Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Ten Friends, One Victor, One-Sixth of a Day

I wrote this article three months ago, but hadn't posted it.  Enjoy!

When I was in college, I lived in a dorm for my first two years; this is where I first experienced college life in all its stereotypical glory; loud, raucous shouting down the hall, the uncomfortable smell in the room of your roommate’s “I’ll eat it on Monday” pizza from three weeks ago lingering in the pocket-sized fridge in the corner, then shuddering as you recall that was you…oh, and schoolwork, classes, libraries, blah blah blah…

Our dorm was fairly small, housing about 100-120 awkward, post-pubescent man-children within their half-century-old concrete walls.  As I’d sit at my pressboard desk and plink away at a psychology report (coughvideogamecough), I’d hear my thin door knock behind me.  I’d answer the door, and one of perhaps a half-dozen predictable faces would beam back at me.

“We’re doing a big game of Magic, want to play?”

This, not the rigorous back-and-forth of two-person Magic, was where I cut my Magic chops.  Team games, free for all games, Emperor games, Two-Headed Giant games or of course the semi-multiplayer sanctioned variant; Draft!  Looking back, they have provided fond recollections of outrageous plays, life totals in the thousands, and legitimate, I-didn’t-mill-you deckouts.  The longest of these many excursions lasted from 10:00PM one night to 5:00AM the next morning!  Seven hours of the same game!

Now, though I’ve tried to enjoy a good multiplayer game, I haven’t found it.  Sure, I enjoy Elder Dragon Highlander (now called Commander), but at my local shop it’s just griefing combo decks that make some huge play on one turn, leaving you as unsatisfied as a half-inflated balloon.

However, all was not lost in this woebegone tale…

My wife’s dearest friend, her husband and our shared companions reached out amongst the group for a night of mega-Magic.  I was ecstatic.  I lunged at the opportunity, and more and more Facebook invites came back in the affirmative.  Embroiled in the excitement, I crafted multiple decks for myself and anyone who needed (or wanted) to borrow one.  I made one for each two-color combination possible, so I made ten decks in total; 600 cards bent to destroy the others.

On January 15th, the war began.

As the afternoon aged, one person came.  Then two, then four, then six….by sundown, ten people had gathered at our new dining room table ready to sling cards.  The variety of players was excellent, ranging from seasoned semi-pros to green, untried newbies, and everything inbetween.

As we munched on plastic bowlfuls of salty party mix and pretzels, we debated about how to include all ten of us in a game that wouldn’t be painfully slow.  A pitched five-on-five battle?  A three-way Emperor with one observer (or some other nefarious role)?  Eventually, we landed on Two-Headed Giant; well, more precisely, five-way Two-Headed Giant.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rules, it’s fairly simple and nearly self-explanatory from the name.  You and your single teammate share phases, combat and a starting 30 life; both of you take your main phases at the same time, you draw together, and you fight as a single unit; you declare your attackers and your blockers as one person, attacking or protecting a single, shared life total.  Otherwise, it’s just like regular Magic.  But, if one of you loses, you both lose.

Massive Magic Night #5
Eighteen pounds of cardboard!

First, let me line up our players.

Team One -

Kevin – A seasoned, serious player whose creative Standard deckbuilding and experience have helped garner success as a YouTube Magic commentator.  You can find his website at KlotzProductions.com.  The deck he had was a standard legal R/U/B control deck.

Caleb – A cheery, handsome fellow always looking for a good time in whatever game he sits down at.  He slung cards with a Premium Sliver deck.

Massive Magic Night #9
Kevin is rockin' the mushroom hoodie, and Caleb's got the grey sweater on the right.

Team Two –

Matt – Yours truly!  I shuffled a stack of R/G hasty midrange cards.

Danny – An old high-school pal, he's a newcomer to MTG but an experienced tabletop and CCG player.  He lined up a B/W Samurai tribal deck.

Massive Magic Night #7
Danny is the handsome stud on the left.  I'm...well, there I am.

Team Three –

Nick – Another long-time friend, he's a new face to MTG but a gamer deep at heart.  He shuffled up his Innistrad R/U theme deck based on graveyard, milling and flashback.

Beth – My wonderful better half, she grabbed for her powerful Wurm/Snake deck, full of U/G fatties.

Massive Magic Night #8
Nick is on the left.  Beth is taking the picture; suffice it to say she is the most beautiful girl you ever saw.

Team Four –

Carol – A friend of the whole group, she grabbed a R/B Extended Vampire deck that Beth and I made her for Christmas.

Katie – Nick’s fianc√© and a friend of Kevin’s, she deftly shuffled a G/B Zombie/Recursion deck between her nimble fingers.

Massive Magic Night #6
The two ladies on the left, the closer being Katie and the farther being Carol.

Team Five –

Drew – A latent veteran of the card game who planted his roots in Alliances days, his Johnny nature shined through with a glittering blue stack of artifact combo.

Wes – Brand new to the game, the gracious and kind fellow took advantage of the decks I had made, reaching for a slower, G/W token build.

Massive Magic Night #2
Drew is closer and smiling.  Wes is farther and drinking from an invisible straw.

Now let’s sling some cards!

