Where to begin today?
COMMANDER’S ARSENAL WATCH
11 days out and counting. Still no official spoilers past the initial announcement.
There is a slight cause for concern that popped up on the MTGSalvation.com forums in the past twenty-four hours; Due to shipping constraints, overseas locations tend to receive shipments of new product a bit earlier than US counterparts, so there’s always a possibility that someone will crack something open and let it slip on the internet. It seems that there’s a buzz around a user who claims his LGS owner did just that, and the contents of the set are very different than expected:
-Alt-art Decree of Pain
-The remainder of the cards from the Commander Pre-Cons and Planechase 2012. (Think Kaalia, Maelstrom Wanderer , Edric, Chaos Warp.)
Again, this is completely uncorroborated, so take it with a grain of salt for the time being. Updates to follow as they occur. But I will say this – It does fit the way that I expected the set to be realistically loaded with cards that MaRo and Co. designed themselves for EDH. If I was a designer, and one that didn’t particularly play the format in question, that’s where I’d go with it.
TWO QUESTIONS DRIVING ME NUTS AT THE MOMENT-
1) I have a Bayou. What general am I building for it?
2) I have a Doubling Season. What deck am I building for it?
This is my deck-building curse. If I have a card that feels like it deserves a home in my collection, I’ll go nuts until I manage to build it into a deck. We’re talking losing sleep in order to research and theory-craft here.
Any thoughts on where these two go? This is a random thought to throw in here, but for the love of all that is good in the world, I need some sleep. Please help a brother out if you have any thoughts…
METAGAME DECKS (Alternate Title: See? Something Good Did Come Out Of The GenCon Commander Events…)
I wanted to finally share some thought process behind the evolution of The Deck Formerly Known As Intet today. I know I’ve been loosely threatening to get under the hood of this thing for a while now, and I know I gave you all a list and a play report right after Gencon. (That’s your required reading for the day if you haven’t read it yet.) Today, I’m going to discuss the theory behind the subject, and tell you why you should give something like this a try in your regular playgroup.
Right off the bat, the genesis of what gave birth to my current Riku deck started a bit before GenCon did. I’d been chafing under an idea regarding examining deck archetypes and how they apply to EDH for a while, and had stalled out after a few attempts to put pen to paper. I had gotten only as far as to decide that there were two major ones:
– “Action” decks
– “Reaction” decks
The former decks are the ones that forego broad game strategies to focus on a very distilled game-plan. These are decks that want to execute a very defined series of plays that lead to a typical end-game; we’re talking about green ramp decks, Kaalia decks, most tokens decks, and so on. The basic hallmark here is a bare-bones suite of necessary removal that usually is focused on dealing with only things that get in the way of the game-plan.
I can’t stand building decks like this, for the record. They simply don’t fit my playstyle, and all of my past attempts never lasted long before being disassembled and repurposed.
The latter are more up my alley. They aren’t completely devoid of strategy, but they don’t focus on anything specific either. They play a broad spectrum of common answers that should work in any given game, and usually do so in redundant multiples; several board sweepers, several ways to deal with graveyard recursion, artifact/enchantment hate, and so on. Win conditions in these decks tend to be limited to a small handful of cards that usually also serve functional purposes, or have some pretty serious raw power. (Think Hydra Omnivore or Ulamog, or Tooth and Nail for a specific set of game-winning creatures here.)
I tend to key into this deck archetype more than any other, but my approach is flawed. Regular readers know by now my overwhelming opposition to combo in EDH, and that’s really what decks like this want to do…run twelve Wrath of God variants, a bunch of spot removal, grave hate, tutors, draw, and Tooth for Kiki-Jiki–Pestermite.
You see the problem if your moral values force you to leave the last few pieces off the list.
Got The Rock, Got The Paper…Finding The Scissors
For a long time, I was banging my head against the metagame and against this two-way archetype representation. I realized after months and months of coming in second-to-last that ‘answer’ decks with no finishers could do a great job of playing the role of table police, keeping other ‘action’ decks in check until the endgame, whereupon the person who sat back and waited for me to clear a path for them to win had the overwhelming resources and the perfect opportunity to do so.
Frustrating, to say the least.
I started thinking back to my Legacy and Standard days, and realized that what was different there was a developed metagame. In EDH, people tend to make emotional connections to their generals first, and then proceed to build decks in a virtual vacuum. People tend to think about what their decks are supposed to do, but I realized that most people weren’t thinking about what other decks were going to do in return. That emotional connection colors things; this is why a new player will get frustrated when they build their first deck and have it get shut down in a game. The frequent reaction is frustration that things didn’t work as planned, but there rarely is a reaction. They’ll be sitting and shuffling the same deck for the next game, hoping that things will play out differently.
