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Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: EDH Ghost

Exploring a New Batch of Wizard’s Finest – The EDH Ban List

What’s a format again?

One of the things that I enjoyed about EDH (or Commander if you are part of the new crowd), is that no matter where you go you can at least expect a baseline for which cards you won’t see at the tables. Whether you agree with the Ban List the Rules Committee (RC) cultivates or not, you know you can rely on this consistency everywhere: at a local store, with people I invite over, with people in a different city, or even online. Or that is the way it used to be. But on May 3rd Wizards announced MTGO would adopt a new ban list for all EDH games online, both 1V1 and multiplayer. The Internet instantly exploded, mostly with pretty intense rage, although there were some that applauded this change. I mean there is something wrong with those people, but that is beside the point. 😀

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Delve Deeper: Building for Theme!

Hello and welcome back!

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Form Versus Function – a Partner Commanders Follow-up

I have had the privilege—or maybe the pain (depends on the person)—to work with creative designers for most of my professional career, as well as having many friends that are in various design fields. This has led me to expand my own creativity and helped me understand their workflow and how the creative process works for many of them. This has also increased my understanding of a debate that I think most designers have constantly as they work on projects: Form versus Function. Basically, it boils down to a question of, when you create something, whether it doesn’t need to look good, it just needs to work, or is it about the aesthetic the project yields? Apple has tried to create products that capture both of these elements, with devices that look beautiful and perform flawlessly. Magic could be the same way but does Wizards hi the mark?

From The Beginning.

Now that I have you thinking, let me start from the beginning. In my last article, I spoke about the C16 generals and how in my opinion Wizards missed the mark on the partner mechanic when it comes to theme. It appeared to me they focused mostly on the Function of creating great toolbox commanders and not so much on the Form or theme of the commanders. This generated a lot of great discussion (people I love comments), both on thewebsite and in my twitter mailbox, which I thought was awesome. It has also led me here to an article I think is important to write. For the rest of this article we will replace Form with theme as I feel like this is still the same discussion, but theme fits it a little better in the Magic world. Before I hop into each area, know that there is no right or wrong answers here, just a balance that you need to find to maximize your enjoyment of the game. Once you find that, use the social contract to find a group that values the same thing (or as close as you can get. Honestly it’s a lot like hand grenades, close is good enough).gg

Theme.

Players have often pushed against theme, saying it isn’t important. In fact, some players go so far as to speak against the story of Magic and how it gets in the way of just playing the game. Theme doesn’t have to be a part of the game you enjoy, but it is a major motivation for a large percent of people that play. Why else are the most popular tribes in magic dragons and angels if most dragon and angel cards never see competitive play? Theme.

Wizards is committed to the story of magic, and they do push themes and metagames to fit their vision of a set. Every set’s design starts with world development, when they determine their key characters and start build cards around the characters and interactions. For instance, look at the Eldrazi sets. There was no way of getting around playing with them and the eldrazi cards, which makes sense since the characters were the flagship images their sets. Wizards built the story around the Eldrazi (Theme) and made sure their cards were pushed to be very efficient and powerful (Function). The Magic Story that goes up every Wednesday also proves this point, as they even interrupted the standard story to give a little background story on the four-color commanders from the C16 set. If Wizards throws that much money at the story, then it should be clear that they believe theme/story/world building is extremely important to a good many people.

Function.

Function is a core reason why most of us play the game. We strive to create decks whose functions meets our goals and gives us the experience we desire. In some cases we take it so far that we feel like the only thing important in a deck is how it functions. In fact, some people take no interest in art and story; for them the key is only how fast and efficient can I make my deck. Some EDH groups enjoy this. One group I played with felt if an EDH game went more than four turns it wasn’t worth it (it cut into the amount of games you could have after all). If that is your group’s goal this is fine, just as long as everyone is on the same page.

However, restricting a deck to only focus on function limits your card pool. I call this the “25 best” syndrome. You just acquire the 25 best cards of each color and that is in effect all you play with, because if your focus is only on function why play cards that aren’t the strongest at all times. When people get focused on this style of play, decks tend to get very linear and very similar, which can lead to games feeling the same. It does have the effect keeping a collection smaller and probably cheaper in the long term, however.

