Dealing With Incombotent Players
Words of terror:
"Hey, Fred - we're in the playoffs of the NBA tomorrow! By the way, you're guarding Michael Jordan. Good luck!"
I once read a Sports Illustrated article - in fact, it was the only Sports Illustrated article I've ever read, thus proving I am the very antithesis of Seth Burn, who can lay you odds on women's lacrosse tournaments - that was about a poor schmuck who was in precisely this position.
In front of Michael Jordan.
The best player in basketball today, possibly the best player ever.
For all the marbles.
And he was terrified.
The reason why no one can beat Michael Jordan, as it turns out, is that every player generally has a couple of go-to moves they resort to in the heat of combat. Sure, if they're thinking about it, they might surge forward or step back to try to throw you off... But nine times out of ten, if they're just trying to keep the damn ball, most basketball players will do the same thing via instinct.
The players watch tapes. They know if you're gonna break left. You always do.
But the thing about Michael Jordan, said the schmuck who wasn't Michael Jordan - and, as it turns out, who couldn't even stop Michael Jordan from winning that series - is that he has no instincts.
Every time he comes out of the gate, he is unpredictability personified. He has no rhyme nor reason. He breaks left, he jogs right, he passes, he flies thirty feet straight up in the air and puts on his"Superman" cape... Michael Jordan's moves cannot be predicted. And as such, you're reduced to hoping that your reflexes are quicker than his... Which they aren't.
And so you lose.
In related news, yesterday I got an article from Jeff"Wise Guy" Wiles* who said, and I quote:
"Predicting what will be at a given tournament is no easy task; it's even more difficult in multiplayer - unless, of course, your group plays the same decks week in and week out. Since we can't predict with any real accuracy what's going to show up at your next multiplayer game...."
Maybe if you're playing Magic with a group of Michael Jordans.
It's true that unless you have some sort of Drew Carey-style, X-ray specs on your face that you won't know the contents of the deck that people are bringing to your weekly multiplayer funfest.
(Unless, of course, you're close enough to your friends that you build decks with each other - in which case you can be the Spy In The House Of Love, taking careful notes on all of their finely-tuned card masses, then go huddle in your basement and build a better deck in secret. Of course, if you can do that, then your friends are probably huddling in their basements, creating their decks to beat yours... And thus, detente is reached again.**)
But each player has a certain style - a go-to deck that they create because they're comfortable with it. Some players love smashing face, and create aggro decks of all styles and colors. Others hate the narrowness of beatdown, and create utility decks that, on the surface, appear to be different - until you realize that Living Death deck is the same as their Rec/Sur deck is the same as their mono-white deck. And some others prefer evil combo....
The point is that Michael Jordan was rare because he had no preference. Going left was as natural to him as going right. Most players aren't Michael Jordan... And most Magic players aren't adept with every deck.
As such, predicting the exact metagame is hard... But predicting the general metagame is usually easy. There's two beatdown players, one combo player, one utility muffin, and one guy who always plays his Beta deck.
You can work with this.
The question is, what sorts of categories do your friends fall into?
Well, thankfully I've compiled this incomplete list for your perusal. Use it in good health.
These players love to create decks that put out a large fatty and then blow everything up - although not necessarily in that order. They like to watch people overextend themselves, putting out just enough defense to avoid dripping blood into the water, then throw out something that people can't deal with and annihilate all of their resources. Sheldon's a perfect example: Sheldon's always playing his Wildfire/Pattern of Rebirth/Multani deck or Sheldon's Living Death/Anarchist/Infinite Loop deck or Sheldon's Goblin Bombardment/recurring critters deck....***
It's not always a global reset, but your decks have to be prepared to lose lands, or critters, or both. If you've got this guy at the table and don't have a way to recover quickly, don't bother. Also, don't overextend unless it's absolutely necessary... But you don't do that, right?
These guys love beatdown. Rebels, White Weenie, R/G beats, blue flyers... Whatever their strategy is, it's creature-based and has a lot of x/x in it. They may play it smart and not overextend for a Wrath or a Deed, and they may or may not player with large fatties, but it's certain that this guy will be running over the person with the least defense, or sitting there and sulking when the Propaganda starts.
If you've got an aggrovator, you need early defense. And something that can't be burned away, and something that can stop evasion critters like flying. Later on in the game they become irrelevant, but early on they can take you down... Or take you out.
This player differs from the aggrovator in that they like decks that are creature-based, but usually have a theme to 'em - like goblins or elves. They're not necessarily strict theme decks - quite often, they pack out-of-theme but useful effects like Disenchant and artifact removal - but they do tend to center around the creatures themselves.
They also tend to be slow. Dealing with them is simple: Don't piss them off, and have some early defense (though you don't need it as early as the aggrovator). Also, have some instant way of dealing with a 2/2 Elvish Champion if you have forests.
