hen I'm not writing columns for you folks, my day job is the Editor-in-Chief at StarCityGames.com, one of the major independent Magic strategy sites. And at least three times a year, I spend my days dodging bullets.
"No!" I cry, shielding my eyes from the web page. "Say nothing!" say I, as I slam the phone down on my co-workers and friends. "Away wi' ye!" I type as I send another email spiraling into the "Deleted Items" folder.
Because when a new set comes a'knocking, I don't want to know what's in it.
It's a surprising attitude given that I'm paid a good salary to stay on top of the latest Magic news, but I really like showing up at prereleases without a clue to what I'll be opening. I'll read the official spoiled cards here, of course, but grokking the whole set at once? I want it to be fresh and new, like a virgin, for the very first time. And that's tough to do when your job is to support a site that sells Magic cards.
Yet through a combination of luck and bull-headed ignorance, I had avoided most of the advance information for Time Spiral. So imagine my surprise when I opened my first pack at the Prerelease and saw those little purple puppies pointing up at me.
Old cards reprinted!
Well, actually, I imagine most of you don't have to imagine my surprise. You felt it. And man, wasn't that great? I never expected to see some of these cards reprinted – who the heck thought we’d see Psionic Blast ever again? You can get an Akroma, Angel of Wrath and then hide her in a Safe Haven?
How awesome is that?
But more importantly, it’s great for multiplayer — because a lot of the Timeshiftees are staple multiplayer cards that everyone should own. I know, I know, not everyone’s been playing since The Dark like I have, but there are some cards that are just so good at what they do in multiplayer that you’ll find yourself throwing them into almost every deck.
Case in point: Wall of Roots
Oh, you thought I’d pick a splashier card, didn’t you? Wall of Roots looks pretty mundane. Wall of Roots just isn’t sexy, even when it starred in the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and almost ate poor Cedric.
Look closer. Give this little card the time it needs, and you’ll see it take off its glasses, it’ll take its hair out of that ugly bun and let it down in flowing tresses, and once you put it in a good Prom dress it’ll be the queen, baby.
You wouldn’t think that a tiny wall would be such a great addition to a multiplayer deck, but it’s perfect for slow decks. Because in multiplayer, if you’re not on offense by turn 3, you need defense — otherwise, Joe, Phil, and Sarah will look around the table with their 2/2s and go, "Gee, who should I attack?" And there you are, looking like a free damage buffet.
Then, after a couple of hits from Joe, Phil, and Sarah, you’re at 10 life while everyone else is at 20, and it gets hard to come back from that.
With Wall of Roots, you not only get early defense that wards off nasty Goblinses, but you get something that helps you out of mana-screw. People forget that the Wall of Roots exists when they’re counting how much mana you have open. It helps you out of mana-screw. And nobody ever kills it, because who’s going to waste a removal spell on a stupid wall?
It’s not flashy, but that Wall is there for you.
But what sort of deck can a Wall like this go into? Well, let’s discuss my theories on multiplayer deckbuilding for a bit, so that we can talk about how you build decks to handle several people at once.
When you’re designing a deck for multiplayer, there are three things you need to take into account:
- How many players am I expected to dispatch before I win?
- What strategies am I likely to face?
- How much fun do I want to have?
Let’s deal with each of these in turn, culminating with a deck that’s full of the NEW OMG HOTNESS of Timeshifted cards.
How Many Players?
In a straight-up Chaos free-for-all, there are two types of games you’re going to have: a three- to four-player game, and five and above. They play very differently, and it’s all due to global removal.
In three- to four-player games, the chances that someone is going to cast a spell that clears the board (like Wrath of God or Mutilate) at any time is — well, it’s not slim, but it’s something you can work around. It’s a little more dangerous than a duel, but you can still win with a swarm of creatures alone. Goblins and Elves can take the day in a heartbeat!
But when five players show up – assuming they know what they’re doing, and your group doesn’t ban global removal outright – then you’re going to run into some landscape-rearranging spell every four or five turns on average.
Each additional player that joins the game makes it that much harder to win with a straight creature rush. Creatures are really effective ways of winning, but only when they stay on the board long enough to pound someone’s face. If you can only get two or three attacks with them before they shuffle off this mortal coil, well… Not so much.
Which means that in a large group, you either have to play combo to win – which I personally find icky, and it’s certainly not fun when everyone’s playing combo decks — or you have to build in some form of reusability to account for fact that your critters and artifacts and enchantments are going to hit the bin on a regular basis.
In this case, let’s say my deck is for a large group.
What Strategies Am I Likely To Face?
The other problem with multiplayer is that you don’t usually get to sideboard. Either you can deal with that enchantment, or you lose. That’s it.