The game started about 7:30 that evening, and it wasn’t long before we knew we were in for a haul.  After winning the roll, Team Four led off and we were on the way!  After a couple circuits around the cramped table, people gingerly played their first creatures, nervous to commit too much lest someone draw first blood.  Life changes shifted at a sluggish pace; a point here, a swing there, but it was a careful game at first.  Kevin and Caleb of Team One were drawing and passing; Caleb looked frustratingly at his untapped stack of lands, yearning for a green to get him on the board.  His first play was a Necrotic Sliver, which next turn (and for every Sliver he played), could threaten anything on the board.  I nudged my partner Danny, who answered the end of his turn with a kill spell.  Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  At this point, the table decided that Kevin and Caleb were public enemy number one.  With what little strength we had yet mustered, all four teams turned against them, slashing away at their life points.  As his turn began, Kevin retaliated with a Slagstorm.  We all looked at our creatures, then at our hands, but searching for something to save our rough dozen of creatures was in vain.  We began placing them in our bins with a groan.

Despite their best efforts, though, their fate was sealed.  I played a fully kicked Lightning Serpent (6 was X, as I recall) and swung it for 8 points at Team One’s 8 life points.  Kevin blocked with his single creature, a Snapcaster Mage, but Danny played a Hail of Arrows with X as 1, removing the Snapcaster Mage as a blocker and allowing all 8 damage to trample through, barely defeating them.  As a side note, we would later go back and realize Hail of Arrows can only be used against attacking creatures…oops.  That being said, though, Danny’s Doom Blade could also have dispatched Tiago Chan’s Invitational card, so take that as you will.

Caleb and Kevin graciously scooped up their cards and settled in to watch.  With the field smaller, we felt sure that the game would be done more quickly…

Danny and I pulled lands and underwhelming creatures for a turn or two leaving ourselves understandably vulnerable after going all-in with both spells and creatures to defeat Team One.  We held our breath and mumbled as we peeled off lands from our decks.  Team Three, consisting of Nick and Beth, were almost completely the opposite.  Beth continued to set down powerful, trampling creatures that dissuaded would-be attackers, while Nick drew a card, perhaps playing a land on occasion, reading his cards carefully and passing the turn.  Team Four, made up of Katie and Carol, put down powerful, game changing creatures like Bloodline Keeper and thirsty Vampire Outcasts.  Drew would draw his cards, play out costless artifacts (or effectively costless affinity-driven artifacts), draw several cards on the backs of Thoughtcast, and Wes created a powerful Juniper Order Ranger, complete with a woody Fists of Ironwood and two buffed Saproling bodyguards.  Both Drew and Wes thought it best to play defense until either Wes had a large enough horde of creatures or Drew was able to combo off with his Blasting Station.

Soon, I pulled a perfect multiplayer card from my deck; Dragon Broodmother!  Oh joy!  Oh Rapture!  Oh…dead.  As people passed down to their neighbor what it did, each shuffled through their hands to find an answer.  Just three upkeeps (and 3 little Dragons later), the baby Dragons became orphans.  Danny and I were still on the recovery, and we worried that Carol and Katie’s growing horde of blood-sucking, earth-munching creatures could overwhelm any one of us at any moment.  Amongst our side of the table, we pledged to commit to destroying Carol and Katie’s army or at the least keep it in check.  Danny and I used our tenuous forces to chip away at their ever growing life total (life-gain seems much more intimidating in multiplayer – 47 life is a lot of life!).  Nick and Beth pulled through, however, landing critical blows with their combined armies of Beth’s powerful Wurms and Nick’s…well, Nick threw an Aven Fleetwing at them.  Even Drew and Wes came out from their cloistered trench, offering a Solemn Simulacrum and other 2/2 creatures.  Slowly, the life total and creature quantity became manageable, and Team Four struggled to keep up.  After a VERY long and carefully calculated combat round between Danny’s and my own forces, we sealed the deal.  Carol and Katie, apparently confident with their performance, bowed out.

Down to just three teams, Drew and Wes continued to pass the turn, hoping Nick, Beth, Danny and I would fight it out and they would sweep up the wreckage when the time was right.  It came around to our turn, and we played some defensive creatures and passed the turn, shoddily prepared for the onslaught of Team Three.  Nick asked Danny and me how many cards were in our deck.  A silly question I thought; I counted up my cards and Danny and I each remained in the mid-30s.  Wes gave a similar answer.  However, as Drew picked up his shorter stack, he gave a confident “21!”  As our turn concluded, TK finally sprung his trap.  In a fever of Dream Twists, Ghoulcaller’s Bell taps and a well timed Vision Skeins from Beth, Drew slid the last card from the top of his library into his graveyard; not one card was spared, but only just so – 22 cards would have been enough to save Drew from milling out.  Nick and Beth triumphantly passed the turn.  Drew, the resident dead-man-walking, used his final upkeep to vengefully tap down each of Nick and Beth’s creature using clever uses of Glare of Subdual; they were now completely open to attack and tapped out.  Their draw step ended and they lost from a well-timed and inexorably calculated stroke of teamwork.  They should call Nick's deck Piecemill.  XD

Finally, we untapped and looked across at the crippled and exhausted board state of the last remaining opponents.  Danny and I sided together and crashed in for an efficient, but not gratuitous, victory.

We all had a laugh and a sigh of relief as the lengthy game drew to a close.  As we peered up at the colorful clock over the living room mantelpiece, it advised us that we had passed into the next day.  It was midnight!  A lovely chat and final farewells followed up this lively, intense game, and all retired, brooding over what we could do to make our decks better.

Massive Magic Night #4

I haven’t had that much fun playing Magic in a long time.  It’s fun to Top 2 a release event and it’s fun to grind in solid wins at a PTQ, but there’s nothing more fun than playing a casual, but intense game of Magic with your pals.  I hope we can do it again soon; until then, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

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