Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Threat assessment (Page 1 of 2)

The Bystander Effect – And a Vial Smasher Decklist!

The bystander effect is a fascinating and horrifying psychological phenomenon. The bystander effect, or ‘bystander apathy’, is an effect where people are far less likely to offer help to an individual when others are nearby. In crowds and groups, responsibility is diffused across the group; this leads to each individual feeling like someone else is going to offer help or offer better help. The bystander effect can be especially threatening when someone is in danger.

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Holiday Throwback #2 – How to Do EDH Theory

In general, I feel that the average quality of EDH writing currently being produced is a bit low, and there isn’t much of it either. However, the stuff by Jason Rice on Brainstorm Brewery, most of it under the “A Unified Theory of Commander” umbrella, is the perfect combination of pragamatism and high-level thinking for my EDH dollar (despite the fact that i end up disagreeing with a lot of his conclusions). In that spirit, I wanted to hearken back to one of our most read posts of 2014, in which Cass takes issue with the foundational theory that kicks of YToC. Dig in, hit us up, and go read Jason’s stuff. Now if only someone would apply this systematic approach to playing the game….

Happy Holidays



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Holiday Throwback #1 – Where It All Began

Thanks for tuning in!  While we regroup and gear up for the new year (and my god, do we have plans!), we’re going to dig into the vault and shine the spotlight on some hits from days past.  If you’ve never read them, these articles should be worth your time to dig in on.  If you have read them…well, read them again, dammit.

To get started, I decided to take y’all back to where it all began, three long years ago in Blogspot land (For reference, I was still referring to myself as “DJ”) –  The first real post to grace the pages of  If nothing else, it’s worth it so see how far we’ve come.  (Again, my god.  Thanks for sticking it out, everyone.  Really.)

Happy holidays, everyone.



Originally posted here – “If Anyone Was Wondering How To Grossly Mis-assess Threats In EDH…”

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Playgroup Assessment Two: Who to Kill?

Welcome back, wonderful readers! Last time, I explained some of the basics for assessing threats. This week, I’ll look at deciding who to kill and when to make that kill. Threat assessment gets complicated quickly, so I’ll be sticking close to the basics for simplicity.

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Three Cards Deep – 09/27/2013


Three Cards Deep: The Good, The Bad, and the EDH Ugly


Three cards:

  • One is Rad: Surprisingly awesome card you’d be just as happy to see an opponent slam down as you would to rip it off the top.
  • One is Bad: It’s a bogeyman. Take a trip to frown town with these fun suckers, whether you’re casting or being tortured by them.
  • One is Sad: Often popular inclusions, these cards aren’t actually worth a slot.

In honor of my brand new son Paix (almost two weeks old today), this week we’re looking at the Rad, the Rad, and the Rad, because seriously, everything is so awesome right now.


…OK not really.

This Rad-Bad-Sad trio is Explosive Vegetation, Boundless Realms, and Farseek, respectively. Ramping is kinda like being prolific, and I have my progeny on my mind.

First, blah blah big mana resource accumulation default strategy because combo is frowned upon blah blah. Ok great. Moving on.

Everybody talks about ramp vaguely as a kind of love to hate to love strategy. I mean, I like casting spells early and I want to jam Gratuitous Violence, Vigor, and Phthisis, in consecutive turns. But I also want to play a fun game of EDH, which means I can’t be the only one getting my jollies off.

The Rad – Explosive Vegetation

Veggies is sweet, the gold standard of fair ramp. It’s the Counterspell of “counterspells,” the Doom Blade (or maybe it should be Murder) of removal. It’s always good, there are better and worse options, and it’s not a gateway drug to breaking the game in half. Some say Cultivate is a better choice because it hits earlier, but in EDH it’s worth a mana to skip ahead two turns.

Veggies ramps, fixes mana, and looks good in a tight tank top. You’re happy casting it on turn six to fix and it helps keep you in the game providing a net bonus in terms of resource accumulation – lands in play – even on turn twelve. But it’s just a small one, not enough lands to break the game in half.

You can make the case for Skyshroud Claim, which obviously can be much better if you have a more expensive mana base. But that’s too obvious, too good, and a legitimate if.

Verdict: If you told me you ran this in every green deck, I would not roll my eyes.


The Bad – Boundless Realms

Realms is the king-maker, the enabler of the busted big-mana things that make us all sigh and complain. If jumping ahead two lands on turn four – a 50-percent gain – is good, then jumping ahead seven on turn six or seven – a 100 percent increase assuming no non-land mana sources – is ri-dic-u-lous. Capital “R” as in you’re already set to re-cast Progenitus twice after your realms go unbounded. And that’s basically the minimum entry point for its resource accumulation abilities.

I get that it’s just an enabler and a deck that’s all bears won’t bust any skulls with fourteen lands. But it mixes well with some of the other flagship cards and strategies of the format to create a redundant, unfun play experience. Yes, people should be running more fair answers to ramp (Natural Balance/Keldon Firebombers for President/VP 2014!), just like they need more graveyard hate and personality, but that’s not the point. The point is frown town and how much I hate it.

Verdict: Your realms were already fine. Pretty nice even. Don’t make them boundless.


The Sad – Farseek

One-for-one ramp. It really gets me. I have discussed this with multiple players who use them, and yes, I kvetched about Rampant Growth last time. But I keep seeing it. This week it was Farseek. It’s very weak. Its weakness may be disguised by just being one of many ramp spells in a mana advantage deck, in which case it’s part of a cumulative effect that belies the wasted cardboard. And Deep Reconnaissance and Growth Spasm are in the category as well.

Nature’s Lore is slightly better. And to the Farseek player’s credit, he was only running Nature’s Lore and Three Visits (land comes into play untapped), Farseek to get duals, and the signets. All of these are a spot better than Rampant Growth.

Here’s the thing. Every card obviously has opportunity cost, and different ramp spells advance different game plans. So if you always want four mana of three colors on turn three to windmill slam Rafiq of the Many, the two mana guys (including a bunch of other really bad ones like Edge of Autumn) do get the job done.

But predicating card selection on tempo-based needs means you have to include cards that are dead draws late, which is a higher risk in a format defined by variance and slower matches. However, less tempo-dependent ramp and fixing like Veggies is a dead draw far less of the time. If you build a strategy around less narrow goals, you have a broader range of conditions by which you can successfully execute your game plan, so you won’t end up running narrow, time-conditional spells like Farseek.