Which leaves the struggling multiplayadeckbuilda with a Sophie’s Choice: Do you put in reactive cards that don’t actually further your strategy, like Naturalize, or do you design your deck to be a tightly-focused killing machine that hopes that someone else will handle whatever card is mauling you?
Some folks go for pure efficiency. "Sure, my deck can’t handle a Merieke Ri Berit
," they say, "But I bet that someone else at the table will find it just as annoying as I do, and they’ll kill or neutralize it for
"Sure," comes the reply. "But what happens if everyone else gets eliminated, and you’re facing Berit with no backup? You’re dead, then, aren’t you?"
"Yeah, but I win easier," says Efficiency Dude. "Your deck’s clogged with spells that don’t do anything aside from stopping other people! I’ll just kill that guy before he gets set up! Every card in my deck gets me one step closer to winning!"
"Unless someone else throws a monkey wrench in your machinery! Then you’re toast!"
"Your momma’s toast!"
"That doesn’t even make sense, you — "
"Wait a minute, children," interrupts a third guy — who looks a lot like Mister Rogers crossed with Santa Claus. "Why not balance it? After all, there’s no way of stopping everything. You can’t consistently destroy enchantment-based decks, creature-based decks, artifact-based decks, control decks, combo decks, and graveyard recursion decks… Not if you want to have cards left over to win."
"So what’s your point?"
"There’s a middle ground," says Mister Claus. "You can decide what kinds of cards are going to disrupt your deck’s strategy, then look at the kinds of decks your friends tend to play, and put in only cards to handle bad situations that you think are likely to come up."
The two other men think quietly.
"Nah," they say. And so the debate continues.
How Much Fun Do You Want To Have?
This is a serious problem for me. See, I get easily bored by Constructed. I know, I know, the four-of rule makes for really efficient decks… But I don’t want to see the same set of cards in every opening hand. I like one-ofs, I like not quite knowing what my deck is going to offer this time, I like winning in seven different ways.
Which is a nice way of saying that I’m not that good a deckbuilder. I get distracted. But I have fun.
So you can build decks geared straight for Teh Win. Or you can build wacky decks. The point is not to win every dang game, but to enjoy yourself while you’re in them. Some people get that thrill via brute efficiency — these poor, twisted saps cannot experience the joy of game unless they’ve just come in first — whereas others, and I suspect the majority of you, don’t mind losing a good game as long as it was close.
So How Much Fun Do I Want To Have?
Well, let’s take a look at a staple deck of mine I’ve played for years – it’s a crude variant on The Rock, and it’s not tuned much, and it’s chock-full of hard-to-find and expensive cards (I’ll deal with cheaper decks later), but it’s done well for what it is…
The fun of this deck is that it never plays the same way twice. The early game is always the same: Use the Timeshifted cards Wall of Roots and Twisted Abomination to stabilize your mana base over the first few turns, getting all the lands you need.
From there, you can go with one of several routes:
Cast Spiritmongers, equip with Loxodon Warhammers, beat for infinite damage with trampling regenerators. Boy, is this fun. But not for them.
- Destroy anything that bothers you with Diabolic Edict (or Chainer’s Edict, if you like) and Consume Spirit and Pernicious Deed and Mutilate, then cast the recently Timeshifted Avatar of Woe on the cheap when you’ve killed enough creatures to fill those graves deep.
- Put out a Defense of the Heart – go ahead, read it, it’s a great card – and dare someone to pop it so that you can go get your two biggest creatures and swing.
- This is my favorite – play for the long game as if this was a big dumb creature deck, and plop all of your cards in the graveyard sullenly whenever someone kills you. Then, when they’re not expecting it, cast Balthor the Defiled with enough mana open to pop it if someone looks at you cross-eyed, and then at the end of someone’s turn you leap out with seventy power worth of creatures to have three active Avatar of Woe on your side come your next upkeep.
It can win, and has. But what is this deck’s weakness? What did I not consider? Think carefully, and look it over, then click this link for the answer.
I should also add that Vhati il-dal is pretty darned fun in multiplayer. It’s not the most efficient card, but it does allow you to play Kingmaker; sure, you can attack me if you want, but your creatures might feel a little… fragile after that….
A Note On Ferretts
A couple of people in the forums last week — and thanks for the overwhelmingly positive response, by the way! — noted that I shouldn’t be writing for the site with "a fake name."
Just for the record, when my wife married me, her vows started with, "I take you, Ferrett, to be my husband…." My friends call me Ferrett. My boss calls me Ferrett. My kids call me when they need the cash, but when they ask for me on the phone, they call me Ferrett.
I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m hiding behind some phony name; that’s the handle that people actually call me. It’s a strange nickname, I admit, but not everyone goes by the name on their driver’s license, ya know?
But I gotta go. There’s a new Weird Al CD in my mailbox, and I gotta listen to it… What? "Weasel Stomping Day" is a song on it?
Weird Al, whatever did I do to you?