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."