GeneralDamageControl.Com

Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Guest Writer

Is It Commander Enough? (A Guest Article)

Hello everyone. I’m Kyle Carson, or Cowboy Kyle at events, and this is my first EDH piece. By day I’m a lover of metadata and dedicated family man. By night, well I’m exactly the same. I play commander generally once a week at my LGS on the Space Coast of Florida, but think about the game more than I would like to admit. I recently attended Gen Con 2016 and had an absolute blast. After bumping into a lot of the GDC crew at Gen Con, this guest article happened.

Most people who attend Gen Con play a large diversity of games, try demos, cosplay, and compete in events. That’s not me. I come with my cowboy hat on and I play commander. I do this for four days from 9AM-Midnight, only getting up to eat and drink if/when I remember. Some days I even forget to go in the vendor hall. I play with anyone who I can find, or find my cowboy hat as is often the case, and enjoy the diversity of the format. This year I brought eight decks. One, Maelstrom Wanderer dragons, I built for and gave to my brother who plays once or twice a year. The other seven I rotated daily, carrying 3-4 each day. I had a ton of fun, but left the weekend with a problem. Only two of my seven felt commander enough.

 

What Is “Commander” Enough?

Commander is often called battlecruiser Magic–A format where you can play big, splashy cards, create crazy board states, and have ridiculous amounts of synergy throughout your deck. You can also explore crazy areas of deck building; see KaKa’s Philosophical Commander series or JamesD’s No-Black Dimir. Decks should be able do epic things or feel epically silly. I’m looking at you S tribal.

Only two of my seven felt that way. Lorthos went big and controlling like he is supposed to do. Sedris, with my Lich King alter, got to do his cheat mode shenanigans. These two felt great. I always felt like I was in the game, made big plays, and even occasionally won.

sedris alter small

Alter by Jaclyn Foglia @JaclynFoglia

 

The rest felt some combination of flat, uninteresting, and completely out of the game. My Jori En, Ruin Diver list is supposed to be a blue moon/mill style deck, but almost never had anything relevant on the board and regularly got run over. Glissa, the Traitor recurred less than five artifacts all weekend and felt like it was just missing something. Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper is filled with synergy like a Jund cockroach deck should be, but took so long to get his feat set that he was always 1-3 turns behind. Dragonlord Ojutai didn’t even make it out of the hotel room. One game on Wednesday night with my roommates and the deck just did nothing. I couldn’t justify carrying it around all day.

The biggest disappointment was my Oros deck. The deck plays efficient threats, a lot of removal, and is often incredibly resilient to whatever my opponents are doing. This year Oros just didn’t feel epic enough. It was still gaining life. It was still attacking. There were even small flashes of brilliance. Thanks Gisela. But the deck just didn’t feel good. My creatures, Gisela aside, weren’t powerful enough to tangle with opponents. My removal and recursion didn’t line up right.

 

Am I Just Bummed I Lost So Often?

To be honest, that’s entirely possible. My old LGS in the western burbs of Chicago had a solid group, but my decks were something to be reckoned with there. This weekend I won five games that I’ll count, out of about 30 to 40 games. Four with Lorthos and one with Sedris. Erik Tiernan paid me the compliment that my decks were some of the better he saw. Austin, a Gen Con attendee, said they were strong and often forced some form of allied effort to take down. But I’m not used to a win rate below 40%-50%.

 

Are You Saying My Deck Isn’t Commander Enough?

No. I’m not saying that your deck needs to come apart. I’m not saying you need to stuff your deck full of commander staples like Tooth and Nail, Bribery, Rise of the Dark Realms, Insurrection, and some big white card. What I am saying is that I wasn’t having fun. This site is about defending the Social Contract so that everyone walks away happy with the game, win or not. I regularly ask what kind of games people are here for, but I try to go one step further. I like to ask if my deck was fun to play against. Did I go too far? This is especially true in Lorthos, who can lock up a game if left to his own devices.

This weekend I only had to ask that question three times… Instead I kept asking myself if I went far enough.

 

So What Next?

First thing is I’m shelving the five for a week or more. Beyond that I’m honestly not sure. I’ve started a running list on my phone of decks I have and those I would like to build. My Magic time is limited and relatively precious to me. I want to feel like I’m a real player in every game, and, If I’m being honest, I want to be at least close to winning. I also don’t like to have more than six decks. I just don’t have time to play them, and tweaking and tuning is a lot of fun for me.

Maybe it’s time for a massive rebuild. I hear that’s a popular choice here on GDC. Maybe I just sit on them and start trying them again at my LGS to tune the problems out or grow the sample size. Right now, I can say I want to build, but it’ll be days or weeks before I can do any real deck building.

So I don’t have a lot more to say about that question – did I go far enough – yet… But I have been thinking about two other questions to help me figure it out:

  1. Is what I’m trying to do worth talking about later? I play EDH because of the stories.
  2. Does “this card” make me smile? Would I enjoy seeing it across the table from me? Those are my goals.

 

I’d love to hear what you think here or you can find me on Twitter @KyleCCarson.

P.S. Wasn’t There An Eighth Deck?

My brother’s Maelstrom Wanderer deck was definitely ”Commander” enough. The deck is devoid of combos and contains simply ramp, dragons, and Warstorm Surge. He ramped, smashed face, and always felt like he was in the game. He did comment that while it was fun, it felt a bit cheesy.

Cowboy Kyle

Guest Content – Stapling it Together

I have a staples problem.

I sat down yesterday to put the finishing touches on my new Vorel of the Hull Clade stax deck. I was trying to find the right 63rd card for it, flipping through binders and boxes. Another counter? A ramp-spell? Some sweet, on-theme tech that makes the deck feel special? And then I flipped to the page of my binder reserved for Prophet of Kruphix, and the decision was made for me. I sighed, took out a copy and slid it into the list.

Hi, my name is Nathan Savoy, and I have a problem. (And I’m a guest author this week – but I play in the same shop as Cass and Mr. P, so I’ve heard the Social Contract talk.)

Read More

(Guest Content) Round and Round: Xiahou-Dun will Find a Way…Just Give Him Time.

(Hey, folks!  Cass here –

Monday was an exercise in frustration for me.  I’m not kidding when I say that I’m terrible at building mono-black, and after pouring over the suggestions and lists, I didn’t feel any closer to a good ending place.  Thankfully, Mr. Smith was in the same place, so I decided to let him take center stage. 

Nice guy!  Handsome and smart too…

Anyway, the main point is that I’m in a “sleeved up and testing” phase right now; I was able to get in some seat time last night, and some things are becoming apparent, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel. 

In the meantime, Tyler (close friend to GDC and the inspiration for building Xiahou Dun to begin with…) has stepped in to dissect the situation and offer a great take on the list.  I’ll let his great writing speak for itself; in the meantime, if there are thoughts on narrowing things down based on what we’ve put up in the past few days, please drop me an email or post up in the ‘comments’ section. 

Without further ado…)

Dear GDC/DJ/Mr. Smith,
Xiahou-Dun, The One-Eyed (XD) is powerful card.
The problem is that black is the worst color in EDH,and with XD, you’re stuck with it. 
On top of that, XD provides a very difficult tension to work with when deck building.  Imagine for a minute you’re in MagicalFairyLand building a deck.  You put down your Cinnamon Whiskey and pick up your general options and see this:

Chuck Wallace, 1B

Legendary Human Bullfighter Creature

3/2, Unblockable

You also see this:

Steve Wallace, 1B

 Legendary Human Scumbag Creature

 1/2, Sacrifice Steve: Cast Regrowth 

 

Your options are clear here; build Voltron Chuck, or build MBC Steve.  Chuck aggressively takes shots and swings evasively while your deck holds up everyone else, or Steve aggressively recurs control elements while tickling the babysitter.  Here in the real world, however, there is no more Cinnamon Whiskey, and XD costs four and does both of those things, but not at the same time.  That’s right folks; evasive beats or recursive control right at your fingertips, but you must decide which one to pick each turn. 
Now, I’m sure you are wondering why this is a problem…just pick one and build the deck around it, right?  Except four mana is not aggressive enough to not make the best use possible of everything our general has to offer. 
XD ain’t got no strings, Bro.
Let’s go back to the other issue with this deck:  Black sucks.  In the history of competitive magic, what has black done?  It has provided the temporary mana acceleration of Dark Ritual and the life for cards trades of Necropotence and Yawgmoth’s Bargain  to ruin people’s lives with combo decks.  It has provided the one-two-three punch of Duress, Hymn to Tourach, and Pox to ruin people’s lives through disruption.  It has provided the second most powerful card in Vintage in Yawgmoth’s Will.  It has produced threats aggressive enough to beat Mana Drain at the cost of losing to Lightning Bolt with Phyrexian Negator.  It has put 9-mana white creatures into play on the first turn with Reanimate. It has exactly one good creature: Dark Confidant. It has worked really well in conjunction with other colors. It has a linear tribal deck that’s only good enough for Standard. 
None of these things are good in Xiahou-Dun Commander.  

