oly crap. It's ... MULTIPLAYER WEEK!
It feels like every holiday I know, and a few extras I don't celebrate myself, wrapped up into one Magic package. Playing with more than one other player is part of the very fabric of my personal Magic identity: I'm really a "Social Timmy" at heart, and the players around me are often just as, or more, meaningful than the cards I'm slinging.
Of course, I would venture to state that a vast chunk of Magic is played with the go-to rules: one player versus another in a duel to the end. It's how I spent an entire Saturday (and Sunday for those of you who I ran into at the second Prerelease I attended!) playing Magic 2011 Sealed and EDH. It was an absolute blast, even when things didn't go my way, and I'm looking forward to the next big event I can head to.
But that isn't to say I thought it was the best Magic I've ever played.
Greater Than the Sum of its Parts
Multiplayer is all about the games where it's more than just you and your opponent; the ways and means of playing with more than one other Magic player are as varied and diverse as the players themselves. Here is a sample cross-section:
And none of those ways to play include peculiar deck construction rules—it's just the number of players and logistics behind handling them that change.
But what makes multiplayer such a great thing? I'm sure many of you have tried, experienced, or even regularly engaged in playing Magic with plenty of players, but have you ever stopped to consider what amazing things happen exactly because of that?
If you have three, five, seven, or any odd number of players, dueling leaves at least one sitting out. Multiplayer games are inclusive of others, opening up opportunities for players to continue playing without waiting. It's an engaging environment where you can meet and greet, hold discussions, and share more since it's multiple minds meeting.
With multiple players can come multiple teammates: while you can certainly collaborate with your friends heading into dueling, it's only the wonderful worlds of Two-Headed Giant, Emperor, and the like that gives you a truly unified game experience with your good chum. Opening twelve packs instead of six (as per the perennial Prerelease standby of Two-headed Giant Sealed) is both fascinating from a "Look at all these new cards!" perspective and provides opportunity to explore in new directions. Afraid to try a "different than usual" kind of deck? Let your friend carry the weight of a "normal" build and flex your creative muscle—you'll be surprised at the results that can occur.
The unique perspectives that only other players can provide is something that's always nice to have! While you can try out new cards and brainstorm ways to use them, I'm confident that your friends will have a few tricks of their own to show you. Everyone sees through a slightly different lens: borrowing your friend's is something that happens naturally with more players.
When you sit down across from one player there is only one thing they can be: your enemy. Their deck, creatures, spells, and life are all working against you and trying for the same goal as you: to win. While there's fabulous fun in all that grim-sounding description, the dynamics of the game change when there are multiple players.
Other players are probably trying to win, just like you, but unless something seriously unusual is happening no individual player will be able to conquer the board with ease—they too have more than one opponent. Who's doing what, when, and how make a big difference in how other players react.
You can gain allies in the unlikeliest of places: shifting and unstable teamwork ("If someone can kill this creature I can get rid of the enchantment.") pop up, unexpected boons can be granted, and the flow of "Your turn, my turn." is replaced by the gaggle of events that may or may not directly impact you.
The politics of multiplayer are important only inasmuch as you and your fellow players want them to be important. There is a lot of ways to slice looking at it, and it's been handled in different ways by Kelly Digges (see the link above), the Ferrett, and Anthony Alongi. Even if you adhere to strict neutrality, others may take your action (or inaction, or over-reaction, or thoughtful reaction, or ...) in a different light. That's the nature of politics: perspective is everything.
But politics can extend outside of individual games and be a function of your play group as a whole. The idea of your group "banning" individual cards, cards with similar effects, or even whole deck strategies is as democratic as a process can be. Everyone has different flavors of fun and while you may be keen to break out your deck that can destroy every land in play ten times over (or counter every spell, or sneak oversized fatties into play on the first turn, or lock down every permanent played, or ...) your friends may have other ideas in mind—and may not hesitate to push back.
