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Road to Nowhere: Wrong Turns
By Eric Turgeon
In case you hadn't figured this out from any of my previous articles, I love playing huge free-for-all games online. Free-for-alls (or "chaos" games) are one of the only games where basically anyone can win a given game if they're patient and play their cards right. Dominant decks often get hated out after killing a few other players, leaving some sub-optimal decks to fight for the final winner. But of course, it doesn't always work like this. A lot of people play crazy combo decks, allowing them to win in one turn after all their pieces are in place. For me, this takes the fun out of the chaos games, as they turn into a bunch of solitaire matches, seeing who can pull off their combo the fastest. So I decided to try a little experiment. The goal was to build a deck that had no chance of winning, but that had the ability to expose everyone else's plans and see how all the opponents react to it. Here's the basic deck idea I had:

4 Zur's Weirding
32 Completely Non-Threatening Cards
24 Island

Yeah. That was it. How original. I said it was an idea, okay? Most people know that Zurís Weirding can be a lot of fun in multiplayer games. I've seen a bunch of decklists that use a ton of lifegain or Words of Worship to lock down the game, but I'm not interested in that. You might say this is more of a psychology experiment than an actual attempt to make a winning multiplayer deck.

So what exactly am I trying to do here? First, I want to make a deck that can't win a game on its own, but that does have the ability to make a game last forever. I also want to see how other players react to obvious combos in free-for-all games. Who is willing to sacrifice their own life for the good of everyone else? Is anyone unwilling to lose two points of life even if it means the game will end because of one card? How will other players react to my deck? Will they pay life to throw away my cards that can't win the game? Will they try to kill me just because they don't like having their deck exposed? There are a lot of questions brought up by this one little card.

After looking at my card pool, I ultimately decided to make the deck blue and white. White has some good cards to help stall games in addition to lifegain spells that may come in handy. I'm a little worried that other players may see this as trying to lock down the game, but I still won't include any win conditions. My first iteration of the deck looked like this:

WeirdBlueChaos v.1
4 Zurís Weirding
4 Telepathy
4 Sun Droplet
4 Dizzy Spell
4 Serum Visions
4 Counsel of the Soratami
3 Faith's Fetters
3 Compulsive Research
1 Chastise
1 Final Judgment
1 Honden of Seeing Winds
1 Honden of Cleansing Fire
1 Jester's Cap
1 Pulse of the Fields
12 Island
8 Plains
4 Coastal Tower

As you can see, the deck has no way to win. I meant to include some Mnemonic Nexuses, but I only had one and the whole point of them would be to stall the game forever, without letting my opponents get decked. I played one game with this deck and saw some really strange results:

  1. People hate Telepathy. I actually thought that everyone had to reveal their hands, but it's only my opponents. As soon as I played Telepathy on the first turn, I started getting attacked.
  2. Only one opponent really had a combo deck. It revolved around casting a bunch of Zuberas, killing them and then bringing them back for another go with Second Sunrise. Not exactly the type of powerful combo I expected.
  3. The first card that someone paid life to drop was Crystal Quarry. Apparently that player somehow lost to it before. I'll give you a dollar if you figure out how.
  4. One player had a spirit-linked Slith that was really boosting their life before they had to leave prematurely. Had they stuck around, they probably could have controlled everyone else's draws for the rest of the game. I'm not going to try to avoid this fate, if someone wants to use my deck better than I can, so be it. Making it to the final two would be great and if someone else is using my deck to win, I'll probably be the last person they go after.
  5. I actually was the last player to drop after decking myself.

One of the major changes I wanted was to include more transmute cards. Transmute cards are great because they seem innocent enough when you draw them and people aren't immediately thinking about what they might turn into. To assist transmuting, I decided to splash black in the deck so I can fetch Zurís Weirding.

Another change was fine-tuning the deck so that I could eventually eliminate all threats from my opponents' decks. Jester's Cap and Final Judgment were just last-minute inclusions before, but now they were part of an important theme. I added one each of Eradicate, Quash, Scour and Splinter to permanently deal with combo threats.

With all the additions I wanted to make, the deck ended up being huge. That's not a problem in my opinion. Good chaos decks simply need to have all the answers.

WeirdBlueChaos v.2
1 Drift of Phantasms
2 Ethereal Usher
1 Awe Strike
3 Clutch of the Undercity
3 Compulsive Research
4 Counsel of the Soratami
1 Diabolic Tutor
4 Dizzy Spell
1 Eradicate
4 Faith's Fetters
1 Final Judgment
1 Hallow
1 Honden of Seeing Winds
1 Honden of Cleansing Fire
1 Jester's Cap
3 Mnemonic Nexus
4 Muddle the Mixture
3 Perplex
1 Planar Portal
1 Pulse of the Fields
1 Reciprocate
1 Reminisce
1 Scour
4 Serum Visions
1 Spirit Link
1 Splinter
4 Sun Droplet
2 Telepathy
4 Zurís Weirding
1 Caves of Koilos
4 Coastal Tower
4 Elfhame Palace
19 Island
1 Mirrodin's Core
5 Plains
4 Salt Marsh
1 Swamp
1 Temple Garden

A few notes on this iteration of the deck:

  1. Yes, I actually have cards that can win me the game. Ethereal Usher is a 2/3 creature that I could very well cast and attack with. But I won't. It's in there to get me Final Judgment or Planar Portal and that's it. It actually works really well in the deck because it's kind of weak and most people won't make me toss it if they have ways to deal with creatures. Clutch of the Undercity, on the other hand, I may actually use as a victory condition. If it's more important to take a threat off the board than it is to fetch a four-mana spell, I'll use it, even if it means winning the game. That's just a risk I have to be willing to take. One of my opponents could also end up decked if I keep casting Reminisce on myself, but I'll try to avoid that at all costs. I'd prefer more Mnemonic Nexuses, but I work with what I have.
  2. It's four colors now. I'll probably never cast Splinter without going through nearly my entire deck once, but hopefully I can deal with any threats before it's an issue. I did what I could to fix my mana by using the dual lands I have at my disposal, but I won't be terribly heartbroken if I end up with a Splinter stuck in my hand.

