Thursday, 3 June 2010

Archenemy - The "Deckbuilder's Toolbox" for EDH players?

Take a look around you. Do you see all those guys (and some girls) grouped together? They're playing multiplayer. How do you know? Well, because it's the "Summer of Multiplayer", of course! What else would they be doing? Wizards have decided to regale us with a continuous stream of additional product since the beginning of last year. We've had Duel Decks (Goblins & Elves, Jace & Chandra, Garruk & Liliana, Phyrexia & the Coalition and soon Elsbeth & Tezzeret), we've had From the Vaults (Exiled & Dragons with Relics following this summer), we've had foil boosters (mixed Alara Block), Premium Decks (Slivers) and, of course, Planechase. That's a lot of additional product on top of the usual 4 set releases. Why are we getting all of this extra stuff?

The basic idea behind it is to generate interest in the game above and beyond the release of a new set. All products are not going to appeal to all players equally so, while you may not care about Slivers, you may be really excited about Relics. And, if neither of those interests you, there's surely another product in addition to the base set and the current block that you can go into your shop and order or pre-order. And the best thing about all of this stuff?

Each product is mostly produced with existing ideas with an added hook: In Planechase it was a Multiplayer concept, in the Duel decks it's foil Planeswalkers or other interesting cards married with iconic rares from previous sets. In FTV we've seen product that's generally hard to get your hands on repackaged, foiled and sometimes furnished with new art all sold together at a very attractive MSRP. For the summer of 2010 and riding the huge popularity wave that EDH has generated for multiplayer games, Wizards have come up with an exciting concept to follow on from the chaos-filled Planechase and that is Archenemy.

What is Archenemy? It's a set of 4 different boxes with a 4 different 60 card decks each built to a theme and accompanied by 20 "Scheme" cards. The idea is simple: You take the deck provided, gather a few friends and they work together, as a team, to try to kill you. You have the advantage of starting with 40 life rather than the usual 20 and you go first, drawing on your first turn. In addition, at the start of each of your turns, you turn over a Scheme card from the top of the Scheme pile and carry out the instructions on it. You draw extra cards, you deal damage, there's lots of fun things you can do that your team of opponents need to find a way around.

Now, I can see a couple of you scratching your heads as if you've seen all this before. Well, it should if you're ever dabbled in either the DC/Marvel Vs System or WOW TCGs, this product is a very close clone of their "Raid" deck: One Vs Many with oversized action cards that benefit the "One" to be turned over at the start of each turn. The fact that Wizards are bringing out 4 versions at once suggests that the product they are providing, while not necessarily a walk in the park, may be less Machiavellian than the twisted Raids that UDE served up. Then again, I may be wrong and we're in for a torrid season of trying and failing to beat the Undead Apocalypse, Doomsday Machine or whatever.

What's our interest as EDH players in this, or any, additional product aside from simply playing it out of the box? Well, it reminds me strikingly of another additional products that Wizards released not too long ago called "The Deckbuilder's Toolbox". This is an expert level product designed to provide beginners with a card base wide and relevant enough to construct the bones of a Standard/Type 2 deck. It's not something that I would suggest to someone starting out in EDH and looking for EDH staples, the random nature of the contents and the very nature of EDH decks spanning the history of Magic doesn't suggest that, unless you are very, very lucky, you're not going to be using it as a base to start your EDH decks.

Archenemy, however, is an entirely different affair. You know what you're getting for a start so you can purchase your product tailored to your particular deck needs, but, more importantly, the quality of the content all the way down from Rare to Common is so high for a player with a limited collection trying to get into EDH that the entire Archenemy set, all 4 decks, is something that I would recommend collection impoverished EDH hopefuls to consider acquiring very seriously. The number of playable EDH cards is extremely high. Let's have a look at what I consider the weakest of the decks EDH-wise and see how it measures up.