What are we supposed to do with a schizophrenic engine/beater general and the worst color in the format?  Cry?  Give up?  Drink Jaeger shots?  Go for it anyways?
Can we build a deck that can put both of XD’s abilities to good use?  I think we can.  If we design a deck that maximizes opportunities to gain value from XD, but doesn’t rely on him to operate, I think we can make a deck that functions fairly smoothly. 
Let’s identify how we need to gain that value.  XD’s evasion can provide a win condition.  If we use other evasive creatures in conjunction with effects to pump up or otherwise enhance them, XD can be a part of that plan.  Equipment is often the go-to effect with evasive guys, but there are auras and one-shot spells as well.  XD’s recursive side works really well with a suite of silver bullets and tutor effects.  He can reuse a tutor to find another bullet, effectively answering any threat…unless it’s an artifact or enchantment.  (Welcome to playing black.)  What I’m envisioning here is maintaining control of the board through spot removal and sweepers, possibly targeted discard in case someone gets out of control, and grinding out the win with a suite of large, hard-to-block men.
Things we’ll need: 
-Large, hard-to-block men.
-Ways to make those men more effective.
-A recursion package for XD
-Silver bullets to cope with everything (except enchantments.)
-Tutors to find the appropriate bullets.
-A protection suite for our graveyard.
-Ways to keep our hand full – We are a control deck, after all.
-Mana manipulation:  Gotta have the swamps, bro
-Sacrifice theme:  Grave Pact makes the cut for sure.  Will anything else?

 

Welcome to my nightmare.  This is how I build decks.  I assign numbers to everything, and start filling slots.  To get started, I’m arbitrarily going with 42 lands that tap for mana.  We don’t want to miss any land drops so we’ll aim high, but we’ll come back to them later. 

Let’s break down the other 57.
7x Large Evasive guys – They’ll show up by the time we’re ready for them.  Off the top of my head:
 Stronghold Overseer – Shadow seems good.
Rune-Scarred Demon – He cantrips!
Reaper From the Abyss – Having this guy active will help to maintain control.  In my old version of this deck I found myself needing to recur and cast Damnation every turn just to keep everyone else off my back.  I couldn’t win until I had exhausted everyone’s resources or gained enough mana to recur multiple things each turn.
Butcher of Malakir – Flying Grave Pact.  Seems reasonable.  Will help with the above issue as well.
Ulamog, The Infinite Gyre – Our answer to enchantments. Can be sacrificed to protect our silver bullets as well.
Pestilence Demon – See Reaper from the Abyss.
Dread – He’s a nice rattlesnake, and hard to block!
6x Recursion Suite:  Dawn of the Dead and Corpse Dance will be your all-stars.  You will need them eventually.  Everything else just keeps you going until you get there.
Dawn of the Dead – Ready to take the same turn every turn?
Corpse Dance – This is why we need mana ramps.
Profane Command – This can loop every turn or more to take out some creatures or whittle away life totals.
Sheoldred, Whispering One – See how I snuck in a large-ish, hard-to-block woman?  Value!
Phyrexian Reclamation – This will tide you over until you find Corpse Dance.
Grim Harvest – Same here.
12x Bullets – We’ll talk about this one:
Sweepers!  Let’s go with Damnation and Mutilate for their low, low mana costs, and Decree of Pain for its all around awesomeness.  For spot removal I like Tragic Slip, Annihilate, and Corrupt.  Life gain is always worth it, and Corrupt doubles as a re-useable win-con.  Annihilate in recursion mode can be pretty impressive.  I’m always tempted to run Slay based on my local metagame, but I haven’t pulled the trigger yet…
OK…six slots left.  What can Black do other than kill creatures and search for things?  Not much.  Let’s toss in Shred Memory as an additional tutor (plus grave hate.)  Rapid Decay might be a good choice for grave hate as it can be cycled early and recurred later.  Suffer the Past is strong as well.  I support running graveyard hate.  Gate to Phyrexia gets the nod as an answer to artifacts.  Since Black can’t deal with anything else, let’s lean on Aether Snap vs. Planeswalkers.  It also takes out Kobold tokens, an effect we’re clearly all looking for.  Last but not least, I think Oblivion Stone goes in.  It’s not recurrable, but it’s very tutorable, and sometimes opponents cast Drought, Life Force, Karma, and Light of Day, and you just need to deal with it. 
So, in review:
Damnation – I got nothing.  It’s the best!
Mutilate – Indestructible this!
Decree of Pain – You know it and love it.
Annihilate – Kill Prime-Time and draw a card!
Tragic Slip – Kills Ulamog every time.
Corrupt – Secret Win-con.
Suffer the Past – Secret Win-con.
Rapid Decay – Try Again!
Shred Memory – Tutors for some really wonderful effects.  Also wrecks opponent’s lives.
Gate to Phyrexia – Not a bad card, really.
Aether Snap – A big finger to staples like Jace, The Mind Sculptor! (Notice I’m not suggesting Dark Depths…)
Oblivion Stone – Gotta have a reset button.
5x Pumps – I want to be able to staple one of these to a hard-to-block guy and just pound an opponent for a bunch.  I don’t want to be waiting around to grind out a win.
Strata Scythe – Go big or go home
Lashwrithe – Sneaky win-con!
Nightmare Lash – If your fiery horse has a fiery whip, he’s extra fiery!
Quietus Spike – If your friends don’t like losing to this, just lock down the game and attack everyone fourteen times with XD.  They’ll get over it.  (My group eschews the General Damage Rule)

Batterskull – Sneaky win-con plus life-gain!
6x Protection Package – To be fair, we have so much redundancy that we can tutor up anything over and over again.  We don’t need to preserve our graveyard in its bloated state; we just need to save our bullets from exile.  I’ve brought in the reshuffle suite, some of which will hate on opponent’s yards if we need that effect.  I also get nasty here and bring in some heavy hate.  Null Rod shuts down so many things in this game, it’s just brutal.  It will turn off our equipment, but it will often be worth it, and two of our pieces of equipment come into play attached to a guy.  Sadly, Damping Matrix and Cursed Totem turn off XD, so they’re no good.  I include Infernal Tribute as protection for our engine parts, not our graveyard.  Losing Dawn of the Dead to Return to Dust or XD to Spin into Myth is bad times for us, so let’s not let that happen.
Feldon’s Cane – Old School!
Thran Foundry – I used to play this in High School, ‘cause I couldn’t get any Feldon’s Canes!
Elixir of Immortality – The New Hotness!
Null Rod – Your local Karn, Silver Golem player will quit Magic and start aggressively drinking Mr. Boston Vodka.
Torpor Orb – This card stabs decks in the face so hard.  It only hits two of our creatures, but be aware, you may need that Ulamog….
Infernal Tribute – Save yourself from your Null Rod, Torpor Orb, Necropotence, Whatever.  Also turns swamps into cards.
7x Tutors – The only Commander based claim to fame black really has.  These are about as self-explanatory as it comes.  I assume you don’t have access to Grim Tutor or Imperial Seal; if you do, slot them in instead of Diabolic Tutor and Beseech the Queen.  Run Cruel Tutor if you like to live on the edge.  If you’re not living on the edge, you’re just taking up space.  I didn’t slot in Entomb here because I don’t want cards that need XD to be good; This deck is not about utilizing flashback or reanimator effects unless they are targeting XD.  Diabolic Revelation is a judgment call as well: This build doesn’t have a two card win combo to fetch with it, so I think other things are better.  If you run Leyline/Helm or Lich/Repay In Kind, go for it.