All Together Now.

15d53af5646611f844f6846a0dc75785So why try to balance the two together? Why not just focus on that of function? Those are questions we chat about all the time at GDC and honestly the answer generally comes back as, “It’s all been done before.” Now some believe that every deck has been done before, but I can say without a doubt that the closer you get to having that perfectly functioning deck, or the deck that is the most optimized, the closer your deck is to everyone else’s. With a smaller card pool, even different decks start to look alike. When different generals leading “different” decks start to lose their ability to stand out, they become more a toolbox type of general and not something you use to build a story or play out the lore.

The toolbox approach is why I was critical of Wizards in my last article. Partners can be a very rich and fun mechanic, but at least the first iteration focused mainly on good-stuff generals. They are good, but they lack thematic definition. Instead of theme, they become defined by function: combat, or group hug, or card draw. They lack a theme or identity to really build around. Without this build-around theme, they lost the people who want to add a story or theme to their deck. Like in life, the key to making the game fire on all cylinders is balance, like if the Partner Commanders still maintained their functionality but also nailed Theme. You can’t have just theme or just function. Leave one out and you are leaving out a whole subset of players not interested in what you are creating. The story boards and world building are already there so why not make sure you use them.

 Wrap It up.

Give it a try. See what adding more balance (via Theme) to your decks does for you play experience, no matter which side you find yourself on. If you already do, great! I hope to sit across from the table from you and see cards played that make me stop and need to read them as you smile along. There’s nothing better than seeing something hit the table I have yet to see and to see it do work!

Until next time, focus on balance, this is EDH.Ghost out!

Editor’s Note:
On a personal note, I feel somewhat conflicted running regular EDH content today, when there’s so much heavy stuff happening in the United States. After discussing it with the team, I was convinced of the value people get from having a place where they can stop thinking about serious issues to recharge. I am not a fan of separating one’s political & moral/social stances from their professional or personal lives, but I respect that others find a break for the political barrage useful. If you want to talk about what’s going on, or have any questions (fair warning, I’m relatively liberal), I’m on twitter: @MdaveCS. Thanks for reading and understanding.

Follow the Leader – Exploring a New (C16) Batch of Wizards’ Finest!

Since many of you are fresh of Aether Revolt prereleases, and now we have the benefit of a few months’ of wisdom, let’s take a look at Commander 2016. With every new product Wizards releases, we need to take a deep and critical look at the cards and ideas within the set as a community. You probably know that the set hosts two separate sets of commanders, the four-color Legends and the partner sets that are themselves a new mechanic. Let’s dive in and start taking a look at what is and what could have been.

Partners

The Partner mechanic was debuted as a way to build four-color decks using two-color creatures, and thus not break the color pie. Mark Rosewater said the problem with creating four-color commanders is they end up more about the color missing than the colors present, so this is an interesting approach for sure. But the question is, do two-color commanders that can be combined lead to good Commander decks, or even a good play experience? I honestly think that partners could be a good mechanic, but I don’t think the direction Wizards went was the right one. My second question is, “Will it be a mechanic like experience counters or the planeswalker commanders that get made and then seemingly will never be supported again?”

partner-300x200

We are StockPhotoCaptainPlanet!

Theme

Theme is in my opinion the biggest fail to the Partner mechanic as implemented. Let’s take a look at a few of random pairs. First, Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder and Tana, the Bloodsower – what theme could these two have together? What do they do to complement each other? How much cooler would it have been to get a whole storyline, like the Weatherlight crew, instead of just random figures throughout the lore? Or what if one of the pairs could be Stitcher Geralf and Ghoulcaller Gisa[/card}, how much of a flavor win would that be? The Partner mechanic has so much design space. Maybe if we ever see it again, the fine people at Wizards will see fit to push themes…or will we they miss this opportunity again?

