This entry is part 22 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

One of the most interesting and potentially frustrating aspects of multiplayer Magic is that cards don’t always behave the same way when you engage multiple players. One-vs-one games are always locked in an adversarial dynamic, but in multiplayer games threat assessments and the relationships between players are more fluid. This leads to dramatic fluctuations in the utility of certain cards. You may find yourself wanting to use a card against a particular player to slow their progression, but that player may not be the one who controls the most valuable target for your card. A similar interaction occurs when choosing how to deploy your creatures in combat. In short, the landscape of multiplayer Magic is treacherous. To help me cope with the mental anguish of participating in a mind-numbing free-for-all brawl, I’ve developed a list of cards that gain a marked advantage in multiplayer games. Some were specifically designed for this purpose, but some are just naturally scalable. When the forecast is cloudy with a chance of multiplayer, here are my trusty umber-ell-ahs:

 

White

Blind Obedience: We’re going to start right at the top with what is potentially the best card on this list (“best” in the sense that is most powerful card in non-multiplayer Magic). For a very cheap cost, B.O. cuts into the mana acceleration and board development of each opponent. This alone would probably be worth paying two mana, however there is a kicker: Extort ratchets up in value with each player who enters the game. Draining five life over the course of the game is decent value, but simultaneously draining five from each player and gaining twenty-five life is a big game.

 

Martyr’s Bond: This card is no stranger to Commander. In fact, I might mention this in the same breath as the words “massively” and “over-played,” but that’s none of my business. Bond is a huge upgrade in functionality over its spiritual predecessor Karmic Justice; unfortunately, it also came with an equally massive uptick in price. Regardless, Bond let’s you do some very interesting things with sacrifice mechanics and gives adequate–albeit expensive–protection against removal. Used correctly, this can control the pace and scope of a game by limiting the resources of all players in an equitable, but still profitable manner.

 

Solitary Confinement: This is unlikely to help you much if you’re already considered a high priority threat by the rest of the table. That being said, it is a very interesting early play if you can set it up correctly. What will the other players make of this if it’s the first play of the game? Let the political bargaining subgame ensue.

 

Blue

Dream Halls: There really isn’t anything fair about this card. It’s an absurd way to abuse card advantage and unlock the bottleneck of paying for spells with mana. It enables the casting of ridiculous spells like Enter the Infinite, but it’s also symmetrical so it can lead to shenanigans in a multiplayer environment.

 

Psychic Battle: We’ll put this into the category of “funny, but annoying.” The game tends to evolve very differently when people can no longer guarantee their choice of targets for spells. Obviously, the strategy playing Psychic Battle favors a deck that has very few targeted spells of its own and lots of high converted mana costs. Library manipulation is also a key consideration, so you can pair this with a more conventional cards like Counter/Top or Brainstorm.

 

Blatant Thievery: An obvious and well-known Commander card, this is relatively fair as far as expensive sorceries go, but it’s still very powerful. I know that I won’t score any points for the creativity of this recommendation, but resolving this card always make me smile, and you need that every once in awhile to make it through the grind of a long multiplayer game.

 

Black

Head Games: Mind Twist can put you way ahead in a single player game, but it’s less effective when facing an entire table and it’s likely to draw you the wrong kind of attention.  Head Games, however, while it can be used to wipe all the useful cards from an opponent’s hand, also has an alternative mode where you can empower a would-be ally to take command of the game. It also has a much better reputation among players who value fun and zany cards. Double bonus.

 

Painful Quandary: This is exactly the type of stuff that Dale Carnegie was trying to admonish you against when he wrote that book all those years ago. This is like a sideboard card specifically against multiplayer game structures. It’s hateful, grindy, and a source of ongoing advantage for you… as long as you can stay in the game. That might not be a trivial condition, considering the amount of ire this card is likely to inspire in the rest of the table.

 

Lethal Vapors: On balance, this is a way to kill a lot of creatures with very little investment. Obviously, it massively favors the control players who don’t care to put too many creatures into play and also won’t be overly burdened by giving up an entire turn’s worth of tempo to scrap the Vapors. Conversely, more aggressive creature decks lose the most from allowing this to stay in play, but giving up an entire turn of playing creatures and attacking is a severe cost for this strategy. Credit for this suggestion goes to Uncle Landdrops.

 

Red

Grip of Chaos: The more popular and well-known version of Psychic Battle is Red (read: worse). Less controllable and associated with a worse color identity, Grip of Chaos allow you to have substantially similar fun in multiplayer games–if you define “fun” in that strange, griefer sense of the word that actually more resembles frustration.

 

Heartless Hidetsugu: You down with HH? Yea, you know me! Huge chunks of damage cut down the oppressive length of typical multiplayer games. HH is a proactive, hit-first deck that can control the early game and dramatically influence the pace of what happens after.

 

Thieves’ Auction: This is one of my all time favorite cards and it just so happens to be a powerful one card combo that staples win conditions onto disruption. This card has a unique effect that’s sure to make a great story. Big Game Hunter‘s beware.

 

Green

Chain of Acid: All of the Chain cards have interesting implications for multiplayer, but the nature of the Commander format demands that certain noncreature permanents need to be destroyed or you will face an imminent loss. The political subgame that is created during the resolution of this card is very interesting and since lands can be targeted with this spell, you can potentially devastate the entire board for a very cheap mana cost.

 

Heartwood Storyteller: It’s hard to generate straight-up card advantage through this card–because you’re still behind against a table full of free-for-all opponents in terms of cards– but it can be used as a heavy punishment against players who are overweight on noncreature spells. Additionally, using a removal spell on a ⅔ seems like a much less valuable prospect when you know that each opponent is going to be given an extra card in the process.

 

Rites of Flourishing: This is a fun and friendly option for group hug strategies and really rewards decks with high land counts and big mana requirements. Take note, though: this card changes the landscape of Commander dramatically. Even the slowest decks will be able to blister through the early. With every deck’s board development in hyperdrive, games will get hostile very quickly.

-GG

 

“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

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