f all the reader emails I get, the largest quantity ask me for stories about our multiplayer Magic group.
Of all the topics I write about, my least favorite to write (and read) is…you guessed it. Stories about our multiplayer Magic group.
This week, it's about making my readers happy.
I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've devoted an entire article to this sort of thing. Why don't I do this more often? Two reasons: first, since I hate reading about other people's groups on the Internet, I project that dislike onto my own readers, accurately or no. Honestly, the people in our group are not any more or less extraordinary than the rest of you. Why should you care what we do Thursday nights?
(By the way, I don't mind reading such stories in brief emails. Many readers send these to me, and that's fine. I don't want to discourage that.)
Second, it feels too self-centered. Now, I know I have several family and friends who are having themselves a heck of a chuckle at the irony here – "Alongi? Worried about being self-centered?! Woo-ha!" – but the fact is, I try to keep this writing space open for reader ideas. And if I'm talking too much about myself or my friends, I'm not keeping it open.
But there's a time and place for storytelling, and I don't mind doing it after two or three years. (I did a lot more of it with my old Casual Fridays articles.)
So let's share three stories: one from the past, one from the present, and yes! – one from the future. Much poetic license is about – in fact, ya can't shake a stick without hitting a poet or a license. (I love that "shake a stick" expression. It always makes me want to find a stick and shake it, in hopes of blundering upon the object in question with a satisfying thwack!)
Story From The Distant Past: George And The Foil Squee
Setup: This was a booster draft with a friend of mine, new to Magic at the time.
George Maverick, a Canadian originally from Romania who's been playing in our group for the past five or six years, reminded me of this one not long ago.
When George joined our group, he spent a few typical months learning the ropes – what makes a card good, how to figure out creature combat, etc. After gaining a rudimentary knowledge of how to play, he heard that we "drafted" cards at the local store and wanted to try a booster draft out.
There was a Masques block booster draft at Mirkwood that Thursday night (since closed, to my dismay). As we sometimes did, we decided to play there instead of going to a house. I can still remember the intent look in George's eyes as I ran down a few basic strategies for drafting, in the sixty seconds or so we had before the draft began:
"Okay, you win drafts with creatures. Creatures with evasion – flying, trample, protection, etc. – are generally better than creatures without evasion. Because you win drafts with creatures, creature removal is also hot. So as you try to pick up crafty creatures and creature removal, try to stick within two colors. Now, George, this is important: don't assume the rare is the best card in the pack – look carefully and think whether you can win a game with this thing! You'll get plenty of rares if you draft well and win packs for prizes…!"
Throughout this brief but loud instruction, George nodded his head and absorbed everything. He really did. I'm so proud of him.
Because when he sat down (to my right) and opened the first pack, he saw the Indentured Djinn and took it, which is a decent move for a novice.
Problem is, he passed a foil Squee.
My first hint of this unfortunate missed opportunity came when the guy to his right picked up the 14 cards George had left, spent about half a second thumbing through them, pounded the table, smacked himself on the head, coughed up his own epiglottis, and shrieked, "OH MY GOD! YOU PASSED A FOIL SQUEE?!?!"
As everyone but me looked at George as if he had spilled his own heretical Romanian-Canadian blood upon the original Declaration of Independence, my heart sank. How do you train someone to know that sort of thing? You can't just give them a list of "cards which, if you get a foil version, you should not pass." That's just silly. He picked a good card – but he didn't pick the one that would have paid for the draft, plus a few more.
George will tell you (if you track him down at his house, shine a light in his eyes, and begin interrogating) that he doesn't hold it against me for giving him the advice that led to passing a foil Squee. He's done very well in many drafts since that day, using that same basic 60-second spiel of strategy I gave him. Though he never did open another Squee, foil or otherwise.
Story From The Recent Present: X-Treme Confusion
Setup: We're playing five-player "star" format – you're responsible for killing the two players furthest from you. Sitting clockwise from my deck (snake Opposition, which is a Type 1 legal version of what I play Online): Paul (black creatureless), Laura (red-green spirit/arcane), George (red-blue random effects), and Joe (white weenie).
This is actually the second of two games. I get my butt handed to me early the first game by George's Skizziks, which press me into a self-destructive Biorhythm out of pride. (Yes, I know; I read my own article on "monsters". But this proves not every rule is absolute. In a chaos game where no one had invested much time and I was doing myself more harm than anyone else, it works. Folks think it's funny, anyway.) Laura wins by eliminating Joe on the next attack phase. It's a quick shuffle to game two.
This next game starts off like many multiplayer games – a lot of set up in the early game, as folks tread a little carefully and figure out whether or not they can assert themselves against their most dominant threat. I get out an Opposition fairly early and manage to play Sosuke's Summons twice, meaning I have four rather argumentative snakes capable of tying down lands or creatures (or artifacts; but that's not relevant this time around).