Function Vs. Toolbox

You can find plenty of debates about the good and bad of Wizards designers pushing into the Commander space with “made-for” cards being so tailored for the format they become a must to play. See, for example, [card]Command Tower These Partner commanders are less about the function of a new commander that brings a new angle to the game, and more about commanders that are a toolbox. Need card draw? Great. Play Kraum, Ludevic’s Opus. Need recursion? Then play Ravos, Soultender. The generals seem to me to not be exploring new ground, but more just will make it easier for the format to homogenize. Maybe Wizards thinks there’s no new ground to explore in EDH?

4-Color Generals

Let’s take a look at the four-color generals, as I feel like these hit the mark a little better than the partners.

Atraxa-Praetors-Voice-C16-Spoiler-216x302Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice is the most popular of generals so far. She has skyrocketed to the top of sites like www.edhrec.com. Why wouldn’t she, as she has a lot going for her? 4/4 body for 4 CMC, flying, vigilance, deathtouch and lifelink. Not to mention she is an Angel, one of the most prolific of tribes, with some kick-ass art. With Proliferate at the end of every turn, she is a general that can be pretty linear but still has the ability to helm different types of decks.

In fact, I have her at the head of an Angel tribal deck that also plays with ways to hand out +1/+1 counters. The only complaint I have with her is I really don’t see the green influence. Yes, some of the abilities can be found in green, but they are more primary in her other colors. Many have been complaining that she is broken, and it’s true she can take counter themes and infect over the top very quickly, but I don’t see a broken commander, just an efficient one within her wheelhouse. I give her a solid B but nothing higher.
Breya, Etherium Shaper, oh how I hate thee! In a lot of ways this is the thopter queen everyone wanted. She creates thopters, can sac for profit, and create more thopters. The artwork is amazing (I should know, because I have it hanging on my wall). The card also hits each of its four colors better than Atraxa does, and has relevant abilities. So why do I hate it, you ask? Because it will always lead to broken artifact decks. No matter how you build them, you will look down and realize you can go infinite, even without meaning to (right Dave?). I have seen many builds and every one of them, even though many try to do something different, always function the same way. Will Aether Revolt add enough thopters so this deck can be a sweet tribal? Probably, but you won’t see those decks. You will only get the broken ones. I give her a D as I think she becomes this year’s Nekusar, the Mindrazer.

 

Kynaios-and-Tiro-of-Meletis-Commander-2016-Spoiler-216x302Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is built to be a group hug card that helps games along and it does that effectively; however, this is a card that I also don’t care for at all. First, I am not a group hug player, so symmetrical effect cards are never high on my list. You can build your deck to take “better” advantage of it, until another deck takes just enough advantage of it with better quality cards to beat you. Secondly, these two dudes don’t represent their colors well? Where is the white or red influence in the design? There is nothing that says red to me, or white except Solider. Let’s be honest, that is weak indeed. The card does have amazing art but overall I grade the card as a C.
Saskia the Unyielding, hits on a lot of cylinders here. It has a relevant creature type in Human Soldier (much like Kynaios), very good damage output, and is built in way to affect politics at the table. Just imagine, “Hey. Let me hit you for 3 to kill off the threat at the table.” The effects seem to match the game plan of attacking and dealing damage, and even though the target is selected on cast, it can be reset as the game develops. Again, Saskia lacks identity in one of her colors. Where is the influence from black? I give a C+, mainly for not hitting all four colors. In fact, many of these generals feel like three-color commanders rather than four. This could be the result of fearing of making them too strong, so instead they held back a little.

 

Yidris-Maelstrom-Wielder-Commander-2016-Spoiler-216x302Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder lives by one powerful ability, cascade. Cheating mana cost is always a strong play in Magic, and being able to do it with every spell on a given turn after doing combat damage can be huge. Since Yidris functions based on combat damage plus cascade, the card isn’t linear and can helm many different decks. That being said, stopping combat really stops this commander. Again, it doesn’t reflect all its colors well and has the feel of a three-color commander stretched to four colors. Like Atraxa, I give Yidris a B.

 

Closing time

For years, we as a community have been asking for four-color commanders, and Wizards listened and provided them this year. The reason it took so long was Wizards was trying to get it right. The question is did they hit it and give us the toys we have been wanting all along? Yes, we have some decent four-color commanders now, although I would argue they are more like three-color than four. But they do have four colors in their casting cost. Yes, we have a great mechanic that can be expanded in partners. Though the execution this time around was weak, they have a lot they can build on in the future. Though these commanders quality is mixed, Wizards is developing decks that are more out-of-the-package playable, and this year’s have an ability to play a good game.

