What do the hot bread at the Outback, awesome foreplay and a solid two-drop creature have in common? They are all good early plays, but you don’t want to overdo any of them.
I was at the Outback this weekend and was reminded just how good their bread is. As soon as we finished ordering an “Aussie-Tizer” from the waitress with just enough flair, the bread was brought in. The butter melted into the bread instantly and the bread disappeared into my mouth almost as fast. I had a couple of slices, then stopped because there was a 258 calorie Bloomin’ Onion and my 1600 calorie Bacon Cheeseburger (and fries!) still to go. Why fill up on bread when there is deep-fried goodness and bacon coming?
My son has no forethought though. His eating style is similar to someone who fears that every bite of food could be his last: he doesn’t stop eating until the food is gone. This meant he ate slice after slice of the bread. Then he ate chunk after chunk of that huge Onion until every delicious deep-fried sliver (All Slivers get “deep-fried”) of onion was gone. With too much bread and too much Bloomin’ Onion, He didn’t have room for his 1600 calorie burger. Amateur.
In a recent game I had this start to my game:
Turn one Birds of Paradise.
Turn two leveled up Joraga Treespeaker.
Turn three Terra Stomper.
This start, just like the bread, (and too much foreplay) was just too much, too fast.
The primary difference between a multiplayer game and a one on one game is the number of opponents you have. Piling creatures on to the board and enjoying the perfect curve are wonderful things in head-to-head games. With one opponent you can realistically expect to be able to overwhelm your opponent. You also know that they are going to be coming after you, since there is no one else to attack. You want the strongest play you can make, as quickly as possible.
In multiplayer, blasting out of the gates may allow you to take out one opponent, but doing it again and again and again becomes a serious drain on your resources. This is all while your remaining opponents are getting stronger and better prepared to deal with you.
More importantly though, coming out fast focuses your opponents’ attention on you. A turn three Terra Stomper makes you a more serious threat than Erika’s Wall of Omens. That sort of a start makes you appear to be the biggest threat on the board, and your opponents will act to eliminate, or at least reduce, the threat.
Even if your great start is just to set up powerful defenses, you can still become the primary target. Excessive mana behind mostly defenders and little apparent offense can still be seen as the biggest threat on the board.
Now, there are extenuating circumstances. My friend Jesse has a particularly fast Goblin deck that can completely roll over a player very quickly. In those circumstances, a big start is important, and definitely the right play. You need to be able to defend yourself. And with 12 goblins on the board, your Terra Stomper is not likely to be seen as the primary threat by anyone.
Good luck dealing with those 12 goblins.
My point is that a big start can often paint a huge target on your head, and being the target demands that you use resources to defend yourself. If you are doing that all through a multiplayer game, then at some point, you have no resources and will have little chance of winning.
The best starts in multiplayer are starts that create a good defensive position, where you can threaten some retaliation if someone attacks you. I’m not suggesting you need to throw up an impenetrable wall all around you, then sit until someone attacks you. I’m suggesting you better have some way to defend yourself that is obvious to your opponents, while not making yourself into the early threat on the board.
In my group, the player who balances his early starts better than anyone is Josh. There are times when he comes out faster than wants to, and there are times when the defense just isn’t coming in his draws and he is sitting with one lame creature for defense, but most of the time, Josh is set up behind a solid defense that allows him to build into his game plan. By not being the primary threat on the board, Josh doesn’t have to use up his cards to protect himself, but instead uses them to come after his opponents later on.
This is not to say you should play with weaker creatures. While that is an option, it is better to simply learn some restraint. Just because you can play your Primeval Titan, doesn’t mean that you should. At some point you will want to take over the game, and playing the Titan will make perfect sense. As an early game play, holding the Titan and playing your Overgrown Battlement may prove to be the prudent play.
The Best Early Plays
Since the first half of the article discusses the theory of early plays in multiplayer it seems like a good idea to follow along with the other Muse Vessel writers and provide some solid options for early plays. Keep in mind I’m not recommending this as a curve to start your game. Dropping these creatures on turns one, two and three is just a mistake. I’m just offering up some of the best cards that I’ve used. This is no “all-time greatest” list that provides the unquestioned best from each spot. There are times when another card would be a better play. This list offers some insight into my play style and hopefully provides you with a few creatures you hadn’t considered before.
1 Mother of Runes. I considered Student of Warfare, but that card screams out aggression, and with the leveling requirement, Student of Warfare isn’t something you want to play on the first turn. “Mom” is harmless in the early going since all you can really do is give yourself a good blocker. It isn’t until later in the game when you have other defenses up when playing Mom could be seen as an offensive tactic.