Demonic Tutor – I wish they had printed Beastly Tutor during the ‘Demon Prohibition’.
Vampiric Tutor – If I were to run Entomb, I’d cut this for it.  Neither puts the card in your hand.
Beseech the Queen – Cut this for Grim Tutor so you don’t have to tip your hand!
Diabolic Tutor – I prefer Eight Edition non-foil for this slot.
Demonic Collusion – I like to discard two huge guys and search for Corpse Dance.
Liliana Vess  – Remember, this is a tutor – not a discard spell.
Increasing Ambition – I like flashback.  Someday I’ll build a Flashback-themed EDH deck.
7x Draw Spells – This is why we sneak in some life-gain.  Whether you’re Harmonizing with an Ambition’s Cost or refilling every turn with Necropotence, it hurts.  Staff of Nin could be sweet here too, as well as the Phyrexian Arena Demon that I can’t remember the name of.  (Bloodgift Demon – DJ) Oh yeah…Harvester of Souls too.  Leave Seizan, Perverter of Truth at home, though; our opponents don’t need our help. 
(This is a deep corner of black’s catalogue.)

 

Ambition’s Cost  – Get the 9th ed. Foil!
Ancient Craving – Remember when these were 25 cents?
Phyrexian Arena – This is the first card you put in your black deck.
Necropotence – Infernal Tribute is your friend.
Syphon Mind – Play four player games!
Promise of Power – Sneaky win condition!
6x Mana Enablers – I went with passive boosts rather than mana rocks.  Null Rod needs to shine, and it doesn’t shut off Medallions or Gauntlets.
Caged Sun – Pumps your men too!
Gauntlet of Power – See above.
Black Market – This thing is bonkers!
Jet Medallion – Very non-threatening, considering what it does.
Nirkana Revenant – Sneaky win condition.
Liliana of the Dark Realms – I knew I’d find a home for her!
Grave Pact – Here’s your sacrifice theme!  This card is really the 13th bullet.  It keeps your opponent’s board empty, much like Reaper from the Abyss.  (In fact, The Abyss could fill the same role here…for a lot more money!)
42x lands that produce mana – You want a lot of swamps to fuel Nirkan Revenant, Caged Sun, Mutilate, etc.  I’d recommend at least 30.  Let’s try 32, and see what happens.
32x Swamp
10x Non Basic Lands – We’ll be wanting Cabal Coffers, and Petrified Field to get it back.  Bojuka Bog is always worth running.  I’d slot in Strip Mine, Wasteland, and Tectonic Edge to protect your Coffers from opposing Strip Mines, and to take out Maze effects.  High Market, PhyrexianTower, and Miren, the Moaning Well will help protect XD from tuck and steal effects.  To round it out, I like Volrath’s Stronghold as one more way to take the same turn every turn. 
So:
Cabal Coffers – This deck doesn’t need Urborg.
Petrified Field – Also recurs Wasteland effects.
Bojuka Bog – Run more graveyard hate!
Strip Mine – This is what I like to call a “Staple”
Wasteland – This is the most expensive card in the deck.  RunRishadanPort to control maze effects or another swamp if you don’t want to spring for it.
Tectonic Edge – Better than Ghost Quarter.
High Market – I certainly hoped this would be in FTV:Realms.  Who knew?
Phyrexian Tower – You won’t even mana burn anymore!
Miren, The Moaning Well – I’d put Diamond Valley here, but it doesn’t tap for mana and costs $100.
Volrath’s Stronghold – Also an answer to other Volrath’s Strongholds.
That should add up to 99.  My track record on that is a little shaky – see Vaevictis Asmadi, but give or take a card and you’ll get there.  This guy is not too expensive as far as EDH decks go, so you should be able to swing the Stronghold, and skip the Wasteland if you’re on a budget. 
I feel this could be a pretty strong contender too.  It has a lot of power, and a lot of flexibility.  The trouble will be fighting the ‘Archenemy’ game that will always ensue after your opponents realize you can recur Damnation every turn, and getting your engine online in time to matter versus a straight aggro deck. I left out any discard effects, because I’m not sure they’re very good against anything that’s not hard combo; I could be wrong, or your metagame could be different than mine.  Mind Shatter is tutorable with Shred Memory, so you may want to run it.  In fact, all of the bullets could/should be adjusted to your metagame.
It really highlights the deficit black has, though.  Every good card in black does one of three things:  Tutor for any card, Draw one card for one life, or kill creatures.  In a format as hell-bent on complexity as Commander, a little versatility goes a long way.  Black is a popular color in two or three color brews because its cards are very good at what they do, and the other color(s) can add the utility. 
I hope this build can make the best of the card pool and stomp a few faces.  Good luck!
àTyler

GDC #103 – (Guest Content) GenCon: What Happened On Thursday

(Hello everyone!  Quick note on what’s coming up next:

Thursday is my vacation day, so regular content resumes next Monday.  From there, there’s a boat-load of literary unpacking from GenCon.  Some after-thoughts and other general details, A breakdown of tuning Intet Riku for the expected Commander Event metagame (And how it performed), and what I’m expecting to be a pretty heavy discussion about the Saturday night Commander Event – this is an unbelievable confluence of organizer mistakes and the worst of the format we all love, and I don’t plan on pulling any punches when I try to call out exactly what went wrong.  Please stay tuned.

After that, we’re putting the wraps on Xiahou Dun.  I’m pretty excited to get this list into a good place.

For today, Mr. P brings his exellent coverage of the Thursday night Commander Event.  Please enjoy this…he really went above and beyond with coverage, and nailed the breakdown.

See y’all next week-

—>DJ)

THE PROLOGUE

9:34 PM.  Woke up today at 1:45AM , after tossing and turning for three hours, and sleeping for maybe one of them. Tyler and Cass and I began working on a gigantic bottle of whiskey at about five this afternoon, and now it’s time to go find out what “Constructed EDH” looks like.

Let me make this clear: I expect this to suck.

So far, GenCon 2012 looks a lot like GenCon 2011, although the layout of the vendors is different and the cool vendor from whom I purchased some shirts from last year (sighco.com) does not appear to be present this year. (EDIT: just kidding! Found them!)  In the positives category, the CVS around the corner from the hotel still sells whiskey, and calling ahead to the hotel managed to get us adjoining rooms despite suggestions that it would not happen.  It’s going to be a fun weekend.

A bit of background on last year; there was a Thursday night “EDH constructed” event that we played in, and despite the fact that Cass and I played in at least one decent game each, the overall feel of the event was clouded by the presence of several Erayo decks, which has been well documented by Cass in his very first SCG article.

I struggled over the decision about whether I should play this year, mainly because it is my perception that the “global” EDH community has spent the past year devolving into something that holds little interest for me; a non-interactive metagame dominated by combo and “TurboNothing” control decks (as documented here.)  I ultimately decided that I would not play, based on the motivation to instead document and gather data, and the recognition of the fact that I have been drinking whiskey for the last 5 hours.

Time to find out if my fears are justified.

THE SETUP

The Thursday event this year is prize-supported, like last year.  For people who expect the worst, the concept of prize-supported EDH fills them with abject horror.  For the benefit of those people, let me be the first to note that this year’s event is substantially more prize supported, with the “winner” of the event receiving a box of M13, a From The Vault: Legends (who cares…), and an invitation to this year’s GenCon Championship, which offers the winner a lucrative prize package including a full ride to GenCon next year.  Perhaps this will encourage people to play more “reasonable” decks.  Don’t hold your breath.

THE REALITY

The 11:00 event played host to 27 players, meaning the players were grouped in six pods of four and one pod of three.  Points were awarded for the order in which one finished, and players were awarded 2 packs for each player they eliminated.  Second and third round pairings were based on point standings.

Since I’m ridiculous and detail-oriented and have a tiny brain, I went ahead and recorded all three rounds of pairings, along with results of each game and some observations.  I am struggling a bit to figure out how to express this data, as it is voluminous and predictable and not very interesting.  Perhaps the best route it to try  to break it down.  Let’s do this.

THE GENERALS

If one were to make a list of the most popular generals for EDH (which I believe existed on the forums before they burned down) and then compare it to the list of represented generals at the Thursday event, one would see a lot of overlap.   There were a few slightly oddball choices, but a majority of the field was the expected – Azami, Scion, Arcum, Maelstrom, Zur, and friends. (Missing or unrepresented: Kresh, Jhoira, Vig, Sharuum, and anything mono-black.)

THE GAMES

Yes, I recorded all the round results.   How did the games go? (Or more specifically, how did they end?)  Well, to be honest, less like what I expected, while also exactly what I expected.

