Last week I talked about some of the cards that I’ve found to be most annoying, beginning with an attempt to distinguish between cards that are merely strong and those which are going to consistently used for the purpose of making life difficult for your opponents. Today, I have two goals: expose how crappy I am at speaking Japanese (check!), and explore some of the strategic implications of leaning on annoying cards in your decks.
I should begin by confessing that I am a bit of a griefer myself; many of my 60-card decks are less than pleasant to play against, and I’m a huge fan of such griefer strategies as discard, landkill and milling, especially in casual duels. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an aggro player first and foremost, but when I branch out, I tend to end up with an excessively controlling strategy. My Commander decks tend to be less aggravating, due to the nature of the social contract that has evolved in my group, but the point I’m trying to make is that I am not trying to pass judgment on people who are drawn to these cards. My name is Daryl and I’m a griefer.
That being said, I’m not a fan of so-called ‘chaos decks,’ meaning decks that are primarily designed to annoy people and/or whittle down everyone’s life total rather than target any particular player for elimination. To me, multiplayer Magic is chaotic enough already, just because you’ve added more players. While I love that complexity, I’m not convinced that adding new layers of complexity with a torrent of annoying cards is going to improve the group’s experience. After all, I love watching basketball because it’s fast, but I don’t think the game would necessarily get better if all the players wore jetpacks. I’m also a big fan of the UFC, but somehow I doubt that giving each fighter a chainsaw would add anything to the sport. Sometimes more is less.
However, time and again I’ve seen people build those ‘classic’ chaos decks, turn the whole game upside down and inside out, and then complain when they get taken out. I’ve got some bad news for you brother: if you play a griefer deck, you can’t whine when you get taken out, for three very good reasons.
Annoying Deck is Annoying
OK, this may not be the strongest strategic justification for taking someone out, but if you play annoying cards, people are going to get annoyed, and it’s human nature—or perhaps animal nature—to strike back against the source of that annoyance. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard some variation of: “Why are you attacking me? My deck isn’t designed to win, it just annoys people.” Dude, I think you just answered your own question. The bottom line is that, if a deck is designed to elicit an emotional reaction, then you can’t really complain if people are reacting emotionally.
On top of that, I’ve noticed a kind of balancing effect at work against chaos decks, where the player who goes after the chaos deck is likely to be left alone. If Brent is playing that goddamn deck again, I might be very happy to see someone else trying to kill him, even if I don’t think he’s the biggest threat to me. Why would I attack someone who is trying to remove the thorn from my side? Sometimes you can even get away with casting some huge friggin’ guy if you assure the rest of the table that it’s heading for the controller of the Winter Orb. Even if an opponent is enjoying what a chaos deck brings to the table, they might be relieved to see it go, so those emotional reactions are often given free rein by the rest of the table.
My Brain Hurts
As I said last week, a truly annoying card is usually going to be a permanent that has a sustained impact on your decision making, so the number of things that players have to remember each turn, and the number of variables they have to consider when making longer-term plans, can drastically increase once a chaos deck gets rolling. It’s not unusual to see people just snap at some point and decide that it is easier to kill the griefer than to keep track of all of those triggers, and I honestly think that’s more than an emotional reaction. At some point, you may lose the ability to control your own path to victory, and then simplifying the board state becomes a valid strategy in its own right.
On top of that, the interactions between individual cards which is such a big part of multiplayer fun become more tricky—and therefore more dangerous—by an order of magnitude when the chaos starts flowing. The other night, Nick/Wrexial played Dreamborn Muse, and we started milling ourselves at a frantic pace. I wasn’t worried, because I try to include an Eldrazi titan in every Commander deck (flavor permitting) for just such an eventuality.
But when Brent played Bloodchief Ascension and Polluted Bonds, the rest of us spent the next round paralyzed, afraid of what an active Ascension would do to us when we were being milled for seven cards a turn. In this particular case, I was able to kill the Muse easily (I smashed Nick for seven with Thrax and he thanked me!), but in another case, when a relatively innocuous card like Dreamborn Muse suddenly becomes a clear and present danger because of how it interacts with the chaos deck, it might be in everyone’s best interests to take that deck out.
