Serious_Fun

Oh, Here Are the People in My Neighborhood

Oh, Here Are the People in My Neighborhood

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The letter P!lanar Chaos is out… And the casual world, as it always is, is abuzz with possibility. What will be the new hotness of Chaos? What will be the card that everyone groans and goes, “Lordy, not that thing?”

I wish I could tell you.

Dichotomancy As I’ve admitted before, I’m not that good at predicting what the good cards are. But I have faith in the collective wisdom of magicthegathering.com’s readers to tell me what they are! And so I issue my second and third reader challenge to you, the people reading this here article, two questions with two tiny prizes at stake:

What is the most powerful multiplayer card in Planar Chaos?
What is the funnest most fun card in Planar Chaos?

The usual rules apply for each challenge, applied separately:

1. Pick a non-timeshifted card in Planar Chaos. We want none of that reborn-in-new-colors stuff like Harmonize. Just the new stuff, please, thanks.

2. Decide whether this card is the “most powerful” or “most fun.” (You can choose one for each, of course, but they have to go in separate emails.)

3. Write up your reason why this is the most powerful/fun card in Planar Chaos. Since this is a smaller set, please keep in mind that someone else will almost certainly choose your card, so back up your choice with something – perhaps a deck, perhaps a discussion on what sorts of problems this card fixes, perhaps just a brief talk on why Hour 4 of Season six of 24 was the most kick-ass moment in one of the most kick-ass shows on television, and how that relates to Jedit Ojanen of Efrava. In any case, it’s unlikely that a submission as content-free as “akroma wins because she is big” will get my attention.

4. Send that reason to theferrett@theferrett.com with a title of either “Planar Chaos FUN!” or “Planar Chaos POWERFUL!” just so I don’t confuse your fantabulous description on the delights of Chronozoa with an unsolicited request for help from a Nigerian prince. Make sure you send it before midnight on Friday, February 16th... And make sure you title your email with “FUN” or “POWERFUL” so I know what folder to put it into. Failure to do this may mean that I overlook your entry or file it in the wrong box, leading to a Homer-style D’oh! moment when your potentially-award-winning submission never gets read thanks to clerical error.

5. The Ferrett will then pick a winner for both fun and powerful. He or she will not only get the satisfaction of having everyone who reads magicthegathering.com know that he or she has correctly identified the best card in all of Planar Chaos, but will also be sent an autographed copy of that very card. (If it’s a common, I’ll send you a full playset.) If you think the card would be more valuable without my autograph on it, well, heck, I’ll leave it off.

What’s that? You want my pick for the most powerful multiplayer card? As usual, I have my own takes and some cards that I think I’ll be seeing soon (Kavu Predator, given the lifegain we see around here, could be veeeeery interesting), but I don’t want to prejudice you.

Besides, it’s time to introduce you to my multiplayer group.

Hanging With My Homeys

Mantle_of_LeadershipThe beauty of multiplayer is that every group is different. There are aggro groups where everyone attacks, and fun groups where everyone plays old preconstructed decks that really aren’t that good but they are fun, and rigid Standard-legal groups where they only play the latest expansions.

So when people ask me, “Is this deck good?” my answer is inevitably, “I don’t know. What’s your group like?”

As for me, my guys get together at my house in Cleveland every Tuesday to play Magic late into the night (well, 1:00 a.m. – late for timeshifted fogeys like us). I usually get between two and six people showing up, but we’ve had as many as ten people slinging cards in my living room.

They are the reason I can write this column.

Seriously. Every time I give you some tidbit of advice, it’s because these great people I play with have taught me something new. And it’s not fair that you guys only know me; I’m the public face of Serious Fun these days, but the column is shaped by the decks, the strategies, and the fun that my Tuesday Night Multiplayer group brings.

I’ve gone too long without introducing them. So lemme tell you about the guys I play with, show you what a representative deck of theirs looks like, and tell you what they’ve taught me in multiplayer.

Josh Slash Vrax

Josh has a split personality. He claims that there are two souls within him: The silly guy who wants to play fun decks (that’s Josh), and the guy who wants to win at all costs (named “Vrax”). Both of them show up in the same body: a compact, leather-wearing practitioner of martial arts and reiki who plays with a silly grin and cool, unreadable eyes.