Of the 21 games, nine were won with a hard combo finish, five were won through “prison”-type strategies, one was won through pure aggro, and the other six were won with some combination of aggro-combo or aggro-prison, or aggro-‘metagame hate’. (Nice one, Cassidy.)  With the exception of a (puppet general) Scion Hermit Druid combo deck that either won or lost all of its games by about turn five, most of the combo decks seemed interested in assembling a combo finish that had less to do with speed and more to do with inevitability.  The prison-style decks focused on lockdown strategies that eventually ground out the win through attrition, solitaire, disruption, mana denial, and annihilator triggers.  The decks committed to aggro strategies either played straight beatdown (with mixed results) or hybridized into aggro/combo or aggro/prison (with better results.)   Which leads to…

THE WINNER

As you may have heard, the deck that won was an Edric deck that played roughly 60,000 one-drops, including a large suite of some of the jankiest creatures you’ve ever seen.  (Sorry!)  Its game plan was to play guys for two turns, drop Edric, and then amass a gigantic mountain of card advantage from basically endless draw triggers, which it would then use to play extra-turn effects backed with cheap or free counters.  While technically an aggro deck, it did have an element of “combo” (and, I suppose, prison) in the extra turns and counters to protect its team; to be fair, it also benefitted from the fact that while decks were packing hate cards, they were mainly geared towards stopping other combos and not, say, killing a team of Cloud Pirates, Grayscaled Gharial, Shanodin Dryads, animated Veil of Birds, and Scryb Sprites.  The Edric deck was innovative, kinda awesome, and something I sincerely hope I never have to play against.  Big congratulations to the dude who won; I hope you kicked ass on Sunday.

To be fair, I hope I never have to play against most of the decks that I saw.  The tournament represented the epitome of “tuned” EDH decks, geared towards grinding wins and preventing anyone from doing anything.  To also be fair, this makes complete sense when considering that the prize was a box, a FTV:Unimpressive, and an invitation to the GenCon championship; no one (except possibly Tyler) was going to show up playing Beasts tribal.  Since I was not playing, and since “fun” is subjective, I cannot say whether the games were “fun”, although I did hear “that was a good game” and “that game sucked” about evenly.  (I suppose there’s an article to be written about whether serious tournament games are “fun” in general, but I’m not that motivated.)  Suffice to say that tournament EDH looks an awful lot like any other constructed tournament; players bring the “best decks” and play brutally and without mercy.  This either totally surprises you, or tells you exactly what you already knew.

THE DETAILS

There were some pretty cool things that happened.  The Edric win was funny, if only because absolutely no one saw it coming.  I witnessed a round one game where the Azusa deck managed to outrace the Azami deck.  In the second round, there was accidentally a pod of mostly aggro-ish decks that was won by the Animar player, who threw one of his “bounty packs” to each of the players he eliminated. 

There were also some uncool things that happened, such as a combo player scooping in response to being attacked for lethal so that the Edric player could not draw cards off the damage triggers.  (Editors Note: I had a guy scoop so that the Jin-Gitaxis I had Bribery-ed would be removed from the game to give his friend a better chance to beat me.  —>DJ)  Again, I understand that this is a tournament, but that still seems pretty weak and directly against the theorized “spirit of the format.” There was also a bizarre ruling in the last round that if you scooped, you got to keep your own “bounty packs,” which makes absolutely no sense…and then makes less sense the more you think about it.

(Distractable writer side note: the Vintage Championship Timetwister has a grammatical error on it:

Clearly fake. Hate hate hate.)

THE TAKEAWAY

Tournament EDH is bad Legacy with multiple players.

Again, who does this surprise?  Most of the players who showed up seemed prepared for this, and planned accordingly.  What does it mean for the format as a whole?  I have no real idea, other than the fact that it confirms my suspicions that I should stick to playing EDH at my house (EDH Night at Mr. P’s for the gosh-darn win!) and at the local game stores where we have spent the last three years fostering a metagame that is (voluntarily) almost entirely free of combo and prison decks. 

I suppose at this point there is little reason to hope that tournament organizers will stop offering substantial  prizes for EDH based solely on how efficiently you can win, but I do hope that there will also continue to be a large base of EDH players who play more casually, and I hope that “the spirit of the format” continues to mean what it is supposed to have meant all along, and that that ends up mattering to most people.

I guess we’ll see.

(Guest Content) Where It All Went Wrong – Mr. P and DJ

(Editor Note – Today is another joint article by myself and Patrick.  It’s pretty much a continuation and logical conclusion to the Monday piece. 

I guess you can consider it “Mr. P Theme Week.” 

—>DJ )

My presumption is that most people who play EDH are looking for something more than just the opportunity to play bad Legacy. I like to think that the real reason people play EDH is to have fun games, instead of simply grinding wins as brutally and efficiently as possible.
This is probably wrong.
If you play EDH because you want to combo off as quickly as possible or because you want to prison-lock the board with Stasis or land destruction, then this article is not for you. 
The real question is this:
If you are one of these people, are you the minority or the majority?
Up until recently, I would have said that the “combo and prison” crowd was the minority of EDH players. When I played in the EDH constructed event at GenCon last year, it seemed like a minority of the players were playing hard combo or prison style decks, and a majority of the players were disgusted with this (and expressing their disgust in a variety of ways that ranged from “expressing mild irritation” to “threatening to quit the format and/or beat the hell out of the person playing the Erayo deck.”
However, over the past year I have observed a mounting pile of evidence that suggests that the public’s acceptance of these types of non-interactive decks may be substantially on the rise.
Part of this makes a lot of sense, and sadly, the explanation of it involves complaining about getting nice things. Up until a year ago, EDH (sorry…”Commander”) was strictly a casual format, conceived and championed by players who were looking for something very casual and a bit silly, a nice change of pace from the cutthroat, competitive Pro Tour and Grand Prix formats.
When the Commander pre-cons came out (and immediately sold out), it became clear that EDH had become a format for the masses.  Although I have no actual data to back this up, I have beet told anecdotally that EDH is now the most played format in the world. While this may or may not be true (or matter to begin with), it is impossible to ignore he fact that here has been a huge influx of new EDH players in the last fourteen months.
Let’s pause for a moment to engage in a bit of amateur psychology.  Riddle me this: what’s the first thing anyone does when they learn a new game?
Answer: They try to figure out how to win. 
This makes perfect sense; nobody learns UNO and immediately tries to figure out how to avoid winning in order to make the game more fun for the other players. When the new influx of EDH players occurred, they brought along the dominant sanctioned format philosophy that the only thing that matters is the end result of this game. Other than the cantankerous grumblings of older players about “the spirit of the format”, there was nothing telling them that infinite combos, mass discard/land destruction, endless counter spells or prison decks were philosophically off limits. The influx of new players brought vastly increased recognition and clout to the format, but it also signaled a shift away from the format’s focus on interactivity and fun.
(I realize this is a relatively overblown claim backed up by almost no actual evidence, but bear with me here.)
When EDH became recognized as a popular format, tournament and convention organizers naturally recognized is as a means to generating extra revenue.  The result? Side events.  And how do you run side events? You award prizes for eliminating players. And how do you eliminate players? You run non-interactive combo and prison decks designed to grind wins as efficiently as possible. At no place in here is the opportunity to receive any tangible reward for playing a deck hat promotes fun and interactive play.
Of course, may devotees of EDH would tell you that’s exactly the point of the format. Anyone can win a game, but many people who play EDH (especially those who’ve been playing for a long time) are devoted to the idea that “winning” is more about the experience than the end result.
Maybe.
This last statement sounds nice, but it is probably pure crap. Let’s be honest; most people play games because they want to win.
The critical distinction, however, is how far you are willing to go and what you are willing to do to achieve victory. If you are playing at a Pro Tour, the answer to his question is obviously “as fast as I can/whatever it takes.” The same probably applies to your local Friday Night Magic; however this is also an environment in which players may test out less-tuned decks, or possibly play whimsical, silly decks. At the kitchen table it is often regarded as being “douchy” to play a deck that is clearly designed to stop the other players from doing anything, although this obviously varies from playgroup to playgroup.
The point is that in the last year, EDH has gone from being a format that is primarily played on kitchen tables, to a format that is primarily played in environments more similar to a Friday Night Magic or a Pro Tour, bringing with it all that entails.
So what’s the answer to this?  The way I see it there’re two options-
Option one is to begin playing decks that are less interactive and more designed to grind wins.
Option Two is to begin making more of a concerted effort to encourage players to see EDH as a format that is more about interactivity and fun than about strictly winning.
That’s right…This is a “Take back our format” article.
For the record, I’m totally in favor of attempting to win over the hearts and minds of newer EDH devotees. Our local store has been using a “points” system for the past two years, and it has really done a lot to help encourage the style of interactive game-play that we are looking for. Also, anecdotally, it does seem as though this style of play is desirable and enjoyable for many of the new players who come to our shop; many have come to the shop, played a few games using the point system, and made some comment along the lines of “This environment is so much more fun than the environment in which I normally play!”
I understand that this approach is somewhat less than fully democratic, as it prescribes to a particular set of values and rules hat are, at the end of the day, written by a small group of players. (In this case, Cassidy and I, with some input from a few other players and a liberal amount of borrowing from the Armada Games points list.)
Nonetheless, while the system was created by a few, it has only persisted because the players as a whole have embraced it.  The end result is that, for the most part, the games that occur at Worlds Apart games on Wednesday nights are fun, interactive, and interesting.
Maybe I’m preaching to the choir here.  Maybe you tuned out the moment it was obvious I wasn’t going to tell you about the new tech or present another stupid list of “format staples”; either seems like a reasonable response. The point of the story is, if you do care about EDH as a format, you need to start doing something about it.
àMr. P
.   .   .   .   .

