The Continuing Struggle Of The Best Player
A while ago, I wrote a multiplayer article where I defined the Best Player Syndrome. The Best Player Syndrome exists in any multiplayer group where one player is seen as better than any of the other players at the table.
There are three aspects to the Best Player Syndrome (BPS). First, the BPS is often seen as having answers to any crisis that may arise, and therefore people are leery of going after the BPS just for the heck of it. The second aspect revolves around the trophy nature of the Best Player (henceforth known as the BP); the BP is a nice target, because the one who kills the BP gets a nice feeling of accomplishment. Thirdly, the BPS suggests that the BP never gets a break.
In my previous article, written almost fourteen months ago, I discussed the various aspects of the BPS. Today, what I want to do is flesh out the BPS theory. Take a second and read the initial article, because there’s a lot of good theory there.
This past week, an interesting event occurred at our multiplayer table. There were six of us playing, and one had a really slow hand with a lot of mana screw. We ignored him, and the one time I targeted his Nevinyrral’s Disk, he gave The Mana Screw Whine. We all know The Whine. Most of us have probably used The Whine.
The Mana Screw Whine: “Why are you picking on me? Why are you targeting my things? I don’t have any mana. Look at all of the nasty stuff out there! Why me?”
Of course, his Disk was the worst offender on the board — but The Whine occurred nonetheless. The only thing to happen for a while on his side of the board was he played a Leonin Abunas for defense and got Traumatized by the Miraried half of a Traumatize. After watching some countermagic fly and suspecting that everyone had tapped out or dumped their countermagic, he calmly cast Roar of Reclamation and won the game.
In case you care, he brought out Mycosynth Lattice, Darksteel Forge, a pair of Disks (which would allow him to continually tap to destroy all permanents except his own, since the lands became artifacts with a Lattice out), and more.
It was a very anticlimactic end to a nice multiplayer game, but it illustrates an important point: We’ll call it the Case of the Reclaimed Game. I’ll refer back to it later in the article.
One Man’s Best Player in Another’s Average Player
At our playgroup, I’m the BP of the table. The next-best player regularly played Magic with the group back in their hometown twenty to thirty miles away. He told me that after I pointed out the BPS theory, he began to notice it working when he was playing the exact same playgroup, but without me. In other words, this phenomenon was not just an Abe-thing, but a more common idea than that.
Like all multiplayer groups, ours has waxed and waned as time moves on. We are currently in a low, with six players being a high for our group and most of the current players not actively buying more Magic cards. But even with all of the changes that have occurred over the past fourteen months, there is still the BPS. Different players in different combinations have the same basic view of multiplayer Magic.
That’s what leads me to suspect that the observed phenomenon is fairly universal in any multiplayer group where there is an established pecking order. Let’s take a look at a few case studies to fully explore the Best Player Syndrome.
Case Study Number One
It’s a four-way multiplayer game, and I am using Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy (a huge — and I really do mean huge — Highlander deck with close to a thousand cards in it). I've just added a bunch of cool Ravnica cards to my deck, so I wanted the opportunity to play with them.
Player B has out a Visara and several other powerful permanents. Player J has out several aggressive creatures. Player A just has out very little in the way of defense, but is obviously playing a control deck after playing countermagic and removal. I have out a Wall and a Soothsaying, with untapped mana.
J is trying to figure out who to attack. Player B is the biggest threat at the table, but he could kill a couple of creatures if J attacked. A is defenseless and playing control, so he is both an easy target as well as a solid choice. I have a road block — and based on what has happened so far in the game, I am the most insignificant deck at the table.
Player J looks my way, and I point out to her that I am the smallest threat at the table. I try to deflect her, and rightfully so. Based on the information about that game, I am the smallest threat. I do not have a dedicated control deck and I do not have out a single threatening permanent.
Player A points out that, “This is like every other game we play. Abe will sit around, and then come back from behind and win the game after a while.” In other words, he accused me of pulling The Case of the Reclaimed Game tricks. After considering for a bit, J attacks me. Of course, I play a spell to kill one, block a second, and take four. Attacking the control player or the dominant player would have been a better choice — so why attack me?
