Wikipedia references Yūgen in a lot of old Japanese and Chinese philosophical texts. Chinese texts translate it to mean things along the line of “dim”, “deep” and “mysterious”, while Japanese references link to vague suggestions and subtle profoundness. (Japanese Aesthetics 2015 Wikipedia for your reading pleasure.)
Yūgen is about the experience. We’re always talking about the experience of a game of Commander, in that we’re talking about the ups and downs – the tidal flow of who is closest to ending the game. The hum of the decks flowing their resources, the probabilities and other mathematics behind the game, and the plotting of the fractal that describes the game flow. A good game of Commander has those deep mysteries of what is going to happen next, and includes all of those subtle twists and turns as the pattern unfolds to the profound experience of sharing the game with friends.
A good game of commander is Yūgen.
Is it a Gun Fight or a Knife Fight?
As discussed last time, the decision I had come to at the end of the article was to build a new deck. However, there are several things that need to be considered when designing a deck.
1) What format is the deck for? What are the limitations of the format?
2) Casual or competitive? What is your target market?
3) What resources you have available?
4) What do you want the deck to do?
Funny enough – the first two questions are easy to answer. We are of course building for the Commander format, so we know we are going to be playing 99 card singleton with colour(s) limited by our choice of general. Our target market is that we want to play a casual game of Magic; a game that people will want to play over and over.
The third question is a harder question to address. The two allowances that it references are that we need to determine A) who our commander is, and B) what our resources are. This is an awkward question, as it links back to what you want the deck to do. We all know that our commander determines two things: our colour palette and what tricks we have on a stick. The other element of this question is your cardpool and budget for acquiring parts. While I recognise that not everyone has same level of monetary or card resources available, I know that PucaTrade and other resources are making it easier to acquire some of the more unusual parts you might need.
(For myself, I approach design with a fairly open mind on resources and budget; as most things have a few functional replications which you can replace some of my card choices with, please feel free to tweak anything I suggest based on your resources.)
The hardest question is the last question. Just what do you want the deck to do? I regularly see questions on Twitter or I get asked them flat out by mates at EDH night; they essentially boil down to “What should I add to/cut from this deck?” Sometimes it can be simple, in that there are the obvious things like not enough/too much land or mana rocks, situations where a deck needs more gas, or a few tactical tutors (or some blatantly terrible and anti-synergistic elements to just yank out.)
However, where it gets more complex is in not knowing what the deck is intended to do, and this can cause me problems when answering this question. When I design a deck, I am planning for my end game. It’s similar to how I read a novel: I read the final chapter first and then go back to read from the start, because it helps me to understand and follow the finicky fine points in my journey from beginning to end. (It also irritates the smeg out of my Wifey, Pigtail). That understanding of the flow of mysteries helps me to see those fine subtle elements that make the experience that much more playable.
Geido – Discipline and Ethics
I should give you all an example of this process, so you can understand exactly what I am referring to. When I was designing the Psionic Blast deck I wrote about a year ago, I used this process exactly. I set my goal to be killing a table with the backlash damage from Blast; from there, I derived the components I would need to use to engineer this. Once I had achieved that, I could go back to the start and work out how to get there.
For this deck, I had a few goals in mind:
1) I wanted to play a deck that does not have any “infinite loops”.
2) I wanted to prove I can build a deck that doesn’t need to abuse extra turns.
3) The deck must be about slinging spells. I do not find the red zone interesting. Creatures are not for Kaka.
4) I wanted to kill players with Storm Seeker.
5) I wanted to take a chance, but I didn’t want to rely heavily on tutors.
6) I wanted to play some sweet blue shenanigans.
7) I didn’t want to build another 5-colour deck. I wanted to challenge my deckbuilding skills.
8) If I was to win a game with this deck. I wanted to earn my win. I didn’t want to just play an “Oh whoops…I resolved Omniscience, I guess I win” game.
This may seem like a lot of elements to take into consideration; however, in looking at these goals you can see that there are several achievable crossovers. Playing for a Storm Seeker kill would require some serious shenanigans, and I’d have to work for it. It also means that I’d probably have to keep my creature count lean and efficient to ensure I have space for my tech. Blue magic means I don’t have to rely on Demonic Tutor and its brethren, and blue is great for taking a chance with powerful draw spells.
The thing to really take out of this is the limitations that this set of variables controls. First of all, I didn’t need to play into black for heavy tutors. I did need green for Storm Seeker, and I wanted blue for draw power and shenanigans. I could make sure not to include stupidly broken stuff like the aforementioned Omniscience and company, though.
Red also brings blue-like elements and additional shenanigans to help copy a flurry of Storm Seekers into people’s faces. I also chose to avoid white as a colour, as there are still a significant lack of white effects that would add to the deck’s goals. Secondly, trimming black and white from my colour base would get me out of the 5 colour design space and allow me to optimise a 3-colour mana base, which is much more reliable.
Now we know what the stated goals are for the build; next time I’ll talk about card choices and touch on the mechanics of my Riku deck. Until then!