I wanted to add in a few words in here.  The second poll at the top of the main page and the decision to run the article Patrick and I put together for Monday was a lead-up to this piece.  I really think this is an important thing to think about for the community as a whole right now, because things are changing and growing at an alarming rate for Commander on all fronts; there are more EDH side events than ever at major tournaments and events, and Wizards of the Coast has clearly recognized the popularity of the format as well in making the decision to release an annual Commander-specific product. 
In short, the times are changing, so be prepared. 
Aside #1
I started to notice an interesting trend recently in the comments section of the ‘Dear Azami’ articles I author over at StarCityGames.com.  I know…writers need a thick skin.  I get that.  But the actual results were a baffling paradox.
When I first started writing, I attempted to make decks ‘better’.  (I know that’s subjective.)  When I did this, the first responses were fairly uniform; enthusiasm, positive feedback, people coming out of the woodwork to suggest other stuff that would work well.
Before long, that business model started to fail.  The same game plan was suddenly getting me results that ranged from people complaining about me missing something obvious, to the dreaded “This is a boring list filled with staples!” accusation.
I reconsidered my position.  Those of you who read this site regularly know that I’m not a fan of blindly tossing good cards at my decks just for the sake of doing so.  I realized that I had a voice, and I could bring it to Dear Azami.
So I did.  I started explaining that I wasn’t going to snap-include good cards for no reason.  I was going to actively remove purposeless good cards for other choices that brought more synergy to the lists.
And things were good.  Mostly. 
I started to see people start to suggest staples in the comments section, or call me out for not using them.  Interesting. 
My personal “Black Monday” hit not long after.  I think it was a redo of a B/W Teysa list, where the author was very good at explaining the purpose of the deck, and the goal of making it more competitive.  I tried to tune it with that in mind, going back to using staples like Debtors’ Knell that clearly made the deck better.
And I got a huge beating for it.  The comments section overflowed with people calling me out for suggesting staples.  The article took a huge beating by angry people suggesting I was just making the deck a “good stuff” list.
So I headed back to the drawing board.  Now, more than ever, I dedicate those articles to making decks stronger at the expense of staples that don’t have a purpose.  I call the cards out.  I’m not shy about it, and people seem to like it.
And then Glenn Jones publishes his piece, telling the word to play all of these cards because they’re staples.
And people love it.
Anyway…
We’re flying out for GenCon one week from today.  I’ll likely be somewhere between the airport in Indianapolis and the hotel downtown at this time next week.  Now, with the Official Commander Forums still down for the count (Sheldon, Genomancer, Ban-Ki…hit me up if you need a new host.  I can’t overstate how important those forums are to the community.), it’s hard to discuss and see the effects globally that Patrick was discussing above.  Specific to GenCon, there’s the traditional 3-round EDH event that was Erayo-locked to oblivion last year, now with way more prize support and an entry into the GenCon Championships, which can net you a full ride (travel, food, lodging, events) for GenCon ’13.  There are “side events” firing as they fill, pitting four players against each other, with packs awarded for eliminating other players.
I’m going to dive into these things full on to see if I can gain a better understanding of how people feel globally about EDH.  I’m not just talking about playing in the events (because that’s going to tell me that people like to win quickly when prizes are on the line, spirit-of-the-format be damned), but also immersing myself in the EDH community that comes together in Indy.  I want to learn more about what kinds of players play the format, and who they play the format.  I’m really hoping to gain a better understanding of where things are going, because at this point, I honestly don’t know.
Aside #2 –
Seems like a good place for this.  Our friend Chad played EDH last night at Worlds Apart.  I wasn’t there.  This was the first time he had played EDH there in a long time.  To sum up his backstory, he started playing EDH with us back in the day, but kind of quit when the format started to take off and games went from people throwing big haymakers around and laughing their heads off to tons of control elements and board wipes backing up combo wins. 
We tried to convince him things were changing.  We told him about the environment we’ve been building, and how much better it is.  We told him things are different now.
From what I understand, in his first game back last night, things went along swimmingly in the early game, until the mono-green player thought it would be a good time to ramp up and combo out the table with Primal Surge.  Game over.
I’m sure that helped to convince Chad things are better.  Fantastic.
Anyway…
We’re not running around screaming that the sky is falling here.  Or at least we’re not trying to.  But the concern is out there.  I love that the format is seeing a ton of new players, and a ton of new product.  I just hope that the masses continue to understand and embrace the spirit of EDH.  Without that, things may continue to get more and more uncomfortable for those of us that do.
So come out and talk to me at GenCon.  Challenge me to a quick pick-up game.  Tell me about why you started playing EDH, and what you like about it.  I want those stories.  I want people to hear about them. 
And help to grow the format on your own too.  You may or may not prescribe to the same mindset that myself of Patrick does when it comes to EDH, but we’re all ambassadors.  Remember what drew you in to begin with, and try to help others enjoy the same feelings for themselves.  Growth is great in the long run…it really is.  The best thing you can do is to try to grow your community.  Help new players learn.  Work on ways to make things fun and engaging for everyone.  Try different things to see what works.
Make it yours.  After all, if you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan.  Since EDH is non-sanctioned and casual, it can be as good as we all want it to.
Patrick talked about ‘taking back the format.’  Here’s to hoping we don’t have to.
See you next week-
àDJ

(Guest Content) – The Issue Of “Staples”, by Mr. P and DJ

(Before we get started today, I wanted to weigh in with a few disclaimers.

First off – In the interest of full disclosure (and for those who do not know), I am a compensated writer of StarCityGames.com.  I don’t want to catch anyone by surprise with the content here. 

Second – Patrick (aka “Mr. P”) is my close friend, fellow EDH enthusiast, and is as close to being officially onboard here at GDC as you can get without having your name on the letterhead.  On a personal level, he and I share incredibly similar opinions on EDH/Commander, and have worked together to build a local play environment based on rules and guidelines that we both fully agree are healthy and enjoyable, and the results – a budding EDH community that has spread to multiple stores in the Amherst, Mass area and enjoys dozens of regular players – speak for themselves.

In so many words, our voices differ and our stated opinions are each our own, but we agree on the concepts he discussed here nearly completely. 
Patrick and I have discussed this content at length, and while he is the main author and creator of the concept, I’ve also included some of my own thoughts at the bottom of the article with his blessing.

Finally, thanks for tuning in.  We’ll get back to the Xiahou Dun deck build shortly, but GDC was founded on a concept of “No Holds Barred, No Punches Pulled” EDH/Commander discussion, and I feel that this is an important piece to get out to the public eye right now.

Without further ado…)

       

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to play staples in your deck.

I know that there have been some articles recently on prominent websites which have said otherwise, including one article which said the following:

“A staple is a card that, if you can, you should play the vast majority of the time. Specifically, its absence from any deck should be noteworthy and not without explanation. There will be staples that wind up on the cutting room floor from time to time, but by and large there should be no reasonable strategic ground for excluding the card from your list.”
(The article in question is “Commander Staples And The Hall Of Fame”, written by Glenn Jones for StarCityGames.com.  It can be found here.  ->DJ)

This is pure rubbish.  I will freely concede that this statement is 100% true when applied to any competitive format, however (at least theoretically), EDH is not a competitive format.

