Hello and welcome to Muse Vessel! This is my first article since the Star City Games Talent Search moved away from casual play, and I’m back, along with Bruce and Brandon, two great guys and great writers with a real commitment to casual Magic. What we’re trying to do here is address the lack of quality content and dialog for fans of casual and/or multiplayer Magic.
Our return is not a moment too soon either, because it is that most wonderful time of the year: SPOILER SEASON! There’s no time to waste, so introductions will have to wait. To kick off the festivities I’ve included some analysis of the best cards for multiplayer from the Mirrodin Besieged cards that were officially spoiled up to Friday the 21st of January.
Multiplayer is different from duel play (and the broad heading ‘multiplayer’ includes a lot of very different formats, including but by no means limited to Chaos and EDH/Commander), and it’s hard to figure out what makes a card better or worse in multiplayer than in duels. A detailed analysis of every card from every angle would be exhausting, and much less fun than actually cracking packs and casting spells, so I’m going to restrict myself to what I consider to be the highlights. In roughly descending order of importance, these are the things I consider when evaluating cards for multiplayer:
- Cards with high levels of one or more of Anthony Alongi’s creature elements:
- Gorillas – cards that shake the table (e.g. Decree of Pain)
- Rattlesnakes – cards (permanents) that warn people away from attacking you (e.g. No Mercy)
- (Trapdoor) Spiders – cards, usually instants, that take your opponents by surprise (e.g. Sudden Spoiling)
- Cockroaches – cards, usually permanents, that have a repeatable effect, helping you to win attrition wars (e.g. Recurring Nightmare)
- Pigeons – cards that benefit or become more powerful as more players join the game (e.g. Mortivore)
- Plankton – cards that feed everyone (e.g. Oath of Ghouls)
- Cards that add more value in a multiplayer environment for other reasons
- Cards or mechanics that don’t seem tournament-viable, but which do something cool if given more time, or which will be budget-friendly options for the casual tribe.
- Cards or mechanics that are particularly well-suited to common casual formats other than Type Casual Chaos games
- Cards or mechanics that add to existing multiplayer strategies or interact with old favorites
Let’s get started!
Hero of Bladehold: My first thought was, “Of course they gave white a mechanic called ‘cry’, it’s perfect for those whiny white mages.” However, this card is going to give your enemies something to cry about. Aggro decks in any format love to have single cards that can demand something like a Damnation or Wrath of God all on their own – it stops the control player from biding their time and getting massive card advantage from those big sorceries. Obviously, Hero of Bladehold fits the bill. In fact, I shouldn’t be telling you white mages this, but if you play against a control player using Innocent Blood, Barter in Blood, etc, then you are going to put them in a very difficult position with this card.
The kind of honest, straightforward play style that Battle Cry encourages is exactly the kind of white deck that doesn’t make me sick to the stomach. Put away those Story Circles and start smashing face; add Lightning Greaves, or at least Strider Harness, for a minimum of seven points of damage, with the promise of more to come, even if they Terror your Hero. Finally, don’t forget that Battle Cry gives a bonus to all attacking creatures, including your partner’s creatures in Two-Headed Giant (2HG), or any other format where teammates take simultaneous turns.
Phyrexian Rebirth: There is only one thing wrong with this card: it should be black! “Sweeper” spells like this are the epitome of gorilla effects, having a huge and immediate effect on the table, and that Horror token immediately puts you in the driver’s seat, at least until it gets hit by a removal spell. Don’t worry though, that removal spell only adds to the card advantage that you get from casting Rebirth, in addition to slowing down their recovery. Additionally, that colorless artifact is essentially a Horror Pigeon token, as it is likely to get bigger in a game with more players.
Priest of Norn: An excellent rattlesnake, and the best type of early play – one that retains relevance later in the game. Most walls will slow down an aggressive opponent, but don’t deter them. My 2/2 bounces off your Wall of Omens? No problem, I’ll cast another 2/2 and attack you with both of them. However, the Priest is going to shrink an attacker every turn, which encourages the aggro player to look elsewhere in multiplayer, and the potential of giving a poison counter on the counterattack gives your opponents incentive to play more conservatively and keep someone at home to block. I would happily play this as a defensive creature, perhaps as an alternative to Wall of Omens, even without other Infect creatures. I think the threat of poison counters in a long game, especially if someone else is playing with poison or Proliferate, is enough by itself. If you happen to equip the Priest with Loxodon Warhammer and then pump it up with Elspeth, Knight-Errant in the late game, that’s just gravy.
Victory’s Herald: A bit of a gorilla, potentially a rattlesnake, the Herald gains by facilitating “alpha strikes” against a particular player, a la Titanic Ultimatum – even if you have to tap out to kill one player, leaving yourself open to the rest of the table, you’ve gained so much life that they probably can’t kill you immediately. This may combo nicely with Sunblast Angel – attack recklessly, bait the reprisal attacks from the rest of the table, kill all their critters, win – or anything that gives your team Vigilance.