You also can’t overlook the fact that Wizards is listening, even if they still haven’t reprinted my damn Damnation!

Until next time, keep your head down, this is EDH.Ghost out!

A Ghost of a Collection – Building Your Collection in EDH and Magic

A while ago I wrote about the current cost of Magic and some things to watch out for.  I hate to just complain about an issue without working on a solution. So today I want to talk about building your collection, and how you can mitigate some of the costs and still play what you want. Over the past 20+ years I have learned that building your collection is really a three-part process: planning, acquisition, and liquidation.

Planning

blueprints-ss-1920This is the stage that is most important and we generally don’t spend enough time with it, and if we do spend enough time planning it we don’t adhere to it. I mean how many times have you walked into a store or started a trade and then your eye catches something and now you’re the proud new owner of a card you didn’t need. I break planning down to three parts: format, staples and decks.

First and foremost you have to decide what formats you want to play, as each format has certain cards you will want to have. On top of formats, how many decks do you want to have? I choose one Old School (93/94, because that is when I started), two Legacy, Two Modern, and eight EDH decks (down from 28!). I won’t cover Standard, because admittedly my process is not as efficient for a rotating format. Though you might change how many decks and maybe even what formats you want to play in, this step will still help you plan to get to your initial goal.

Staples is the key to being able to either switch decks or update a deck for the metagame. The perfect example of this for someone wanting to play blue and black in Modern and Legacy would be Polluted Delta. This will cover me if I am playing only one of the two colors or both, and no matter what deck I play it will have this in it. Just be careful you don’t fall into having no deck in mind, and just getting every black card possible. Still, a staple will be a card you should be able to get out of for around the cost you have put in, if not more.

Last, decks are the final part to the planning piece, but maybe the most important part of the process. If you break it down, the decks I listed above only equal 1475 cards, and quite a bit of them are lands. Here’s how I go about evaluating decks in the non-EDH formats I listed above. Start by proxying a deck and play the shit out of it. When I first got into Modern I jumped around between decks, and often lost value. All said and done I went through eight different Modern decks before deciding on the two that I wanted. (By the way, they are the decks I always lean towards.)

Don’t make the mistake I did. Find the deck you really like before you start buying. EDH is a bit more complicated but fairly similar. We change our decks a bit more, but cards like Command Tower and Sol Ring tend to find themselves in a few decks along the way. Find the color combinations you enjoy and get at least the staple lands as a base to work from. Again, create a list before you start buying cards or you will have a bunch you don’t use.

Acquisition

a465Acquisition has to be one of the funnest parts of the game. Between buying and trading, this is one piece that draws people in. So many people say it, not many people listen to it, but I still have to put it out there. DON’T BUY SEALED PRODUCT! Sealed product is almost always a loss, I opened a box of Modern Masters 2 (retail $240) and I average $1.58 per pack, losing $8.42 per pack. Instead, buying singles would have gotten me every card I wanted and kept a few bucks in my pocket. Buying singles ensures you get exactly the cards you need, and it eliminates a bunch of cards sitting in a box you have no intention of using.

Buying singles still takes some planning as you can easily spend more than what the card is really worth. One of the best times to purchase a single is a few weeks after a Standard rotation, although that has become quite interesting with the rotation changes lately. Watch out for buying cards the weekend of PT’s and GP’s as crads often spike and dealers often cancel orders. You can also watch for cards that are over-hyped as when they correct it’s often lower than they are worth. Presales can often be good for EDH cards as SCG proved with $.50 blade of selves presales. I look at a set as it is spoiled and determine if it is a card I would need for a deck, then buy presale if I find it under priced, or add it to my list if I feel it will be cheaper later.

