Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Bosh

And Now, Mr. P Reviews the New Generals from M15

Oh hey, Wizards! Thanks for totally throwing off my prognostications by actually including Legendary dudes in M15! You must like EDH!

Let’s do this!

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Monday At GDC: The Community Sharuum Project, Part 1: My sordid past, and where we can go from here.

Let’s get back up to speed where we left off. 
When last we touched on the topic, I was itching to build an artifact aggro deck.  I got a long way down the path to a Bosh, Iron Golem list before ultimately throwing my hands up in frustration and coming back over to my Esper roots.
Sharuum the Hegemon was my second EDH deck.  My initial foray into the format with Intet, the Dreamer slowly taught me a few solid truths that I’ve since accepted as gospel and built faithfully around:
*Enters-The-Battlefield effects are incredibly strong.
*Synergy trumps Goodstuff™.   
*No-one cares that your Obliterate looks great in foil; it still sucks to play against.
I came into the format from a background of playing Vintage storm combo, and when I saw Intet’s ability, my mind jumped into top gear.  I ended up with a huge pile of splashy bombs that I was playing for free at all the wrong times with Intet’s ability (It turns out that Insurrection sucks after you’ve already attacked) or that didn’t really work with the gameplan I was trying to run.  (Jokulhaups is really good at making everyone lose their permanents and thus not be able to do anything, yourself included.  It’s fun to say, though…especiallty if you mangle the pronouncation and call it “Yodelcarps!”  No, I’m not kidding…) 

Once people got used to what my deck did, it wasn’t long before I was sitting on a pile of splashy bombs that I wasn’t playing, because no-one would let Intet get into the red zone anymore.  I had reduced myself to an awesome deck that never did anything.  It was time to move on to something that worked in conjunction with the deck it was a part of, and didn’t need to attack unblocked to be effective.

These were the early days, back when Sharuum wasn’t immediately synonymous with Disciple Of The Vault and Sculpting Steel.  I admit that I ultimately did end up going down that road before Sharuum ended up filed in the ‘unfun and unplayed’ bin, but in the beginning, it was a sheer joy to throw into motion.  Frantic Search, leaving Memory Jar in the yard and drawing Gilded Lotus, accelerating me into a turn four hand refill felt like cheating.  Hell – back then, I could drop TolarianAcademy into play and Tinker in Darksteel Forge.  Metalworker got me a boatload of utility out of Staff Of Domination.  The deck was a synergistic powerhouse, and I was drunk with the power it provided. 
Of course, the Rules Committee nerfed most of those options once Sharuum really got going globally.  (Funwreckers!)  Ironically, this served to further refine and streamline the deck, and we ended up with the turbo-combo monstrosity that is most-synonymous with the name these days.  Who needed to find utility?  Just tutor up Intuition and combo out.  It became less and less interesting, and very literally became one of the reasons one of my friends all-but quit the format.  (Sorry, Chad!)   
I disassembled the deck in disgust after it sat unused for eight months, despite it being my pride and joy (and the focus of the one-and-only time I’ve actively tried to foil out a deck.  Yeah…I’m kicking myself now for dumping some of that stuff off at buyer prices.  Foil Darksteel Forge?  Yeah…live and learn, I guess.) 

I was back to square one, with no deck and a frustratingly vague target somewhere between my two failed attempts.  I thought I had a feel for an incredibly fun and interesting casual format, and the rug was pulled out from underneath me twice.  