Blue Sun’s Zenith: This really works in a slower environment like multiplayer, where you can reliably get to 6-8-∞ mana. Also, the blue mage is all about mana control, but in multiplayer you may pay a higher price for leaving your mana untapped (being able to respond to spells but potentially falling behind all of the other players in board position as a result). Instant speed draw like this is an essential option for the counterspelling/counter-bluffing mages to make sure they aren’t wasting their mana untapped if there’s nothing worth countering or stealing. I’d consider putting Zeniths in ahead of Tidings, Jace’s Ingenuity and Whispers of the Muse in a reactive blue deck
Consecrated Sphinx: Awkward name, inappropriate picture (it looks like a mosquito swimming in an artery), but oh Momma, this is the business!! Sticking this card is going to go a long way towards winning the game: firstly, it scales well with a larger table, giving it major pigeon value; secondly, it is a big crunchy cockroach, offering repeatable draw on a not-insignificant body; thirdly, drawing cards is indirectly a gorilla effect. Forgive me if I’m preaching to the choir here, but drawing cards is pretty much the best thing you can do in a game of Magic. If your deck has even a trace of useful spells, then drawing a bunch of cards every turn tends to give you the other stuff you need, whether it’s creatures, other threats, combo pieces or answers to whatever your opponents are doing.
To put it into perspective, I’m not naturally drawn to blue but I started to appreciate this when I first played my Arcanis the Omnipotent EDH deck. It was a three-player game and Arcanis hit the table on schedule and didn’t attract any attention. Three turns later, the guys realize that I’m nine cards ahead of them, have kept a full hand while playing land and artifact acceleration, and can now steal, bounce and counter their main threats at will. Next turn I was 12 cards ahead (plus the ones I’d stolen), they couldn’t get through my defenses or stop me from outdrawing them, and so they conceded. That was a three-player in which I was drawing four cards a round, at the cost of not attacking with Arcanis; the Sphinx would have had me drawing five cards, seven in a four-player game, and so on, all the while attacking with a larger body. Did I mention that you don’t even have to wait for summoning sickness to pass before the delicious card-draw starts?
Steel Sabotage: Excellent common utility, decently spidery. A lot of budget deck-building is simply about finding the top-notch commons like this.
Vedalken Infuser: Reminiscent of Energy Chamber, a Fifth Dawn uncommon that I recently discovered in the Tezzeret Duel Deck. Energy Chamber is a major reason why Everflowing Chalice is one of my favorite mana sources, and a set of Chalices is reason enough to run four Infusers (think how insane your Blue Sun’s Zenith would be!!). A brief list of artifacts that benefit from charge counters, other than the Chalice, includes: Aether Vial, Altar of Shadows, Chimeric Mass, Coalition Relic, Door of Destinies, Eternity Vessel, Lux Cannon, Ratchet Bomb, all of the Trigons and Umezawa’s Jitte.
Treasure Mage: Trinket Mage is awesome because of the many brokenly efficient artifacts that you can tutor for and play immediately: Sensei’s Divining Top (SDT), Skullclamp, Chalice, Pithing Needle and Sol Ring are all fantastic cards that you want to get your hands on ASAP. Treasure Mage is proof that bigger isn’t necessarily better, since you can’t usually play it immediately, but in the mid-game having a steady stream of Wurmcoil Engine, Steel Hellkite and Darksteel Colossus could be backbreaking – never mind the more abusable cards like Mindslaver and Sundering Titan. Obviously though, if you aren’t playing fairly, then being able to grab something to cheat into play with Master Transmuter or similar is going to be a lot of fun – at least for you.
An honorable mention goes to Mitotic Manipulation. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but this is breakable. It feels to me like the kind of card that someone will build around, wreck the table and then have to promise never to use the deck again. However, it may also be as crap as it looked at first sight.
Black Sun’s Zenith: Mono Black Control, how I love thee; let me count the ways! Sure, Damnation and Mutilate are the most efficient sweepers in black, and cards like Decree of Pain are awesome for their card draw angle as well, but BSZ is a strong option for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a smart aggro player can always play more creatures than the control player can sweep away – until now. Being able to restock your library allows you to play your sweepers a little more aggressively, and unlike Mutilate, which is a great but slightly situational sweeper, you can permanently reduce the threat that a creature poses even if X isn’t enough to kill everything immediately. Secondly, there are cards that combo well with the -1/-1 tokens, whether that is simply having a way to bounce your wounded warriors, playing fatties like Carnifex Demon, Deity of Scars and Grim Poppet or using Necroskitter to kill ‘em and claim ‘em. Thirdly, there is Flourishing Defenses. I’ll let someone else flesh this out a little more, but paying X when there are Y creatures on the board will give you XY Elf tokens – or even more if you have Blowfly Infestation out as well. That puts the XY in SEXY (a little algebra humor for you there, and I do mean a little). I’m thinking Coat of Arms and Altar of Dementia, or perhaps a Mass Polymorph to dump your whole army onto the table, but I’ll let you figure out the best way to abuse your legion of tokens.