Buying collections can be by far one of the best value deals you can find. I have often found that players who are leaving the game want to get rid of everything at once, and that leads to them giving up value for convenience. When I buy sets I tend not to look towards the cards I want, but instead the cards I don’t want. I evaluate cards at 30% under TCG low to make sure I can sell them to recover my expense and make money after fees to purchase the cards I want (or trade for). Anytime you are over the 30%, you will be able to get great value and really move your collection forward.

Trading can be hit or miss depending on your area and what others have as trade stock. With Internet prices so available, it’s pretty easy to get even value. That being said, you can often ask for something small thrown in that helps you to build towards your lists. There are also sites like Puca Trade or Deckbox that can help you increase the range of your trading. I personally feel like the issues with those sites make it hard to get what you are looking for without losing a lot of value. They are complex so we won’t dive in, but it’s something to at least look into.

Liquidation

When I talk liquidation I don’t mean selling everything and getting out of the game, I just mean liquidating cards that you won’t play again–cards that have been upgraded to something else or just don’t perform how you’d like them to. Rotating cards out can keep your collection more manageable as well as keep the cost down as you can use those as trades or funds for what you want to play with. The key to this step is to ensure you have really worked the planning step out as you don’t want to be selling cards you will need to get later. Once you know what cards you are looking to acquire, the next step is to make sure you get them at the right cycle. If you are playing EDH and you see a cool card spoiled, you can first check the pre-order price to see if it’s under valued, or you can wait until the price drops. On the flip side, if you open something sweet in a draft, you can sell out when it’s expensive in Standard and buy back in when it rotates.

Closing time

Although this game is and can be expensive, there are ways to keep it more reasonable. The key to that is careful planning and staying focused on your goals, now those can change, but the less they do the cheaper things will be. Proper planning prevents piss poor performance. Now let’s get out there and build some decks!

Until next time this is EDH.Ghost out!

Big Money Magic

I love this damn game.

I mean, I really do…but it doesn’t come without its downsides. And one of the biggest issues I think we face in this game is the cost. The cost of the game now drives everything within it, so pardon me while I go off on a bit of a long rant.

You want to play Vintage? Got $15K? No? That’s okay, you can play Pauper. In fact – why don’t you just tell me how much your budget is, and then we will find the right format for you and have you skip a few meals to afford it?

I look at those last few lines and I laugh, but I have heard very similar sentiments expressed to old and new players alike, in person and over the web. I shake my head and wonder how this game can push people in this direction.

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Hidden Gems

Hello and welcome back! I love “hidden gems,” and people have been asking me to share some of mine quite a while. These are cards I play regularly and am surprised not to see much across the table. Most of these cards are very cheap as well, more than likely because they haven’t caught on. My advice is that you might as well get in while the gettin is good!

 

WhiteBlindingAngel

A 2/4 for five mana
is hardly a steal of a deal in any format, but the utility of Blinding Angel is where it’s at. It has flying, which helps, but this text is what really sets it apart. “Whenever Blinding Angel deals combat damage to a player, that player skips his or her next combat phase.” In EDH, people often don’t have a flying blocker, and those that do won’t often risk you having a combat trick just to stop a two-power creature, even one that has a trigger ability.

But, wow can this ability change the game, and it is reasonably priced under $2.50. This is the 2/4 flyer that can. She has held back swarms of plant tokens in multiple games for me. With another gem I’ll mention shortly, it can stop any attack no matter how many defenders that player has. If you like not letting an opponent attack you, why would you not use Blinding Angel?

Blue

Sphinx of Magosi was reprinted in Commander 2014 and now in Conspiracy Take the Crown. Not only is it under $.50, but it is very easy to get a hold of. Six mana for a 6/6 flyer isn’t bad, although the three blue pips do take some consideration if you aren’t playing a heavy blue deck.

Sphinx plays several roles in a deck. First, it is a big beater that can get bigger throughout the game. Second, it’s an instant speed mana sink, you can hold your mana up and use it before your turn. Most importantly, it’s a card draw outlet. While three is a lot of mana for one card, don’t forget it puts a counter on Sphinx and can be used at instant speed. In a blue stratagem of “play a land pass the turn”, this is everything you could want.

