Josh had the dominant position on the board. Unfortunately I was the only one on the board that he could kill this turn. Instead of killing me, he made an offer: “If you want to live, you’ll attack Eric this turn.” I passed my turn, choosing not to attack Eric. I am no one’s bitch.
If you play multiplayer Magic with any regularity, you will eventually find yourself thrust into the position of being someone’s bitch. For the sake of clarity, let me define bitch in Magic terminology. You are a bitch when, in the course of a Magic game, you find yourself in a position where:
1. one of your opponents can kill you;
2. no other opponent can kill you;
3. you know they can kill you;
4. they know they can kill you; and
5. there is currently no way, using Magic cards, that you can prevent them from killing you by the end of their next turn.
Let’s look at each point in a little more detail since the requirements each provide some detail that is important (to what we are talking about).
1. One of your opponents can kill you. The opponent not only needs to be able to kill you, but must be able to kill you immediately. What I am looking for is someone who has the kill on the table and can take you out at their whim. If an opponent flashes you the kill card in their hand, that also works. There must be surety of the ability of your opponent to kill you by the end of their turn.
Also, this has to be a certain death. We aren’t looking at probabilities or likelihoods. If you know that an opponent is playing a deck that regularly does more than ten damage in a turn, and you are at less than ten life, your opponent can kill you, but for the sake of this discussion, that doesn’t matter here. If they want you dead by the end of their next turn, then you will be dead.
2. No other opponent can kill you. If two or more opponents can kill you by the end of their next turn, you can’t be a bitch. You can’t be a toady to two separate masters. Invariably, they will want different things so you will be thrust into a role where you are trying to balance the two masters against each other without becoming collateral damage. This is different than being a bitch. The whole point is that you are under the dominion of a single opponent who can determine whether you get to keep playing or not. To be a bitch, your opponent must know that you have only one choice: do what they say, or die. A master wants to be sure that you will only die by not doing with they want. A second master makes that impossible.*
3. You know they can kill you. If you don’t realize they can kill you, then any threat they make is merely a threat with no instant repercussions. If you don’t realize what could happen, if you don’t realize your predicament, you simply end up acting however you would normally and suffer the result. If this is the case, your master has done a horrible job and wasted a perfectly good opportunity. If you can plausibly fake this level of ignorance, go for it. This is one way to get you off the hook. Be warned though, they may decide that if you can’t be used, you should just be killed. Try this tactic at your own risk.
4. They know they can kill you. If you see the insta-kill on the board, but they do not, you can’t be the bitch. There is supposed to be a threat from the opponent that is backed up by a very real prospect of death. If your opponent doesn’t see it, there is no need for you to tell them and certainly no need to curry favor in an attempt to survive the game.
5. There is currently no way, using Magic cards, that you can prevent them from killing you by the end of their next turn. If you have a way to escape the opponent’s clutches, then you aren’t the opponent’s bitch. If your opponent thinks you have no way to escape, then I wish I was there to see the look on their faces when you slip through their grasp!
The result of this is that if you are an opponent’s bitch, the only way for you to stay alive in the game is to do what they want you to do! If they tell you not to attack them, you don’t attack them. They may not always say it, but just remember each of their statements is always followed up with “… or I’ll take you out of the game,” whether they actually say it or not. The only way for you to stay in the game is to be their bitch.
Types of Master
The type of Master you have will help determine what you can and can’t get away with in your role as the bitch.
The first type of Master is the Evil Movie Mastermind, best typified by Dr. Evil. These are the guys who will try and use you to their own ends. Some of them believe you will never be a threat. They think they hold an unbeatable edge on you and the instant you have no further use to them, they will finish you off. Some of them are more realistic, but they are willing to take the chance in the hopes of using you to help finish someone else off. Generally they believe someone else is building and using you will help kill off the other player before they find the card that kills the master.
Who doesn’t love this guy? You are still in the game! The key is to find the way to do as little damage as possible to future allies. Perhaps your deck just needs that one card and you can take out the master, so you are gung ho to attack other opponents, claiming that you have to do it or your master will take you out. You aren’t making any friends, but hopefully, you won’t need any.
