September 22, 2015

Battle for Zendikar: Multiplayer Edition


With each new set, I like to take a look at the cards to see how they function in multiplayer games. I'm looking for that card that gets an extra benefit in games with multiple players. Ob Nixilis Reignited is a great card, but it doesn't get better with extra opponents. I want the card that goes from good to great, or great to awesome, simply because there are more opponents.

Before we get started, just a quick note about the Eldrazi, the big baddies of the set. Wizards has given these huge creatures impressive abilities, then set their costs high enough that it would be challenging to actually get them onto the battlefield. However, multiplayer games tend to go longer—more rounds, more mana ramp. Seeing players with ten lands is actually pretty common. Eldrazi are late-game creatures, to be sure, but adding a couple to your deck shouldn't be a problem at all; especially in long multiplayer games, your deck will still run as smooth as ever. In fact, you shouldn't have any trouble fitting this fellow in . . .

A 10/10 indestructible for ten mana that exiles two target permanents! Remember, I just said permanents, not "creature" or "noncreature" or "nonland." You can take out that annoying enchantment, planeswalker, or land without blinking an eye. I'd complain about Ulamog not having trample, but the next clause makes that irrelevant. Even if Ulamog is blocked, it still exiles 20 cards from the defending player's library. Your opponents can block it with all the 1/1 token creatures they want. They are still dying in short order from an empty library. This should also make any Processor shenanigans you might want to try fairly limitless.

This is only slightly better in multiplayer games. As I mentioned, games last longer, so the likelihood of getting to cast Ulamog improves. The real reason it's better in multiplayer games lies with the exiled cards. Eldrazi Processors love to do things with all the exiled cards. After targeting one opponent with Ulamog, you can move on to another opponent while the Processors take advantage of the first player, who has plenty of exiled cards available. It makes for an interesting political play, as you try to convince the first opponent you attacked that you won't do it again, since they are now a valuable resource to you alive. A little like sucking the marrow from a not-quite-dead animal. The image is disgusting, but we are talking about Eldrazi here.

There is one significant downside to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. In our previous visit to Zendikar, many Eldrazi had annihilator. Annihilator was a miserable mechanic. For those of you lucky enough not to have seen it, some Eldrazi had annihilator X. X could be from one to six, depending on the Eldrazi. When a creature with annihilator attacked, the defending player had to sacrifice X permanents. This happened before defenders were even declared. In multiplayer games, this meant you didn't know who would have to take the hit until it was too late. If you had a way to get rid of the creature, you had to do it before attackers were even declared. You didn't know if the Eldrazi was going to attack or whom. The other option was to play roulette and take your chances. It was miserable, and most everyone hated it.

And here we are again. Another ability that demands a response before you know where the creature is going. Wizards is betting that this isn't as bad, since it won't affect the board state the way annihilator did. If you're planning to attack back or cast something really impressive on your next turn, you'll still be able to do that after Ulamog attacks you, assuming you have at least 21 cards in your library. The question you'll want to ask yourself is how your group will respond. Will this become another kill-on-sight Eldrazi, or is it just a truly nasty creature will some serious inevitability?

Just don't. If even I can refrain myself from making this lame joke, odds are, so can you.

The "just don't" also applies to the card. Every single opponent will be gunning to eliminate this card, or just eliminate you if that isn't an option. Unless you can kill off the entire board in the next turn or two and are using this to make sure no one disrupts your plan, just don't. The amount of hate you'll get from your group just isn't worth it for an 11/9 creature that basically reads, "Make my opponents hate me."

Having said that, taking away all of your opponents' even-costed spells is better than you think. I looked back through a few of my decks, and I was not surprised to find that my decks all have more cards in the two-, four-, and six-mana slots than in the one-, three-, and five-mana slots. Two-mana creatures are the cheaper cards you use early on as blockers, which tend to do a little more. Four-mana cards are the point on the curve where cards really start to do powerful things. Six-mana creatures are where your dudes become truly degenerate. Void Winnower doesn't stop half the cards in your opponents' decks—it stops more than half. However, it doesn't stop them from using the even-costed permanents already on the battlefield against you.

Save this card for your goofy joke decks or your theme decks when you're playing Ironroot Chef (more on that in the coming weeks!).

