Seedborn Musings – Why I Win in Multiplayer

This is a little different than why black or red wins, but my format riffs off it regardless.  A lot can be said about my play style from my weird, semi-effective decks I play with far greater frequency than they deserve.  And when I win with them, weird as they are, that says a lot about my favorite objectives.  So here are the objectives, including a potpourri of my multiplayer philosophy and a deck list.

Win with unique/obscure cards. 

I have a leg up on this in my playgroup since I antedate most of them as a player by 5 years, but I want to win with my flair written all over it.  Some of it is deference; other players want to build Elf and Goblin decks and whatnot, and since I have a larger collection I’d rather let them have the fun and come up with something else.  But I don’t think that drives it nearly as much as it used to; now it’s just that I want to win in niche ways and with the cards others don’t want to use (or they do use but in a different way).

This makes me a subset of Johnny.  Many staple Johnny cards don’t appeal to me because they’re too well-known and their uses are already reasonably explored.  What am I going to do with Doubling Season that hasn’t already been done?  Seriously…but seriously, I don’t like to get into a “Johnny hole,” where I’m building decks that are sort of based around the same thing.  If it’s different enough, I’ll work with it, but as mechanics fall into various archetypes, newer ones might resemble older ones enough to where I let the spring chickens of the group whippersnap them for fun.

My current fascination, thanks to the best bits of foreign bulk that I bought on speculation (45 lbs. of cards for $38 – seller didn’t know what was in them either), is combining the Sanctuaries from Apocalypse with the Borderposts and colored equipments from Alara Reborn.  I already had a deck built around Putrid Leech and Behemoth Sledge (refundable life payments!), so tweaking it with Necra Sanctuary and Wildfield Borderpost wasn’t that hard.  It is way too fun making players lose 3 life a turn simply because you fixed your mana with a Borderpost or have a hammer on your battlefield.  (Don’t forget that sticking the Sledge’s lifelink on an “old lifelink” creature will gain you double the life – that’s just way too sweet).  Ana Sanctuary happens to go really nicely with Mask of Riddles, which in turn goes nicely with Dimir Cutpurse.  It’s fun to have a deck that’s basically all Ophidians with pump.

Win with nonobvious uses of cards/”rulesy” interactions. 

As odd as this might sound, if you played all my casual decks the way they’re supposed to be played, you’d come out with a pretty broad rules knowledge.  If you conflate a few things that are kinda the same, then you’ll know the difference once you’ve played me, since I’m taking advantage of those differences.  This also allows me to use normal cards in funky ways.  The majority of Beastmaster Ascension players are making tokens to abuse it.  Me?  I’m using the Gustcloaks, since they’ll just untap if you block them.  (If you don’t block them, there’s a Stonewood Invocation waiting for you…)  Once the Gustcloaks and Zealots il-Vec have activated the Ascension, I’m either getting 6 shadow in with the Zealot or sending huge chunks of damage via a 10/10 Rhox.  Is this the optimal use of Beastmaster Ascension?  Of course not; that’s obviously making tokens.  But it keeps my deck distinctive while also displaying a number of interactions.  And if you sort of view combat as one glob, attack triggers + Gustcloaks won’t let you do that again.

Other facts you’ll learn from my decks:

  • That damage is quite different from life loss (Ghosts of the Innocent/other Spirits/Devouring Greed);
  • That face-up/face-down is a status and doesn’t change other things about the creature (my Illusion tribal deck will turn creatures face-down with Ixidron, leaving me a permanently creatured Halcyon Glaze and Aether Figments/Draining Whelks that are bigger than your face-down creatures since mine had +1/+1 counters)
  • That 0/0 tokens go to the graveyard as a state-based effect but trigger various effects (a really complex deck that will get its own article one day but centers around Night of Souls’ Betrayal and making tokens that immediately die);
  • That targets are declared before costs are paid (a RGW deck that intends to cast Decimate whenever drawn by having things to sacrifice once they’re targeted; Terrarion often pays the cost of Decimate while being an artifact to target); and
  • That recursion abilities can get themselves back or things that died with it if they all died at the same time (Glissa Standard deck and Karona/soulshift Commander deck).

