Serious_Fun

The problem with power in multiplayer.

Feeling So Proud

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Nacatl War-Pride proxy The letter O!ne of the nice things about writing for magicthegathering.com is that I am the only one at my gaming table who gets to use proxies without being made fun of. I'll whip out some Island with "NACLATAL WARPRIDE 3GGG 3/3 MAKES DUDES WHOAH" scrawled on it in smeared Sharpie, and they'll glare at it with suspicion.

"Can't you just wait until the cards come out, Ferrett?" they'll ask pointedly. "And then, you know, buy some?"

"It's for my column," I'll say. "I have to test this for my readers!"

"Righty-o," they shrug, and then ask me for the seven zillionth time what that card does, because there isn't room to write all the rules text on the card when you have fat fingers and a fat Sharpie. (Fortunately, since it's a new card, nobody noticed that I misspelled it.)

But yes, I did take the War-Pride out for a spin around the block this week—not in a particularly inspired fashion, I admit, since I just threw four copies in my mono-Green Senor Stompy deck (which uses Stampeding Wildebeests and Wall of Blossoms to generate card advantage, Natural Order to tutor up big fatties, and Priest of Titania/Multani's Acolyte/Gaea's Cradle to generate tons of mana).

I didn't even put Summoner's Pact in, that's how lazy I was—and in this mana-licious, toolbox-style deck, it's a perfect fit.

Regardless, I discovered just how powerful Nacatl War-Pride was. And I knew that it was a powerhouse because it traveled from my hand straight to the graveyard, with nary an interruption to slow it down.

I imagined myself as a happy Nacatl War-Pride. "What a beautiful sky!" I'd think. "The trees in the forests here are so lovely! It's a wonderful day to be alive, and I can't wait to charge into battle, and—what's that lightning doing?"

ZZZAAAPPP!

"I'm so thrilled to be here, working for you!" my next Nacatl would say. "In fact, I—AAIEEE!"

"Glad to be of ser—GURK!"

My Nacatl War-Pride only survived long enough to enter the Red Zone once. And that's mainly because I used all of my political skill to get everyone to understand that a) I was going to attack Josh, the best player at the table, and nobody ever minds watching Josh get whupped, and b) I just wanted to see what it did, for Gosh sakes, can't you let me experiment?

Thus, I got one free attack on Josh. I wiped his small gathering of five creatures almost completely out, reducing him to a single Sedge Troll (which he regenerated). And I had no effects to left to save my original Nacatl from death in battle with the Troll, because I'd already burned up two Giant Growths and a Vitalizing Wind to save my War-Pride from the other burn spells people had flung at him.

So my third Nacatl hit the bin. And here's the question:

Does that mean that Nacatl War-Pride is powerful, or not powerful, in multiplayer?

People critiqued my selection of Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir as "The Most Powerful Multiplayer Card In Time Spiral," because—as they rightfully noted—everyone will pull out all the stops to kill Teferi the instant he hits the table. If you don't have a deck designed to take full advantage of Teferi from the moment he hits the table, everyone will pounce on you because OMG TEFERI KILL HIM KILL HIM, and then you'll lose the game.

The importance of this can't be understated. I watched a poor friend of mine play a Teferi just before his turn six began as his first play of the game—and by turn seven, we'd wiped him out. I felt bad for participating in his slaughter, but his Teferi was indeed hampering my style.

Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Stuffy DollThat doesn't mean that Teferi's not powerful, of course. It means that he's so powerful that he causes an instant response from everyone else at the table. But if you can back him up with, say, Seedborn Muse and buyback counterspells and instant-speed Stuffy Dolls to ward off gratuitous attacks, then Teferi is strong.

But he's not necessarily as strong as, say, Stuffy Doll by himself. Stuffy Doll does less than Teferi; whereas Teferi interferes with everyone's plans, the Doll only hampers one player (and it may not work at all if that player has either trampling guys or -X/-X effects in his deck).

But that single-player target is also the Doll's strength; not only does it protect itself better than Teferi does, but it only irritates one player, meaning that dogpiling isn't an issue when you drop the Doll.

So what's stronger? Teferi or Stuffy Doll? How do you judge cards effectively when part of the card's effectiveness depends on how eager people are to get rid of it?

Part of that depends on your group, of course. Our group is, by and large, familiar with Standard and has some knowledge of Constructed formats past, so we can sniff combos out a mile away. This is bad if you play combos, because unless you can surprise us with something we haven't seen before we'll stop you flat in your tracks.