The first game I played was rife with combo decks. I cast a first turn Telepathy to see opponents playing with Kokusho reanimation, Mesmeric Orb, something awful involving Myojins, another deck that seemed like a combo deck (Howling Mine, Heartbeat of Spring, etc.) but didn't really do anything, and of course the ultimate powerhouse deck in multiplayer games: White Weenie. Unfortunately, I couldn't get a Zurís Weirding in play before the Kokusho-guy cast Iname, Death Aspect and Patriarch's Bidding, but I did make some observations:

  1. People still hate Telepathy. I just don't understand. If it weren't for my Telepathy, the Myojin player would have had everyone discarding their hands on the fifth turn. I also immediately exposed the eventual winner's deck. But as soon as the WW player cast and sacked a Kami of Ancient Law to blast my ever-so-potent Telepathy, the table cheered. Had it stayed out, the game might have ended differently.
  2. Warp World is fun. The player with the deck that seemed like a combo deck played this the first chance he got. Since barely half my deck is permanents, it totally screwed me over, but it was still really fun seeing everyone's board get completely rearranged.

The first thing I did after this game was add Quickchange and Vedalken Orrery to my deck. I currently have no way to deal with combo decks involving black creatures, so Quickchange will help by turning them a color more compatible with Eradicate. The Orrery, I just like. Playing spells at instant speed is a really good thing to have in chaos games.

I played a couple more games after making these changes and found the same results. People really hate Telepathy much more than they hate losing to combo decks. I reached the point where as soon as I cast Telepathy, I would tell everyone else what was in my hand to make it even, but of course, no one believed me, even after I started casting the cards I told them I had.

At this point, my philosophy completely changed. Playing online means that either your opponents donít trust you or your opponents are idiots. Both cases are often true. I also found that the deck that usually ended up winning was mono-black control. Cards like Consume Spirit and Corrupt allowed the MBC players to dominate the game with my deck. MBC is powerful in multiplayer games without my help, so I decided that instead of simply fighting combo decks, I should be fighting every dominant chaos deck. My new purpose was to castrate the most powerful decks and give the little guys a better chance to win with their goofy, weak, or original decks. So I began playing with this very different version of the deck:

Chopped Nuts
4 Terraformer
2 Quickchange
4 Muddle the Mixture
3 Quash
3 Zurís Weirding
4 Mnemonic Nexus
4 Clutch of the Undercity
3 Eradicate
2 Splinter
1 Scour
1 Sowing Salt
1 Jesterís Cap
4 Wayfarerís Bauble
18 Island
4 Salt Marsh
2 Swamp

It uses all the remove from the game spells from Urzaís Destiny (well, Betrayers of Kamigawa, in this case) to rip up powerful decks and Terraformer to provide the right colors to play those spells. I kept Zurís Weirding in the deck because I donít want to be the only player actually trying to stop the most powerful cards and combos. Iím sure a number of opponents will use it against me as well, since my deck does come off as a very threatening control deck. So be it. I actually think people will respond to this build better than my last one. Most people see cards like Telepathy and Sun Droplet as being really annoying (and they are) and immediately feel threatened. Iím hoping that using actual powerful spells and choosing my targets wisely, I can show the majority of the players that I can actually help them more than hurt them.

Well, don't you know, the next three games I played involved no powerful decks. Everyone playing just brought a big pile 'o fun to the table with them. I can't even begin to describe some of the decks I had to face, since most of them seemed completely random. In one of the games, a player was having so much fun chatting, that he repeatedly used his Honden of Infinite Rage to deal damage to creatures it couldn't kill. Regardless, I still had fun with the Weirding and tried my best to keep the games balanced, but my deck seemed pretty stupid against decks that were built for having fun. One time I even cast an Eradicate on a Chorus of the Conclave (which I fully expected to get out of hand) only to discover that player had a Singleton deck! I suppose that's just the way it goes sometimes. First you play against the most powerful combo decks that take the fun out of the game. Then when you build a deck to stop them, you turn out to be the only one without a fun deck.

I may continue trying out this deck to see if I can finally get it to do what I want, but for now, I don't have enough time to continue playtesting. It's weird, because my initial plan was to mess up the people who thought it was more important to dominate a game as opposed to enjoying the fun interactions that can be had in a giant free-for-all. But in the end, I only messed up my own enjoyment of the game by using a deck that was worthless against the kind of people I would rather be playing against in the first place. Is there a lesson in all this? I'm not sure. Perhaps the only lesson is that playing Magic Online is eventually going to drive you nuts. It truly is a road to nowhere.

Read More Articles by Eric Turgeon!

 - Wednesday (July 18. 2018)
 - Thursday (May 17, 2018)
 - Tuesday (Aprl. 24, 2018
 - Monday (Apr. 16, 2018)
 - Friday (Apr. 6, 2018)
 - Wednesday (Apr. 4, 2018)
 - Monday (Apr. 2, 2018)
 - Friday (Mar. 23, 2018)
 - Thursday (Feb. 15, 2018)
 - Thursday (Jan 25, 2018)

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