Now it’s entirely likely that you the reader knew all these things, but they’re not always discussed cleanly in-game and they’re certainly not built around too often.  My sense of accuracy cringes when damage and life loss are discussed interchangeably, but part of that is my penchant for building decks where that makes a difference.  This week I stalled a Commander board playing Sen Triplets (the me-est deck of my 3) with Divine Presence while Baneful Omen killed multiple opponents.  (I won that game against an Eternity Vessel by going down to 6 life off various beats, casting Repay in Kind, and Unholy Grottoing Geth to the top of my library so I could Baneful Omen that turn for 6.)

I’m not necessarily looking for weird rules interactions, but knowing them often is the way to break a card intriguingly.  I tend to be thorough in analyzing a card’s possibilities, and that’s part of it, leading to decks requiring a deeper understanding than most of the rules.  This also gives my cards raison d’etre in my decks.  I’m confident that Terrarion is the absolute best choice for my Decimate deck; how often is Terrarion the best choice for anything?

Try not to plant a !

The usual inconspicuous types are conspicuous by how much they talk about it.  “Look at me playing the group hug deck!  You want to keep me around, right?”  “I’ve got a rattlesnake!  Ooh, it’s frightening!  Don’t attack into it if you know what’s good for you!”  These people might get themselves attacked just because people are annoyed by this talk.  These statements put a ! in opponents’ heads.

If you know what’s good for you, never plant a ! in the group’s head.

Now, a ! to one opponent – maybe I’m showing the tools to stop his deck – is a fine thing, because at worst that just creates a duel, and my decks usually have enough defense on-board to deal with one dedicated opponent.  Two?  No way.  But one?  Sure.  So the trick is to be interactive in a low-key way.  I want the collective opponents to think of me as a . rather than a !  This probably is its own article, but it’s quite likely that politics in multiplayer broadly speaking is more based on your specific opponents than anything else – what can you do to plant a ! on someone else’s stuff rather than your own?  Timmies will see a ! in any creature bigger than their own or something that threatens to take out their biggest thing.  They might also see them in cards that are too rulesy to be trusted (this is why I can’t play Shared Fate anymore…).  But if the bulk of my board presence is seemingly known quantities that don’t make any !s, then I’m going to have far less removal and energy pointed at me, letting me live my life as I choose (in this case I choose winning).

So you have to play to avoid the !  This facilitates a different set of rattlesnakes than perhaps you’re used to.  Take a look at this recent creation, taking my “sit there” principles to an extreme:


4 Vent Sentinel
4 Wall of Air
3 Wall of Earth
3 Mnemonic Wall
3 Wall of Frost
2 Izzet Guildmage
2 Aether Membrane
2 Djinn Illuminatus
2 Hootie Mage (for looking amazingly like Darius Rucker)

4 Surreal Memoir

4 Glyph of Destruction
4 Fling

23 basic lands

This deck plays the world’s biggest game of chicken.  If you don’t attack me, I’ll take my sweet time sending Vent Sentinel blasts at your face.  If you do attack me, then depending on how much you’ve let me build up, I might have 2 Glyphs of Destruction and a Fling in hand to block with a Wall, give it 20 power, and burn your face off before you leave combat.  Of course, when I have one of my copy creatures out, I can copy both sections to make the Fling lethal to multiple opponents (sacrificing the creature is only a cost to cast; Fling copies you make lock in damage from the original).  Surreal Memoir “randomly” gets back my combo pieces while also being copiable, and Mnemonic Wall does double duty.

This is a mediocre deck, but I love playing it.  It’s incredibly simple and quick to run (disproportionate turn lengths, whether from complicated sequences or finding all the dice needed for counters and tokens, plant !s), it has sufficient defense to stop an aggravated person, and it can’t take an advantage of an opening, so it’s “safe,” i.e. the other players all know that I’m not coming after them.  Then again, good luck coming after me, because I like to…

Win by attacking on an unusual axis.

