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Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: good stuff

Flashback Friday… er SATURDAY: The Danger of Nice Things – Intet and the Problem of Good Stuff, Part 1

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on May 21, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday (Saturday this week…), because what’s old is new again. In honor of Cassidy re-buying into the format yesterday, with his sole deck being the quintessential Cassidy-UR-Judo experience, we thought it would be fun to go back to some of the earliest “anti-goodstuff” thoughts from Team GDC. 
I’m a bad person.
No, really.
I’ve been lying to you all this entire time.  You come here twice a week to hear me tell stories and complain about improper threat assessment.  (Okay, maybe you come in spite of that last one.)  I try to be honest with you and give you interesting, engaging, and funny things to read.  After all, I want you coming back every time I post something.
But I put on a show as well.  I like to talk about the things I don’t like about EDH.  I don’t like infect or mass-land destruction.  I talk about my dislike of Mind Twist effects, and I don’t play with the “general damage” rule.
I rail on “good stuff” builds.
The problem is that sometimes…just sometimes…I head up to my man-loft (dirt-floor basement, people.  The humidity kills my foils down there…), lock the door behind me, dim the lights, and start dreaming up new ways to accelerate into a turn five Tooth and Nail for Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar.
Good people do bad things.  Sometimes they just can’t help it.
NOT BAD MEANING BAD BUT BAD MEANING GOOD
I admit that I’m frequently guilty of falling prey to “good stuff.”  Let’s face it…if you run green, it’s really hard not to slot Eternal Witness or Primeval Titan into your deck.  Consecrated Sphinx is too strong to pass up.  Have you seen what happens when you resolve Rite of Replication targeting it?  To be fair, it does suck to have someone immediately resolve Insurrection afterward…
…See?  It’s really easy to slide comfortably into the ‘goodstuff’ trap.  It’s like a nice warm bed on a cold winter morning – once you’re in it, it feels way too good, and it’s really hard to force yourself to get back out of it.
 When I build, I try really hard not to fall into the trap of auto-including cards like this just because they’re solid cards, but I do tend to pepper in a few here and there across my various deck lists.
But with Intet, I run them all.  And then some.  The deck is a powerhouse based on the sheer volume of game-altering card choices contained within it.
Yup.  Huge hypocrite.  Nice to meet you.  Guilty as charged.
Before you show up with pitchforks and torches at my front door, though, let’s look at the “how” and the “why.”
IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN (AND RED AND BLUE)
As I’ve said before, I was drawn to Intet not for the colors, but because of the ability.  I’m a sucker for all things free, so I couldn’t resist building around Intet’s “bring a friend” trigger.  As I spent more time in the format, however, I came to realize that this particular enemy color shard is defined just as much by what it can’t do as by what it can.  The single-most important thing that a deck loses if it has no access to both black and white is removal independent of damage.
This is actually huge.
Without the ability to run sweepers like Wrath of God and Decree of Pain, we lose the ability to reasonably answer a mass grouping of creatures.  Red can deal mass damage, but Protection from Red shuts off Disaster Radius; pro-white doesn’t touch Akroma’s Vengeance.  There are conditional targeted options such as Beast Within, but the only true sweepers (Oblivion Stone, Nevinyrral’s Disk) can be shut off due to required activations by various cards like Stifle and Null Rod.
(To be fair, I’m discounting the inclusions of cards like Obliterate and Decree of Annihilation.  Sure, they wipe creatures off the board, but at the expense of all lands as well.  This is a whole different ball of wax, but on a basic level, you’re still paying a minimum of twice what white does to take out an army.  As we’ll see below, eight to ten mana should – and can – just win the game instead.)
Additionally, there are options in red and green that deal with all artifacts (Creeping Corrosion, Pulverize), and ways for green to handle enchantments (Back To Nature), but white corners the market on doing both (Austere Command) in one package.  If you lack white, you’re running two cards to do the dirty work of one.  Good luck making sure you’ve got the correct one at the correct time.
There are some other things that go missing as well (such as raw tutor power from black), but the critical differences are large hurdles.  They force Intet to compensate, and usually the way to do that is by over-compensating in other areas.
RAW POWER
As we looked at before, being in green, blue, and red make for availability of some intensely powerful card choices, making it really simple to achieve a deck that can simply out-gun white and black removal.  Let’s look at what we have access to:
-Green offers unbridled mana acceleration that can’t be touched by any other color.  This starts early with Sakura-Tribe Elder and starts to push into stronger options like Kodama’s Reach, before exploding into the top end with Primeval Titan.  R&D has also seen fit to toss us a few over-the-top bones like Tooth and Nail and Genesis Wave over the years.
-With blue, we also have a lock on the best card draw (Consecrated Sphinx, Rhystic Study, Fact or Fiction) as well as some of the better synergistic tutor options in the game.  (Trinket Mage, for example.)  Blue also offers up some equally-absurd high-end effects, such as Rite of Replication, Bribery, and Blatant Thievery.
-Red is a little more refined, but we get the best haste options (Urabrask, Anger), along with some borderline-broken synergistic enablers like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Insurrection.  Good times.
But it’s the combination of these options that really pushes the deck over the top.  Tap out for Tooth and Nail for Avenger of Zendikar and Prime Time.  If you have In the Web of War, win on the spot.  If not?  You’ll want mana-up so you can Hinder the wrath effect that’s coming.  Fortunately, you can play Seedborn Muse and not have to worry there.  In a pinch, Insurrection probably breaks the game open for you alone.  If not, Kiki Jiki and Pestermite can do the same thing, or you can Crystal Shard your Eternal Witness to recur Time Stretch all day long.
It just keeps going and going, folks.  White and black look absolutely pedestrian in comparison.
When you combine an ability that promotes getting expensive things for free for the low price of three mana and a combat phase, you end up with a deck full of broken cards and broken strategies.  I’ve spoken recently about Generals that are designed with a very narrow “build around me” theme or strategy in mind; I won’t quite put Intet into this category because the ability doesn’t suggest a specific avenue to go down card-wise, but it sure suggests a certain subset of cards at least cost-wise.  (Let’s face it…you’re not trying to get a free Fires of Yavimaya…you’re trying to get a free Ulamog.)
It’s a slippery-slope strategy strapped to the back of a legendary dragon.  I don’t condone (or enjoy) falling this heavily into “good stuff” territory.  It’s not somewhere I ever want to end up when I build a deck, because it leads to very linear, un-fun games.
It’s not what I had in mind when I first set out to build an Intet deck.  I had good intentions.  I swear I did.
But you know what they say about good intentions, right?
.   .   .   .   .
Stay tuned for next-time, folks…there is a light at the end of the Intet tunnel.  We have a special guest coming onboard to look at part two for some solid alternative strategies and mechanics that can take us away from the “good stuff” trap – as well as much good stuff you can get away while still maintaining a fun play environment.
Also – For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I took the reins for another installment of “Dear Azami” over at StarCityGames again today.  Please take the time to hop over and check out “Numot: Enter the Dragon”  I appreciate the continued support!
Thanks again,
-DJ

