Playing For Blood #34: The Encroachment Of The Net Deck
Hello again! Before I get going on today's article, I just want to do a brief update on the wedding plans, since I haven't reported on anything from that front for months. The latest news is that the wedding is starting to feel imminent; there are only four weeks left before the gala event, and since time passes by faster the older you get, I am sure that it will seem like I am getting married tomorrow in no time. I am hoping like hell that I will have something I have been working on done by then; we will have to see.
In the meantime, however, I am still playing Magic faithfully with the gang on Saturday nights. Because various people have not been able to make it lately, we have been playing four-or five-person melees the last couple of weeks. Over this time, I have not only not won a single game, and have barely managed to survive to the last two. I think in seven games, I managed to come in second only once, and that was because I had the least threatening deck. After doing some thinking, I came to realize that one of two things had happened:
- I had played the emperor format so much that whatever multiplayer skills and techniques I had acquired were lost or degraded.
- Other players have improved their playing skills or decks or both in quantum leaps and bounds.
Some research (in the simple but effective form of placing a telephone call to one of my comrades) lent credence to at least one aspect of the second hypothesis. My conversation with the Blue Mage revealed that he has indeed taken decks off of sites for his own use. He informed me that he builds the deck exactly as it is given the first time in order to play with it and familiarize himself with it's intricacies and the idea behind it. Then, after about a week (or however long it takes him to feel comfortable with it), he rips it apart and builds a multiplayer version of it.
I did not ask if he uses completely new cards and only keeps the idea or philosophy behind it or not.
Nor is he the only member of our group to do this; apparently, the Red Mage has also been known to take decks off of the net for his own use. I do not know how he goes about tweaking his net decks, but the end result appears to be the same - decks with a distinct increase in synergy and results.
The Blue Mage suspects that his brother, the Black Mage, has looked at the decks to be found on the various websites as well... But this time, it is not to build his version of a deck. The reason that he looks a particular deck up is so that he can figure out how to beat them.
This leaves me in a quandary as to what I should do next. Obviously, I could jump onto the proverbial bandwagon. I could search around and find a deck that strikes my fancy, then reconstruct it with a multiplayer format in mind... Or I could go the Black Mage's route, and build decks that would better counter what is showing up in our games lately.
Neither of these appeals to me at all. The whole idea of taking someone else's deck and turning into my own just doesn't interest me. It becomes too much like work if I have to sit there and build a deck that I have no idea how it works, and play it over and over and over and over again until I get all of the nuances. There is the additional complication of probably not having the cards to build the deck in the first place, being as behind as I am in the arms race. When I build my decks, I already know how to play them, because I am the one who came up with them in the first place, and I know what I had in mind when I put any specific card in there, and why.
On the other hand, it is not like my decks ever really require any sort of searing intellect to play; the vast majority of my decks are simple beatdown. The ones that are not pure beatdown are used in the emperor format to do a very specific task and nothing else.
So why is it that I don't build decks that do something other than beatdown?
Lockdown? Boring, plus it takes forever to kill the people off one by one.
I have lost track of the times when a multiplayer author says they hate playing against people who try gaining lots of life. I will never understand this mindset. Have I destroyed your lands, preventing you from casting things? Have I destroyed your creatures, preventing you from causing damage to me? Have I used some massive destruction spell that essentially starts the entire damn game over? And yet the number of people who bitch ceaselessly about life gain seem to vastly outnumber the people who complain about lockdown methods. Is lockdown somehow nobler than lifegain? Preventing someone from doing anything and whittling them away slowly is somehow better?
Combo? Death, first, please. If I hate it when I have it played against me, I will not subject others to it. It's the whole"do unto others" thing. While the ability to kill everyone else at once is possible with combo, it still doesn't allow for the sort of interaction that I would prefer to see and experience in the game.
On the other hand, it is possible that this venue would have more possible avenues of exploration. When I say that I hate combo, I am talking about decks that simultaneously wipe out entire tables of players. I might not be averse to combinations that allowed me to get through to people with greater ease, and in such a way that I still had to kill people one by one. I want to give people the opportunity to be able to stop me; otherwise, I am afraid people would just reach the point where as soon as they identify the deck that I was playing, they would all immediately scoop.
Winning this way is an extremely hollow victory at best; what does it say about my deck or playing style when people just automatically accept a loss without any effort on their part? What good is a victory if you haven't had to work for it? And the other people would not take you seriously; they basically would say, "Yeah, okay, you won, now ask us how impressed we are. Feel free to waste some more of our time; I know the reason I showed up here is so that I could switch decks every five minutes and not actually play any of them."
If the situation gets to that point, I might as well have not shown up.
But this still doesn't address what to do about the problem itself. I can pontificate all I want on how to deal with this problem in the long run; what am I going to do now?
Well, before I can do that, I have to continue to examine another aspect of what has been happening lately.
Some time ago, I published an article about the removal of all of the restricted lists in our games; if you own them, you can use four of them, is what it basically boils down to. Peter Jahn actually mentioned in one of his articles that he thought that this was a bad idea; as people would be abusing cards to a degree that would ruin the game for everybody. While a problem has arisen as a result of our decision, it has not been abuse of a mechanic, or single card, or combo. And, I suspect I am the only one with the problem.