But that’s another story for another time.
And that also gets us current.
I’m a creature of habit.  Everything I do runs in cycles that I tend to revisit over and over (Ask me about my growing collection of Elfquest graphic novels and Marvel-era G.I.Joe trade paperbacks…), so it was really inevitable that I would eventually come back to my EDH roots.  (Intet is back too, as many of you know.  Stay tuned…we’re going to try to find a happy place with that deck soon as well.)  After rediscovering my foil Sphinx of the Steel Wind and moving on from Bosh to Esper aggro, I spent several days searching Gatherer, trying to convince myself that Dakkon Blackblade or Halfdane would be superior choices for my general somehow just to avoid the storm clouds that follow Sharuum around.  It didn’t take long to come to my senses and just accept the truth – as maligned as Sharuum is, she’s still the best general in those colors at getting artifacts into play, and she fits thematically and mechanically as well.  And there’s also my personal Achilles’ Heel – nostalgia.  There’s no reason to cut off the nose to spite the face here; I’m just going to have to deal with the fallout that will inevitably come as a result.
The deck box is labeled, and there’s one red sleeve containing a Shards Of Alara Foil Sharuum the Hegemon in the bottom.  There’s no going back now.
The question remains – where exactly are we going?  I think that, considering the stigma attached to this general, we should be clear where we’re not going:
There is zero chance we’re going to dive into combo territory of any kind.  I want a deck that I can play regularly and enjoy regularly, and I can definitively say that the last few iterations of my former Sharuum build were miserable to experience no matter what side of the table you were sitting on.
Here are the options as I see it:
All Sphinx, All The Time
This option focuses on Sphinx Of The Steel Wind – the reason we’re back in Esper-ville to begin with.  We’ll focus on cards that find the Sphinx (Kuldotha Forgemaster, Transmute Artifact, Enlightened Tutor), cards that make the Sphinx better (Tempered Steel, Steel Overseer), cards that make more Sphinxes (Sculpting Steel, Copy Artifact, Rite Of Replication), and cards that get the Sphinx back once someone deals with it.  (Scarecrone, Myr Retriever)
Full-On Aggro
We’ll open the door for the Sphinx to bring friends.  Darksteel Colossus, Inkwell Leviathan, Mycosynth Golem…perhaps we’ll even go Modular.
Esper Control
This is going to focus more on the synergy of the deck.  Draw that pushes along the deck and works with the general (Frantic Search, Windfall), coupled with strong tutors (Trinket Mage, Entomb) and control elements. (Oblivion Stone, Austere Command)  We’ll probably dig into the Salvaging Station/Artificer’s Intuition engine as well.  (Aether Spellbomb, Nihil Spellbomb, Voyager Staff)
Crazy Theme Deck-Land!
Every card in the deck (save maybe basic lands) is either an Artifact, or has the word ‘artifact’ written on it somewhere.  Or Sphinx Tribal.  Or “Set Draft” construction, with something from each release since the beginning of the game.   The sky’s the limit here.  
Because I always miss an angle or twelve.  Is there a better idea here?
Let’s make this a community project.  We all know how dirty Sharuum decks can be, and the bad stigma attacked to them.  Let’s open this up and see if we can’t take back a piece of what makes her a cool general and a fun option to build around. 
For this round, respond in the Comments as to what direction the deck should go.
Whatever floats your boat.  Pick one of the design directions I mentioned here, or something totally new.  Rally other people to your cause.  Whatever works for you is fine with me.  We’ll tally things for the regular post next Monday (2/20) and dive in from there.  The usual rules apply; we’ll tweak the list, finalize and build it, and I’ll run it through a series of games and report back with results. 
As I did with the Thraximundar contest, I’ll make it a worth-while venture to be involved.  Once this thing takes shape, we’ll decide on details, but I’m not adverse to more alterations for prizes, guest slots or co-authors, or other odds and ends that I can come up with.  You don’t even necessarily have to come up with a whole list…I just want people involved here.  It’ll be organic – we’ll figure it out as we move along.  It’ll be fun!
Let’s do this, and have a great time breaking down a stereotype in the process.