Verdict: Even when I step down from a high horse on a soap box, it still looks bad to me.


Weekly Lesson: Convincing people to target the ramp player can be difficult if s/he is crafty. Everybody knows to blow up Mirari’s Wake, but the guy who sits behind a few rocks, a middling beater or two, and the lands from having cast seven ramp spells in ten turns might fly under the radar if he’s good at the “strategy of second best.” Yet if you try too hard (perhaps because you’ve been thinking about card evaluation a lot and realize what the third ramp spell in a row means for future abilities to recover) to convince people that Rampy McRamperson is the threat, you sound whiny and people still aren’t convinced. More people need to read Cassidy’s (and Mr. P’sarticles about proper threat assessment to make this easier for me.

@ MdaveCs

Situational Awareness, Part One – Seeing The Bigger Picture

Hello, readers!  I hope all is well with everyone.  I wanted to quickly touch base on a few things before I get going today:
-The entries are pouring in for the GDC “From The Vault: Realms” contest.  So far, the guesses are all over the map, so this is shaping up to be very cool.  If you haven’t submitted a list yet, head over here to check out the details.
-I wanted to thank both Conley Woods and Gavin Verhey over at the mothership.  Gavin featured my Thromok list (from ‘Dear Azami’) as a featured ‘Daily Deck List a few weeks back, and Conley did the same with the Teysa list from this week for today.  Thanks so much, gentlemen!
-Wrapping up the “Planechase and EDH” poll:
-50%: Love it!
-14%: It’s a broken, unholy abomination…never again!
-11%: Never tried it.
Clearly, Planechase resonates well with the EDH crowd.  Personally, I fall somewhere between ‘unholy abomination’ and ‘Eternities Map’ at this point; In my experience, straight Planechase EDH is just way too swingy for my tastes.  I want to like the format, and I think Eternity Maps might be the answer, but it’s still not perfect.  There’s a massive space requirement, and it really favors the player who intimately knows what each Plane does, so it’s still a bit off.
It looks like quite a few of you really enjoy adding Planechase to EDH, though, and I do admit that I really want to like it.  I guess I need to give it more face time.
Speaking of knowing about board states…
Anecdote #1 (Google Chat with Mr. P):
9:59 AM
Me: What do I write about today?  Give me a topic.
10:01 AM
Mr. P: so game last night: Andrew plays turn one Sol Ring, turn two Sylvan Library, turn three cultivate, something else, turn 4 dragon broodmother, turn 5 perilous forays.  I play 6 straight lands and then play primetime, which gets countered.  
write about improper threat assessment.
10:04 AM
Me: Andrew comboed everyone out, correct?
10:05 AM
Mr. P: he did
  no one disrupted him at all
.   .   .   .   .
I’m pretty sure this might be the first article in a series on the topic of situational awareness.  I say that because I’m not sure just how big it gets, but I’m pretty sure the answer ends up being somewhere North of ‘massive’.  Let’s see where we end up, shall we?
Now, I know what you’re saying already–
“’Situational Awareness’ is the same thing as ‘Improper Threat Assessment’.  You complain about that enough as is.”
This is partially correct.  (To be fair, the second sentence is completely correct.)  Improper threat assessment is basically half of situational awareness.  It’s the part you hear about anytime I write anything on GDC someone mishandles a situation in a game that ends poorly.  (I fully understand that last bit is completely a matter of perspective, but bear with me.)
The logical response then becomes:
“If you never talk about ‘proper threat assessment’, there is no distinction!”
Patience, young grasshopper.  All will be revealed in due time.  We will look at both sides of the coin before we’re through with this topic.
In the game Mr. P was referencing, Andrew is the creator of the Ulasht deck I featured a while back.  I’ve detailed what this deck is capable of; it is built to ramp mana like crazy until it hits a critical turn, at which point it explodes into a hasty mob of pumped-up tokens through several possible routes.  When I said that I suspected that Andrew “comboed out”, this is what I’m referring to.  Ulasht is a combo-enabled aggro deck in the same way that my Thromok list is.
Now, clearly the guy who countered the Primeval Titan missed the boat on what was happening.  He was trying to assess things, but was using an internal reference to do it, and missed the bigger picture.  This isn’t a particularly unforgivable offense; as Mr. P later said, it’s the correct play to counter PrimeTime 90% of the time.  Counterspell Guy had this concept somehow etched in his mind, though, and I’d wager the counter itself was more of a knee-jerk response than a strategic decision.   In this game situation, there was a very clear path unfolding that should have been throwing up signal flares like crazy to anyone paying attention, and the signs were missed due to perceived threat density.
This is a very common mistake.  Also, remember those three words.  Better yet, replace the word ‘perceived’ with the word ‘actual’, and remember those three words, because that’s the key to good EDH plays.
Now, if you put Primeval Titan next to Perilous Forays, it is clear what card is better for ramping mana.  Titan is undoubtedly a better creature than Dragon Broodmother in a one-on-one comparison as well.  When you have a one-to-one removal option (in this case a counter, but it could be Go For The Throat or Vindicate), it’s very easy to wait until you see a single haymaker and just deal with that.
However, EDH isn’t played in a vacuum.  When you add Dragon Broodmother to Forays and dump in some extra mana and a general that loves tokens, Prime Time may as well be Chimney Imp in comparison.  Always look for the bigger picture.
What I’d like to do is look at the turn sequence to see what’s going on, and assess on the fly.  For those of you keeping score, this is exactly what needs to happen anytime a game of Magic is played, and for some reason, it is also exactly the thing that is most-frequently forgotten in EDH games.  (More on that later…)
What follows is a basic primer on assessing an EDH gamestate.
.   .   .   .   .
First, the general in question:
