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The Best of Black, Red, and Lands

Multiplayer Hall of Fame, Part 2

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Hall Recap

You can read the first installment of the Hall of Fame here.

For those of you who just want the Cliff Notes:

  • We're looking at the best cards in multiplayer formats.
  • The full lists are in Excel spreadsheets, available through links on this page.
  • If you disagree with any of it, I expect you to do your homework before telling me - which means go back and read that first article!
  • Readers who just ask "Why didn't you put [insertcardhere] on the list?" will get back a generic email. (I do write back, even then.) Those who show effort will get more. Given the effort I put into this, my conscience has no problem holding readers to high standards.

    You all deserve nothing less.

    As we opened the Hall, Glory topped white and Zur's Weirding topped blue. This week, we'll look at black, red, and land cards.

    Hall of Jet: Black

    Black cards are among the ugliest forces in group play. Black now has several cards that rival (or beat) the power of Wrath of God - often for about the same amount of mana. It boasts creatures that are truly grotesque, and can send the board reeling with a variety of triggered abilities.

    Before Mercadian Masques, most of what black offered multiplayer consisted of huge, unwieldy enchantments and equally costly sorceries. But then #3 on our list arrived, which seemed to open the floodgates to a family of power creatures that fit into black decks quite well. In addition, Invasion, Odyssey, and Onslaught blocks have trimmed down the enchantments and sorceries to the point where most of the top ten cards cost either four or five mana. Not bad at all!

    One eternally intriguing challenge with black involves putting together a viable multiplayer discard deck. To be sure, it depends a lot on the group - but now, it's easier (or should I say less difficult) than ever. Cards that are not quite in the top ten include Mindslicer, Tsabo's Decree, Syphon Mind, and the burly pair of Bottomless Pit and Megrim. I recommend an effort to every up-and-coming black mage, because whether it succeeds or not, it is a worthwhile journey.

    Supposedly, black's also pretty good at recursion. But before we find out whether that's true or not, let's take a look at the unexciting but very necessary staples you should have as you start on your swampy road:

  • Seal of Doom (and a host of similar cards) serves as the traditional spot kill;
  • Wall of Souls is an excellent deterrent for at least three or four rounds;
  • Fog of Gnats is one of the most efficient chump-blockers in town;
  • Nekretaal is an efficient kill-and-swing creature;
  • Hymn to Tourach is the standard in single-target discard;
  • Black Knight and similar cards are good against more than just white;
  • Exhume is a fun little recursion spell (whose big brother made top ten);
  • Withered Wretch is both a decent creature and certain doom for recursion decks;
  • Bone Harvest is a late-game backbreaker to stack your deck;
  • Hypnotic Specter is the high standard for black creatures (and, some would say, creatures of any color).
  • When it comes to the fireworks, though, these are what you want to set off in group games:

    Patriarch's Bidding
    10.Patriarch's Bidding. Exhume gone wild, this card comes equipped with a method for breaking the symmetry, particularly if you play fragile creature types such as goblins or zombies. Yes, your opponents will also get some good beats back out. Consider it one of the few gifts black bestows upon the masses.

    9.Decree of Pain. There are several cards that do mass creature destruction; but this is the most straightforward and impressive. Eight mana is doable in group play, and the potential card advantage is quite simply insane. There are times I haven't played this spell because I would deck myself. In those instances, I simply cycle it for a Massacre and kill just about everything anyway.

    8.Living Death. Of course, sometimes just killing the board or just bringing back a bunch of dead creatures isn't enough. In that case, consider Living Death an "entwine" card, combining the last two entries with a bargain basement price. This card lends itself to combos involving Goblin Bombardment or Altar of Dementia, and many other assorted "sack for X" effects.

    Spreading Plague
    7.Spreading Plague. It's incredible how many different ways black has of killing creatures, isn't it? Here, it's all about color. As you play your Wild Mongrels and artifact creatures (and don't forget to add Illusion/Reality!), have a blast watching the rest of the board cope with major events like Sliver Queen.