Laylow (You Got Me On My Knees)
This is the ultimate example of the"wait for it" player - they almost invariably play decks with white or blue with some early D, but play decks designed for the end game, where they can finally mop up the weakened players. Their decks are almost pure reaction. These guys love Collective Restraint, and Will Rieffer's Instant Guitars deck is a perfect example of a Laylow deck... It does nothing until it does everything, taking out the weakest players one guy at a time.
To deal with this guy, always pack 6x Disenchant effects - they invariably rely heavily on enchantments - and politic your ass off to make it seem like they're the threat. It won't be easy at first, but after the second game you'll generally have people lining up.
Utility Muffin Kitchen
This is the guy who likes having an answer for everything, and relies heavily on one-ofs and graveyard recycling to do it. Survival of the Fittest is his favorite card, and he loves creatures with"comes into play" effects like Flametongue Kavu. He also likes bouncing these creatures or reanimating them. Getting rid of his creatures also tends to be a problem, since he usually has some form of instant-speed sacrifice effect to neutralize any Swords to Plowshares.
This player is one of the toughest to read. They prefer decks with synergy - David Phifer is the perfect example. His decks have several cards that work in conjunction with each other, stuffed with mini-combos that involve three or more cards... But since his combos don't rely on any specific three cards, generally his decks are tough to read. Semi-combo players look a lot like Utility Muffin Kitchen players at first, but eventually you come to realize that they don't have an answer for everything... Just most things.
Defense against these guys is tough. They come from nowhere - and although their decks don't always work (in fact, they tend to be the #2 or #3 player at the table, simply because their decks lack consistency), when they do they're frighteningly effective. Pour a Jolt over their cards when they're not looking.
The Long Combo
These guys rely on a five-card combo that looks completely innocuous until all the parts hit the table... And suddenly all the pieces k-chak into Voltron and flays you alive. They're very similar to the Laylow player in that they'll cheerfully wait for the end game... But unlike the Laylow player, who is an obvious threat, each of their combo pieces is useful on its own, and they may actually win a game or two by merely surviving until the end. As such, they don't look like a threat until they actually come together, which may be never.
See the Laylow player for hints on taking them down, except that it's a lot tougher to convince other people that Joe Useless here is the storm on the horizon.
These are the deckbuilders who like being creative, but either don't have the creativity or the cardpool to make it big. Their combos rely on four-card monstrosities that are useless individually, firing only once in a blue moon... But they'll play their damn deck until it works. Fragile, so fragile.
Must be Italian.
Don't worry about these folks. Just encourage them that they're creating good decks. After all, you don't want them to get better, do you?
Generally, these guys have a couple of creatures ? but more importantly, their deck is based around taking out anyone who pisses them off. (Anthony Alongi is a prime example of this.) They love cards that are retributive in nature; they hate people who interfere with their game plan, so they try to ensure that anyone who targets them for destruction goes down in a ball of flames. Generally, this is an effective strategem.
Deal with it via global removal. They can't blame you if you wipe everything out, and let others attack them to their demise. Failing that, morph into an aggro-revenge player and bring the pain to them.
My Collection Is New!
This is a transitional player, but you'd be surprised how long it takes people to morph out of it... And some never do. These are the guys who are too cheap to buy power cards, so they make do out of their small collection. Their decks may be great ideas (though generally they aren't; if they were good at the game, they'd spring for the good cards), but if they are, they use a lot of replacement cards (Flame Burst for Urza's Rage) and pack substandard, whatever-they-have cards to fill in the gaps.
They're not a threat. You can ignore them. At least until the first night where they finally give up and order a bunch of cards from, say, Star City. Did I mention we sell cards?
Well, if there's an opposite to the newbie, it's the guy who hasn't bought cards since 1974.**** They play with old cards and nothing else. Innovation is dead, and they're generally fairly burnt out on Magic in general, but like the socializing.
Don't worry about these guys, either. They're happy just to be there.
"Hey, I have four Call of the Herds and an internet connection!"
These guys have no creativity, and are invariably the ones who write in to say,"Ya know, if ya uze Memry Jar and Megrim, yuh kin wipe out th' entire table at wunce!"
Yeah, thanks for resurrecting Urza's Block for me, pal. Wasn't your pathetic butt the reason those cards got banned? And then you bitched about it?
Anyway, these guys will invariably first bring netdecks to the table, generally Type 2, and get stomped like a bug because duel decks don't work well with multiple opponents. Then they get smart and start modifying old combo decks to take everyone out.
Just throw them out of your table. You don't want jerks like that there. They play to win, not to have fun.
Got any other archetypes? Email me.
The Here Edits This Here Site Here Guy
* - I yelled at Jeff in an article once after he wrote in to tell me what a yutz I was, saying that if he was so damned smart, how come he didn't write his own articles, huh? Well, he did. A couple of 'em, now. And they're damn good. I should anger people that way more often.
** - I'd throw in an"Invisible Hand" reference here to appear really smart, but really, I'm kinda dumb.
*** - Though Sheldie does veer slightly closer to being a Utility Muffin Kitchen.
**** - Not a typo. This is a joke, people. All the other errors in this article are jokes, too.