If you knew nothing about the deck itself, you could safely guess that it would be attempting to create tons of tokens.  You’d be correct.  From then on, anything that forwards this strategy should be raising red flags.
Turn one – Sol Ring.
Andrew is way ahead with this opening.  A potential four mana on turn two is allowing him to play the game twice as fast as the rest of the table.  Not specifically threatening, but you should be focusing on anyone who opens with Sol Ring.
Turn two – Sylvan Library
Andrew now has access to three times as many cards per turn as his enemies.  You really don’t need to even think about it in those terms.  Right next to the part of your brain that has “Primeval Titan = bad!” engraved in it, there should be another note that says “Sol Ring + Sylvan Library = huge problem!”
Don’t question your instincts here.  Andrew is running this game at this point.  He can dig deeper and faster to find threats that play well with his general or game-plan.
At this point, I’m thinking of how to find a way to kill Library specifically, and I’m going to be incredibly wary of any token producers Andrew finds.
Turn three – Cultivate
 More mana.  This is an explosive start.  By ‘explosive’, I mean ‘weapons-grade Plutonium’ explosive.
This exacerbates the problem of Sylvan Library; Andrew gets to see three entirely new cards with it next turn.
Turn four – Dragon Broodmother
There it is.  The token deck now has a serious token producer to complement serious draw, and more than twice the amount of mana it should reasonably have by now.  If there was any question before, it should be completely gone now.  You should be offering your first-born child to anyone who can play Austere Command next turn.
Contextually, assuming that the guy with the counter could have played it in response to Broodmother, the only reason not to at this point would be clear indication that some form of removal or other answer was immediately available.
Turn five – Perilous Forays
And now he has a turbo-ramp engine in place.  Forays plus a token generator is insane if left unchecked.
This game is about to be over.
Knowing the deck, I can tell you for a fact that Andrew would be in position to kill the entire table within four turns of this play.  He should not have been allowed to do this.
.   .   .   .   .
Now, I know there are several missing pieces to this puzzle.  We don’t know what the other players have done at this point.  It is potentially possible that someone else is doing something more busted than what Andrew is doing.
I seriously doubt it, but it is possible.
It’s also impossible to know what other plays were possible.  The blue player might have been sandbagging Blatant Thievery or Gather Specimens, for example.  Hindsight, however, tells a different story.  Counterspell guy had no clue what was about to happen, and since it appears that no-one else had a way to answer Andrew, the game was lost personally and for the rest of the table when he chose to save the counter for ‘what might come next’, despite plenty of information on what was already there.
This is all about not seeing the forest for the trees.  I’ll concede that trying to take in an entire game worth of information at one time is tough to do when talking about the complexity and affluence of EDH.  That isn’t an excuse to sit back and punt a game that you could have kept in check, if not won outright, with a little bit of observation and forethought.
Take time to see what’s out there.  How often do you see someone throw Miren, the Moaning Well onto the table without looking around first, only to have it act as a bad Strip Mine because someone else already played it first?  (Unless that’s the purpose of the play, of course.)  I can’t count the times that I’ve seen people screw up combat math while declaring an attack against someone with an untapped Mystifying Maze or Yavimaya Hollow.  (To be perfectly fair, I’m usually the one actually making that mistake, but I digress…)
You don’t have to know everything at all times to make good plays…you just have to take a look around once in a while.
Pop Quiz:
Player A is playing with a deck he has identified as a ‘Random Events!’ deck.  Player B shrewdly posits the question, “Waiiiiiit…is that a coin-flip deck?”  Player A confirms.  Player C is shuffling up a deck that he says is very exciting and combo-tastic and will do some busted-up thing, but in reality will sacrifice all of its permanents and play ‘draw-go’ for a few hours.
Player D has experienced the ‘Random Events!’ deck already and is praying a meteor will hit the store and end the game prematurely.
Player A is of legal age and has imbibed a few adult beverages.  As a result, he is very excited about the fact that his deck contains Goblin Bomb.  He shares this with Players B, C, and D with excessive enthusiasm.  Player B responds with a hearty laugh after reading the card.  Player D suspects that player B actually has no clue what he just read and is just posturing.
Player C is not paying any attention, and is busy talking about how Nevinyrral’s Disk is the key to his combo.  (This proves to be a poor decision, as he is rapidly forced to discard it and then is targeted by Withered Wretch later on as a result.)
Fast-forward to the middle of the game.  Player B does some things, and some other things.  Player C’s deck takes an early dump, as previously mentioned.  Player D is searching in vain for an answer to Player A’s deck, which has been allowed to amass a pretty extensive board position because Player B is leaving him completely alone and focusing on Player D instead.
Player A finds and (loudly) plays Goblin Bomb.
Soon after, Player B finds Dismantling Blow.
Does he:
1) Target Goblin Bomb, fearful that all the hype Player A has created is true and he might possibly be the one player out of four to be forced to take twenty damage sometime way later in the game (which would then force him to untap and play a land, triggering his Eternity Vessel and returning him immediately to full life, thus making it a terrible play to begin with for Player A.), in the process causing player C to give him a hearty ‘high-five’ and Player D to facepalm?
2) Make the correct play and target the god-damned Krark’s Thumb that is allowing Player A to do whatever the hell he wants to do?
.   .   .   .   .
Have a great weekend, folks!

