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I have been playing Magic the Gathering for several years now and I have a solid understanding of basic strategy and deck building. Until now I have only played against a single opponent. Magic the Gathering supports games with more than 2 players as well and I want to explore such variations.

The first thing two friends of mine and I will try is playing a free-for-all (3 players) where everybody can attack every other player. This changes the game a lot. It feels like attacking gets almost impossible and your best chance is to wall yourself in and hope for the best. Every fight between two players will usually help the third player the most. At least that's what I expect from a free-for-all.

Before I dive into this experience heads on, I want to know what the typical mistakes are, that a beginner should avoid in MTG games with more than 2 player. I am mostly concerned about deck building and game strategy.

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Don't expect the game to end quickly. In a MtG duel, there is a deck archetype called Aggro. Aggro decks use extremely low converted mana cost (CMC) cards that can efficiently deal damage to quickly reduce their opponents life from 20 to 0. This type of deck is trying to gain a tempo advantage. Aggro decks typically don't win in multiplayer free for all, because although they can quickly deal 20 damage against a single opponent before they can mount a defense, it is quite difficult to deal 40 (60, 80) damage to two (three, four) or more opponents. Duel decks need to deal with Aggro decks, so nearly all their card's have mana costs under 4, but multiplayer decks can afford to run higher CMC cards with bigger effects.

Don't pack your deck with cards that trade 1 to 1 In a duel, if you cast a card that destroys one of your opponents cards, you have a net card advantage of 0. In multiplayer on the other hand, you have a net card advantage of 0 with respect to one opponent, but you (and the opponent whose card you destroyed) are both down 1 card to the other players. When one of your cards destroys multiple cards of your opponents, you gain card advantage. In multiplayer though, the number of cards your single card must destroy grows with the number of opponents. This is because, for each card you draw on your turn, each opponent that is still alive draws a card. If your opponents believe you will win, expect that most of the cards they are drawing will be directed at you and your resources.

Learn the Animal Elements Multiplayer decks use cards that excel in these areas impact (Gorilla), outlast (Cockroach), warning away (Rattlesnake), feeding-off (Pigeon), trapping (Spider), and helping others (Plankton). Anthony Alongi came up with the animals to make it easier to remember the concepts of what the cards do. Gorilla cards smash your opponents. They destroy boards, hands, and life totals. This typically means sweeper cards that effect multiple cards or players. Cockroach cards outlast your opponents cards. They cards tend to be reusable effects, are difficult to get rid of, or come back from the graveyard. Rattlesnakes warn your opponents to focus their attention elsewhere or suffer the consequences. These cards are usually permanents with no or low activation costs, whose power usually derives from not having to use them. Pigeon cards feed of of multiple opponents. These cards typically have words like, "each opponent", or "whenever [situation]" where [situation] is a lot more common because there are more players, creature, lands, etc. in multiplayer. Spider cards trap your opponents into making bad decisions. These cards are typically instants, because it is difficult to trick your opponents with cards that they can see in a visible zone. Plankton cards are all about sharing the fun. These cards allow your opponents to use them.

Concerning playing strategy This is typically more important for larger multiplayer games than 3 player, because with more opponents there are fewer targets. You usually don't want to get into a feud with a single player. Don't attack someone, just because they attacked you last turn. Attack someone, because they are the biggest threat to winning the game. If your group allows table talk, freely explain why you are attacking someone or destroying some permanent. Helping everyone get better at threat assessment will make for better games.

Don't be an easy target Sometimes players might get out an early aggressive creature (or several). Make sure your deck can survive early damage from aggressive decks. If your deck starts its mana curve to high (everything is 4 mana or higher), you probably can't survive even a couple of early creatures cast by your opponents.

The number combat steps steps you must survive is greater In a duel, there is only one turn in which your opponent gets to untap and attack you or try to destroy your creatures. In multiplayer, you have to survive multiple combat steps, and your creatures have to survive multiple turns.

Life total is an important resource Only the last point of life matters in Multiplayer, but how close your life total is to 0 controls how aggressive you can be. Unlike a duel, where gaining life doesn't put you any closer to victory, in multiplayer when you gain life you just might make other opponents easier targets for elimination, putting you closer to victory.

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I really like this list, but I'd like to add one little niggle: 1-for-1 answers can be great if they can successfully stop an opponent's 1-for-many card, like if you counter a board wipe or remove a powerful advantage-building permanent before it can take over the game. So don't discount them entirely! Just don't expect them to win the game for you. –  Alex P Nov 15 '11 at 23:08
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Cards which affect each player or each creature become much more valuable than cards which target only 1 creature or player.

Similarly global effects can become detrimental. For example, in a multi player game it is much more likely you will face an opponent playing some of the same colour mana as you are. Cards like Mana Flare or Gauntlet of Power can help your opponents as much as they help you. Similarly with things like Bad Moon. You can use these, but they also make good cards to rotate to the sideboard if you see they aren't helping you more than they're helping your opponents.

Game strategy becomes much more diplomatic because you don't want to have both opponents attacking you each turn. Managing the diplomacy becomes critical when you decide to strike at one or the other. Often you should try to land a crippling blow when your opponents have used their resources against one another.

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