Our Monday Night Magic Metagame

I’ve mentioned that I play Magic with some friends on Monday nights. I want to write about Magic more than I do, but in order to do so I ought to give a primer on our competitive environment, since that’s very important for understanding the kinds of decks we play. So here I go!

(Anyone who doesn’t care a whit about Magic can just move on. I expect most of the traffic I get on my Magic articles will be from people surfing in from Google anyway.)

At a high level, our metagame environment looks like this:

  • Constructed decks.
  • Vintage format: Any card ever published (other than the Un-sets) is technically legal.
  • Multiplayer games, especially 2-headed giant and 5-way star
  • No card penalty for mulligans, but we rarely mulligan for reasons other than <2 lands or extreme color screw.
  • Proxy cards are allowed.
  • Some people play the same set of decks every week, some bring new decks regularly.
  • Most people play a different deck each game.
  • Quite a few decks are based around cards from the powerful Urza block (I’ll probably see at least one deck with Rancor each week).

Basically, we play games for fun, and try to keep everybody involved. If you get an initial draw that would just be no fun to play, then you can get a new draw. We rarely play the top tournament-competitive decks, for two reasons: First, they don’t always do as well in a multiplayer environment as they do in duels, and second because if you have a deck that can win almost every time, what fun is it to keep playing it?

Most of our decks are creature-based because it’s hard to get off a combo which can kill multiple other players. And that means that creature removal is very popular. So we see a lot of Lightning Bolts and Wraths of God and similar spells, as well as creature defenses such as Caltrops, Ensnaring Bridge, and AEther Flash. And that means that enchantment and artifact destruction spells like Naturalize are necessary, too. We do have a few entirely creatureless decks lurking around.

One thing I like about multiplayer is that games often go on for a long time, so you frequently make your 7th or 8th land drop even without mana acceleration, and thus you can play some more expensive spells than you can in duel. I think the large amount of removal accounts for this: There’s usually at least one person interested in killing your creatures, so it’s difficult to kill anyone in just a few turns. I think the fact that the game can progress over many turns (sometimes many, many turns) leads to some very interesting games, and makes some decks viable that wouldn’t be in a duel, or more strictly competitive, environment. (I like limited play for much the same reason.)

My own decks have the additional constraint that I almost never play proxy cards, especially of powerful and rare cards like Damnation. This means that I run 1-of or 2-of many cards in my decks, since that’s all I have, so I don’t build decks around those cards. But it also means my decks tend to have several modular parts that interact in different ways, depending on what draw I happen to get.

Also, since I’m still buying new cards and most of the group isn’t, that means that I’m usually introducing completely new cards into the metagame which they haven’t seen before. I think the card I’ve introduced that’s made the biggest splash has been Austere Command, since it can wipe the board of creatures as well as cripple decks which rely on enchantments or artifacts.

By convention, we tend not to play some of the unusually powerful cards in Magic’s history, such as the Power Nine cards, or Sol Ring. This is partly because only one of the group owns many of these cards, but he doesn’t find playing unbalanced decks very fun. Plus he’s the host, so he sets the house rules. 🙂

All-in-all it’s a pretty challenging environment, but it also allows a lot of flexibility in deck construction. And it’s a fun bunch of people.

I’ll run an article on one of my better-tested decks from time to time, with the thinking behind the deck and how it’s worked out in practice.

6 thoughts on “Our Monday Night Magic Metagame”

  1. Makes me wish I rather had my original decks around then. Nothing like those fire direct damage decks complete with lotuses etc.

    Though I agree with the host, those get boring. It’s an exercise in shuffling after a while.

    *shuffle* *deal* *show hand* did you win? nope. guess I win. 🙂

    I also played l5r for way too long.

  2. I really liked L5R – at the time, it was a better game than Magic. They adopted the stack and related timing rules years before Magic, and they had multiple viable ways of winning (even today, you win games of Magic by killing all your opponents; it’s very rare to deck people or poison them out). It was also designed for multi-player games from Day 1. I also liked the story aspects and clan-based themes (while Magic had Lord of Atlantis and Goblin King in its first expansion, it took years before they produced enough cards for tribal themes).

    The company behind L5R also had a solid policy about reprinting key powerful cards (most notably, the clan Swords) which made it a lot easier to start playing with people who might have been playing for a lot longer than you. It might still be a better game; I stopped playing it about a year after I stopped playing Magic when the play-group disintegrated, but I think it’s still around. They’ve branched into role-playing games in that world and I know that’s still going.

  3. I saw my big box of Collectible Card Games in the garage just the other day. I imagine that all my L5R cards are in there somewhere. When I started playing Magic, the folks I played tended towards multi-player games. For that environment, L5R was strictly-speaking a better game, partly because there were more ways to win, and partly because the “Rare” cards tended not to be the most powerful.

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