Anger Management! (Alternate title – Dammit, Sharuum…stop being a control deck…)

The new-and-improved DJ from a few weeks back apparently still needs some fine-tuning, folks.  We’ll get to that shortly, however…
.   .   .   .   .
I know…all that work, and I’ve come full-circle and ended up asking the same question I started with.  Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, let me explain why I pose this question again.
Last night was the inaugural test drive of our finalized Sharuum Community Project Esper aggro deck.  It was a very interesting and eventful experience.  I very quickly discovered two things:
-Yes…it is possible to play a non-degenerate Sharuum build.
Robert Burns was not screwing around when he wrote the infamous stanza, “…The best laid schemes of mice and men…Go often awry.”
(Which leads to two further discoveries – one, that Robert Burns wrote “Auld Lang Sine”, and two, I still have absolutely no clue what an ‘Auld Lang Sine’ actually is…)
Now, the deck played wonderfully, and actually was called out mid-game by another player as being “the least threatening” deck at the table.  Arguably the most threatening thing it did all night was to Sharuum in Darksteel Forge – and this happened at the two-and-a-half-hour mark of the game.  I paid retail for everything the deck did, from Akroma’s Memorial to Mimic Vat to Spine of Ish Sah.
The problem is that, once again, the deck played out like a control deck.  Here’s a rough list of the things the deck accomplished:
-Imprinted Duplicant on Mimic Vat solely to help keep various Praetor shenanigans in check.
-Spine Of Ish Sah-ed an opponent’s Vedalken Orrery.
-Strategically wrecked the Mimeoplasm player’s game with Mystifying Maze.
That was about it.  I found no mana acceleration, and was out-raced by every other player, forcing me to play defensively the entire game.  When I finally was able to attack someone for lethal damage, it was with a tandem hasted attack with Sharuum and Magister Sphinx.  (Which was very satisfying – see below…)
I’m hoping this is an anomaly, but it does sort of match my dry test run with the rough list a few weeks back.
What It Did Well:
-Hit land drops.  I’m pretty sure I did not miss a single drop until well into the late game.
-Handle critical threats.  I feel like the correct mix of removal and tutors was in place; I saw the correct answers at the correct times without having a hand overflowing with them.
-Stay under the radar.  I sat at thirty-seven life until the last few turns.
-Protect its’ graveyard.  Thanks to Volrath’s Stronghold and Academy Ruins, I was not touched by Mimeoplasm triggers until very late in the game, after the Forge came down and I had the Vat/Duplicant setup.
What It Did NOT Do Very Well:
-Be aggressive.  Other decks (notably ones with green and black in them) were able to find bigger threats faster, and I spent a bunch of time doing things like sitting on four lands and Mystifying Maze.
-Race.  Lightning Greaves on Scarecrone does not compete well with Hydra Omnivore, or Geth, or Mimeoplasm. 
-Draw cards.  I had Vedalken Archmage in my opening hand.  I discarded it on about turn twenty after my hand was flooded by someone else’s Minds Aglow after always having a better play than running it out for four mana and hoping it would stick long enough to give me some value. 
Other than that, the next best thing I found was Thirst For Knowledge on turn eight or so.  It drew me three lands.
-Not draw the correct amount of lands.  I drew a lot of land.
-Leverage Mycosynth Golem.  This may be a scratch after all.  I had it in my hand at one point, and realized that it would cost me 9 to play.  Looking at my hand, I had Enigma Sphinx and Sharding Sphinx, so I would be seeing a slight discount at best, but I’d still have to put up quite a bit of colored mana.
.   .   .   .   .
Again, I’m not throwing in the towel here.  To be perfectly fair, the deck is really fun to play, and realistically performed in a way that is very much in line with my usual control sensibilities.  The problem is that I don’t want it to do that.  This is not the aggro machine that I was expecting it would play out to be.  Despite having twenty-seven creatures, the ones that came up were simply too underwhelming by the time they were viable.
What Needs Fixing?
If I were to tweak things right now based on this performance, I’d probably look to do the following:
-Add more acceleration.  Sphinx Of The Steel Wind on turn eight is a great way to let someone else draw an extra card from their Decree Of Pain.  Steel Wind on turn five is a whole different ballgame.
-Add more draw.  Get Careful Study back in the deck.  Compulsive Research.  Maybe stuff like Ancient Craving or Blue Sun’s Zenith.  The deck should be powering through early draw to both optimize plays and prepare for Sharuum’s trigger to hit as quickly as possible. 
Potential Core Issue
-The fundamental problem is still that green and red decks just do aggro better on a like-versus-like basis, and worse, are a prevailing strategy at the moment.  Their creatures are bigger, cheaper, and faster.  Enigma Sphinx into Tempered Steel is fantastic, until the player next to you untaps and just plays Avenger Of Zendikar.  You’re not winning that race.
Potential Fixes
-Give in to control.  It’s possible this deck is able to be a viable, non-degenerate deck if it reinvents itself as a synergistic control build, leveraging some of the better threats (Magister Sphinx, Wurmcoil Engine) through extra removal, protection, and recursion.
-Voltron.  Up the equipment package at the expense of some of the existing creatures.  Again, rely on the solid threats, and back them up with Stoneforge, Stonehewer, and lots of swords.  Sphinx Of The Steel Wind with Batterskull and Sword of Light and Shadow on it is a powerhouse.
-Break from the ‘Esper aggro’ mold and give in to elements of ‘Goodstuff’.  I’m not advocating deserting the theme completely, but rather letting the colors do what they do best through some strategic changes.  Archmage becomes Consecrated Sphinx, Mirrorworks becomes Rite Of Replication.  Changes along these lines will make the deck stronger overall, if not move it in a slightly-less interesting direction.
Looking Forward
Two games do not represent enough seat-time to properly gauge how well this deck works.  I’m going to play it a few more times as-is to see if things change, and move forward from there.  One thing is for certain – I’m enjoying being back behind the Esper colors again. 
I’m not giving up on this thing.
.   .   .   .   .
I guess you can’t just flip the switches overnight.  Who knew?
I know that somewhere in the archives I detailed an experience playing a game with a certain Geth, Lord Of The Vault player who was a bit prone to griefing, whining when things were’t going his way, and getting heated up and confrontational.  Now, again – I’m firmly claiming pot-and-kettle here.  I am prone to pulling the same emotional responses myself.  And – as usual – I mean no ill-will to the persons involved in my stories here.  I really don’t – Next week is always a new week, and we’ve got an all-inclusive great bunch of players at our LGS.  I really mean that.
That said, this is my soapbox.  Once in a while, I’m entitled to talk some $#!t and revel in the glory of it all. 
This is absolutely one of those times, ladies and gentlemen.
There were five players in the game that occurred last night: Sakashima, The Mimeoplasm, Edric, Spymaster of Trest, and our old friend Geth.  From the start, the geth player was going to run his Sharuum build, but I had beaten him to the punch, so he switched over, noting that he’d have to play the “evil” deck instead.  He spent a good chunk of the game making comments about how hardcore the deck was, and how it was capable of some crazy degenerate plays.  
Of course, his tune changed after a while.  He got very antagonistic toward the Mimeoplasm player, who is still in the process of learning the format, and was incredibly smug and vocal when he was able to shut down plays the guy made. 
Eventually, of course, this drew the ire of the rest of us, and we started to put him in check.  Not long after I Strip-Mined his Cabal Coffers and the board was wiped, he had a turn where he drew, played a Swamp, and said, “Might as well pass…it doesn’t really matter since you guys are just ganging up on me anyway.”
Déjà vu, straight up.
Not to far further in, I assembled my Duplicant/Mimic Vat, and managed to catch him with it as we was attempting to equip Geth with Skullclamp.  He was visibly irritated at that point.  During my turn, I played Sharuum into Darksteel Forge.  At this point, he started making comments aimed at getting the other players to target me.  
“Someone needs to deal with that.”  
“I can make his whole deck go away.”
“He’s a huge threat”
It kept going like this until Geth was played again and he started to go down the milling path a second time.  In response to my Duplicant, he went for the Caged Sun the Sakashima player had in his yard.  Sakashima attempted to remove it from his yard.  Geth very snappily replied, “Activate again and target it again in response.”  He was then out of mana.  Sakashima shrugged and responded by playing and activating the Elixir Of Immortality in response via the Vedalken Orrery he had out.  The room erupted in roars, and Geth went very visibly into the tank.
The next turn, he untapped, and declared that he was tapping all of his lands for twenty-two mana.
“Seems fine.”, I said.
He played Geth.  “Does this resolve?”
“Sure”, I said.  “But in response to you activating him, I’m Vat-ing in a Duplicant to exile him.”
He started fuming a bit and making some comments about what was going to happen.
“Fine…remove Geth from the game”, I said calmly.
He blew his top.
I leaned in, grinned, and calmly said, “As soon as you activate Geth and pass priority, I will activate Vat and remove him from the game.”
He promptly started grabbing things from various yards, clearly setting up for a big next turn.  Caged Sun, Lightning Greaves, and so on.  He was also now discussing how he was going to mill me out of the game.  (Laughing, he points at the deck and bellows, “It’s what this thing does!)  He ends the turn tapped out, and passes to The Mimeoplasm.
I stand up and start pacing, trying to get rid of the nervous energy.  The last time this went down, I lost and had to suffer the feeling of yielding the upper hand to this guy.
Not this time.  Not again.
A few minutes later, the Mimeoplasm finishes his turn and passes.  I look over at Geth.
“Tapped out completely?”
He nods.
“Any creatures?”
He shakes his head.
“Good.  Akroma’s Memorial.  Magister Sphinx targeting you.  Swing at your head with him and Sharuum for ten.  That do it?”
.   .   .   .   .

