The Kitchen Table #162: The Standstill Dilemma
Hello and welcome to the first article of the new year in our happy column. I hope that this finds you well and that all of your days this year bring joy and excitement.
Last Friday we had eleven people at my place for Magic night. During the night there came a point in time when seven people were playing a large multiplayer game, and someone cast Standstill.
It was the early game, in the first few turns. I was pretty happy with the casting of the Standstill. Playing my 1200-or-more-who-even-knows-how-big-it-is-now highlander deck is hard to develop. With a Standstill out, I get a chance to develop my manabase while others wait.
And wait. And wait.
It was a large number of turns and several discards on my behalf before someone else broke the Standstill, and we all were happy people because we drew three cards. I began thinking about the Standstill, and that led to this article.
In multiplayer games, how many cards are as complex to deal with as Standstill?
Now, in normal duels, Standstill is pretty good. In aggro decks, it's a minor Armageddon (as part of the WALD theory, an Armageddon is any card played when you are in a slightly advantageous situation that moves you to a much more dominant position). Play a few creatures, then slap down a Standstill (see also, Hesitation). If your opponent pops it, you draw three. If your opponent doesn't pop it, you win the game with your creatures of swingingness. Either way, you are in a more dominant position.
Standstill has also been used in a lot of combo and controlling decks in major formats like Vintage. It's a powerful card in the right hands and under the right circumstances.
In multiplayer, however, it changes from a simple card to a very complex engine. In a duel, if you break the Standstill, your opponent draws three cards for one. That's not good, but it's easily surmountable. In a normal multiplayer free-for-all, if you break a Standstill, each opponent draws three cards for just one card used by just one opponent. You draw nothing. This is not a good place to be in.
Therefore, in a multiplayer game, Standstill has a lot more inertia behind it than in a duel. Let's take a look more closely at the dos and don't's of Standstill in a multiplayer setting:
When You Absolutely Have to
Let's face it, there are times when you absolutely have to break a Standstill. If you are being pummeled by a bunch of creatures when you have a Wrath of God in your hand, you cast the Wrath and break the Standstill. That's obvious.
However, I do think there is a tendency not to break the ‘Still until the very last moment. You keep hoping that someone else will break it, while they hope the same. As such, the game continues on and on until someone absolutely has to break the Standstill. Then, if that person is not you, you draw cards.
One strategy that works this way is to push someone into breaking the Standstill. Attack Removal Boy with creature after creature until he caves and breaks the 'Still by popping a few creatures in self-defense. Pushing the table this way is very common under a Standstill, and you should remember this trick to use when you need to.
A corollary to this is to also pop the Standstill when it doesn't matter. This is such a small subsection that happens so rarely that I felt I shouldn't make a major heading out of it, but will instead include it here.
When you play a spell, the Standstill's trigger goes on the stack on top of the spell. Then the trigger resolves and cards are drawn prior to the spell resolving. A few cards will make the card drawing “almost” moot. (Almost moot because instants drawn off a Standstill can be played before the spell resolves)
Say, for example, you play a Wheel of Fortune. Now it doesn't matter what people draw (again with the above caveat) because what they draw will be discarded along with everything else. Timetwister, Diminishing Returns, Time Spiral, Windfall. Windfall will actually reward you for breaking the Standstill because you'll draw up to the biggest number discarded.
Other cards, like Balance, punish the Standstill drawers by forcing their hand size above your own. Yet other cards, like Cabal Conditioning, can force opponent to discard their entire hand, so Standstill draws are meaningless.
There are even times when popping a Standstill is good for you. If someone (maybe you) has out an Underworld Dreams, you benefit from popping the Standstill. The same is true of cards like Viseling and Iron Maiden. You can easily punish opponents for drawing cards from a Standstill.
Maybe you have just a few cards left in your deck that don't want to die to decking but think you can win otherwise. Then you pop it so you won't die.
Okay, so as we can see, there are in game reasons for triggering a Standstill. Typically these are because you have to, but may be because you can counter it, it doesn't matter, or it will actually benefit you.
How Many Players do you Have?
It's important to point out that the more opponents you have, the worse it is to pop Standstill. It may be less harmful to pop a Standstill when there are just three or four players at a table instead of five or six.
With five opponents, you popping the Standstill will result in your opponents drawing fifteen cards off of one while you draw none. That is serious card disadvantage. When you have just two players, they draw six cards for one, and you draw none. It's more surmountable now.
However, it is important to note that not every one of those cards will be turned against you. In a three way game, each card may have a 50/50 chance of being used against you or your mutual opponent. (In the case that a card has one use — many, such as many permanents, would have the ability to be used against you both. I'm keeping the math simple).
If half of those cards drawn are used against you, then only three of those cards are dangerous. That's even easier to handle.
However, a counter argument can be made that at a larger table, despite popping the Standstill, one could hide very effectively and fear not for those cards drawn. We'll take a closer look at the politics of popping the Standstill in a later section, but the number of players ties directly into this idea.
If there are, say, ten players at the table, then despite your opponent's drawing 27 cards, it's very possible that none of those cards would ever be used against you. This argument might be made, but I'm not sure I agree. Why allow so many opponent extra cards and then hope that you'll escape unnoticed? Not a smart strategy in my book, unless you can follow it up with politics.
The Politics of Standstill
It is an established multiplayer theory that in order to win, you must never appear like you are the greatest threat at the table until you win. Combo decks should look like normal decks and pieces of the combo should appear to be normal, ordinary cards with no nefarious use, until it is too late.
As an example, Fruity Pebbles does not look like a danger with Shield Sphere and Goblin Bombardment out. It's only when you add Enduring Renewal to the table that your deck morphs into a combo deck. If I wanted, I could build a Pebbles deck and play it at the next Magic Night to demonstrate this principle in action.