GreenNightSoil

Until recently, Night Soil was a bit harder to get as it is from a very early set, Fallen Empires. The reprint in Commander 2013 made it much more accessible and dirt cheap, under $.25. But even with a reprint this is a card that I don’t see across the table much. If you have ever read my articles, I constantly bring up the value of cards with multiple functions, and this card is great at that.

In EDH, graveyard control is very important, and although this card won’t remove everything in their graveyard, it can remove troublesome creatures. Not only do you get rid of their creatures (or yours if needed), but you get a chump blocker as well. Eating your creatures is handy if someone is trying to appropriate one for their nefarious plans. Let’s be honest there’s nothing worse than being beat down by your own creatures. And all for the low cost of one mana per activation!

Red

EDH is the format of crazy sweet lands, but all the cool lands you can play that lead to players not playing many basics if any at all. There’s no reason not to punish them for being too greedy. Burning Earth is another card that can play dual roles, as it will tax your opponents from casting too many spells and it will attack their life points very aggressively.

Just make sure you aren’t running too many non-basics yourself or you will slow the game down to a snail’s pace. You will be surprised and how much work this card does. People will freely use their life at first, but it’s interesting how many people can’t do math end up being on the wrong side of the race after their cavalier starts. This card clocks in at a staggering $.20 so don’t let it break the bank!

Black

There is nothing funnier in my opinion than saying counterspell when you aren’t playing blue, except maybe meaning it. Anytime the color pie gets stretched or, in this case, broken, there is a real opportunity for gain.

Withering Boon may only hit creatures, but sometimes that is all you need to turn the tide. At about $.40, this card is a steal and a great way to surprise your group and add a good laugh. Really want to throw someone off? If you are playing Blue/Black, tap all your blue mana and they will play right into this counter.

Gold

For a card that came out in a recent set I am surprised Crackling Doom doesn’t see more play. It is three colors, so it can’t fit into just any deck. However, with the four-color decks coming out I would think this should find a home. For three mana, each opponent sacs their biggest creature, which means it gets around indestructible and you’re hitting three to four creatures. This is a really efficient spell, but add a little life loss for your opponents and suddenly this spell is totally worth a slot. Having answers is key, and this is a very good answer to big bad creatures. At around $.40, this card is a no-brainer.

Lands

Here is a card that I see a little bit, but honestly, when you start talking staples I’m not sure why Rogue’s Passage doesn’t make the list. You are always searching for evasion, and this gives any creature evasion, not to mention how much easier it makes general damage. Sometimes you just need that last bit of damage to win the game, and this gives it to you. I love telling an opponent they are dead only to have them respond with, “I have blockers.”

Me: “Yes yes you do”

Me: “I make my creature unblockable and swing for the win”

Opponent: “Oh”

Some might see this as a cheap shot. But if an opponent is running removal, either for lands or creatures, they can stop you, so I see no issue with it. It pairs perfectly with a card like Blinding Angel, as you can eliminate the threat of combat (at least from one opponent). I make sure to run cards like Strip Mine specifically for problems like Rogue’s Passage. With all the recent reprints of it, it’s now down to about $.10 and should be a serious consideration for a land slot.

Put a bow on it.

This game is very expensive, and you can drop a lot of money into a single deck, but there are a lot of cheaper options out there that can really add flexibility and power to an EDH deck. All but one of the cards I outlined today were under $.50, with the most expensive being under $2.50.

Hopefully you enjoyed this look into under-utilized cards. Please feel free to comment below if you disagree with any suggestions. Better yet, feel free to share your hidden gems, and brownie points if they are under $.50!

Until next time this is edh.ghost out!

By The Numbers

Hello again, my friends – and welcome back! Today, I want to get into the nuts and bolts of building a balanced EDH deck – how to start the process by breaking down the different parts of the deck, and proper analysis of the numbers that drive it.

Now, I want to preface – these numbers are just a place to start, and not an end all be all. Instead, this is a guide to template your decks; that is, to make sure you have included all of  the pieces you need to make a balanced and effective deck. Some pieces may fit into a couple of different categories…and that is a good thing.  The more jobs a single card can do, the more important it is to your deck.