Yeah…screw proper threat assessment.  Sometimes the right play is the one that makes you smile all the way home.

The Myth Of Threat Assessment Revisited (Alternate title – DJ loses his $#!? over a blown play and decides to go off on his blog about it…yes, again…)

Ahhh!  It’s a glorious Thursday, fearless readers.  And by ‘glorious’, I mean running on four hours’ sleep and heading shortly to a doctor’s appointment for a throat virus that my beautiful little son lovingly brought Daddy home from daycare.
Life is…good?
Anyway, I’m still in good spirits, as I was finally able to make the trip down to my (now semi-) regular Wednesday-night EDH game, and have it go all the way to completion.  Two games completed!  Nearly unheard of these days. 
And I will also admit I’m fired up more than usual with the outcome of both.  The first, a test drive of a very loose pile of an aggro-Sharuum first take, gave me a ton of solid feedback that I think we can apply very strongly to our ongoing Project.  We’ll get to that next Monday, when we resume things with a look at card draw.  Put on your thinking caps, and if you haven’t, look back at this past Monday to give me some feedback on lands for this deck. 
As for right now, though…oh man, I love the release that comes from going off about threat assessment.  Shall we?
Before we get going, let’s toss out a disclaimer:

By reading the following, you (the reader) recognize that I (the author) reserves the right to get a little fired up and possibly talk some $#!? about some or all of the players and games he was involved in that lead to this post.  I’ll remove the names to protect the people involved.  (Except possibly for my partner-in-crime Mr. P, if he’s involved…just because.)
(Because it’s my blog, dammit…)

Furthermore, while I may rip a person, their deck, or a play decision they made to shreds here, I in no way mean it as a personal offense and in no way hold a grudge against that person going forward.
(DJ loves everyone!  Er…in a platonic way, not a biblical one…)

Lastly, if I haven’t made it clear before now, I fully understand that I’m a bad player myself, make some of the most terrible plays ever and punt games like I get a check from Wizards Of The Coast monthly for it, and I accept that I tend to view things frequently through rose-colored glasses.  That need cleaning.  And a new prescription.
(Something something glass house something something throw stones…)

.   .   .   .   .

My thesis statement is plain and simple: EDH may be a casual format, but that does not mean that one should use that as an excuse to toss proper threat assessment out the window.  There were two instances last night that pinged my radar; one (directly involving me) was pretty egregious, and one (of which I was a bystander) was a bit more subtle.  I think I’ll channel my vast teaching experience (read: one year as a para-educator) by grading and commenting on the two. 

Incident #1:

The Setup: I was running Sisters Of Stone Death in the second game.  Other generals included Brion Stoutarm to my right, Oros to my left, and Sen Triplets and Silvos, Rogue Elemental (Nice choice, man!) across the table from me.

Additional Info:  I jumped out to a fairly threatening lead, ramping into Sisters, an Abundance/Sylvan Library combo, and Darksteel Plate and Swiftfoot Boots (both equipped on Sisters) as well as Lightning Greaves.  I decided to get tricky, going for Dark Depths into Aether Snap, but my Marit Lage token was stolen by Mr. P and sacrificed to his Greater Gargadon before I could get it moving.  I had been beaten down to about 25 life, and people were slowly dealing me damage and dealing with my things.  (Abundance was destroyed, as was a Mimic Vat I tried to stick…)  As a result, I was sitting on my Booted, Plated Sisters for defense and not attacking.

Important Notes About The GameState:  Sen Triplets has Mirrorworks out, and is copying everything from Sol Ring to Nihil Spellbomb to Steel Hellkite.  Silvos is sitting on Sword Of Feast And Famine and Sword Of Vengeance.  (Possibly a Skullclamp too.)  More importantly, Mr. P is being allowed to equip Brion with his own Skullclamp, sacrifice him to Miren, The Moaning Well to gain life, draw two cards, and return him to play with Nim Deathmantle every turn.  His current life total is sitting somewhere north of seventy-five and climbing.

The Play: Oros untaps, draws, gets very excited, informs the table that he can “deal with that thing finally!”, and plays Into The Core, targeting Darksteel Plate.
…And Swiftfoot Boots.

The Grade:  D+

Comments:  No amount of trying to retroactively explain how this was the right play saves you on this one.  It’s simply not, and not only because it directly hurt my board.  There’s a reason that two of the other three players at the table were sitting there with their jaws dropped, laughing; Swiftfoot Boots was a huge blunder.  (This isn’t an “F” because Darksteel Plate was the right call.)
At the point when Core was played, my Swiftfoot Boots were about the 6th-most threatening artifacts on the board, compounded by the fact that I had a nearidentical effect with Greaves right next to them that he couldn’t also take without letting the Plate survive.  The sheer card advantage that Mirrorworks was providing was jaw dropping, and Nim Deathmantle was directly responsible for Mr. P doubling his life and making it impossible for his general to be destroyed.  And this isn’t taking into account what happens when a mono-green player is given free reign with a Seedborn Muse effect. 