This is another example of being BPSed. Yes, I have verbed the abbreviation and if I think of it, I’ll even mention it at my table. “This had better not be because you are BPSing me!” I swear, I play a thousand-card highlander deck, and people still fear me.
Case Study Number Two
This one happened at a local card shop where I play. I usually win the tournaments there, and most of them know I am a writer for SCG, so BPS often applies there as well. I am playing Bear Beats (click the link if you want the decklist). It’s early in the game, and I haven’t done much with my deck yet. All my opponents have seen is an oversized deck, a Shadowmage Infiltrator and a Cloudchaser Eagle. That’s not much.
On the other hand, these guys have been playing some serious permanents, including one with Mirari’s Wake. Wake signifies a broken deck, and the guy just played it. You do not want Wake Boy to untap. I have no clue about Wake Boy’s deck, but I know what the Wake does.
Another guy is playing a fast artifact mana/Red deck. I’ve taken about eight damage from early creatures and a Hurricane that hit everybody playing. Fast Artifact Boy taps all of his mana and plays a Kaervek’s Torch.
So who does he target? Me.
I have played nothing! This guy at the circle has out a Mirari’s Broken Wake. I’m the one being targeted?
(FYI, Wake boy did not win, because the fourth player at the table, Counterspell Boy, stopped him. Counterspell Boy won the game. Fast Artifact Boy didn’t have any backup threats of any worth and was overrun by Wake Boy before Counterspell Boy became Wrath of God Boy and Don’t Do that Again Boy.)
I was BPSed at a card store. Sheesh.
Case Study Number Three
I am playing a precon and….
Wait — "You're playing a precon?" you ask. Yep. I have most of the precons ever printed, and I’m only missing a few of the early ones. Not everybody who plays at my place has a deck, and I want there to be some other options for those players. Sometimes, it's fun to roll a random precon and shuffle up. Occasionally I’ll pick a precon and play with that.
My favorite precon is Sparkler. (It's mine, too — The Ferrett) Sparkler is an old Stronghold precon. In the early days of precons, they were good and unusual decks. You’d get combo decks, playable control decks, good LD decks, and more. Sparkler is noteworthy because it has three creatures in it: Wall of Tears, Wall of Razors, and a Mogg Fanatic. Sparkler has a variety of methods to slow opponents down (Propaganda and the like) combined with countermagic and burn. With buyback burn, the goal is to slowly kill off opposing players. You have some nice tricks like Evacuation, Reins of Power, and the like. It’s a fun deck, and very easy to modify into a powerful deck. Just adding in Forbid (same block, later set), can make the deck go crazy good.
Anyway, I am playing Sparkler. Now, in my playgroup, Sparkler is known as "the deck no one can play properly, except for Abe." It’s a running joke. Once, a player tried out Sparkler, and exclaimed it to be the worst deck he’d ever played — so I promptly took the deck and beat him with it several games in a row.
So I'm playing Sparkler and I’ve gotten a lucky Wall draw. I have out both my walls and my third rare, Precognition (which is the worst card in the deck, right up there with the usually useless Shatter that’s in the deck). One of my opponents at the multiplayer table has gotten out Akroma, Angel of Wrath from an early Defense of the Heart that I couldn’t counter, since I had tapped out to play Precognition (stupid Precog).
Akroma Girl attacked Rat Boy and the game was afoot. Rat Boy was playing a rat deck with Patriarch’s Bidding as backup. Akroma is really good against a mono-Black deck, so everything was looking good. My deck can’t kill Akroma, since my kill mechanisms are all Red. However, between Capsize and Mind Games I can keep Akroma from killing me.
I Precog my library and see Time Ebb. I draw the Ebb and play it on Akroma. Akroma goes to the top of Akroma Girl’s library. Now, she has seven mana in play. If the eighth land is in her hand, then she can untap, draw Akroma, lay a land, play Akroma, and attack. If she doesn’t have that land, she’ll still get one soon enough.
