Welcome back to Playgroup Evolution. Rather than delve further into the point system like the Sultai (see what I did there?), this week I’m going to discuss evolving a playgroup’s playstyle in a slightly different manner. No surprise here, since the title gives away my topic – Threat assessment is one of the most crucial elements to multiplayer games. Threat assessment can be tricky to teach to players, partially because doing it well often means losing more. I’ll break down a few tips to help shape your group to be better players.
Tell the Truth
The first step is to tell the truth. If you are lying to your opponents when discussing threat assessment, you are doing everyone a disservice. When you are the threat, you need to be honest. “Yeah, you probably should kill me now. I’m likely to win the game in the next turn or two based on board position and that I just tutored.” Using a statement like this can help. Telling someone to take you out will hurt, but it makes the games better. You know the idea that playing games with better people makes your better, and it works for Magic as well as it does for sports. Helping your group get better means you need to be better to win.
The other important part of this is that you want to encourage “meta” discussions. You want to help people play better, so opening up dialogue about why you did certain actions or what are good options are ways to get this started. You also probably want to invite new players to ask questions and seek help.
Look at Your Group
Remember how being honest is the first step? It matters here too. Be honest about how your friends play. If Crovax always finishes players off, that is something to know. If Tahngarth goes after the player with the strongest position, you want to avoid being there unless you can take him. If Urza is the best player in the group, you need to know that too. Squee will drop random cards to hear the group groan—that is important. Getting the picture? Good!
See, you need to know your friends’ tendencies, because that changes decks. If Crovax is playing a given deck, he’ll always take down someone in a weak position; Tahngarth with the same deck is much more likely to leave a weak player as a potential ally and move against the player in the strongest position. Knowing how your group operates makes other threat assessment easier.
When someone asks a question, be honest. “Should I attack Crovax, or Urza?” You should tell them the truth. “You can drop either one, Urza is more likely to win the game, but Crovax is going to kill you on his turn. If you can’t get your defenses up for him, take him out because I’m a huge threat to Urza. Right now, I’m a threat to you, but I’m the biggest threat to Urza so he’s gunning for me.”
Look at Their Commanders
This is rather obvious, but generals can tell you a lot about the deck. Godo, Bandit Warlord is almost certainly a Voltron style deck while Azami, Lady of Scrolls is almost certainly a combo deck. Intet, the Dreamer is going to be a value machine that likely ends in a combo-kill but Kaervek the Merciless is going to punish the whole table.
Steps one and two overlap. Knowing the player and general gives a lot of information. In regular multiplayer games with 60 card decks—stop laughing, they exist!—the opening turns are key for observation to evaluate things. When someone plays some cards, you need to start trying to figure out their gameplan. Fortunately, EDH gives you a lot more information to work with. This helps inform your choices during the game.
Again, be honest with each other. “Sharuum the Hegemon is an infamous combo general. Godo is going to beat down a lot, and uh… Ramirez DePietro is crap. No idea what that deck is, but Orim is playing and she likes tribal decks, so Ramirez probably isn’t too threatening since he’s a pirate.
Look at the Board
This is huge during the game. You need to be evaluating your position and the positions of everyone else. Knowing the board is extremely critical during the game. A few important things to evaluate:
- What can you handle?
- Where can you hurt your opponents?
- Is there something your deck can’t deal with?
Point one addresses what you can survive. Propaganda isn’t the best card, but it does wonders to keep a boatload of goblins away from your face. If you have that out against the goblin horde and the guy with only a couple fatties, you better be preparing for those big butts. Otherwise they are going to pound you flat. If someone has Assemble the Legion and you have Akroma’s Vengeance, that enchantment is a lot less frightening, so you don’t need to panic.
The second point is looking for places to hurt your opponents. This can be attacking, destroying key cards, or creating an opening. Sleep is a good card to create an opening; Tapping down the saproling player can take down someone even with a huge number of blockers, since you and someone else can easily attack into them now.
The third point is crucial. Know what you can’t deal with. If there is a strategy that your deck just gets tromped by, you need to know that. If your deck can’t deal with enchantments, then someone playing an enchantment-based deck is a real threat. If there is something you cannot handle, it is your greatest threat. Stopping stuff is good; but if you can’t, then you need to remove the player.
When helping your group, it is really important to explain this last point. If your mono-red deck come across an enchantment based deck, you need to take that player out before they get going because you can’t interact with them.
Look at Cards in Hand
Cards in hand allow for tons of options. From counters to removal to ways to rebuild, cards in hand are dangerous. Players new to Magic or even multiplayer games often overlook cards in hand as a threat. The player with a controlling general and bad board position with a lot of cards in hand is probably more dangerous than the player with a board position but no cards to get back in the game after being slowed down.
My next post on threat assessment will have more concrete methods of threat assessment now that the basics are out of the way. If the league is up and running by then, I’ll update you. In the meantime, let’s try to make all the games better for everyone.