The contrast to competitive formats is that players there will try to break the typical ‘rock-paper-scissors’ cycle to find a deck that has a statistical advantage over the field. There isn’t the overdeveloped emotional connection to a deck that makes EDH so unique. If control is big, play aggro. If there’s a problem matchup, slot in cards that specifically deal with it. If people forget about a tried-and-true strategy like combo, break it back out when it isn’t expected.
In short, Metagame. I used to do it in other formats. Why wasn’t I doing this for EDH?
The Worst Things Bring Out The Best Things
The irony is that I started applying this concept to EDH before I realized that it solved my problems in general. In the weeks leading up to GenCon, I began discussing the expected metagame of the EDH events with Patrick. I won’t go in-depth into the specific choices I made (since they’ve already been detailed), but the main gist of what happened is that my Intet list, the one I put together for sheer sentimental value and emotional attachment, became a deck designed to try to meet the metagame head on.
What I discovered after coming home from
was that the concept applied across the board. Initially, I kept Riku together because I figured I’d have a deck to pull out if I saw the need to police a game due to an overly-competitive player (and let’s be honest…I wanted to have something to foil my nemesis once in a while as well.) Indianapolis
To this end, it did fine; what it ultimately did best was finally get me in the mindset of thinking about the decks around me in my regular metagame, and what I needed to do to be able to handle them properly as well.
Right off, it’s important to note that this type of deck flies in the face of what the format usually represents to people. The best example I can think of here is to look at the switch from Intet to Riku. As I’ve said before, Intet was my first EDH deck, and when I cut down my collection this year, it was retained because of the sentimental value.
Again, the emotional connection. This is the antithesis to that.
Riku went in at GenCon on suggestion from Patrick because of the immediate effect he provided. Let’s face it – Cerebral Vortex and Storm Seeker are much better if there are two copies resolving instead of one, and it’s nice to draw four cards off of a Mulldrifter. Contrast that with Intet, and there’s no question which general makes a better functional option.
That said, I could take a Sharpie and color in everything on the card except for the casting cost and the rules text for all the attachment I have to Riku. It’s just not important in that way, but it is way more important mid-game.
Next, you’re not choosing cards at all for the normal reasons. You’re going above and beyond even the ‘reaction’ decks I talked about above as far as choosing cards that best deal with your particular situation. A reactive deck might slot Naturalize to deal with artifacts; a metagame deck will slot Krosan Grip because it needs to deal with Oblivion Stone or Mindslaver before they can be activated.
For this reason, decks made in this vein will start looking pretty strange and feeling stranger. Right now, Riku is down to a mere handful of creatures, whittled down through trial and error of what works and what doesn’t in my metagame. Case in point – I had Deadeye Navigator and Zealous Conscripts in the deck, but recently pulled them out because they didn’t really address anything *specific*. They were just really good cards that played particularly nice together.
There aren’t a lot of questions in this deck, but there are a ton of answers, and they’re rarely straight ones. I still find myself surprised to be able to hang in games to the end with no clear path to victory in the deck itself, but it works that way. It’s a judo-style archetype; you’re essentially attacking the things that specifically cause you problems, while making use of things your opponents rely on in order to make things happen.
Needless to say, metagame decks need to run heavily at instant-speed to be relevant and able to hang in regular games. I tend to think in terms of both the what and the when as I pick cards that go into the deck. What am I reacting to? What shuts me down and prevents me from reacting to things? You stop thinking in abstracts when building in this vein and start specifically thinking about ways to play Land Equilibrium in response to Boundless Realms.
It may seem like a small departure from a normal building mindset, but it really makes a world of difference in how your games play out. And at the end of the day, that’s exactly what it is all about – how games play out. The heart of the deck is the heart of my main philosophy on EDH, which is simply that I want to be playing the game all of the time. You’re not looking to build a ‘foil’ deck here, but one that realistically has a shot at twisting and turning things at any given time to ensure that you’ve got a hand in what’s happening. That’s the key. To me, a successful run with the deck doesn’t end in a win necessarily, but it ends in a hell of a good time.
I’ll leave you with this for now, but I’ll revisit with some specifics and some build examples in the future. I would challenge each of you to give the theory some thought. If you’re the type to make new decks at the drop of a hat, take a look around your regular play group the next time you sit down, and try to put together something that can tinker around with what you saw. If you only have a deck or two, try to pull some cards out that lack real focus or purpose and slide in some choices that deal in metagame specifics.
Don’t lose sight of why you play the game, but try to play the game a little bit more. It will absolutely open up some new avenues at your EDH tables.