This focus for Playgroup Evolution came about from a discussion with Cass at the GDC house during GenCon 2015. We talk a lot about decks, tactics, tech, and the social contract, but we rarely talk about politics in EDH. We’re going to change that today.
If you’ve been a reader for the entire time I’ve been on GDC, or if this is your first article, I’ve talked about a lot of things with this series; now, I’m about to cover a very contentious topic in the EDH/Commander community. Ready?
POLITICS AND THREAT ASSESSMENT
FIRST, A STATEMENT: THERE ARE NO POLITICS IN EDH – ONLY THREAT ASSESSMENT.
In a game, there are no “politics” – there are simply strategies to use and threats to assess. You can make open strategies – “I’ll let that resolve, but you can’t attack me on your turn.” – and this may be the only “political” thing in EDH. But it’s really just bargaining. More importantly, it lets the whole table know to kill your colluding butts before you start 5-0 splitting Fact or Fiction for each other.
Now, sure – you can use flim-flam and rope-a-dope to throw opponents off, and you may even win that way. But unless your group is terminally unintelligent, that only works once. (I’m only half sorry for that insult.) If you can lie low and pull off an out of nowhere victory multiple times, your group is demonstrating a strong ability to not learn from past experience.
What does work? Not using any scheming – instead we use strategy. Prioritize threats, and make plays that matter. If I am facing down a huge Eldrazi that has been plaguing the board but I have Pognify in hand, I don’t really care about it. If the whole table is banding together to kill the titan, I’m not helping.
I am NOT in allegiance with the Eldrazi player; I am simply making a strategic decision. I can handle the Eldrazi, so other things are more threatening to me (like the token guy with Aura Shards when I really want to play Loxodon Warhammer to gain some much needed life) that I prioritize. Now, I don’t know if the Eldrazi player has some way to prevent my Pognify from working, but based on the information I have, I am making the best play I can.
In EDH, we really need to think longer about the actual details of the games, and one strategy to think about is getting in your opponent’s mind. I recently played a game with roommates; one (Hudson) cast a huge Heedless One early. I kept using a Thundersong Trumpeter to prevent it from attacking. I was his biggest threat, but after two turns I did the usual “I have an effect when you enter combat” – and I stopped Jacob’s (another player) only blocker from blocking. Hudson looked at me and went for the attack and killed Jacob (Jacob had a Moltensteel Dragon that could kill Hudson before I had a turn to act in between). From there, I used a topdecked Day of Judgement and got back in the game.
I did not collude with Hudson; I did not even make a suggestion for his attack. For three turns, I had an effect on his combat phase. I simply just changed targets and hoped that Hudson would go for the kill. He could have attacked me, and we made no deal. Another roommate Eric (I lived with an Eric in college. It sometimes got confusing) thought we cheated until both Hudson and I explained that he could have attacked me with no blocker, and Hudson just figured I had a kill spell and wanted to stop Jacob’s dragon from killing him.
What is the take away? Use Strategy!
CAN I WIN A DUEL?
Sure – alliances can be formed and some players work together, but your goal is always the win. A huge question to ask is “Can I beat this player in a duel?”1 My example above has me losing to a huge gobbo for much of the game. I stalled it, and when when another issue came up, I encouraged an enemy to remove a threat to both of us. If Hudson hadn’t removed Jacob from the game, I may have been wrecked. Jacob’s dragon could put a hurt on me too, after all. Just wiping the board wasn’t a good enough answer, because Jacob had a huge grip of cards- He likely would have recovered faster than me and then finished me.
(Note: this question broadens to “Can I win this game?” when a player is eliminated. Going from a four to a three-player game can radically shift the game’s favor. This advice all applies…just adjust the lens a bit.)
Winning the duel is very similar to the famous “Who’s the Beatdown?” by Michael Flores. If you cannot win alone, you may not want to eliminate a player. Using a Fog to save the control player from the token guy is not a bad move when you have no Wrath of God and the control player is the only source of one.
This is not some crazy kind of collusion. This is a simple scenario where there are mutual enemies.
The flipside is that when you can win the duel, you should strike like lightning! Open a can of whoop-ass on your opponents and leave no mercy. You can freely drop one foe and focus fire on the remaining enemy. Again, not collusion – no alliance, no bargain. This is making a strategic decision. Sometimes you are right and launch into victory, and other times your decision doesn’t pay off (or someone else capitalizes on the situation faster than you can.) My point is that you are making decisions for strategic gains and calculated risk, and not making a choice because you are making a “political” move.
POLITICAL CARDS ARE LIES
Let’s talk about a huge lie- Political Cards. Many people on the internet have extolled the virtues of Propaganda as being political. This is an absolute piece-of-crap argument.
- First, it’s a lie.
- Second, it is wrong.
- Third – threat assessment people!
This card is not political- what it does is offer opponents a choice of attacking you or developing and attacking elsewhere. This is not politics! It is all about what someone values. I have used a Slice in Twain to kill a Propaganda because the token player couldn’t remove it, and Propaganda’s controller was a threat to both of us. I couldn’t afford the necessary attack, and I hoped the token guy would. I could easily have died in that scenario, but I took a calculated risk. The Join Forces mechanic and Will of the Council are very similar. They are not political, but allow opponents to make choices regarding what they value as a threat or a priority.
Let me know what you guys think. Am I on the right page? Good Page? Wrong Page? Wrong Book? I’ll be back soon with more thoughts on politics in Commander games. Until then, have a blast slinging spells and remember- threat assessment wins games!
Can totally use the cannons on the GDC Ship!