The third game of the night just got underway. Jay had ramped out to a quick start and was sitting pretty early in the game with a Woolly Thoctar on the battlefield. Dirk’s Overgrown Battlement was the only other creature on the board. Jay looked over at Tom and Robert, noting the lack of permanents in front of either of them, beyond the basic land they had each played. Jay pulled out a spongy, yellow, six-sided die and announced Tom was “evens” and rolled a five. Lady Luck had lifted her skirt and left a steaming pile of bad luck for Robert, who took five from the Woolly Thoctar attack.
Jay is an ass. A jerk of the highest degree. Unfortunately, most playgroups do not tend to bring their wrath down on Jay and his kind. Most playgroups (mine included) simply look at these players and their die-rolling shenanigans as part of the game. They see it as a way to decide things fairly and move on to the next phase/turn in the game. Many of the players in these playgroups likely use a die to decide things themselves, so see nothing wrong with this type of play.
As players, we need to step up and smash out this type of play, much like a pro wrestler with a folding chair, a freight train with a tractor trailer on the tracks, or a watermelon with a small explosive device inside it. Using randomness when it is it is completely unwarranted or unnecessary should not be tolerated.
Before I go any further, I want to fully disclose to all of you my own die-rolling. Before every game, I roll a die to determine which deck I will play. I used to choose the deck I wanted, but some of the players in my group started attacking me right away if I lost early in the previous game because I would invariably choose one of my stronger decks. When I realized this, I made a show of choosing a deck at random, so no one would know what the next deck would be. So my issue isn’t with rolling a die per se; my issue is with players using it as a cop out. Just bear with me for a moment, and my meaning will become clear.
Certainly these die-rollers have a reason for their behavior? They must see some sense in allowing chance to determine their actions. As far as I can see, there are only three reasons for people to roll dice in during a game.
Reason #1: The game says you should.
This is not even an issue. “High roll starts” is probably the most common way to determine who goes first in just about any Magic game, and certainly in most multiplayer games. There are also plenty of cards that require a coin flip or die roll, so you roll a die. It is a part of the actual rules of the game. No problems here. One of my all-time favorite decks is an old chicken-deck. Chicken à la King and most other chickens all had some die-rolling involved. The deck played out terribly. It was a five-color monstrosity with a horrible mana base that made underpowered chickens. The deck was also vulnerable to any mass creature destruction. I loved that deck. Opportunities to stand up and cluck like a chicken during a Magic game just don’t come around that often.
Reason #2: They don’t know who is going to be the threat.
This excuse is trotted out regularly. It is still very early in the game, and a front-runner is not readily apparent yet. Since it would be a waste to not swing with their creature or do some damage with whatever the player has available on the battlefield, they decide to attack someone. To be “fair” they roll the die and some unlucky person (like Robert in the above example) is left to take the damage.
This excuse is beyond lame. This excuse is just straight up laziness. There is always something that would make one player the best candidate for your attack. You can base it on the current board positions. Does someone have a creature on the board that needs killin’? Does someone have a Luminarch Ascension in play? Obviously the permanents in play can help you decide where to send the beats.
Which deck is your worst nightmare? If you are playing with friends, you may know, even early on, who is playing what deck and what it can do you your deck. You are playing with your friends Jon, Scott and J.P. This time, you are the one with the Woolly Thoctar. Jon rarely plays blue, but when he plays his Grand Coliseum on turn two, you know he is playing that damn Looter deck of his that gives your deck fits. Scott hasn’t played anything but basic lands, but you recognized the yellow sleeves from his Brion Stoutarm monstrosity. Thankfully that deck never seems to be able to do anything against you. J.P. occasionally surprises the group, but he is the weakest player in the group. Ib Halfheart may be a great general in the hands of a talented player, with J.P., he is just Ib Halfheart. It is probably best to just go after Jon rather than rolling your dice don’t you think?
Even if there is nothing on the board, you can look at the number of cards in hand. The person with more cards in hand is probably the bigger threat and probably is the most likely to be able to stop your damage from coming through. If you are trying to determine the leader of the game, cards in hand should certainly play a part.
