Grip of Chaos: Kamigawa in Multiplayer
In a recent "Ask the Other Editor," a fan wrote The Ferrett upon the status of multiplayer magic on StarCityGames. The Ferrett's sad but true response to the inquiry was that there were simply not enough qualified writers willing to put their effort into the topic.
Now, while I'm far from possessing the skills of Dave Meddish or Oscar Tan (to name a few), I can hold my own in an eight-player chaos match. If no one else wants to give it a shot, then I'm more than glad to take up the challenge.
The Basics of Multiplayer
Any multiplayer aficionado who has visited Wizards' site (or StarCityGames in the days of old) will know about Anthony Alongi's Multiplayer Hall of Fame. I have to admit that I agree with the majority of his choices... But his intensively detailed analysis of multiplayer types is a bit too rich for my tastes. I respect him as a writer, but I get clouded by his numerical animal rankings.
As far as I'm concerned, multiplayers and their decks boil down into four basic categories:
- The Threats
- The Answers
- The Turtles
- The Jerks
(Okay - so I did use one animal reference, but I couldn't find any other befitting words.)
Threat decks, obviously, make the opponents rally against them as the most dangerous contender to everyone's plans... But who the Threat is can change with a single spell at any time. These decks fall into two subcategories: "Early Beats" and "Late Game."
Please note the somewhat deceptive name of "Early Beats," as it is in no way required to be an aggro deck. The "Early Beats" usually come out of the game swinging and tend to lose steam the longer the game goes. As such, they strive to end the game as quickly as possible, using either mass damage spells, overwhelming creatures, or game-ending combos.
The "Late Game" decks, on the other hand, will build card advantage to such a point where the opponents can't touch them, either with heavy control cards or obscene life gain. A good Threat deck is one that accomplishes its goal without being susceptible to disruption. For instance, a combo deck needs to be filled with redundancy and backdoors to winning or a single well-placed Naturalize or Duress will crush their chances of winning. Bad Threat decks, obviously, rely too heavily on a handful of cards or they can't recover fast enough from mass destruction spells.
Answer decks either stop problematic decks from gaining power, or silence them when they become the Threat. Counter-based control decks fit in here (despite the innate weakness of countermagic in multiplayer - but more on that another time), as do black discard decks. Answer decks also employ mass destruction spells efficiently, making sure they are in the best position to recover once it resolves (and having the tools to force the spell through in the first place).
Eventually, the Answer deck will get to a point where the largest Threats have already been eliminated, and then take over the position. For instance, a BW deck designed to drop a Desolation Angel with a Crucible of Worlds in play after stripping the blue player of counters would be an Answer deck that turns into a Threat. Answer decks can be played offensively (stopping Threats before they start) or defensively (neutralizing the Threats in play, and making friends in the process).
Turtle decks are the true defensive archetypes. They can be played in two ways: "Hang Back" or the crafty "Oops, I Win." Decks that "Hang Back" use delaying cards like Fog, Ghostly Prison/Propaganda, bounce, or tappers to keep the heat off them. They play almost no offensive cards whatsoever, hoping (like the Answer decks) to make it the last half of the game with a relatively high life total. Then they go all out, dropping a Platinum Angel, Door to Nothingness, or something equally outrageous that only they were prepared for. They win, in other words, because they were so quiet that no one noticed them.
The "Oops, I Win" decks seem to be playing a series of sub-par cards that randomly turn into a game-ending combo when you least expect it. A good Turtle player is something to be feared. They are masters of diplomacy, redirecting malice where it most benefits them and bringing players to temporary alliances. When they pull the rabbit out of the hat, no one is in a position to contest them; they know the exact moment to strike. My Aluren/Wirewood Savage/Cavern Harpy/Man-O-War/Patron Wizard deck fell into this category.
The last category, sadly to say, is a necessary evil. The Jerk decks are built simply to screw over the other players with little to no win conditions of their own. Or, they are total lockdown decks that just sit back until players draw themselves out (*cough* Stasis *cough*). The reason I say such decks are necessary is because they give players a target right from the get-go. All too often, I've seen groups where everyone just sits back behind walls of creatures, afraid to make a move. With a Jerk on the table, there's action, plotting, and wrath. Once the dust settles, the board is completely changed and it causes players to rethink their plans.
Jerks provide a push in the right direction once in awhile.... But a player with a tendency to play Jerk decks can be detrimental to a group after prolonged play sessions. Don't let a sadistic player drag an otherwise positive group down. An example of a Jerk deck (besides the aforementioned Stasis) would be Humility-based white enchantment decks (Fountain Watch, Ivory Mask, Worship, Spiritual Asylum, etc.) or Goblin Game/Mindslaver combos.
While each of these archetypes can be discussed in lengthy detail (which I intend to, should this article be well received), I'd like to start with something that is on everyone's minds these days: Champions of Kamigawa.
Kamigawa: Casually Chaotic
Champions of Kamigawa may not offer some of the clearly multiplayer themes of Mirrodin Block (by which I mean specifically the +1/+1 and charge counter craziness), its themes can be brought to fruition in a slower environment such as chaos. Soulshift, Samurai, Splice, and so forth really shine beyond turn 4 (which is all you'll get against a typical Affinity deck). In fact, Wizards has done a fine job in showcasing the new goodies via theme decks.
Despite what the pros say, Wizards theme decks give casual players a great stepping stone. Many people do not visit online Magic sites everyday, and their small group of friends may be the only sources of tech they have. The decks are not perfect, obviously, but they have a good sampling of cards and a good player can quickly cut the chaff.
