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Rogue: Magic Multi-Player Variant

by Ron Vitale

Published on Brainburst.com, July 17, 2002

Rogue: Magic Multi-Player Variant

by Ron Vitale

Well, I've ranted a bit about Wizard of the Coast's losing the general Magic audience and the dismal future of the game, but now I'd like to focus on a fun variant that's been around for years. I have never seen an article written on this group player variant before, and although I'm not the game's originator, I thought it would be enjoyable for Magic players to sit down with their friends and have some summer fun!

There Can Be Only One

Rogue is a fairly simple game. Imagine sitting down at a table with four to nine other players. Add intrigue, manipulation, and bluffing all together, and you come up with the game of Rogue. There can be only one winner in Rogue. Each man or woman is out for him or herself. I recently taught a group how to play this variant at a local comic shop and we had about two hours of fun with one game. The Players were able to pick the rules up in five minutes of explaining, and the enjoyment factor was extremely high. Even those who were knocked out of the game early enjoyed watching from the sidelines as the game unfolded.

A typical game can consist of anywhere from 4 to 9 players. Before the start of the game, Players must agree to the style of play (Type I, Type II, or Extended, etc.) and a limit on card deck size. Since the game is a casual game, I would recommend that the minimum deck size be raised to 80 cards. After the group has decided on the basics, each player takes two identical cards (not of their deck) that will represent them in the game and puts one of them face down in the center of the table and the other face up in front of his/her library.

(see Figure 1 below.)

Typically, Players choose to be represented by a card they enjoy playing (I normally use a Counterspell). Note that two players cannot use the same card. Since the card represents the individual Player in the game, you cannot have two people having the same card. These cards are simply markers and cannot be used in the game in any other way.

Next, choose one Player to shuffle up, face down, the cards in the center of the table. To recap: Each Player has two identical cards. These cards represent them in the game. She takes one of those cards and puts it into the pile at the center of the table face down and places the other card in front of her library face up. Got that? Once the Player has shuffled the face down cards, she asks each Player to draw a card and look at it. Players cannot, at this point in the game, show the card to any other Player. The drawn card represents the person you can attack in the game. To break this down into a real life example, let's say that there are five players in the game. Player 1 is represented by a Plains, Player 2 by a Swamp, Player 3 by an Island, Player 4 by a Forest, and Player 5 by a Mountain. After each Player draws a card, the results are (see Figure 2):

Player 1 (Plains): Swamp
Player 2 (Swamp): Forest
Player 3 (Island): Island
Player 4 (Forest): Mountain
Player 5 (Mountain): Plains

Follow me so far? Here's the breakdown of what this means: Player 1 (Plains) can only attack Player 2 (Swamp), Player 2 (Swamp) can only attack Player 4 (Forest), Player 3 (Island) is the Rogue (who can attack anyone) because she drew her own card, Player 4 (Forest) can attack Player 5 (Mountain), and last, but surely not least, Player 5 (Mountain) can attack Player 1 (Plains). Again, at this point in the game, Players cannot reveal their cards to each other. They take their cards and hide them, face down, out of sight.

Playing the Game

After rolling dice to see who goes first, each Player draws seven cards, and then draws an eighth on the first turn. Play from here on in mostly resembles a normal Magic game. Unlike some Magic variants, Players can't share mana or block creatures attacking another Player. The tricky part of the Rogue game is to stay alive. A typical game of Rogue develops into several rounds of buildup as Players prepare their forces to attack. In all the games of Rogue that I have played, I have never seen a creatureless deck. Since you will most likely need to take out several people in the game, having creatures to do damage (or to block incoming attacks) is almost a must.

Let's jump the timeline and see further into the game. After five rounds of buildup, most Players have built up a sizeable force. Several creatures are out on the table and everyone is trying to figure out who is the Rogue. There could be more than one Rogue in the game. The best games I have played consist of only one or two Rogues. Why is it good to be the Rogue? Again, this person has the ability to attack anyone on the table. In the example we used above, Player 3 is the Rogue. On her turn, she decides to attack Player 1 (Plains). She declares her attack, waits for Players to respond to her declaring an attack, and then slides, face down, the card she picked before the game started over to Player 1 (see Figure 3).