Scorch The World With Dragonfire

1 Skirk Marauder
1 Taurean Mauler
1 Fierce Empath
2 Dragonspeaker Shaman
1 Skirk Commando
1 Battering Craghorn
2 Dragon Whelp
2 Furnace Whelp
1 Chameleon Colossus
1 Gathan Raiders
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
1 Flameblast Dragon
1 Hellkite Charger
1 Two-Headed Dragon
1 Imperial Hellkite
1 Kilnmouth Dragon

2 Gruul Signet
1 Breath of Darigaaz
1 Dragon Breath
2 Dragon Fodder
1 Colossal Might
2 Seething Song
1 Volcanic Fallout
2 Branching Bolt
1 Fires of Yavimaya
1 Thran Dynamo
1 Chandra’s Outrage
1 Fireball
1 Savage Twister

LANDS (24)
17 Mountain
5 Forest
2 Kazandu Refuge

Ok, we have a Dragon theme happening here. This is the weakest deck for me because, if your thing is not Dragons, there's less outside of the flappy, scaled, fire-breathing reptiles in this deck that you'll want to put into your EDH decks. If Dragon's are your thing, then there's a lot of good happening here. Let's look at them and their related cards first:

2 Dragonspeaker Shaman
2 Dragon Whelp
2 Furnace Whelp
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
1 Flameblast Dragon
1 Hellkite Charger
1 Two-Headed Dragon
1 Imperial Hellkite
1 Kilnmouth Dragon

Little Dragons, Big Dragons, guys that make your dragons cheaper; we're pretty happy with this lot. There's even a potential general in there, the Legendary Ryusei making an appearance. In a dedicated EDH Dragon deck, I could see cutting the Whelps but I wouldn't fault anyone for including all the other 7 cards.

1 Skirk Marauder
1 Gathan Raiders
1 Skirk Commando
1 Battering Craghorn

Next we have a confusing sub-theme of morph dudes. I'm sure you could get a Gathan Raiders into a dedicated aggro deck but the rest aren't great (neither in EDH nor any other multiplayer deck to be honest)

1 Taurean Mauler
1 Fierce Empath
1 Chameleon Colossus

Rounding out the creatures are 3 multiplayer all-stars: Taurean Mauler is a dumb beast but he's also a dumb Dragon, dumb Goblin, dumb Elf or whatever you want him to be, Sailor! [insert inappropriate joke here. Oh, I already did!] He grows with each spell cast and, if he's not dealt with early, can become quite the monster. Sure, he was in Planechase so the reprint is not as exciting as it could be, but that doesn't change his usefullness. If you're playing red and have a creature slot free, the Mauler is a real threat.

Fierce Empath is a 1/1 for 3, not a good deal by any means, but he is also a tutor for fat dudes which explains his presence beside the Dragon Hordes here. If you're suing him elsewhere, he also finds Beasts, Elementals or any other fat thing you need; he's not biased, he just loves the fat.

And Chamelion Colossus? Wow! A chase rare from Lorwyn and holder of the largest single recorded EDH creature win of all time? Yes! I'll have one of those. He's got Pro-black, that's very relevant. He's a Changeling, which means he's everything else as well. And finally he doubles his P/T for 2GG as many times as you want, what's not to like?

Just a note on the price, the MSRP for this product is $19.99. I've seen sites offer this on pre-order for as low as $15.00. I took a random popular game site and checked out the prices on these singles. Excluding the little morph suite and taking the worst condition/lowest price on just the other 15 cards we've seen so far, my best price is €21.65 so, even before you leave the creatures section of this deck and obv. excluding the Scheme cards, you are up on what the originals of these cards are available for. From this point on, each card you see in this deck is essentially free. Sure, you'd have to have wanted to buy exactly these cards in the first place to gain full value, but the point stands that what you're getting is well below the current market value.

The rest of the deck is not terribly exciting from an EDH pov., thus the "worst of the lot" moniker I'm giving plastering on but you do get Gruul Signet, Volcanic Fallout, Fires of Yavimaya, Thran Dynamo (a $3 uncommon) & Savage Twister all of which are very playable in EDH.

