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Advanced Multiplayer Strategies 5: Play the Hand, Not the Table!

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Hello happy multiplayer and Commander fans! I hope your day is going super mega awesome! Ever since late December on the day after Christmas, I have been giving you a slate of advanced multiplayer for newer Commander or multiplayers to consider. Today is the final one in that series! Check out the Index below for the other four! Ready?

Play the Hand, Not the Table, in Action

Imagine a Commander game with this stuff:

Player 1 - Azorius with Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage

Player 2 - Mardu with Queen Marchesa

Player 3 - Gruul's Omnath, Locus of Rage

You - Naya with Mayael the Anima again!

Okay folks! Four different color combos, all represented here!

Here's how the early game goes:

Player 1 - turn one Reliquary Tower, turn two Mind Stone, turn three Raff, turn four wait until EOT, flash out Jhoira's Familiar, turn five, hard cast Lightning Greaves and Arcanis the Omnipotent, equip, draw three.

Player 2 - turn one ETB tapped land, turn two Arcane Signet, turn three Queen Marchesa, become the Monarch, draw. No one attacks, turn four-drop Court of Grace, draw from Monarchy, turn five, upkeep, make a 4/4 flying Angel, Ghostly Prison, draw as Monarch

Player 3 - turn one ETB tapped land, turn two Rampant Growth, turn three Spelunking, draw, drop land, Lotus Cobra. turn four - land, make mana with Cobra, cast Omnath

Player 4 - turn one Birds of Paradise, turn two Mayael, turn three Cultivate, turn four tap Mayael and drop Surrak and Goreclaw for free. Drop Nyxbloom Ancient. Swing since it has haste and trample with Surrak and them too, but at who?

Player 1 has a bunch of nice stuff, and has drawn a bunch with a protected Arcanis and didn't have to discard with the Tower. The 2nd player has drawn tons with Monarch and you'll want to steal it to keep them from overwhelming the board. Player 3 just resolved a nasty Commander which could dominate the battlefield very quickly. So, once again...who is your route of attack?

We don't want someone sitting back with interaction or such and then blowing you out of the water when you aren't prepared with mass removal or an X burn spell.

Here is how this strategy works. Cards in the hand are resources that have as much value as anything on the battlefield. So, you need to prevent your foes from winning by dropping a combo they held or defensive interaction. In order to do that, attack them. So, either attack Player 2 with one dork (you have 3 mana with the Ancient out with their Ghostly Prison) and then the other, to cut off their Monarch Card flow or Player 1 to force them to react.

Methods for Hurting the Hand

So, now that we have looked at the details in a case, here's how to Attack the Hand.

Discard

Angrath, the Flame-Chained
Liliana's Specter

The best place to attack is, ideally, starting with discard. If you have established that you'll strip their hand before they can cast everything, they'll cast stuff as fast as possible. There are basically two ways to do this. First, something that's recursive on a permanent like Angrath. This costs five, has +1 force everyone else to discard and lose life too. Or you can get the +1 on Liliana Vess that plays into the same space and will force just one discard from one player. Then the next place are on spells that force a discard just once, but suggests that I'll be doing more. This is where I like to add some adjuncts to my decks like Syphon Mind, Unnerve, or Liliana's Specter. If you are in Black in a multiplayer game, add some of these here and there. The ability to make opponents discard is a game changer and can fight card draw abuse. This is one of the reasons I think Black is better in Blue when rating the colors for multiplayer (here - Ranking All the Colors in Magic: The Gathering for Multiplayer | Article by Abe Sargent (coolstuffinc.com))

Attack with Creatures

Baneslayer Angel
Akroma, Angel of Wrath

The next best thing to do is to try to pull their removal out. Assume that everyone has mass removal available, don't overcommit to the board, and then swing with two dorks at your foe with the biggest hand. Ideally do this with evasive stuff like flyers or horsemanship or other stuff. If you can bait that Wrath of God, Damnation, Cyclonic Rift or Blasphemous Act, you'll won't be as damaged. Ideally run attacker/beaters that are harder to answer like Akroma that has two protections or Ulamog or Darksteeel Colossus with indestructible. Another great way to make that work is with a bunch of tokens that you got for free over time with permanents like Mobilization or Elspeth, Sun's Champion or en masse like Decree of Justice or Grizzly Fate with one spell and attack and force a mass removal spell to answer.