My wife’s phrasing of this when I asked her for input was that my decks tend not to care about what the rest of the board is doing.  Whatever my plan is, it’s probably something that’s not interacting with the board in usual ways.  This makes it hard to know exactly when I’m going to be the threat.  Unlike aggro or straight combo, where the threat is proportional to the board state, or control, where the threat is proportional to the hand size, I try to build decks where I still have most of the synergy even if I don’t draw a piece.  The parts are great together, but they’re semi-interchangeable and do at least something on their own usually.  It also helps to love Rock-style incremental advantage; it can be difficult for opponents to know when I’ve gained too much advantage over them until it’s too late to reverse it.  This is why it’s especially important for me to avoid !s.  Howling Mine is a !, since you have to remind half the players that it’s out.  Honden of Seeing Winds only affects you.  Subtlety Winner: Honden of Seeing Winds.

But all this incremental advantage is best served by doing something that’s not obviously gaining an advantage.  This ties into winning with obscure interactions, but it’s a slightly different discussion.  An easy example is my love of hosing library search.  When I had a March of the Machines deck, I put in Mindlock Orb.  Not only would it be a solid body with March out, my card filtering – Machinate and Faerie Mechanist – had nothing to do with library search.  Was it important to the deck’s functioning that other people couldn’t search libraries?  Not particularly, but that sort of advantage isn’t one that people are used to being mad at, and since they’re unfamiliar with how it hurts them, they don’t always know how to be angry at it.  Flashing in Aven Mindcensor does the same thing; the opponent might not realize until hindsight that I took control when I stopped their Cultivate from bringing lands in on schedule, but I did.

This also ties into my love of odd removal.  If your group is Emrakul-heavy, you might be used to including Big Game Hunter in your black decks, but it still provides a surprise removal in a number of games.  Cards like Pure and Simple fall in the same category.  Neither half has an analog in any other card, so when it shows up, nobody’s built their deck to prepare for it except me.

That doesn’t mean those cards always are effective on a per-game basis; but since I tend to build decks with some random axis people aren’t used to defending against, at the macro level I win more because of this tactic.  I don’t have a deck in mind when I attack on a random axis, but I have a game plan of attacking random things, and in big games that tends to have surprising relevance.

Wrapping It Up

So all that is where I’m coming from when I discuss a deck or some card interactions.  These are my primary objectives and what you’ll see out of my decks when I’m winning.  When I discuss my Sen Triplets Commander deck in full at some point, you’ll see this in HD, but for now, know that almost all my reasoning and outlook comes off these few principles.

How do you like to win?  Leave some comments or something like that about it.


About Brandon Isleib

Author of Playing for a Winner: How Baseball Teams' Success Raises Players' Reputations; sometimes-writer at GatheringMagic and Muse Vessel; card name/flavor text team for Magic 2015; Wizards of the Coast's first Digital Event Coordinator; directly responsible for the verb "create" on Magic cards; legislation editor for Seattle; voracious music consumer; Christian.
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5 Responses to Seedborn Musings – Why I Win in Multiplayer

  1. kyzneg says:

    Of course, win too often while being a “.” and you become a ! regardless of what you play. See the Buddy theory of “I don’t know what it does, but you’re playing it so it must be bad for me. I could wait to find out what it does, but I’d rather just kill you instead.”

  2. Seedborn Muse says:

    Too true, but that can go out the window when others play more aggressively. On turn 0, you might have the desire to kill me, but then somebody spews out Elves and the doctrine takes a backseat to emergency board states.

    • kyzneg says:

      Quite true, that’s why I’ll hold Sol Ring in EDH a turn or two if I don’t need it right away. I’d prefer to let someone else make that first wave, and a turn 3 Sol Ring isn’t nearly as threatening as a turn 1 Sol Ring.

  3. Kuchi says:

    Sounds interesting! I’d like to see some more of your decks.

  4. Vrag says:

    Your wall deck is similar in function to the wall deck that I posted about in another of your articles. My problem was that people just got around it with direct damage, or waited until they had removal. This was the first time I played it, when they didn’t even know the various tricks it had. They basically know that I never just sit there with a wall deck, so something must be up.

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