Location, Location, Location
You arrive at Frederico’s house for an evening of Magic. Several people are there ahead of you, leaving you with the remaining seat, jammed between Johan, the group’s aggro player, and Dom, the best control player in the group. This is going to be a rough night.
A strategic element of every multiplayer game that is tragically underappreciated is where you sit. We all want to believe that where we sit at the table is irrelevant. Everyone will make a careful review of the table and make their game decisions based on the information available. Unfortunately, where someone sits has a powerful effect on their decision making.
The choice of seating is also very relevant to the fun level you will enjoy. Some groups have the dreaded seat in a corner that no one wants simply because of some out-of-game issue. Other groups have that single chair that’s far more comfortable than anything else around the table.
Let’s look at some of the variables involved in both strategy and fun in relation to your location.
Round Versus Square Table
Given the choice, a round table is better. A round table makes it easier to see every player’s cards. You don’t have to look past the player on your right to see what the next player is playing. A square or rectangular table offers up a variety of problems:
The player sitting opposite to you. This guy, when all things are equal, will probably attack you, since you are . . . right there. It is an incredibly poor way to choose whom to attack, but it happens all the time. You are more aware of what creatures the person opposite you is playing than anyone else in the game. Almost every type of game people play at a table involves the person across the table as an opponent. I don’t know whether this urge is ingrained or just a product of sheer laziness, but attacking the person sitting across from you tends to be the default.
Given this, do you want to be sitting across from the best player in your group or the worst player in your group? Do you want to be sitting across from the guy in your group who builds decks that kill one person then roll over and die or across from the player who plays for the long game?
Ideally, you want to be the player who is sitting across from no one. Being at the head of the table means you have no one who is constantly sizing up your board state before anyone else’s.
Glare Chair. Rectangular tables also tend to be the ones where at least one player’s cards are obstructed by the glare of lights—or the sun. In my playgroup, the player at the foot of the table can play in near total anonymity, as only the players on his immediate right and left can see the cards he is playing. The glare through the window, reflecting off the sleeves of the cards, makes it impossible for the rest of us to see what he is playing.
In some games, this can be a bad thing if someone decides that person is a threat, then that person is constantly asked what cards he has out, making everyone very aware of what is happening. Most games you hear someone announce the card (or not), then it is mostly forgotten.
End Chairs. While the ends of a rectangular table have no opponent directly across, they are also inhibited by the distance. Trying to see what is on the other side of the table can be difficult, particularly when there are alternate art cards or some creatures with the old borders whose powers and toughnesses are difficult to see.
Near Bathroom/Beer Fridge/Other Amenities
Depending on who you are, these factors can be among the most important when it comes to enjoying your night of Magic. If your host has served spicy bean burritos and your double helping is not working out well with your irritable bowel syndrome, the seat with the easiest access to the bathroom is going to be absolutely essential in your attempts to enjoy the evening.
Some players prefer to sit very close to the beer fridge. While being the person who passes out beers may earn you some good will in the course of the games, most people see a more practical benefit to sitting next to the beer fridge!
I prefer to sit away from the fridge. By the end of the night, I try to present the player sitting next to the fridge with complicated board states and difficult decisions. Generally, the beer-fridge guy is not nearly as good a player at the end of the night as he was at the start!1
Your group probably has other seats that are valued for similar reasons. The seat closest to the kitchen is another favorite location for many Magic players.
Directly to the Right/Left of Particular Style of Player
I recently read an article by Imshan on CommanderCast.com about the Extortion Effect. He looked at how players in multiplayer games responded to cards that give your opponents an option to do something they would not like to do to stop something that is probably worse. Browbeat is the poster boy of extortion cards.
When extortion cards are played in my group, my willingness to engage in brinksmanship is at least partially affected by where I am seated. Let’s consider a scenario where you play Browbeat.
If I am sitting directly to your left in a five-player Chaos game, I am the first person who has to respond to your Browbeat. Let’s assume it is early in the game and everyone has high life totals, so losing the 5 life won’t put anyone in a dangerous situation. Let’s also assume that there is no clear Threat at this point in the game. In this scenario, anyone can pay the life, and the cards could be used against anyone. I am probably going to let you have the cards, not because I want you to have the cards or because I think you’ll attack someone else, but because I want to put pressure on the remaining players to take the damage.
Let’s change the scenario slightly. If there is a clear Threat, and it isn’t you or me, I am still going to let you have the cards since I know you will probably have to bring your resources to bear against a common foe. The person who is the Threat will probably pay to stop you from drawing your cards—or suffer. There is no reason for me to pay!