Only Player 1 should see this card. Upon looking at it, he sees that she drew the Island and is a Rogue. Again, all Players leave their "representative" card face up in front of their library. The card drawn to see who you can attack is hidden face down out of the way. (In a good game of Rogue, Player 1 would keep quiet and not tell anyone that Player 3 is the Rogue, but, alas, sometimes Players can't keep a secret.)

Player 3 (Island) attacks with two of her creatures and Player 1 (Plains) chooses to take damage. On Player 1's next turn (see Figure 4), he is given one round of retaliation against Player 3.

Thus, on his turn, Player 1 opts to attack with a Serra Angel and do 4 points of damage to Player 3. Because Player 1's attack is in retaliation, he does not need to show his card to Player 3, but if he chose to attack Player 2 (Swamp) instead, then he would need to show his face down card to Player 2. When Player 3 takes her next turn, she realizes that if she keeps attacking Player 1 that she's not going to win the game. Since she's a Rogue and knows that only another Rogue can attack her, it is in her best interest to sit back and wreck havoc with other Players.

What You Can and Cannot Do

The game of Rogue is structured so that you are forced to attack only the person whose card you have (unless you're the Rogue). If you have an Incinerate or other single target player spell, you cannot cast that spell on any Player other than the person whose card you have. Thus, Player 1 (Plains) can only target Player 2 (Swamp) unless he gets a one round of retaliation from being attacked by the person who has his card (or the Rogue). Blanket spells such as Hurricane or Earthquake affect all Players. Players might agree ahead of time to restrict the number of such cards in their decks to make the game more exciting. Your group will need to decide on this. I would also suggest that all cards that offer an alternate form of winning be banned from the game (see Figure 5).

To complicate matters (and thus make the game more exciting), anyone can target the permanents of all Players. Let's break that down: Each Player can destroy, steal, burn, (or even counter) any permanent in play (or coming into play). You just can't target a Player whose card you do not have (again, unless you're the Rogue). In the example we've used so far, Player 5 (Mountain) can pick a person to annoy and burn every creature he casts. Maybe he doesn't like the color of the shirt that Player 1 is wearing so he picks on him. It doesn't matter. He can burn Player 1's permanents until his heart's content. But to clarify the rules, Player 5 (Mountain) cannot target Player 2 directly with a spell unless it's a retaliation attack (or he later obtains the Swamp card).

What does this do for the game? It creates chaos! Typically, one Player will start to bluff and try to restrict another opponent's progress in the game. I've attacked my opponent (whose card I had) only to have another Player cast a Fog and stop my attack. When such moves are made, a Player need wonder: Does that person have my card? Is he out to get me? Or is he the Rogue and can attack anyone?

Life Gain and Scooping Up the Cards

If you defeat (lower to 0 life or run out of cards) the opponent whose card you have, you gain 5 life and get to take his hidden, face down card. (If you're a Rogue, you can kill anyone you want and still gain the card and the 5 life.) After you kill your opponent and obtain her card, you're then able to attack that new person (or if you're lucky, you will have killed the person who had your card and you become a Rogue).

After the game has progressed, there will be times in which a stalemate occurs. Players might have killed each other to a point in which no one else can attack. Depending on how cutthroat your group is, you can end the game and state that everyone left alive is a winner (Nah!), or play more aggressive, and open the game to being a free-for-all. In my group, we never ended the game until there was only one person left.

Strategy, Schmategy

As in any multi-player game, the Rogue variant demands that a Player watch her resources and reserve energy for the long haul. Yes, you can come out with guns blazing and kill your opponent, but you attract the Rogue's wrath or leave yourself open to the Player who has your card. For the purpose of everyone's enjoyment, I'd also suggest that your group ban the showing of cards among Players. Players can only show whose card they have when they attack and can never show their cards in hand to another Player. If a Player has a Giant Growth and wants to use it on your creature to save it from dying, then she needs to say that openly. The strategy involved in playing the game can bring great fun back to your Magic games. Not only do you need to find out who is out to get you, but you need to play and make your own decisions in regard to who you will and will not help throughout the course of the game. Holding an Incinerate in your hand isn't going to let you win, if you could have used that card to kill the Rogue's remaining defending creature so that another Player could have killed the Rogue in a retaliation attack.

