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