Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Primordials, LOL

It hasn’t been that long since Wizards officially endorsed EDH as “Commander”, and started printing cards that are either explicitly for the format (commander precons) or obviously intended for Commander play (“all opponents” or “each opponent” type cards). I’m not a big fan of these “EDH plants” since part of the fun of EDH was taking cards that Wizards thought could be playable in standard (but actually weren’t) and giving them a home. It’s less satisfying playing a 7 or 8 mana spell in EDH knowing that the designer never actually thought it’d be played anywhere else anyways.

What’s worse is how these plants are often complete and utter no-brainers, as they viciously out-class the competition. Specifically shit like this:

While these were printed in Gatecrash, nobody’s fooled by their purpose. These are unplayable in standard/modern/legacy and only mediocre in limited. When we move to multiplayer EDH though, these cards become completely and utterly absurd.

The Old Guard:
Putting an existing spell onto a creature as an enters-the-battlefield effect is nothing new; it’s been around since man-o-war started unsummoning enemy bears back in visions. Spells “on legs” are generally preferred to legless versions since they can block, wear equipment, and be blinked/recurred to repeat their effect; in fact the way power creep is going its starting to be a waste of time to play any creature that does not come with some sort of “enters the battlefield” or “dies” ability.

While you might expect to pay more for “legs”, the way we pay more for the sum of turn//burn than we would for shock + ovinize, many of these creatures come at either a break-even cost or an actual cost advantage compared to similar “raw” creatures:

Eternal witness for example is effectively  a 1 mana 2/1 with regrowth strapped on.
Indirik stomphowler is effectively a 3 mana 4/4 with naturalize strapped on.
Angel of Despair is effectively a 4 mana 5/5 flyer with vindicate strapped on.

The premium we pay is.. elite vanguard, loxodon smiter, and no-drawback-rathi-dragon; respectively. Life is hard isnt it?

Primordials LOL
Well apparently wizards thinks life IS hard with those sorts of rates on our creatures. Because what’s better than getting a body that’s extremely well costed? Getting a body that’s so cheap it goes way beyond being “free”! Enter the primordials in multiplayer EDH (assume 4 player game):

Sylvan: 3x creeping molds (12 mana) + 3x rampant growths (6 mana) = -11 mana for a 6/8 reach!
Sepulchral: 3x ashen powder (12 mana) = -5 mana for a 5/4 intimidate!
Diluvian: 3x memory plunder (12 mana) = -5 mana for a 5/5 flyer!
Molten: 3x act of treason (9 mana) = -2 mana for a 5/4 haste!
Only the luminate primordial clocks in with a measurable rate, as a 4 mana 4/7 vigilance with 3 swords to plowshares strapped on its back.

The “raw materials” value obviously isn’t the whole story. We’re generally happier getting 3 swords to plowshares over a single vindicate, even if we’d be inclined towards a 5/5 flyer for 4 over a 4/7 vigilance for 4. Likewise, we’re happy to pay 1 mana for swords, but probably not really keen on the 4 mana of a memory plunder or creeping mold (although I’ve played both in EDH!). Alternatively then we can look at the raw card advantage of each:

Sylvan primordial: 7 to 1
all other primordials: 4 to 1
Angel of Despair: 2 to 1

Remember, angel of despair was already awesome and commonly played in EDH. But you now what’s cool? Cards that are TWICE as effective, or even FOUR times as effective. But fuck it, why stop there?

“Despair Primordial”
The primordial equation seems to be take a spell, add ~2 mana for a 5/5-ish body with an ability, and triple the effect of the spell. Since Angel of Despair costs 4 more than the spell (vindicate) and has a higher colour requirement than primordials, the body should probably have ~double the abilities and ~double the P/T. What would angel of despair look like if Wizards made it today? Here’s my best guess:

Despair Primordial
Flying, Lifelink
When Despair Primordial enters the battlefield, for each opponent, destroy target permanent that opponent controls.

