Initial Impressions

Every now and again, it’s time for some creativity. Not having done so with my articles for a while, why not now? Reading what comes first is natural, so do that, and you’ll understand. A cross, ticked-off bunch you might be if you don’t see my hint in this sentence. Good for you, however, if you persevere. Even serious writers need a break, after all. Doldrums help nobody.

Tracker's Instincts
For a long time, this author’s advocated overlapping synergies in building decks. Overlap is critical because you can’t control your draws the way you’d like. Rube’s machines are fun, but they’re so . . . what’s the word? Unrealistic! Multiplayer simply isn’t friendly to seven-card combos in my experience.

Put cards in that work with at least eight other cards in the deck. Otherwise, you’ll have far too many dead cards either on the board or in your hand. Stop building your decks assuming you’ll always draw your lands and spells in the right order. That only works under blue moons, and watching your deck fold as it unfolds (so to speak) is never fun.

So, how do you implement my advice? Take the strategies for which you know these overlaps to be important, and understand that the concepts ought to inform everything you build. A card like Tracker’s Instincts can be fine on its own, but clearly, it’s asking you to build around the graveyard. Not doing so increases the chances you’ll be disappointed with the card. Great decks are defined as much or more by their worst outings as their best, so keep minimum standards high, and you can thrive.

Thanksgiving, we (my wife with me) played sixty-six games as a round-robin tournament, six of each of our decks facing off against themselves and each other’s decks. Half the time . . . well, way more than half . . . my decks lost to my wife’s most sinister (and synergistic) decks: Allies and Treefolk.

Why do those two work so well? In the green deck’s case, it’s playing the tribal members that enable a consistent performance rather than taking all the most powerful members and putting them together. Zendikar didn’t have the right card-draw or proliferate to help the Allies, but a later set did, and that can make all the difference in taking a linear, vulnerable strategy and helping it play better. Results may vary, of course. Don’t assume the support you put in the first time will cure the deck’s ills. Shuffle in a few different options, and see what you like best.

In theory, this should earn you a ton of wins, right? Strategy in multiplayer says it’s more difficult than that.

Targets shouldn’t be self-painted. Resist the urge to build up the fastest. You’ll draw far too much attention to yourself. It’s not anything the players have against you. Naturally, if someone’s up and running first, he or she has to be stopped first. Good luck working through all the opposition—although some decks can.

Taking too long on your turns can be a similar form of drawing attention. Overthinking your board is an invitation for others to do the same.

Security Curve theory is a vital import from international relations. Raising your profile mid-game is possible and even useful, but you have to do it a certain way in order to minimize suspicion and protect yourself. Even then, however, Wrath effects can foil most battle plans.

Yelling about it? Or keeping quiet? Understanding banter

Often, in a large game in which the ends can’t see each other well, there’s a tendency to point out the nasty things going on at the far end to someone with targetable destruction. Vocalizing this can be helpful to the person whose turn it is. Efforts to point them out, however, might remind your opponent that you also exist. Resentment can also build if you try this too many times.

Ultimately, the layout, loudness, and personalities in the game will be deciding factors. Seating can be used to your advantage, of course. I’m not skilled at maximizing this. Normally, my loud voice precludes me from hiding anyway. Go figure.

So, what now? Every group after a while gravitates to a few favorite decks and decks that play well against each other. Learn those decks, and you have an advantage. Eventually, however, the games and lines of play become predictable. Choosing when and how to mix up your deck styles is a tall order. Tall, that is, because you have to scale the wall of your own habits. In many cases, when building a seemingly different deck, it’s different in a predictable way. Vet your deck with someone who doesn’t build like you do to see if you’ve successfully gone rogue. Extra-credit activities like this will come in handy later.

Expected Value!” is a cry heard often in strategy concerns. If you don’t think this way, it isn’t helpful to start now. Decks for casual/multiplayer aren’t always configured as a series of incremental-value gains. Each situation is different. No model will fit all situations, even ones rooted in good theory from other disciplines. Consider it, sure. Enforce it in all situations, no.

In summary, strategy should be the sum of several considerations. Never limit yourself, as convenient as it may be.

Anyway . . . 

What Are You?

Ball Lightning
Taking stock of your style is important, as noted above. Hang around people for long enough, and you’ll figure out how they play. Also, it’s useful to play each other’s decks as an insight into styles. To see friends use your deck a different way lets you see new angles of your deck as well.

Innovation is shy around complacency.

We normally come to this game from other games. Over time, what games you liked before and why you liked them will bleed into deck construction. Understandably, it’s worth determining your own background. Lately, in my case, trying to play the game as its own game rather than chess has been the challenge. Dawdling to make value exchanges is great, but sometimes, fast decks run me over, and that’s not my favorite.

Aggressive play, in fact, is something that doesn’t compute well with me. Damage, in my brain, is hard to push through unless it’s evasive. Maybe I need a lesson from friends. Really, this could be about chess, where aggression rarely makes sense, or about learning this game from a blue mage. Early in playing, your card pool isn’t aggressive enough to beat a control deck, and you feel foolish for trying.

Whatever the case, it would seem that playing the game for ten years would put me into the mindset. Even after that long, some styles are difficult for me. Red decks, for instance, are still a glob of mystery. Efforts to build them usually end in bad versions of green decks.

I’ve prattled on too long. To the conclusion!

Now Out of Time . . . 

Find small synergies with cards that support other synergies. Odds of doing something are increased this way. Realism still allows for creativity; just as importantly, it lets you see that creativity on the board instead of having it in your hand when you die.

In that vein, be careful how you present yourself. Talk too much, and you turn eyes to your board. Silence isn’t golden, but it is hard currency in multiplayer, paying for your continued existence.

Understanding yourself as a player is key to growing and avoiding stagnation. Then, once you have that down, learn from other players. Themes you come back to are important, but it’s worth trying to see the game as a different style. Either you’ll develop in that style or you’ll discover it’s not for you. Regardless, you’ll learn something out of the experience.

I hope you got something out of this article. Developing something like this is fun, although time-consuming. If you want to see more of this sort of thing, let me know. Offering suggestions is fine as well. Comment sections are fantastic when used for suggestions. You all go out and have fun playing the game this week.