The second type of Master is something I call the IRL Tyrant, best typified by the completely fictitious Scott Evil. Scott Evil is the bad guy who believes that leaving the hero alive is a mistake. He prefers to simply kill you off. The IRL Tyrant views you as a caged tiger. While the tiger is currently caged he is safe, but as the turns go by, you may find a way out of the cage, and he knows you will likely foil his well-laid plans. It is better to just kill you off while you are safely in the cage.
I don’t like this kind of Master. There is no way to wheel and deal. No matter what I say or do, they are just going to kill me at their leisure. While you are a bitch in this scenario, it is a pointless discussion. Barring a miracle save from another opponent, there is little you can do. Promise the sky and moon to the other players. Explain to them how they will all be dead without your talents (or the cards in your deck). Up your groveling and sniveling and good luck to you.
Finally, there is the Bank Robber with hostage, best typified by your favorite show with a bank robber and hostages (I liked Speed and the Die Hard series, but you feel free to pick your own poison here). These are needy masters. They can kill you at any time but they have no way to deal with another opponent who is, for example, running enchantments or has some kind of wall that only you can get through. Maybe you are playing white and the other opponent has the Protection from Red that your Master is running. You are still the bitch, since he can take you out, but in this situation, you have some leverage too.
This is the best bitch situation to be in. None are good, but considering the lousy situations, this is the best. With the leverage you have, you can, in small ways, defy the master in an effort to drag out the game. Attack with only one creature instead of all of them as ordered. You want the master to believe you are helping because if you aren’t helping at all, he is likely not going to be able to kill that opponent and your usefulness disappears.
So what should I do?
The general rule of thumb is as follows: Don’t be Anyone’s Bitch. Why are you doing their dirty work? No matter what kind of Master they are, all you are doing is making it harder for anyone else to defeat your Master. You know your Master is only going to take you out as soon as you prove to become a threat, or you are no longer a help, so don’t be a bitch.
If there is a rule, there must be an exception. This rule is not the exception to the rule that there must be an exception… meaning that there is an exception to the rule. The exception is: within reason. Obviously, you don’t want to be in a position as someone’s bitch, and you don’t want to be doing their dirty work for them, but you also don’t want to be eliminated either. So while you don’t want to be doing the dirty work, don’t get yourself instantly killed simply for being defiant. Do as little as you can and keep drawing cards. You may draw into something that can get you out of your predicament, or someone else may do something that will eliminate the stranglehold the Master has on you.
So what about the example I used at the start of the article?
Josh had the dominant position on the board. While the other players had a creature or two, Josh had several 4/4 Angel tokens due to Sigil of the Empty Throne and Flickering Ward. Unfortunately I was the only one on the board that he could kill this turn. Instead, he made an offer: “If you want to live, you’ll attack Eric this turn.” I looked at the board and knew that I could really hurt Eric by attacking him this turn. I also knew that my deck offered no way to truly stop Josh, and eventually, he would take me out of the game. I passed my turn, choosing not to attack Eric. My refusal cost me the game.
So why wouldn’t I attack Eric? The only reason to be the bitch is if there is a way out. In this case, there was no way for me to get out. There was nothing I could draw in the next few turns that would save me. After the next turn, Josh would make several Angels, so I would need a way to kill all the angels and the Sigil before my next turn. There was nothing in my deck that would work that fast. My only way out would be to rely on my opponents. Unfortunately, Josh was insisting that I attack Eric outright to stay in the game. I am not going to help Josh end the game by taking out someone who may be able to stop him. By attacking him at this point, I would leave him close to dying as well, and that wouldn’t have helped me. That left simply conceding or forcing Josh to use a turn to take me out of the game. I don’t concede games, particularly when it forces the player who is putting me out of the game to stretch his resources and give others a chance to attack him.
In the end, refusing to be a bitch and the exception to the rule is a balancing act between honor and winning. Achieve that balance and I’m sure your games will only be more exciting.
* Note the benefits of two masters. If you have to be surviving on the whim of your opponents, having two of them can be better at times. It is a dangerous game of politics to balance the two off each other, but it can be made to work. Sometimes, neither opponent can kill you without risking death from the other. The key for you becomes keeping that balance until you have a way to escape both their clutches.