Prelude-


For reasons you will never be able to understand (don’t try), you find yourself wandering in a vast labyrinth.  In your left hand, you are carrying a large meatball sub.  In your right hand, you carry a velvet bag continuing six (6) live skunks.  You are wearing a custom purple and yellow mariachi band outfit, complete with a hat with bells and a custom guitarrón (this is important).

You round a corner, and pass through a door that immediately slams shut behind you.  You find yourself sealed in a room with three locked jail cells, one on each of the walls of the room (the fourth wall contains the door that sealed you in this silly room to begin with.)

In the cell directly across from you is a large man wearing a bloody apron and ass-less chaps.  He is staring at you, salivating, and revving a chainsaw.  In the cell to your right is a middle-aged man seated in a booth with a sign reading “FREE PANCAKES.”  In front of him sits a gigantic steaming pile of fluffy pancakes.  In the third cell is a 6-year-old girl playing with a crate of baby seals.

Suddenly, a buzzer sounds and the gates to the three cells spring open.  You hastily gulp down the meatball sub (You sure was hungry!), and throw the bag of skunks.

Who do you throw your bag of skunks at?


1.

Unless you’re a scumbag who plays non-interactive combo or prison decks, proper threat assessment is the single hardest aspect of playing EDH.[i]   Improper threat assessment is the reason you lost that game the other night that you thought you were winning.  Improper threat assessment is the reason that “being the least threatening player at the table” is a widely accepted strategy for winning games.  Improper threat assessment is the reason why at the end of some games you want to throw your deck across the room and punch a cop.


Let’s talk about this.

1a.

What exactly is improper threat assessment?  Keep reading.

 

1b.[ii]


2.

The reason threat assessment is so complicated (and so easy to get wrong) is because it shifts at all times, based on a huge list of factors.  As I mentioned in an article on my (long since abandoned) blog, when looking at a player’s board state and trying to determine how threatening they are, the quick list of questions you should be asking yourself includes:


-who is their General?
-how many lands do they have?
-which lands do they have?
-how many cards do they have in hand?
-how many cards do you have in hand?
-what cards do you think they have in their hand?
-what cards do you think they have in their deck?
-what permanents do they have in play?
-what other permanents are in play controlled by other players?
-what is in their graveyard?
-what is in everyone else’s graveyard?
-how much life are they at?
-how much life are you at?
-how much life is everyone else at?
-do you have a counterspell?
-do you have Rout?
-what answers do you have in hand or in play?
-what type of player are they?

That’s 18 questions, and that’s an incomplete list.

2c.


If you consider that you need to start considering those factors pretty much from turn 1, and if you consider that the average EDH game probably lasts about 20 turn cycles, and if you presume that the average EDH game contains 3 other players, then the Mr. P Inane Threat Assessment Questions Calculator dictates that you will be answering approximately 1,100 questions per game, which sounds pretty miserable.

2d.

To illustrate this, here’s an awesome example from the life of Mr. P.  THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

So it’s Wednesday, and I’m playing some green thing.  I keep an opening hand that contains Indrik Stomphowler.  The player to my immediate right plays Sylvan Library on turn two.  I immediately begin staring at the Stomphowler in my hand and making plans.  I play a land, and the player to my immediate left plays Sylvan Library.  The player to his left plays Mirari’s Wake, and the first player plays Mimic Vat.

Who do I throw my bag of skunks at?[iii]


2e-.

Obviously, you can shortcut the decision making process.  However, often the strategy people use to shortcut threat assessment is to pick a single factor that will dictate their decision making for the entire game, regardless of what happens after they make this decision.  This is the thought process that gets players killed for playing a Sensei’s Diving Top on turn one.

2f-.


Is it wrong to attack the player who played Top on turn one? Well, that depends; are they going to use it to dig for combo pieces?  If so, it’s probably correct to attack them.  Are they playing mono-white tribal cats, and are running Top to try to provide any source of card draw or filtering to get to their terrible cats?  

Maybe you should not worry so much about them.

3.

Wait, where am I going here?[iv] 

3a.

I am not going to teach you how to be better at threat assessment.  What I am going to do is offer you some ideas of how you can force yourself to become better at threat assessment, and/or how you can help other people to be better at threat assessment.

4.[v]

Perhaps you suck at this.

The best way to get better at threat assessment is to know what things people tend to overlook, and to pay attention to those things.  EDH is a format that is all about resource management, and the three biggest resources in the game are cards in hand, mana producers in play, and cards in the graveyard.  Newer players tend to fixate on creatures and life totals, both of which are not irrelevant but also not as important as they seem.  Creatures tend to die a lot, while lands played on turn one are usually still in play at the end of the game.  Obviously there are situations where creatures have to be answered immediately, but in general the creatures you should be most concerned with are the ones that contribute to resources.  I’ve seen players throw removal at a Baneslayer Angel while allowing Rofellos to remain in play; unless you are at less than 10 life, this is probably the wrong play every time. 

The other component of paying attention is knowing what you are up against.  If a player sits down at your table with a Jhoira deck, you can probably assume that you have about seven turns before something unpleasant happens.  If a player sits down with a Savra deck, you can probably assume that your guys are going to die a lot.  Obviously not every deck is completely linear or archetypal, but players typically do choose a general that suggests a strategic angle for their deck, which means that ignoring the Jarad deck across from you just because it hasn’t played anything scary yet is probably a bad idea.