2 Knight of Meadowgrain. This is a great card, but take care how you use it. My group tends to target the player with the highest life total early on, all else being even. With this guy out there, that’s probably you. In spite of this, I love seeing this guy in my opening hand.
3 Slith Ascendant. With three mana your deck’s plan is likely kicking in and you have cards that are best suited to that plan in your deck, so picking a card here is difficult. I would agree with Brandon that Aven Mindcensor is a great selection. Since he has already picked that one, I’ll opt for the Ascendant. He doesn’t look like much, but early on it is difficult to stop a flyer and people will often let him hit a few times before they are facing down a huge flying behemoth. By then, you are in a position to protect yourself, right?
1 Brandon wasn’t kidding when he said Enclave Cryptologist is the best and it isn’t even close. I’ll give you Sage of Epityr as a different option, but go with the Cryptologist. Blue is just creature-weak at the one mana category
2 At two mana, blue is loaded with creatures that enable combos. If that is what you are looking for, I’ll let you look. In the meantime try Fog Bank. This little guy is just a spectacular defender. An honourable mention goes to Shapesharer. I prefer Shapesharer, but playing him on turn two is just a mistake since you can’t use his ability. He is the best 2-mana blue creature there is, but not for turn 2.
3 For every other category I did a Gatherer search to look at the options and choose something. I don’t have to do that here. Dream Fighter is my favourite card here. While he does leave play when he blocks (which means you need to be a little judicious when deciding to block a 2/2 if there is something else big on the field), he is just an auto-stop. Once an opponent has seen how he works, the thought of losing their attacker until their next turn is generally enough to keep them from bringing the pain your way.
2 Daryl is right: Nezumi Graverobber is a straight up home run for multiplayer. There is always someone with one card in their graveyard. When he flips, he must be dealt with or he’ll be a thorn in everyone’s side for the rest of the game. Vampire Hexmage is my unique choice. Being able to threaten a counter-clearing that early in the game will often keep the planeswalkers sitting on the sidelines much longer than they would otherwise.
3 I’ll avoid the specters that are available and try something different. Bone Shredder is old school removal that deserves a mention, but if you are trying to take out creatures, Sorceress Queen should be your choice. Tapping to make an 0/2 is just a great ability. However, my choice for this spot is a card that I don’t see getting enough love: Gangrenous Zombies. Running him with snow-covered lands gets you 2 into Pestilence. He is just great early on and is another card that discourages anyone from playing their 2 toughness or less creatures.
1 Goblin Vandal. I know he isn’t all that great once the big boys come out to play (meaning other 1/1 creatures), but he can get cheap mana artifacts off the board in the early stages and with some help, he can take out the big guns later on.
2 Ashling the Pilgrim. This General just screams out for someone to waste removal on it, and someone usually does. If they don’t, I’m happy to spend the next few turns building it up. Most times I don’t even intend to blow it up. Just the threat of it is often enough.
3 Hissing Iguanar shows up in my friend Eric’s decks on a regular basis. It is just annoying enough that you don’t kill it, but it does a whole lot of damage while it is around. Jaya Ballard, Task Mage and Keldon Vandals get honourable mentions. For me, a Spikeshot Goblin is always a welcome 3-drop.
1 There is no doubt Birds of Paradise is the pick here. The Lawnmower Elves are cute, but Birds offers a flyer and any colour mana. Even in a green only deck, Birds of Paradise makes your opponents wonder what other colour you’re playing
2 My pick here is conditional. Assuming you are running elves, then Priest of Titania is just the automatic call. Lotus Cobra is the choice, assuming money is no object. River Boa would have been my choice, but you want to be able to regenerate him when you play him, so unless you played Birds or Lawnmower Elf on turn one, wait a bit on him. If you are still looking for a card, run Overgrown Battlement.
1 Nip Gwyllion. There are better 1 mana cost multicolour cards, but for turn 1, this is the one I want.
3 Aven Mimeomancer. While there are a bunch in this category that would be great in particular decks, I like the Mimeomancer. It reduces the big threats and pumps up your smaller guys. It also tends to make the board confusing since no one knows which creature will be getting changed, and I tend to like a little chaos in my multiplayer games.
1 Flayer Husk. Yeah, I cheated, but really, the 1 mana artifact creatures are lame. This guy dies and sort of sticks around!