The way Wizards is printing cards these days, don’t be surprised to find something roughly this stupid coming to a booster pack near you.

Macaroni or Cheese?
Since wizards is unlikely to get better at this stuff, I’m predicting either a decline in interest in EDH as new cards render too many old cards completely obsolete, or the development of “legacy EDH” which will consist only of cards printed in the old card frames - or only cards printed prior to the commander pre-cons.

For my own part, I’ll be sighing everytime one of these dollar bin rares hits the table and ruins yet another game of EDH. Fuckin gouda

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Play it again, Sam!

One of my more recent pet peeves in EDH is seeing the same card played turn after turn. Creativity and diversity are two of the cornerstones of a good EDH game - while repetition may be effective in generating “virtual card advantage”, it is antithetical to what makes a multiplayer session of spellslinging fun.

We’re already dedicated to seeing some of the cards over and over again from the command zone, there’s no need to make it worse - and definitely no need to play commanders that in turn recur shit we’ve already seen on the board (and probably killed for good reason the first time). Bad enough to have “staples” like genesis and debtor’s knell that make sure you haven’t seen your last eternal witness - but leading this degenerate recursive army are the king and queen of stale shitty games:


What do these cards have in common? Whatever you just killed on the board, you’re probably going to be killing it again... and again... and again... until everyone says fuck it and kills the person who won’t stop re-playing spore frog (hi matt!) or phrexian metamorph (hi melissa!).

At one point I got so sick of mimeoplasm and genesis and made a deck packed with graveyard hate: leyline of the void, relic of progenitus, necrogenesis, and even grafdigger’s cage. The problem is none of those cards are actually fun to play, and while it was respectable at disabling the graveyard for a while, it was only a matter of time before the hate cards got blown up and we went right back to the recursion game.

Here’s the thing... if what you had was worth killing once, its worth killing twice. But if I keep dropping removal spells, we both know that I’m going to run out of answers from my hand before you run out of shit to reanimate, and thus we know who wins the attrition game. You won’t like it if I hit you for 40 with a kicked savage beating, and I don’t like having to deal with the exact same card turn after turn after turn - so let’s call a truce. I’ll keep spreading my early game damage around, and in return you promise to play different cards from turn to turn. Win-win!

Macaroni or Cheese?
While they still look tame compared to the stupidity of the mimeoplasm, the king and queen of repeat offenses are unquestionably cheesey. If you must play junk, play doran. If you must play esper, play daakon blackblade. Leave the lame train for the Sunday tournaments at comic book shop!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Hunt for New Commanders

When you’ve played EDH for a few years and built/dismantled a few dozen decks it can start to feel like you’ve exhausted the interesting options for commanders. Sure there are over 500 legendary creatures out there, but when push comes to shove many of them use a very similar 99 card shell. I find that monocolor decks in particular tend to boil down to some mono-specific cards (primalcrux, extraplanar lens) and then a mix of top-40 artifacts and top-40 cards in the colour. That is, a kumano deck plays much like an akroma deck which plays much like a urabrask deck, which one imagines is much like a rakka mar, heartless hidetsugu, or kamahl pit fighter deck.

If we set monocolour generals aside, we’re left with 179 options. Still a pretty good selection considering most players will only run somewhere between 1 and 10 decks, but the options can deplete quickly when you’re only interested in cards that fit your personal playstyle. I like to think of magic as having 3 eras of legendary creatures, and that I’ve exhausted most of the options in two of those three.

Three Eras of Legends

The first tranche of multicolour generals to consider are the most recent products - the 37 legends that have been printed since wizards of the coast officially endorsed Commander as a format. 