More on that idea later.

The thing about playing staples is that it will make your deck better. The other thing about playing staples is that will make your deck boring.

Okay, so maybe “boring” is the wrong word; maybe the correct way to say it is that playing staples takes away from your deck’s identity in favor adding of raw power and sheer efficiency.  When you only run “the best cards,” you lose individuality and creativity, which are two of the joys of building EDH decks.

Now, I understand that this is a fine line; nobody really believes that it is noble to play Index over Ponder.  At the same time, you can jam Primeval Titan in every green deck, but at what cost?
Should you run Primeval Titan in your treefolks tribal deck, despite the fact that it is not a treefolk? 
Should your run Primeval Titan in your almost-creatureless Enchantress deck just because it finds Serra’s Sanctum? 
At what point is playing a staple just making your deck a little bit more uniform and predictable?

As with many questions like this, the answer lies largely in what you hope to get out of the format.  If your entire goal is to grind wins as quickly and efficiently as possible, the answers to these questions are probably “Who cares?”, “Of course!”, “Of course!!”, and “Who cares?” in roughly that order, and that’s fine. (sort of.)  
However, if you actually care about the “spirit of the format” (whatever the hell that is), then it may behoove you to actually spend some time thinking about this issue.

Let’s go back to the quote that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. When the author of this quote says that these cards should be played in every deck that can support them, what he is really saying is that all decks should functionally be the same; they should all be focused on getting the win as efficiently and quickly as possible, and these cards are the most effective and efficient tools for the job.  The difference between, say, a blue-black deck and an blue-green deck is that the first can run tutors and the second can run ramp, and the blue component should be pretty much the same in both.

I suppose this is theoretically true, as there are certain blue effects such as card draw that are pretty appealing across the board.  However, beyond that, it seems like blue can fill many roles; it can steal things, copy things, counter things, redirect things, and a variety of other things.  The presumption that every blue deck should run Time Stretch, Desertion, Rhystic Study and Brainstorm suggests that, at heart, all decks that run blue want exactly the same effects out of them.

This is completely wrong.

Look, run whatever the hell you want to, OK?  If you can get past the belief that you need to run staples at all costs, then you can open up a new world of creative and interesting deck building.

Let me give you a quick example.

I built a Hannah, Ship’s Navagator deck.  It was the middle of winter in Massachusetts, and I decided I wanted to make a blue-white “blizzard” theme deck.  Since there were no “icy” generals, I chose Hannah because she had favorable interactions with the various “frozen” auras (Frozen Solid, Ice Cage, etc.) in going through my binder of blue cards, I found a copy of In The Eye Of Chaos.  (Go ahead…you can look it up.)  I decided to make a deck that was primarily focused around enchantments, with In the Eye as a particular focal point.

You know how many counters the deck runs?
Zero.
àMr. P
.   .   .   .   .

I respect Glenn Jones as a co-author and fan of the game, and he’s a great asset to the Magic community by and large.  However, in this case I believe he’s aiming for an audience that may not completely line up with the true spirit of the EDH format.  In my work in the “Dear Azami” series, I’ve tried to impress upon people that “staples” (defined as “cards you should play in every deck”) don’t need to exist at all. 
Here’s the critical distinction:
-There are good cards out there, cards that provide powerful or unique effects whenever they are played.
-There are decks the need a certain effect or ability for a given slot. 
The two can be mutually exclusive if the need requires it.
Patrick makes an important distinction about EDH as a format; it’s not a sanctioned one.  Local metagames and playgroups may vary, and as they do, the concept of “competition” does as well.  This is the exact reason that we can sit back in good faith and attack the concept of “staples” to begin with.  If you’re not trying to win at all costs, there is no single card that is required to show up in your deck.
Again – No single card is a must-include in any given deck.
It’s possible that your specific metagame is exactly the one that Glenn is speaking to.  It’s not a secret that EDH is easy to break if that’s what you want to do.  I’ve personally seen tuned combo decks that aim to win on turn three through disruption, and decks that take the concept of “prison” and “resource denial” to new heights.
If you enjoy this sort of thing, or if you’re coming into the format and think you might, Glenn’s list is a great place to start.  I’ll happily concede that point.
But not everyone is like that, and there’s easy empirical evidence to back this up.  
Recently, M13 was in the process of being spoiled, and Worldfire came into the public eye.  The uproar was tremendous in the EDH community, and threads popped up on every major website forum, filling quickly with people on both sides of the fence.  
The main argument against the card? 
It takes the fun out of the game.
That statement gives me all the evidence I need that people don’t want cookie-cutter decks filled to the brim with optimized card choices they looked up on a popular website.  After all, no-one was screaming for Jace or Stoneforge Mystic to get the axe in standard because they weren’t fun.  They screamed because those cards were too good.
I’ll echo Patrick’s sentiment in closing.  Play what you want.  Play the card that fits your deck the best, or the one that you enjoy the most when it hits the table.  Play the pet card that you have sentimental attachment to because you opened a foil copy years ago.  Play the card that your favorite artist signed at a Prerelease.  
Maybe that card is Bribery or Tooth and Nail.  Maybe that card is Norrit or Hunted Wumpus.  
In any case, the true spirit of EDH is that it’s a format that lets you be creative and enjoy games in whatever manner you like.  In Standard or Legacy, there may be a “best deck”, but in EDH, the “best deck” is the one that makes you the happiest, not necessarily the one that wins every game.
So play the card that you want to play for the reasons you want to play it.  Don’t let anyone else convince you to do otherwise.

—>DJ

(Guest Article) Seeing Red – Land Destruction

(Dan is back today with a pretty interesting take on land destruction.  His last article on Ashling was a very popular entry, and I’m happy to have him back for another round.


It’s safe to say that we don’t see eye-to-eye on land destruction (or Worldfire, for that matter…), but I can’t help but agree with quite a bit of what Dan has to say about the double standards applied to other denial strategies.  This is a solid assessment even if you aren’t down with LD. 


Enjoy!


—>DJ)

Screw you, EDH players. Screw you all.
It’s time for a rage post, because I really don’t understand some of you.
Let me start with why I’m ticked off. I wasn’t able to get to my local shop for a while; between work, softball, and an emergency work-related trip, there was a full month where I didn’t get a chance to play at all. Naturally, I was itching to go out and play some EDH as soon as I could. When I was finally able to head to the shop, however, it was the worst set of games of my life.
I had built a Sedris reanimator deck, and was looking to test it out.  However, someone immediately set up a lock using enchantments and artifacts that basically kept all creatures off the table. There was no reason to play Sedris or reanimate anything if I wasn’t going to be able to attack or keep them around. I just played draw-go for a quite a while in that game.  It was just the type of EDH game I hate; people vomiting lands onto the table, setting up defenses, setting up life-gain, but no-one attacking.  No-one was the aggressor, and we all sat around waiting until someone drew into a removal answer for the plethora of annoying effects on the board (such as Propaganda). The game took several hours, and thankfully, I was the first one killed. (I was able to sneak off and make a bunch of trades…yay!).
Since that game took so long, I tried to cram in two quick games at the end of the night. I figured I might as well see if I could still have a little fun… and quickly met with my new least favorite card in EDH:
Holy hell…I hate Mana Drain.
We played two games with this kid who was running a tooled-up Edric deck. In the first, I played Ashling, and another guy played Kemba, Kha Regent. I had my general removed and one of my plays countered, and off of the Mana Drain mana, the Edric player was able to tap down Kemba’s entire army, and using Triumph of the Hordes, kill both of us off in one go.
In game two, I played a non-combo Scion of the Ur-Dragon deck, while Kemba switched to Phelddagrif, and a proxied Talrand, Sky Summoner joined us.  (By ‘proxied’, I mean sweet blue ballpoint pen on an Island…)  
On turn five I tapped out for Scion, and Edric countered it.
On turn seven I said, “I’d like to play my general…” and the Edric player Mana Drained me again.
On his turn, using the mana from the Drain, Edric was able to play through four or five counterspells from the other two players while seting up an infinite-turn loop.
Where am I going with this? As a red player, this type of stuff drives me crazy.
I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I really do not understand why some strategies are acceptable while others are completely hated.
I would love to build a land destruction deck. I think that building an Animar deck that restrains people to a maximum of five lands to force players to play smart and aggressively would be a load of fun. However, I know if I ever show up with a deck like that, I’ll get hated off the table and probably get piled upon in my next few games (no matter what I play.)
The hypocrisy in that shaping a game this way is reviled while other forms (such as lock-down) are not is ludicrous.
Let me start off by saying that I get your side of things. I really do. EDH is supposed to be a fun, social format, where people get to use almost any card from their collection. People expect to be able to make big splashy plays and have lots of fun.
The thing is, we know in practice this isn’t the case.
First, let’s focus on LD and why people hate it. The answer is clear- you think I am denying your ability to play to the game if I destroy your lands. If you have no lands, you can’t play your spells, and therefore there’s no point in playing.  And you’re right…you are 100% percent right.
Except that tons of other decks are doing the same thing, and no-one seems to care.
How often do you see B/G decks that run a thousand sacrifice effects, Grave Pact, Butcher of Malakir, Attrition, and make it so that you can never get a creature to stick on the board? It seems to be a pretty common occurrence.  I don’t think even the EDH geniuses out there can build a Savra deck without packing in Grave Pact. Usually, these decks have some kind of instant-speed back up to protect their engine, so even if you try to break it they’ll be able to save it (or at the very least clear your board in retribution.)  Let’s not forget that these decks probably make tokens, so it’s not like they’re ever losing their own value creatures…they’re just forcing you to lose yours.
I know what you’re going to counter with-

