Hello, readers!  I hope all is well with everyone.  I wanted to quickly touch base on a few things before I get going today:
-The entries are pouring in for the GDC “From The Vault: Realms” contest.  So far, the guesses are all over the map, so this is shaping up to be very cool.  If you haven’t submitted a list yet, head over here to check out the details.
-I wanted to thank both Conley Woods and Gavin Verhey over at the mothership.  Gavin featured my Thromok list (from ‘Dear Azami’) as a featured ‘Daily Deck List a few weeks back, and Conley did the same with the Teysa list from this week for today.  Thanks so much, gentlemen!
-Wrapping up the “Planechase and EDH” poll:
-50%: Love it!
-14%: It’s a broken, unholy abomination…never again!
-11%: Never tried it.
Clearly, Planechase resonates well with the EDH crowd.  Personally, I fall somewhere between ‘unholy abomination’ and ‘Eternities Map’ at this point; In my experience, straight Planechase EDH is just way too swingy for my tastes.  I want to like the format, and I think Eternity Maps might be the answer, but it’s still not perfect.  There’s a massive space requirement, and it really favors the player who intimately knows what each Plane does, so it’s still a bit off.
It looks like quite a few of you really enjoy adding Planechase to EDH, though, and I do admit that I really want to like it.  I guess I need to give it more face time.
Speaking of knowing about board states…
Anecdote #1 (Google Chat with Mr. P):
9:59 AM
Me: What do I write about today?  Give me a topic.
10:01 AM
Mr. P: so game last night: Andrew plays turn one Sol Ring, turn two Sylvan Library, turn three cultivate, something else, turn 4 dragon broodmother, turn 5 perilous forays.  I play 6 straight lands and then play primetime, which gets countered.  
write about improper threat assessment.
10:04 AM
Me: Andrew comboed everyone out, correct?
10:05 AM
Mr. P: he did
  no one disrupted him at all
.   .   .   .   .
I’m pretty sure this might be the first article in a series on the topic of situational awareness.  I say that because I’m not sure just how big it gets, but I’m pretty sure the answer ends up being somewhere North of ‘massive’.  Let’s see where we end up, shall we?
Now, I know what you’re saying already–
“’Situational Awareness’ is the same thing as ‘Improper Threat Assessment’.  You complain about that enough as is.”
This is partially correct.  (To be fair, the second sentence is completely correct.)  Improper threat assessment is basically half of situational awareness.  It’s the part you hear about anytime I write anything on GDC someone mishandles a situation in a game that ends poorly.  (I fully understand that last bit is completely a matter of perspective, but bear with me.)
The logical response then becomes:
“If you never talk about ‘proper threat assessment’, there is no distinction!”
Patience, young grasshopper.  All will be revealed in due time.  We will look at both sides of the coin before we’re through with this topic.
In the game Mr. P was referencing, Andrew is the creator of the Ulasht deck I featured a while back.  I’ve detailed what this deck is capable of; it is built to ramp mana like crazy until it hits a critical turn, at which point it explodes into a hasty mob of pumped-up tokens through several possible routes.  When I said that I suspected that Andrew “comboed out”, this is what I’m referring to.  Ulasht is a combo-enabled aggro deck in the same way that my Thromok list is.
Now, clearly the guy who countered the Primeval Titan missed the boat on what was happening.  He was trying to assess things, but was using an internal reference to do it, and missed the bigger picture.  This isn’t a particularly unforgivable offense; as Mr. P later said, it’s the correct play to counter PrimeTime 90% of the time.  Counterspell Guy had this concept somehow etched in his mind, though, and I’d wager the counter itself was more of a knee-jerk response than a strategic decision.   In this game situation, there was a very clear path unfolding that should have been throwing up signal flares like crazy to anyone paying attention, and the signs were missed due to perceived threat density.
This is a very common mistake.  Also, remember those three words.  Better yet, replace the word ‘perceived’ with the word ‘actual’, and remember those three words, because that’s the key to good EDH plays.
Now, if you put Primeval Titan next to Perilous Forays, it is clear what card is better for ramping mana.  Titan is undoubtedly a better creature than Dragon Broodmother in a one-on-one comparison as well.  When you have a one-to-one removal option (in this case a counter, but it could be Go For The Throat or Vindicate), it’s very easy to wait until you see a single haymaker and just deal with that.
However, EDH isn’t played in a vacuum.  When you add Dragon Broodmother to Forays and dump in some extra mana and a general that loves tokens, Prime Time may as well be Chimney Imp in comparison.  Always look for the bigger picture.
What I’d like to do is look at the turn sequence to see what’s going on, and assess on the fly.  For those of you keeping score, this is exactly what needs to happen anytime a game of Magic is played, and for some reason, it is also exactly the thing that is most-frequently forgotten in EDH games.  (More on that later…)
What follows is a basic primer on assessing an EDH gamestate.
.   .   .   .   .
First, the general in question:
If you knew nothing about the deck itself, you could safely guess that it would be attempting to create tons of tokens.  You’d be correct.  From then on, anything that forwards this strategy should be raising red flags.
Turn one – Sol Ring.