I find I see a lot of the new-commanders in my games as its what new players tend to have access to, and the commander precons in particular are often how players jump into the format. Even if I haven’t played a general like Kaalia or Karador, I feel like I’ve seen enough of them around that I have no interest in sleeving a deck up myself. It wouldn’t feel like my deck, it’d feel like everyone-who-ever-played-this-general’s deck as in most cases the card choices are just blatantly obvious (hi skullbriar and kaalia). Not that I’m a purist or anything, I currently play Zedruu, Mikaeus and Maelstrom Wanderer from this age - and I’ve weakly considered trying Vela, although I feel like the type of Vela deck I’d make would be too similar to Mikaeus.

The second wave of multicolour options to consider are the 84 “modern legends” - which I’d classify as legends heralded by the appearance of the weatherlight crew and running up to Shards and Zendikar blocks. 

This is the guts of EDH, with everything from the original ravnica guild masters and their henchmen, to the 3-colour dragon cycles, to reaper king and sharuum. Before the commander precons showed up 90% of EDH decks I saw were headed by cards from this era, and I’d say they still make up about half of the decks I see regularly around the table. I own a huge chunk of the 84 legends from this era, and have played a good 40 or so over the years. My decks currently include Doran, Stonebrow, and Konda but for a long time my decks consisted of things like Sapling, Sygg, and Teneb. I feel like I’ve seen or played most of the options here, with wort the raidmother as the only decent untapped option, but if I’m running RG I think I’d rather just be smashing heads with stonebrow than trying to conspire a hurricane.

Finally we have old glory - the 58 multicolour legends of antiquity, from black lotus to the thawing of the glaciers. 

Often horrible and/or ridiculous, these guys are what I consider the last of the unplucked gems for my EDH deckbuilding. Of course of the 58 multicolour legends in this epoch a good 1/3rd are pointless vanilla or french vanilla creatures (scivitri scarzam or marhault ellsdragon), while another 1/3rd have just been horribly outclassed over time (axelrod gunnarsson, vaevictis asmadi). But there remains a good dozen or so interesting generals that I don’t own and have not seen used in my playgroup. I’ve held off on several of them because of the price (I have a rule of thumb to not spend more than 3 bucks on an EDH card - but it may be worth compromising for a good old boy as a commander). Guys like Ramses Overdark, Halfdane, Hazezon tamar, Jacques le Vert and Rasputin Dreamweaver range from 6 bucks to 25 bucks which is outside that range, but it may be time to break the piggy bank open to find the last few jewels of EDH . I currently run Tresserhorn and Axelrod from the time when men were men and legends were legends, and I’ve tried to run dakkon blackblade or hunding gjorgenson but its damn near impossible to make a UW deck that I can actually enjoy playing.

Deckbuilding these days

I still find it surprising when magic players ask “who’s your general?”, as though any EDH player plays just one deck. But while I sneer at the foolishness of the question, I also kind of miss having one go-to general as being “mine”. For a while it was sapling, then sygg, and since then I’ve always had a stable of decks with no clear frontrunner. In fact I feel like I’ve got several decks that are personalized and iconic - Mikaeus suicide aggro, Maelstrom borderline fair play, Stonebrow relentless assault, and a black/red mass damage deck that just lacks the right general to join those ranks. I also feel like with some more games and effort I could bring my Doran, Zedruu and Tresserhorn decks to the point where they too feel like my personal decks, rather than any-deck-to-ever-play-that-general.

I think at this point that’s really what I’m striving for with my deckbuilding - complete and coherent decks with my own style embedded throughout. I have a graveyard full of failed attempts - generals that I built up but found the deck too obvious or just not my style -  Krond, Kresh, Patron of the Orochi, Edric, Teneb, Horde of Notions, Mayael, Intet, Red Akroma and Sedris are all examples of decks I could effectively rebuild at a moment’s notice, but have no desire to do so.

