Today, we’ve got a guest feature from Sean Patchen, otherwise known as @SwordsToPlow. Equal parts anecdote and deck theory centered around Arcum Dagsson, I think it’s a great read in addition to discussing metagame balance and the issue with playing to the perceived power level of a group. I hope you enjoy it. Hit up the comments to let us all know your thoughts.
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In a convention hall filled with Magic players, a table stands, topped with clipboards. Each clipboard lists a different type of side event. On one particular clipboard the sections split into groups of four for the Commander pods. A store owner walks through the convention hall as a judge calls out, “Commander Pod number twelve, over here!” Three other pods of four catch the store owner’s eye.
The next day at the local game store, a clipboard hangs from the wall with sections split into groups of four.
If I put a notch in my deck box for each Commander pod that I profited from, the trusty deckbox I carry with me would resemble a dog’s chew toy. I walk into the local game store and the clipboard catches my eye. I sign my name and wait for the day to come. While I wait, I shuffle and I practice. Players bring their best and most expensive cards to these tournaments. It gives me a sick sense of pleasure to knock people who think too much of themselves off their high horses. Worst case scenario, someone proves themselves to be better than me and I get to improve myself.
The day of the tournament comes. Barely enough people have signed up to get the tournament to fire off. More people have come to watch to see what will happen than to participate. I sit facing my four opponents as we reveal our commanders. One player reveals Sharuum the Hegemon. The next reveals Oona, Queen of the Fae. A player reveals Kemba, Kha Regent. The last opponent, a child, reveals a black legend I immediately forget. With an overly developed sense of self-worth, I flip over Arcum Dagsson. The Sharuum player comments, “I’ve never seen that before, do you mind if I read?” The other opponents take turns reading the commander as I attempt to hide my shock. Arcum Dagsson saw print long ago, before EDH crossed anyone’s mind. Onlookers joined in with my opponents reading Arcum.
“So…do you use him for removal or something?”
I smile, “Watch and see.”
I run out hard and fast. Most answers to Arcum cost some amount of mana. I put him out on the table while my opponents are tapped out and give my best try at being Maverick, just watching and learning. The game goes on with no real threats rearing their head. Turns start passing by as my stomach starts churning. Nothing hitting the table resembles a threat. Even playing the game safe, I can end it at any time. The four decks across from me bear no resemblance to what I’ve seen at other commander pods.
Some douche brought a gun to a knife fight. I am the douche. I probably did this whole act before without thinking. What an asshole move.
I estimate the cost of each of my opponents’ decks may be $100, at best. My conscious kicks to life, but it seems like someone beat the little devil guy nearly to death because I don’t hear a thing from him.
I end the game in the most respectful way I can. When the store owner comes over to hand me my winnings, I point at the mono-black kid. Never again will a single dollar from a Commander event benefit me. I refuse to be guy with the deck worth thousands, grinding out profit from players who are just here to have fun. I don’t even want to play tournaments anymore, unless I can’t play any other way.
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A year and a half later I find myself preparing to go to another Commander tournament, this one with the sideboard rule in effect. Once again Arcum Dagsson leads the way front and center.
My stomach isn’t crapping, I’m already laughing inside. Turning the boogeyman of Commander into group-hug deck; they won’t ever see it coming.
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Last week I took the new and ‘improved’ Arcum deck to a twelve-player Commander tournament. I could barely sit still the day of the tournament. I tried to think of the last time that a Commander tournament excited me, and came up dry.
The twelve players made up tree tables of four players. One of my opponents chose to play his Damia, Sage of Stone control deck. The player beside him revealed Rafiq of the Many as his Commander. On my left sat a teenager who ran Niv-Mizzet. A month ago I went to my last tournament at this store. It appeared that the environment had changed since then. My prior experience playing against all three Commanders taught me they could be forces to be reckoned with.
I lost the dice roll, and the player to the left of me won the roll. This made the turn order Niv-Mizzet, Rafiq, Damia, and then myself with Arcum. Turn one everyone played a land and passed but me. I played Ancient Tomb followed by a Silver Myr. Turn two Niv-Mizzet played a land, Rafiq played a Quasali Pridemage (yikes!), Damia played a land, and then Arcum hit the field through two blue players with untapped mana. On Turn three, Niv-Mizzet played Chromatic Lantern, Rafiq tapped out to play a Cold-Eye Selkie, Damia played a matching Chromatic Lantern, and Arcum untapped with the rest of the field tapped down.
The next several rounds went by in a blur of dropping artifacts. Mycosynth Lattice and Darksteel Forge protected my field while the three copies of Mirrorworks put four Font of Mythos into play. Even with all the extra cards that everyone received, the other players just weren’t getting their decks going. I looked around the room; all of the other games continued at approximately the same pace as ours.
I tried to change the board state in an attempt to turbo-charge all the decks at the table. Their decks didn’t have the low mana curve or ramp necessary to play everything they had drawn. In the end, Damia played Mikeus, the Unhallowed & Triskelion to finish off our table after about two hours. Both cards resolved despite my abundance of mana and the five counterspells that I held in my hand.
Despite all the changes made to the deck, Arcum dominated the table. An infinite combo won the day. Perhaps I focused too much on the power level of the deck instead of the pacing of the deck?