Other groups, who are newer and/or haven't been wrecked by combo repeatedly, may not find the combo pieces threatening. You can get away with more combo in places like that.

Thus, combo becomes stronger simply because the perception of combo as a threat is weaker.

Since this is partially an article on multiplayer theory, let me coin an official term to describe this effect: Backlash. Backlash is the measure of how much hatred a card will generate merely by hitting the table. If one guy's panicked, that's not too bad. If two guys are desperate to kill it, then you've got an uphill climb.

But if the whole table freaks the heck out whenever it is laid ever-so-gently on the stack, you have problems.

Teferi has a lot of Backlash attached to it, because it hits almost every style of group:

  • If you're mostly creature-based, Teferi smells of blue control—and usually, groups that rely on swinging with massive armies for the win hate control in any form. They'll bash Teferi just so they don't have to worry about the hated Counterspell. (Plus, all their fun suspend critters don't work no more.)
  • If you're a combo-based group, well, hell, Teferi almost spells the end for you, doesn't it? There are a couple of combos that rely exclusively on dudes on the board, but most of them need at least some instants piled on the stack to get working. When a single Counterspell from Teferi can hamstring your entire strategy, Teferi player has to go.
  • If you're a group like mine that has a mix of combo, creatures, and control, we assume that Teferi means you have a lot of nastier tricks waiting up your sleeve—tricks that involve instant-speed creatures and spicy mini-combos. (As it turns out, the guy we killed on turn seven? The best he had was Drift of Phantasms in his deck. But we didn't know that.) The control players don't want to deal with it, and so we'll encourage the creature-based guys to bash you, and whoops. You're dead.

Compare that to the Backlash factor of Stuffy Doll:

  • Creature-based groups? Well, the Doll hoses one player... But assuming that guy is not you, it's merely one difficult speed bump in the way of your army. Summon more guys! We'll swarm past it.
  • Combo groups don't care. So you have a guy that can do a point of damage to me every turn? I'm not going to attack you. Say hello to a massive Brain Freeze. Die.
  • And mid-level groups? Well, again, we think it's an issue, but our guys fly or trample... And there are going to be Akromae out there (and, now, Akroma's Memorials) to worry about. We can save our removal for better things.

So is Stuffy Doll more powerful? You tell me. It often lives, of course... But you may note that it lives because other players don't think it's big enough of a threat to stay on the table.

When Teferi wins, it wins, carrying out a strategy in a way that no other card can. Whereas Stuffy Doll generally wins because people underestimated it, or because you got better cards than they did.

BacklashBacklash is something you have to take into account if you want to win... And worse, as I've already noted, the Backlash factor changes from table to table. It all depends on what your opponents hate and fear the most... But if you're smart, you can anticipate Backlash, and realize that even though that Teferi-based deck is really bitchin', you don't have the power to face the concentrated might of everyone ganging up on you. (And let's be honest; few decks are able to withstand a full-on onslaught from four players.)

Thus, some cards are so powerful they're not powerful. Or, as is the case with Teferi, they're only powerful when they're backed by equally powerful cards, in a deck specifically designed to protect Teferi and to abuse it so badly that nobody can mess with you.

Which leads us back to the question of whether Nacatl War-Pride is the strongest multiplayer card in Future Sight. Is it? I don't know. I shake the Magic 8-Ball, and it says, "REPLY HAZY, TRY AGAIN."

But it does have massive Backlash. Creature-based groups don't like having a one-man band that can defeat everything they control, and smart control players won't like the uses you no doubt have for those tokens before they die at the end of the turn. Almost everyone has incentive to take the War-Pride out before it fires.

When Nacatl works, it fires awesomely. But can someone build a deck around it that makes its wacky, combo-friendly tokens work with other cards, and protect Nacatl so it'll survive to create those tokens?

Come on, we all know that we have uses for those 3/3s. Play a Pandemonium just before your attack phase and decimate the table when those 3/3s enter play! Or play a Doubling Season and have twice as many 3/3s attacking! Charge up that Spawning Pit to make crazy-mad 2/2 Zombie and Cat armies working in unison, or go crazy with Slate of Ancestry, or Altar of Dementia will Millstone your opponents into the ground. Or combine it with Baru and some Sakura-Tribe Elders for trampling fun (or just Gruul War-Plow), and then use that trampling damage wedge in a Breath of Fury and Brute Force to get crazy attack phases (using Varchild's War-Riders to ensure that everyone has tokens a-plenty), or just use Winter Blast to tap everyone out so you can get that Breath of Fury through, or forget the taps and use Echoing Courage to make the blocks even worse, or Gaea's Cradle + Vitalizing Wind to make it super-even-worse....

