Windborn Musings – Early Exits, Unhappy Endings

I am running a Polymorph deck.  You likely have a pretty good idea of the contents of the deck, but its goal is to put out some token creatures, then Polymorph into an Emrakul or Progenitus, and attack for the win.  The best way to do that is to get moving early, and target the most dangerous opponent first, taking each opponent out in turn.

But that’s just not fun!

On Monday this week, Daryl’s article went through the situation when someone saves someone else from certain death.  He looked at the situation from a strategic point of view and laid out the costs and benefits of saving someone else.  You should definitely check out the article, since he does a far better job than I could in explaining the reasons, and the levels of strategy involved in determining what makes sense. 

For me though, the overriding concern is fun.  I know, that blows into the face of what I’ve discussed in most of my articles.  I focus on the strategic play, the best move, the optimal course of action.  However, this is a game and sometimes you go for the big play, just to be able to say you did it.  And sometimes you save someone from an hour of misery, because you’d want them to do the same for you.

For many decks, such as my Polymorph deck, the strategy of the deck is to win quickly.  The best way to do that is to attack your most dangerous opponent right away and eliminate them.  Then you reassess with your remaining opponents and attack again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

You do this because the deck has a hard time handling multiple opponents.  Consider my Polymorph deck:

1x Akroma, Angel of Wrath
1x Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
1x Progenitus

1x Aether Storm
4x Azorius Signet
1x Binding Grasp
1x Day of the Dragons
1x Desertion
1x Dominate
1x Elspeth Tirel
1x Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1x Foil
2x Followed Footsteps
1x Gather Specimens
1x Juxtapose
1x Lotus Bloom
1x Nuisance Engine
4x Polymorph
1x Proteus Staff
3x Raise the Alarm
1x Repel Intruders
1x Rite of Replication
3x See Beyond
1x Summoner’s Bane
1x Thran Dynamo
1x Volcanic Eruption

2x Azorius Chancery
1x Celestial Colonnade
9x Islands
1x Nimbus Maze
9x Plains
1x Sejiri Refuge

Admittedly, this isn’t the most streamlined version I could be running.  However, I built it with the cards I owned that were not already in another deck. 

The deck just doesn’t have the ability to handle multiple opponents coming at me again and again.  I can handle one or maybe two opponents, but any more than that and I crumble.  However, with the way this deck is designed to work, I regularly have to deal with multiple opponents.  If you Polymorph on turn 3, 4, or 5, the Emrakul that is sitting there is going to make you the target.  As long as he stays on defense, you can likely handle most of what comes your way, but eventually someone will take out the entire board, just to get rid of your monstrosity, so you attack as soon as you can.  You figure out who is the most likely to have the board clearing cards, or the Oblivion Ring that is just going to shut you down, and you take them out.  You don’t let them stay alive at four or five life and move on to the next player, you take them out so they are no longer a threat.  The only way to prevent a person from playing any spell that threatens you is to completely take them out, so you do it.  Then you do it again and again and again until everyone is dead. 

In an ideal world, this works the way you want it to and everyone dies in short order.  However, we all know this rarely happens.  You can usually manage to take out one opponent before someone gets rid of your 15/15 win condition.  After this point, everyone is watching you and ready for the next big Polymorph attempt.  All the while, the player you eliminated five minutes into the game is sitting there not playing. 

I know this isn’t an issue in some playgroups.  If you are playing in a store with 15 other people, odds are that poor early victim can pick up a new game within ten minutes.  Don’t feel bad for them, and run your optimal play. 

In my playgroup, we meet at my house.  We’ve had as many as 7 people attend in one night (which makes for a very packed table), but it also means that the next game isn’t starting until this game has ended.  Perhaps if someone else is also eliminated early, they can get a little one-on-one in, but for the most part, they are stuck there, like the poor child standing outside in the rain, sopping wet, looking forlornly into a pet store window where the adorable little furball puppies are rolling around together playing in the window.

Sometimes they put on a good face and pretend that they are enjoying watching everyone else play.  They aren’t enjoying it, trust me.  They came to play.  If they just wanted to watch, they wouldn’t have brought cards.  Sometimes they bury themselves in something else until the game wraps up.  Video games, sorting cards, sleeving a new deck are just a few things people do while waiting.  They would rather be playing Magic.  See that guy waiting for the game to end?  Yeah, he’s tweeting on his iPhone about what an ass you are for taking him out of the game on turn 4.