Thursday at GDC: A eulogy for Bosh, and an old Esper friend finds a new lease on life (part one)

Hello again, dedicated readers!  Today, we’ll take a quick look at the results of the “Number Of Decks’ poll that just completed, mourn the passing of a large red metallic friend with a penchant for tossing things around, and talk about the beginnings of the three-color phoenix rising from his ashes.
First up, though, please check out the new poll regarding Prereleases.  You can vote for multiple selections, so pretend you’re at the mall and the girl standing in front of Cajun Café suckered you in with the free bourbon chicken sample.  You’re going with the “Two Items” meal deal here; pick one from the top two choices (‘regional’ or ‘local shop’), and one from the bottom four.  (“Sealed”, “Draft”, “2HG”, “Other”) 
And remember…always skip Sbarro, unless your bathroom is comfortable and you’ve got some reading to catch up on.
It looks like EDH players can’t stop at one deck for the most part:

How Many EDH Decks Do You Have?

None: 0
One – My pride And Joy – 1
Two to Five – My pride(s) and joy(s) – 19
Six to Ten – I get bored a lot when I’m playing the game – 9
Eleven to Twenty – I get bored a lot even when I’m not playing the game – 6
Twenty or More – My name is Mr. P – 1

‘Nuff said.


Today, we gather to pay respects to a kind soul who left us far too soon.  Bosh, Iron Golem passed quietly into the afterlife late last night after extended complications with his decklist.  Let us celebrate the potential this gifted golem with a skin condition, man-hands and a tiny head represented.  We shouldn’t mourn his passing (lest his soul get pissed and throw something large at us), but instead we shall give thanks for the golem he could have been, and the life he will create through his sacrifice. 
.   .   .   .   .
Bosh was supposed to fill two major niches in one for me; artifact aggro, and a colorless general.  I’m sure you can see the immediate problem with at least one of these things.
After all the talk about my stupid deckbuilding neuroses, I decided that a colorless general would alleviate the need to use a full suite of Revised dual lands and assorted fetchlands and shocklands.  It also occurred to me that I could dip my toe back into the realm of attacking with a huge bunch of cool robots at the same time.  You know, just like I did with my old Sharuum combo monstrosity.  (More on this later.)  Er…maybe it was my Arcum combo monstrosity that did that? 
Okay…I’ve never attacked with a huge bunch of cool robots at all.  Those decks were both cut-throat combo engines that weren’t fun to play or play against, and came apart eventually as a result.  The point is that I want to attack with huge robots, and as a result the Bosh list was born.  For the record, Bosh was the default choice, as there are multiple Karn decks in my local metagame, and I sure as hell am not playing Memnarch or either legal Eldrazi as a general.  I want to play the game, not make people hate me via annihilator triggers.

It didn’t take too long to realize that any direction I took this list was painfully underpowered.  I had an initial beginning brewing that involved as many big metal dudes as I could dig up; Darksteel Colossus, Mycosynth Golem, Platinum Emperion, Wurmcoil Engine…I even thought I’d finally found a new home for my Antiquities Colossus Of Sardia after about fifteen years of being relegated to a dusty card box in a closet.  I added in enablers like Goblin Welder and Mirrorworks; a host of red “artifacts matter!” dragons made the first pass.  The usual array of mana enablers, such as Sol Ring, Thran Dynamo, and Gilded Lotus hit.  All Is Dust and Oblivion Stone made the cut for removal, and I got cute with Liquimetal Coating and Viashino Heretic.  I started finding and packing in tricks like Unwinding Clock, Vedalken Orrery, and Rings Of Brighthearth.  In reading various forums, the Valakut option came highly recommended, so in it went, followed by Vesuva, Warp World, and various ways to find basic lands.  I thought I’d get tricky with enters-the-battlefield damage, so I added a suite of red enchantments that let my big guys hurt opponents like Warstorm Surge and Electropotence, Gratuitous Violence, and Vicious Shadows.  I had a bloated list that was almost twice as big as it needed to be.
And it sat in front of me for about five or six weeks and didn’t change a bit.
What I finally came to realize was that a list like this is ultimately hampered by color.  Red really wants to blow up artifacts, not find them and make them awesome.  I couldn’t really tutor past Planar Portal, which meant the damage enchantments were random at best, and they really were the glue making the deck work.  I also found that card advantage was pretty tough to find as well, which meant that the list was going to be playing off the top quite a bit of the time.  I was stuck playing draw-sevens if I really wanted to fuel the aggro engine, which would just serve to give my opponents a ton of answers.  (Let’s face it – Artifacts aren’t exactly hard to get rid of to begin with.)  Sure, it had some threats, but playing them out one at a time when the rest of the world would be playing tons of artifact removal and superior threats like Tooth And Nail or massive token strategies just seemed like a losing proposition in the long run.  I wanted a fun, reasonably aggressive artifact deck capable of keeping up with the average opponents (if not beating them outright) – not a redux of my crappy Angels tribal deck.  It was with a heavy heart that I removed Bosh from his sleeve and sent him packing before even finalizing a decklist to try out in the first place. 
But there was a catalyst to get me moving on this decision.  An old friend came back to haunt me…
(Good lord…I know I like to reference songs, but this one is just terrible.  I apologize in advance.  In fact, let’s try this again…)
(Come on…that’s at least a little better.  No?  Huh…)
(Too easy?  Really?  Y’all are way too picky…)


