Are You The Threat?

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Have you ever sat down at a multiplayer table with a janky pile of cards and a terrible vanilla general from Legends thinking there’s no way you’ll be the target, but still got eliminated first? How about doing nothing for the first 4 turns except playing basic lands and missing a color, and yet you were the first target? You, my friend, have gotten yourself labeled as The Threat at your table.

What does it mean to be The Threat?

Being The Threat means you’re the first target when you sit down at the table, regardless of the deck you bring. It could be your turn 4 combo kill deck, or something as terrible as a Lady Orca deck full of vanilla creatures. The contents of your decks don’t matter – you get pounded every time regardless. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. If this is a situation you have to deal with on a regular basis, you might just be The Threat with your group.

Being identified as The Threat can be caused by any number of things. You might have won too many games in a row one night, and it stuck with everyone. Maybe your preferred type of deck doesn’t mesh with your playgroup’s style. You might be doing an exceptionally bad job with managing table politics (aside – always tell the truth and follow through on anything you promise, or you’ll regret it later when no one ever believes you). Maybe your average deck is just better than what most people play with and the group decided they can’t take a chance on letting you get ahead. Regardless, you’ve been marked and everyone knows it.

How to Deal with Being The Threat

If you’ve been identified as The Threat, you have a couple options on how you can deal with it, some of which will be more effective than others. Here’s a list.

Ignore It

The most obvious answer is that you can just ignore the situation. If you don’t mind being targeted first and you’re there primarily for the social experience and the chance to sling cardboard with friends rather than winning every game, your best bet is to just not worry about it and continuing playing the game. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. If the situation isn't bad enough to ruin your fun, then the right answer might just be to just not change anything.

The obvious negative of going with this approach is delaying the inevitable. If you don't bring it up, it still could potentially grow out of control to the point that your group doesn't want to play with you anymore. Not talking about a problem doesn't actually solve the issue. I can't really recommend this approach, but it's up to you to decide what you want to do.

Talk It Out

If you take a few minutes and talk to your group about the problem, you'll be doing both yourself and them a great favor. The group has either decided you're a problem individually or collectively. If they aren't having fun because you're there, there's the definite possibility they'll just stop including you and you'll be out of the playgroup.

I realize most Magic players are socially awkward individuals, but it's not that difficult to just ask the group if you're making their play experience unenjoyable. I'd recommend broaching the topic casually. Don't make a scene or anything silly. Ask when you're shuffling up for a game, "Hey guys, I get targeted a lot – am I making it unfun for all of you?" and see what they say. If you get a lot of yes responses from around the table, you'll have to decide if the group's giving you a hard time or if they're serious and you need to consider changing something.

Change It Up

Sometimes the best solution is to just keep playing (or building) that terrible deck where it's basically impossible to win. Sometimes the right solution is to build group hug. Whatever you decide to do, it's important to present yourself as most definitely not The Threat for a while. It will do wonders for your ability to avoid being The Threat when you actually should be, and make it easier for everyone else to relax at the table every once in a while.

My own personal experience has found that just changing it up doesn't always cut it. I built a Jaya Ballard, Task Mage deck that was, shall we say, far from my most powerful deck ever. I played nothing but that for a night, and got eliminated first every game with the except of one where I Reiterated someone's Vampiric Tutor to find a Loxodon Warhammer to equip Jaya and blow up the board, gaining a silly amount of life. Granted, that play was kind of game breaking, but I still lost, and continued to get knocked out of the game first all night. I even played that deck again for an entire night's worth of games, and got it out again a few times after that. I still got targeted. Eventually I just gave up and took it apart. I tried explaining that the power level was nowhere near what I normally played after actually playing it a few times, but it didn't matter – I was still the threat because I was still trying to win.

Break the Rules

Before you get too excited, I don't literally mean breaking the rules. I mean the unspoken rule that you need to play the same way all the time. Have you considered Archenemy? How about Planechase? Both provide a very different play experience and are designed for multiplayer, just like Commander. Sometimes changing up your play experience a bit is enough to get people out of a rut and make things more interesting for everyone again.

A great way to get someone else flagged as The Threat for a game or two is to get someone else play as the Archenemy. Our testing has found that if you add 10 life to the Archenemy's starting total per opponent, Archenemy generally works out even with a base of 40 starting life. The Archenemy still might try to kill you first (and probably should if you have the best deck), but you have a whole team who should be helping to defend you so you can beat the bad guy as a team. I highly recommend doing a few Archenemy games and passing it around the table for a night or two if you feel like you're being unfairly singled out. It might not hurt to pick a worse deck when you're the Archenemy though, so if you do win, you can emphasis the impact the schemes had on the game.

Planechase is another animal altogether, though one with much potential for wackiness. I highly recommend playing with a unified Plane deck rather than each player having a single version. The Eternities Map variant is a good time, and provides a little more control than just having a random pile of planes that can sometimes totally destroy a good game randomly. I also like the draft method, where each player drafts 3 planes to include in a communal deck that is randomly selected from. Whatever variant you might try, leave Otaria out. I don't know who thought Time Walks were okay in a multiplayer format, but they aren't going to make you any friends.

