This entry is part 10 of 10 in the series Community Contribution

Temple Bell is terrible! Every time you activate it, it’s like a 3 for 1 against
− Commanderguy, 2006 – present

People say stuff like that all the time. Someone declares something similar pretty much every time Howling Mine is mentioned and I’ve never seen it called out, so I’m pretty sure a lot of you feel the same way. Temple Bell is usually a very bad card, but that doesn’t make the above announcement any righter, so I’m going to try to maybe change the way you think about card advantage in multiplayer Magic. Everyone-draws is a lot more complicated than arithmetic, counting your opponents to see how many cards you’re behind. How could it not be? If that were the case, then each player in a four player game would be getting 3-for-1’d every time he or she passed the turn, and no one could win that kind of uphill battle. Someone wins every game, though. Let’s lay out exactly how drawing cards works when there are more than two people at the table.

Everyone-draws in Archenemy

Archenemy is the only format in which you’ll experience everyone-draws as purely as Commanderguy up there thinks. There are several people at the table, and you’re taking everything that they’re throwing at you. Playing Temple Bell as Archenemy would be ludicrous, since it actually is a 3-for-1 every time it’s activated. You’re drawing one card, and that card has to deal with all three of theirs. Never play Howling Mine as Archenemy, because it’s actually as bad as Commanderguy thinks it is. Corollary: Always play Howling Mine when you’re playing against the Archenemy, because that’s pure value.

Everyone-draws their combo

Now let’s talk about this in normal Commander. The simplest way to think about it would be in a hypothetical metagame where everyone is playing nothing but dedicated combo decks and no one is interacting at all. Everyone’s pretty much just gold fishing, and let’s say you and your friends can usually manage to go off after drawing about 10 cards. It’s turn 3, everyone has drawn 3 cards so far, and you decide to cast Prosperity for 3 off your Ancient Tomb.

You just 9-for-3’d yourself, silly! You pass the turn, but you don’t lose? That’s because no actually drawn 10 cards yet. In this case those cards aren’t all aimed at you, or at least they’re not working together this time. Casting Prosperity actually did nothing at all, other than bringing the game closer to the end. It’s still not at all worth casting, since it’s not helping you win and you could have used that mana to play Fact or Fiction or Intuition or something, but it can’t really be described as card advantage for your opponents either. It’s card parity.

When everyone draws a card in a super-simplified game like this, it’s not even close to as bad as a 3-for-1. In fact, it’s not even as negative as when it happens in a duel, since the one card that you do lose (Prosperity itself) is ameliorated among your three opponents. Instead of multiplying when your opponents draw a card, it’s actually much more accurate to divide. When each player draws, that’s one card. When one player draws it’s really only one third of a card, since the burden of dealing with that card is split evenly among each of his or her opponents. Similarly though, each time you manage to find yourself up a card it’s really only a fraction of a card, which is part of the reason why Necropotence isn’t the game-breaking auto-win in multiplayer as it is in a duel (for example).

Everyone-draws in REAL Commander

This is where it gets a lot more complex, because shifting game states can mean that you’ll be playing Archenemy one turn and form outright alliances with your “opponents” the next. Allowing your opponents to draw cards is not always good or always bad, because those cards are sometimes working for you and sometimes working against you. As long as you’re not in first place, though, it’s probably not such a terrible thing to have everyone draw a card, since those cards will normally be used to take the leader down a peg. Whenever someone attacks a planeswalker, you’re up. Whenever they Krosan Grip a Mana Reflection, you’re up. Whenever they counter a Tooth and Nail, you’re way up.

When you play Commander, you’re making threats and blowing them up. Your opponents are too. When your opponent kills a threat and it’s not yours, that’s great! When they make a threat, that’s (almost) always bad.



Why should you care? Why does this matter?

“Okay, I guess you convinced me that it’s not so bad. So, what, I should start playing Temple Bell now?”
− Commanderguy, 2012

lol no

“So what then? Why are you nerding out so hard?”
− Commanderguy, 2012

Because thinking about card advantage in this way is fundamental to every stage of the game, from deck building to going for the win. Learning how to leverage your opponents’ cards against one another is probably the single most useful skill in multiplayer Magic.

When do you pay 1 for that Rhystic Study? Probably not as often as you do now, depending on how much of this article is news. For sure you don’t want to stunt your own growth for the sake of his card, right? After all, it’s only one third of a card, and getting that Coalition Relic into play right now will pay dividends. Sometimes, though, you don’t even want to throw your extra mana at it. Cards are typically spent chipping at the leader’s lead, so as long as you’re not in first and Rhystic Student isn’t either, those cards may as well be in your hand as long as some other friend is far enough ahead.

The player on your left is dead on board, but you’ve got your Kor Haven ready to go. What do you do? Well, does she have creatures in play, or cards in hand? Then do it! Those cards are going to be used desperately to stabilize, and since the most visible threats are the ones that just attacked, you’re golden. You’ve just extended that feud by at least a turn, and that’ll be nothing but good for you*.

* Some conditions apply. See in store for details.

So, when do you slay that Terastodon? Not right now, that’s for sure. At the very least, wait until it attacks you and you know that it’s not on your side (your spot removal is all instant speed, right?). Your opponents’ threats are your threats, until that combat damage is comin’ atcha. Not only that, but your opponents’ threats cost your opponents answers. When you kill that Terastodon, not only are you down a Mortify but some other chap didn’t have to spend theirs. Your sweet Inferno Titan + Basilisk Collar finisher isn’t going to do the job as long as there are swords to plow, so let them do the farming. Sculpt the game, so that by the time you are ready to take the lead, they really aren’t. That is when you want to deprive them of cards.

I’ve talked a lot about deck building in this manner in the past. If you want to keep reading about that, try here. The long and short of it is that you want to be playing things that turn your opponents’ cards into your cards. Vow of Wildness and the others are kind of awkward for the same reason that Oblivion Ring is awkward and I honestly haven’t seen them in play very often outside of the precons, but their political potential fires me up. Almost as good as a Control Magic, without the hate-on.

I’d never suggest anyone play Temple Bell outside of a deck built to abuse it, but when there’s no opportunity cost to doing so, go for it! Mikokoro Center of the Sea, for example, does not see near enough play, to the point where I’d describe it as an auto-include, for monocolour decks at least. People should be activating it far more often, because in a lot of situations it’s not 3-for-1’ing you, you’re 3-for-1’ing them.

Alex goes by Ban Ki-Moon on the internet and can be found on the forums. He is also a member of the Commander Rules Committee and a recurring guest on CommanderCast’s podcast. If you want to continue the discussion with him you can contact him personally via the forums. To hear the podcasts Alex has guest hosted, check out S2E4, S3E9, and S5E7 (and yes, he plans to return for Season Six).

Series Navigation<< Community Article – Meathooks