I asked them both questions, just in case:


JoshVrax
Favorite Color?Tribal

Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite color in Magic is, I say, without hesitation, "White." However, after a few gaming sessions with me, Most Folks call me a liar and explain to me that, clearly, blue is my favorite color.

Most Folks are wrong. My favorite color in Magic is white. I just play blue twice as often.

Favorite Card?Vesuvan DoppelgangerWrath of God
Favorite Expansion?Onslaught!This is such a Sophie's Choice, man. Probably Scourge but maybe Apocalypse, Invasion, Onslaught, Guildpact, or Dissension. Damn, that Planar Chaos looks really good, too.
The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind if You Want to Win at Multiplayer?Play with cards that work well together. It's important to have cards that are good on their own and amazing together.Let someone else carry your load. Don't do anything about a threat unless you're the only person who can stop it. Don't worry about doing damage early on, life only matters at 10 or less.


Josh’s Lesson: Let Someone Else Do It

I remember the very play that cost me the first, and last, Multiplayer Invitational at Pro Tour – LA.

I was playing with a bunch of famous Magic players – Trix designer Michelle Bush, famous-pro-now-R&D dude Randy Buehler, “The Danger of Cool Things” author Chad Ellis, mega-judge Sheldon Menery, and some other multiplayer writer called Anthony Alongi, who was apparently slightly famous in some areas for his skill with the cards.

The situation was this: The game had devolved into a big ol’ creature standoff because, despite the skill and experience of the people at the table, not one of them was playing anything resembling a Wrath of God. I was piloting a black/red control deck packed with Voids and Plague Spitters and Syphon Souls and all sorts of ugly stuff.

Michelle Bush, on the other hand, had gotten a Captain Sisay out and was Harrowing for land. Lots of land. And she had two Invasion Dragons out. And that, my friends, is when she played...

Coalition Victory.

Hold!” I cried, tapping six lands. I powered out a Tsabo’s Decree, naming “Legends” (which, in the days before Kamigawa changed the way Legends were handled in Magic, was perfectly correct – it wouldn’t be now), and destroyed all dragons in play and cleared her entire hand.

That was when I lost.

Tsabos Decree
You see, my problem with multiplayer is that I like to be Johnny on the spot. I like the big, splashy plays that control the board and let everyone know that I’m in charge. And frequently, that has two nasty side effects:

 1)I wind up messing with people prematurely, and they vow a fatal revenge.
 2)When I need the cards to save my butt later, I don’t have them.

The key thing to understand here was that Anthony had a Seal of Doom on the table, and the other players had untapped mana as well. The proper play would have been to say, quietly, “I believe priority passes in clockwise order” and let the burden of action fall upon one Mister Anthony Alongi.

He could have passed. He might have said, “Screw it, I think Ferrett’s bluffing – he’s playing B/R, he has to have something.” Or, as is more likely, he would have made a face, realized that if he passed and was wrong that would be game right there, and then reluctantly popped his Seal o’Doom to handle the problem for me.

Or perhaps someone else would have done something else. There was time. But no, I leapt out of my chair to waste my Tsabo’s Decree in this huge, outrageously fun play… And then I had an outrageous loss when, later, Chad Ellis smashed me with a regenerating Rhox that I could not destroy. Which I could have, had I not blown the Decree.

Josh would not have made that mistake. For Josh is a machine.

It’s not that Josh is totally passive, for if he was then I would despise him. Josh is perfectly willing to slam down the right cards at the right moment. But what I’ve come to notice about Josh is that while I am still going, “Slam! Pow! In yo’ face!” with my cards, laughing and affecting the board, Josh is quietly building up a hand made of total awesome because I am doing his job for him.

Then he destroys me.

Wrath of God
What I should do, of course, is look at the other decks in play and ask, “Is that enchantment/creature/evil land hurting someone else worse than it’s hurting me? And if so, does that person have the capacity to remove it?”

