In my EDH column last week, one of the subjects I didn’t get into was the politics of playing multiplayer Magic. This is partly because it’s something that’s applicable to other non-EDH formats, but also because it’s a topic worthy of discussion on it’s own. While I’m writing this from a Magic-based perspective, I think the concepts I’m going to present could be applicable to other card, board, and video games that allow multiple players.
Multiplayer politics is almost a game within a game. There are no turns or set rules, but you can definitely win and lose. If you want to win at the multiplayer games you’re playing, you’ll need to consider politics as part of your general strategy. So, without further adieu, here are some of the concepts I think are the most important:
Know your role.
In the formative stages of overall Magic strategy discussion on the Internet, there is a now-famous article that was written by Mike Flores called “Who’s the Beatdown?” In this article, the basic premise is that games can be won or lost based on who is playing the correct role for their deck given the specifics of the situation. While this concept was written with one-on-one games and tournament Magic in mind, the basic idea actually works well for multiplayer politics too.
Quite simply, at all times of the game, you should be asking yourself what role you should be playing. You may want to sit back and play the responsive control game or you might want to play the beatdown and go aggressive. Chances are, when playing with friends, you might know what role to play and what everyone else is going to play before the game even starts. If you can get others to play the incorrect role for their deck while keeping yourself playing the correct one, you will give yourself a much better chance to win.
However, unlike shorter one-on-one tournament games, multiplayer games tend to run longer and your role might even shift as the game goes on. That is why it’s important to keep the role concept in mind at all times. You might have to shift periodically. The key is to try and play the correct role at the correct time and to minimize the time spent playing a role that your deck is not meant to handle well.
Forgive and forget.
Sooner or later, someone in the game will make an aggressive move toward you. I have seen multiple players fall into ever escalating personal wars as a result of minor actions. Player A will attack or harm Player B, Player B retaliates, so Player A feels like they have to retaliate again, etc. This is a huge trap and very dangerous. Not only are you ignoring the other players who get to sit back and play unmolested, you’re expending resources to play a one-on-one game when it’s definitely not a one-on-one game going on.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and defend yourself. I have found that most people making an aggressive move are much more likely to handle a defensive response better than a counter attack. This has two good side effects. First, it’s less likely to end up in an escalating war with the aggressor and secondly, it sends a message of strength to the other players that you can deal with them being aggressive towards you.
In short, this rule is about not holding a grudge. Make the best plays you can, regardless of who went aggressive against you first.
Deception, deception, deception.
If you’re currently in a solid position, feign weakness. Most people will be able to tell you’re in a good position already, don’t draw more attention to yourself than necessary. If you’re currently in a weak position, feign strength. Once again, people can usually tell if you’re in a bad position, so give them cause to second guess themselves. Most importantly, be consistent in your deception unless it’s absolutely too late. Staying consistent with your ruse is important because it will be much harder to determine if you’re bluffing.
It’s also critical to be subtle. If you are feigning strength or weakness and making it too obvious, you’re just wasting your time. When in doubt, shut up. This doesn’t mean being anti-social, which is one of the best parts of multiplayer games, it just means to try and keep your deception low-key.
Plant the seeds of discord.
The more your opponents are fighting each other, the less they’re worrying about you. In an ideal world, they’ll all fall into the trap of ever escalating wars without any sort of prodding or work on your part. It happens, of course, but most of the time you need to try and do something to provoke it. Once again, being subtle is the key. If you’re constantly pointing out how far ahead someone is, all you’re doing is provoking the person who is in the lead, which isn’t good.
Instead of being direct, be indirect. One of the best methods of pointing out how ahead or threatening an opponent is actually compliments. It draws attention to the person, yet strokes their ego so they are less likely to be aggressive towards you. Another more risky method is to use your own resources when you know your opponent can deal with them handily to draw attention to their strength. Others watching will take notice and realize who is a threat. This has the added benefit of knocking you down the threat list as well.
Be very careful when implementing this concept. There is a large reward, but it’s very high risk and can backfire if you aren’t careful.
This is the most important concept of all, and it supersedes the ones presented before it. There are times when you have to do what is completely counterintuitive to what makes the most sense in a given situation. This is because it’s impossible to account for every possible scenario. While the previous concepts are all presented in the scope of likely occurrences, not every game will work out that way.
Like I said in the beginning, there are no set rules for multiplayer politics. Don’t confine yourself when it’s not necessary. Use the concepts in general abstract terms and be flexible. If you’re predictable, you will lose!
Thanks for stopping by the Player’s Club, and I’ll see you all next week! As always, feel free to throw out any suggestions or comments here or @clnolen!