Rat Boy proceeds to take his turn, and then attacks me all out with a horde of rats. This makes no sense. Of the three of us, I’m the only one with a prayer of handling Akroma. He’ll die to Akroma quickly. Why would he attack me instead of getting damage in against Akroma Girl?
I had taken damage earlier in the game from a fourth player who subsequently died to rat hordes. The rat attack knocked me to two, after I Shocked one Rat and Searing Touched another (no buyback). Wall of Razors kills a third Rat, and a fourth is bounced by my Wall of Tears and subsequently replayed. He gives my Wall of Tears -2/-2 with some enchantment or spell that I can’t remember, thereby killing it.
Now, without being able to play an Akroma, she’ll need her White Knight and Mother for defense. I took out three of Ray Boy’s rats, so she can survive for some time before she dies…. As long as she keeps her creatures and White Knight ready. I’m at two and tapped out. What does she do?
She used her Mother to give the White Knight pro red, attacks, and kills me. Rat Boy untaps, attacks her all out, hits for a lot of damage, and a few turns later kills her.
In this game, not only was I BPSed by Rat Boy — who should have used the opening to hit his hated opponent with Akroma — but after he virtually handed her the game by attacking me, she then BPSes me by attacking me herself, thereby leaving herself open to a counterattack. I was double-BPSed in the same game. Remember, I’m playing a precon; I have out two-thirds of the creatures in my deck and a Precog (which sucks). I am not a threat for either deck individually. Yet they each had a hand in killing me.
Bringing It All Together
In each of these three cases, I was BPS-killed. There are times when I present no threat at all, and I still get attacked. People fear that I will pull a Case of the Reclaimed Game. Here is my newest BPS-related revelation, open and available to you all.
The Best Player Syndrome Axiom
The Best Player must always be prepared for people to attack the Best Player, despite a board condition or deck choice that would suggest other targets are more appropriate.
Okay, this axiom makes sense (which is, by definition, what an axiom should do). However, it is the corollary to this axiom that is my newest revelation.
The You Against the World Corollary
When the Best Player sits down to play at a multiplayer table, that player must be prepared to defeat the entire table, single-handedly.
This corollary follows from the above axiom. Since you can never know or control when someone will attack or target you for no good reason, you need to always be prepared to defeat every player at the table. There are several ways you can do this. You can play cards like Ivory Mask or Dense Foliage to keep people away from you or your things. Another option is to run a combo deck that can kill everyone at the table in one gasp.
I originally thought that the one advantage of the Best Player Syndrome was mitigated by the first disadvantage. Sometimes people won’t attack the BP because they expect that the BP has something up their sleeve. Maybe they’ll hold back a powerful permanent because they expect the BP to have a counterspell or a destruction spell in hand and ready to go. I initially thought that this advantage was about equal to the disadvantage of being targeted and attacked sometimes because you are the BP.
As of right now, I am recanting that view. I believe that I get targeted and attacked more because I am the BP than people steer clear of me because I am the BP. The disadvantage outweighs the advantage. How can I, or any BP, combat this?
The classic idea was to play a deck that plays a lot of minor cards until you drop a powerful combo with them and go off, killing everybody at the table. In other words, the classic idea was to try and regularly be The Case of the Reclaimed Game. However, as the BP, that strategy does not work. Sure, it will work for the guy in the corner of the table who doesn’t attract much attention… but that doesn't apply to you. The players expect you to have something up your sleeve, and they will continue to attack and destroy you and your permanents. There needs to be another strategy.
If you are familiar with the collected works of Anthony Alongi, then you know that he rates cards and their use on several different fronts that he names after animals. Up until now, I have used Spiders more than anything. I like cards that jump out at the player. This helped to accentuate the natural advantage of being the BP at the table. When you usually hold a Starstorm or Hail of Arrows or Exile, then people will expect you to do so.
A lot of multiplayer theorists stress the importance of rattlesnakes. These are cards that warn off attackers and send them elsewhere. If all other things are equal, a Seal of Fire is better than a Shock in multiplayer, because opposing players see the Seal and chose to attack elsewhere.
