Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Zedruu Theory

My most recent EDH efforts have been around a Zedruu deck. While she will never be a powerful general, and might never even be a good general, there are some interesting strategies possible around her. The deck remains untested - but these are my musings so far on Zedruu for EDH:

1. Howling mine and pals are a non-bo.

One of the first things people jump to with Zedruu is donating a howling mine. That’s certainly where I started, eyeballing viseling and sudden impact mechanics for the deck. The problem with this is Zedru’s only real advantage is giving you cards. If you’re giving everybody extra cards anyways, what’s the point in playing zedruu to draw even more cards? Unless you lean on crap like library of leng or spellbook you'll be limited by the 7 card hand size limit anyway - especially if you want mana available to donate.

2. Zedruu will die.

The biggest problem with most zedru strategies is the player tries to give away heaps of cards only to have their general wrathed away before they truly start to benefit from those donations. In the same vein she goes quite nicely with a retribution of the meek.

3. Donations will die.

You don't want to be starting over from scratch with the donations each time you play Zedruu. If you give away creatures, those get wrathed away at the same time zedruu does. Artifacts and enchantments are a safer investment, but lands are the safest donation by far. Ultimately though I would just avoid donating creatures.

4. Donating takes a lot of mana.

The cost of donating cards via zedruu is a known annoyance. Having to pay RWU specifically makes it very mana intensive, especially if you try to donate 2 things in a single turn and even more if you’re giving away lands/signets. Goblin Cadets, Rogue Skycaptain, Loxodon Peacekeeper and Vedalken Plotter are all huge cards to have down before you bring zedruu out as its a free swap. Puca’s mischief gets an outside nod as it costs the same as zed, and requires other cards to work.

A lot of 2-drop artifacts can help curve you into zedruu a turn faster and ensure you get all 3 colours to get her out in the first place. My favourites are pentad prism, sphere of the suns, and talisman of progress as they make for nice donate fodder once zedruu is out.

5. You need to do something when your plan works.

So you’ve donated 4 cards and kept zedruu on the table, way to go! Now what... my angle of choice are the various maro’s (kiyomaro, sturmgeist, etc) but those alone won’t get there. A certain number of slots probably have to be reserved for huge “gg” cards like akroma or magmatic force.

6. Donating doesn’t have to help anyone.

While lands are safest, the best donations are things like spellshock and tsabo’s web that are of no benefit whatsoever to the person receiving them. The nice thing about “damage” permanents like ankh of mishra and psychogenic probe are that zedruu’s minimal life gain ability actually helps take the edge off of these for you.

7. The white-ramp combo

Land tax, tithe, and gift of estates are all solid ways to make up for donating lands with zedruu and in most cases fill your hand (e.g. buff your maros). On the red side of things donating lands weakly combos with price of progress and acidic soil.

So that basically outlines where my current build is at. I’ve yet to play it though so cannot comment on its effectiveness, but at a minimum its a zedruu approach that isnt the tired pheldagriff-style “group hug” nuisance deck.

Macaroni or Cheese

Even on her worst day zedru cannot be considered cheesey, and it allows you to be as generous or sinister as you feel from game to game. You can also teach other players a lesson by giving them your “fun cards” so they can see what its like to play without a perma-fog combo or stasis lock (if such a player is permitted in your playgroup!)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

There can be only one (or none)

A few weeks ago I was curious to read the “official” EDH rules, wondering if anything had changed with Commander launching as wizards-approved format. In addition to the official sites, I found an archived page somewhere referring to a rule I’d never heard of before: Generals in EDH are immune to the “legendary rule”. That meant they’d trigger it, killing off any pretenders in an enemy’s deck, but legendary commanders would survive any attempts at duplication.

For a few fleeting moments my clone effects suddenly looked bad, and uril the miststalker looked better (cheesier) than ever. However, asking around it was revealed that this was definitely not an official rule of the format - nor was it even a commonly practiced house rule. The format stayed as I’d always known it, and I could rest assured that this would still be a fantastic card for the few decks that could make use of it:

Clone effects are great because they all act as extremely potent, reliable removal in Commander. Spitting image is a cut above the usual options because of retrace - which means every land you draw reads “kill target general” once its in your graveyard. Beyond that amazing utility, the effects are great because they usually mean you get something worth a lot more than what you just paid - or the right answer at the right time. For every spearbreaker behemoth or inkwell leviathan you copy for 6, there’s another time when the right pick is copying a bone shredder or stomphowler. Spitting image gives you options and virtual card advantage (turns lands into power) which is about all you can ask of a solid EDH card.

The biggest knock I have for this card is that its green/blue and thus only fits in a handful of possible EDH decks. Beyond that its very fairly costed at 6 mana, and probably the best retrace spell there is. You should have lots of easy ways to fill your hand up with more lands between cards like journeyer’s kite, land tax, armillary sphere, and even sprouting vines so it sits there as a rattlesnake to anyone who wants to crush you with general damage, while simultaneously letting you get your own version of the best guy on the board whenever you’ve got a land to pitch.

