Magic 2013: Multiplayer Edition

Every other review article involves the author choosing some or all of the cards based on his or her interest in the card. Perhaps the author has something to say or thinks the card is amazing and will be a Standard/Modern/Legacy all-star.

This is not that review.

This review—and I hesitate to even call it that—will be looking at cards from a multiplayer perspective. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to look at all the 6-mana-or-more-costing cards and tell you they would be great in your Commander decks. I’m also not looking at every card that will see play in some multiplayer format. While Ajani, Caller of the Pride will probably be good in multiplayer, it will be good everywhere. I’m looking for cards that get a special boost with extra players in the game. I’m looking at the cards that will be better in multiplayer than in one-on-one formats because of what the card says. If Magic 2013 had a red instant for {R} that read, “Your opponents each take X damage, where X is the number of opponents in this game1,” you can guarantee that card would be in this review. If Magic 2013 had a red instant for {R} that read, “Target opponent takes 10 damage,” I wouldn’t be looking at that card here. Now that you know the parameters, let’s get started.

Akroma's Memorial and Captain of the Watch

Akroma's Memorial
Captain of the Watch

As soon as I set out the parameters, I cheat. Everyone who has played multiplayer with some regularity knows the value of vigilance. The ability to attack while still having creatures back to block is extra-valuable in multiplayer. Of course, these cards are not here because they give/have vigilance, it is because they offer that and way more. I’m not going to run Ring of Thune, 2 but getting it as part of the wall of keywords makes these cards a little better in multiplayer.

Door to Nothingness

Door to Nothingness

I include this card solely as a warning to not play this in multiplayer. Remember that you don’t win—one person loses. If you play this early (how did you make {W}{W}{U}{U}{R}{R}{B}{B}{G}{G} early?), you leave one player on the sidelines for a long time. If you play this any time before it is just you and one other person, you will want a clear Threat to target or you’ll be left second-guessing yourself. Multiplayer demands multiple opponents; the Door kills only one opponent at a time.

Besides, if you have 10 mana of every color, couldn’t you come up with a better idea than Door to Nothingness?

Progenitus

A Better Idea than Door to Nothingness

Faith's Reward

Faith's Reward
On its face, Faith's Reward doesn’t appear to have a multiplayer advantage. The benefit comes because of the high propensity of global-reset effects in multiplayer games. Sitting with the mana open to cast this makes it appear that you are ready to Wrath the board. Instead, you are ready to respond to someone else’s Wrath. While it may appear that holding this card at the ready is a waste of resources, in the right group, you will not have to wait for long before this card is needed.

Keep in mind this works for all permanents, so pairing this with Armageddon works. It is also a useful way to bring your Equipment or enchantment back.

Courtly Provocateur

Courtly Provocateur
A Courtly Provocateur keeps her hands clean, providing disinformation to various parties to get them to do her bidding. In multiplayer, you can use her in such a way as to keep your hands clean as well. I love messing with my opponent’s combat step. With multiple players, that Darksteel Colossus doesn’t necessarily attack you. That Crimson Muckwader your opponent controls—the one he was saving to block the huge Ghoultree—is now tapped out and out of the way. Having the Courtly Provocateur in play can dramatically alter how people attack or block.

Keep in mind that plenty of people may decide to just solve this problem by attacking you! You’ve been warned.

Jace's Phantasm

Jace's Phantasm
First, there is the obvious: There are more opponents in multiplayer games, so the likelihood that someone has ten or more cards in his or her graveyard is much greater. There is another, better reason to run the Phantasm in multiplayer. In a regular game, getting the +4/+4 will only happen very late in the game or if you are running some sort of mill strategy. In multiplayer, and Commander in particular, you will probably find someone trying to fill his graveyard to better use his commander or run some Living Death deck. I expect that Jace's Phantasm would be a 5/5 flyer by turn five or six in most Commander games.

This is all assuming that you aren’t running a mill or discard strategy of your own. Even a single card such as Ruination all by itself would probably give you a 5/5 Illusion by turn five!

Mindclaw Shaman

Mindclaw Shaman
In one-on-one play, this is a sideboard card at best. You need 5 mana for a 2/2, and you want to time it to best effect, so you are probably waiting for your opponent to be unable to use the card for himself.

In multiplayer, there are always players packing big, bomb spells. You get to remove that bomb from his hand and use it for yourself! The upside is huge!

The problem with this card is the huge downside. You can guess incorrectly and come up blank. You may not want to play that Planar Cleansing right now. Without knowing exactly what is there, you are probably not going to be able to take best advantage of the big card.

In spite of the downside, multiplayer limits how low the downside goes. While you may not always hit the biggest, swingiest spells, you will find permanent removal and other small abilities. This is probably best used as a way to force an opponent to use his instants rather than as a way to let you cast the spell to decide the targets. There will also be times in a game when an opponent will be happy to let you know what he has in his hand that may be beneficial to both of you. Perhaps the mana-screwed player has just the sorcery needed to take out The Threat but doesn’t have the mana to play it. Multiplayer games offer many more opportunities for the Mindclaw Shaman to shine.

Rise from the Grave

Rise from the Grave
In one-on-one play, this card is a little slow. 5 mana comes a little later, and you may not necessarily find anything in either graveyard worth the investment.

Multiplayer is a different story.

5 mana is just barely the midway point in most multiplayer games. With four graveyards, you will probably find something worth the price. Whether it is a smaller creature to sacrifice to find more land, another mid-sized utility creature, or—when you hit a home run—a game-changing monstrosity, there is always something there. With so many more graveyards to choose from, Rise from the Grave can be a multiplayer star.