I think that the rattlesnake effect is weakened once you have been identified as the BP. I can have a Seal of Doom in play and someone will still send their River Boa at me. I can have all of the rattlesnakes in play that I want, players will still target me regularly because I am the BP.
As such, traditional methods of board control do not suffice. Spiders, which I hoped would strengthen the natural BPS advantage are not enough either. That leaves one other element - The cockroach.
Alongi identified some permanents and spells (although it’s hard for spells to qualify) as being reusable again and again. This made them a cockroach. That’s what BPs need to play. It’s not enough to run Seal of Doom in order to keep people from attacking me, because once the first one does, and I pop the Seal, then its open season on hunting Abes.
Take one of my favorite multiplayer cards – Silklash Spider. Silklash Spider has a big bottom, enough to successfully block a lot of beef and live. Because it can block flyers, Akroma, Kokusho, Rith, Spirit of the Night, and so forth are less of a threat. It also has a cheap casting cost, so it can come down quickly. Combine that with a two power, and you are a significant deterrent to small creatures.
What makes Silklash Spider truly amazing is its ability to regularly spray the sky with webbing and kill off flyers at instant speed. Silklash Spider can kill off lots of flyers again and again. This makes it a bit of rattlesnake, sure… but it really is a cockroach.
As a member of the BP club, I need to play cards like Silklash Spider. I need cards that can ward off attackers, kill things without dying, have a decent cost, and can continue to work multiple times.
As such, I am officially declaring Silklash Spider to be the banner of the BP deck. If a BP wants to counter the disadvantage inherent in being the BP, then you’ve got to find the right cards, and it starts with Silklash Spider.
Find these Silklash Spiders is not going to be easy. There aren’t many cards that are maximally useful in just the right areas like this creature. Allow me to introduce a few that I have discovered.
Abe’s List of Silklash Spiders
Visara the Dreadful
Visara (or Avatar of Woe) can bring some pain as an attacker, makes a powerful blocker, and can tap to kill offensive creatures. Both of these creatures draw a lot of fire, so they may die quickly. When they don’t, you have a great defense and offense in one card.
A recent addition from Ravnica, I think Nullmage Shepherd is one of the better cards from the set. As a 2/4, the Shepherd can keep x/2 creatures from attacking while also allowing you to pop enchantments and artifacts every turn once you get a few other creatures.
In a similar manner to Nullmage Shepherd, the Tradewind Rider is a good block and can even block fliers. It can also bounce a permanent every turn with the help of a few friends. Both the Shepherd and the Rider cost no mana to activate, so there is some potential for serious use here. Capsize might also fit here.
Staff of Domination
I wanted a maximally useful artifact or enchantment to show what a non-creature Silklash Spider would look like. The Staff has several abilities, each of which can keep creatures away or punish people for attacking you. Since you can also use the Staff to draw or gain life, it has other reusable abilities and can really go the distance.
A great example of an enchantment Silklash Spider is a Tranquil Grove. The Grove doesn’t have the defensive abilities of a Spider or Staff, but it still has the reusability of a cockroach. As long as you have the Grove, no one will play any significant enchantments. You can keep everything from Rancor to Sylvan Library to Future Sight off the table. Aura of Silence is close.
There are other examples out there, but these are the ones that I can think of right now. The goal, of course, is for BPs to identify other Silklash Spiders and put them in their decks. I don’t think you can build an exclusively Silklash Spider deck and expect to win. You will need other cards. Still, you’ll want to include many Silklash Spiders in your future deck building, if you are a Best Player.
To summarize, the Best Player Syndrome is alive and well. There are ways you can deal with being the BP, but I think that the best way is to maximize the use of cards that are similar to Silklash Spider in several regards, including reusability. A BP can’t accurately predict when and where people will attack and target the BP based on the board position, so the BP must always be prepared. Therefore the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared,” is highly important to any BP at a table.
Good luck to all of the BPs out there. I’m rooting for you.
We’re in this together.