Final Thoughts:  This is just a terrible play.  That said, I understand that there’s another important element related to threat assessment at work here; the Oros player and I have been at odds with each-other in the past, and I tend to show up as a recurring target for him as a result from week to week, no matter what I’m playing.  I’m not trying to divest blame from myself either; the resulting feud has me then throwing threat assessment out the window myself for the rest of the game in favor of trying to wreck him in return.  (In this case, it didn’t help that he was lecturing the Sen Triplets player not long afterward on not making power plays because “it’s a casual format”.  Want to fire me up in a hurry?  This reads like a master course in exactly how to do that.  In fact, I bit my tongue and said nothing about the play at all until he did this, at which point I kind of unloaded on him.  Apologies, man…) 
The point is that it’s a very slippery slope to let a personal beef get in the way of solid play, and there’s a real snowball effect when this kind of thing happens.  The result is about what you’d imagine; Brion made endgame due to his huge lead in life total, and Sen Triplets nearly took everyone down with multiple copies of Hellkites and Wurmcoil Engines. 
(I may or may not have taken advantage of the ensuing carnage to *ahem* sneak in a lethal attack on Triplets, followed by *ahem* a huge Drain Life on Brion to win the game…) 

Incident #2:

The Setup:  Game one of the evening.  I have Sharuum; to my right is Mr. P with his Johan “Farming” theme deck, to my left is Silvos, and across the table from me is Zur and Ulasht.  (Yes…the Ulasht I need a decklist on for you guys.  It should be on the way shortly…)

Additional Info: I don’t think Mr. P would mind in the slightest if I characterized the Johan Farming deck as “not good”.  He’d probably use stronger language that that himself.  It’s strictly an exercise in making a deck dedicated to farming at the expense of all else…and by all else, I mean he’s running Farmstead. 

Let that sink in.  While you’re at it, imagine that you and your buddy have each bought a pack of Revised off of EBay.  You open Farmstead as your rare; he opens UndergroundSea. 
Moving on, then?

Important Notes About The GameState:  Ulasht has done an admirable job of handling most of the board; most recently, he dropped a Terastodon, wiping out (if memory serves) my Mimic Vat, and some other good things from other players.  He also has Skarrg, The Rage Pits active.  Mr. P has just decided to open a stud farm, playing Storm Herd for thirty-four horses.  We are all at less than thirty-four life.

The Play:  Ulasht declares attacks, swinging at Mr. P with his Terastodon and activating Skaarg to make it a trampling 10/10.  Mr. P blocks with ten horse tokens, at which point Ulasht plays out an entwined Savage Beating.  Mr. P loses ten horses and takes ten trample damage. 
Ulasht then untaps and moves to his second attack phase.  He then swings at Mr. P for another twenty damage.  Mr. P is a bit shocked, and just takes the damage.

The Grade:  A solid “C”

Comments:  I’m really on the fence on this one.  On the one hand, I need to give credit to Ulasht, who is a solid player and a solid deckbuilder.  He nearly always takes his time to properly assess the board to make the correct play, and he’s among the players in the shop with the most wins.
It’s also important to also take into context the fact that thirty-four flying horses was enough to deal lethal damage to any of the rest of us.  I see what he was doing, protecting his game-state by forcing Mr. P to commit enough of his horses to prevent him from representing lethal damage to any of us.
The problem I have here is the second attack.  After getting Mr. P to bite on gang-blocking the Terastodon the first time, it should have been obvious that he wasn’t planning on alpha-striking anyone out of the game, and he no longer had an army big enough to do so anyway.  The compounding factors in my mind are that Mr. P has spent the game doing nothing but playing things like Argothian Swine (because it’s a pig!), and…well, that’s about it.  It was clear that the Storm Heard was the only real power play the deck had, and with that neutralized, there were far-more threatening things happening elsewhere; I had Scarecrone and was recurring everything that hit my yard with Sharuum as a result, and Zur was in position to do his Zur thing.  (To be fair both ways, his deck – like mine – was noted as a “non-threatening” version, but also had locked in Solitary Confinement at one point, and had both an original Phyrexian Arena and a copy, which was allowing him to see an obscene amount of cards each turn.)
Simply put, I feel there were better places to send the second attack.

Final Thoughts:  I think what was happening here was that Ulasht was a bit tunnel-vision-ed on the play in question.  It’s very easy to fall into such a state in that situation; you’ve spent time identifying a threat and building a strategy that will allow you to neutralize it, and auto-pilot can kick in once things are in motion.  It’s not technically a bad play per se, but once the second attack was sent at Mr. P, an opportunity was lost to put pressure on players that were more deserving of it, and Mr. P was noticeably frustrated, resulting in him reacting much as I did in game two, placing an undue and possibly overextended amount of pressure on Ulasht for the rest of the game in retribution.  The result is that Ulasht had to use resources to fight off Mr. P, leaving him a bit short in the end when Zur was able to recur enough flying threats to clear the table out in one turn.  (At that point, Mr. P and I were both dead.)
I’ll say it again – Yeah, EDH is casual.  That doesn’t mean that loose play won’t have consequences.

.   .   .   .   .

That’s it for this week, faithful readers.  Again, thanks to the Worlds Apart crew for some great games last night, and I mean it when I say that I hold no ill will toward anyone I may have commented on in this (or any other) post on here.  You guys are all the best.
We’ll see you Monday!  I’ll give you a taste of my discoveries from last night’s adventure with Sharuum ver. 1.0, and we can put a dent in what’s left of this project. 
Enjoy your weekends!