On the flip side of the coin, if you're the Rogue, don't announce this fact. If you begin to attack everyone on the table, you've made a room full of enemies. Bide your time, build up your resources and pick one target to attack. Picking on the weakest Player might serve you best. Remember, you'll gain another 5 life if you knock that Player out of the game. Be ruthless, but remember not to overextend your resources. Dropping all your creatures onto the board to kill a Player and then having the next Player cast a Wrath of god will wreck you.

The Deck's the Thing

In being successful at this game, you need to be resourceful and build a deck that's able to withstand the long haul. Playing a Sligh deck of 60 cards might help you kill one opponent, but what will you do when the Player who's out to get you plays a Wrath of god and then drops out a Protection from Red creature? It's important to build a balanced deck. More importantly, your group needs to decide upon a play style. My friends and I started playing back in the days of Unlimited. We've decided to play Type 1 with a minimum of 90 card decks. Why? If you've never tried such a large deck, give it a shot. It might seem foreign playing with so many cards at once, but there's some great fun to be had. Whatever your group decides, make certain that everyone sticks to the rules. If you would rather play T2, Sealed, or Extended, then go for it.

Here's a listing of the deck I typically use.

Blue:

Clone x 4
Time Walk
Timetwister
Hurkyl's Recall
Mana Drain
Force of Will x 4
Dissipate x 4
Counterspell x 4
Zephid x 3
Treachery x 3

Green:

Hurricane x 2
Regrowth
Multani, Maro-Sorcerer x 2

Gold:

Iridescent Angel

White:

Balance
Land Tax
Spirit Link x 2
Serra Angel x 4
Archangel
White Knight x 2
Disenchant x 2
Sword to Plowshares x 4

Artifacts:

Zuran Orb
Tawnos's Coffin
Icy Manipulator x 3
Mercadian Atlas x 2
Planar Portal
Sol Ring

Land:

Forest x 5
Plains x 7
Island x 13
Savannah x 4
Tropical Island x 4
Tundra x 4
Karakas
Maze of Ith
Strip Mine

Next, choose one Player to shuffle up, face down, the cards in the center of the table. To recap: Each Player has two identical cards. These cards represent them in the game. She takes one of those cards and puts it into the pile at the center of the table face down and places the other card in front of her library face up. Got that? Once the Player has shuffled the face down cards, she asks each Player to draw a card and look at it. Players cannot, at this point in the game, show the card to any other Player. The drawn card represents the person you can attack in the game. To break this down into a real life example, let's say that there are five players in the game. Player 1 is represented by a Plains, Player 2 by a Swamp, Player 3 by an Island, Player 4 by a Forest, and Player 5 by a Mountain. After each Player draws a card, the results are (see Figure 2: click on the image for the full size):

It's not the best, it's not perfect, but it's loads of fun to play. This deck of mine was originally built almost nine years ago and has evolved to the point it is at now. Take a look at the style behind it and pay particular attention to my choice of cards. Certain cards such as Counterspell, Swords to Plowshares, and Balance are a must. My finisher card is a Hurricane. Many times I've been able to pull off a Hurricane to win the game. If you don't own these types of cards in your collection, play Rogue with whatever cards you and your friends have. Once you give it a try, I think you'll enjoy it. Have fun!

Revitalize Magic Content: Create a Podcast!

by Ron Vitale

(Originally Posted on MTGSalvation.com May 11, 2005)

I’ve been playing Magic for over 11 years now and I’ve read “The Duelist,” “Scrye,” “Inquest,” StarCity Games articles, and Magicthegathering.com, just to name a few.  But you know what?  We Magic players are behind the times.  We need something new and exciting to help the hobby advance to the next level.  But don’t panic, I have a solution.

