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.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Winning Isn't Anything

I was first lured into EDH by the concept of an eternal singleton format. I thought the whole “general” thing was kind of stupid, but the idea of building decks that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg and that could be played with friends was very appealing. I looked into it online and was even more excited to see that this was the mother of all casual formats, and that the golden rule for playing EDH is “don’t be a douchebag”.

I’ve been enamoured with the concept to the point that its almost a personal crusade to see the format played properly and to its fullest potential (see this entire blog for more on this). However, over the past year or two I’ve felt like the EDH players I’ve seen at FNM and on Facebook are missing the point of the format entirely. There’s too much talk of infinite combos and broken cards and not enough talk of stupid bad cards. Players still want to win more than they want to do something creative. I will always remember my one stint playing outside my own playgroup, as one guy setup an elspeth-based permafog combo while the other went infinite with reveillark for the win. Sygg, River Cutthroat and his bonesplitter never felt so sad.

This combination of experiences has left me a little uncertain if I’m the one out of the loop. If the format is becoming “just another constructed format” and no longer the bastion of casual play. It may be evolving, but I’m sure I didn’t misunderstand the original intention behind it. Recently I stumbled across an old article by Sheldon Mennery, the godfather of EDH, that reminded me that I’ve got the right ideas about how to play EDH. The article in question covered his least favourite cards, and was important not so much for the cards on the list, but for the explanations of why they are such bad cards. Take his rant against mindslaver for example:

”I wouldn’t mind seeing a player using Mindslaver to have one opponent kill another, but it’s never used that way. And one activation is fine, but again, no one uses it just once. It’s used to completely screw over a player. If you think that Slaving someone and making them sacrifice all their resources and empty their hand is funny, you probably think that Adam Sandler is a gifted comedian—which I suppose is fine if you’re 12. The reason Mindslaver isn’t banned is the distant hope that someone somewhere will find ways to use it in truly amusing ways.”

Sheldon and I are clearly on the same page when it comes to being creative, letting others play the game, and not being cut-throat. And if he’s the face of EDH and he feels this way, that means I’m right, and anyone reveillark comboing or tutoring up kiki jiki and pestermite is wrong.

In a recent blog I talked about the idea of threat and how some powerful cards aren’t worth playing because they draw too much hate. Another reason to avoid powerful cards is because of how they constrain the deckbuilding options of everyone else. Each “answer-me-now-or-die” card that exists around the table is another reason each player needs to slot in marginal answers and tutors and play fewer interesting but weaker options. Or as Sheldon puts it:

“One of the common responses to talking about antisocial cards is people saying “Well, you should just pack removal or counterspells.” If you toss into your deck all kinds of answers to whatever might come up, you end up dedicating such a portion of your deck to removal that you don’t then have a coherent strategy. I love toolboxes as much as the next guy, but I’d like to be able to do something other than just respond to someone else’s stuff.”

Nowadays when I build decks I try to avoid anything that puts people in an answer-me-now-or-die situation. I want to spread my damage around, give people at least a few turns to come up with an answer, and not require anything too crazy to address what I’m doing. I was recently eyeballing Volrath the Fallen as a general, thinking of the “hilarity” of tutoring up and discarding Draco to him. But one-shotting someone with your general really isn’t that funny, and it puts at least one player in the awkward situation of needing the right answer right now.

It’s tough to get used to but the primary objective of an EDH deck cannot be to win. The right way to build EDH decks is some mix of being creative, making crazy plays, winning with bad cards, and going out with guns blazing. When things like that motivate your card choices you’ll know that you’re “doing it right”, and purists like myself will look upon your stigma lasher and moldervine cloak and be pleased.

