A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article about the general options available in Gatecrash. In it, I pointed out (in my typically snarky and self-impressed manner), some of the more obvious things you could do with the new generals from Gatecrash, Prime Speaker Zegana in particular. This attracted the ire of a reader, who called me out in the comments section for being a hypocrite who “probably also plays with obvious synergies in [my] decks.”
First off, let me respond to that allegation: OF COURSE I’M A HYPOCRITE! I’m Mr. P, baby!
Ok, so now that that’s over with….Anonymous’s comment got me thinking, and rather than write some long comment, I figured it was time to write the article about the obviousness thing. (Feel free to stop reading right now…)
WHAT IS SYNERGY?
Let’s start there. We (and by “we,” I mean “anyone who has ever written anything about EDH ever”) talk about “synergy” all the time, and it never really gets defined because we assume that everyone already knows what it means. This is probably accurate. However, for the record, when we talk about “synergy” we are talking about building something where the individual pieces work well together to create something that functions cohesively, instead of just being a random pile of cards.
So how is “synergy” different from “combo”? Doesn’t Kiki-Jiki have synergy with Pestermite? This is, of course, the hidden subtext of the synergy discussion: most of the time, when people talk about synergy, they are including the hidden subtext of looking for interactions that are powerful without being broken. Duskmantle Guildmage and Mindcrank have great synergy with each other, but when people talk out that interaction, they don’t frame it as “synergy”; they frame it as “combo.”
So anyway, synergy is attractive because it takes cards that seem bad (Erratic Portal, say) and turns them good (because of how favorable it is to be able to bounce your own guys.) EDH is filled with cards like this, and it is fun for people to find semi-janky cards and then beat other people with them because of the synergy these cards have with the rest of their deck.
But here’s the thing: synergy is attractive because it’s not obvious. The appeal of a card like Goblin Bombardment is partially rooted in how terrible it initially seems until you play a few games against it and realize what insane utility it provides. In contrast, a card like Primeval Titan or Omniscience is less a card that has “synergy” with anything, and is more just a card that is good.
If anything, the problem with “GoodStuff” decks is that they don’t really have synergy at all, and are just a random pile of good cards.
Which brings us back to Zegana. To be fair, I have no particular issue with Zegana; the card I actually have an issue with is Deadeye Navigator, and the issue I have with Navigator is the tip of an even larger iceberg. Let’s chat.
THE ROAD TRAVELLED
Consider Deadeye Navigator for a moment. Pretty good card, eh? Quick, answer me this: what does Deadeye Navigator have obvious synergy with?
Anything that does something when it comes into play?
The issue with Deadeye Navigator is that, in reality, it has synergy with any creature that has a comes-into-play ability, which is to say it basically has synergy with any creature that gets played in EDH.
Unfortunately, what this means is that there’s really no reason not to run Deadeye Navigator in every single deck you build that supports Deadeye’s color identity.
The same thing probably holds true with Avenger of Zendikar. Or Rune-Scarred Demon. Or any of the Primordials from Gatecrash. Hey, have you tried pairing any of those creatures with Deadeye Navigator?
EDH is the “epic plays” format, but more and more, those epic plays seem to look remarkably similar. Sure, Primal Surge (here we go again) seems in theory like a card that should do a bunch of awesome things, but most of the time it actually does one thing. The same thing. The thing it always does.
So tell me this: how “epic” is something if it is the thing that happened the last ten games in a row? At what point does winning with Rite of Replication or Tooth and Nail stop being “epic” and start being just “what that deck does every time.”?
At some point, synergy and GoodStuff become the same thing, and the differentiation between the two becomes moot. Every time a new set comes out and we are provided with a bunch of new “auto-includes”, we move closer to this point.
Essentially, the epic plays have become scripted.
THE ARMS RACE
Hey look, I’m writing another “Complaining about Nice Things” article! Fiddlesticks! Let me try to redeem this with something constructive…
So what to do about this? Here are some options:
1) Quit playing EDH
This definitely is the approach some people take. I mean, I get it…I used to play Legacy and Type 1, and I walked away from those formats because I got sick of them. I’m certainly not trying to encourage anyone to quit EDH so much as just pointing out that this is the inevitable conclusion for some people. In terms of addressing the problem, this is the most purely negative manner of doing so.
2) Join the dark side
This is slightly less negative than just walking away altogether, although responding to an increase in the power level of your metagame by building the most busted shit you can seems a bit counterproductive. Still, it does bear repeating that combo killing the table on turn four will spare you experience of having to watch someone take infinite turns off of Eternal Witness/Deadeye Navigator/Time Stretch. YMMV.
3) Metagame hate, baby!
You know what card is really good against Deadeye Navigator? Damping Matrix. You know what card is really good against the Primordials? Torpor Orb. You know what you should probably run more of? Graveyard hate.
It’s not that hard to identify and slot in “silver bullet” cards. One of the most basic points of anything is that it is fundamental to be able to adapt, and the ugly truth is that the influx of new “EDH cards” is almost exclusively centered on things that have come-into-play abilities. It’s not super hard to do the math here and see that things that stop things from coming into play (counters, wheel effects, Torpor Orb) have gotten better, while strictly reactive answers (wraths, steal effects, bounce) have gotten worse.
Adapt or die, right?
4) Avoid the obvious
Hey look, the point of this article! If you really want to keep EDH from degenerating into the same 35 cards getting thrown around in slightly different order, you have to be willing to begin by removing those cards from your own decks. The popular example of this is with tutors, which are the definitive “auto-includes”; many people (Sheldon Menery, for example, who talks quite a bit about this in his StarCity articles) have begun removing tutors from their decks in an effort to have a more varied play experience. Similarly, if you think the Primordials are bad for the format, the absolute best way to demonstrate this is by not playing them.
Which brings us back (again) to Zegana. Will I run Zegana in a bunch of decks? Probably. (Although, to be fair, I’ve opened almost five boxes of Gatecrash and have yet to open a single copy of her.)
Will I make concerted effort to not run her in any deck with Deadeye Navigator? Yup.
This seems like the best way to avoid the situation of doing the most obvious thing possible.
The only way out is up.
BREAKING IT DOWN
Clearly, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is the fact that this all very subjective, so we’d love to gain some insight.
-Where do you draw the line on “auto-includes”? Is it an enabler like Chromatic Lantern, or is it something more specific, like Sylvan Primordial or Crypt Ghast?
-Where is the point that “synergy” and “GoodStuff” intersect for you? Are there examples of cards or strategies that represent “the line” you refuse to cross? Does that line even exist?
-How do you view the push Wizards of the Coast seems to me making towards ‘comes-into-play’ creatures? Is this a welcome innovation that helps to mitigate removal and promote creature strategies, or is this just another example of impending power creep?
-Are we missing any options in the list above? What option do you identify with personally?
Hit us up below.
Mr. P doesn’t mind if you don’t mind, because Mr. P doesn’t shine if you don’t shine.