“But Dan, at least they aren’t touching our lands, so if we draw an answer, we can still play it.”

Again, in practice we know this isn’t always the case. Even the best deck will have unfortunate shuffles and bad luck.  There will be games where you just won’t find that crucial enchantment removal, and in those games, you’ll be trying to play stuff and failing miserably. If they continually wipe your board and then sit back on their engine, the game is long and boring and you aren’t playing.

Let’s not kid ourselves – these decks are keeping you from playing as equally as if I limited you to a few lands with LD.

Counterspells are even worse. They present only the illusion of getting to do stuff. It’s weird, because counters deny you your plays (and in some cases can even act as mini Time Warps if what they counter is the main focus of your turn), but people still seem to be ok with them. I don’t get this…I really don’t. Mana Drain exists in EDH, but people are calling for the ban of Worldfire (I’ll get to this card later) before it even sees play?
Are you guys crazy?  Can’t you see a little deeper? At least you know where you stand with LD:

“OK, I have five lands instead of eleven. I just have to play carefully, and make aggressive moves if I want to win this game.”
Counterspells can blindside you and rob you of your turn. They can be free, so even when you think you’re safe, you really aren’t. They can also easily be returned and recast by a dedicated player. Why are you fine with the illusion of playing?

Of course, we can’t forget that odds that the counterspell player isn’t just playing counterspells for the sake of counterspells; he’s probably building board presence in the form of a Workshop-style EDH prison deck. That matchup is a lot of fun. (By the way, Mr. Counterspell Player…if you’re going to engage in the most non-interactive stack manipulation ever, why not just goldfish at home? You’d save the gas you’d use to get to the shop.)

It’s all about perception. People will do their best to make it so that they get to do whatever they want while denying  your ability to play. People will try to set up some way to attack your resources, and it seems like most of the time everyone fine with this, as long as lands are not touched.
Why?
It’s the same vein of attack through a different axis! If you get locked out by the U/W permission player, the artifact player, the Grave Pact player, or combo killed by the Sharuum player, your turns amount to the same thing – Useless! There are a myriad of ways to deny someone their plays, but it seems only lands are sacrosanct. This bothers me.
Earlier this year, Sheldon Menery put out a couple of articles over the span of a few weeks on StarCity that baffled me. In one, he talked about how people are bothered by Primeval Titan and ramp. In the other, he posted his league’s scoring system, and wouldn’t you know it?  
You’d lose points for destroying lands.
Disconnect? Obviously. It seems like people hate some of the more crazy plays that are ramp enabled, like entwined Tooth and Nail for Kiki-Jiki combo or Primeval Titan/Avenger of Zendikar, but no wants to pursue the strategy that will keep such games in check.
USE YOUR BRAINS!
How often are lands used to screw you?

-“Oh, hey… I didn’t see that Wolf Run tucked under that Forest. Well, I guess you just dealt me lethal damage.”
-“WOO! I just top decked the removal spell I need for that pesky artifact! Oh wait..is that an Academy Ruins you have there? Umm… Ok, I pass the turn.”
-“Volrath’s Stronghold huh? You’re just going to bring back your creatures if I play this board wipe…hmm…”
You pack removal for everything else out there – why not the role-playing lands? It’s a perfectly viable strategy! Blood Moon and Ruination are your friends! [I don’t hang out with those dudes personally… – DJ] For the decks that do rely on cheap instant speed sacrifice and recursion effects to lock down the board, how often are they lands? Pretty often.  It’s because that lock player knows his engine is safe, since no one will touch his lands.

While we’re here…how often do you see people just dump tons of lands on the table? For me, it seems like all the time. I’ll see people drop land and after land and never use them. Why? For some imagined awesome play that costs twelve mana, but will be the talk of the shop if you ever manage to draw into the one card that will pair so perfectly with that other card in your hand? Does anyone keep lands back? I’ll see people sit there on a ton of lands, use only half, and still drop lands automatically whenever they draw them. Would you do that when you draft? Would you do that at a tournament? Or would you do the smart thing and keep something back? If you’ve drafted, and suddenly you stall out by hitting a pocket of five lands, would you drop them, or hold some back and try to make your opponent think you’ve got tricks up your sleeve?

Why not play a bit smarter when playing EDH, then? You won’t get blown out by that Armageddon.
I suppose you just think I’m bitter because of the Mana Drain thing. I am to a certain extent. I can admit it. That game experience was really annoying. But it all comes down to responsibility, for all plays and by all players.
I’m sure you’ve got some stories about the guy who played Armageddon without a win con in mind.  Maybe he just did it as a retribution play, and that was annoying too.  I know I don’t want to play LD that way, and I’m sure a lot of others feel the same. I’m not going to blow up all lands and then sit there playing draw-go. (I probably hate those kinds of games more than you do, Mr. Green Ramp Player.) 
I’m going to have a strategy in hand to abuse the situation. I’m going to set up something to win the game, so we most likely won’t be sitting there for thirty turns while we all hope to draw into a land. I’m going to force you to play smarter and to move quicker…and this isn’t a bad thing!
Not only that, but I’ll keep that ramp player in check so he can’t draw and play a million things to our one or two plays per turn.
Everyone has to be responsible. If you keep countering someone’s plays, that person won’t be having fun. Do you really want to be that dick no one wants to play with? If you sit down every game and lock people out until they just rage scoop so they can join a new game, why are you even there? The same holds true for me; I know the smart move isn’t to blow up all of your lands, but rather just limit the number you have. You’ll still be able to attack me, and the game will still end in a timely fashion.
It seems like now is a good time to hit on Worldfire. It seems like a lot of the chatter going around is leaning towards banning the card.  (Personally, I think fewer cards should banned, given the ‘personal responsibility’ angle.)
I think it’s a great card for the format.
Let’s hit some of the good points.  First, it’s symmetrical. Yes, it can be abused (such as an Inferno Titan under Oblivion Ring), but so can many other cards. In a format of Triumph of the Hordes, extra turn loops, Insurrection, and Tooth and Nail, Worldfire is in no-way worse than any others!  The fact that it leaves the caster in an equally-precarious position is something that certainly must be considered. 
It’s certainly better in that way than many similar cards. If someone drops Obliterate or Decree of Annihilation while life totals are still at thirty-plus all around, it’ll take a while to whittle down life totals for victory. The important point is that it does end games.  A resolved Worldfire will ensure that games are finished sooner rather than later. Why is everyone so opposed to this?
Magic is a game with winners and losers. The course of the game must have distinct phases: a beginning, middle, and an end.  Players seem content to keep setting up for some far-off, yet never-realized game state, too timid to take action for fear of provoking anyone into attacking them and thus bringing about the end that much quicker.  Ugh.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather play three one-hour games than one three-hour game.
-Dan
[I’m still lighting the copy I got from the Prerelease on fire, so there. – DJ]