In multiplayer strategy, you should always try to identify the greatest threat and hit them hardest, but chaos decks can greatly complicate that threat assessment process. Is the greatest threat to me the person who can kill me fastest (for example, Humility is in play and the token mage is the threat because they are threatening to overrun the table, literally or figuratively) or the person who is stopping me from winning (for example, Humility is the threat because as long as it’s on the battlefield, I can’t cast the Massacre Wurm in my hand to wipe out the token mage)?
No matter what your path to victory might be, the chaos deck can mess with it, and when they do, they might just become your biggest threat. Looking to sac Lord of Extinction to Greater Good and then win with a Living Death? You have to take out the player with Leyline of the Void first. Ready to draw a ton of cards with Blue Sun’s Zenith and then beat down with a phalanx of Psychosis Crawlers? That smug git with two copies of Chains of Mephistopheles is going to have to die first. Going to blow everyone away with a massive Comet Storm? Not until you Shock Gaddock Teeg. In other words, it doesn’t matter if the chaos deck is trying to win or not; what matters is whether it’s standing between you and the prize.
There are often times when I love watching the rest of the table struggle to deal with a chaos deck, because I know that it affects me less than everyone else. I mean, Painful Quandary lives up to its name and then some, but if I have Cruel Ultimatum and Nucklavee in hand, I’m happy to weather that storm. Once I get Seedborn Muse online, Winter Orb becomes my best friend. And my Weenie decks love cards like Meekstone. On the other hand, there will be times when I’m suffering more from some annoying card that anyone else, because it cripples either my board position, the cards in my hand, or my overall strategy. When that happens, I’m likely to take Captain Annoying down as fast as I can, just to get my plans back on track, and their protests that they aren’t really trying to kill me won’t make any difference at all.
 WotC’s classifies Magic players as Timmies, Johnnies and Spikes, based on what motivates them to play the game, but within those categories there are finer distinctions. Tom LaPille explained the griefer subtype and how they relate to other Timmies in an article called The Yang of Timmy: “Just like other Timmies, ‘griefers’…are looking to experience something. Unlike other Timmies, however, the experience that the griefers want is the experience of their opponents squirming in misery.” Griefers basically enjoy watching you lose more than they like winning.
 Part of this might just be that I’m not great at building control decks, to be honest; the best control decks will slow your opponents down to the point where they can’t deal with your clock in time, but I tend to forget about the clock when I build control decks. Usually the griefing complements my path to victory, like a discard deck that wins with an Umbilicus/Megrim lock or a landkill deck that paves the way for Greater Harvester. If I’m being honest with myself, though, I think my ideal control deck would recur cards like Cranial Extraction and Sadistic Sacrament until nobody else had any business cards left, and then wait for them to deck themselves, which I now realize may be less fun for my opponents than me. A better strategy, which I’m using in my FNM deck, is to use cards like Duress and Memoricide to strip out any answers to Phyrexian Obliterator, and then use the Obliterators to beat them to death quickly.
 I think there is a fine line between a deck that plans to get everyone down to single digit life totals and then turn into a serial killer, and decks that don’t really have a plan other than to make the game environment as complex and painful as possible. The latter are what I would think of as ‘classic’ chaos decks, but a lot of folks (Andy from CommanderCast comes to mind) include the former in the same category. Maybe it’s not a fine line, just a spectrum, but I intuitively believe that there is a difference between cards like Earthquake or Exsanguinate, which hurt everyone else and therefore scale well in multiplayer, and cards like Painful Quandary, which make life difficult for your opponents while hurting them. I’d love to hear what you think.
 I’ve started using “round” to refer to a sequence of turns. I hope this doesn’t confuse any bi-curious casual/tournament players, but it seems worth adding to the casual lexicon, instead of saying “until it was my next turn,” and so on. Please tell me if it’s too confusing.