Building For Better Commander Games: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up Building

Kresh the Bloodbraided has been a pet deck of mine for a very long time.  Other than Sharuum the Hegemon, I think this has been the deck that I’ve built more than any other general out there.  It stands to reason that I’ve also given up on it more times than any other as well, and I finally realized my mistake – one that has likely put me in such a bad place game-wise for so long.

Last week, I took a chance and reversed my design preferences, and promptly won four games back-to-back.  But we’ll come back to this in a bit.

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The Fun Box – Crawling Back From The Bleeding Edge Of Commander

I’m that guy.

It’s taken me a long time to really come to terms with this fact; to step up and really own it for the first time. I’ve made tons of excuses over the past year as to why I’m just trying to keep up with the overall power level of the shop, or why I needed to compensate for a particularly rough patch of game losses, but the reality is pretty simple:

My name is Cass, and I’m a blatant GoodStuff™ abuser.

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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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Dissecting “A Unified Theory Of Commander”

An article on Commander entitled “A Unified Theory of Commander” hit the interwebs over at Brainstorm Brewery this week, and it seems to have struck a chord with the community. I wanted to take some time to weigh in with my thoughts here; I think the author, Jason, came with a solid angle, but might have lost sight of the forest for the trees in the process.

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GDC Podcast #5: Complainatron 5000 – Kaalia, Goodstuff, and Staples

Check it out. Podcasts two weeks in a row. Woot!

Download GDC Podcast #5 by clicking this little number.

In this edition of Grumpier old men who play EDH, Cass, Sean, and Mr. P discuss EDH, the issue of staples and goodstuff, Kaalia of the Vast, what qualifies as a staple, and silly prices.

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