Post Script: Another relevant Sheldon quote:
"I see there being four basic principles of The EDH Social Contract:
Come in the Spirit of Friendly Play: This comes in two parts. First, bring a deck that is in keeping with the contract. It’s actually not much of a challenge to build a completely broken deck. The challenge is building a deck that strikes a balance between being capable of standing up to the other decks you’re playing with and not overdoing it. Your deck can be fun for you AND for everyone else at the same time (and it doesn’t need to be a Group Hug deck to do it). The second part of the spirit of friendly play is simple good sportsmanship. Take some interest and enjoyment in the wacky things everyone else is doing. And even if you’re smashing face, don’t be a jerk about it.
Give Everyone Else a Chance to Play: Again, a little disruption and self-preservation is fine, but completely taking the game away isn’t. A well-timed Disenchant or Counterspell that keeps someone from going insane or keeping you (and/or others) and the game alive makes sense. I actually find that players don’t play enough spot removal, but that’s getting away from philosophy and into strategy. If you’re completely robbing others of the ability to play the game, or you’re the only person enjoying yourself, then you’re in violation of this principle. 
It’s Not Personal: When someone counters your spell, they should expect a little retribution, but spending the rest of the night doing things merely to harass them is over the top. I’ve seen too many games devolve into pissing contests over something not particularly significant. When someone with good reason does something to one of your cards, take it like an adult. I’d hardly consider it picking on me when you disenchant my Beastmaster Ascension when I swing your way with a legion of tokens. 
Take in the Big Picture: Consider how your actions impact everyone and the environment around you. No single game happens in a vacuum. Think about how you might make the game more enjoyable for both yourself and others in the future. The most significant point here is to be the person that others actually want to play with again."

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Going aggro"

Whenever I sit down to build an EDH deck I find I’m faced with a common deliberation: do I want to ramp or not?The default for the format is to spend the first 3-4 turns ramping, and then get down to business with some 7+CMC bombs. Its effective, but predictable. Going off the beaten path then requires dropping those ramp spells and instead finding cards at 4 CMC and below that can be effective in a 40 life multiplayer format. This is a challenge, but it can work. I’ve put together a number of decks that bypass ramp spells and go with aggressive alternatives.

My most extreme example of a low CMC aggro build was my Edric deck. It was almost entirely 1 and 2 CMC creatures with evasion (scryb sprites, marsh boa, silhana ledgewalker) and cheap removal/counterspells (pongify, utopia vow, envelop). A few 3 costs made the cut like lorescale coatl and descendant of masumaro, but I think I only had one spell costing more than 3 (overrun).

What I loved about the edric deck was the fact that none of my creatures were worth stealing, and other than edric none of them were really worth killing. What I hated about the deck was how a monkey could pilot it, and how my wins were almost entirely based on whether or not edric was killed. Its a cute deck for going off the beaten path of ramp-into-bomb but wasn’t ultimately all that fun to play (and is thus dismantled).

Looking for something more interesting than vomiting green and blue weenies onto the table, I recently started dabbling with monoblack suicide aggro, under the command of Mikaeus the Unhallowed. The curve is a bit higher than Edric but most of the deck is 2 -4 CMC and most importantly - no mana rocks. This is a deck that’s pretty much committed to failure, but if you can’t smile at playing Hasran Ogress and Flesh Reaver in a 40 life multiplayer format, there’s probably something wrong with you. I snuck in a few tutors and repay in kind as a possible win condition, but mostly this deck is about the absurdity of doing 10 damage to yourself in order to do 16 to an opponent.

My most successful aggro build is also my longest standing deck - Sygg, River Cutthroat. The deck is mostly 2 and 3 CMC with a few 4-6’s; the creatures are evasive/unblockable, the removal cheap, and the equipment cheap and effective (go bonesplitter!). The deck charges up when Sygg is drawing more than 1 card per turn, but can still make a dent without the extra cards. The deck being full of spot removal is also a nice change from relying on the efficiency of sweepers

Which isn’t to say there’s no place for ramp-into-bombs.dec. Aggro is less common and more challenging to do, but EDH was originally conceived as the home of the 7CMC crap-rare so there’s nothing wrong with paying homage to it. My guilty pleasure is my Maelstrom Wanderer deck - which is the epitome of ramp-into-bomb. Every spell under 5 CMC is a ramp spell/artifact, and virtually the rest of the deck is 6 and 7 CMC bombs. Its resilient, potent, and cascade is a pretty fun effect as these things go. RUG is also by far my favourite colour combination - I just really don’t enjoy playing animar or riku, and intet’s ability almost never goes off or it goes off but you get a land. Wanderer is an insane card and even more insane general, but he’s one of two viable generals in the wedge and by far the superior of the two. 