Bait Counters

Lu Xun, Scholar General
Foster

One of the tricks you learn in normal Magic when playing against Blue decks with counters is when to cast something with mana saved to bait the counter. If they counter, drop the better card. If not, just let that stick and push by attacking and such. In multiplayer, teaming up on a nasty counter laden deck is quite easy, just have everyone cast must counter stuff and then cast what's needed after they run out of mana and counters. This is great since many counters are just 1:1 cards like Negate or Counterspell that don't put them up cards. So, you can just team up on the counter deck with the fat hand and then make them drop all of their cards quickly, or force them to play defense if they let it through. You want to bait with things good on their own like cards mentioned in the Treasure Trove Effect article (such as Shadowmage Infiltrator that's evasive over Coastal Piracy and draws some here and there, or Foster), but not obviously broken like Rhystic Study or Smothering Tithe.

Target Them with Stuff

Vindicate
Beast Within

Another great way to get them involved and force down their hand is to target their precious stuff for removal. Sure, it might not be as powerful as other stuff (see the Treasure Trove Effect) but if we want to bring them into the game, then start the targeting! Every color other than Blue can destroy every permanent type with Chaos Warp to Beast Within or Generous Gift. Target their thing. If I have a foe with 7 cards and a Cream of the Crop and another with Sylvan Library and just 2, normally you'd target the Library, but now force the player with more resources to counter or play something else. In Blue, run bounce-anything stuff like Capsize that can be bought back to answer and force them to recast or discard.

Force the Removal of a Key Rattlesnake

Krosan Grip
Feed the Swarm
Into the Core

One way to handle players that sit back and watch you do the work is to run major Rattlesnakes that warn foes from coming their way, like a Pernicious Deed or an untapped Nevinyrral's Disk that can sweep the attacker's stuff, or Sphere of Safety with enough enchantments to prevent attacking. Once someone has untapped a Disk or has resolved a Deed or something else like Oblivion Stone, I just assume I'd lose, so I target it for removal with a Disenchant effect. If you don't have it, attack, force them to blow it on your turn and then by the first to cast post attack step! If that protection isn't mass removal on a stick, take it out.

When Not to Use This?

There are a few times when playing the hand not the table won't work. Let's look at them!!!

1. When Someone Has a Combo About to Go Off

Phyrexian Altar
Zulaport Cutthroat
Pitiless Plunderer

One key time to play the board is when a foe is just one step from a classic combo that will kill everyone. For example, take the popular Aristocrats deck archetype. Here you sacrifice a dork to a free thing like Goblin Bombardment or a mana maker like Ashnod's Altar or Phyrexian Altar, and then a game winning trigger like losing life such as Blood Artist or the Ally above, killing their board with Grave Pact or trigger mana makers like Pawn of Ulamog, Sifter of Skulls, or the Treasure making one and then you break them with a self-recursive dork that you can sac over and over again like Reassembling Skeleton or other things. So, if they are about to go off and only need one, then even if they are in top-deck mode, you'll go after them instead of the full-gripped alternative.

2. When the Big Hand Size is from Mana Issues

Balance

We've all been there in duals or multiplayer alone! We get mana screwed in the early game. We may only have two lands and no ramp or mana rocks. Maybe we'll drop something like Mother of Runes or Merfolk Looter or Withered Wretch to stay in the game. But we'll clearly have the biggest hands. Don't pick on them in the early or mid game. There is a nasty, broken, restricted in Vintage tool that will bring everyone down to the mana screwed player's lands, the aggro player's hand size and then control player's dork count - so that's not bad to put everyone on the same level, if legal. It's not in Commander.

