This article will discuss a problem unique to muliplayer Magic. To borrow a phrase from hockey, it’s like skating through the neutral zone with your head down — you gotta watch the play, not watch the puck, or you’re going to get leveled. In Magic terms, you have to play the situation, not play your hand!
It’s not necessary in two-player Magic to do what the multiplayer crowd calls “threat assessment”. Threat assessment is understanding who is the biggest threat at the table. In a two player game, you only have one threat — your opponent. 100% of their resources are devoted to stopping you from winning, killing your shit, and winning the game. Multiplayer Magic is infinitely more complex — temporary alliances can form and fall apart, the most powerful player at the table varies sometimes by the turn, and occasionally it’s better to leave people alive than it is to kill them.
Consequently, multiplayer Magic is significantly different from two-player Magic in how one should evaluate their lines of play and pick when to play their cards. Multiplayer Magic forces us to understand the dynamics of many players all trying to win the game at the same time. There are many more threats on the table and potential threats in players’ hands, and you simultaneously must not lose to all players, all the time. Meanwhile, they’re trying not to lose to you as well. Remember: the single most important factor in winning games of Commander is not losing games of Commander. Not losing is really hard — everybody is out to kill you!
The potential problem that arises when confronted with this much information is to stop looking for lines of play and evaluating the dynamics of the game, and instead just play out your hand as though you’re goldfishing. This, in my opinion, is not only a bad play strategy, but it also is the single most important factor informing why people hate combo and land destruction. Because players are not reading the table and instead are just trying to play the cards they see in their hands, when somebody comes along and stops what it is they think they’re trying to do, they get upset. And rightfully so, given this mindset — games of Commander can take hours, and when your strategy gets disrupted by somebody suddenly winning or you having all your lands destroyed by an Armageddon, it’s a big kick in the nuts.
But, had you been paying attention, you could have seen this coming and avoided it — or, at least, mentally and Magically prepared yourself for the eventuality. Here’s how to do that. But first, a quick scenario on how important this is.