Did you look at life totals? Almost every playgroup I’ve been in has newer players who believe life totals determine who the current game leader is. I don’t particularly espouse that view, but if someone is running lifegain you may want to consider sending a little extra their way.
What color decks are people playing? Much like cards in hand, knowing what colors people are playing can help you decide who is most likely to be able to stop your spell from being cast, and who is most helpless to your plan.
If even that doesn’t work, ask yourself who is the best player amongst your opponents and go after them. They may not be showing themselves as the biggest threat yet, but they are the ones who build the best decks, or can make the most out of the least. When all else fails, going after them is a valid play.
So you don’t know who the threat is? Put the dice away and engage your brain. Look at the information you have available to you and try figuring it out!
Reason #3. They are cowards.
Some players don’t want anyone to attack them back in retaliation for targeting them in the first place. The player rolls the dice and believes that absolves them from being targeted back.
Just when you thought the second reason was lame, you discover the third reason and realize just how truly pathetic rolling dice to determine your target really is. Do you really believe that anyone who attacks the first person who attacks them is going to give you a pass because you rolled the dice? They are just going to tell you that if you want to roll the dice to determine who to attack, that you should just exclude them when you roll, so you don’t “feel the hurt” or so they don’t “rain down the pain” on you. I’ll go into detail on my incredulity for those people in another article. I only have so much disgust to go around so let’s save this rant for the die-chuckers. If you were hoping you could attack them and hide behind randomness then you are lazy and stupid.
With some people, the randomness of the die roll really does make them stop. They actually won’t attack you if they think your attack was random. If you have someone like that in your group, then I recommend deciding who you are going to attack, then roll the dice. Once the numbers come up, do some fake counting, then attack whoever it makes sense to attack. Oh, and congratulations for having at least one sucker in your playgroup.
Are people going to target you back if you attack them? Possibly. Some people will want some revenge. Others will just ignore you and play smart, looking to do damage to the biggest threat against them. If it turns out that your randomness makes you their biggest enemy, then don’t whine: you brought this on yourself. Own your play people! Consider the best play and make it, knowing the repercussions you’ll likely have to face. Sometimes you make a mistake when determining who the right person to attack was. You are working with imperfect information. However, you rarely ever get a situation in Magic where you have perfect information, so take what you have and use it wisely. Grow a pair, or go back to your Mom’s basement and wish you had big boy pants while those of us with big brass ones get back to playing multiplayer.
Speaking of big brass ones, the Djinn from The Djinn’s Playground, he’s got’em. He tells the stories as he sees them, holding nothing back and not pulling any punches. His podcast is high quality, from the content, all the way to the production. Do yourself a favor download his podcast over at mtgcast.com and take a listen. You will not be disappointed.
Form of the Dragon update
Last week I discussed my Form of the Dragon deck and some possible changes to the deck. Unfortunately, I had no time during my busy week to make any changes to the deck, so I played it again in all its unchanged glory. We played a four-player game and I managed to steal the win! I was able to set up a defense early, then added a Phyrexian Unlife to the battlefield. Once Form of the Dragon hit the table, it became obvious that unless someone had some way to get rid of enchantments, that this game was going to end.
I took out the player playing green first, with the intention to focus on the white player next. The other player had a larger life total, but I left it there, figuring the Soul Conduit would come and solve that problem. Once it was just the two of us, it turns out a second Form of the Dragon gives me an extra 5 points of damage each round with no drawback! I pulled out the win without the Soul Conduit ever appearing.
In spite of the win, my attitude towards the deck has not changed: it still needs significant changes. Phyrexian Unlife is an all-star in the deck. I would have died repeatedly without the Unlife there to prevent my demise. I had a chance to check out a card I never mentioned in the previous article: Omen Machine. My initial thoughts were that this would be a way to get around paying six mana for the Soul Conduit and needing more mana to activate it. I also knew I had few cards that I would not want to play immediately, so there was little downside. One player was playing blue and didn’t realize that problems he would have with Omen Machine in play. I suspect the next time there will be a counterspell waiting for it. I’m not sure if Omen Machine is worth the cost, but we’ll find out in the next couple of weeks.