Macaroni or Cheese

The effect is awesome, it has re-usability, and its just expensive enough at 6CMC to not be broken or excessively annoying. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One format's trash...

There’s a funny story about this card. My old playgroup did a shards of alara “league” (mix of sealed and block constructed), and when we saw this card each of us had to take a turn reading it to fully appreciate how bad it was (seemed). For seven mana you might deal damage if a creature dies... even in that format it was unlikely for someone to have more than a card or two in hand if there was 7 mana on the board so you were looking at trying to kill four creatures just to make the damage comparable to a lava axe. This was of course, before any of us had heard of EDH/Commander.

What the card needed was extra players around the table, longer games, and more prolific card drawing or card advantage... sound familiar? EDH provided the environment this card really needed, propelling it from absolute trash to borderline overpowered. It is not uncommon to be able to 1-shot a player with vicious shadows the turn after playing it. A 5 player game will usually have at least 5 creatures around the table - sometimes a lot more. Firing off a wrath after laying down shadows is usually good for 5-10 triggers, and most players maintain hands of 4-6 cards throughout a game of EDH. That’s 20-60 damage to distribute as you please in a single turn.

The upside of the card is it creates an incentive for people to dump their hands so that they aren’t vulnerable to it. The downside is sometimes its just not possible to do before you get dinged for massive amounts of life. A hand full of situational answers, or 7CMC bombs, just cannot be dumped at will.

Another upside is that it can be a straightforward equalizer if you go for the players with the highest life totals rather than the ones with the most cards in hand. Its only as much of a bastard card as you make it - although sometimes its too hard to resist hitting the guy with a 7 card grip, whatever his life total may be.

Macaroni or Cheese?
I’m on the fence with how brutal this card is. Its really a question of how much you can do about it before you succumb to the shots-to-the-face. Often you’ll have just one turn to respond, and if you don’t have a disenchant in hand too bad for you. So yeah, its an EDH bomb - on the line between tolerably and intolerably cheesey.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Some Removal Required

Long time no blog...
It’s been a while since my last post, but we got in an EDH session last weekend and I’m feeling interested in the format again. A quick update on some of my experiments:

1. The Hidetsugu deck was a flop, as monored EDH is every bit as boring as advertised. You’re a fool not to play gauntlet of power, extraplanar lens, caged sun and a bunch of firebreathing/x spell/mountain-based cards, but playing those makes the deck criminally dull. I don’t blame hidetsugu for the failure, I blame monored in general.

2. Rafiq is too strong to be fun. I played a single game with him, and of course 1-shot an opponent on turn 5 with might of oaks, then followed up by playing finest hour and going after my other opponent for 24 general damage per turn (star format). My hand at game end a turn later included loxodon warhammer and mass calcify, so things looked pretty much sewn up no matter what he did. I could have re-cast rafiq two more times without breaking a sweat even if he had died.

3. My replacements for these two generals are kaervek and zedruu. I think group hug decks are retarded, so I’m trying to make a viable (and not terribly obvious) zedruu deck - will do a post on it if it turns out decent. Kaervek is just a coolstuff.dec so far but has been pretty fun to play.

Public Service Announcement: Removal is good
During our weekend session there were several games that got extremely out of hand when not a single opponent around the table could muster a single removal spell for an easy target. In the first instance I played a turn 3 Edric that went uncontested until a turn 7-8 spitting image. In the other a turn 5-6 Kalia of the vast went uncontested for the entire game (along with her dragon army).

Its a fairly sad state of affairs when you get obliterated by a 2/2 flier or a 2/3 ground creature with no survival properties whatsoever. In both cases the generals win by amassing ridiculous armies, which means they are also hugely vulnerable to sweepers. The problem is removal spells are almost universally less exciting than big flashy sorceries or permanents, and end up getting chopped from decks in favour of those more exciting alternatives.

I’d advocate a 10-removal-card-minimum for any deck worth its salt. Most of these should be high potency, surefire kill spells and sweepers like final judgement, doom blade, beast within, spine of ish sah - anything that can take down your average creature and ideally a couple that can wipe out your average army. They usually won’t synergize with your deck or help its theme, but they will be crucial to not folding to the first threat that turns your way.

On top of that you can usually throw in a few niche removal spells like hull breach, snapback, or arcane denial. These spells are usually great, but their inability to permanently deal with a creature thats pounding away at you means you can’t rely on them too heavily.

Two other ways to improve your removal count is to play creatures that act as removal (dread, michiko konda, hateflayer) and to dig through your deck (flux, diabolic tutor), but again there’s often no replacement for a good old fashioned wrath of god or terror, so you should find room in your 60 playables for some iteration of those cards. Thinking you can race your opponent instead of removing the problems is usually a recipe for failure, as they’ll just start buying back a constant mists or lob down an island sanctuary. Heed my words of wisdom: at least 10 pieces of removal per deck!