Overall, if you're a fan of Dragons and want to add some + benefits to your EDH deck for very little, this is a product you will get a lot of milage out of. Personally, I'm not a fan of Dragons but, I'll happily add them to my collection as trade fodder while creaming off Thran Dynamo, Chameleon Colossus, Fierce Empath for EDH and a Skirk Marauder for my C/U Cube.

Why don't we work ourselves upwards in terms of power? Next on the list is our plans to Trample Civilisation Underfoot:

1 Leaf Gilder
2 Sakura Tribe Elder
1 Shinen of Life's Roar
2 Wall of Roots
1 Watchwolf
1 Selesnya Guildmage
2 Fertilid
1 Hunting Moa
2 Yavimaya Dryad
1 Forgotten Ancient
1 Thelonite Hermit
2 Wickerbough Elder
1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
1 Verdeloth the Ancient
1 Pale Recluse
1 Krosan Tusker
1 Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer
1 Feral Hydra

1 Fog
1 Rancor
1 Spider Umbra
1 Path to Exile
1 Gleeful Sabotage
1 Plummet
1 Heroes' Reunion
2 Oblivion Ring
1 Armadillo Cloak
1 Harmonize
1 Primal Command
1 Wax/Wane

LANDS (24)
10 Forest
5 Plains
1 Graypelt Refuge
1 Khalni Garden
1 Krosan Verge
1 Llanowar Reborn
1 Mosswort Bridge
1 Nantuko Monastery
1 Secluded Steppe
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree

Of the 38 non-basic land cards listed here that have already been released, I currently play 23 of them in various EDH decks. That's 60% of this deck. There's a good handful of G & W staples from Path to Exile (now a ridiculous $6 online) to Sakura Tribe Elder, Wall of Roots, Krosan Tusker, Harmonize (another $2) and Rancor and this is before you get anywhere near more theme-driven cards like the Saproling generators, specialist lands or even the rares. Yes, I haven't mentioned a single rare from this deck yet and already you have a ton of playables!

Forgotten Ancient is another excellent multiplayer card (though again, like the Taurean Mauler, less exciting for being a Planechase reprint), Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is a house for any sort of token- or high creature-count deck like Elves and he even doubles as a rattlesnake against Wrath effects (if you keep a number of green mana open, you can respond to a Wrath of God effect by turning an opponent's lands into 1/1 creatures thus sealing their doom when the Wrath of God resolves.) Oh, he's a potential General too as he is Legendary.

Once again, this deck is for players who weren't about for all of these sets and really want to find a bunch of solid G/W staples for EDH without selling the rest of their collection. Just the Path to Exile pushes the market value of this deck well above the MSRP and the unamed commons and uncommons aren't slouches either. There's really very little that you can't play in EDH from this deck and that's a pretty big stamp of approval.

We've had a Dragon-themed deck packed full of value and a Saproling-themed deck packed full of solid G/W EDH staples, what does the Undead Apocalypse have in store for us apart from, you know, BbbrrrAAAAiiinnnsss!?

1 Festering Goblin
1 Dregscape Zombie
1 Reassembling Skeleton
1 Rakdos Guildmage
1 Bog Witch
1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Avatar of Discord
2 Infectious Horror
1 Corpse Connoisseur
1 Shriekmaw
2 Twisted Abomination
1 Extractor Demon
1 Kaervek the Merciless
1 Avatar of Woe
1 Vampiric Dragon
1 Scion of Darkness
1 Artisan of Kozilek


1 Reanimate
2 Rakdos Signet
1 Zombie Infestation
2 Sign in Blood
2 Terminate
1 Infest
1 Makeshift Mannequin
1 Zombify
1 Inferno Trap
1 Torrent of Souls
1 Beacon of Unrest
1 Incremental Blight
1 Bituminous Blast