Andrew is way ahead with this opening.  A potential four mana on turn two is allowing him to play the game twice as fast as the rest of the table.  Not specifically threatening, but you should be focusing on anyone who opens with Sol Ring.
Turn two – Sylvan Library
Andrew now has access to three times as many cards per turn as his enemies.  You really don’t need to even think about it in those terms.  Right next to the part of your brain that has “Primeval Titan = bad!” engraved in it, there should be another note that says “Sol Ring + Sylvan Library = huge problem!”
Don’t question your instincts here.  Andrew is running this game at this point.  He can dig deeper and faster to find threats that play well with his general or game-plan.
At this point, I’m thinking of how to find a way to kill Library specifically, and I’m going to be incredibly wary of any token producers Andrew finds.
Turn three – Cultivate
 More mana.  This is an explosive start.  By ‘explosive’, I mean ‘weapons-grade Plutonium’ explosive.
This exacerbates the problem of Sylvan Library; Andrew gets to see three entirely new cards with it next turn.
Turn four – Dragon Broodmother
There it is.  The token deck now has a serious token producer to complement serious draw, and more than twice the amount of mana it should reasonably have by now.  If there was any question before, it should be completely gone now.  You should be offering your first-born child to anyone who can play Austere Command next turn.
Contextually, assuming that the guy with the counter could have played it in response to Broodmother, the only reason not to at this point would be clear indication that some form of removal or other answer was immediately available.
Turn five – Perilous Forays
And now he has a turbo-ramp engine in place.  Forays plus a token generator is insane if left unchecked.
This game is about to be over.
Knowing the deck, I can tell you for a fact that Andrew would be in position to kill the entire table within four turns of this play.  He should not have been allowed to do this.
.   .   .   .   .
Now, I know there are several missing pieces to this puzzle.  We don’t know what the other players have done at this point.  It is potentially possible that someone else is doing something more busted than what Andrew is doing.
I seriously doubt it, but it is possible.
It’s also impossible to know what other plays were possible.  The blue player might have been sandbagging Blatant Thievery or Gather Specimens, for example.  Hindsight, however, tells a different story.  Counterspell guy had no clue what was about to happen, and since it appears that no-one else had a way to answer Andrew, the game was lost personally and for the rest of the table when he chose to save the counter for ‘what might come next’, despite plenty of information on what was already there.
This is all about not seeing the forest for the trees.  I’ll concede that trying to take in an entire game worth of information at one time is tough to do when talking about the complexity and affluence of EDH.  That isn’t an excuse to sit back and punt a game that you could have kept in check, if not won outright, with a little bit of observation and forethought.
Take time to see what’s out there.  How often do you see someone throw Miren, the Moaning Well onto the table without looking around first, only to have it act as a bad Strip Mine because someone else already played it first?  (Unless that’s the purpose of the play, of course.)  I can’t count the times that I’ve seen people screw up combat math while declaring an attack against someone with an untapped Mystifying Maze or Yavimaya Hollow.  (To be perfectly fair, I’m usually the one actually making that mistake, but I digress…)
You don’t have to know everything at all times to make good plays…you just have to take a look around once in a while.
Pop Quiz:
Player A is playing with a deck he has identified as a ‘Random Events!’ deck.  Player B shrewdly posits the question, “Waiiiiiit…is that a coin-flip deck?”  Player A confirms.  Player C is shuffling up a deck that he says is very exciting and combo-tastic and will do some busted-up thing, but in reality will sacrifice all of its permanents and play ‘draw-go’ for a few hours.
Player D has experienced the ‘Random Events!’ deck already and is praying a meteor will hit the store and end the game prematurely.
Player A is of legal age and has imbibed a few adult beverages.  As a result, he is very excited about the fact that his deck contains Goblin Bomb.  He shares this with Players B, C, and D with excessive enthusiasm.  Player B responds with a hearty laugh after reading the card.  Player D suspects that player B actually has no clue what he just read and is just posturing.
Player C is not paying any attention, and is busy talking about how Nevinyrral’s Disk is the key to his combo.  (This proves to be a poor decision, as he is rapidly forced to discard it and then is targeted by Withered Wretch later on as a result.)
Fast-forward to the middle of the game.  Player B does some things, and some other things.  Player C’s deck takes an early dump, as previously mentioned.  Player D is searching in vain for an answer to Player A’s deck, which has been allowed to amass a pretty extensive board position because Player B is leaving him completely alone and focusing on Player D instead.
Player A finds and (loudly) plays Goblin Bomb.
Soon after, Player B finds Dismantling Blow.
Does he:
1) Target Goblin Bomb, fearful that all the hype Player A has created is true and he might possibly be the one player out of four to be forced to take twenty damage sometime way later in the game (which would then force him to untap and play a land, triggering his Eternity Vessel and returning him immediately to full life, thus making it a terrible play to begin with for Player A.), in the process causing player C to give him a hearty ‘high-five’ and Player D to facepalm?
2) Make the correct play and target the god-damned Krark’s Thumb that is allowing Player A to do whatever the hell he wants to do?
.   .   .   .   .
Have a great weekend, folks!