First and foremost, let’s break down the different parts of the deck. I personally look at a deck in eight different parts:

  1. Lands
  2. Spot removal
  3. Mass removal
  4. Draw spells
  5. Ramp
  6. Fixing
  7. Function
  8. Graveyard

Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are the groups I organize in a deck to ensure I create a deck that is balanced. Let’s hop into the first category and see if we can’t break this down.

Lands

Let’s talk about lands for a bit. First and foremost, anything under thirty-six lands is just a poor idea, as the odds of you hitting your fourth land by your fourth turn are close to 50% – and the odds only get worse from there. If you look at both Standard and Modern formats, 36% would be a minimum of 2% less than what even the fastest decks run. Now, it may not be quite as critical to hit lands in time in our little format, but it is still telling – competitive manabases are what they are because they work. I personally run between 37%-38% as the starting place, and then – depending on the mana rocks I use – I might go up from there.

Lands generally aren’t the “sexy” part of the deck, but they are the most important!

Two things I really focus on when building a manabase are tapped lands and utility lands. Lands that enter the battlefield tapped often have an added advantage to offset the drawback, and that is why some are worth playing; however, it is a bigger downside then many people think – and often the upside isn’t even that great anyway. Guildgates and other similar two color lands come into play tapped, and are often not strong enough in the greater scheme of things.

Now, they are a good budget option, but in many cases they just aren’t worth the effective lost turn; in a two-color deck, I wouldn’t even consider them, as you simply don’t need that much color fixing. Not until you get into three-color builds would I even begin to look towards them, and only if I don’t have any other affordable options. I try to make sure I don’t use too many tapped lands in a given deck, and if I do, I want them to have another solid function (like scry) or be check lands that will often be untapped anyway. Still, I try to keep these to a manageable 5% of the deck so I don’t hit them too often. With that in mind, fast lands for EDH probably aren’t worth it in my opinion.

Utility lands are the part of this equation that I see most people get wrong. There are so many great utility lands that people tend to load , but too many utility lands that produce only colorless or generic mana can make things a lot tougher for your deck. If many of your spells have only a single pip in their casting cost, having a few more can be great, but if you are playing cards like Phyrexian Obliterator, you need to minimize your colorless lands to ensure you can meet mana requirements of your cards in a timely fashion. I try to keep the utility lands to under 10% of the total deck; no more then ten, but I prefer to shoot for eight.

Spot Removal/Mass Removal

I have both categories of removal lumped together, even though they really are separate- and honestly, most people don’t run enough of them either way. I try to keep these around 5-8% per group and will adjust one way of the other  if it fits the deck better; as an example, in a token themed deck I will run less mass removal and more spot removal.  I don’t often want to reset the board, but there will be threats I can’t live with.

Both types of removal need to be as flexible as possible; for spot removal,Utter End comes to mind, since it does a couple of things that are very important. It hits at instant speed, so you can wait to use it until you absolutely have to, and it exiles – which is very important.  Lastly, it hits all non-land permanents. Spot removal like this is worth the extra casting cost, and very much worth a spot.

For a sweeper, Austere Command is a solid mention – you can pinpoint the trouble areas and hit specific groups, minimizing unwanted collateral damage. As a good rule of thumb, be sure that you can remove enchantments as well as creatures and artifacts. I also try to keep a card like Strip Mine for troublesome lands that just need to go.

Draw Spells

The Commander format revolves around a high density of powerful spells, which typically means that the more of them you have, the better you will tend to do. With that in mind, having draw spells in your deck is absolutely critical to being more successful. I run around 8%-10% of my total cards as draw of some sort; that gets tougher in decks like red/white, but it can – and needs – to be done.

Many people might argue that this is simply too few, and it could be…but I have found this is a consistent number that is attainable for most decks – make changes as you see fit. For example, if you are playing a deck full of cantrips, this number will be quite a lot higher. Try to find cards like Soul of the Harvest that can net you cards as well as serving another role (big beater!), or Sword of Fire and Ice (buff, protection, damage and draw in one neat package).

I also like Blue Sun’s Zenith as it gets shuffled back in your deck for reuse, and it also often can be a huge benefit to shuffle the deck up.

