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.