Hey people, welcome back!
If you’ve been playing Magic for as long as I have, you’ll probably have noticed that things might get stale after some time. There are times when nobody manages to build new decks, no matter if it’s due to time constraints or “builder’s block” or whatever. The result of this is that you keep running into the same decks again and again – something that might become boring at a certain point. So what can you do if people don’t build new decks to shake things up? Is there something else that can be changed or modified to make your games more interesting again?
You bet there is! Magic is a game with a highly complex system of rules which allows for a lot of variance. And one way to make your Magic evenings interesting and fun again is to play alternative formats. There are so many different formats that it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one that’s to your liking. However, I’ll make it easy for you and just introduce you to a multiplayer format different from Free-for-All. Ladies and Gentlemen, today we’ll talk about Attack Left / Attack Right.
As the name already suggests, this format restricts who you are allowed attack. Basically, you are only permitted to have your creatures attack a person sitting directly next to you, and only one of them, depending on which direction you chose at the beginning of the game. So if you are in a four-players game, the person on the other side of the table across from you is off limits as long as there is someone between you. As soon as you defeat a player, you can attack the next person around the circle. You win if you are the last one standing.
This is the foundation of the format, and it’s not hard to grasp, is it? However, there are a few aspects you should talk about with your playgroup before you begin.
1. The spell range
So you can only attack your immediate neighbor? Okay. But what about your spells? Or abilities of permanents you control? Can they also only target or affect your neighbors and their permanents, or do they count for the other players too? In my playgroup, we’ve played both versions and found that we prefer a spell range of 1, meaning that spells and abilities can only affect the players next to you and what they control. This means that something like Wrath of God or Seizan, Perverter of Truth will always only hit or work for three players (which can lead to some very hard decisions and equally funny plays). In contrast, if you play without a spell range and everything is free game, the games tend to become a bit more political as it’s easier to support others. For example, if you want to keep a player alive because he or she functions as a buffer between you and a horde of elves, you could Path to Exile the Elves player’s Elvish Archdruid to weaken his offense in order to keep him from stomping all over your neighbor.
This is a multiplayer format where planeswalkers can finally regain some of their glory from duels as by default there is always only one player who can attack them. So yeah, planeswalkers are a lot more powerful here than in Free-for-All, and this could lead to them totally dominating a game which might not be to everybody’s liking. So how about introducing a house rule that allows players to attack any planeswalker on the battlefield, no matter who controls them? It all depends on your preferences, of course.
And that’s basically it. It doesn’t sound like much but believe me, it’s totally different from the usual multiplayer Free-for-All!
Different Format, Different Decks
Do you know what’s best about this format? It allows for completely new decks! You can play cards that would suck in normal multiplayer games but have the potential to be all-stars here. Or how about ideas that are normally far too dangerous to convert into a deck?
What, you don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, have a look:
MULTIPLAYER MADNESS XV – Here, Have Some Creatures!
Huh? What’s going on here?
Well, your early game involves casting spells that give creatures to an opponent. But not any opponent, no. Cast Sleeper Agent and Hunted Phantasm to provide the neighbor you are to attack with a small army. Never give them to the opponent who has to attack you! In Free-for-All, I normally wouldn’t give any creatures to my opponents because you can never know when these dudes might come your way, but here it’s not a problem as they cannot attack me. Also, most of my creatures have some form of evasion, rendering the creatures I gave away completely useless as blockers against me. Sleeper Agent is a particularly mean girl as she’s a 3/3 for only one mana who makes her controller lose 2 life every turn. This way, for as long as she doesn’t get blocked, you paid only a single black mana to basically deal 5 damage every turn. Talk about value! Hunted Phantasm works similarly in that it provides an opponent with a few attackers – and make no mistake, those goblins are going to attack. Why? Because it makes no sense to keep them back! They can’t block the phantasm anyway, right? So in general, what you do is bolster one player’s attack force without weakening your own offensive capabilities. And in Forbidden Orchard you even have a land that supports your plan. If that isn’t cool, I don’t know what is!
I generally tried to use cards that are good on defense and on offense. For example, Dungeon Geists nullifies a potential attacker while taking chunks out of another player’s life total. The same is true for Shriekmaw if your opponents don’t play black. In the same vein, Callous Oppressor steals something that poses a problem and adds it to your own army. Just make sure that you have the player you are attacking choose the creature type so that you can kill two birds with one stone and steal something from the neighbor who is attacking you in order to threaten your other neighbor with it. This is a very important aspect of Attack Left / Right – playing cards that can play both offensive and defensive roles. You’ll see that there are quite a few cards in this deck that can do both, like Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief and Dread. Drana can dish out lots damage while protecting you from aggressive beaters at the same time, and Dread is a giant roadblock for anyone who wants to kill you with creatures that even has a situational form of evasion! And then there is Evil Twin. Seriously, has there ever been a Magic card with a more appropriate name? “What’s that, you have a Drogskol Reaver? Cool, now I have one, too! And look, yours is now dead while I keep mine. Aw, I’m sooo sorry!”
Well, since we cannot rely on our opponents to cast creatures that let us draw cards if we copy them, we play Bloodgift Demon. In a pinch, this demon can even kill a player who is very low on life without having to attack. And yes, this means that you can sometimes take out an opponent you aren’t even allowed to attack! Another source of card draw is Jace Beleren. The first version of blue’s iconic planeswalker has been all but forgotten, but he is quite powerful in Attack Left / Right. When he comes down, games tend to develop their very own dynamics as he usually excludes at least one player from drawing a card – if you play with a spell range, that is. The implications of activating his +2 ability are interesting. On the one hand, you strengthen the position of the player you have to kill, thus continuing the work of Sleeper Agent and Hunted Phantasm but on a different level. On the other hand, you assist the player who has to attack you which, even though it might not always be what you want, can help to keep those opponents in check who aren’t sitting next to you. And lastly, Jace provides you with another angle of attack – his ultimate can kill a player if you don’t have sufficient resources to get at them otherwise.
Next up is Evacuation, a very important card with multiple uses. First, it can gain you a lot of time if your aggressor has to replay all of his or her creatures. Secondly, it gives you another use out of Sleeper Agent and Hunted Phantasm. And thirdly, it can completely blow out your aggressor if they suddenly find themselves without blockers to protect them from the elven horde…
Okay, let’s get tricky. Have you ever used Willbender? No? In that case, let me just say that this guy is the epitome of annoying. Removal is bound to come your way, and nothing feels as satisfying as pointing it at something else. “No, your Terminate is not going to kill my Drana. Daniel’s Pelakka Wurm, though, that he has been attacking me with…”
Alright, people, let’s talk Reins of Power. Or actually, let’s not. Find out for yourselves what this card is capable of. I’ll just say this much: If you don’t kill other players with it, you’re doing something very wrong. Oh, and there are direct and indirect ways of killing somebody. Just saying.
Another card that allows for shenanigans is the brand-new Domineering Will from Commander 2014.
That leaves Recoil as a temporary catch-all answer to all permanents and Pongify as pinpoint removal. I’m always on the verge of cutting the latter as there have been a few occasions where I needed to get rid of an attacker without actually handing out a new one. But then, there have also been those cool plays where it destroyed something like an Intrepid Hero that prevented me from casting my Drana while it simultaneously provided that opponent with another beater that he could attack his other neighbor with. I’m torn, but for now it stays.
So, dear readers, this is it for today. What do you say, do you like the format? And how about that deck? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Until next time then, may you never confuse left with right!