Sometimes they are angry and don’t even hide it.  They tell you what a jerk you are for taking them out.  They bitch and moan endlessly about how long the game has been going on.  They harass each player to “hurry up.” They spend the rest of the game noting every possible move everyone else could make to kill you off.  They just generally make the game unfun for everyone else.

I’m not going to blame someone for being upset here; I’m trying to demonstrate how the fun of a Magic night can be just drained away when someone is eliminated from their game early on. 

When I first realized that the only way to win with Polymorph was to take out the players, I felt a little sick.  Not only do I not want to make someone sit for an hour because it isn’t fun, I am regularly the host for our games.  What kind of host ensures that his guests have a lousy time? 

Stepping aware from the fun aspect for just a moment, what sort of reaction do you think the eliminated player is going to have in the next game?  You can hope he is the logical sort of player who analyzes the situation and determines who his best target is, or you can get real and understand that payback is coming to you this game.  Since your longterm strategy is to win as many games as possible, does it make sense to guarantee an enemy in your next game, simply because you wanted one player gone in the first game?  Consider the balance and I suspect you’ll see that taking out a player early on doesn’t make sense in the greater scheme of things. 


“I want everyone to have fun!  How do I fix this!?”

Thanks for asking!  You’ve already taken the first step in fixing this; your self-awareness and realizing the danger of decks like my Polymorph deck.  There are three steps you can take to help everyone in your group have more fun.

1.  Stop playing “that” deck.  Stop playing my Polymorph deck.  If you are regularly putting someone out of the game quickly, you are causing the problem, not to mention creating a world of hurt for yourself in the next game. 

Sidebar:  If you say “not to mention…” aren’t you explicitly mentioning it?  How can that turn of phrase ever make any sense?  End sidebar

Obviously this is a pretty extreme point of view.  I don’t like the idea of scrapping a deck completely, before looking at other options, but sometimes, it is the only way to go.

2.  Change “that” deck or change the way you play “that” deck.  I couldn’t see any way to change my Polymorph deck that didn’t involve completely neutering the deck to the point that I wouldn’t want to play it any more.  What I have started doing is playing it differently.  I will not use Polymorph to find a creature until there are other threats on the board.  This means that I am not immediately targeted as the primary threat, so my deck does not have to defend against everyone at once.  I am often in a situation where I can take out another threat from the game, helping one of my opponents.  Having fewer enemies is a good thing. 

I’ve also focused on playing Rite of Replication with the kicker, or trying to set up Day of the Dragons.  Running the big, splashy card gets the table laughing over the ridiculousness of kicking a Rite on a Field Marshal, or risking it all on the chance no one has any enchantment removal for your Day of the Dragons.  If you are the player that is ensuring everyone is having fun, you are less likely to be attacked.  If everyone was playing logically, that wouldn’t happen, but most players are not willing to take strategy that far, so keep that in mind when deciding your own strategy.

3.  Be prepared to put yourself out there to save someone else.  If the only way to save someone from an early exit is to leave yourself vulnerable to a counterattack, do it.  I know, I have completely lost my mind, but this needs to be done.  Some people don’t feel as though they are responsible for everyone having fun.  Some people are playing “that” deck and don’t seem to realize what is happening in their games.  You need to step in and help out.

Another way to put yourself out there is to attack the aggressor.  Normally I strongly discourage deflecting someone’s aggressive tactics from a different opponent to you, but this can be another effective way to slow things down.  If the aggressor knows he will face attacks from everyone else, he will likely slow down to ensure he can handle the pressure from the rest of the group before attacking.  Hopefully in those extra turns, most players can mount a significant defense. 

4.  Change the limitations in the game.  There are plenty of multiplayer variants that allow an eliminated player to jump back into a game.  Kelly Digges popularized Respawn Magic in this article.  You can try Star Magic that allows games to end with several players not yet eliminated.  I don’t find these to be ideal answers, since your multiplayer game may not always produce a single player waiting for the game to end, in which case, staying with the tried and true may be preferred.  However, if your group likes to try out variants, this may be a good one.


