• Also Sprach Beholder

    Years ago, when Dungeons and Dragons still had the Advanced descriptor - Second Edition, in other words - they had sourcebooks for everything. Flying ships that sailed the highly flammable magic goop between worldspheres? Yup. Books about dragons? Of course. Tomes of psionic powers? Multiple. But near the end of this period, the prolific D&D authors tried something - a series of sourcebooks with adventure backings focused on a particular monster.

    The first of these* was about the beholder. It had pretty much every bit of information you could want about beholders - variants, how they lived, their history, you name it, it was there. Of all these things, what stuck out most about this book to me was one passage, framed as a faux Q&A with a beholder expert. After discussing how its eyes work and how it levitates, the questioner asks something to the extent of 'well couldn't you just throw a tarp over the beholder and wrestle it to the ground to subdue it.' The response...I don't remember it verbatim, but it was something along the lines of: 'Sure, and it wouldn't beam you. It'd just roll over to put you between it and the ground, and then grind you into meat paste, which it would then eat.' This, to me, was emblematic of the beholder - a hateful, spiteful creature that always uses its many, many abilities to cause as much suffering as it can while it gets what it wants done.

    As I've thought about, and played with, Apologies in Advance, it occured to me that Beholder - Master Aberration has allowed for that nature to shine through here as well. Yes, it's very in the theme of the beholder to fire off eyebeams - I believe this was mentioned in the thematic D&D podcast - but when paired with Imprison, you start really capturing the essence of what it means to be a beholder.

    There's a lot of things you can do to dice in Dice Masters. You can knock them out, reroll them, damage them, buff them, debuff them...and frankly, all these things are sort of understood, because their effects are by and large very transitory. A die that is knocked out will be back next turn; buffs and debuffs generally go away at the end of the turn, as does damage that isn't lethal. A die rolled off a character face goes to used, but you'll see it again before long. No big deal. Even effect which don't let you buy or field things are stomachable - your dice are still moving through the game, just maybe not how you'd like; an obstacle to be overcome, not much different than dice rolled away or the like.

    But when you get to control and capture effects...the mood changes a little. The dice aren't just shuffling about your side of the battle any more; they're crossing over to your opponent's side. Maybe they're even heading back over to hit you. It's an upset of the natural order - your dice are yours, and when someone takes them from you, that's wrong - and it doesn't feel great, even if most of the time it's only for a turn.

    Note that "most of the time." Imprison is a different beast, as we all know - it only returns said dice when the user deals damage to the other player. So if we don't do that, and keep imprisoning...you steal all the other player's dice, and they never get them back...until after you hit them for their whole life bar, of course. Beholder, combined with the Distraction global - the core of AiA - provides a more or less convenient method to do just that.

    So we're taking the bad feeling of stealing people's dice, and then, because we're good beholders, proper beholders, we make it worse. We're not just taking their dice - we're making it blatantly obvious that your intent is for them to not be able to do anything to stop us. We are going for the total lockdown. Anyone who has played against a well-thought-out, well-put-together counter deck in Magic can sympathize with how lousy that feels to deal with; absolutely nothing you have makes it through, and you just start to lose hope before you inevitably lose the match. I've seen that same face on people playing AiA, people not fielding characters because it's the only thing they can do to prevent you from taking their dice and putting an end to the idea that they might be able to work out some way to get around that terrible, terrible wall.

    The sum total of AiA - the core combo, supported by tools to mitigate your opponent disrupting that combo (Black Widow - Killer Instinct, PXG, BEWD, Paladin, etc.), and one or two smartly chosen bombs to help seal the deal - thus molds itself into that perfect expression of beholder cruelty. All our tools are laser focused on doing the nastiest thing we can to our opponent while denying them ways of replying, and continuing to do that until we're done playing with them and finish them off ruthlessly. It's mean and rude and dirty, like a beholder, and I think that's why, much as the deck can be effective, most people don't like playing it (to say nothing of playing against it). Most people just aren't sadistic enough to like doing that sort of thing to other people.

    To be fair, AiA isn't invincible. Smart use of its own best tool - Imprisoned - is probably the clearest avenue to take for dealing with that nastiness; if you get their beholder, it won't be imprisoning your characters. If you have one of the several globals or abilities that force attacks, a (ideally small) life sacrifice, and a use of that effect, can liberate your stolen dice. Alternatively, you can just outspeed it; due to the massive purchase cost of the beholder, it's mostly impossible to ensure that it'll be out on turn 3, or possibly even turn 4, so you have some time to beat down your opponent before they can start stealing your dice, hopefully getting them low enough that dice you field can finish them off before getting petrified by our Imprisoning Beholder "friend." There are options, if you can get around the oppressive playstyle of the deck; not necessarily an easy task, but made easier when you know what's coming.