In summary the fact I find few generals left to try out probably just means its time to tinker with my existing favourites, and then dig up some of those untried legends of antiquity to complete a stable of decks that really represent my playstyle and personality as a magic player. From there its probably a matter of rotating cards in and out rather than continuously building entire new decks.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Right Amount of Random

I’ve made it pretty clear that I like a certain amount of random in my EDH decks. Cards like kaboom, ruhan, and tariel have all gotten the thumbs up on this blog. There is however a clear line that can be crossed - where random becomes giant nuisance, such as chaos moon. I recently tried to jam as many “random” effects as I could into an intet the dreamer deck; from clear the land to explosive revelation to stronghold gambit. It has its moments, but while I like the cards I’m not sure I like a deck that is just doing the dice-roll effect turn in turn out.

I think I like it better when I’ve got some random impact cards sprinkled into a “normal” deck - for example in my Axelrod Gunnarson deck I’ve found a slot for this little beauty:

I’d like to run the card in zedruu or intet but the triple red can be painful for a 3 colour deck, so for now its confined to Axelrod. The deck plays some dubious creatures (starting with the general) so donating them can sometimes mean the joke’s on the receiver as they try to optimize play with Pavel Maliki.

What’s cool about risky move is that it doesn’t steal creatures - it gives them away. That’s such a better mechanic for EDH than the usual ray of command effect. It means that as long as you have a lousy creature around, the card doesn’t really hurt you, but if you’re the joker playing a 20/20 uril the miststalker and nothing else shit just got real.

I think what I like most about this card are the decision points - which creature do you want to risk, and who do you want to risk giving it to? You get to play a little politics. I also love that it affects everyone, so that each player in turn faces the same decision. While it messes with the board, the 50-50 nature of the effect resolving means you can still play your awesome creatures out even if they’re your only dude.  

Macaroni or Cheese

While I should probably wait to actually see this in action, I feel like I know how it’ll go and that it’ll be a hoot each time a player chooses a creature, a player, and rolls the dice. Risky move mixes things up while still keeping the game sane. No question, this is elbow macaroni!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Commandments and “Good Advice”

If you look at the top right hand side of this blog you’ll see the “multiplayer commandments”. These three things go a long way to creating a common understanding of how to play EDH and ensure you have good games and good sessions. While these represent the irrefutable principles of the game, there are also lesser versions that are more like good advice. For example:

1. Play your own cards.
I brought my deck to play with, and no I’m not really impressed that you bribery, confiscate, act of treason, animate dead, or insurrection my stuff. I’m not saying never use those cards, but use them sparingly and judiciously. It’s applause-worthy if you take someone’s darksteel colossus, hit them with it, and then sac it to your bloodthrone vampire. It’s not hilarious when you just take it so that you can use it instead of them.

2. Spread the Hate.
Sometimes you have to hit one player hard because if you don’t they’re going to win or do something truly nasty. Most of the time though, everyone will breathe a little easier when you take your 37 trample damage and scatter it around the board.

3. Don’t be a Nuisance.
Avoid playing cards that are difficult to track or massively slow the game down. Don’t try to make 57 different types of tokens. Don’t play grip of chaos. Don’t even play chaos moon (I have it and I always want to, but never do because of the nuisance factor). You basically never want to ask “what’s in your graveyard” or “how many cards in your graveyard”. This also means don’t be wasting everyone’s time tutoring, combing through all of the spells in your deck looking for the perfect one.

4. Don’t replay the same cards over and over again.
Genesis+eternal witness anyone? We know you can loop your cards, we don’t care. Mix it up, do something different, try the other 97 cards in your deck. Capsize has buyback, yes and so does reiterate, but no, we’re not having fun seeing you replay them every. single. turn.

5. Be a threat
Don’t let my love of bad cards fool you, I’m still playing to win. Your deck should be regularly capable of dishing out increments of 5-6 damage per turn. Sitting on your ass wrathing the board hoping people die of boredom so that you can eventually play your general and win is not the right way to do it. If you’re gonna play jandor’s saddlebags, it should be so you can double up your heartless hidetsugu, not your ghost-lit redeemer.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Really "Letting them Play"

I find the idea of a group-hug deck pretty uninteresting. The decks are so predictable that they can’t really be that fun - here’s my howling mine, here’s my arbiter of knollridge, here’s my prosperity... blah blah blah where is this going?