Macaroni or Cheese?
I think every aggro card/deck in EDH deserves a nod from chef boyardee. You know giant solifuge isn’t very good in the format but you run him anyways because its cooler to solifuge than to ranger’s path on turn 4. The big crazy spells will always be the heart of EDH, but the hunt for obscure cards eventually has to lead you below 4 CMC and into aggro territory. It’s not necessarily effective, but its definitely amusing.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mass Land... blinking?

When I started playing magic, armageddon was a fairly common card. It wasn't something to worry or complain about, it was just a part of the game. I can remember in the good old days trying to exploit mass land destruction with decks built around ernham djinn + armageddon or jokulhaups + ivory gargoyle.

Many years later when I picked up the EDH torch, mass land destruction no longer looked so benign. The key differences are how long the average game of commander takes and the likelihood of a land sweeper bringing a game to its end versus adding an extra hour or two to it. In a duel, with even a small advantage on the board sweeping away the lands can cripple your opponents' ability to improve and let that advantage translate into a quick victory. In a 40 life multiplayer format, that is just a lot less likely to be the result. Its harder to get an advantage on the board, and there are a plethora of 1 and 2 mana spells that can stop you from winning post-LD. You might think darksteel colossus is a sure bet if you blow up all the lands, but you're one unsummon or swords to plowshares away from joining your opponents in recovery mode.

And what's wrong with that? Topdeck wars. It is not fun to have to pray that your next card/s will be land/s. This is compounded by the fact that most EDH decks are built to play 7 mana crap rares - having to rebuild from scratch means every one of these beauties you draw is now a dead card further hindering the re-development of your mana base.

Mass land destruction is a totally legitimate strategy that can lead to a quick victory. For me tho (and my playgroup) it is simply not worth the downside of a slow crawl back into the game. Commander games already tend to lean towards 2 hours or more so having one grind to a halt due to an obliterate is extremely painful. I would rather just play the game to its conclusion and then start a new game afterwards, than have obliterate as a full reset mid-way through the same game.

But what if there was a card that could give you the benefits of a land sweeper, without the risk of slow and painful topdeck wars? That would be a pretty cool card wouldn't it?

I wasn't sure how this would play out, and I only got to use it once, but it seemed like a perfect compromise on the issues with cards like jokulhaups or obliterate. If you've got an advantage on the board, you'll get it back before others have all of their mana available. There's no risk of a topdeck war really because everyone will get a land drop each turn as long as that's what they want (you usually want your other permanents first). If someone has an answer to your threat and plays it right away, oh well, proceed with restoring your lands from exile. If they were relying on confiscate though, you've now got 6-ish turns to do your worst.

Macaroni or Cheese

This is a fairly old card, and I've never seen anyone else play it. That lets it pass the hipster test of a macaroni card. I also think its awesome that it lets people play with the mass LD strategy - and who knows, if I saw it enough and saw that the land sweeping tends to end games far more often than it prolongs them, I'd consider lifting the house rule against it. That's a long shot, so in the meantime let's just send those lands on vacation rather than blowing them up.

Friday, May 18, 2012


Anyone who has played raid-level world of warcraft is probably familiar with the concept of threat. In warcraft monsters determine who to attack based on how threatening each hero is. A hero’s threat value is determined by how much damage it has done to the monster plus any special threat modifiers on items/spells. Most heroes are not built to take damage, and thus have to manage their threat to avoid getting stomped.

A multiplayer free-for-all game of magic has clear similarities. Each card you play, and each decision you make carries a threat value. If your threat gets too high, the other players will collectively turn on you and probably wipe you out. You want to maximize your effectiveness without going over that line and winding up face down in the dirt.

There are essentially four types of threat in multiplayer EDH: commander, card, action, and reputation.

Commander Threat

To me, this is the largest component of a player’s threat value in a game - although it depends quite a bit on the experience of each player. If someone hasn’t seen Riku, Mereike, Brion, or Uril in action they might not understand what’s probably about to happen to them. In some cases experience may not matter if its clear that one general seriously hinders another (mimeoplasm vs tariel, vorosh vs karrthus, etc). In either event, the moment you reveal your general there’s a chance you will draw immediate heat based on how comfortable each opponent is in dealing with your general. If they can’t handle the general, they’ll be forced to try and kill you outright instead.