The other other component of paying attention is that you have to be able to be able to constantly shift your focus as threats evolve.  First turn Serra Ascendant is a problem, but that doesn’t mean that the player who played it is the primary threat for the entire game.

5.[vi]

Perhaps you don’t suck at this.

The best way to teach people threat assessment (or anything, really) is through process and practice.  You know how when someone plays Fact or Fiction, and it initiates a minigame where everyone tries to talk though the split with the poor sucker who actually has to make the split? 

That’s how you develop threat assessment.
(Side note: this next section is written based on the assumption that you are playing with people who are interested in getting better at threat assessment.  If the people you play with don’t care about threat assessment, have fun untapping with Mana Reflection.)
Seriously, try this.  The next time you find yourself in a game with people who suck at threat assessment, make it a point to transparently discuss threat levels at various times through the game.  This can be as simple as explaining why you are attacking someone (“Take ten for having 17 cards in hand”), or processing why you are blowing up a particular permanent.[vii]

The reason this strategy is difficult is because if you really want it to work, you have to 1) avoid being micro-manage-y and 2) be honest.  No one likes being told what to do, and giving tons of unsolicited advice to people who don’t want it is not a good way to make friends. 

Also, you have to be willing to identify when you are the threat.  If you really want to help develop threat assessment in your playgroup, you are going to need to start encouraging people to attack you and/or blow up your stuff.

6.

This is why developing threat assessment is hard; threat assessment is objective, and people like Magic because it is a game that allows for endless subjectivity.  You know those players who will trade you any blue card because they “hate playing blue”?  That’s subjectivity.  People blow up the permanent that they find irritating, or they attack a player because they are dating them.[viii]  They remember something that happened two games ago, and attack the player who wronged them (even though that player is) hopelessly manascrewed in this game.[ix]

Which gets us cleanly back to…

1a. – What Is Improper Threat Assessment?
Improper threat assessment is what allows you to backdoor wins you had no business winning.  Improper threat assessment is why people don’t play graveyard hate.  Improper threat assessment is getting killed off first because of who you are, or what you played last week, or because someone else doesn’t like your hat.
The list keeps going, but the answer is pretty clear.
7.

Obviously, this is the tip of a very large iceberg.  There is a lot more to say on this, but for now I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue, and/or any amusing stories you have about spectacular threat assessment, or (more likely) amusing stories about spectacularly bad threat assessment.  Please hit up the comments section on this one.  Let’s have some fun here.
Oh, and…

Prelude, Part 2-

Fearing a quick, assless chaps-assisted chainsaw death, you throw your bag of skunks at the assless chaps chainsaw guy.  He dies a slow, fragrant, skunk-induced death.  The middle-aged man hands you a pile of pancakes.  You smother them in syrup, and take a huge bite.  Instantly, your throat constricts and you begin hallucinating.  Your pleasant hallucinations occupy you as the baby seals crawl over and gnaw you to death.  As you ascend to Purgatory, you watch the 6 year old girl punch the pancakes man in the face, force feed him a pile of pancakes, and light his booth on fire as the seals clap their flippers and bark endearingly.

(The chainsaw guy was going to attack the baby seals.  He was staring at you and drooling because he admired and coveted your guitarrón.)

Bad game.

XO,

->Mr. P

————————————————————————————————————

Mr P is dashing and daring, courageous and caring, faithful and friendly, with stories to share.



[i] If you’re playing non-interactive combo or prison decks, the single hardest aspect of playing EDH is that you are playing a format you clearly hate.  Go play Legacy.  Mr. P <3's alienating his readers.  
[ii] Cass and I have been going back and forth on this topic for a while, and it has taken us this long to get around to actually writing anything about it because the topic is so huge that it’s hard to know how to start.  Since the Rainpocalypse has resulted in Mr. P having an unexpected day off today, I volunteered to start.  Look for more updates to this ongoing thought experiment in the future whenever Cass can’t think of anything better to write about.
[iii] As I recall, I used the Stomphowler to destroy Mimic Vat.  The Wake player was playing a deck that I knew was somewhat underpowered, and the player with Mimic Vat was playing Kresh. Fascinating.
[iv] The problem with writing a strategy article about threat assessment is twofold.  First, threat assessment is both hugely general and also painfully specific; I can either present you with a bunch of longwinded theories that contain no actual examples, or I can present you with a bunch of specific examples that will not apply to you unless you were actually in the game I am describing.  Awesome.  The second problem with writing about threat assessment is that everything comes off as either excessively preachy or excessively pedantic (although this may be more a problem with my writing.)
[v] You can skip this part if your biggest problem is the dumbasses with whom you play.
[vi] You can skip this part if you are the dumbass that everyone complains about.
[vii] To be fair, it is easier to employ this strategy if you have cultivated the sort of table image where people will listen to what you have to say, even if you’re kind of a dick.  Welcome to being Mr. P!
[viii] And maybe you haven’t noticed this, but what is up with the whole “I’ll attack my girlfriend/boyfriend” thing?  Whenever we have couples in games together, I see them doing this all the time.  Weird.
[ix] To be fair, I’ve chosen which cards to discard before based on quality of artwork.