Go for the Throat: Will this replace Terror and Doom Blade in every deck I have? Quite possibly, certainly once the artifact frenzy of Mirrodin has subsided. There are usually more black critters than regenerating critters, which automatically makes this superior to Terror in most situations, and a lot of good regenerators are black anyway, so you’ve got a better chance of killing them with this. Also, regeneration always has some cost attached to it, so you can play around regeneration and Go for the Throat when they’re tapped out; you can’t play around a creature’s colors!
Sangromancer: Something you can build around, certainly, although my discard-control decks usually try to be creatureless. However, if you just want to chuck this in a random deck, there are always going to be creatures going to the grumper, and Sangromancer lets you profit from the misfortune of others (I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m still going to gain the life!). Frankly, a lot of black’s four-drops are so crap that a flying Hill Giant is a relatively good play anyway, but especially in a 20-life format, the occasional three life top-up can make a big difference. This is also a respectable option for the four-mana slot of a Vampire deck if you don’t have the Nocturnus (who is still a bit pricey).
All of the Infect stuff: OK, let’s just get this out of the way. There are a lot of new Infect cards, they’re basically only playable in dedicated Infect decks, and if you have already made a couple of poison decks then you might be a bit sick of them by this point. Add to that, there’s the fact that everyone who understands the difference between Linear and Modular mechanics (ask Maro) tends to complain about WotC building our decks for us when there’s a strong linear mechanic like Infect. Still, I’m happy with the new Infect cards overall for a couple of reasons: firstly, I don’t mind if someone else builds the decks as long as I can have fun playing them. More importantly, the new cards give us more variety than weenie-weenie-weenie-Putrefax (in G/x Infect decks) or weenie-weenie-weenie-Skithiryx (in B/x Infect decks). You now have enough critters to run a variety of decks with different mana curves, themes and strategies (hello, Corrupted Conscience!), which I think opens up the mechanic much more than Scars did. This tells us that WotC has learned the lesson of Kamigawa, where the Splice/Arcane mechanic was underused and underdeveloped to the point where it is very difficult to build a deck around it. Get down with the sickness!!
Hellkite Igniter: Gorgeous art, it’s going in my monored EDH straight away. I don’t care what it does; it’s just so pretty that I must play it. But let’s compare it to the old standard, Shivan Dragon. It costs one more but has haste. On the one hand it means you can’t block with it on turn six, but on the other hand you’re much less likely to have it killed before you can swing with it. And the new firebreathing – hereafter known as atomic breath – is potentially a whole lot stronger than the old one. Instead of a 1:1 mana-to-damage ratio, I think a 2:3 ratio may be normal, and a dedicated artifact-dragon-acceleration deck could easily get something insane like +6/+0 for each pump. In fact, that gives me an idea!
Hero of Oxid Ridge: I can’t tell if that is a picture of Koth or not, as all Vulshok basically look the same to me (is that racist?), but this is a nice card. As with many Mythic rares it may be easy to think “Dammit, I wish I’d opened one of the more expensive ones instead!” but that’s just looking a gift horse in the mouth. The Hero is a nice aggressive beater who comes out of nowhere to kill a Planeswalker or lead your weenie hordes to victory, and if you don’t want him, I’m sure you can trade him to someone at FNM for a Ziploc bag full of Liege of the Tangles.
Into the Core: A five-star utility card! Take it from someone who plays against a Karn EDH deck regularly, there just aren’t enough answers to a board full of indestructible animated artifacts. Compared to Return to Dust, red did quite well here, and if you don’t have a deck that could use this then you probably don’t play red.
Red Sun’s Zenith: In case you can’t tell yet, I really like this cycle! They’re basically gorilla roaches, which I love, and this one in particular plays to red’s strengths in multiplayer. Remember: Lightning Bolts for duels, Fireballs for multiplayer. The Red Zenith gives you the option of “wasting” an X spell on a creature, secure in the knowledge that you’ll get it back later when you need to finish off a player – in fact, now that I think about it, all of the Zenith cards have an effect that you would normally want to wait for, and the recursion allows you to pull the trigger now and know that you’ll get a chance to make it bigger next time.
I’ve always been a big fan of Beacon of Destruction (and in fact the whole beacon cycle, even the white one), but despite being sorcery speed I feel that the Zenith is better. I look at it like this: after you cast it the first time and shuffle it back in, would you want to draw it again immediately? I think the answer is yes for this one.