Having said that, I'd like to see where those themes can really be taken if given the proper love and support. Please note that I'm going to be using only Kamigawa cards (since this sort of thing is tailored at newer players whose collections may be limited), but I will include suggestions afterwards as to what older cards would fit. To start, let's examine the GB Soulshift deck - my personal favorite.
Can't Keep a Good Kami Down
4 Dripping-Tongue Zubera
4 Ashen-Skin Zubera
4 Thief of Hope
3 Wicked Akuba
4 Hana Kami
3 Burr Grafter
4 Soulless Revival
3 Kodama's Reach
2 Wear Away
3 Devouring Greed
1 Myojin of Life's Web
1 Iname, Life Aspect
1 Iname, Death Aspect
1 Time of Need
2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
While white offers some decent Soulshifters like Hundred-Talon Kami and Kami of the Palace Fields, their cost is too steep for the deck. The basic premise is to use Hana Kami and Soulless Revival (hopefully spliced) in a cycle while Thief of Hope is out. You'll slowly whittle down a few of your opponents without seeming to be an obvious threat. If anyone is suspicious, you have no problem with chump blocking as one Zubera replaces itself, while the other punishes the attacker. Once your opponents are down to reasonable life totals, let the Devouring Greeds loose.
There are a lot of fun tricks you can pull off, such as Iname, Death Aspect recalling all your spirits, and Myojin of Life's Web putting them right back in after a devastating Devouring Greed. And don't forget that the Devouring Greeds are Arcane - perfect Hana Kami targets. Boseiju is in there to push through your Devouring Greeds, and also (thanks to the new legend rule) destroying any other in play.
This deck can be played either as a Threat or a Turtle. If you were going to refine it as a Threat, consider adding Long-Forgotten Gohei. Your Zubera get bigger, and your Soulless Revivals get cheaper. Plus, the effects of multiple Gohei stack. As a Turtle, you'll probably want some removal or insurance policy in case you become a target. A good card for this strategy would be Honden of Life's Web (or even Breeding Pit and Squirrel Nest for the old-school players); just enough to produce chump blockers in the worst-case scenario. As it stands, it is fairly adaptable depending on the way the game swings.
If we were going to go back and add older cards, the obvious choices would be Patriarch's Bidding (naming Spirits) or the classic Living Death. The Phantom creatures from Judgment (especially the Phantom Nantuko) make great chump blockers, and can be Soulshifted back once out of counters. Elvish Spirit Guide can give you faster mana, but sadly, is removed from the game instead of simply being discarded (where it could be Soulshifted). Mass removal like Pernicious Deed and Decree of Pain (or even Barter in Blood) don't hurt you as much as some, and combined with Liege of the Hollows can leave you with a bunch of squirrels!
Next, while this archetype is dominating the Limited scene, not a lot has been said about its Constructed merits.
Splice of Fried Gold*
3 Consuming Vortex
4 Glacial Ray
4 Psychic Puppetry
4 Through the Breach
3 Desperate Ritual
4 Reach Through Mists
4 Peer Through Depths
3 Sift Through Sands
3 The Unspeakable
2 Ryusei, the Falling Star
2 Keiga, the Tide Star
2 Reito Lantern
2 Boseiju, Who Shelters All
Use the inherent card advantage of Splice onto Arcane to deal with threats as they appear in a very Answer deck fashion. Tap, bounce, or burn anything that comes your way, or even at other potentially beneficial players (like those with Howling Mines, Helms of Awakening, and so forth). Once there are only a few players left, cast Through the Breach and drop a Dragon or search out the Unspeakable. The Sneak Attack-like Breach is the best way to trigger your Dragons. When out of creatures (or Through the Breaches), use Reito Lantern to put some back on the bottom; a Sift Through Sands combo will get you an Unspeakable and shuffle up your library. If you can use your reusable Splice effects to keep opponents at bay, you should be able to survive to the end game.
This deck has lots of ways to deal with opposing creatures, but you don't always need to save them for yourself. Part of chaos magic is making friends to eliminate common enemies. If the blue mage at the table has yet to counter one of your spells, and the green mage is sending a rush of creatures out of fear, maybe burning a few with Glacial Rays could potentially do you good. He may be less inclined to counter Through the Breach when the situation comes up (depending on the player, that's why we have Boseiju). Diplomacy is the name of the game, but don't forget in the end that only one player can emerge victorious (aside from Emperor).
The number one card to add to the deck would be Isochron Scepter, since a good half the deck imprintable. An Isochron Scepter with a Psychic Puppetry in play and another in hand reads: "(3): Tap or untap target permanent." With access to blue, you may want to consider some Counterspells or Mana Leaks. Unfortunately, the majority of cantrip counters (like Exclude and Dismiss) cost too much. With so few creatures, mass burn spells like Pyroclasm or Earthquake won't affect you much. Feldon's Cane can replace Reito Lantern, and won't even require Sift the Sands to reshuffle the deck.
In addition, there are lots of big creatures you can use to replace the Spirit Dragons (but why would you want to?) such as Crater Hellion or Dragon Mage. The best, however, is Shivan Phoenix, who is kind enough to return to your hand to be used over and over.
Just Getting Started
Today I've touched upon the two main mechanics in Champions, but there is still much to talk about. Snakes, Samurai, Rats, Moonfolk, etc.; the tribal possibilities are rich and intriguing. In my next article, I'll delve into each and see what they can offer Chaos Multiplayer Magic. In the meantime, feel free to provide your comments and criticism on today's decks. The only way to create a thriving multiplayer community is through friendly and healthy discussion (if we could do it for Vintage, I'm sure we can do it for Chaos). And heck, if you got the time, go grab a handful of your friends and play some cards!
* - See Shaun of the Dead. (Yes, you damn well should - The Ferrett, a big zombie Britcom fan)