Slumbering Dragon

Slumbering Dragon
Why are Ghostly Prison and Propaganda such effective cards in multiplayer but lousy in one-on-one? When you are playing against one opponent, all Ghostly Prison does is slow down the attack. Your opponent is going to attack you, but he will need to pay mana to do it. In multiplayer, the other option is to attack someone else. You want to attack someone, why not just attack the guy who isn’t going to make you pay 2 mana per creature. Ghostly Prison and Propaganda are good in multiplayer because the opponents have the option to attack someone else. In one-on-one, your opponent is attacking you and only you.

Slumbering Dragon is the creature version of Ghostly Prison. Your opponents can either attack you and bring you closer to having an 8/8 flyer or attack someone else with no risk.

There are some differences. The Dragon gives your opponents four free shots. The first four attacks are free, but the fifth comes with a big price. Knowing that, the smart opponent may just choose to wait until he has a creature that can do serious damage. Why swing in with my 1/1 Avacyn's Pilgrim if I can wait and swing with my 6/6 Wurmcoil Engine?

The benefit there is that it will take some time for your opponents to bring their 6/6s into play. All that time, you aren’t taking damage while everyone else is. And all you paid was {R} for all of that!

Another difference is that the Dragon is a Dragon. Consider Murder, Terror, Doom Blade, Lightning Bolt, Shock, Wrath of God, Day of Judgment, and so on. Enchantments are much harder to get rid of than creatures. It is probable that this creature will just be killed before it ever roars into the sky and wreaks havoc on your opponents and their creatures.

On the other hand, proliferate works as a great surprise here. A friendly opponent may decide that you having an 8/8 is a good idea, and he may attack you just to make it happen.

Spelltwine

Spelltwine
Remember Mindclaw Shaman? Take the downside of never knowing exactly what you are going to find in an opponent’s hand and throw it away. Then, take away the Shaman’s 2/2 body. Now you have Spelltwine. Taking the cards from graveyards means that you can better plan which card you are going to use from the various and sundry graveyards available to you. Exiling the card in the opponent’s graveyard is just a fringe benefit since some of your opponents were probably looking at trying to bring those spells out of their graveyards to cast again.

This card will be a great surprise the first time you play it, letting you pick and choose from the best sorceries and instants in the graveyards. After your friends have seen this in your deck a few times, some of them will think twice before casting their instants and sorceries. Making an opponent reluctant to cast good cards just sounds like a good thing.

Sphinx of Uthuun

Sphinx of Uthuun
For those who don’t know, there is a card called Fact or Fiction. As you can see by mousing over the link, the Sphinx is essentially Fact or Fiction attached to a flying, 5/6 Sphinx. His benefit in multiplayer is best displayed in a story. Gather round; it’s story time with Old Man Bruce!

I was in the midst of a five-player game. The game had devolved into David and Shane dominating the game. They were keeping each other in check, so the three of us who weren’t doing much were still in the game. Not surprisingly, Shane finally managed to break the stalemate and hit David pretty hard. While he wasn’t out of the game just yet, he wasn’t any stronger than the rest of us, and he would undoubtedly be the first opponent Shane would take out of the game. It was at this point when I drew Fact or Fiction.

I knew I had cards in my deck that could adjust the balance of the game. Shane was the strongest player on the board, but there was no lock or soft lock in place. The problem was that if I played Fact or Fiction, Shane would split the cards in such a way that I would not be able to do anything with the cards I kept.

But there was nothing to say that I had to choose Shane to divide the cards.

I looked at my other options. Shane would limit my gains as best he could. David may give me the cards I needed, but I wasn’t sure. Colin might see the benefit of giving me all the cards, but he would more likely view it as me getting ahead of him. Finally, there was Darren. I played the Fact or Fiction and let Darren separate the cards into two piles. He looked at the cards and looked at the board, and the realization set in. He looked up from my cards in his hands and asked with a smile coming across his face, “Do there have to be any cards in one pile?” My choice became a pile with zero cards and a pile with all five of the other cards.

Darren knew that someone needed to challenge Shane if he was going to stay alive for more than a turn or two. Perhaps it would give him time to find the cards he needed to become a relevant player in the game.

In multiplayer, sometimes your opponent isn’t necessarily your opponent.

Thundermaw Hellkite

Thundermaw Hellkite
This guy basically reads, “If you are willing to have me come into play tapped, I’ll do 5 damage to an opponent this turn.” The 1 damage to each flyer is nice, but only a few flyers will die to that, so it isn’t an issue. It is the tapping all the flyers that makes this card crazy in multiplayer.

In one-on-one, everything that can stop the Hellkite is tapped, so you can fly in cleanly. In multiplayer, not only can you attack someone in the air with no blockers, but the guy on your left can do the same on his turn to the remaining players. And the guy on his left can do the same to the remaining players. And the guy . . . Tapping someone out and leaving him defenseless can take a player right out of the game. Attaching that to a 5/5 Dragon makes that even better.

There is the distinct possibility that all of your opponents will choose not to attack, fearing you and your Thundermaw Hellkite and reprisals from other opponents. While the guy on your left may attack, the guy on his left may just attack him. That fear could limit the usefulness of the card. In the end, though, a 5/5 flying hasty Dragon for 5 mana is something I’m willing to do, and I’ll treat the extra damage and tapping as gravy.

 


Wizards of the Coast has become far more aware of multiplayer games when designing cards. In spite of that, there are still cards that get an extra benefit in multiplayer games that are costed for the benefit they provide in regular games. Keep your eyes open for these gems, and reap the benefits!

Bruce Richard

 


1 No, it isn’t in Magic 2013.

2 Okay, I will probably run it, but only once!