...and all of those plans hit the bin when someone says, "Okay, before attackers are declared, I Slaughter Pact it."

(Or they have, you know, no creatures. That happens, too.)

Nacatl is so overt that everyone with half a brain will see it coming, and a simple 3/3 isn't hardy enough to survive on its own when the armies of Rivendell are aimed straight at its dome. So you have to get clever with Nacatl, to find a deck that will give him a home where he can thrive.

Is that powerful?

So now, with that in mind, I'm going to ask you a question. The answer to this question will be worth that actual card, optionally signed by me. Are you ready?

What is the most powerful multiplayer card in Future Sight that is not Nacatl War-Pride?

Here are the rules:

Nacatl War-Pride with a red X1. Pick a card in Future Sight that is not Nacatl War-Pride.

2. Write up your reason why this is the most powerful multiplayer card in Future Sight. Since this is a smaller set, please keep in mind that someone else will almost certainly choose your card, so backing up your choice with a deck that actually shows how to utilize this card in psychotic ways would help. Alternatively, you can discuss what sorts of problems this card fixes, or entertain me with the reasons why "Heroes" isn't out on DVD yet, because I'd really like to watch it from the beginning but I'm not jumping in halfway through the show, and by the way Hiro's an awful lot like timeshifted cards because he goes to the future and back.

In any case, it's unlikely that a submission as content-free as "akroma memoral wins cuz it makes crtures gud" will get my attention.

4. Send that reason to theferrett@theferrett.com with a title of "Future Sight POWERFUL!" just so I don't confuse your fantabulous description on the delights of Aven Mindcensor with someone attempting to get me to look at cheesecake pictures of his wife, all for a quite reasonable fee. Make sure you send it before midnight on Thursday, May 24th.

5. The Ferrett will then pick a winner. That winner will not only get the satisfaction of having everyone who reads magicthegathering.com know that he or she has correctly identified the most powerful multiplayer card in all of Future Sight, but will also be sent an autographed copy of that very card. (If it's a common, I'll send you a full playset.) If you think the card would be more valuable without my autograph on it, well, heck, I'll leave it off.

"But Ferrett!" you cry. "What about Nacatl War-Pride? I think it's the bomb-diggety!"

Wait. Is that another reader challenge for you? Why, by Gosh, it is.

Here are the rules for Reader Challenge #2!

1. Build your craziest multiplayer deck based around Nacatl War-Pride—go for power, go for obscurity, go for sheer insanity. I don't care. You can use any cards you like, but it must be legal in some sanctioned Constructed format (so if you use a Mox, it had better be Vintage-legal, and so forth).

2. Tell me how the deck works, and why you think it's good. Keep in mind that the whole "I kill Nacatl in response" thing is a bit of a drawback when four other players are each determined not to let you have all of those tokens, so it would be a Good Thing to have some way of avoiding this problem in your deck. Also, if your writeup is entertaining, it'll separate you from people who have submitted similar decks.

3. Send that reason to theferrett@theferrett.com with a title of "PRIDE CONTEST, BABY!" just so I don't confuse your fantabulous description on the delights of the Pride with the latest email from PayPal telling me that "YOUR ACCOUNT HAS BEEN VIOLATED, LOG INTO www.iamafraud.com WITH YOUR PAYPAL EMAIL AND PASSWORD SO WE CAN CLEAR IT FOR YOU." Make sure you send that email before midnight on Thursday, May 24th.

4. The Ferrett will then pick a winner, as decided by his decidedly arbitrary distinction of "The best deck." That winner will not only get the satisfaction of having everyone who reads magicthegathering.com know that he or she has snapped the War-Pride in half, but will also be sent an autographed playset of Nacatl War-Pride. If you think the card would be more valuable without my autograph on it, well, heck, I'll still leave it off.

Go forth. Break Nacatl, and convince me of the righteousness of Future Sight's other crazy cards. Show me the Magic.

And while I'm at it, lemme thank some of the readers for their suggestions on Things to Do With Nacatl:

Baru, Fist of Krosa: David B.
Winter Blast: Jeremiah W.
Gruul War-Plow: Vincent
Echoing Courage: Byrd
Doubling Season: Adrian B.

I await further crazy card interactions with that cat dude with interest.

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