—Art by August Hermann Knoop
Magic is a game best enjoyed with friends, and what better way to bring together both Magic and friends than some multiplayer games? They can add new depths of strategy and tactics, on top of adding variety and generally being fun and festive, so it’s only natural that players love multiplayer Magic. Which means that it’s only natural that Magic should have some cards in particular for those types of players. The ways to design cards for multiplayer are innumerable, of those, this article will explore the simplest and most effective ways to design cards for multiplayer.
The simplest example of multiplayer cards, kingmaker cards help an opponent win the game. Of course, players don’t usually try to lose, but it is nice to be able to control who wins even if you are losing. After all, players should always have meaningful choices to make, even if they cannot win themselves. The best example of these cards is Phelddagrif, a card which can help an opponent in a myriad of ways.
Something to note though, is that even Phelddagrif gives its controller a benefit. Kingmaker cards should still have some benefit for their controllers, or else why would they be played in the first place? And, ideally, these cards should give players control over how much they help the opponents, so that a player can avoid using them while winning and use them as kingmaker cards if they start losing. One final note is that with kingmaker cards, it is better to help an opponent not lose the game than to help an opponent win the game outright; no one likes being ganged up on, and it is a far better story to tell that a ragtag band of defenders managed to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat than the time two players ganged up and beat the rest. So, this means not directly helping the opponent develop a boardstate, but giving more indirect help such as gaining life, or scrying cards.
All Players Are Equal, but Some Are More Equal Than Others
Another way to make a card tailored for multiplayer is to simply make a card that affects all players more or less equally. These cards should provide some benefit to all or most players, but should also have some way of breaking the symmetry. For example, Eladamri’s Vineyard benefits each player, but the player with Eladamri’s Vineyard and any other player playing green are better able to use the mana. Or you could be less subtle, as with Death by Dragons, and select only some players to get the benefit. Or, the card could give everyone a benefit but give its controller a better effect, as with Words of Wisdom. One final example is an effect which is the same for each player, but scales off of something that player controls, such as Acidic Soil which damages all players but especially those players with the most land, giving players some control over who gets damaged the most.
As the number of players increases, the number of everything increases. More creatures, more cards in hand, more spells being cast, more upkeep steps, more opponents, more everything. And as the number of everything increases, cards which scale off of those things get better. After all, what’s better than casting Congregate and gaining life for two players’ worth of creatures than casting Congregate and gaining life for five players’ worth of creatures? You do like gaining 50+ life from one card, yes? And it’s not only cards which count permanents, but also cards which trigger, since there are more players to do things to cause them to trigger. Forgotten Ancient can grow out of control very quickly with more players casting spells, and Dragon Broodmother makes a veritable army of Dragon tokens. Whichever way you go, if you design a card this way, start by picking something that increases in number, and then simply design a card around caring about that one thing.
Assemble the Pillow Fort
Of course, why bother fighting at all if you can let your opponents destroy themselves fighting each other? All they need is a little motivation to look elsewhere. Enter the pillow fort strategy, which uses cards that make it more difficult to attack or otherwise hurt their controller. Ghostly Prison is the best example of this type of card, a very simple design which makes it very difficult to effectively attack its controller. Of course, these cards could also just make it difficult to actually damage a player, such as with Righteous Cause or Divine Presence which reduce the damage a player takes from attacking creatures. Or, they could punish the opponent for hurting their controller, as with Blood Reckoning which punishes players for attacking or Karmic Justice which punishes opponents for destroying a player’s permanents. One final important detail to consider for pillow fort cards is that while they should be used to slow the game down, there should also be a limit. Moat for example slows a game down significantly, and can also leave some players completely helpless. In many cases, it is better to make something more difficult to do rather than to prevent it entirely. The design for pillow fort cards is fairly straightforward: Pick something your opponents could do which would hurt you, and then design a card which makes that more difficult or punishes the opponent for doing that.
Narrowing down some potential starting points for design, we have:
- Kingmaker cards, which help one opponent in particular. Begin with an activated ability that gives both the controller and one opponent a benefit, and flavor the card based on that ability.
- Cards which help each player equally, but some more equally than others. Begin with one part of the ability which benefits each player, and then find some way to make it better for one player in particular. (Or worse for one player in particular.)
- Cards which scale with the number of players in a game. Begin by picking one thing which there are more of or which happens more frequently in a multiplayer game, and then design an ability which cares about that one thing and let that guide you.
- Pillow fort cards, which help protect a player. Begin by picking one thing opponents could do which you would rather they not, and design an ability which makes that more difficult.
The first design began with the idea of creating a simple symmetrical effect, but somehow making the controller benefit a little bit more. This is a case where I don’t have much to say, since the design so naturally fell together, with each player getting the same total resources but the controller of this card being able to control what he or she gets from it. Here is Shrewd Negotiations:
The second design began with the idea of a pillow fort card that can be sacrificed once it is no longer useful. Not only does this make the card useful both early and late in the game, it also means that it can help the game end rather than only stalling it. Beginning with the classic example of pillow fort cards by making attacking cost mana, I chose to make the sacrifice effect create Soldier tokens both to fit the flavor, but also to work together with the first ability. Since the first ability limits how many creatures can attack, getting two tokens to block with becomes more effective. Here is Picket Line:
The final design is one which scales with the number of opponents. It began life based on black’s history of “Syphon” cards like Syphon Mind which drain resources from the opponents. However, I wanted to balance the effect so that it would still be strong in two-player games without growing monstrously powerful in multiplayer games. So, the first part of the effect scales off of the number of opponents, but the second part is a static bonus for the player which can never put them ahead too far. Here is Macabre Ruminations:
So, what are everyone’s thoughts on multiplayer Magic? Do my cards sufficiently support multiplayer, or could I have done better? Either way, I’m eager to hear your opinions, and even more eager to see what cards you design for the contest!