Everyone who has ever played a multiplayer game knows the value of a mass removal spell. Destroying all the creatures on the board means that every opponent starts over at zero. (Not really—the list of exceptions is staggeringly long—but mass removal is great in multiplayer games.) Multiple opponents means more creatures killed with the same single card. For five mana, Planar Outburst will destroy just about every creature in the game, except for creature lands like Lumbering Falls and Shambling Vents (and the older regulars like Treetop Village and Mutavault) and lands that have become awakened by a few cards in Battle for Zendikar, including Planar Outburst.

On its own, it lets you pay eight mana and wipe out the battlefield except for one of your lands, which is now a 4/4 Elemental creature. With some luck, you even had nine lands on the battlefield and are now attacking with your Elemental against a defenseless opponent!

Another interesting play is to awaken your Shambling Vent. This would make it a 4/4 colorless Elemental land that taps for white or black mana all the time. When you pay its activation cost, it would become a 6/7 white-and-black Elemental with lifelink until the end of the turn. How you choose to use your four +1/+1 counters is up to you (obligatory mention that ways to double +1/+1 counters work really well here).

The downside to awaken: The land is now a creature all the time. With creature lands, you turn them on and do the damage, then they revert back to lands, a permanent that is hard to kill. Your opponents can use instant-speed creature removal to kill them, but generally only the player you are attacking wants to do that, so your creature lands tend to be safe. Even land destruction doesn't tend to hit creature lands too often, since land destruction tends to be pretty minimal and players prefer to save it for Maze of Ith, Kessig Wolf Run, and the like. Awaken doesn't offer them protection. As those lands will be creatures all the time, they are now vulnerable to dying from targeted creature removal, mass removal, creature bounce, and even cards that take away counters.

Considering this, I'm not sure that awaken is really worth it in a format that uses mass removal as often as most multiplayer games use it. Use it at your own peril.

The Drone isn't exactly a powerhouse, but it's definitely better with multiple opponents, making each opponent lose two life. For only three mana it can come out early and ingest a couple of times before the environment gets too ugly. Naturally, having a way to recur the Drone will make its enters-the-battlefield trigger that much more powerful—and yes, this is another card that gets broken fast with a Deadeye Navigator.

Fathom Feeder is better in multiplayer games because its ability forces each opponent to exile a card. But in reality, this is not going into many decks. A 1/1 with deathtouch for two mana just isn't enough in your regular deck. Where this card will be a star is in multiplayer milling decks. It draws you cards and pulls cards out of each opponent's library, all while its deathtouch discourages attacks.

Better in multiplayer, much better in mill.

I do love some Drain Life/Syphon Soul action, and in this set it comes in the form of Zulaport Cutthroat. It's not nearly the "everyone loses 3, you gain 3" of Siege Rhino, but the Cutthroat costs far less, is only one color, and happens whenever a creature you control dies. I am currently running a wonderful deck that uses Blood Artist as a way to kill off my opponents. The Cutthroat only hits my creatures, but instead of one person taking damage, the Human Rogue Ally gives the damage to everyone!

Zulaport Stairwell

And we end with the all-star of Battle for Zendikar. Six mana for a 5/7 is just okay, but it is big enough to avoid death due to Languish and most direct-damage spells. The key is that its ability triggers whenever an opponent plays a land. In a four-player game, you will see at least one land drop from your opponents every turn—and probably more, with fetch lands and ramp cards in most every deck. This will exile cards off their library, but we don't really care about that. The key is that we'll get to draw two cards every time they play a land. This will result in two extra cards drawn every round, with plenty of rounds where you'll draw even more.

The question becomes how your opponents decide to deal with your extra card drawing. They can try to kill the creature or kill you. Those are standard options whenever anyone plays a particularly dangerous permanent. They can also stop playing lands. If they don't play lands, you don't draw those cards and their gameplay is stunted. They can also play as many lands as possible, hoping to run your library dry. Sire of Stagnation is not optional: You must draw the cards. However, this is not a particularly frightening option unless someone has a way to play out a lot of land, like Collective Voyage.

Sire of Stagnation could be the Consecrated Sphinx your group is okay with having in play. It is unlikely to spiral out of control as the Sphinx often did. It costs two colors, so it will appear far less often. It can also backfire, leading to some epic self-immolations. I expect this to become a powerhouse at many kitchen tables for quite a while.

I hope you've enjoyed our walk through the crumbling plane of Zendikar. It looks like even this hedron-stewn mess of a landscape offers plenty of delights for those who delight in multiplayer contests.

Bruce Richard


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