Ramp/Fixing

These two also often get lumped together a lot, but really are two very different things. Ramp means reducing the lands in your deck (card advantage) while speeding up how fast you can generate mana. Fixing insures you have the right colors; cards like Signets or Chromatic Lantern are perfect examples. Now, if you are only playing a single color, you probably can get away less fixing (as opposed to a five color deck) and often some of your fixing can come from lands as well – hello, fetchlands! (As a side note, yeah – fetchlands do reduce land draws later in the game, but by a very negligible amount in a 99-card deck – so calm the hell down!)

I like to run between 8-10% of the deck as ramp and 5-10% as fixing, again a bit more if playing more colors. Pay attention to bonuses; cards like Krosan Verge do both, so if you’re in those colors…why not include it?

Function

Here is where the rubber meets the road, and in my opinion this where the biggest part of your deck should be committed – the function or theme of it. What is your deck trying to do and why? Plain and simple, if it’s tribal zombies, you should probably have a bunch of zombies (right?) as well as cards that support the little cuddly beasts. If you are building a Talrand, Sky Summoner because you just love drakes, then all the instants and sorceries with be a part of that theme, since they effectively directly make them.

So yes – all those counters fit in the ‘spot removal’ section, and they are also a part of the theme.  Also, everyone will hate you.

I tend to commit about 30-35% of my decks to theme, and wherever cards can have dual purposes, I want to make sure they support the theme fully. I have heard the argument that this number can be as low as 18%, but I find those types of deck concentrations weak on theme – they tend to drift to ‘Goodstuff.dec’ territory, and while there is nothing wrong with that specifically, they tend to lack some of the fun of a strongly-themed deck.

Graveyard

People, people – I am sure you have never seen anyone use their graveyard in a game of EDH, right? Right?

I mean, with the lack of graveyard removal I have seen in peoples’ decks, I would certainly think this is the case. Seriously – you need to run graveyard removal or control; in every game I have every played, there have been some sort of graveyard shenanigans to occur.

Every. Single. Game.

So why the relative lack of graveyard control? No really – I am asking because that is one thing I just can’t understand. At the very least, you should have 3-5% of your deck address the graveyard. The colors that do this best are black and green, but there are artifacts that can make their way in any deck – the most popular are Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus, but don’t forget effects like Reito Lantern, or Rest in Piece (if you’re in white.)

Now, I hate to say a card should go in all decks (I’m looking at you Sol Ring[\card]!), but Crypt and Relic can both be put in any deck that doesn’t have enough graveyard hate available because of it’s colors.  Do the math.

Wrap it up Yo!

If you add up all the numbers, you will find the high end equals more than 100% – and that is okay; some cards will have dual purposes, and hopefully you are finding cards that do serve multiple roles, as that will only make your deck more flexible and resilient. The more you can craft a deck that can pivot and react  to the different threats it faces,  the more the deck will be fun – and stronger overall. Now, I know some will argue the numbers I have presented, and that is also fine – because they are wrong.  (Kidding of course!)  No, this article is intended to give you a baseline to work from, and not an exact template.

What I do personally is after I reach my 99, I filter all the cards and see how close I am in percentages in each of the areas I mentioned here. If I have deviated a long way, I try to come up with a reason as to why; if I can’t answer that, then it simply isn’t ready.

But really, that is the fun of a new build – heading back to the drawing board to give it that one last tweak that makes it all click.

.     .     .     .     .

Happy deck building, and I hope to see you at the tables!  Until next time, this is edh.ghost out!

There’s No Problem With Politics in Commander

Hello, fellow Commander players – and welcome to what will be a fun journey into the format!

The thing that always blows me away about Commander is the many different reasons that it draws people in. Maybe you want to play with goofy cards or synergies, or maybe you love casting those expensive 6-8 CMC cards that have a ton of power but are too slow for competitive play. Maybe your deck becomes a story that plays out over the course of a long game.

I want to talk about the one piece of the Commander game that has the biggest draw for me – politics.  I had a fantastic debate with Erik – GDC alumni and current StarCityGames writer.  He may have had a few things to say on the topic in his article today…..they aren’t exactly right, but hey –  everyone is entitled to their own opinions!

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