A final variation of the scenario has me as the last person to choose whether to take the damage or give you the cards. In this scenario, the choice is completely up to me. With no one else to take the damage, there are a number of variables to consider, and Imshan does a great job in his article weighing each of these and making a determination.
This type of decision making goes even further than just extortion-type cards. Do you counter a threat if you know someone else is playing control and that person hasn’t received priority yet? Where you sit plays a big part in how you respond to the players around you.
Everyone hates being stuck in The Chair. Everyone is sitting around the table, talking to everyone else, shuffling up their decks, and generally having a good time. The guy in The Chair is spending the entire night sitting as gingerly as he can in The Chair, trying not to move for fear of disaster.
You’ve probably seen the results of a careless player in The Chair. He starts to get right into the game, and in a moment of forgetfulness, he leans back on the two legs at the back. Everyone hears the crack, and boom, the player disappears from across the table and thumps to the floor under a pile of chair bits that are now best described as “junk.”
Not only does sitting in The Chair interfere with your fun for the night, but the constant distraction will make you a forgetful player. Arrive early; avoid The Chair.
Directly to Right/Left of Particular Player (Attack Right/Left)
If your group is playing attack left, you do not want to be sitting on the left of the aggro player. For whatever reason, many people believe that an aggro deck is an excellent strategy in a multiplayer game that limits whom you can attack and who can attack you. One of these decks invariably does a great job killing one player, but it can do nothing about the player attacking it. No matter how fast it kills the person it’s attacking, it will die before it can come close to winning.
In spite of this failing, many players still play these decks. You probably have one or two of these players in your group. While his deck choice will not win him the game, your deck—carefully crafted with the metagame and attack-left format in mind—will probably be run over if you are his first target. This is not a failing of your deck or a poor read of your group’s metagame; this is due to your failure to choose the correct seat. If you had sat almost anywhere else, your defenses would have been able to withstand the assault, while your offense would have been pressured for the victory.
Conversely, if your group is playing attack left, you want to be sitting on the left of the control player. This is the guy who is going to help you make it all the way around the board. You will be able to make full-out attacks against each opponent on your left while the control player prevents all threats to you on the right. Just be ready for when he turns on you!
Your Buddy with B.O.
Going to a tournament and playing against this guy means you have fifty minutes of unpleasantness until you can get up and move to the other side of the hall. Sitting next to this guy at casual Magic means you are trapped, questioning the value of the sense of smell for several hours.
This guy shows up more often during hot days, for obvious reasons. This also means that he is there when a fan is on. If you don’t know who this guy is in your multiplayer group, you will soon. Sitting next to him is a mistake, but sitting downwind of him with the fan sending his pungent aroma your way all game long demonstrates what a rookie you are. Given a choice, I’ll take The Chair over the spot downwind.
Range of Influence Game
When your games start to drift into the seven-player-plus sized games, many groups try to speed things along by limiting the range of influence of your spells and/or whom you can attack. This can often allow you to have two players take their turns at the same time. With turns happening on opposite sides of the board, there is less waiting-around time between turns, which keeps things moving.
Another reason to limit range of influence is that it makes several players’ board states irrelevant. I don’t have to spend time determining whether the player way on the other side of the board can stop my plans for this turn or whether the players on the other side of the table include the player I should be attacking immediately. If I only need to consider the players on my right and left—or the two players on my right and left, depending on the size of the range of influence—I will be able to make my decisions faster and keep the game moving.
Naturally, if the best players in the game are in your range of influence, you will either be better able to limit their gains or more likely to be run over. You know your abilities and your deck, so you will know whether sitting near them or away from them is the best option. This is one of those times when you have a new strategic opportunity due to different rules. Try to take full advantage!
Back to the Wall
Whenever possible, sit with your back to the wall. Ideally, you want your chair right in a corner. No one is trying to get by behind you, so you don’t need to worry about the Nosy player who peeks at your hand as he walks behind you to get a slice/beer/bathroom break. It also makes it much harder for
me the player sitting next to you to casually catch a glimpse at your hand.
Sitting tight to the wall also makes you less vulnerable to practical jokes. Your paranoia makes it much more difficult to be surprised by the guy who decides your attempts to sneak a peek at his hand have earned you a beer shower.
You’ve been warned.
P.S. A “thank you” to Aaron, my photographer for all the pics except for the round table shot, and to George, for agreeing to pour beer on my head.