This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Kitchen Table Tactics

by J. Marshall
scaled imageGood morning everyone!  Welcome to Kitchen Table Tactics here on the CommanderCast website!  My name is Jon Marshall and I am your host for this bi-weekly article. I feel it’s important to layout my goals when tackling a project like an article series so here are a few of mine:



  • Present multiplayer tactics and strategies for those new to the multiplayer environment, including ways to evaluate ‘threat’ and how to use politics in good form (this is after all a game with friends).
  • Suggest and evaluate different variants of our favorite formats: Planeschase, Horde, and the new Hydra deck , among others
  • Fun things to keep track of when playing a game of EDH!

Since one of the goals of this series is to present tactics and politics, I think you deserve some background about me, as well as my philosophy surrounding multiplayer and deck building.  I think the best (or perhaps a creative) way might be to tackle some common Myths about multiplayer- hopefully my thoughts on the topics shed light on my philosophy and background.


Myth #1: Older players are better than new players

Juzam Djinn

“What do you mean this isn’t the best creature in Magic??”

My first exposure to Magic was through Boy Scouts 17 years ago, during the Revised/4th/Ice Age period of time.  I had the benefit being able to play with a small group, of which my fellow author Chris B was a member.  I can tell you that although we both have extensive experience with the game, and a huge library of cards floating around our brains (you should see us brainstorm decks, we end up with enough cards for two or more functional lists), that doesn’t inherently make us better players.  Magic the Gathering is a strategy game akin to chess in my opinion (in a ‘simplistic’ example), and once you’ve learned the individual components and the rules of the game the differences are on the strategy employed by the individual player.  There is nothing saying that someone who began playing Magic in 2012 can’t beat someone who has been playing since 2002.  There are advantages to having a larger and/or older collection, but that isn’t related to the individual skill of the player.


Myth #2: There is a right way to build a deck

An excellent example of this idea is Zur the Enchanter. When most people see Zur they immediately assume it’s the standard Necropotence, Solitary Confinement deck of consistent Misery. But just because that’s the typical build doesn’t make it the only one, nor does it make alternative versions wrong. Chris showcased this specific example last season.

Although my fellow colleagues here are more qualified to discuss deck tech and theory, I have my own belief on this topic, and that’s simply: “Is it fun?”  The idea of ‘there is no wrong way’ doesn’t mean you can create a 5 color deck with no mana fixing- believe me, I’ve tried.  I have been building Magic decks for the better part of 20 years, which doesn’t mean I’m an expert. What it does mean is I’ve seen multiplayer decks over a huge range of power level and strategies.  So while I don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to build a deck, there are a few things I think everyone should keep in mind when designing a new list:

1)     Consistency:  I do not mean your deck has to cast the same spells each game. What I mean is that you have overlap of your critical components, and a proper manabase that allows you to actually play the game. My Zedruu the Greathearted deck plays differently every game, however I always have the ability to find the right enchantments and cast them (barring just bad luck, which does happen).

2)     Resilience:  As much as we test, a deck doesn’t play by itself (unless you’re playing versus the Hydra or the Horde).  Your stuff will get blown up, and you may need to switch to plan B.  Your deck should have a way to recover critical components when necessary or be able to function when your plan A is stopped. My Moat doesn’t save me from a Krenko, Mob Boss deck’s Goblin Bombardment, Mob Justice, or Burn at the Stake.

3)     A Way to Win:  I’m aware that Group-Hug decks are a real thing, but even there I’m going to assume that your deck is built with the ability to win the game.  Typically the decks in my playgroup (and I’m willing to bet around most Kitchen Tables) are between WinCon 3 or 4.

4)     Fun.  Not just for you, but those you’re playing with.  It’s silly that I have to specifically state this, however the truth is, many of the things I suggest here won’t work if people refuse to have fun with each other.  My rule of thumb is, “Would I enjoy being on the receiving end on this?”  If the answer is ‘no’ I don’t include it in my deck.  When I show you deck examples you’ll see significant amounts of synergy in multiple layers, but no clear cut combos.  People can (and are welcome to) enjoy playing combo decks, I do not enjoy being on the receiving end, so I don’t include them.


stormcrow cropped

None of these mean Storm Crow doesn’t belong in your deck, it wouldn’t be something I’d recommend, but a deck full of grizzly bears  still fits the above 4 tenants at various levels.  Group-Hug(/Slug), Combo, Aggro, Control, Midrange, and all the permutations in between are all viable strategies for any general, let your imagination go wild!




