graveyard-feeding, benching a Blood Pet doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice as you polish off one enemy in midcombat and set your sights on the next.

Blue

If black's tricks are tasty, blue's are downright delicious. Let's start with Submerge, which is often good to go on turn one because green probably runs in casual-play groups more than any other color. (Submerge is fairly spectacular when run through a Mirari.)

Ensnare can be tricky to use--most casual groups will require you to announce fast effects before attackers (and, therefore, defending players) are announced--but the payoff comes in Stasis-style decks when you get the islands back in your hand (to use with Foil) and you can replay them to pay for the enchantment's upkeep. Oh, and all the creatures that everyone's been trying to use to ruin your fun are now tapped. (Stasis decks are twice-a-year sorts of things--I don't recommend playing them more often than that--but like all mana-denial decks, they serve a purpose.

One of the nastiest spider cards in existence is Misdirection. I'm not a big fan of deflection--you're blue, you're untapped, so nothing fun ever happens--but you know that someone is waiting for you to tap out. So you give them that little ray of hope that maybe you screwed up and left yourself vulnerable just before your lockdown was complete. They unleash their Ghitu Fire--and you shove it back down their throat.

It's only fair to point out a few targeting spells that circumvent Misdirection: Fireball (as well as Rolling Thunder and similar variants), Withdraw, Cannibalize, Symbiosis, Fiery Justice, Bone Harvest, Sway of Illusion, Scapegoat, Pollen Remedy, and Cultural Exchange (on two levels). For those cards for which you have the option, you need to declare more than one target to make things tough for Misdirection. And, of course, spells that do not target at all (e.g., Plague Wind) work just fine, too.

White

It's astonishing how much the good guys can get done with no mana. In multiplayer, a tapped plains may be one of the best lands you can have!

We'll start with small fry, like Scars of the Veteran, Sivvi's Ruse, and Orim's Cure. These are all preventative but can be used to save lives in combat after blockers are declared. Abolish has a unique role in multiplayer environments; it is the silver bullet to Limited Resources and other similar crushing, mana-denying enchantments.

Angelic Favor is for those white decks looking for something a bit more punitive--an instant 4/4 blocker in the air is an unwelcome sight for just about any attacker. Ramosian Rally, like Downhill Charge, is one of those cards that's likely to get an admiring, "Oh, yeah, I remember that card!"--though perhaps not so admiring if the player loses a few creatures as a result.

At the top of white's heap is a card that combines elements of spider, plankton, and even gorilla when applied correctly: Reverent Mantra. It's useful as a defense against Earthquake, as a time-buyer against an onslaught of superior forces, or even as a finisher when your troops need to get through. Because it affects all creatures, you can also use it to remove pesky creature enchantments you don't control, to save a bunch of enemy creatures you're finding temporarily useful, or to encourage an attack on a color you don't happen to be using right now. It does a lot and is vastly underrated even among casual players.

The Article's Tapped Out . . . and Yet I Keep Writing

An article on cards you can play when you're tapped out in casual play just wouldn't be complete without mentioning these three gems:

Aluren. Much has been said about Aluren over the years, so I won't bore you here.

Dream Halls. A favorite among combo players, Dream Halls has become even better with the madness mechanic. People (including yours truly) actually used to think this card was bad . . . .

North Star. While not technically a card that can help you when completely tapped out, North Star lets you pay for things you normally wouldn't be able to. It inspired the deck for this week. My aim is to build a blue-red deck with a white-only mana base. And the best part is, we'll make it better by using fewer plains!

Okay, I won't lie to you; this deck is not likely to win. But imagine this: Using Kjeldoran Outpost, build an army of 1/1 white Soldier tokens while using your spiffy Sunglasses to set up Flowstone Wall for defense. If you're lucky, you'll be able to survive a few turns by the good graces of Pyrokinesis and/or Misdirection. Then, you lay down your win card--that would be Blood Moon, for those of you who didn't vote for it in the Eighth Edition promo because it was a "bad card"--and attack with your Soldier army. You use Downhill Charge to sack, oh, a Forbidding Watchtower to give each member of your army something like +7/+7, even though you technically don't have a single damn mountain in play.

While you're at it, feel free to lay down that second Karakas. Then, you show the table just how freaking brilliant you are by activating North Star, paying two for Dracoplasm, and sacrificing all of your pumped-up Soldier tokens.

Do I have you thinking this deck might actually work? Well, then heck, why don't you keep reading--let's see how far I can take this before I lose you!

I've thoughtfully included a Phantatog just in case you ever want to get your white mana back by sacking Blood Moon. Just use the Star again (next turn, because it would be "too powerful" if you could use the ability more than once per turn) and bring out Phantatog to give yourself power over your own permanents. If you find yourself stuck in red (and I can't imagine how that would happen), go to plan B, a.k.a. "Kaptain Kolossus and His Kwest for a Draw."

In all seriousness, if you want this deck to become close to workable, skip the Stars and Sunglasses, replace some nonbasic lands with islands, plains, and a mountain or two, and use more blue and white defensive cards, such as Angelic Wall and Fog Bank. Your Charges will be slightly less impressive, but at least you'll live long enough to mount them.

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