Card Threat

This is the threat most people use to make decisions. The actual state of play of the board at any given time and going after the “board leader”. The guy with the indestructible vulturous zombie and the debtor’s knell on the board is a lot more scary than the guy with the Orgg. This is also the threat you should be most comfortable generating, since at some point you need to establish a presence and see if anyone can stop you or not. In most games your threat will either be dealt with (destroyed) and forgotten about, or you’ll win. Individual card threat doesn’t usually linger the way commander threat does. Unless of course you’re playing graveyard recursion, in which case each card you’ve played does have a lingering threat value - possibly a very high one at that.

Action Threat
This refers to the decisions you make during the game. Who did you attack and why? What permanent did you destroy and why? As long as you’re spreading your damage and destruction around the table you can dodge this fairly easily. But if you come out and arbitrarily counterspell someone’s yavimaya elder, they are probably going to remember that. The worst instances of this type of threat are when two players get locked into a side-battle of ever-increasing threat towards one another. Bashing each other back and forth while disregarding the rest of the table. In the end they both lose, and it can make for some unfun and tense game play as well.

Reputation threat

This extends to both the player and their decks. Sometimes you know what a deck is going to do because you’ve played the guy before - like someone whipping out a brion stoutarm deck, but you know its not about stealing other people’s creatures. In that case their reputation reduces their threat.

In terms of player-based threat, we’ve kind of hammered this out in our playgroup. There were some rough situations in star games where you knew your two enemies, and that one had a weak deck while the other was strong. The winning play is obviously to beat down the guy you know is better and deal with the weaker player later, but that’s not really fun. We really encourage spreading damage around and not focusing a player (at least without good reason :p) so this is just a cultural thing for our group. 

In Summary
When choosing a commander and the cards for your deck, you should think about how much hate those cards will draw from the table. Sometimes a weaker card is actually better based on its lower threat value (e.g. tariel vs mimeoplasm). In other words, lay off the cheese and make more room for your pasta of choice.

Friday, May 11, 2012


I’ve found EDH is at its best when players take risks and play high variance cards. Save the sure-bets for limited and standard and let EDH be the format for taking huge risks. People won’t remember who won a given game, but they’ll remember the crazy low probability plays that turned a game on its head. Winning is cool, but EDH is all about winning with style.

A recent EDH session of 5-player star had the following memorable scenario play out:

Me: proteus staff your Jenara
Doug: reveal blightsteel colossus and put it into play
Me: oh shit. Pass turn
Jon: drops hand and draws 5 new cards thanks to my teferi’s puzzle box, plays act of treason on the blightsteel and attacks Doug
Doug: condemn
Me: phew

Now, anytime you’re forced to condemn your own blightsteel to avoid death it’s pretty funny, but what I especially liked about that sequence was how the high variance cards of proteus staff and puzzle box made the blightsteel and the act of treason that much more epic.

This breed of card is becoming my new favourite thing in EDH. It doesn’t take a genius to play bribery, but nobody will find it particularly fun watching you poke through their deck and take their best card. Now let’s try that again with Telemin performance or stolen goods - the reward is a surprise and everyone is curious to see what you manage to pull, unlike the boring inevitability of a bribery. Whether you hit the jackpot or whiff brutally odds are it’ll be more fun either way.

There are a lot of high variance cards out there that are great for shaking up EDH. Some of my favourites are temporal aperture, proteus staff, omen machine, mayael the anima (great general for this effect), and even warp world if its not being abused.

My most recent discovery in the random rewards program is this little beauty:

It’s worded a little strangely, but basically you reveal a separate card for each player you target - going in turn order. I almost always at least consider putting breath of malfegor in my red/black decks - kaboom is the same idea with much higher variance, and thus much more entertainment value. This beauty went right into my mayael the anima deck - with hopes of living the dream and revealing krosan cloudscraper or autochton wurm - but knowing that there’ll be times when I land my sensei’s divining top or kodama’s reach.

