Thursday, December 20, 2012

Less and Less

I didn't get any games in with Starve: instead I was in a very long four-player Commander game, vs Momir Vig, Rubinia Soulsinger and a UBR commander I didn't catch with me using Dakkon Blackblade in order to fuel a Living Death theme.

It was a pretty good game and it made me think two competing issues exemplified by multiplayer: you have to play the board and you have to play the player.

There's some good thoughts on multiplayer here; I imagine I will be saying something similar but the thoughts help provide context. In addition, playing the player enters the equation more when you play with a regular group of people, like I do, who don't play a lot of multiplayer.

For me, any game of Magic breaks down two to central pillars: First, threat assessment. This cannot be emphasized enough. Knowing which brick to pull to make the stack collapse (and that brick might be a different one, depending on the deck I'm playing) is one of the most difficult skills to learn and it gets exponentially more difficult in multiplayer games. Nevertheless, I have seen and still make the mistake of misidentifying what was going to kill me/stall my plan and thus, lose a game. I've also made the right decision and won as a result.

The mistake I see made most often in multiplayer, hands down, is Delayed Vengeance; namely, carrying the loss in game one into game two. This is a failure of threat assessment and leads me into the second point.

The second pillar is: who is this person and what do they like? This question is less relevant against strangers because the answer is always: To win and there are few ways for me to know more about them than that under the circumstances.

With people I know, however, the question becomes far more interesting. Matt likes to play hordes of green dudes. stonethorn likes building massive resources and controlling games. Jason wants to hit you from a direction you can't see. Fuz likes extremely redundant and resilient decks. The girlfriend likes creature themes and synergies. Merrick likes honing a theme that seems to have little use into a sharp point that kills you.

And so on. 

Because building decks in Magic can be a very personal act, it can be easy to invest more emotionally, than you ought to. I've certainly done it and I still do: if I wasn't emotionally interested in the deck then I wouldn't bother to build it, nor write about it.

HOWEVER, you have to know who you are playing against. Always. A bunch of new players is not an appropriate group to bring Starve out against. Because that deck does horrible things. And not just because I'm all that concerned about 'ruining their good time,' although that is a consideration.

It's because in subsequent games they will abandon the first pillar and come after me whether I am the appropriate target or not, even if I have changed decks. This was one of the most difficult things for me to do: remember that game two is a brand new game and it was now time to re-evaluate everyone. Is Jason's deck working? Can I stop it from working at a future date to apply pressure? If the answers are No and Yes, then I can continue doing what I'm doing. These questions are equally relevant in single or multiplayer games.

Now, what I may decide is to apply pressure to Jason (who in this example is helpless) in order to a] make him a more appealing target (in multiplayer) and/or b] force him into plays that he would not like to make. Or as they call them in normal speak: mistakes. But I should never be applying that pressure on Jason simply because he won the last game.

Why? Because doing so will cause me to violate the first pillar and worse, ignore the second pillar. I will stop doing appropriate threat assessment and I will forget what I know about that player and their playstyle in order to make my point.

There is no point to make: you win or you do not win. You are having fun or you are not having fun. Making a point leads to bad play and that never works out for anyone, long term. 

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