With the contents of Battlebond released, we can see all the multiplayer fun inside! With each set I like to go through the set and bring a focus to the cards in the set that especially shine in multiplayer games, but there are so many in this set that I'm not sure where to even start! Instead of talking about individual cards, I thought I would look at the mechanics in the set. Not surprisingly, they focus on the multiple player aspect so this aligns nicely with what I usually write about. I'll look at the three new mechanics (support is nice, but we've seen it at work before) and check out a couple of cards that feature the mechanic!
Friend or Foe cards are essentially a multiplayer version of a Charm. Charms are cards that offer a variety of options. Boros Charm is probably the most popular version, but there are plenty of them out there. Charms are great because they tend to be useful at pretty much any time since they do a variety of things. The friend or foe cards are the equivalent of getting to cast a Charm for each player in the game, including yourself!
It would have been so easy for Wizards to mess this ability up. They could have said that your opponents get one thing while you and your teammates get another. Instead they chose the most open and flexible route, making these cards that will be great outside of just Two-Headed Giant games! The flexibility means the card works at the point in the game where you are the clear leader and everyone is working to take you down. It works when you are actively working with another player to take down the leader. It works when you are behind and can't seem to find a friend because your position is so weak.
Friend or foe also works well in plenty of variants as well. I look forward to trying this in a Star format with fewer opponents and players who are "allies." These cards will be fun in attack left or attack right games where your strategy will change from person to person.
With Friend or Foe limited to only a cycle of cards, there aren't many to choose from, but I definitely have a couple of favorites. Pir's Whim gives the choice of finding a land card or sacrificing an artifact or enchantment. The card will be interesting in that it will be tough to provide a benefit like allowing them to search for any land. There are a lot of powerful lands and letting someone who will be an opponent at some point in the future search for that land is a tough sell. On the other hand, if you are looking for allies, leaving them to sacrifice an artifact or enchantment is not going to do you any favors! This is going to be a fun card!
My other favorite is Zndersplt's Judgment. While the card describes the abilities as something you would give to friend or foe, I can see where both abilities would be attractive at different times of the game. My friend may want a creature they control returned to their hand as they are about to use some mass removal. I like how this will vary from player to player, since each player is copying a creature they control, so the rich will get richer, assuming Zndrsplt judges in their favor!
My initial reaction leaves me thinking assist isn't a particularly good mechanic. Players are only going to help you pay the cost when it aligns with their wants, so any time you are out in front there will be no assistance to be had. When your game gets down to just two players, you won't be getting any help either. This suggests to me that assist will have a limited application.
My other concern with assist lies with how much help you'll actually get. Once players have played it a few times, I expect you'll be seeing players demand that the caster use most of their mana to play the spell. It is only a matter of time until someone agrees to assist and discovers all they did was make it easier for the caster to do something else that really hurts them. For example, look at Play of the Game. There are going to be points in the game where you really want to see a mass removal spell, and you'll draw Play of the Game. Assuming someone else is also in a bad position you'll probably be able to get some mana to cast it, but do you really think you are going to get enough to allow you to play anything else? They know you need it as badly as they do, so they are going to want to see you use every mana you have before they offer help.
I actually like the assist cards that offer a benefit to someone other than the caster. Finding a friend to help you cast Huddle Up shouldn't be too difficult. Even a card like Skystreamer will likely find someone willing to pay some mana to get four life. My problem with Skystreamer is why you would choose to pay so much when there are better options that don't leave you relying on your opponents to help you out.
In spite of all this, the mechanic isn't all bad. There are going to be times when you really want your opponents to know you have a board wipe or targeted removal spell or a way to buff your entire team and assist is an innocuous way to make that happen. Assist allows cards that are sitting in your hand to act as rattlesnakes.
I also think assist will work very differently from one group to the next. I can see where some groups will work out deals a turn ahead then mess up the plans by refusing to assist. And if you were looking for another reason why Vedalken Orrery is good, making the assist threat something that can happen immediately only makes the cards even better!
I really love this ability in Two-Headed Giant. The idea that I could play a card that would let someone else search for a particularly card is very appealing! It really drives home the fact that you are your teammate have built decks that are best when complimentary to each other.
The difficulty lies when you move away from a format where you build your decks together and you are now putting both cards in a single deck. Consider the pros and cons:
- You are getting an ability you can pay in installments. Consider Proud Mentor and Impetuous Protege. Realistically, you are getting a card that lets you tap an opponent's creature, then give your creature +X/+0, where X is the tapped creature's power. Instead of paying six mana for this creature, you can pay three mana and three mana. This lets you get the ability much earlier.
- Your opponents must take out two creatures instead of just one. Targeted removal just got a little worse with the Partner With mechanic as it is just that much more difficult to stop two creatures instead of just one.
- The cards are fine by themselves, and even better when working together. Wizards could have easily made two cards that were both outright garbage alone, but together were amazing. Instead we got creatures that are solid or better alone and especially good together.
- Using up two card slots in your deck. When I build my decks, I want the cards in my deck to be doing double duty. Acidic Slime regularly gets a spot in my decks because it removes so many different cards. Partner With cards are essentially two cards that need each other to do one job. I'm going to need those cards to do something amazing or unique if they are going to be in my deck.
- Your opponents only need to take out one card. I know, this flies in the face of the pros as your opponents aren't dealing with a full ability of the partnered cards, but generally taking out one of the creatures will leave the controller with one card that doesn't do what they were relying on it to do.
All of this tends to lean me away from partners as cards I want in my deck. As my commanders though, this is a whole different story! They are taking up an extra slot in my deck, but as commanders, they are the cards you are going to want to see in play more than your other cards, so I can live with that. It also means that your opponents will have twice as many commanders to have to deal with, so things only get more difficult for them!
Khorvath Brightflame and Sylvia Brightspear partner two of my favorite creature types into one deck while Okaun, Eye of Chaos and Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom offer a level of controlled chaos. Rowan and Will Kenrith promise to make your opponents jump through hoops they hadn't expected. And Pir and Toothy could easily replace Vorel of the Hull Clade as the commander of my Green-Blue Counters deck!
I look forward to the coming weeks and a chance to find out how these cards actually play out! I hope you accurately determine each of your friends and foes!