Because if he does… Wait. The lesson to be learned here in multiplayer is that oftentimes, if you hold tight for a turn or two – absorbing an attack, or enduring some evil enchantment for a brief time – some other player who is far more inconvenienced than you are will reduce their own resources to deal with the problem. Leaving you with a juicy, juicy card in hand.

Sometimes you have to bite the bullet, of course. Sometimes you gotta just thunder it out and clean up your own mess. But if there was one piece of advice I had to give to a novice Magic player that would sum up pro Magic in as few words as possible, it would be this:

Wait until you absolutely have to before you do it.

Don’t kill the first creature you see the moment you draw the death spell. Don’t lay a land unless you really need it. Don’t cast that instant before the end of turn, or in the middle of combat when your opponent’s already committed.

Wait.

The same applies for multiplayer. And Josh knows it. Good man.

(And yes, this advice is not perfect when it comes to “the attack phase,” since novices are usually too terrified to commit their creatures to battle… But what do you want when you’re trying to condense years of experience in the world’s most complicated game down into one ten-word sentence?)

Ian of the Angelic Face

Ian is most famed for getting hit on at prereleases. In fact, now that he’s committed to his fiancée, he refused to go to the Planar Chaos prerelease because he didn’t want to have to deal with that.

(Okay, and he had another commitment. But still.)

Which is not unusual. One girl claimed that Ian had “the face of an angel,” and to be fair Ian is pretty good-lookin’ – he’s got a laconic, laid-back way about him that just charms people. He’s also known for startling people with random strings of dialogue that sound like it’s from some movie, but turns out to be just some bizarre bit of stuff that was going through his head.

“My mind is like a radio station,” he told me, giggling. “I tune in to weird things all the time.” And yet for all of that he holds down a steady job and is a pillar of the community.


Ian
Favorite Color?Gold, baby!
Favorite Card?Nebuchadnezzar (or maybe Shocker — I have a Megrim/Shocker/Fire Whip deck that's almost worked a lot of times...)
Favorite Expansion?The Dark
The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind if You Want to Win at Multiplayer?Knowing when the tipping point of playing cautiously vs. time to eliminate someone has arrived, and then not overdoing it – how many times do you blow yourself out to take out the second-to-last guy because you are so excited to not be playing draw-pass for a turn?


Ian of the Angelic Face’s Lesson: Boil the Water Slowly

This Demon-based deck is emblematic of Ian’s tendencies. He’s not a die-hard tribal player, of course, but the decks he plays that usually smash us are. He’s got this Demon deck, and a R/W Samurai deck, and a R/W Soldiers deck that does quite well, and a Birds deck, and a Modular deck that everyone frickin’ hates, and a Beast deck with Contested Cliffs that has stomped over me more times than I can count.

(Interestingly enough, Josh has a Soldiers and a Bird deck of his own, and they’re almost entirely different decks. There’s a lot of room in the birdy soldiers area, apparently.)

The thing is, the whole “tribal” thing works well with Ian’s style. Because Ian? He creeps up on you.

The nature of tribal is, well, creepy. Because it’s the death by a thousand cuts, the frog in the pot of slowly heating water. Is one soldier enough to make you flip? Well, no. You can deal with a Deftblade Elite, sure enough.

Is a Deftblade Elite and a Catapult Squad too much to handle? Well, it’s certainly a threat, but by then there are other problems on the board. You’ve gotta handle the dude who just plopped down that Morphling.

Deftblade Elite
Well, what about a Deftblade Elite and a Catapult Squad and a Bonesplitter and a Signet and a couple of other soldiers and, oh, Armageddon?

Good game.

The nature of Ian and his tribal themes is that they generally look good, but not insurmountable, until he lays that final card that pushes them over the top. The R/W Samurai deck? It’s just a bunch of dudes, you think, until he quietly pushes Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion onto the table and you wind up going down to a swarm of very angry Japanese men.

The Birds deck? Man, that’s stupid. Who plays with Aven Envoy? And then, suddenly, the last piece clicks into place, and then boom.

You can overplay it, of course. In recent times our group has been Slivertastic – we had one notable game where three Sliver decks tried to take out one lone mage and lost. We had another one where I teamed up with Todd’s Sliver deck to destroy the other three players, then convinced him that as Slivers, we were all brothers and should declare a mutual victory for the hive. (He agreed!) It got to the point where Josh was randomly throwing Hivestones into his deck just so he could ride the Sliver wave.