Slagstorm: It is unfortunate that Slag has a completely different meaning in the British English that I grew up with – not a pretty picture! This is a card that will obviously be compared to Flamebreak from Darksteel (sometimes the return to Mirrodin theme in this block is a little too ‘in your face’ for me), and it’s easy to see this as a lesser version of the card. However, what it loses in power it gains in flexibility: you can play this when you’re ahead just to do three damage to each opponent before you turn your critters sideways, and if you’re behind then you get to kill some of the bad guys without doing more damage to yourself. I tend to assume that a standard multiplayer game has four people (although your mileage may vary), so three mana for nine damage seems like a real bargain. In fact, Slagstorm is both a complement to, and in many ways an upgrade from, the old red staple Sizzle. Furnace of Rath, anyone?
Creeping Corrosion: A strictly better Shatterstorm? It is another pigeon gorilla, hitting everyone and getting you more card advantage as the game expands, but I think being in green adds a little bit more sauce to an already saucy card. I find my green decks use far fewer artifacts than my red ones for a number of reasons – I don’t need mana acceleration, and green’s fatties are already so oversized that equipment seems less necessary, for example. As a result, I expect this to be even more unfair when the green mage plays it.
Fangren Marauder: Steve Sadin talked the hell out of this one, but let me just ask how many Nevinyrral’s Disks, Oblivion Stones and Planar Cleansings there are in your meta. If there are a ton of them, as there are in mine, then the Marauder is likely to be a Seal of Gain Thirty Life in addition to a medium-sized critter. I know there is a LOT of competition for the six-mana beefcake position, but the potential for ridiculous life swings makes this innocuous common worthy of a second look.
Green Sun’s Zenith: Probably my favorite card in the set. I’m not sure how many of my G/x/x EDH decks will use this immediately, but I am very excited by the potential of this card. Increasingly, the best critters are answers as well, and so this card can get you out of trouble with a well-timed Acidic Slime, Cloudthresher or Spearbreaker Behemoth, and then the next time you draw it you can search for something even scarier. Combos well with Painter’s Servant, for really off-the-hook tutoring, and Wheel of Sun and Moon to ensure that you never run out of tutors or tutor targets.
Thrun, the Last Troll: This card is crap. Seriously, $20? How the hell am I going to get the five or six copies of this card that I am going to need for various decks when Star City is selling them at $20 a pop? I mean, it’s not like a bigger, regenerating Great Sable Stag will be popular with the tournament crowd, and I can’t imagine many EDH players wanting continuous access to a cheap 4/4 that is almost impossible for your opponents to deal with and which can chump-block larger attackers all day long, so where is the demand for this coming from?
Viridian Corrupter: Viridian Shaman is a card that I have put into many decks; there are other options for what she does and I think she has only stayed in one of those decks, but she always merits consideration. The Corrupter might be better though, especially in EDH. I know that most people say you should either be 100% committed to the poison plan or ignore Infect altogether, but I think having a single Corrupter in an EDH deck gives you a nice backup plan, especially if there’s a chance to suit her (?) up with equipment and make her a two- or three-turn clock.
Glissa, the Traitor: Awesome, definitely on my list of generals to build around, and worth slotting into almost any deck that can accommodate her. I think her value, more than being an efficient beater who owns the red zone, comes from the question I asked earlier: how often do people blow up your stuff? I’m totally happy with a 3/3 for three in the early game, but what I really like is being able to get my mana artifacts, artifact creatures and equipment back from my graveyard in the late game. Yes sir, I loves me some recursion, and she does it so efficiently! Let her sit on the board for a couple of turns and then recast all of those toys that you had so much fun with before that nasty old Akroma wrecked your stuff.
And that’s already over 3,000 words. I’m almost finished though; only the artifacts to do! Let me leave you with a couple of MBS-inspired decklists, and I’ll hit the artifacts soon, before finishing off the set review as more cards are revealed.
Keep it casual,
@the_casual_guy on Twitter
4 Devoted Druid
4 Melira’s Keepers
2 Extractor Demon
2 Altar of Dementia
3 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Barter in Blood
1 Beacon of Unrest
2 Flourishing Defenses
4 Beseech the Queen
4 Tainted Wood
4 Terramorphic Expanse
Atomic Dragons to Power!
4 Iron Myr
4 Palladium Myr
3 Steel Hellkite
3 Hellkite Charger
4 Hellkite Igniter
4 Red Sun’s Zenith
1 Sol Ring
3 Journeyer’s Kite
2 Shrapnel Blast
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Into the Core
4 Thran Dynamo
4 Wheel of Fate
4 Darksteel Citadel
4 Great Furnace
 Well, you can, but usually only when the creature is Spiritmonger or Wild Mongrel.