I believe this is one of the reasons why Archenemy has not caught on as a casual format.  Don’t get me wrong, Archenemy didn’t catch on with most groups (mine included) because the Archenemy cards seemed to decide the game more than anything either side did while playing the game.  However, I have sat on the sidelines as the early eliminated ally while the remaining two players fought on.  While “we” won the game 35 minutes later, it did not feel like much of a win to me. 

I certainly don’t blame the Archenemy in this game for taking me out.  The Archenemy absolutely must target each of the allies in turn to win the game.  I was running a deck that provided some early pressure against him, so I was chosen as the first target to take out.  I did my best, absorbing as much damage as possible, and forced the Archenemy to spend several turns taking me out while my allies had a chance to build up their forces.  The Archenemy cards did little to help him out, and the remaining allies gradually whittled him down and won the game. 

Having fewer opponents attacking you each turn is necessary to winning those games.  This means that the only real way for the Archenemy to win games is to ensure someone has to sit and watch the rest of the game progress.   While Archenemy games tend to be shorter, they can drag out like our game, leaving someone to sit.  There is little that can be done about that. 

In a regular multiplayer game, you can change your deck or tactics to allow all the players to stay in the game, mostly because they are not all targeting you all the time.  Leaving a player in the game can mean leaving an opponent in the game, but it can also mean leaving an ally in the game.  That player may have the timely counterspell needed to stop someone else from winning. 

In Archenemy, leaving that player alive means leaving an opponent alive.  It means your opponents draw another card, have more creatures to attack you, and more ways to defend.  Archenemy demands that opponents be eliminated as fast as possible to limit those advantages.  It is a part of the game that limits the fun, for everyone, in that multiplayer variant. 


Keep in mind the emotions of the players involved in your multiplayer group.  An early elimination will likely help you win that game, but is going to hurt far worse later on.  However, forgetting the strategy, remember how you felt the last time you were on the receiving end of an early beating, then got to sit and watch the remaining four players play out a game for the next hour. 

Keep it fun for everyone.

Bruce Richard


About Windborn Muse

If you seek limited or constructed tournament knowledge, wrapped up with excellent comedic writing, you are in the wrong place. Planted firmly at the kitchen table, Bruce (the Windborn Muse) is all things casual, focusing primarily on strategies for multiplayer games wrapped up with horrific, train wreck attempts at humour. Bruce is married to an extremely tolerant woman and has three children who will not go near him in public. In real life Bruce works as an attorney and lives just outside Boston.
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5 Responses to Windborn Musings – Early Exits, Unhappy Endings

  1. Shoe says:

    Another possibility with decks like this is to make Medium sized threats that provide other advantages. Angel of Despair takes out a permanant and offers a decent body, any of the titans are answerable threats but very strong. Kokusho and the kamigawa dragons are also good alternates.

    Progenitus and Emrakul loose some power in multiplayer due to the hate they direct your way. Even Ulamog (who is similarly durable and powerful) doesnt direct you the same kind of hate that Emmy and Proggy will (along with BSC and a couple others)

    Moderator of, Your #1 Source for Magic: the Gathering Variant Formats

  2. Have you found the medium-range creature to be effective in a Polymorph deck? Normally, if I’m looking at threats similar to the ones you describe, I don’t bother with Polymorph.

    Certainly something to think about. Thanks!

  3. Vrag says:

    How about making a Mass Polymorph deck? Put in a few non-creature token generators. There’s all sort of Dragon Fodder type cards. If you accidentally draw Emrakul or Progenitus, use Scroll Rack, Brainstorm, and See Beyond to put them back. The rest of your deck could be scry type effects or tutors to get the mass poly. At least that way you could attack everyone at once.
    I really try to avoid single target aggro decks. Eventhough its blue I’d still call it an aggro deck. I usually try to build AoE (area of effect) type decks for multiplayer.

    • I would have done it if I had Mass Polymorph in my collection! Since this was written, the deck has been set aside a little while I play with the newer decks. At some point I’ll come back to it…

  4. Pingback: Windborn Musings – Standing Up for Sitting Back | Muse Vessel

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