As such, there’s no such thing as a quiet Sliver. We know that Horned Sliver will be followed up with ugliness. You can’t fool us.

But hey, it’s a bird! How much damage can a bird do? Come on. That is the genius of Ian’s approach; it bubbles just under the radar, appearing to be something that can be handled just a turn or two from now…

And then Ian will give you the bird. And you, my friend, will have to take it.

Dmitri of The Chair-Leaping

I’ve discussed Dmitri before, but he bears mentioning again because Dmitri is pure fun. So fun, in fact, that we do Dmitri imitations.

You see, Dmitri is famed for his enthusiasm. For anything. Everything. Mention a book he likes, and he will catapult from his chair to exclaim, “I love that!” His lust for life and overt friendliness makes any table he’s at good times indeed.

(Not that Josh, Ian, and Todd don’t also make good times. They’re all fun people. But Dmitri is the funnest most fun.)

Dmitri also likes to think. A lot. Which would explain why his answers here are the most comprehensive; he likes to consider every question thoroughly. As witness!


Dmitri
Favorite Color?

Blue. No, Green! Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

I love blue for its versatility. That it has tricky spells, and great creatures (read: strong flyers). That, potentially, it has an answer for any possible threat in the world.

But lately, I've been discovering the serenity of green. That it has enough utility (especially with its creatures) to do anything I want. That there is a purity to throwing down guys and turning them sideways. And that, if you do not have a threat to another deck's complicated lockdown or combo... what did they expect? You are simply green. And the art is pretty.

Favorite Card?

Hurricane.

There is a beauty to being able to take out all of the players in a large multiplayer game, at once, in a single spell. Or sweeping a whole army of elder dragons out of the sky. I imagine that's what the Wrath of God players must feel… But white is evil, and I dare not touch it. And even if there's not enough mana to end the game, at least it makes the game quicker. Which I've come to appreciate in my old age.

Favorite Expansion?

Beta.

I started just as Unlimited was going out the door. And I still remember sitting down against a friend playing mono-black who laid down a neat row of sinister black-edged Swamps. It spoke of austerity and old-school power even then, and the connotation has only grown in strength through the years. But it also represents the innocent and hopeful beginnings of the game, and of comprehensible finiteness.

Plus, did I mention the black borders?

The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind if You Want to Win at Multiplayer?No idea. But I do know what I struggle to keep in mind at the multiplayer table… and that's trying to avoid the one-on-one mindset of attacking early and constantly, of squeezing every point of damage out of every goblin and Tim. I need to remember how to bide and gather forces, and also to leave some of the weaker players in the game who would be greatly useful in taking down a much stronger opponent.


Here, for the record, is Dmitri’s deck, which is hard to nail down because he’s continually swapping cards out:

Dmitri’s lesson: Don’t Be Afraid to Mop Up

I will admit (for the umpteenth time) that I was against Dmitri’s love of Hurricane at first. But it has served him well. Dmitri is still looking to find his voice in multiplayer, but he knows that sometimes, you just need to take a bunch of people out at once.

I, afraid of political considerations, did not want the Hurricane. It’d be too conditional. It’d hurt you. It’d piss people off. But Dmitri understood.

Hurricane
Sometimes, a clean sweep works. Don’t be afraid to get a card stuck in your hand occasionally if it’ll win the game at the right time. And don’t be afraid to blow out a nine-point Hurricane and take three guys right off the board.

You can’t always dance around the others. Sometimes, you just have to charge in and kill.

Todd of Pinborg

Todd is tall and lanky, and unflaggingly pleasant. While the rest of us are throwing around insults and swearing like sailors, Todd is smiling pleasantly and starting, you know, normal conversations. He’s a nerd by the standards of the outworld, but by the standards of our strange little group he’s the normal guy.

But Todd is like an onion. It turns out that Todd is the author and webmaster of the Twilight Zone Mod FAQ, which is the go-to guide for altering your Twilight Zone Pinball machine to do all sorts of crazy fun things.