Battle Through It

Maybe you don’t care if your group singles you out as The Threat. Maybe you enjoy the challenge. Maybe your group is really cutthroat and everyone brings their A game, and yours is just better. While I doubt this is the case for most people and you should really talk to your group if you think it might be, it could happen. Regardless, fighting back and making the best deck you can possibly make is an option. When you sit down to build your deck, you have to remember a few things if you know you're going to be playing against multiple people.

If you want to fight through hate from multiple opponents at once from turn 1, you're going to need spells that give you a significant advantage. There's no room for cute or pet cards. Pretty much every spell you play needs to have the potential to win you the game on its own with very few exceptions. You'll probably end up with a goodstuff.dec build, which if that's what you really want to play is probably fine, though a synergistic deck is probably a better way to win normal games.

Doing the Right Thing

I hope that this article gave you some ideas on what to do when you discover you've become The Threat in your playgroup. There's a strong possibility that you already are The Threat and don't realize it. Many casual players out there don't take the time to read articles on the main Magic website, let alone read additional sites like this one. While you've chosen to get more into the game, make sure your friends are on board and want to play the game at that level too.

Rob Davis
@ArtosKincaid on Twitter
artoskincaid AT gmail

9 thoughts on “Are You The Threat?

  1. I found this article really interesting. While I haven't been in this position (one player who occasionally comes to my playgroup has an Azami deck with 90% of the extra turn effects in the game and no wincon except for Wizard beats), I think this article is still very helpful for going the opposite way. That is, the suggestions you give to look less threatening also work to bring the threat out of their shell and let them see what the rest of the group enjoys.

    1. I for one obviously see much time as the target, or the threat at the table. Often, politics didn't go in my way because I was a combo deck. And you really don't have anything to bargain with… Now I have played my fair share of each kind of decks, and for the most part I still end up being the target for my group, and this is not some casual group, we are all generally competitive players.

      I think for the most part politics plays a huge role in this game state. People will listen to the person they trust, if the most trusted player at the table says "Oh man he's totally about to go off" everyone will go after you, then he assembles his combo and wins. Often I get upset from the idiocracy of the people at the table but it's a part of the game.

      I feel for the most part that the threat should be the person winning the game not the person who has the highest potential to win.

      The alternatives for this threat situation I do not see being truly viable though. Has anyone seen the planechase cards? They are all borderline broken or borderline useless… Mostly the latter. And if you aren't playing a creature based deck like WotC designed these alternative multiplayer formats for, you will not enjoy the planechase to it's fullest. At least that has been my experience. I for one enjoy planechase EDH but others do not because of the high potential for it to get out of hand.

      As for your Azami player I feel sorry that a "competitive player" hasn't put a win con in his deck. But for us, we have generally stopped the mono blue take 51093745091 turns and then win kinda thing, but we usually just scooped when the person was on their extra turn 5 because it's assumed that they have won.

      This is how we play at least, often there are long hour long games, but the main idea is to not dilly dally on stupid shenanigans, and get on with more games!

      So to sum it up, if you are the threat, ignore it, play politics, or win the game, otherwise, scoop and start another and try something different this game like not make it obvious that you have a good board position.

    2. The goal really is to get The Threat to look at other aspects of the game and see if there's another way they can have fun that makes them less threatening to the rest of the group. It's trying to find the happy medium that makes playing fun for everyone.

  2. My LGS runs Commander tournaments once a week, and I'm almost always the first one to be targeted. I play with Augustin as my general, and the bad players will always target me first, because they hate having to pay more for their stuff. When I try to convince them that the guy with Glissa or Teneb is actually the bigger threat because they play ridiculously powerful cards (that I could never afford, especially for a "casual" deck), they ignore me and keep attacking me. The better players just bide their time until they can kill me in one turn. It's become really unfun for me, because I've never won, and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong.

    1. What you are doing wrong is ticking people off before the game starts. I don't know what your deck does, but try another B/U general like Hanna or Isperia.

      1. Exactly. People do not like having to pay extra for their spells (even in the Commander format), so just by seeing your general they know they're in for something annoying. In addition to that, Augustin works more or less like the new Praetors: advantage for you, disadvantage for your opponents.
        Nevertheless, UW generals always seem to be kind of problematic. Talking about Hanna and Isperia, the first one usually has a lot of evil artifact recursion going, and the second one is a repeatable tutor. Both are aspects that can tick people off. On the other hand, that's certainly true for a lot of other legendary creatures as well, so I think that in many cases people react too strongly just to the sight of a possibly dangerous commander. My advice: Sit back and take a look DURING the game, not before it has even started. THEN decide if the player with that deck is really the threat. And act accordingly during the NEXT game.

    2. Matt has it exactly right when he suggested switching your commander. If you want an unoffensive commander go with Ith, High Arcanist. It'll go a long way towards making you friends instead of causing a lot of trouble. He's also pretty inexpensive to purchase.

  3. I'm waiting for someone to play Phelddagrif as their general with a really hateful Bant deck. I have one for this very purpose. I want to see how long it takes before people realize that no, I won't be letting them draw extra cards.

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