If only players had warning labels. Some would be marked “this one bites”, or “brutally efficient”, but not the quiet and cunning multiplayer queen. She is a master of politics, a spider sitting in the centre of the web. If she had a warning label it would say simply “Beware!”. Probably all in capitals: “BEWARE!”.
The trick is doing nothing on turn one. Nothing on turn two. Maybe she drops something innocent on turn three that does little but smooth out mana; nothing as provocative as a Chromatic Lantern or a Coalition Relic, but something second-tier; a Manalith perhaps. Lets others do the fighting, lets others do the interacting. She sits back, feigns mana problems, makes a small sigh whenever a card is drawn and when anyone does take a poke at her she says nothing but looks up with that wide-eyed innocence and sadly notes down the loss of life without comment. She is small.
Then comes Damnation, and something disgusting to follow. The game is lost before anyone really notices what she is doing. Then a little smile, a couple of comments about getting lucky topdecking the board sweeper and it’s shuffling up for a second game of the night. Looking at each player in turn, wide-eyed and innocent.
And she does it again.
The Innocent player is anything but, and chances are that every regular Magic player reading this now is thinking about how they know someone just like that (or maybe that’s you). The thing is, do you really? There are many wannabe Innocents, but only a few truly successful queens of the art. True success is measured by the fact that they do it again in the following game; that even though everyone in a multiplayer session has just been duped by the sad little sighs and innocent looks, she pulls it off a second time, or even a third – often while one savvy player calls out warnings: “Attack her! Don’t you remember the last game?! She’s not weak, she’s just making it look that way.”
Yet they don’t. They look at her and she sighs sadly, “Go on, he’s probably right, I did get lucky in that last game, you should probably attack me before I get a chance to play any of my spells in this one.” Reverse psychology or just simple manipulation? Either way they choose to point their creatures in another direction. After all, who wants to pick on the player manascrewed with nothing on the board?
Believe me though, there’s nothing innocent in those eyes. Really its a look of worldly understanding, of careful timing and very precise manipulation. It’s not something simply anyone can do, but requires a very precise mindset. Innocence of this nature is a skill.
Every now and then, she is caught. Back to the wall with a group of players complaining that yet again she pulled the same stunt might cause her to use other means to get them back on her side; a tantrum, that manipulative hurt which triggers guilt in the accusers, or even a heartfelt apology and a promise not to do it again – a promise which lasts a good week or so. Cleverly then, she bides her time before the next one, willing to lose a game or two before reigning supreme once again.
But what about the rest of us? In this series of Magic Perspectives, I have spent time detailing how to fashion a deck or a mindset in order to play against the focus of the article. Should I then sit here and detail how to play against the Innocent? No. Truthfully there is nothing to tell, as the only advice really needed is to see through her tricks and attack despite the feeling that you are doing something a little mean. Manascrew? Attack. Sad sigh? Focus your attention. Wide-eyed innocent look? Throw everything you have at her.
Instead I thought I’d take the other tack, and write about becoming her. A few tricks and tips about multiplayer politics which might otherwise slip through the net for, in truth, Little Miss Innocent isn’t always a girl; sometimes she’s a fat balding man in his late thirties…
Rule 1: Perfect the Responses
Different people respond to different things. Some players will back off if you have a little upset tantrum, others abhor that sort of behaviour but will never attack a manascrewed opponent. Still more try to play completely logically and will listen to ‘good advice’ which points out how a third party is more dangerous (even when they are not). Read your opponents and be sure to adjust your behaviour to suit the audience.
Rule 2: Fake It
There are plenty of ways to look less of a threat than you really are. The classic example is to feign manascrew by ‘getting stuck’ on three lands. Many spells in Magic (like the Damnation example above) suddenly kick in at four mana and holding that fourth land in hand to be ready when needed is often better than playing it right away. Of course, it does stop you from developing a late game board, but that’s part of the skill (in both play and deck design). Other methods to fake weakness include making obvious play mistakes (when they don’t matter), letting through weak attacks rather than dealing with them and discarding cards as if you cannot play anything. Nothing should be outside the arsenal of the Innocent.
Rule 3: Always Have an Answer
Anthony Alongi, a wonderful multiplayer columnist on the official Magic site from a decade ago, wrote about the different types in multiplayer politics and assigned each of them an animal. One which sticks in the mind is the rattlesnake. The idea here was that the rattlesnake warned (by shaking his proverbial rattle) that there was an answer available if anyone did make the mistake of attacking. Be the rattlesnake and always have a card in hand which can deal with a problem if someone does what they shouldn’t and attacks you. If the attack is small though, often it is better to hold off with the answer and sigh and take the damage instead – showing a little more weakness.
Rule 4: Help Others
Nothing stops other people from attacking you more than a sense of loyalty. Make sure you help other people in games, either verbally or with tangible plays. Sometimes you can mix this with rule two – try casting an aura on someone else’s creature “because otherwise I’d just have to discard it”. Just make sure you can undo any help you have done for when you want to actually win.
Rule 5: Have the Endgame
Eventually the game has to end and you have to win. Make sure you can suddenly do whatever your deck is supposed to do and finish the game in your favour. It’s not good enough to finally show your hand only to fail: when you are ready to go, make sure it is perfect.
Rule 6: Wide-Eyed and Innocent
Never let them know you know as much as you do. Never let them think you have any power, and always end the game surprised that you won. It was all luck, after all, a hundred to one chance…
Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to remain the Innocent for long. Eventually the group of regular players you know catch on to who you are and very soon you turn up with that “BEWARE!” sign tied around your neck whether you want it or not. People start to dislike you too, unless you are very good at smoothing ruffled feathers outside of the game, and it is very easy to step over the line into arrogant git territory (now that’s an entirely different perspective!), but if you are a new player in a group, or just good enough to pull it off, maybe there’s some room for a little Innocent behaviour.