13 Swamp
7 Mountain
2 Barren Moor
2 Rakdos Carnarium

Ok, a little aside before I dive into this decklist; one card that you won't have recognised here is Reassembling Skeleton and, if you were paying attention, you should have noticed Plummet and Chandra's Outrage from the first two decks. Add in the Sorcerer's Strongbox from the last list and you have a couple of spoilers for a future set. We're pretty sure that these are all in M11 so watch out for them. The reason I didn't go into this for teh first two cards is that, really, they are not too exciting:

Plummet 1G Instant
Destroy target creature with flying

Chandra's Outrage 2RR Instant
~ deals 4 damage to target creature and 2 damage to that creatures controller

Sorcerer's Strongbox 4 Artifact
2,T: Flip a coin. If you win the flip, sacrifice ~ and draw three cards.

However, it's Reassembling Skeleton that's capturing the imagination on the forums:

Reassembling Skeleton 1B
Creature - Skeleton Warrior 1/1
1B: Return ~ from your Graveyard to the battlefield tapped.

A 1/1 for 1B is not all that exciting but at any time it's in your graveyard, for an additional 1B, you can bring it back into play tapped. At the end of your opponent's turn is usually a good time. What really has the creative juices flowing, however, is that this little monster has built in reanimation reducing the need for a cog in a combo that revolves creatures rotating out of the graveyard and onto the battlefield multiple times. Less cards means more efficiency and generally more deck-space for protection or redundancy. We'll see what this guy ends up becomming. Back to the deck we have a cornucoppia of black and red reanimation, huge beasts and generally good multiplayer cards:

The ability on Urborg Syphon-Mage, like Avatar of Discord's additinal cost, requires a discard to work. Generally the discard is a disadvantage but when you're discarding a monster to be reanimated by Artisan of Kozilek, Reanimate, Makeshift Mannequin, Zombify, Torrent of Souls or Beacon of Unrest or the damage trigger on Scion of Darkness, well, you can probably live with that kind of "disadvantage". And when the card you're discarding is a Shriekmaw, Twisted Abomination, Extractor Demon, Kaervek the Merciless, Avatar of Woe, Vampiric Dragon or Scion of Darkness, well all the more reason to take advantage of and dump those guys right in there. If you don't have them in hand Corpse Connoisseur gets them directly into the graveyard for you.

Need more discard outlets? How about Zombie Infestation? Your Cemetery Reaper boosts the Zombies you make and can scavenge the various graveyards around the table to deny opponents graveyard resouces while building your own army. Oh and you also have some very playable utility in Rakdos Signet, Sign in Blood, Terminate, Infest & Bituminous Blast. That's easily 23 EDH playable cards, some in multiples, that feature here. It's a beast as it stands and cannibalised for B/r EDH decks it's easy to see a huge number of very playable cards. You're getting reanimation, control, zombies, beaters, this is just an excellent product. There's even a Dragon, if that's your thing!

In terms of monetary value? Just the uncommon Reanimate alone is worth $7. Avatar of Woe (I still can't believe she's in here, this is so excellent!!) brings our total to $15 and almost any one of the remaining rares brings us to within touching distance of the MSRP. That's 3-4 out of 40 non basic-land cards in this deck. This is the skeleton that an excellent B/r (or mono-B) EDH deck will be built and, guess what, there's an extra bonus round: We get a free general! Kaervek the Merciless!

Wow, how can Assembling the Doomsday Machine even hope to follow that? So far we've had R/G Dragons, G/W tokens, B/R Reanimator, now it's the turn of BLUE!! Or, maybe I should whisper "blue" because that's one colour that is not getting the love in Archenemy [strange as Blue seems to be the colour that everyone hates and loves to beat up on!] Assembling the Doomsday Machine is a WUB deck with a very strong artifact theme:

1 Metallurgeon
1 Ethersworn Shieldmage
1 Juggernaut
1 Lodestone Golem
1 Synod Centurion
1 Leonin Abunas
2 Sanctum Gargoyle
1 Master Transmuter
1 Architects of Will
1 Duplicant
1 Magister Sphinx
1 Memnarch
1 Sundering Titan