Macaroni or Cheese

Any of these random reward cards are pure macaroni as long as you’re not setting up your deck to optimize it. I’ll admit to running congregation at dawn and a divining top in Mayael, but I’m just as happy (if not more so) to blindly roll the dice and see what comes up. Plus how can you not love a card named “kaboom!”?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Constant Fog

Fog is one of my favourite EDH effects. It is one of the ultimate trumps when facing down a kicked savage beating or an out-of-nowhere blightsteel colossus. The mechanic is great as you can wait until your opponent tips their hand that they are coming for you - then fog and launch your retaliatory strike on your upcoming turn.

White gets in on the action with holy day and dawn charm, and black has an out-of-character stall in darkness - but this is ultimately green’s slice of the colour pie. Moment’s peace is an EDH staple, and I personally love how tanglesap is 1-sided for my stonebrow deck. Lately though I think I might have crossed the line with what amounts to a permafog:

Now constant mists would be good in the format no matter what. Its only real answer is a counterspell or to run the caster out of lands. What pushes it beyond good is that our house rules include “no mass land destruction”. This is a pretty common casual EDH rule, and in my opinion the topdeck-war-stalemate-marathon games it prevents make it well worth a few barbs. Constant mists is one of these barbs - a card that indirectly exploits the rule by letting you turn that untouchable surplus mana into recursive damage prevention. In multiplayer the guy with 30 points of damage at his disposal can either hit someone else, or stone rain you.

The balanced version of fog for EDH is moment’s peace. The end is always in sight once you see a player resolve it, whereas with constant mists you count the lands and see at least 6 more turns of the same coming, which is depressing. 

I think the card falls in the same vein as mana ramp decks that rely exclusively/heavily on the general. If we allowed armageddon and obliterate this strategy would probably be terrible, but with the no mass LD rule its a chincy way to win games. Constant mists is probably a bit worse as its lose-lose. You either stone rain yourself out of the game, or your opponents are unable to interact with the card and you eventually kill them with some evasion.

Macaroni or Cheese?

Although I’ve yet to play against the card, I’ve won several games with it and there is no question that it is cheesey. There are very few ways to interact with it, and the best counter is banned by a house rule (mass LD). Like insurrection before it - strong? hell yes. Too strong? definitely.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

White sucks

I have a pretty solid collection of EDH cards that I've built up over the years. My principal for collecting is to only buy and use cards that are worth $5 or less, which keeps the hobby from becoming expensive and the collection fairly diverse.

What's funny is that after all these years of acquiring interesting crap rares the number of white cards I own for EDH is abysmal compared to the other colours. The white pile is a sliver at the back of the box, and honestly I'd guess 70% of the cards I own in white I've never used and probably never will.

White is simply not a fun colour. The closest it gets is when paired with red for something like basandra or master warcraft. White's contribution to the format can pretty much be boiled down to this:

Disenchants: Return to Dust, Ray of Distortion
Wraths: Akroma's Vengeance, Austere Command, Hallowed Burial
Point removal: swords to plowshares, condemn
Tokens: sacred mesa etc
Angel fat: Akroma, Adarkar Valkyrie, Angel of Despair
Land fetch: land tax, wayfarer, tithe
+Ghostly prison
(if you're cheese loving, add karmic guide and reveillark for combo cheese I suppose)

The sad thing is green gives you comparably good disenchants (stomphowler, krosan grip, acidic slime), tokens, fat, and better land fetch. Black gives you comparable wraths and point removal. And meanwhile black and green have all kinds of interesting crap rares to give your deck that extra oomph.

I actually combed through my collection to see what white cards I have that I'd consider interesting for EDH; there are 14 and that's being liberal with the definition of "interesting":

Patron of the Kitsune
Konda, Lord of Eigango
aven mindcensor
karmic justice
intervention pact
debt of loyalty
reverse the sands
michiko konda
dawn charm
galepowder mage

Now obviously that doesn't count multicolour cards, which is where white goes from abysmal to tolerable, but still - 14 cards I'd be interested in playing for an entire colour? Something's wrong. No wonder white only turns up in 3 of my current decks: Mayael (autocthon wurm, hunting grounds, akroma, wraths), Cromat (Nephilim...) and Teneb (wraths).