Myth #3: Duels are harder than Multiplayer

Yes I’ve heard this, and it made me giggle.  I get it, typically duels are more intense, the individual players can tend to be more hardcore, the decks more refined, and the games more focused on the rules.  Those same reasons are why multiplayer is by a large margin more difficult, each individual player is bringing their own set of values, goals, and decks.  Where I can predict what my opponent is playing in a duel, in a multiplayer environment, those assumptions largely go out the window. Politics at various levels muddle what would otherwise be straightforward board states, planning around an opponent’s strategy, and being able to quickly adapt to what 2+ opponents are doing; make multiplayer a more complicated game than your standard duel.  One of the most amazing things about multiplayer is that 4 different players could play the same deck 4 different ways, each sees different synergies, strategies, and be involved in different levels of politics.  The game becomes harder to predict than a standard duel, and being able to evaluate and adapt quickly (because we all want to play) becomes one of the more intricate aspects of the game.


Myth #4: Combo is the only way to win in Multiplayer

I’ve seen this myth more than I’d like to admit.  Commander is a multiplayer format designed for 3-5 players at a time.  Accordingly there is a scale that moves with the number of players, favoring aggro (fast) decks with tofewer players, and combo players as you get into the 5+ player range.  This myth originates because a combo player will deal an infinite amount of damage or mill an infinite number of cards when they move to their fundamental turn.  As the number of players increases the amount of resources necessary for them to win remains the same.  Conversely, a creature based deck needs to invest more resources (creatures, spells, time) to win a game as the number of players increases.  It makes sense to think that a creature (or other non-combo strategy) will not be favored as the number of players increases.  Even though a combo player has a technical advantage, strategy and deck building allows you to combat this.  All combo players require a certain number of resources in order to win, many require casting a specific series of spells, and many are significantly slower than the creature-based decks.  These are common threads in almost all combo decks, which means you can plan for and disrupt their plan of attack.  I personally don’t like playing combo- I find the idea of a fun interactive game ending suddenly annoying.  That said, I respect it as a viable strategy and don’t bemoan people for playing it. I do however run cards that Disrupt them: Possibility Storm, Ethersworn Canonist, Sire of Insanity, Wheel of Fortune, Torpor Orb, ect.These ‘hate cards’ are powerful inclusions against combo decks, and much like adding graveyard hate to your deck, these can greatly improve the chances of a ‘fair’ deck to win.  Alternatively there is always the mantra of “Kill the Combo Player First.”


Myth #5: Winning is everything


‘I have two untapped islands and an empty beer…’
image courtesy of Nerdcrafts on Deviant Art

This Myth is the tone setter for this series.  Yes, part of my goal is to help make newer players better at playing multiplayer, but that isn’t so that you win every game.  Winning isn’t the exclusive goal of multiplayer.  The majority of Magic games are not found in a tournament hall, they are around a kitchen table with friends telling dirty jokes.  In my opinion, the heart of every Magic game is this social interaction.  Largely in multiplayer affairs, you and your group are at the core: friends.  You follow a social contract <link>, you know when a particular strategy aggravates your opponents, and you know when offering to get the blue player a Coke is worth it to resolve your next spell (personally they bribe me with beer).  In my experience when a player focuses solely on the idea of winning (in multiplayer), that player stops having fun.  Either they lose because everyone focuses on them first, or they become so oppressive that their friends stop playing with them.  I treat Magic much like any social game, be it Cards Against Humanity or Settlers of Catan.  I don’t go into these games with the all consuming purpose of winning (I’m no slouch either)-my plan is to have fun.  Personally, in Magic I always strive to do something ‘epic’.  If I lose, I hope I impacted the game in a cool fashion.  Statistically you aren’t going to win as often when playing multiplayer, so it’s important to have these ‘moral victories’.  It’s really what makes multiplayer so different from a duel- your sole goal shouldn’t be to win, but to have fun.  So when you sit down to play you choose a deck/strategy that you and your opponents are going to enjoy.


So again welcome to Kitchen Table Tactics!  I hope this series will be interesting, fun, and stimulate some creativity in your games.  Next time, I’ll be going into detail about Horde magic.  It’s origin, how I’ve adapted and refined it, and some game play.  BRAINS!!!




Do you have any questions, or an alternative format you’d like to show off?  Contact me at kitchentabletactics at gmail dot com.


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