“You have a pinball machine?” I asked. “In your house?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “And I do custom cases for Dragon’s Lair.”

He won my heart then. (For the record, I think that Mars Attacks is the finest pinball game ever, since Twilight Zone has a drain that’s a scosh too large for me, but it’s a damn fine game nonetheless.)


Todd
Favorite Color?Red/Black, but don’t get me started on the Rakdos
Favorite Card?Ink-Eyes, Servant of the Oni
Favorite Expansion? I started playing seriously around Mirrodin, so my favorites don't go any further back than that. For flavor I'll go with Kamigawa, but overall, I loved the guild design of Ravnica.
The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind if You Want to Win at Multiplayer? Whenever you can, hold back your threats until someone else looks scarier and draws the hate. I've also won a few with the old "ride the coattails": Try to appear to be the third strongest on the board and let the top two battle each other, then swoop in for the kill.


Todd’s Lesson: Drive Holes in the Metagame

I first knew that Todd had skills when he showed up on the second night.

Todd was, to put it nicely, underpowered. You may notice an abundance of old-school dual lands and power cards in the decks listed above, while Todd was running mostly variants on preconstructed decks. He used pretty much all basic lands. He didn’t have a lot of the reusability or tutoring power that the other decks had, which meant that while Josh and Ian and I were Sensei’s Divining Top and Brainstorming and Sakura-Tribe Eldering and Demonic Tutoring, Todd was frequently at the mercy of whatever his next draw handed him.

But he showed up next Tuesday, bright and bushy-tailed, piloting the same red deck he’d brought last week.

It was a deck designed for fast burn packing both Sizzle and Flame Rift, and it had gotten him killed immediately once everyone had lost seven life in the first three turns and decided they didn’t want to deal with him.

“Ah, that deck,” I said knowingly. And it didn’t start out as strong this time, so we decided to let it go. Sure, it did four damage to us all on turn two, and it was annoying, but it also emptied its hand quickly. He couldn’t recover from that early start. Then we could crush him like a bug.

Price of Progress
Imagine my surprise when after a few turns, he whipped out Price of Progress, dealing fourteen damage to me and putting me down to two life from sixteen.

“I noticed you guys were playing all these dual lands,” he said sheepishly. And he was right. Suddenly, with the addition of four cards, his deck was a serious danger.

That’s the power of Todd’s metagaming.

See, Todd doesn’t always have the big rares that we like to throw around, nor the golden oldies, but he does pay attention to what gets played from week to week. As I’ve noted in a previous article, in the beginning our decks were pretty random, and then they warped radically to deal with Dmitri’s “steal things” deck, and then they headed to Slivertown for awhile. We’d been so focused on creature-based methods of destruction that Todd said, “Hmm. I think this Honden deck is a little fragile, but nobody’s playing Pernicious Deed any more. I think I can chance it.”

He was right. In fact, nobody was playing global enchantment removal, period. We all had one or two Naturalizes, but not enough to deal with the five enchantments he eventually forced onto the board… And once they were there, they stuck. He ended the game at 96 life, able to force three players per turn to discard four cards (thanks to a double-Paradox Haze), doing four damage to three targets per turn, and churning an ungodly number of Spirits to the table.

Tranquility
Was it a good deck? By many standards, no. A single Tranquility would have wrecked him.

But no one had the Tranquility.

That’s what you want to do in multiplayer. Almost every group settles into a rhythm, where they all start unconsciously playing the same essential strategies. No multiplayer deck can deal with everything (well, not without dropping a win condition), so most groups tend to forget about one style of threat: Enchantments. Combos. Whatever.

Your job, as Todd knows all too well, is to find whatever vulnerability your group has left in its armor and drive a truck through it.

…And The Rest

There are others, of course. There is Scary Peter, who has an astounding victory record but only shows up once a month so I don’t have a good handle on him yet. There is Josh’s brother, who hasn’t played Magic since 1998 and has a lot of good strategy trapped in the rules comprehension of a pre-Sixth Edition rules mindset. There are Jonathan and Bryan, who played for the first time this week and were made of awesome.

But they? Perhaps I’ll write about them another time. After all, there are always more lessons to learn.

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