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Defending the Commander Social Contract

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Pressuring The Table

Mono-red legendary creatures may have the most open designs in Commander. While red may appear to be linear, it has a ton of potential. There are classic aggressive decks that most players think about, but red also has control, combo, voltron, token, tribal, gimmicks, and even chaos decks. Honestly, red is definitely lacking in some departments – such as scaling creature removal (see the Lightning Bolt Problem) and drawing extra cards. But with artifact support, red has all the bases covered. Even better, red has a lot of natural synergy with artifacts for control, voltron, and combo potential.

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Dirt Beats Rocks

Mana. We all need it. We all want more of it. Sometimes, we get flooded and that’s annoying, but secretly we like it because when we finally do get some gas we can just FLOOR it.

The worst thing that can happen to your game is to be starved of mana. Not being able to cast your spells is possibly the worst feeling in the world.

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CC with ET – Lonely Sandbar

Welcome to Commander Comments,  where we pay homage to Aaron Forsythe’s Random Card of the Day.  Since I can’t talk about R&D, here’s the deal:  I click “random” on the Gatherer and talk about the potential uses in our beloved format. Time to move away from the staples and get some creative juices flowing. Ready?

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Approaches to Deckbuilding: New Player Edition

Welcome to my newest Approaches to Deck Building article. Today, I’m focusing more on players newer to Commander who are struggling with their deck building, or just want a few more tips to get going. Learning to play Commander is tricky, but when it comes down to it, learning to build a deck is even more difficult.

I’ve discussed the “My First EDH” approach here as a teaching tool, and how to get players into the format here. Today is about actually building a deck.

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Holidaze-Check Back Tomorrow

Do Memorial Day stuff. Reflect on sacrifice. Be with family. Thanks those who gave.

We’all get back with content tomorrow.

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

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

MTGO Fundamentals #1 – ”I’m Not Here To Be Your Buddy”

Welcome to MTGO Fundamentals – a new series that I’ll be updating here and there as I document and navigate my new existence as a primarily-Online Commander player.

Long-time readers of GeneralDamageControl.com are no-doubt really confused by that last statement. For you people – and to new readers who will not understand at first why this is a big deal – I’ll explain.

I promise.

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Just Like Starting Over

I guess we have some explaining to do, right?

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A Time And A Place – Examining EDH Card Design

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on December 18, 2012. We’re flashing back to some of our best from the past several years every Friday, because what’s old is new again. Erik specifically have been on a tear about the shortcomings apparent in Wizards’ ability to design for EDH. Cassidy aggreed, back in 2012 no less!

 

Let’s start with a statement:

Wizards of the Coast can design great EDH cards when they try.

Let’s follow that statement with another statement:

They don’t seem to try all that often.

And following that, the benchmark example of a card designed for EDH:

I know…low-hanging fruit.  I get that.  There’s a point, though.

Let me ask this question:

Why is Command Tower a successful EDH card?

There are several levels that you can access this question at.  It’s printed at common, which puts it into the hands of even the most cash-strapped players.  It specifically only matters to EDH, as it doesn’t function at all outside of the format.  It goes in every deck.  (Well, unless your general is colorless.   And there isn’t much point to running it in a mono-colored deck, but it technically does work.

Is it the easy and cheap no-strings-attached mana fixing?  That’d probably be the most logical choice.  However, I personally think it succeeds primarily for one reason:

It came to be while WotC was specifically designing for EDH.

Let me put it another way for better perspective:

Wizards of the Coast can’t seem to design an EDH card unless they’re specifically catering to the format.

The Commander Pre-Cons that came out two years ago did a ton of stuff for the format.  It brought attention, and attention brought new players.  This is generally good.

The new players brought a general increase in singles prices due to raised demand.  This is generally bad, unless you’re in the business of selling cards.

The best thing they did, though, was show EDH players that Wizards of the Coast cared enough to make us nice things.  We saw the (rebranded) name of our format on retail boxes for the first time.  We saw boxes filled with piles of playable cards that (more or less) specifically pertained to the format.  New players got an easy ticket to entry, while older players got staples like Sol Ring and Solemn Simulacrum and Darksteel Ingot.

And we got some cards that were designed for us, which is the best part of the whole deal.

Now, some of the cards were a failed experiment in my opinion.  The ‘join forces’ mechanic, for example, is just like Christmas morning.  The young, hopeful players excitedly play the cards, trembling with anticipation as all the other players join in the celebration and pour mana into spells that fill stockings with basic lands and 1/1 soldier tokens for all.

Meanwhile, the jaded d-bags (like me) sit back and draw a bunch of free cards off of Minds Aglow and tell the kiddies there is no such thing as Santa.