1 Everflowing Chalice
2 AEther Spellbomb
1 Synod Sanctum
1 Azorius Signet
1 Dimir Signet
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Sun Droplet
1 Batwing Brume
2 Agony Warp
1 Obelisk of Esper
1 Thunderstaff
1 Fieldmist Borderpost
1 Mistvein Borderpost
1 Unmake
1 Skullcage
1 Sorcerer's Strongbox
1 March of the Machine
1 Unbender Tine
1 Spin into Myth
1 Dreamstone Hedron

7 Plains
10 Island
5 Swamp
2 Terramorphic Expanse

Em, wow much? What this deck lacks in Archenemy synergy in comparison to the Reanimator deck (I'd put this on par with the first two above) it more than makes up in power-artifact rares. If you've not been keeping count, each deck had 8 rares, generally creatures (the G/W has a rare land and the reanimator has the rare and excellent Beacon of Unrest) this is the case again here with 7 of the 8 sporting a P/T:

1 Lodestone Golem
1 Leonin Abunas
1 Master Transmuter
1 Duplicant
1 Magister Sphinx
1 Memnarch
1 Sundering Titan
1 March of the Machines

Now, when I say "power-artifact rares", for once I'm not talking about their monetary value because this deck actually lags behind in the value stakes: the 8 rares don't meet the MSRP and the uncommons & commons, while decent enough in this deck, aren't going to empty the pocket. This is one product where you get only a little more than what you're paying for and adding the packaging and Scheme cards. What this deck does offer you is the chance to buy everything together in one packet rather than shopping about to find individual cards. Another thing about this deck is that it pulls from the latest two blocks quite heavily, so new players who have been playing since the beginning of Shards of Alara, may even have some of these cards, slightly less incentive again.

What you do get however, you can play in EDH, from the rares at least and a few of the remaining cards too. In fact, two of these cards are at the centre of numerous complaints about their power level (Sundering Titan & Magister Sphinx) and a third, Memnarch is the subject or repeated petitions to be allowed as a general, currently to no avail. His exclusion from the ranks of general don't decrease his potency, he can completely dominate a table given enough support. All in all the deck has great cards but is not in the same league as Bring about the Undead Apocalypse.

All in all, each of these deck has something for EDH players looking for specific cards to fill out their decks and a whole lot more for newer players who don't have a huge collection and are seriously looking into getting into EDH without spending a fortune. Quite apart from their value to me personally, I've a decent sized collection, one or two newer players in my group will be looking to pick up one or more of these "EDH base packs" as the bones of their first steps into EDH deckbuilding. To date only the "Premium Deck: Slivers" has offered this step up into EDH though in a much more restricted manner (you have to like Slivers!) Not being able to choose Memnarch as your general tarnishes the obvious desire by Wizards to include a playable Legend in each deck, but he is playable (and strong!) and the other 3 are very valid candidates to lead your EDH army.

Product rating: Top Banana!! Even if the "Scheme"/Archenemy side of the product flops totally (and I don't think it will) this is a quality, value-for-money product that casual players everywhere will appreciate. Good job!

So that's the decks. What about the actual product Archenemy and it's relation to EDH? I touched briefly on the possibility of making my "Ta-Daa!!" (Thada Adel) deck into a dedicated EDH Archenemy deck. Like Planechance, I can really see the possibilities that Archenemy can bring to eth EDH experience but, as yet, that only the theory. I look forward to the practise!

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

NPEs - Scraping the Gloss off with a Wire Brush

This is a tale of two decks.

This is a tale of two games.