Ranking Threat Assessment: The Five Most Important Factors To Consider (And One To Ignore, Clearly…)

Before we dive into the resurrection of my beloved erstwhile sphinx, we’re going to take a detour into the realm of threat assessment.  Let’s begin with a statement that I believe is one of the fundamental truths of EDH players as a whole:

(Mental note: start compiling a “Fundamental Truths Of EDH” list…)
Now, I fully admit that I’m making a sweeping generalization here, and that this statement does not apply to everyone, but after several years of playing the format, I’ve seen more than enough evidence to support this position for the majority of all players.  I think it comes from the core design of EDH; unlike all other Magic formats, this one in particular inspires a powerful sense of identity.
Let me explain.
Players who delve into creating a deck tend to transcend the simple process of putting a pile of cards into sleeves.  Once you choose a general, spend time theory-crafting and coming up with a theme or design constraint, search your favorite search engine for the perfect cards to round out your list, and dive head-first into trading or buying the cards to complete your masterpiece, it most likely has taken on a life of its own.  Players are proud to display the general they’ve chosen as they shuffle up for the game.  They’re proud to talk in detail about what led to the construction, and what cards were and were not included.  There’s a tangible amount of empathy that is developed, and for that reason, we reach the first corollary of the afore-mentioned truth:

Understand these two statements, and you’ll know all you need to know about surviving the format intact.  
With that, let’s dive right in to the list.  Disclaimer: This list is in no way a comprehensive list, and is certainly a living, breathing, and growing entity.  Expect to see additional entries in the future.  (Read: I’m going to complain again soon after someone else does something new to piss me off.  Okay!) 
Also, I’m in an incredibly punchy mood today (stupid Super Bowl), so read accordingly.

.   .   .   .   .


Every shop has one.  He’s the guy that everyone can’t stop talking crap about behind his back.  The topic of discussion always revolves around the annoying/stupid/douchbag-esque things he did at the last game, or that obnoxious deck he plays that just combos the table out.  Maybe it’s his crappy attitude or annoying antics.  When he shows up, a pall sets in; people stop talking and start studying their binders like they’re preparing for their SATs.  Players that were heated and firing off obscenities minutes before suddenly remember they need to step outside and call home.  Whatever allows people to avoid talking to this person will become the driving priority for the whole place. 
No one really likes this guy, but he can’t take a hint and keeps showing up anyway.  The chance that this player is going to be the first person “randomly” attacked in the beginning of the game is nearly 100%.  His permanents and spells will always be slightly more threatening than what anyone else plays, no matter the actual card selection.  All things equal, this player is going to eliminated first every time.  People will frequently over-extend to the detriment of their own board-state to make this happen.
Fortunately, it’s a guarantee that this person will do at least half a dozen things that got him the reputation he has to begin with during the course of this interaction, and the cycle will continue to blissfully propagate.  Rest assured in the knowledge that all is well in the universe.

This probably happened two years ago.  Maybe it was last game.  It doesn’t matter.  The guy to your right just played his general (Azusa), and the guy before him opened with land, Sol Ring, Skullclamp, Top…but this player is aiming his Putrefy at your Signet anyway.  Too bad you kept a two-lander because you had Yavimaya Elder in your hand.  Of course, he’d have hit that with Swords To Plowshares too, instead of the Blightsteel Colossus that the Sharuum player just cheated in on turn five…


You sunk all that time and effort into your totally awesome Myr tribal deck.  Unfortunately, there’s no legendary Myr, so you searched for “legendary creature” with the word “artifact” in the rules text.  Arcum was the first one to pop up.  Good luck pulling together that totally awesome Myr Battlesphere/Myr Incubator/Coat Of Arms/Akroma’s Memorial combo before the table gang-piles you into oblivion in about four turns flat. 
Hey – at least the special at the pizza place across the street is two slices and a medium Coke for $3.50. 
Hope you brought a book.

4.      “BLOOD FEUD!”

The guy on the end of the table has been turbo-recurring Kagemaro with Phyrexian Reclamation, and you finally found Fracturing Gust and Tormod’s Crypt.  What a relief.  Everyone can, you know, actually play the game again. 
Congratulations.  It doesn’t matter if you saved the day, or that was the only correct play.  You just earned a sworn enemy for the rest of the game.  (Or maybe longer, if Hunted Wumpus was also in his graveyard.)


It’s clearly your own damn fault for playing Ice Cauldron, Takklemaggot, Glyph Of Reincarnation, or anything foreign older than Ravnica block.  Someone is going to kill it, because…well, it’s probably going to do something, right? 
To add insult to injury, once it hits your graveyard, someone else at the table will ask you to see it so he can read it.  Once that person is done, the player who just destroyed it will then say, “Wait…let me see it too.”

A player has the Cryptic Command to answer Tooth And Nail. 
The guy at the end of the table targets Cabal Coffers with his Strip Mine.
Consecrated Sphinx gets destroyed on the end-step that it is played.
The kid across from you rips Lightning Helix on turn two, and saves it for when the Omnath player finds Rofellos instead of tossing it at your face immediately.
You’ve got Phyrexian Arena out, but the Rhys the Redeemed player sends both halves of Return To Dust at the guy with Sylvan Library, Abundance, Survival Of The Fittest, and Mana Reflection out instead.
Don’t worry.  You’re completely safe.  These are called “good choices”.

None of those will ever happen…   




Friday at GDC: Patrick’s Zombie Tribal list, and I’m a terrible player…

Happy Friday, y’all!  It’s great to be here; this has been a grueling week, and I’m looking forward to…well, probably a grueling weekend, since the Christmas season brings about a billion and a half obligations with it, as well as some seriously un-finished shopping.  (Okay, okay…some seriously un-started shopping.)  Still, I’ll take holiday parties over work any day of the week, so let’s get to it. 
We’re going to post Patrick’s co-winning Thraximundar deck list today before we get to looking at the play-testing results of Imshan’s list.  Why is that, you ask?  Simple – my brain is suffering from mild sleep deprivation as of late, so I grabbed Patrick’s deck list instead of Imshan’s when packing my bag for the Wednesday EDH night this past week.  As a result, I have some seat-time with that deck, so I figured we would get it up and discuss a bit, and leave the other list for another day. 
DISCLAIMER: Good lord did the play-testing go poorly for this deck this week.  I’m sure the list is good, so either I suck at Magic totally, or I lost a bet with the God Of Shuffles.  The takeaway here is basically to stay tuned for more play-testing on this deck too.
Full disclosure time – Patrick is one of my closest, oldest friends, and the number-one Friend of GDC both in readership and comments posted.  We’ve known each other since middle school, went to college together, he was in my wedding, and we’ve been in a band together for the better part of the last twenty years.  Before anyone cries foul, Patrick also went out of his way to submit multiple lists to me for the Thrax contest.  His first list was on a similar slant to Imshan’s list, and as a result, I asked Patrick to get outside of the box and show me what he could do with a straight tribal zombies list.  Patrick is one of the best deck builders and players I’ve ever met, and currently has an EDH deck stable that includes a minimum of one deck for every available color combination out there.  He knows his stuff like no other, and dove right in, coming up with the following list, replete with a full explanation of inclusions, synergies, and an overall deck strategy.  It was this level of detail that won him a co-slot in the winner’s circle. 
Let’s start with the list:
LANDS – 38
2 x Island
2 x Swamp
…and there it is.
In asking for this list, I was much less concerned with the general’s role in the deck.  He would see play for sure, but I was far more interested here in the creature type printed on the card, rather than the abilities in the text box.  I was also up-front in that I wanted a deck that wasn’t just another theme deck, but maintained playability and could stand up to the average deck in the format.  He started with the manabase I had posted as part of my original list, added Unholy Grotto and Crypt Of Agadeem for some added recursion and acceleration, and went from there:

That’s right…you’re now running a Rooftop Storm combo deck.  Ok, well sorta.  The way I see it, Zombies go like this:

BLACK-because that’s what 99% of Zombies are.  If you want a second color you go into…
RED-because they really want haste, and also Deathbringer Thoctar!  From there you can either go into…
WHITE- for Necromancer’s Covenant or…
BLUE-for Rooftop Storm or…
(if you’re uncreative you can go into…)
GREEN-for ummmm…mana ramp?

So anyways it’s really either Mono Black, Black-Red, or a tri-color.  If you’re in Blue you obviously are there for Rooftop Storm, so let’s break the s**t out of that thing.”
Absolutely.  I’m not crazy about Innistrad as a whole, but Rooftop Storm was the standout card of the set from my perspective, both from a flavor perspective, and also because of the discount you get for Thraximundar.  Those of you who say my original list will note it was in there for the general alone.
So I’m down here.  Lead on-


-Leyline of Anticipation

Rooftop Storm lets you play guys for free.  You know what goes well with that?  Being able to play your guys as instants.”


-Empty The Catacombs
-Infernal Caretaker

Hey look, a handful of free Zombies!

-Patriarch’s Bidding
-Living Death
-Twilight’s Call
-Balthor The Defiled

As long as one of the zombies coming in is Noxious Ghoul, nothing except zombies will survive.”
Solid.  I love the inclusion of the mass-bounce spells, as I’m getting discounts all around re-playing my zombies, and these get around problematic shroud creatures.  It takes the deck and spins it in a slight combo direction, working up to a critical turn where everything is bounced, the zombies are all replayed for free, and ideally are hasty and can swing for a bunch all at one.  The mass grave recursion is clearly a must in a tribal deck like this, and I’m all about my Living Death.  This should be a great engine.  


Tombstone Stairwell
-Vicious Shadows”
Makes perfect sense.  Tombstone Stairwell and Vicious Shadows go in well, giving me some extra value from what ends up in the yard, and a bit of a damage boost when they head out the door at end of turn.  Let’s face it…tribal decks sometimes need the boost in damage in the face of superior (in most cases) creatures and strategies, and Shadows is thematic and custom-made for a deck like this.
Patrick notes that protection is going to be key:

The paradox here is that by going more tribal, you should probably run more counters.  Since theoretically you’ll have Rooftop Storm out, you should theoretically be able to keep counter mana open.
-Cryptic Command
This makes sense.  If we’re going all-in on Rooftop Storm as a strategy in these colors, we’re going to need to protect it.  If it gets destroyed, I’m basically limited to Recall, Skull Of Orm, and…er…
Crystal Chimes?  Seriously?  That’s it? 
This is why I’m always in green, folks…
Anyway, Patrick continues on to flesh out the choices he makes, and we end with a solid list; haste from Anger and In The Web Of War, creature buffs from Akroma’s Memorial and Eldrazi Monument, and a host of supporting card draw and mana fixing/acceleration, and some strong game-breakers in Insurrection and Time Warp.  Seems like a solid mid-range tribal deck on paper.
In a nutshell, terribly. 
Now again, I don’t blame the build at all; I fully blame my luck.  I was able to play two games with the deck.  The first was against a Riku deck and a very competitive Kaervek list, and the second was against the same Riku deck and (if memory serves) Tolsimir Wolfblood.
In game one, I kept a hand that had enough land to get me going, a Phyrexian Arena, and a few minor zombies.  I figured the Arena would get me to where I needed to be, but the Riku player decided to Krosan Grip it, despite the Kaervek player having his own Arena and a Crucible Of Worlds with a fetchland in his yard.  I found myself tossing out chump-blockers to block Kaervek while the Riku player was inexplicably busy committing suicide by playing things like Kozilek, Butcher Of Truth and doing nothing else.  He died to Kaervek damage in short order; I found no gas or threats and was not far behind. 
Game two saw me stall out on the three lands I started with in my opening hand until about turn nine.  At that point, Kozilek had come back down and Annihilated Tolsimir out of the game, and I was faced with losing two-thirds of my permanents in the next attack phase.  Scoop!
I think the main lesson learned was that while this deck has some solid competitive elements, it’s not a tier-one list by any stretch.  (To be fair, I didn’t ask for one to begin with!)  While it does have some control elements, it has a very hard time dealing with non-creature permanents, and due to the theme, it needs to be drawing and playing a ton of cards to stay competitive.  Against a dedicated tier-one strategy, I think it needs to go a step further and be able to get one of the mass-bounce or mass-reanimation pieces going quickly as well, or else it ends up playing out sub-par threats with minimal disruption, and that’s not going to go toe-to-toe with a dedicated strategy. 
In any case, these were not good examples, and I know I need to get some more seat time with the deck to really feel it out.  Patrick himself said that this list was really only a starting point, and to experiment and tune from here; my intuition tells me the zombie count needs to go up, as does the card draw, and perhaps some added acceleration and/or mana fixing.  We will see.  
Oh…and this guy:
We’ll talk a little bit about the debut of creatureless Sisters Of Stone Death.  (spoiler: it’s a blast to play!)  I swear to god we’ll also get more seat time and reporting from both Thrax decks as well.  If I’m feeling particularly saucy, I may audible to something completely unrelated to tear apart as well.  We’ll see how the wind blows on that one. 
Happy Holidays!

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