In Defense of the Underrated Magician

By Belloq, in Citadels

*Note: Also posted at BGG.

The game was on the line…
There I sat with 7 districts built, a handful of victory points ahead of my three opponents. I had selected the KING the round before for the advantage of first pick in what I planned to be the final round. My problem: 1 Gold to my name and only 1 District in my hand to build – the royal Palace, costing 5 Gold. Even worse, I had already built a Palace. The Thief, the Warlord, and the Merchant (facedown) were out of play. I desperately needed a District Card costing 3 Gold or less.

If I chose the Bishop, I would receive 2 Gold for my religious districts and could draw District Cards as my action hoping to draw one costing 3 or less. But I also had 2 royal districts, so choosing the King would be better since the Warlord was out-of-play anyway, and I'd have the added benefit of going first next round. But both of these options left victory in the hands of the draw-District-Card-action. I risked postponing the game another round. Too risky.

I could choose the powerful Architect, draw 2 District Cards, and take 2 Gold as my action. But in this situation, the Architect's bonus did not actually increase my chances of drawing the right District Card (and keeping both District Cards was unnecessary). More importantly, choosing the Architect meant passing to my opponents the Assassin, whose frequent target happens to be the Architect.

Yes, passing the Assassin was another problem. If I passed the Assassin, my opponent immediate-left would have a 50% chance of successfully murdering me. On the other hand, I could be the Assassin, collect 2 Gold, and take out the Architect. This would ensure I got to play this round and that there would be another. However, the difficulty here was that I would have to choose between Gold and District Cards – I could not do both. This probably meant delaying that 8th District 2 more rounds thus forfeiting victory! This risk was compounded by passing the King which could've meant selecting last next round.

That left…the Magician? But then just maybe….

Understanding the Underrated Magician
The Magician is not obviously powerful as the Assassin or Warlord. He is not profitable like the Architect, Merchant, or Thief. He will not even produce Gold from any of your districts. He does not protect your Districts from the Warlord (as does the Bishop) nor your Gold from the Thief (as does the Assassin). The Magician's power is more subtle, and brings unexpected advantages.

1) Fastest way to increase building opportunity.
At the heart of the Citadel system is a tradeoff of resource vs. opportunity. Each player is given an "Action" every turn: a choice between gold or increased opportunity to build. A player may actually build a District every turn (the "Build" phase), but he can only build what is available to him – the District cards in his hand. Thus, one of the key mechanics of the game is to maximize this opportunity to build. The Magician enables you to discard-and-replace those worthless (or too expensive) Districts. Or force your opponent to trade his 5 District cards for your 1.

2) Targets a player, not a character.
Sure the Assassin can eliminate a player from a round and the Thief can swell your coffer. But they target blindly – targeting characters without knowing which players have selected them. The Magician on the other hand (like the Warlord) can sabotage a particular player when it is beneficial to do so.

3) Seldom a target himself.
Rarely is the Magician targeted by the Assassin or the Thief. They are preoccupied with the dangerous Warlord and the lucrative Merchant or Architect. In fact, players often forget the Magician's in the game. And oh, how I love the look on an opponent's face when I casually mention I'd like to have all of his District cards. Confusion turns to shock, shock to despair, despair to groveling.

Would it work…?
Indeed I chose the Magician. My opponent immediate-left selected the Assassin (as I suspected) and murdered – of course – the Merchant (who was facedown out of play). Why? He simply couldn't fathom that I would choose the Magician over the King, Assassin, or Architect. I could only grin as I swiped another player's cards (despite vigorous protest), and built a Battlefield to end the game and claim victory.

The Magician must be respected.

I like to run through my hand then trade 0 cards for someone elses' personally. This also keeps other people from building up their hands too much and offers me more time if I need it or the opportunity to steal more gold since they have to save it for their expensive buildings that they don't want to be stolen by the magician.

Yes. I have very fond memories of the Magician popping up in the very situation you named Belloq. Removing a fat hand of cards from another player is immensely satisfying, especially if it's timed right, so that another opponent cannot 'magician' you back in the next turn.

The stream of elaborate invective I received after the last such occasion made it all the more worthwhile as well!