And this is also a tale of two games that someone found to be very NPE (Negative Play Experiences)

Tuesday evening I got a baby-sitting pass as the good lady went out to a concert with her lady friends. Once the fatherly duties were finished, I was free to sling some cardboard with 4 other guys invited expressly for that purpose. Benoit & Arnaud#2 showed up first sporting Major Teroh/Soldiers and GAAIV/Control respectively and there were quickly followed by Antoine playing Thraximundar/Annoyances and Marc with his new "Vampire!" deck. There was some quick re-sleeving to get Anowon, the Ruin Sage into place at the head of Marc's army (though, in retrospect the Ascendant Evincar he had originally would have much more of an impact across more games than Anowon. We pointed this out afterwards and he'll probably change it. ROWR! Go Vamps!)

Facing this onslaught, I played my mono-blue artifact monstrousity "TA-DAA!!" (Thada Adel). A quick note on the deck: I've made changes to it recently, the most notible being the inclusion of Spawnsire of Ulamog. The intention was to eventually go for the 20 point shot and bring out a swarm of Eldrazi. Unfortunatly, with the recent rules change disallowing this, I have integrated the 3 legendary Eldrazi & It That Betrays to the deck. I had intended to cut the Spawnsire itself but forgot to do so before playing, something which I intend to do soon, adding it in most likely for Gather Specimens as a foil to Grave Pact.

You can see our merry group of player's here (From the left: Marc playing "Vampires!", Benoit in red playing Major Teroh/Soldiers, Arnaud top left playing GAAIV and the back of Antoine's head (he of card alter fame), bottom right of the pic. Antoine was playing Thraximundar/Annoyances.)

I had a decent opening hand into a turn 3 Vedalken Archmage. The additional draws got me an Expedition Map which got me a Tolarian Academy. With Darksteel Forge protecting my artifacts and no Wastelands in sight, a couple of turns and some artifacts later, the legendary land and Minamo, School at Water's Edge got me enough mana to drop Eye of Ugin, tutor for Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and play her even working around the in-play Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. It was about turn 7 and the game had taken an hour to get to that point. An hour of saying "TA-DAA!!" every time you play a spell can get a little old. ;o)

Here's a quick shot of my board coming up to the end of the game.

GAAIV has a Mystical Tutor that he has flashed but not played so he's an obvious candidate to be Annihilated as he can just fetch a Wrath of God effect. Major Teroh is also sporting some annoying Wrath effects and "Vampires!" has an Icy Manipulator on the table, though it's effectiveness is restricted by Minamo, School at Water's Edge being able to untap Emrakul. I decide to work counter-clockwise around the table and hit GAAIV to destroy his board. He is left with no permanents and essentialy ends the game as an observer. I can see he's not too happy about it and I offer that we go to game 2 but the table thinks it can deal with Emrakul and play continues.

I attack Major Teroh next and, after a few turns wearing him down, he's next to leave. In the same turn I kill him I play back-to-back Ulamog & Kozilek with It that Betrays already in play. One is countered but now there's a critical mass of Eldrazi and a lot less in the way of allies to help fight against them and the game disolves. One of the last few plays from Marc, the "Vampires!" player, is exiling Emrakul with an Oubliette, just to show that he could and, I have to say, Journey to Nowhere in black is generally not what you expect and is an excellent anti-Emrakul card. Cudeos for the cool play!

So, the outcome of the game was a win for the Eldrazi but a loss for fun, because one player was pretty much iced on turn 6-7, another scrabbled in vain not to be overrun and there was little that could be done by the remaining players to stem the tide. Despite being a couple of cards short of where I'd eventually like it to end up, the deck still man-handled the table playing loosely. Sure, everyone enjoyed playing Magic but there was a feeling of enevitability about the outcome from very early on and the game culminated in the sum of all it's fears as player after player fell powerless before it. (Sorry for the flowery rhetoric, I'm building up to something. Work with me!)

What am I going to do with this monster?

The same thing we do every night, Pinky: TRY AND TAKE OVER THE WORLD!!