    6. Mortivore. Good ol' Mort is a fine companion to the original Lhurgoyf. His regeneration is icing. Make sure he's getting +1/+1 from Anger, so that you can take out the guy with the Terminate or Swords to Plowshare capability before he untaps. The rest of the table generally doesn't have reliable spot removal for something like this. Excellent after the first Mutilate… it will almost always survive the second.

    5. Avatar of Woe. Part of me doesn't feel right ranking a creature above this one - but it boils down to a matter of machine gun ability, which is about the only thing this Avatar doesn't have. I love Visara the Dreadful; but that gorgon is a shadow of this beast, given the fact that dropping this for Black ManaBlack Mana is near-automatic by round four or five, and the extra point of power means it can finish off many opponents that much faster. Oh, also, you can have more than one in play at a time.

    4. Death Match. Pandemonium gone dark. While Pandemonium is a great multiplayer card (see red's Hall below), part of me regrets that the controller can suffer so badly from it. Death Match gives the controller the option of staying ahead of the game - either by playing creatures with protection from black (e.g., Anurid Scavenger), or high toughness creatures (e.g., Wall of Air), or simply outgunning everyone else (e.g., Squirrel Nest). With this card out, one Waylay can wreck 18 toughness worth of creature(s).

    Thrashing Wumpus
    3. Thrashing Wumpus. Okay, part of it is the name "wumpus". Who doesn't love the wumpi? (I got great feedback on my "lhurgoyfu" plural proposal a few months ago…from that, I could apparently suggest anything from "wumpa" to "wumpodes", here!) But the main attraction of this card is the way it blends the classic Pestilence with the capability to swing. The 3 toughness is a non-issue - black mages can play anything from Bad Moon to Death Pit Offering in order to keep their chief lieutenant in firm control of the board.

    2. Last Laugh. Another Pestilence variant may seem too similar; but the key difference here is the trigger. Last Laugh is a disaster waiting to happen - and a cascade of stacked effects once something so simple as a Bone Shredder hits the board. It has its own dynamic, and accelerates the game in a way its damage-dealing siblings don't.

    1. Grave Pact. I've noted in past columns that this is one of my favorite cards, period. It has great sentimental value for me, but I think I've been fair with the ratings you'll see on the speadsheet. It is a terrific signal that says "don't you dare" to so many players on the board - and once in a while, you'll get that maniac who comes after you just to get things started. Good fun. Great in combination with Bottle Gnomes, Bloodshot Cyclops, Skittering Skirge, Hecatomb, and a million other cards.

    You can access the ratings and full information for these ten cards, as well as the other thirty black cards in the Hall, here.

    Hall of Fame: Red

    It's appropriate for black and red to be next to each other in the Hall: both have a reputation for giving up long-term resources for short-term gain. (Think of the transfer of Dark Ritual's mechanic to Seething Song.) In red's case, it has a history that goes way beyond mana acceleration: so many of its effects require sacrifice for damage that it ends up with the "worst" overall average card rating of all five colors. Also contributing to the low overall is the low "cockroach", which comes from both sacrifice and sorceries - red's Hall has nine, more than any other color. (Such statistics don't mean a whole lot; I could warp them in a jiffy by putting in a bunch of unrated cards I set aside as "similar". So let's not have all the red mages get too excited, here!)

    Red is, unsurprisingly, the color of damage - and when it comes to multiplayer cards, it dishes out an awful lot. From the unspectacular but efficient Sizzle to the limitless Earthquake (listed similar to Starstorm in the Hall), red tests creatures' toughness like no other color.

    But red is about more than damage - it's about innovative creatures and effects that deal damage! Form of the Dragon, Butcher Orgg, and AEther Flash all fill in the middle of red's Hall.

    Okay. There are, to be sure, a few non-damage effects popping up here and there. Price of Glory and Insurrection both play into themes that are increasingly red with time - and red can do some very subtle things within the board-stunning effects you'll see in entries #3 and #4. But by and large, we're talking about damage.