(That’s the best you’re getting today.  Deal.)

This is the guy that killed Bosh:

I opened a foil copy in a draft at the Alara Reborn Prerelease.  It immediately became a trophy for me, as I traditionally open total crap.  (True story – I opened a Baneslayer Angel at the M10 Prerelease.  I knew it was worth Texas dollars at the time, but I kept it solely because I was in shock from opening a good card.  It’s since tumbled in value and has only ever appeared in my crappy Angels tribal deck.  I don’t regret a thing.)
 I knew I had to play this card, and started crafting an Esper EDH build to showcase it. 
Of course, that was the genesis of my Sharuum deck.  You know what they say about good intentions.  The irony is that the Sphinx wasn’t good enough to make the cut in the face of hard combo wins this thing could spit out, and it fell by the wayside in favor of Disciple Of The Vault, Glassdust Hulk, and Bitter Ordeal. 
The deck was really good.  So good, in fact, that it might have been a roleplayer in causing one of my close friends to quit the format, and no-one else ever would play against it.  I came to realize that even I hated the deck – it just wasn’t any fun to play combo with strong inevitability.  Sharuum taught me the real spirit of EDH by essentially being the embodiment of everything that I’ve grown to dislike about it.
At the time, I tried to detune the deck.  I pulled the combos and the broken tutors, and eased off the crazy mana production.  The Sphinx went in, and I made a serious attempt to enjoy the deck in a non-broken way.  It totally sucked.  I realized that I was comparing it to the raw horsepower of the broken build, and it was simply outclassed by everything else out there once it was de-clawed, but with the added disincentive of having everyone in the world either remember the old deck and gang-pile me for it preemptively, or just understand the fundamental truth that Sharuum does broken stuff, and gang-pile me preemptively for that. 
I decided to reinstate the broken build, but things were too far gone by then.  Despite being my flagship deck, it sat totally unplayed for nearly a full year.  I finally disassembled it and sold the pieces.
The thing I did learn from Bosh was that I was missing a ton of cool artifact creatures by being mono-red.  I was lamenting that fact to the same friend that I’d nearly helped quit with Sharuum, when the story of ripping the Sphinx came up.  I instantly began to lament the fact that I never really put it to good use.  The wheels were turning.  My fiscally-responsible mono-color list was about to become a three-color monster whether I liked it or not.  I tried to put it into the back of my head, but to no avail. 
I just had to play the Sphinx again.  And that’s where we are today.
.   .   .   .   .
Stay tuned for the next installment, where we’ll look at the general options that can support the Sphinx, the other cards that make him much better, the supporting cast, and where I went wrong last time. From there, hopefully we’ll get started on a list.  (I’m sure by the end of it I’ll be begging you all for help cutting it down to size.)
Have a great weekend, everyone!  See you next Monday.

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