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Strategic multiplayer lessons from Akroma

What We Learn From The Angry Lady

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The letter D!uring Akroma week, we at magicthegathering.com get to celebrate a pretty amazing card. Not only is she a fan favorite – she's a solidly built card, packed with quality, at what amounts to a decent cost when you consider what you get.

But Akroma is not just an angel. Not just a 6/6 with a thousand abilities. Not just a terrific reanimator deck target.

She's also a teacher.

What can she teach us? Tons of things. Many of those lessons, I'll leave to my colleagues in other columns. Here at Serious Fun, we'll just focus on the multiplayer lessons. There are at least four, some of which are similar to lessons I've been trying to teach readers for years.

Akroma's First Lesson

To understand the first lesson, many of you are going to have to think a bit differently about multiplayer than you're used to. There's a mindset I've come across often over the past eight years, and I've seen it fail way too often to put any stock in it as a consistent, long-term victory strategy.

The failing strategy? The ol' "sneak under the radar" ploy. The idea is to put up a few simple defenses, try to look unthreatening, and then pull off awful, horrific things on turn 10 because nobody's expecting them from you.

This works once with a given group, but almost never again. (The strategy holds slightly more water in Magic Online, where you can keep jumping from unsuspecting table to unsuspecting table in more easily anonymous fashion; but eventually, you will run across actual, experienced players who won't buy your story.)

What I find more consistent is a slow progression of increasingly open threats, backed up by instants and abilities to deter or foil negative attention. Start with Seal of Fire. Move to Goblin Legionnaires. Carry on to Cinder Elemental, and/or Dawn Elemental, and/or Glory. Have Reverent Mantra or Shunt ready. And then, once you've got the mana, drop Akroma, Angel of Wrath.

Akroma is one of the most amazing multiplayer cards in existence because she protects herself with a big "don't bother" sign for 80 percent of the spot removal cards in existence. Anything red or black that targets… forget about it. Shivan Dragons can't race her. Bat tokens can't slow her down. You can comfortably tap out at eight mana for Akroma and feel like you've gotten your money's worth.

So what's the lesson we learn here?

Don't hold back.

Stop tiptoeing around. Win like a beast. Put the 6/6 killer on the table, and steer her to victory. Cards like Akroma can technically be used in any kind of deck (including some combo and some control decks), but she works best at the end of a long line of increasingly severe monsters that opponents waste their good spells on. By the time Akroma comes, their backs should be broken.

Too many players miss this. "If you play Akroma, everyone will hate you! Everyone will target you!" So build your deck with this expectation. Doesn't white have protective spells? Doesn't white help you avoid being a target? Can't you assemble a few cards that might make coming after you difficult? Heck, a Glory in the graveyard can stop three-fourths of what a typical table will throw at you. True Believer can generally do the rest.

Don't be scared to win. Get your deck out there and dominate.

Akroma's Second (And A Half) Lesson

While Akroma resists an awful lot of good removal spells, she's not invincible. Every card has a solution. Akroma's cousin in Dissension, Simic Sky Swallower, is an awfully frightening prospect for most decks – but it's not invincible either.

Both die to Wrath of God, to Hurricane, to Flowstone Slide (though I admit I reached there), and to Decree of Pain. Both don't really care much for Evacuation.

So the second lesson? Really easy.

Global destruction solves a lot of problems.

It shouldn't surprise players that global destruction, or at least global effects, are a good idea in multiplayer games. The logic goes like this: group games last a bit longer than duels, both because the competition is a bit less cutthroat and you have to slice through more than one opponent. This means you're more likely to make it to the high mana cost spells, like Akroma, that are fun and flashy. So you'll see more creatures (and other things) like that – and that makes global resets more powerful than they already are.

Of course, global resets also make the game go longer. This makes Akroma (or at least the second copy) even more viable. As a result of this back-and-forth, a deck that can readily replace or renew its big creatures gains more punch in multiplayer. So the extra lesson here is:

Reuse your big cards.

Getting off Akroma for a quick paragraph, green and black have a natural advantage in multiplayer environments because they are very good at card reuse. Red has a natural disadvantage because it blows through resources something fierce. Fortunately, red regains some of that in the next lesson.

Akroma's Third Lesson

Look at Akroma's abilities. They're all cool: flying is obvious, first strike allows for fun combat tricks, trample disallows chump blocking, and the protections from red and black are amazing. But what many novice players don't see the importance of is the haste.

Akroma with haste means that you can tap out fearlessly, play her, and get six damage out of her before most opponents will be able to do anything about her.

Haste means that someone didn't think your mono-white deck would be able to deal six damage that fast, and now they have to reassess their combat strategies.

Haste means that if she gets bounced and you have the mana to play her again, you don't care. If she gets killed and you can reanimate, you don't care.

So our third lesson:

Haste is underrated in multiplayer.

Of course, haste with vigilance is even more nuts – because the math gets even worse for an opponent. They weren't expecting you to blast them for six the turn before Akroma showed up – and yet you did. And even the careful players who considered a hasty creature, probably didn't account for one that made counterattacking very difficult. "Red haste" taps out. "White haste" – that is, Akroma – stays back and blocks after it deals its damage.

For this reason, cards that grant your entire army vigilance (like Oathsworn Giant) work well with cards that grant your entire army haste (like Anger). They're natural companions, but not enough players put the two together well.

Akroma's Fourth Lesson

Getting off the mechanics of the card, Akroma is a lot of fun to play with (though she's not too much fun to oppose). The card has tons of flavor, mainly from its preponderance of abilities and well-crafted artwork.

Yes, it's possible to win with a 4/4 angel token that benefits from a couple of Glorious Anthems and has an Obsidian Acolyte and a Crimson Acolyte to help protect it, as well as a Serra's Blessing and a Gruul War Plow to enhance it, and a…

…eh, forget it. You're as bored with that token by now as I am, aren't you? Thus the final lesson:

Style matters.

Akroma has style. A radically enhanced angel token does not, generally speaking, have style. (That's not to say token creatures can't have style. But faceless angels don't speak to most Magic players the way, say, squirrel tokens might. Or bird tokens. Or snakes!)

She represents a coveted card, from a storyline that included another interesting character (Phage the Untouchable, which has adjoining artwork), in a well-liked creature type, with impressive stats. Sure, she dies to stuff. But she doesn't die to too many creatures. And I think that's one of her most charming traits. In a fair fight, where no one's interfering with sorceries or enchantments, Akroma knocks down 99 percent of the creatures out there (and outraces another 0.5 percent). The creatures that can top her – well, maybe one or two of them will get their own featured week, someday.

Meanwhile, pay attention to the teacher. Her class doesn't end for the summer, and we've all got a lot to learn from her.




Anthony Alongi has been playing various Magic formats for over eight years, and has been a writer for much longer than that. His latest book, JENNIFER SCALES AND THE MESSENGER OF LIGHT, was co-written with wife MaryJanice Davidson and is available now.

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