    Here are some of the damage staples - er, I mean red staples - you'll want to have in your collection to make your decks shine:

  • Lightning Bolt can be hard to get, but Shock or Seal of Fire is just fine;
  • Flowstone Wall is a great warning blocker to keep your early game safe;
  • Defender of Chaos is a sweet instant-speed creature that gets better with white's recent emergence;
  • Suq'ata Lancer does great things to one-toughness creatures, even if they have protection from red;
  • Lunge is short and to the point - and can nick two different ends of the board;
  • Mogg Fanatic will always be red's best one-mana creatures;
  • Fireblast is one of the most powerful alternate-play-cost spells you'll find;
  • Viashino Heretic is particularly powerful in a Mirrodin age;
  • Lightning Rift is likely to continue to be a good card, as long as cycling lands are common;
  • Shivan Dragon is the classic closer for a mono-red deck (though those crazy young kids keep using stuff like Urza's Rage).
  • Here are the top ten cards in red's Hall. They tend to be enchantments, and they tend to be pretty wild:

    Repercussion
    10. Grip of Chaos. With random targeting, the whole game changes. Red's version of Psychic Battle doesn't come under neat control with a simple Scroll Rack - you have to either accept the chaos, or play a different sort of game using a small number of permanents (stuff like Ghitu Encampment, which isn't always a creature) and more universal firepower (such as Repercussion). Speaking of which…

    9. Repercussion. Here's a card I keep expecting Wizards to reprint in a basic set. It has a combo-lite feel to it, and makes every other damage card twice as good. Sort of a low-rent…wait, I'm saving that for #1.

    8. Mana Flare. Red doesn't do this sort of thing much any more - help the whole board, that is. At least not intentionally, like Mana Flare does. This is a True Casual Classic, the sort of card that veterans don't play unless their copy has worn edges and looks like a dog slobbered all over it.

    Bloodfire Colossus
    7. Shivan Hellkite. As readers learned from the ratings system sample two weeks ago, Shivan Hellkite sits at or near the top when it comes to the rattlesnake element. This sucker's tail rattles very loud, constantly. Often targeted for removal, few cards have benefitted from the arrival of Bladewing the Risen like this Tier One multiplayer card.

    And yet it's not the top of the heap, when it comes to red creatures…

    6. Bloodfire Colossus. With an activation cost of a mere Red Mana, and reanimation possibilities ranging from Dawn of the Dead to Reya, Dawnbringer, the Colossus is an absolute machine. The threat of an Inferno can very quickly turn the tide of a late game, once everyone is at or near six life. If that happens, you may want to have a bit of instant lifegain handy, because someone is going to try to force you to end the game in a draw.

    The artwork on this card is also terrific. This one just fires up all my cylinders.

    5. Pandemonium. PAAANNNNNNNN-DEEEEEE-MOOOOOONIUM!!!!

    Ahem. Not much else to say, here.

    Thieves' Auction
    4. Thieves' Auction. Randy Buehler played this at the Multiplayer Invitational back in Los Angeles before the Pro Tour in January 2000. It was him, me, starcitygames.com editor The Ferrett, Magic diva Michelle Bush, judge extraordinare Sheldon Menery, and my close personal friend Chad Ellis (who came out of nowhere to save my butt from elimination, which eventually gave me the time I needed to win that game…there's a big, dashing tale to tell, which you can find in starcitygames.com archives from around that time).

    Anyway, it was mid-game, we had something like eighty permanents on the board, it was approaching midnight, Randy played it…and Chad countered it. (He had to play the next day, and said he didn't want to spend all night distributing permanents, and then redistributing them again when the game was over. Pretty smart move, from his perspective…and it speaks to the occasional importance of countermagic in group play!)

    I was very happy with that Counterspell, because I was sitting to Randy's right. Thieves Auction (and Thundermare, and other cards that tap everything) is very, very bad for the last player who will untap.

