I have a staples problem.
I sat down yesterday to put the finishing touches on my new Vorel of the Hull Clade stax deck. I was trying to find the right 63rd card for it, flipping through binders and boxes. Another counter? A ramp-spell? Some sweet, on-theme tech that makes the deck feel special? And then I flipped to the page of my binder reserved for Prophet of Kruphix, and the decision was made for me. I sighed, took out a copy and slid it into the list.
Hi, my name is Nathan Savoy, and I have a problem. (And I’m a guest author this week – but I play in the same shop as Cass and Mr. P, so I’ve heard the Social Contract talk.)
It started out innocently enough. I built Momir Vig, Simic Visionary because I like creatures and I like tool-boxes and tutoring, and Prophet of Kruphix fit in perfectly. She’s a creature, I said, And she lets me play more creatures better! And she’s on curve, I told myself. And then I put the finishing touches on my Kruphix, God of Horizons ramp deck and noticed that the prophet had slipped herself into the list. It’s fine, I lied, she is the prophet of Kruphix, and besides, I’m using Biomass Mutation as a win-con in this list, so it’ll be fine.
Now here she is in Vorel Stax. Does she untap Vorel and my lands to allow for more activations? Yes. Is that interaction really sweet? Yes. But you know what? I’m also playing Trinket Mage in three decks where the only one mana artifact is Sol Ring. I have binders full of cards I want to play, cards like Martyr’s Cry, Circle of Despair, Fervent Charge, and Pedantic Learning—sweet cards, with lots of heart and cool strangenesses, the very soul of Commander. And yet my decks are full of Deeds that couldn’t be more Pernicious. I have resolved a thousand Diabolic Tutors, let alone Tutors that are more Mystical or Wordly. It’s time to admit it.
Accepting I Have a Problem
I have a staples problem.
Maybe it was okay once. I admit that I don’t think there’s an inherent problem with signets, or with Sakura Tribe-Elders slithering deep into our hearts and cards. Sol Ring has a place. In fact, a friend of mine has a strategy for playing unorthodox or stereotypically underpowered strategies like Thallids or Leviathan Tribal that consists of playing weak but thematic cards which are bolstered by Cyclonic Rifts and Divining Tops. Playing against his decks is sweet, because I get to play against new strategies or novel cards while not feeling as though he’s pulling punches, thanks to his supporting cast of staples.
But there is a problem, and it’s affecting the people around me as much as it’s affecting me.
I’ve watched GDC’s own Mr. P scowl and snore as Prophet hits the table. I’ve watched his features turn sour, even as he musters all of his personal ability to be kind and warm to newer players, when my Sun Titan recurs a Sword of Feast and Famine. It breaks my heart.
It’s made all the worse by the fact that I am in the middle of my EDH journey, still learning and experimenting to find out what constitutes my version of fun. This is difficult because even as the seasoned player’s brows furrow, I can see the newer players watching me and I can see their eyes light up with the newfound possibility of resolving Boundless Realms and Decree of Pain for the third time in one game. I am fueling the divide between the new and the old, all while disappointing the players I’m most excited to be playing with.
There are really two problems here. The first is the issue of how to use staples responsibly. The second is the fact that I am a magic player who really enjoys powerful effects and certain kinds of consistency. But that’s not enough of a reason to play Good Stuff decks and that might make Mr. P reflect with disdain on his drive home. There is nothing that justifies that.
So I started a Staples Detox program. I began by removing most of the staple-y cards from my decks and then researching old cards with neat effects that are still somewhat powerful (see Martyr’s Cry and Circle of Despair above) and replacing the staples with those cards. After that, I started testing the decks and slowly allowing the more fun, less oppressive staples to trickle back in.
Palinchron is gone, but I don’t mind a few Cyclonic Rifts or Arcane Denials. Sol Ring is relegated to the decks that I think need it the most: blitz strategies, artifact decks, and some of my most competitive and spiky lists. I’m trying more and more to adapt what my friend told me about using staples as a framework to create novel play experiences instead of just because their good.
Do I have the occasional relapse? Sure. Sometimes I just want to Genesis Wave because it’s sweet. Sometimes a Prophet is going to slip in here or there. That’s okay. That can be part of my fun. But part of this journey is learning to use Staples in moderation, when appropriate. No one is ever mad when my Pernicious Deed blows up the Zur player’s Necropotence-fueled lock.
I’m Nathan Savoy, and I’m learning to live with staples.
At the end of the day it’s about making compromises so that I fit into my playgroup better. Its about once in a while sacrificing some of the consistency, or power, or maybe even an iota of ‘my’ fun, for novel card selection and games that make my opponents want to play more, instead of an easy win that leaves everyone salty not just at me, but at Magic in general. Everybody wants to be the player in the playgroup that everybody else has to lean in and read their cards, while saying, “Oh man, I didn’t even know that existed… that’s sweet!” and I’ve found that the first step there is learning to grow up about staples