The way I see him, the magician can also serve as a kind of game-balancer. In (boring) theory, someone could just load up on gold or cards, load up on the other, and build away. Thankfully, the magician and the thief make these tactics useless, or at best, very risky. Those two characters, I'd say, is the reason that I've never seen anyone with a hand larger than their staring hand, and never seen anyone start their turn with more than 4 gold.

The very classic way to play magician is:

1. Take a look if you have any duplicates in hand of what's already in play(your side as well as the other players side)

2. Try to get rid of most of the cards, be down to approximately 1-2(rarely 3) cards that will be totally useless to your opponents

3. Swap your hand

4. Watch people cry

I've done it a lot and it seems that this is the best way to play offense magician. Ruined the day for all those architects who couldn't play all the cards they got in the previous turn. Magician also has a lower chance of being trageted by all those witches hiefsassasins. Especially witch, since person needs to plan the magician turn beforehand.

Overall: It is underrated and let is stay this way - thanks to that I can continue masterminding my path to victory.

PS: My avatar says it all

Yeah, I'll never forget when I had a nice pack of district cards (6 in total) and the magician traded it with me for nothing. sad.gif

Gatha said:

I like to run through my hand then trade 0 cards for someone elses' personally. This also keeps other people from building up their hands too much and offers me more time if I need it or the opportunity to steal more gold since they have to save it for their expensive buildings that they don't want to be stolen by the magician.

I prefer to do it at 1, ideally a useless one, with 0 cards in hand people do seem to worry about the magician - and the assassin occasionally comes out for that. Definitely if the person with 0 cards has a stack of gold then they will catch the assassin or thief.

That's only if the person with the most cards gets the assassin. And as a rule, the people I play with off the merchant almost exclusively. Ocassionally the architect gets it.

Yes, I've also expeienced that myself. There have been many occassions that I have ended the game a round or two by choosing the Magician and getting a cheap enough District card to be able to do that, just like you described. And so I agree that the Magician is underrated. In my experience playing Citadels, the Assassin usually kills the Architect and the Thief steals from the Merchant. Sometimes its reversed, but for the most part, everyone worries about some of the other more deadly characters that they overlook the usefulness of the Magician.

Its funny though. I remember one game of Citadels a couple months back where it seemed another player and I kept playing the Magician on each other. I can't remember what District card it was right now, but it was a pretty good one, one that you pay like 6 gold to build, but is worth 8 VP. I'd had the card in my hand a round or two, trying to save the money to build it. I finally had the money to do it, then the Magician came along and stole my hand. So the next turn I took the Magician, expecting to get my cards back. The player who had played the Magician on me in the previous round took the Assassin, killed the Magician for that round. So I picked the Magician again the next round, got my cards back, and was able to build that District card. That entire game seemed to be about playing the Magician back and forth between myself and that other player. It was kinda amusing. I think that's the only game I've played where the Magician was played quite so often. And ever since, I've had a greater respect for the Magician, because it really seems to get overlooked or not given enough credit sometimes.

The magacian has ruined me more than once before!

Magician question: the rules state "exchange your entire hand of cards" - but there is disagreement here if that means exchange all the cards in your hand, including unplayed and uncalled character card(s) in addition to the district cards. (They all are "cards" per the rules.) In a two and three player game, a player will have two character cards. And in the other number of player games, the magician will be played prior to the revealing of most character cards. So there would be major advantage if you trade a "spent" magician card and got another yet-unplayed character card. But it seems to me that only the district cards should be exchanged. But from the reseach on this very helpful forum and elsewhere, this issue isn't even raised. So, should we correctly play as if the rule reads "exchange your entire hand of DISTRICT cards" . . .?

Thank you so much for you help.

I think that the cards exchanged should only be District cards. The next rule listed, "Discard any number of cards from your hand to the bottom of the District Deck, then draw an equal number of cards from the top of the District Deck", I think should read "Discard any number of District cards", because otherwise you could discard characters to the bottom of the District deck which makes no sense.

Applying that logic I think "Exchange your entire hand of cards (not the cards in your city) with the hand of another player" , should only apply to District cards. However, I can see that there is potentially some abiguity in the rules. I think that exchaning character cards as well as district cards would create some pretty negative consequences for a two player game.