After I spend a few turns of tying down Laura's few lands and George's few creatures, Paul decides he likes my army of (now eight or nine) snakes and plops down a Portcullis
. Such is "star" format: it's more logical to build temporary alliances in the hopes of destroying a common opponent (in this case, George, who sits two seats away from both of us).
Laura succumbs to early damage from Joe, who has a couple of Silver Knights out; and my snakes. Now Paul has to rein me in, so he kills a few snakes (leaving enough for me to operate Opposition) and throws down an Ensnaring Bridge with one card left in hand.
The game threatens to get boring after that, because George still has a bit more than ten life, Joe's still at 20 but can't attack, I'm at 15 or so but my attacks are slow and ineffective, and now Paul puts down a Subversion. Life starts to bleed slowly away.
I'm thinking to myself: I might win this before Paul, if Joe can stay relatively healthy.
Then George puts down Confusion in the Ranks, the centerpiece of his deck.
The Confusion goes to Paul in exchange for the Subversion (yes, the Confusion counts itself when it comes into play). Then Paul plays another Subversion and trades it for…Subversion, so he can actually have one. Then I play another Opposition and take Paul's Subversion away. Then Joe plays a Story Circle and takes my Subversion.
Meanwhile, creatures are flying under the Portcullis like nobody's business – because no one wants to get stuck with tons of cards in hand. (Paul's been known to play stuff like Dark Suspicions in decks like these; but nothing like that shows up.) George is hovering at between 2 and 5 life, depending on whether or not he has a Subversion and/or whether he gets a creature card he can sack to High Market before I tap it anyway with an infernal snake (yeah, I'm still getting 1-2 of those every once in a while, depending on Portcullis timing). I'm sinking below ten, and the race begins to look like one between Paul and Joe.
Then I finally play my third Opposition and take George's Subversion away. With Joe and I in possession of the two Subversions, the games are over for Paul and George. George dies two turns later, and everyone tries to figure out who owns what cards so they can get them back.
I've been in more complicated games, to be sure – but this is just the right blend of complication and playability. Everyone can track what happens to what permanent and spell, without lots of deliberation and rules reference. The first "perfect" multiplayer moment I've had in a while.
Story That's Going To Happen Tomorrow Night:
Setup: Wherever we play – we haven't settled on a host yet – I'm pretty sure we'll do an Emperor draft. You will find information on how to conduct an Emperor draft in the Serious Fun archives.
I'll tell ya what I'm going to do, the next time we Emperor draft. (This will be before Saviors comes out. By the way, my preview card will come next week. Thanks for your patience.) I'm gonna do four things:
First, I'm going to ask my team if I can be Emperor. This won't be any ego trip on my part – I've just been doing the flanks for some time now and feel I've "unlocked" that part of the draft. (Best strategy is a cheap red-green, focused tightly on spirit/arcane spells.) I'll look forward to being an emperor for a while and pushing some different ideas – for example, green in the center seat may not be such a bad idea.
Second, I'm going to sit in the emperor seat and open an amazing piece of equipment. Maybe it'll be Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang in Champions. Maybe it'll be Umezawa's Jitte in Betrayers. I don't know. But I'm going to open it, sigh, and pass it – because emperors generally cannot use equipment. (Big exception? Hankyu. More decent in duel drafts than many gave it credit for, Hankyu borders on excellent in the emperor seat. You simply have the time to make it work, and it makes otherwise "dead" creatures useful.)
Third, I'm going to trash talk the opposition. There's always someone on the other team worth antagonizing – Joe, who always seems to beat me in emperor format; George, who always seems to lose to me (in any format); Todd, who's my teammate way too often on Magic Online (Crawler) so we need some time to razz each other; Laura, who's so often mana-screwed; Paul, my brother-in-law, who sometimes acts like a fourth teammate in these formats – the list goes on and on. Of course, more often than not, I'll be the guy worth antagonizing on the other team. The crap I put up with because of this column, I cannot even begin to tell you…
Fourth, I'm going to lose. Not just lose, but lose big. This always happens when I trash talk. Karma has a nasty sense of humor.
Here's how it'll go down: opposing flank will play Frostling, then Blademane Baku, then Cunning Bandit, then Loam Dweller and another Blademane Baku (flip the Bandit), then steal two defenders and steam across to eliminate a player and gain a 3-on-2 advantage. Then the next turn, there'll be 10+ damage and a new threat (say, Forked-Branch Garami), and it'll be game over.
Oh, wait. Hang on. That's a story from the past, when I crushed George again. There are so many examples!
Let the storytelling/trash-talking begin…
Anthony cannot give deck help in the past, present, or future.