    So I never miss an opportunity to thank my good friend Chad Ellis for the excellent plays he made that evening. He helped the better man win, which makes him even better, in a way, don't you think?

    Anyway, thanks again, Chad! (He really is a terrific guy. Boston area players are lucky to have him around.)

    3. Confusion in the Ranks. Ah, a Mirrodin card. Well, we were just talking about this one a few weeks ago, so I'll keep it short and sweet here: Confusion in the Ranks is a groundbreaking card. This is the kind of card you play with immediately when it comes out… then you forget after about six months, and a year, and two years… and then you find it in the back of your collection, and you play it again and absolutely blow away the new members of your group. (You know, the ones you haven't met yet… they'll come in at the beginning of the next cycle code-named Gold, Frankenscence, and Myrrh; or fruit salad, potato salad, and shrimp salad; or Jeb, Herbert, and W. Bush; or whatever they come up with.)

    Furnace of Rath
    2. Radiate. What Confusion in the Ranks will do next year to the newer members in your group or at the local store, this card will do right about now. One and a half years is about right.

    1. Furnace of Rath. I like reprinting this riddle from Tolkien's The Hobbit when I talk about this card in the Hall:

    This thing all things devours
    Birds, beasts, trees, flowers,
    Gnaws iron, bites steel,
    Grinds hard stones to meal,
    Slays king, ruins town,
    And beats high mountain down!

    The answer is time, and your opponents now have half as much of it.

    You can access the ratings and full information for these ten cards, as well as the other thirty red cards in the Hall, here.

    Hall of Dirt: Lands

    You know, it's just not too exciting to talk about lands in multiplayer. They all work better when untapped, Awakening is a great combo, and so on.

    People looking for Gaea's Cradle and Tolarian Academy need to remember what I said about cards like Morphling - a card that plays well in casual or tournament play isn't necessarily a definitive multiplayer card. Therefore, you'll only see 17 entries - an awkward number, but it's prime and all, so it felt right.

    Here are the top three - nothing recent has come that close to cracking this trio, short of Contested Cliffs (#5 on the list) and Unholy Grotto (similar to #2).

    Karakas
    3. Karakas. Legends are plentiful in multiplayer games - the slow environment lets an awful lot of them in. But even if you just combo it with Unnatural Selection, there's plenty of warning value to this card. And you'll use it so much, it may warp space and time for you. Once, I told an opponent who had Akroma, Angel of Wrath, "I don't think I've ever held off such an impressive creature before!" Without smiling much, he answered, "Oh, you've held her off before. About three different games, in the past few months."

    Both of Mirrodin's legends - Bosh, Iron Golem (because of his sheer cost) and Glissa Sunseeker (because of her tap symbol) - generally require a full round before they get to use their activated abilities. Keep that in mind.

    2. Volrath's Stronghold. The Stronghold works similar to (though not quite as well as) Haunted Crossroads, in that it demonstrates the futility of killing your creatures. The Crossroads is a bit better at flooding the top of your library at instant speed (excellent against milling decks); but the Stronghold and its cousin Unholy Grotto are repeatable card advantage in multiplayer - and repeatable card advantage is good in any format.

    Shivan Gorge
    1. Shivan Gorge. Perhaps the only land that was truly built for multiplayer games, beyond the vaguely pathetic Rainbow Vale. (Are you listening, Mark, Bill, Brian, etc.…?) The Gorge is a near-automatic "include" in any deck that is at least half red and hopes to win through any kind of damage. It is an actual path to victory with Seedborn Muse and/or Awakening. It's great it team as well, since it takes the trouble to avoid pinging your teammates. Nicely done.

    You can access the ratings and full information for these three cards, as well as the other fourteen lands in the Hall, here.


    When we close the Hall in two weeks, we'll do green, gold, and artifact cards - including the best multiplayer card overall!

    Please do NOT email Anthony with suggestions regarding the Hall of Fame until you have read the instructions on the spreadsheets. Thanks - this will help him respond to you faster.

    For other matters, you can reach him immediately at seriousfun@wizards.com.

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