    I realize that writing about how AiA gets an advantage from preying on some shared fears and dislikes of most players isn't exactly the best way to recommend not using it. Just remember: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into the Beholder, the Beholder gazes long into you."

    And then you become a bunny, or get disintegrated, or turn to stone.

    *There were two; this came not long before Third Edition was released. The second, if you're curious, was about sahuagins, which I imagine we'll see in a D&D DM expansion at some point alongside the lich and (hopefully) flumphs.
    Comments 16 Comments
    1. jigsawhc's Avatar
      jigsawhc -
      Great article. Nice in depth look at just 1 aspect of DM.
    1. DavidH's Avatar
      DavidH -
      This is an enjoyable read.
      Thanks
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      For those Following this team, I've made some tweaks: AiA
    1. SarkhanMad's Avatar
      SarkhanMad -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shadowmeld View Post
      For those Following this team, I've made some tweaks: AiA
      I like the change. get in for 10, without causing a jailbreak!!!

      Or to be a bigger jerk, put their life back UP to 10!
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      Exactly! "I'm going to keep you at 10 until you field all of your sidekicks, please oblige me."
    1. digitallimit's Avatar
      digitallimit -
      Shadowmeld, you are a disgusting human and I like it. Gonna roll this team out sometime soon.
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      I would just like to remind everyone, continued use of this deck has been classified as war crimes by the Geneva Conventions. Please stop making @IsaacBV cry.
    1. IsaacBV's Avatar
      IsaacBV -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shadowmeld View Post
      I would just like to remind everyone, continued use of this deck has been classified as war crimes by the Geneva Conventions. Please stop making @IsaacBV cry.

      This team made three other people go "wait, what?...."
      Knowing what it would do it was still difficult to play against for sure!
    1. jevansfp's Avatar
      jevansfp -
      I didn't want to warn anybody about it early on, so there were no apologies in advance. I apologized to @joshaber after he saw what it could do and he wouldn't let me off the hook - he agreed that I should feel bad about it. @IsaacBV and I went to turns at a local C/UC Limited Constructed tournament with the score of 18-17 (his favor). He kept forcing my Beast(s) to attack with a Phoenix global and I kept having to Distract it back to avoid him taking damage (keeping his Human Torches and 2 sidekicks in jail, forcing me to use the [mask] I was going to use to distract my beholder back and therefore couldn't attack with beholder several turns in a row, and cutting out any chance of ramp by having to burn my masks) until my final swing on the last of the turns, taking it to 10-13 and squeezing out an ugly win. If @IsaacBV is taking blog post requests for after his World's recap series, I'd like to read about how to counter this combo in a fully constructed setting.
    1. IgwanaRob's Avatar
      IgwanaRob -
      When this combo was posted on the WK rules forum, I knew i was never gonna let it known to my friends

      Any card that forces an attack, or even the Imprisoned die itself could easily counter it [ Even on it's lvl3 side, Beholder is only a 1 cost to field]
    1. joshaber's Avatar
      joshaber -
      @jevansfp you are off the hook, congrats on the win!
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      That is why the deck list has 4 beholders, so you can get one imprisoned and keep on chugging.
    1. jevansfp's Avatar
      jevansfp -
      The forced attack is easy to counter with the mask that I was saving to PXG with instead being used to distract back my attacker, but it screws up my ramp.
    1. systemskill's Avatar
      systemskill -
      I'd love to see a more budget friendly AiA. There's got to be a way to send my opponent running off in tears without breaking my pocket book.
    1. Shadowmeld's Avatar
      Shadowmeld -
      Quote Originally Posted by systemskill View Post
      I'd love to see a more budget friendly AiA. There's got to be a way to send my opponent running off in tears without breaking my pocket book.
      To be honest, if you can get the Rare Black Widow, I usually get the win with just her, beholder and maybe a spider man purchase. Everything else is in there to make the deck more reliable, but you could find cheaper ways to do those things.
    1. systemskill's Avatar
      systemskill -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shadowmeld View Post
      To be honest, if you can get the Rare Black Widow, I usually get the win with just her, beholder and maybe a spider man purchase. Everything else is in there to make the deck more reliable, but you could find cheaper ways to do those things.
      Word! If I only have to purchase Black Widow and Spidey that makes this a little easier to swallow. I'm pretty sure I have options for just about everything else. Thanks again, Shadow.