I’ve tried two previous twists on the “group hug” to make it more fun. Tresserhorn’s draw-fest basically played the general for the colours, and forced mass draw with cards like phyrexian tyranny and spiteful visions to make it a painful hug. The other was zedruu with a similar angle, playing out and donating stuff like ankh of mishra and spellshock.  

The tresserhorn deck was a fail for two reasons. First, giving everyone lots of cards creates a slow game where people have too many decisions and too many answers, and card advantage becomes meaningless. Second, if my plan was successful, everybody died but it wasn’t really very fun seeing them kill themselves off of a forced fruition + phyrexian tyranny. 

The zedruu deck was a fail mainly because of how fragile and mana hungry zedruu is, and how lousy the white-red-blue colour shard is in general. 

But the other day as I flipped through cards at the comic book shop looking for a copy of grand melee to add to my collection, I ran across this:

How wonderfully horrible. I briefly ran Iwamori of the Open Fist in my Stonebrow deck, although I don’t think I ever got to cast him to see whether someone would plop an akroma or karrthus into play. The wurm is iwamori on steroids.

The obvious play for the wurm is green/black discard or green/white wrath, or some combination therein in say a teneb the harvester deck. While tricking people into playing their huge guys and then casting final judgement is a little funny, I think its even funnier to just let them play their huge guys. “Let them play” is afterall, a key tenet of properly played EDH.

The little wurm that could has inspired a new sort of group-hug-all-hell-breaking-loose intet the dreamer deck for me. The one thing I won’t do is give people extra cards, as I feel that slows and ruins the game. But I’m all for seeing the giant monsters hit the table on turn 2 and watching the sparks fly! Maybe I’ll even live the dream someday and play t2 wurm and t3 puppets verdict nailing all the fatties.

Macaroni or Cheese
It depends a bit on how you play him, but in a properly designed deck that isn’t draw-heavy, cards like the wurm and hypergenesis or blue braids can all be awesome game accelerators. A nice dish of ravioli.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Extra Turns vs Nega-Turns

It’s been a long time since I traded away my Time Stretch. I had it in my intet deck, but never really cared when I cast it since it seemed boring for everyone else. I don’t know that others have the same feeling about extra turns, but they really haven’t been an issue in our playgroup and I routinely pass over stranglehold without dropping it into a deck (the “tutor for a tutor” harassment tends to keep the shuffling under control).

I did recently drop temporal mastery into my Maelstrom Wanderer deck, but its since been taken out. I put it in for being a big juicy 7CMC spell in a deck that’s willing to push the limits of good taste for EDH.  I cast it once, and it was basically a relentless assault. The way I see it if I wanted relentless assault, I’d play relentless assault (or hellkite charger as the case may actually be for Maelstrom Wanderer).

Which is all to say that extra turns haven’t been an issue for me. The way I see it even if one player pops a temporal mastery, I wait 4 turns instead of 3 to get back to dropping my bombs. I’ll groan, but its on the okay side of fair-game. What’s truly hate-worthy is the “nega-turn” provided by cards like Brine Elemental and today’s spotlight card:

Normally I love me my kamigawa cards, but this guy is basically a nega-time-walk, in that one player is about to lose an entire turn. While a time walk in a 4 player game bumps your wait from 3 turns to 4, Yosei bumps your next action sequence from 3 turns to 6... not cool. It’s almost worse than just saying “skip your turn” as it goes after the manabase: aka the ultimate no-no in EDH.

Macaroni or Cheese?
If Yosei was tap 5 permanents, those permanents don’t untap, he’d be a totally legit EDH card, even when being recurred. But the Brine Elemental quality of how he is actually worded makes him way too smelly for my liking. I don’t care what someone is doing at the table, nobody deserves to be deprived of their turn in its entirety. The way I see it, if you’re desparate for a monowhite dragon try Elder land Wurm or gump it up with a pearl dragon.