There are upsides and downsides to the "ban these cards" principles of play groups but, ultimately, it's a reflection of the majority of the group for better or worse. Just be sure to share what your group has done—don't surprise people already playing a game with the "banned list" your group cooked up!
Cards and decks can "feel" very different in an environment surrounded by more than one deck. Whether it's classical deck styles like White Weenie or modern inventions like "Black-Red-Green Midrange in Standard" (a.k.a. Jund), decks work a little different under the scrutiny of multiple players. For example, you can take one of the following two decks to play free-for-all multiplayer. I hope you like Knights.
Why would you pick the one you do? I would grab Version 2 because I like the idea of having some variety to bring to the table. Challenging expectations is something you can count on in multiplayer and I plan accordingly. Using Enlightened Tutor, Worldly Tutor, and Knight of the Reliquary as access, I created a toolbox of things to do:
Are there other things I could do? Sure—that's the greatest feature of putting tutors into a deck: you can just go get what you want when you want it. Are there other ways to build an aggressive deck for multiplayer? Absolutely—but I like Knights and I want to make use of our new Knight overlord. And, since I'm being so generously honest, I already have a Knight theme deck that I've been hankering to transform into my all-purpose multiplayer deck.
Themes you enjoy have a way of trickling into many decks you build.
The real point is: there is such an inherent variety of things out there that happen in multiplayer I like to come with a variety of things for myself. Keeping my opponents guessing is just as thrilling as peeking at what I ripped turn after turn, never counting on the same game twice.
Even more exciting than using more and different cards are using cards that get more bang for your mana among your fellow friends (and enemies). Classics like Radiate and Pestilence spread their things across any numbers players and creatures. Newcomers like Liliana's Specter and Hunter's Feast are inclusive of the idea of more than one other player—and provide additional benefits thereof. There are even cards that are created specifically for multiplayer use in mind, like the Grixis colored Blood Tyrant Kelly previewed for Conflux.
It's this principle that played a part in both Planechase, with planes like Glimmervoid Basin and Naar Isle, and Archenemy, with its necessary coordinated teamwork. It's what made players, veteran and green alike, gather around for Group Game Drafts and hit up the team-based Two-Headed Giant events at my local Prerelease. "The more, the merrier!" may be an overused catch phrase but even the most stymieing of repetitive statements bow before the honest truth: more players often leads to more fun.
And I'm always game for more fun.
The Grass Is Always Greener on the Other Side
Some of you may not enjoy multiplayer—and, really, that's fine too. You may just dig the fact there's just you, your deck, and your opponent that's in your way. Part of what makes Magic so great is the fact that of the hundreds of ways to play, the chances are that there are other players out there who dig the same thing you do.
Another fascinating part is how different we can really be. I mentioned the three previous writers of Serious Fun—upon whose shoulders I stand here today—because each brings their unique way of looking at the same game. I encourage you to look into the dusty annals of Serious Fun as there is amazing treasure, of various flavors, buried deep:
Converting a deck from "built for duels" to "invokes multiplayer shenanigans"
Breaking down (new at the time) cards in terms of multiplayer potential
A series of rules, should you choose to believe them, for gaming the game at multiplayer
It's no secret that I've made efforts to steal the weekly strategies within Kelly's playbook, but Anthony was the guy I started tuning in for each week (when DailyMTG.com was really the whole magicthegathering.com shebang), and the Ferrett is someone who speaks to the strategy-come-analyst-come-whatever side of me.
And that's the real golden ticket within multiplayer: the most absurd things from the entire spectrum of Magic seem to have an easier time happening when there are a few more fire-starters plying their trade at your table.
What is multiplayer to you? Why do you like it (or dislike it for that matter)? What do you think the most amazing, unusual, important, or strange things are about multiplayer? Jump in on the message board and share your thoughts—celebrate the principle of more than two players with a thread that can handle any* number of posters.
I'll see you all next week!
*"Any" being relative to the community size posting. I don't believe a sudden influx of hundreds of thousands of players trying to post simultaneously will occur. Of course, feel free to prove me wrong!