(Guest Column) The Danger Of Nice Things, Part 2 – featuring Imshan Poolar

Welcome to the second part of the Danger of Nice Things.  My name is Imshan, and I’m here to lead you out of – or deeper in – the mess that Cassidy started.
Good Stuff, or the Greatest Stuff?
Like Cassidy, I am also a bad person.  I like to play good stuff in my decks too.  Like Cassidy, I squirm a little bit when I include Primeval Titan, Consecrated Sphinx and the usual goodies in my decks, though it helps that I only have one copy of each.  Those cards are played out and potentially really boring, but it helps us win and there’s that feeling of power behind them.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there’s nothing wrong with playing good stuff.  However, want to temper this notion with the idea that your deck has to go somewhere, rather than simply using the best cards available to win.  In other words, playing Eternal Witness is okay if it’s going to do something for you by being a creature.  Having it carry a Sword of Protection and Value, or bouncing it with other cards is a reason to play Eternal Witness.  Obviously, this is going to make some cards very easy to justify.  Primeval Titan’s presence is always justifiable because you can always use more mana or effects stapled on lands, and Consecrated Sphinx is always going to be justifiable because you can always use more spells to cast.
The kind of good stuff I avoid playing is the stuff I can’t justify in terms of what I want my deck to do.  I personally try to avoid the typical win condition packages like Tooth and Nail, Avenger of Zendikar and Primeval Titan (for these purposes).  That might make me a sort of Commander hipster, but Tooth and Nail has lost its lustre for me.  I think this is perhaps the biggest complaint about good stuff that I have – good stuff finishers are commonly used, and do not make for memorable or interesting games.
The Problem of Intet
When I first saw Intet, much like Cassidy, I also felt the call of ‘free stuff here’.  I gleefully did my best to play free stuff all the time, and it was not until much later that I realized that Intet had serious trouble, not only with having ‘real’ board wipes, but also dealing with single creatures that cause issues.  Without black or white, there are no Swords to Plowshares, Diabolic Edict effects, or targeted conditional removal like Go for the Throat, or Doom Blade.  Dealing with single creatures will be difficult.
What’s the solution?  If you play tried and tested cards, you end up in Cassidy’s space, where you’re playing the best things in your colours and do not have a solid game plan except for the ones people are already expecting (and possibly packing specific answers for).  If you play Avenger of Zendikar, don’t be terribly surprised if someone plays Echoing Truth for your plants.  You might also not have any fun.  Rather, if you play towards a mechanic, synergies of all sorts can work out in your favour which will result in a more powerful list overall, even with some omissions of good stuff.  Some of the problems, like removal and sweepers, will not seem quite so difficult once your deck plays toward synergy instead of raw power.  For the first contest on Cassidy’s blog, I recommended this very same thing; rather than keep a bunch of the good stuff my entry for the Thraximundar contest included a bunch of sacrifice effects to pump Thrax and clear the way.  My final list still has good stuff, like Phyrexian Arena and Solemn Simulacrum, but the deck is not a Grixis ‘good stuff deck’.
For Intet, the mechanic to run with – or at least, one of the mechanics to run with – is to play a deck that focuses on manipulating the top of the library.  The prime choices for this are Sylvan Library, Scroll Rack, Sensei’s Divining Top and Mirri’s Guile.  There are others, but whether they are worth playing depends on how deeply you want to depend on this mechanic.  Top of library manipulation has a fairly obvious benefit for Intet, where you get to control what you get for free (no more free islands!), but there are other benefits as well.  There are a small host of cards that depend on the top of your deck.  Tried and tested (and arguably in the ‘good stuff’ category) cards like Oracle of Mul Daya and Djinn of Wishes obviously benefit, but there are many more.
One of my favourites is Mul Daya Channelers.  On its face, if your deck has 40 lands and 25 creatures, Mul Daya Channelers is going to be a useless 2/2 jobber 35% of the time.  If you’re manipulating the top of your deck, there’s a much better chance it’s going to be a 5/5 beater, or a powerful mana critter for relatively cheap.  Conundrum Sphinx is another creature that finds itself being made into something silly by top of library manipulation: if you know what’s on top of your deck, via the Mul Daya cousins, or through manipulation, you can get free card draws by attacking with a 4/4 flying creature for 2UU.
Finally, there are cards that can cause a ton of grief.  Most players cannot reasonably afford a Mana Drain, but Scattering Stroke is nearly as good; even at 2UU and an effect that requires a bit of manipulation, it feels absurdly powerful and can make a big splash.  Another, like Predict, has less obvious power but it is still there: Commander players frequently play top-of-deck tutors like Worldly Tutor or Mystical Tutor.  Predict handily discards the top card of their deck, and gives you two cards if you guess what that card is beforehand.  If no one seems likely to play a mirage-style tutor, you can easily predict an unwanted card off the top of your own deck for the pair of cards behind it.
Removal, and the acceptability of Primeval Titan
Intet still has its weaknesses.  Something Cassidy wrote in part one of this piece still gnaws at me.  He wrote that in Intet’s colours, there was no removal independent of damage.  But he also wrote that green has unbridled mana acceleration.  The first thing that grabs my attention is that we have been trained to believe that cards like Swords to Plowshares are the only acceptable kinds of removal.  They might be the best kind of removal, but that doesn’t mean other varieties of removal should be sidelined forever, even if they cannot deal with everything Swords can.  The second thing is mana acceleration, and the existence of scaling red burn.  I’m talking about churning out lands, and then playing Fireball variants (even if there are creatures with protection from Red). 
Mana acceleration and the top-of-deck mechanic live together with another of my favourite cards: Titan’s Revenge.  If green has such great mana acceleration, and there exists manipulation for the top of deck, there’s little reason why Titan’s Revenge can’t be a continual thorn in your enemies’ sides.  There are ways to stop it, like failing to win a clash, countering it, or if the victim gets sacrificed before Titan’s Revenge resolves, but by and large repeatedly lighting up creatures (or players!) should bring delight to anyone.
Finally, the issue of sweepers needs addressing.  Cassidy writes that the most real sweepers live in other colours, and that Oblivion Stone and Nevinyrral’s Disk are unreliable, and that other colours have sweepers that are more efficient, flexible and powerful.  Cassidy is not wrong.  But, there is a different kind of power available for Intet’s colours.  Evacuation is one of those cards that makes mana acceleration really work for you.  Evacuation can be used to undo every player’s good work and require them to cast all their creatures again.  A player in green, like someone running Intet as a general, can recover faster because they have mana acceleration rivaling none.  With Eternal Witness, Evacuation is very repeatable, and can create a constant state of advantage for the Intet player, especially if there’s haste involved like Cassidy recommends using.  Evacuation does very well for a great many creatures with entering play abilities.
Back in top-of-library mechanics, Devastation Tide lives in the same space as Evacuation, offering sorcery-speed bounce that will slow down all the creatures, and other mana acceleration that aren’t extra lands, like mana rocks.   The miracle mechanic begs to be used with an end-of-turn activation of Scroll Rack, or for it to be continually rearranged lower until needed with the other manipulators, and the nature of its cost only makes mana acceleration more appealing.  The same theory of tempo applies; a two-mana Devastation Tide, followed by laying out creatures (possibly with haste thanks to red) gives the Intet player a distinct advantage that a white or black player could not hope to match.
Finally, Bonfire of the Damned.  If Titan’s Revenge is a continual problem, Bonfire is a one-use-only disaster.  Not only will blockers be circumvented, but direct damage to a player might put them in reach of a lethal combat step.  White and black may have versatile sweepers that deal with traditional problems, but Intet’s colours provide a unique cross-sectional opportunity for instant, cheap, or one-sided sweepers that will play to the colour’s strengths.  Each of these cards or effects are in Intet’s colours, and not others.  It should be noted that any miracle can be highly useful with an instant-speed draw effect; using a Sensei’s Divining Top to draw the top card can set off a Devastation Tide or Bonfire at the end of an opponent’s turn or during a combat step for maximum effects on the board.
And here’s where Primeval Titan becomes acceptable; if you’re accelerating mana for a purpose, and here that purpose is having decent removal, you’re not playing Primeval Titan just to play Primeval Titan.  You’re going to do something important with that land, and it’s going to do work for you.  What’s important is finding out if the best cards fit for the kind of mechanics you want to play with, and then playing those if they do.
.   .   .   .   .
Imshan is the lead editor for written content and a weekly writer at www.CommanderCast.com He likes Kamigawa, and isn’t afraid to say so.  Email him at ipoolar@hotmail.com or follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/generalspeak

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