Think about what it might have been like to watch color television for the first time.  Or think back to the first time you surfed the Internet using a broadband service.  Magic content has been flat for over 11 years now and it’s time that articles evolve and transform into the next big thing.  What do I mean?  Well, let me ask you this question: Why isn’t there a Magic: The Gathering podcast? (I've since learned that there is a Magic podcast at Brainburst.com entitled "  TCG Player Radio" but it's not well advertised and, although a valiant effort, has some problems.  I'll talk more about that later.)

For the uninitiated,   Wikipedia defines pocasting as “a way of publishing sound files to the Internet, allowing users to subscribe to a feed and receive new audio files automatically. Podcasting is distinctive from other types of audio content delivery by its use of the RSS protocol. This technique has enabled a number of individuals to create self-published, syndicated radio shows.”  To break this definition down into layman’s terms: A podcast (nicknamed after an iPod) is an mp3 audio file that you can play on your PC or on a portable mp3 player. (If you want a longer history of what podcasting is, click here.)

Why would a Magic podcast be a good thing? Look, if I can visit theForce.net and download a Star Wars podcast and then listen to a really cool podcast of Father Roderick at the Catholic Insider, then why can’t I listen to a Magic: The Gathering podcast?  There are over 4,000 different podcasts out there.  I’m tired of waiting for a Magic one.

I’ve done the research and am putting this information out on the Web for all you Magic fans out there.  I challenge you to come up with a Magic: The Gathering podcast.  But I’m going to help you along the way.  I don’t have the time to create a show, but I can share my knowledge.  I believe that together we can transform the way we receive Magic content.

Why Do We Need a Magic Podcast?

We’ve seen webcasts of Worlds and other tournaments from Wizards of the Coast.  Having worked with vendors on webcasting, I know how expensive taping an event can be.  The beauty of podcasting is that anyone with a little know-how and a few pieces of equipment can put together a podcast and share the recording with the masses.  The cost is extremely cheap.  Before I get into the details, let’s talk about some Magic podcast ideas:

  • Sound seeing tours:  What are they?  Well, imagine if a person takes a portable recorder and a microphone with him, goes on a trip somewhere, and starts recording a show.  Some famous sound seeing tours are of people visiting Target, a strip club, and the lobby of the Waldorf hotel in New York City.  Imagine a podcast from Worlds in which the creator of the show interviewed the top players, spoke to the judges, and talked with attendees of the tournament.  And forget Worlds, what about podcasts from any other Pro Tour Qualifer?  The simplicity of making the podcast allows you to be anywhere (without a lot of bulky equipment).  A podcaster could do a show from a Magic tournament at GenCon, or at Wizard World.  Remember, with a little imagination, the location can be anywhere on the planet.  Why not conventions?  Having attended a few over the years, I’ve learned that many Magic artists are there and this environment would be a great setting to interview them for a portion of a show.  Again, the possibilities are limitless.
  • Utilize technology to interview other players from around the world.  With the   Skype software (a mixture between an instant messenger and a telephone), you can call people anywhere in the world via the Internet and have a great quality connection.  A podcaster can call up one of the top players from a recent tour, do a phone interview, and record the conversation and there’s a podcast. Weekly discussions on rulings, the metagame, drafting techniques, and other card strategy.  If a person is creative enough, a show that dealt with these topics could be fun to listen to.  Combine the podcast with “show” notes on a Website and you could include visuals (screenshots of a playing board from a MWS or MODO game) or links to other sites.
  • Podcast a pre-release.  Interview newbies at a release and talk about the new set, what cards people like, what they think the chase rares will be, and what type of decks they’ve decided to use.

In just a few minutes, I was able to dream up the above ideas and I think you’ll agree that some of them would make really fun podcasts.  With a little brainstorming and some help from the Magic community, I can easily see how a weekly Magic podcast could be started.

We Have the Technology

Let’s talk about the listeners first.  If you want to listen to a podcast, what do you need to do? Well, there are several podcast aggregators out there.  Take the time to check them out.  To simplify matters, I use iPodder.  I’m not endorsing iPodder, but it’s easy to set up, use, and that’s what matters most.  But what does iPodder do?  Once the software is installed, you can take a RSS feed of a podcast, add it to iPodder, and then either manually or schedule iPodder to check the Web to see if new podcasts are available.  If one is available, iPodder will download the mp3 of the podcast, save it to your computer, and if you want transfer it to your iPod.  If you don’t own an iPod, listen to the mp3 on your computer or on another mp3 player.  It’s as simple as that and it’s free.