Wizards are releasing a new product this month in support of their "Summer of Multiplayer" called Archenemy. In a twist on the traditional multiplayer teams, attack left, pentagon, chaos or any of the other popular variants, this product supports a Hero (or Evil Genius) going up against a host of enemies. One of the decks on offer is "Assembling the Doomsday Machine" which, during the game last night, I felt I was doing already. Now that's a concept I can get behind: Eldrazi making you weaker, making me stronger! Taking over the world!! MMMWWWAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!


I have no idea if it will work but I'm willing to give it a try. Just even announcing the flavour texts on the Scheme cards while doing my best "Brain - Evil Genius" impression is definitely a dream to be lived at least once and, if I get to trample the weak & meek with huge Eldrazi, well, what of it? I'm an evil genius! I'm going to talk more about Archenemy once the last deck is spoiled, but it looks like it's a set made with EDH players firmly in mind.

Shuffling up for the second game, I wanted to diffuse some of the ill-will and rather than re-playing "TA-DAA!!" or bringing out Rafiq, I had a rummage and found I had a full Phelddagrif deck so I pulled it out. If I can help some people do some fun and extravigant stuff, then everyone will appreciate it, right?

Em, maybe.

Seats and decks around the rest of the table remained as they were and we got underway for round two.

Major Teroh didn't buy the whole "I have a Group Hug deck, I'm nice, don't attack me" line and started out attacking yours truely. At this point I predicted that Major Teroh would turn out to be the eventual victor, he has a way of just pulling games out of the fire and defeating opponents in one fell swoop and I didn't fancy my chances of stopping him. The others were understandibly happy to let him have is way. My slow land start eventually developped into an Iwamori of the Open Fist (which netted zero other legends) and a Wall of Denial which I then hid behind for a few turns. My next significant play was Hive Mind which stayed until the end and ultimately resulted in the game ending play.

Now, I don't know if you have any personal experience with Hive Mind, but it's not the huggy-touchy-feely card it makes itself out to be. Probably the worst interaction is the win condition of Hive Mind + Pact: All of the pacts are free to cast so once you have Hive Mind in play you're free to throw any one, or multiples, of them out. Hive Mind's copy effect is not optional, it's obligatory, so everyone gets a Pact to put onto the stack. The Pacts cause you to lose the game if you don't pay their upkeep cost however, if your general is not in that colour, you can't generate the mana to pay the cost and you lose the game. That's a pretty low play and obviously not what a Group Hug deck runs. Only thing is, when you have Hive Mind in play, it doesn't account for other players running Pacts. Even if one player pays for the pact, the chances are that you've thinned the field enough to win in some other way quite quickly.

Luckily enough, this wasn't the case for us, our problem was more one of scale.

The second issue with Hive Mind is that every effect is magnified, causing a huge imbalance towards board control effects. Wrath of God is still Wrath of God even if it's copied 4 times however, a creature like Reveillark, which would usually net you a creature or two after a Wrath of God effect, now nets you a creature or two after the last copy on the stack resolves and you subsequently lose them both when the second-to-last copy resolves. No, the bigger problem is more the smaller spells. Doom Blade now kills up to 5 non-black creatures ("up to" because two players can target the same creature with their copy and the second will fizzle), Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile now exile up to 5 creatures, Innocent Blood becomes a Wrath of God for {B} and so on. And very soon the game dissolves into ways of trying to keep creatures in play or winning through other means.

Hive Mind is also not a good card for decks that like to counter things as all the counterspells get copied too and the chances are that one of the original spells will slip through the blanket of Counterspell flak that Hive Mind automatically generates. Obviously the player playing the original spell wants it to resolve so it's more than likely that he will direct his own copy of the counterspell towards another copy of the counterspell, thus ensuring that their spell resolves.

The Group Hug concept is to help other players: Give target player some life, give another target player some cards, everyone puts one or multiple permanents into play for free (though the deck should probably be called "escalation" rather than "Group Hug"!), but it's also true that "you can get too much of a good thing" and with Hive Mind, giving someone else too much of a good thing can kill you, and everyone else, just as easily.

