Welcome back, wonderful readers! Last time, I explained some of the basics for assessing threats. This week, I’ll look at deciding who to kill and when to make that kill. Threat assessment gets complicated quickly, so I’ll be sticking close to the basics for simplicity.
Before addressing threat assessment directly, I will explain a few broad strategies for multiplayer that offer useful context for you to evaluate these strategies for your own use.
There are three major approaches to multiplayer magic, and as such we have three approaches to EDH (pretty great how that lines up, right?) I break these down by players that represent these strategies.
Anthony Alongi used to write for the mothership (Magic’s official site) and also for Star City Games. His column was called “Serious Fun” (it’s still going, currently under Bruce Richards). Alongi subscribed to a theory of proper response and making powerful plays. He believed that lying low and pulling a win out of nowhere will work—once! But your group will learn, and crush you over and over afterwards. He encouraged strong plays that build the game. For example, a R/W deck could play Goblin Legionnaire, Boros Reckoner, Hero of Bladehold, Thundermaw Hellkite, and then Aurelia, the Warleader to blow people out with a strong finish.
Basically, Alongi advocates making strong plays that break backs. If you have broken enough backs, you will walk away victorious.
Another major tenet to Alongi’s strategy is proper responses. Someone have Mirari’s Wake, and is doing lots of bad things with it? Well then – get that Krosan Grip in there are stop the problem! No need to dog pile the player after, especially when someone else has a zombie horde at their disposal.
This is a good strategy. Proper responses prevent you from wasting resources on something that has already been dealt with. Multiplayer games go long, so attrition becomes important.
The Ferrett also wrote for the mothership and Star City (he was the editor-in-chief for a very long time). He agreed with Alongi on dealing with problem cards and using a tempered response to threats and attacks.
However, The Ferrett was a fan of appearing less powerful than you actually are. His philosophy is that people will attack The Threat (the person who is clearly in the best position to win and must be stopped for anyone else to have a chance), so becoming The Threat is not something to seek. He advocated for appearing to be the second most powerful. His idea- the strong prey on the weak. Appearing to be too strong will bring out hate and being weak means you are disposable. The Ferrett’s advice is to play well, but hold back a bit so that others can do some of the work for you.
Once the way is cleared, you bring out the big guns against the beaten-down threat. Let your enemies become your allies and help you on your path to greatness.
Glenn Jones of Star City fame plays EDH like a scumbag – too competitively for a “casual” game. Okay…that out of the way, allow me to explain. He says that every good EDH deck has a combo kill to use. He is a spike (being a strong tournament player and a spike tend to go hand in hand) which doesn’t gel with the average EDH group. Is there a reason to kill people on turn four in a casual multiplayer game? In a strong competitive group his “go combo or go home” approach works, but it makes threat assessment particularly difficult. Take the Kiki-Jiki combo, for example:
Who to Kill
Often you should kill the player who is your biggest threat – Someone who can eliminate you in a duel is a problem. Players are often taken down one at a time (baring ‘I win!’ cards like Insurrection), so if you’re focusing on winning, it can help to think in terms of a duel, since to win you’ll probably end up in a 1V1 situation.
The person who you can beat handily in a one-on-one game is someone you can leave alive. The person who will tromp you—focus on him/her!
Another important point to consider is the late game. Reanimator decks are excellent in the late game. They can recur dead stuff; this makes stopping them extremely difficult. Combo decks are also difficult to oppose late game. They run you out of your counters and removal so they can bust out a two-card combo to win while you are spending time trying to reload with something like Opportunity or Sphinx’s Revelation.
A key to knowing when to strike is to look at engines. If someone has Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord running with a recursion engine to keep blowing up fatties to drain the table, get in that person’s face! Destroy important stuff, attack with your dudes…do whatever you can. The player who can repeatedly do something powerful is often more threatening than the person who can only throw a conventional haymaker once (again baring the ‘I Win!’ cards and combos).
Don’t let that opponent keep building. They will only get stronger as they amass synergies that protect themselves. Dismantling their engines is a good start. Also, try to put them on the defensive.
When to Strike
This is when things get tricky. You typically want to hit an opponent when it will hurt them enough that you can also do damage and bring them down a few pegs. Krosan Grip targeting enablers like Birthing Pod or Assemble the Legion while attacking is good; sometimes, just removing that problem card drops your opponent’s threatening position sufficiently that you can attack another player.
Do it! Removing a linchpin from George Washington to stall him and attacking John Adams enough that Thomas Jefferson can finish him is great. Or if you have a point system, you may wait a bit longer to attack Adams so you get that point. The idea here is to attack when you will do the most damage. Throwing your resources at an opponent to bleed him or her is often wasteful.
I am not discouraging little attacks and chipping away. Oloro, Ageless Ascetic players will keep gaining that life if you don’t get in there. Chipping away with BitterBlossom tokens works great. (Especially if the Oloro player is currently lacking flyers…)
Another thing – pay attention to the game state when hurting your opponents. The game is not static, but shifts and flows as people play out cards and lose permanents. The person who was a threat with only five mana and a huge Assemble the Legion is a lot less threatening after Planar Cleansing resolves.
In other words, knowing who to kill and when to strike requires flexible and constant reassessment of all available information. This includes player identities (Alongi, Ferrett, or Jones?), the board state, and what you’ve learned about how each opponents’ deck is meant to function.
That’s all for this week. Let me know if you have any questions or comments about Threat Assessment in the comments below!