3. When Another Player has Multiplayer's/Commander's Greatest Hits

Consecrated Sphinx
Smothering Tithe

There are times when you have to play the board because someone is about to go crazy with a nasty game-altering permanent. For example, suppose someone just dropped the evil Sphinx and has 2 mana open for counters to keep it alive. Obviously, they are about to shift the card flow their way, so target it for removal, force the counter, target again with someone else for another kill. Or what about the aforementioned Treasure making enchantment in White? That'll cause someone to explode the game in their direction, so counter or destroy it. This counts Mind's Eye, Rhystic Study, Esper Sentinel, Grave Pact and Dictate of Erebos, Craterhoof Behemoth, Laboratory Maniac, and Grafted Exoskeleton that could push the game or win now.

4. When Someone has a Commander or Board State that Makes them the Archenemy

Meren of Clan Nel Toth
Zur the Enchanter
Narset, Enlightened Master

Have you ever played a game against someone who is clearly playing one of the nastiest Commanders ever designed and then the rest of you are only grabbing mid-level stuff? Stuff like Meren above with experience counters, the attack trigger of Zur to grab a free enchantment from your library, Narset to cast from the top of your library loads and the free dork attack and they are attacking or Kaalia of the Vast that doesn't have to connect to break your face. If someone is dropping one of those unfair Commanders that overwhelm a table fast and I have my Surrak Beasts deck and the others have things like the above Mayael deck, you'll want to gang up on the newly branded Archenemy just so you can play the game. So, you'll punish them based on Commander choice.

Also, this counts if someone is just not playing the same game as the rest of you with nasty things like Stasis on a mono-Blue Commander/Planeswalker Teferi, Temporal Archmage's -1 to untap four lands to play the normal game. That's just not really fair, so you'll tag team them to take them out of the game so you can play the game the way it was meant to be played in multiplayer: with people having fun. Another example of the unfair dual combo in multiplayer is Winter Orb to keep most lands tapped, but then with a tapper like Icy Manipulator to untap your lands. Make sense?


And there we go! I hope that you enjoyed this awesome look at my last block in the multiplayer/Commander Advanced theory foundation!!! You need to play the hand, not the table, usually, with those four exceptions noted above. Also run stuff together in the below 4 articles that can really break things open in your direction. For example, the aforementioned Liliana's Shade adds to your Density of Dorks, and then add in Hull Breaches to be able to handle multiple cards from one player to push their hand, or strong but not-broken cards that won't bring the heat like the Foster mentioned above and in The Treasure Trove effect to bait a counter or things that can interfere in the big hand, rattlesnakes like Silklash Spider or Seal of Doom from the 4th article. Hope that helps!!!

Index of Advanced Multiplayer Strategies

Article #1 - The Hull Breach Effect - Advanced Multiplayer Strategies: The Hull Breach Effect | Article by Abe Sargent (coolstuffinc.com) - Here we look at ways that cards like Hull Breach that effect multiple trades have to be played differently.

Article #2 - The Density of Creatures - Advanced Multiplayer Strategies #2: The Density of Creatures | Article by Abe Sargent (coolstuffinc.com) - Here we look at how having different creatures of different types can keep you safe just by having a few out there.

Article #3 - The Treasure Trove Effect - Advanced Multiplayer Theory: The Treasure Trove Effect | Article by Abe Sargent (coolstuffinc.com) - People often run many of multiplayer's greatest hits and then get destroyed by others. Here's how you can avoid that!

Article #4 -You Can't Win, Until you Don't Lose - Advanced Multiplayer Theory #4: You Can?t Win Until You Don?t Lose | Article by Abe Sargent (coolstuffinc.com) - Many folks are so focused on winning that they forget to not lose. Here are tips for how to handle it.

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