Now, I have to take a moment to slap the Major Teroh player on the wrist because he had the foresight to pack a Seal of Cleansing and run it out early enough. He could have stopped the madness at any time. He didn't. He chose to kill an Underworld Dreams so he could keep drawing cards painlessly and this is the sort of action that could lead to you winning the game but not necessarily very many friends!

Bad boy!

Thraximundar thought it would be a good idea to play a Mind Funeral and everyone got targetted by the copies losing anywhere up to 20 cards into their graveyards. Vision Skeins and Truce got played, Hive Mind copying them both, filling up hands and, at EOT, graveyards. "Vampires!" then decided that he preferred the creatures in his graveyard to those he had in play and played a Living Death (though, to be fair to him, Thraximundar was about to do the same thing).

You know the moment at the top of the fairground ride where everything pauses for a moment and you have this peacefull pause before you start the terrifying downhill descent which either ends up in shrieks of excitement or the guy in the front seat regurgitating his burger and fries all over the passengers in the cars behind him? Well, Living Death on the stack with a Hive Mind in play is one of those moments.

Just resolving the 4 copies and 1 original Living Death took the best part of 45 minutes, some time during which there was a debate about the comes into play interaction of Kor Skyfisher and a Parallax Wave and how the triggers could be stacked to permanently remove creatures from the game (just fyi: in this situation they can't), Tempting Wurm was dumping hands into play and we had additional CIP triggers from 7 or 8 creatures, leaves play triggers from Reveillark and goes to grave graveyard triggers from Noble Benefactor, Veteran Explorer and Deathgreeter. And when we were done resolving the first, it was time to start again and repeat everything another 4 times.

Somewhere in the middle of it all we lost our Grand Arbiter player to complete incomprehension and confusion. I can't blame him.

When the dust finally settled, "Vampires!" passed the turn to Major Teroh who played a Reverent Mantra for black on his army and took the "Vampires!" out of the game. Not sure if it was in revenge for the Living Death turn but it was pretty final! He passed the turn to GAAIV, who simply drew and passed, completely disenchanted by the complexity of the previous 45 minutes.

With a hand of 14 cards hand and a Windfall, I was in a position to finish the game and, given the potential for everything to drag out significantly, I decided to do so. The game ended though, due to a slight oversight on my part, I managed to give the victory to Major Teroh. You see Hive Mind copied Windfall 3 times. GAAIV's copy resolved first and we discarded and drew 14 each. Major Teroh's copy then resolved with the same effect. We then resolved Thraximunder's copy resulting in GAAIV, Thraximundar and myself being decked. At this point each of our spells are removed from the stack and Major Teroh is the only one left standing with a mere 3 cards left in his library. My prediction that he would pull out an unlikely victory turned out to be accurate after all!

So, some fun was had, that's for sure. Brains aren't designed for 5 Living Deaths at midnight after a long day of work and this left everyone with a pretty dazed impression of the game and, in one case, complete bewilderment. Between being on the receiving end of an Emrakul in game 1 and having "the turn of the 5 Living Deaths" inflicted upon him in game 2, I think that GAAIV ended up not fully enjoying his evening of Magic.

So what do we take from this and where do we go from here?

Of course big plays should still be actively rewarded and attempted and generally those plays mean that someone (everyone?) is going to be on the receiving end of a lot of magical hurt. I think I'll re-align "TA-DAA!!" into my Archenemy deck as I said and try to avoid inflicting it on the unprepared.

What about Hive Mind in my Group Torture deck? I may leave it in. There's a possibility that it will draw enough hate to nullify the worst ravages or players will be a little more careful running out huge spells if they are aware that everything will happen multiple times.

As for our GAAIV player, I think he needs a deck that he has built himself, where he knows what everything does and where he can best influence the game. We've told him as much and I think he sees how he can feel more implicated. As to being crushed by the Eldrazi?

Well, there's only so much I can do about that!