Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Land Destruction

Social Contract in Action – The Italian Job

One of my as-yet-unstated goals for 2015 is for everyone at GDC to step up their Social Contracting a few notches. Our opinions may change, but ultimately we all love this format, which means intrinsically we must love some element of the Social Contract. And that isht needs defenden’. Enter:

The Social Contract in Action – Ep 1: The Italian Job

in which a guy new to the playgroup mass land destructions some faces and half the table gets pissy.

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Evolving a Playgroup – Mass Land Destruction Debate

Something strange happened this week. The point system lead to some debate. From my perspective it was a strange debate that I really didn’t understand. Hell, I honestly still don’t understand after having plenty of time to clear my head and really think about their side.


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(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. 



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.
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.
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 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.
[I’m still lighting the copy I got from the Prerelease on fire, so there. – DJ]

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