If you’re looking for some podcasts to listen to (to get an idea of what different podcasts sound like), try the RSS feeds out below.  Simply copy the RSS feed, paste it into the "Add feed manually" line on iPodder and then hit the "Add" button.  To check for a feed, click on the name of the podcast in your list and then click the "Check selected feed" button:

There are over 4,000 different podcasts out there so take some time to check them out at   Podcast Alley.

Making It Happen

Are you juiced up and want to work with others to make a Magic: The Gathering podcast?  You can do one or two things:

  • Just start making one without doing your homework and it’s going to suck.
  • Take the time to listen to other podcasts (especially the ones that are highly ranked on Podcast Alley and learn WHY these shows are popular.

I suggest that a group of people work together on putting together a Magic podcast.  Here’s an excellent opportunity for all the Magic websites out there to really put some excellent content together. But be smart: Add some music to the show, make sure you know what you’re going to talk about in advance, and have the show be dynamic. Again, I’d highly suggest that you listen to several popular podcasts to see what they do right.

To start off, you could listen to Brainburst.com's TCG Player Radio.  As I've mentioned above, the "radio" show is an excellent start, but there are several issues that need to be worked out.  First off, there's hardly any advertising (that I could see) on Brainburst.com concerning the podcast.  Branding it as "TCG Player Radio" also confuses matters, since it is a podcast and is even ranked on Podcast Alley (as of this writing it's the 84th ranked show).  I applaud Brainburst.com for running the podcast, but the podcast is plagued with technical issues: RSS isn't set up so you can't use iPodder to download it automatically to your PC, there are consistent audio volume issues in two of the three shows I heard, and the most important point is that the podcast is extremely too long.  Listening to two or three guys talk about Magic for 45 minutes is a bit overkill.  Take into consideration that if you can't envision the cards they're talking about, you can't really follow along.  Although TCG Player Radio plays an important role, I'd like to see them branch out more with doing smaller segments: 5 minutes on Standard, couple minutes on listener feedback, and 5 minutes on limited.  To cap my suggestions off, show notes are a must.  If you can't see the deck or at least have the opportunity to review a specific card or deck that they're talking about in the show notes, then some listeners will be lost in the dust.  Again, I tip my hat to the team, but I believe that there are others who can help them increase their production value.

Equipment

Depending on how expensive you want to go, you can create a podcast very cheaply by simply using your PC’s sound card to record your podcast or you could invest in a good microphone and a portable mp3 player for those sound seeing tours. If you opt for the sound seeing tours path, I would suggest one of   Samsung Yepp's or an iRiver for a solid mp3 player.  Lower end models of each of these players is about $100. With the player’s in-line recording, you’ll just need to purchase a decent microphone (some sell for as little as $20) and you’ll be set.   

If you want to work off your PC, you’ll also need a decent microphone, but you’ll also need some software to create your podcast.  I’ve not used any of these programs, but if you muck about the podcast forums for a bit, I bet you’ll find out which of these is good to use for a novice.

After you create your podcast, you’ll need to set up a RSS feed so that all those users out there in Magic land can add your feed to their iPodder software.  Here’s a list of two programs that allow you to create a RSS feed.

Finally, you’ll need a Website to host your audio files so that people can download the files via their iPodder software.  This is where big sites like SCG and MTGSalvation can help out.  They have the bandwidth and the Web space.

Now as you can tell from this long article, podcasting isn’t for the faint of heart.  But if you have a desire to succeed and to break ground in a new territory, then take heed to what I’ve taught you here.  Adam Curry’s podcast has approximately 80,000 listeners and it is estimated that over 5.4 million people in the United States listen to some form of podcasting.  Not too shabby at all.

It’s not going to be easy, but it sure can be fun.  Take that hunk of plastic and metal on your desk and do something more with it than just frag opponents in Doom3.  The Magic world is in need of some new blood and this is it.  Use what you’ve learned and apply your imagination and there will be no stopping you.