The Vow cycle is close to the same thing.  Sure seems like a good idea, until you realize that the Uril player is getting way better value out of Rancor or Armadillo Cloak than he is out of Vow of Wildness.

But the sentiment is there.  Wizards really tried to get it right.  And if CommandTower is the only shining example to come form the Pre-Cons, I’d call it a success in no uncertain terms (even if they did also plant Flusterstorm and Scavenging Ooze for the Eternal players out there.)

DISCLAIMER – I understand that there’s a thing called ‘casual’ or ‘kitchen-table’ Magic.  I understand that not everything revolves around EDH in the non-competitive world.  For purposes of this article, I’m choosing to ignore these facts, partially because some of these points apply across the board to those formats, and partially because they kind of shoot holes in what I’m going to say, to be honest.

You’ve been duly warned.

Anyway, let’s now look at the flip-side of the coin.

Again, my thesis:

Wizards of the Coast typically can’t design EDH cards unless they’re designing EDH sets. 

Let’s look at some recent hits to try to explain what I’m talking about.

Seems like an obvious EDH plant, right?  No-one is drafting a ten-mana sorcery, and there’s not a constructed format out there that really wants to invest this much for this particular effect.

The problem here is two-fold; there’s a severe cost/reward imbalance in a format that is all about casual play (and thus longer games filled with swingy spells and permanents.)  Genesis Wave is in the same boat, as are cards like Omniscience and Maelstrom wanderer– nothing is too expensive to afford in EDH, and when these cards hit, they yield far too much bang for the buck.

Secondly, Primal Surge falls face-first into the “Build around me!” trap.  Has anyone else out there seen the all-permanents Primal Surge deck?

(It’s a rhetorical question.)

Now, has anyone seen Primal Surge in a deck not designed to dump the entirety of its’ contents into play on the back of a single ten-mana sorcery?

(Also a rhetorical question.)

It’s like WotC gets to the doorstep with good ideas that should make big splashes, and then they don’t really look at the format specifically to see how the card will effect things once it’s legal there, and they just drop everything and wander off to design Delver of Secrets.

What about this gem?

I don’t need to rehash any of the (copious amounts of) things I’ve already said about this card.  It’s in the archives for those of you who haven’t read it yet.  But we’re seeing another card that hits a similar formula as the Primal Surge team; big, splashy, costs a ton of mana, won’t see play in any competitive formats, does something outrageous.

It’s telling that this card got banned.  It doesn’t do a single fun thing…period.  Nearly the entire EDH player base is in agreement.  There’s not much else to say.

Again…someone thought this was the sort of card we EDH players want to see.  I kinda wish that someone had the forethought to check with us first.

How about some other recent-ish hits?

What do these two gems have in common?

(If you said, “They both ruin games.”, I’ll give you partial credit.)

Honestly, though, our trained EDH eyes likely see the problem a mile away.  Yup – there is an echo in here; big, splashy effects, exorbitant casting costs, effects that blow games wide open.  We’re being unfairly stereo-typed by the people who make the game we’re trying to play here.

Again, what’s the ratio of kicked versus un-kicked Rite of Replication instances?  What about Genesis Wave where ‘X’ equals three?

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

Honestly, I think the intentions are good.  I really do.  But the execution doesn’t seem to quite make it across the gap between inception and delivery when the cards are coming from packs of current expansions.  I can’t help to think what some of these cards would look like if they were designed for next summer’s Commander product instead of the sets they’re in currently.  I’d be willing to bet that not many would be the same.

You want to know what I think is the last EDH card to come out of a booster pack and be a good example of design that embraces the format?

That’s right.  I’m not kidding.

It’s big and splashy, packs a punch, and provides a big effect that can change the landscape of a game in a big way that also doesn’t feel terribly unbalanced.  In a pinch, it can save your tail, or it can be an offensive weapon, yet it doesn’t scream, “Build this exact thing right here!”  I’ve seen it in blue-base control decks, big creature beatdown decks, and theme decks, and it never seems out of place in any of them.

It’s simple, but it’s also elegant.  There’s a balance; it doesn’t just end the game or walk you to a singular way to do so, but it still manages to embody what the format tends to be about at the same time.

It’s clear that Wizards can design like this.  I just wish they’d do it more often for products that aren’t specific to EDH.

-Cass

The Team Approach, Part 2 : BUG

When we started this challenge from James to make partner commanders work, I had a clever idea. Or I had an idea that I hoped would be clever. Let’s start with the core that he provided; It’s a bit hodgepodge giving a little bit of everything. The problem for deckbuilding, is that it provides a little bit of everything. Mark Rosewater often repeats a mantra that restrictions breed creativity. James didn’t provide much restriction in his core. Of course, this was also the point of the core. It was meant to be flexible for us to build into a full deck.

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