The specific problem is that people with the various Moxes are frequently able to get off to a much faster start with their decks.
For years, people have said that speed is not as necessary or as important in multiplayer.... Which is generally true. However, when you combine the Moxen with the decks off of the internet that do have development speed taken heavily into account, then things get messy - and fairly quickly.
And you actually don't even need a specific deck. I have seen our Red Mage go first in a game, and when his second turn came around and was finished, he had a Rith, the Awakener out.
It is damn hard to come up with a way of dealing with a second-turn Rith. (Third-turn Swords to Plowshares comes to mind - The Ferrett) Oh, there are ways of sending that green widget-making piece of garbage right back where he started from, but to do it on the second turn is asking a lot. And I am saying this despite the fact that I myself have argued that creatures in multiplayer games have a higher and faster mortality rate than normal. One saving grace is that doing this did make the Red Mage the target for the rest of us for quite some time.
So I have an arms race disadvantage, a speed disadvantage, and I am intentionally limiting myself to a type or style of deck. Things look bleak for the home team... But there is still hope.
For one thing, the amount of enchantments and artifacts in the game has done nothing but gone steadily up for quite some time now, as well as the increasing usage of non-standard lands. Now that Scourge is out, and I have an idea of the mana costs of some of the stuff in there, I have every reason to believe that these trends will continue. The average casting cost of items played is likely to go up over the next couple of weeks while people try out their new cards. This may be only temporary. As with any set that gets released, there are cards that continue to show up in people's decks even years later, while other cards are inserted for their novelty, but eventually get taken out in favor of something else.
So the first answer on how to go about fixing things is to toss in increasing amounts of mass enchantment and artifact removal, and my white Armageddon deck is probably going to be dusted off. Enchantments have been increasing in their use more heavily than any other type of card lately. The Blue Mage has mentioned on more than one occasion that he considers enchantments to be the most powerful in the game, and he does annoyingly well at coming up with decks that prove that particular philosophy. The amount of times that I have seen Survival of the Fittest and Grave Pact lately has been ridiculous; at least once a night, I see both of them. And only this past weekend was I finally able to truly appreciate the use of the new Scourge card Upwelling. As is so often the case with me, I need to see a card in action in a game before the anvil hits me on the head as to how good something is. The Red Mage's use of this card this past weekend made me realize that if that card stays out, there is no need for the massive mana generators - unless they are put in as a backup plan, which they will be.
I decided also that my red decks can be changed so that while having Sol Rings out would be nice, I would much rather prefer to have a successful Shatterstorm. I have to make it a point of adding those to more decks. And given how cheap a simple Shatter is, there really is no reason not to include two in any red decks of mine either. Hardly any space taken up at all, really.
So that is going to be step one towards correcting things, is to start putting in more enchantment and artifact removal. What's next on the list?
Well, another realization that I made (and yes, I am a damn slow learner), is that I am cutting my own throat open a little too much with how I build my decks.
You remember back when I wrote about the fifteen fundamental questions that a person should ask himself or herself when building a multiplayer deck (said list appearing originally courtesy of a certain Hundroog lover)? Well, how about following my own advice, Sherlock?
I just mentioned that I would vastly prefer to win a game where I had to fight for it, because it means more. The reverse is also true. If someone is going to beat me, it is my duty to make it as difficult as possible for them. Each color has a weakness, and this is intentional. However, this is not the same as saying that there is no way around a color's weakness. Red cannot deal with enchantments; if the White player has a Circle of Protection: Red out, then it is there to stay... Or is it? (Why, if Red could deal with enchantments, it would be complete anarchy! - The Ferrett) Black cannot deal with enchantments either - but it can technically deal with artifacts, in the form of Gate to Phyrexia. But both of these can deal with enchantments if players have, and are willing to utilize, Nevinyrral's Disk.
The point I am trying to make here is that in some of my decks, I was intentionally leaving a massive, gaping weakness that could be exploited. And this should not be the case.
What I should be doing is going down the list of questions and asking myself those questions of each and every single one of my decks. I have so many decks that I don't have to worry about getting bored, so I shouldn't have a problem with putting the same cards into my decks time after time. If this means that some cards that I really want to put in have to be sacrificed in favor of expediency, then that is what will have to happen. The trick is finding the balance between completely sacrificing the amusement that I get out of playing the deck in the first place with making sure that it is efficient.
I will be sure to let all you folks know how the continuing evolution of my deckbuilding goes.
I know that I said that I was going to talk about whether Anthony Alongi actually knows what he is talking about on a certain topic in multiplayer... But unfortunately, that is going to be delayed until next time.
In the meantime, someone recently said that that Anthony covers the area of the game that the vast majority of people play, which is casual. That being the case, go read John Liu's articles. Assuming that Anthony's comment is correct, it is mildly ironic that casual is the format least written about - so make the best use you can out of the other casual writers.
That about covers it for this time around. Until next time, take care.