Popping the Standstill is like pushing everybody else ahead of you in the threat lineup. Now everybody has more cards. That appears more dangerous. Then they play a bunch of permanents because they don't want to discard them. That makes them appear more dangerous too.
You look more innocent by default, which makes them better targets and you less of a target.
Some players cannot pull this off. Remember the Best Player Syndrome. No matter what the officially recognized Best Player in a multiplayer group does, or what the board looks like, they will be attacked or have their things destroyed even when better targets are out there.
Therefore, the BP cannot use Standstill as a gambit. In fact, it's probably the worst thing ever for a BP to pop the Standstill, because those cards drawn are more likely to come that person's way than any other, just because. I have never popped a Standstill in my playgroup because I know that I would be typing out my death warrant and handing to another to sign.
Other players may have reputations. A couple of players at our circle have reputations for always playing combo decks. No matter what innocent cards they have out, it's probably a combo deck. They can't hide under a Standstill either.
If you are one of the players who can hide after popping a Standstill, then it's a valid strategy to use.
Another question to ask is if the table will allow you to “get away” with popping the Standstill because you are their friend. Can you sell popping the Standstill as a way of getting friends? “I'm a nice guy because I popped the Standstill and gave you three cards. Can you attack somewhere else this turn?”
That will only work at some tables, not others. If it works at yours, then use the Standstill well.
The Numbers — Discard?
A question often asked is if it is worth popping a Standstill if you would otherwise discard. Once you get to this point, you are actively losing cards in order to keep others from drawing. Is this a losing proposition? How many cards is it okay to discard before you decide to pop the Standstill?
Let's look at a simple example. Suppose you are playing against two opponents in a three way free for all. If you pop the Standstill, they draw six cards. They spent one card. Their next gain is five cards.
Now, how many cards should you discard? According to this, once you discard five cards, you might as well pop the Standstill.
Of course, you have no way of knowing how long a Standstill will last before someone decides to play some cards. Because of this uncertain nature, I suggest that if you are about to discard your first card because of Standstill, you ask yourself a few simple questions:
How long will this Standstill likely last?
Will my opponents be discarding too? When? How much?
Does this discard actually hurt me?
If you think the Standstill is going to take a long time, then you might as well get it over with and move on. If you think you are going to be forced to pop the Standstill in two (or five) turns after you've discarded several cards, then you might as well go ahead and end it now and not discard any.
Some opponents may have drawn a lot of lands under the Standstill and have a ways to go before they discard. Others may have emptied their hand. If it looks like it just going to be you discarding for a while, then you should just go ahead and pop the Standstill now. For example, if your opponent's hands are at three, four, and four, while yours is at eight, playing that card is a lot more useful than discarding several.
Then you need to ask yourself if the discard actually hurts you that much. If you have five mana out and you discard Grozoth, that's no big deal. Not every card in your hand is going to be sterling. Imagine a Ravenous Rats just got played against you. Would you be upset or do you have an easy discard? If it's not going to cost you anything, there's no sense in popping the Standstill now, so wait.
What Format Are You Playing?
An important Standstill tip — Standstill specifically reads that opponents draw cards, not other players. In many multiplayer formats, players have allies. Only your opponents draw cards if you pop the Standstill.
For example, in a Star Game each player has two opponents — the two across from that player. The one on either side is that person's ally. If One of your allies pops the ‘Still, you don't draw. You only draw if one of the two players sitting across from you pops it.
Therefore, in some formats, it may be more or less advantageous to trigger the Standstill. Understanding the nuances in these formats is key to understanding the Standstill strategy at your table.
What Kind of Deck are you Playing?
One last fact that's important to understand is to know what deck you are playing (and as a adjunct, what decks your opponent's are playing). Popping a Standstill to play a card drawing spell against three super aggro decks that all lay down their creatures and walk into a Wrath of God is perfectly fine.
How much your care about the Standstill depends on what you are trying to do and what your path to victory looks like. A combo deck that has all of the pieces but needs mana is happy to let a Standstill last until they draw enough lands to win. On the other hand, a combo deck that needs to casts some spells the turn before it goes off will happily pop the Standstill in order to do so. A control deck will typically hate opponent's having more cards, so will hesitate before offing the Standstill. An aggro deck that needs more juice will wait for the ‘Still to trigger off someone else and draw cards, whereas one in the early game may pop it anyway in order to take advantage of the early game window in order to win.
Different decks have different needs. Understanding yours is important. Understand your opponent's needs is even better.
Once a Standstill is played, understand this — most of your opponents will be drawing three cards. Whether you pop the Standstill or someone else does, most of your opponents will be drawing three cards.
Obviously, this is only true in a traditional free for all multiplayer game. It is not true in the aforementioned Star Game, for example.
In other words, those people already have cards. Therefore, you are only playing to determine if you draw three cards or if one of your opponents draws three cards (the one who would pop the Standstill if you don't).
Under this theory, you are not battling the table for cards, you are just battling one person for cards. A great way to find this person is to use the pushing method mentioned near the beginning of this article. I mentioned attacking a person until they were forced to respond, and there are other ways too. An artifact that deals damage to an opposing player over time, for example, could force them to remove it, thus breaking the Standstill.
In this theory, Standstill becomes more of a duel between you and another over the ‘Still, instead of a multiplayer game.
As I mentioned before, Standstill is a very complex card in multiplayer, and I hope you can see why. Are there other cards that are more complex? Feel free to suggest some in the forums.
I hope you have enjoyed another trek through all things casual. I hope all of your Standstills are happy and bright.