GenCon 2015. The Best Four Days In Gaming. July 30th through August 2nd, 2015. Nine-and-a-half months away. Event badges won’t go on sale for another three months.

But I’ve already booked a house in downtown Indianapolis for that week. GDC has a house for GenCon 2015…already. I’m nothing if not completely ridiculous.

I’ll be getting into EDH content below, but first, an aside –

For those of you who have attended GenCon in the past, you know how incredible this event is. For gamers, there’s simply nothing like it. An entire city transforms itself for nearly a week straight into a gaming paradise; literally every game you could ever think of, from table-top miniatures to board games to card games to RPGs to videogames to live-action role-playing and more…they’re all available to you 24 hours a day. And that’s not mentioning the movies, music, food, and so on. Restaurants play sci-fi movies in the bar and run Warhammer-themed menus.

It is incredible, and it should be on every gamer’s bucket list. Period.

Now, for those of you who have attended GenCon from out of town and are not lucky enough to have a local place to stay, you likely know all about the nightmare that is the GenCon Housing Lottery. This is not the official name of the process, but it may as well be; you’re more likely to win an actual lottery than you are to get a hotel room downtown without having to jump through a truly Herculean number of hoops.

The way it works is that you must first drop $70 to $80 on an official Event Badge as soon as they go on sale in January or whenever. This gives you a code that allows you to book hotels from the GenCon hotel block as soon as it opens a few weeks later. These are rooms from hotels that partner with GenCon to give discounted rates to gamers attending the convention. In years past, you could log on to the site, choose from any number of locations and prices, lock in a reservation without having to pre-pay, and be all set – this could be accomplished for a few months before rooms start to get scarce.

Currently, however, it is similar to trying to order a new iPhone at 12:01am on release day. You may get lucky and have your first choice go through. More likely, the hotels will literally sell out in the coveted downtown area (read: walking distance) in mere minutes. You’ll time out, get disconnected, and then finally get to check-out, only to discover that the only rooms available are now 25 minutes away, out by the airport. It’s maddening.

You then add your name to the waiting list. As rooms become available – IF rooms become available – you’ll get a call from the GenCon Housing Authority with the opportunity to book them. This is a big “if”. In years past, I’ve spent months combing message boards to catch people releasing rooms back into the pool, setting automated notifications that feed my phone the second someone posts something. Hours and hours of work and stress. It’s a blast.

And don’t bother trying to book a room outside of the block either. You’ll pay full price if you book ten months in advance, and if you wait until five or six months out, the entire downtown will be sold out.

So this year, I decided to cut the drama. I sent the word out to our usual travelling companions, polled the GDC guys, and a few days later, had the funds in bank to book a 2,500-square foot house that sleeps ten people and is a short taxi ride to the downtown area for the week. Signed, sealed, and delivered. A good half of Team GDC is already confirmed, with a few more looking into it. We may very well come close to living the dream with a 10-man free-for-all Team GDC EDH game next year.

We ought to live-stream the entire weekend. It should be epic.

Anyway, with that settled, the questions turn to what to sleeve up and bring along for the ride…

The GenCon Metagame Breaker 3.0

Back to EDH content. This should be the first article in a three-man series that will see myself, Dave, and Sean building, testing, and perfecting the decks we’re bringing to deal with the GenCon Commander events. In years past, you’ve seen me go through the development of my GenCon “Metagame Breaker” deck; this is the deck I built with the plan of ultimately defending the social contract in the often competitive cutthroat Commander events that are scheduled throughout the long weekend. I started with a Riku of Two Reflections list after experiencing the nightmare that was legal Erayo, Soratami Ascendant; I wanted a deck that had blue control, green ramp and recursion, and red utility and removal, with a general that could take advantage of the spells I would be playing to extract ultimate value.

It worked to a certain extent. It shut down some combo decks and dealt generally well with the average EDH board state in the process. It wasn’t ultimately able to withstand multiple dedicated combo decks in the same pod, and I went back to the drawing board for the following year. Trimming a color, I went straight Simic for the next go-around, bringing a Momir-Vig, Simic Visionary deck that focused on some creature and permanent-based hate (think Damping Matrix) in addition to the ramp and control that the deck had the prior year.

It did better, although it still fell to a Zur the Enchanter deck that tried to resolve a Gifts Ungiven. (Quick aside – the unfortunate reality of the GenCon commander events is that they’re viewed as “soft” by competitive players looking to steal easy prizes. You tend to hear a lot of things like, “I don’t even play this format; I asked my buddy what the most busted deck was that would just win, and he gave me this Hermit Druid list…”)

This year, I’m continuing the trend. Without further ado, here’s the 2015 GenCon Metagame Breaker 3.0 – Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir.

FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS

It took me a few years to finally realize that the way to truly combat broken competitive decks is to attack them head-on. Riku doesn’t do that, nor does Momir Vig; both provide some mid-to-late game card advantage, but that’s likely too late. I realized that I was barking up the wrong tree when I had issues casting things like Cryptic Command early with the Riku build, and it came into focus after spending time on Magiccards.info trying to find green spells that put lands directly into play and cost two. I needed this to be able to get to counterspell mana early, and that’s when it hit me –

Drop the curve, go mono-color, and play a true control deck – NOT a hybrid. Simply put, Rampant Growth is great for putting me on four mana for turn three, but Counterspell is better at just dealing with the threat head-on turn two. Eternal players know full well that the idea of a free counter is critical in dealing with decks that can set up in the first few turns of the game, so blue was really the only possible choice; Commandeer, Misdirection, Force of Will, Mindbreak Trap, and the like are essential components to this plan.

From there, it was a matter of figuring out the general. Clearly, the deck was going to go into mono-blue, so it became a matter of figuring out what effect was going to pull the most weight against opposing decks. I quickly wrote off Azami, Lady of Scrolls and other card-advantage general options for the same reason as above – I don’t need advantage, but rather answers. This effectively reduced the options to four choices – Ertai, Wizard Adept, Hisoka, Minamo Sensei, Venser, Shaper Savant, and Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. Venser was a non-starter due to the extreme costs and complicated setup it would take to reuse him repeatedly from the command zone, and Hisoka seemed similarly hard to properly leverage correctly.

Ertai was a close call due to his hard-counter-on-legs ability, but in the end, Teferi ended up with too much going for him to pass up:

  • A passive ability that won’t become a mana sink.
  • Closes out opposing counter-magic completely.
  • Has effective haste due to flash, which also allows for him to be leveraged as a pseudo-counterspell.
  • Allows me to always play all my creatures with ideal timing.

This was just too many positive contributing factors in one package, and I happened to own a foil already. Slam dunk.

Let’s define what we’re trying to attack here before we get to a first-pass deck list

THE EVIL THAT MEN DO – THE MISSION STATEMENT

The “GenCon Metagame Breaker” needs to be able to combat early combo reliably. This can be High Tide-fueled Palinchron/ Stroke of Genius decks, Mind Over Matter/ Temple Bell turbo-mill, Hermit Druid, and so on; anything that gets off the ground early and just combo-kills the table to win the pilot prize packs at the expense of a good game for everyone is the primary goal.

It needs to be able to manage mid-range decks that try to lock the board and assemble multi-component combos as well. These are the “Angel-Geddon” decks like Kaalia of the Vast and [/card]Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (and likely now [card]Narset, Enlightened Master by the looks) that assemble mid-game wins off of Armageddon and repeatable Time Walk effects.

A far-more tertiary goal would be to see if it can then move on to win against “fair” decks in an equally fun way, but honestly, that’s not even really that important. If the deck shuts off an early five-color Hermit Druid deck and then de-fangs Zur the Enchanter only to then lose to a pile of goblin tokens in the red zone, I’ll still count that as a screaming win. (Sean and Dave might have different goals in mind for their GenCon builds, and they’re free to define as they wish.)

Effectively, I want a deck that defends the social contract and allows protracted fun and interesting games to happen, no matter what the actual result is.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS

Here’s the initial decklist:

[Deck title=Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir]
[Creatures]
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Mulldrifter
Sigil Tracer
Venser, Shaper Savant
Sower of Temptation
Deadeye Navigator
Solemn Simulacrum
Tidespout Tyrant
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur
Voidmage Prodigy
Phyrexian Metamorph
Consecrated Sphinx
Kheru Spellsnatcher
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Memnarch
Glen Elendra Archmage
Trinket Mage
Guile
Ertai, Wizard Adept
Snapcaster Mage
Phyrexian Revoker
Talrand, Sky Summoner
Archaeomancer
Draining Whelk
Vendilion Clique[/Creatures]
[Spells]
Desertion
Spell Crumple
Crystal Shard
Sol Ring
Cyclonic Rift
Mana Vault
Blue Sun’s Zenith
Sapphire Medallion
Aetherspouts
Gilded Lotus
Mystical Tutor
Sensei’s Divining Top
Mana Crypt
Force of Will
Misdirection
Counterspell
Bribery
Fabricate
Scroll Rack
Cryptic Command
Vedalken Shackles
Hinder
Time Spiral
Mindslaver
Time Warp
Gather Specimens
Wipe Away
Curse of the Swine
Commandeer
Relic of Progenitus
Spin into Myth
Rhystic Study
Mindbreak Trap
Fact or Fiction
Flusterstorm
Mana Drain
Darksteel Ingot[/Spells]
[Lands]
29 Island
Strip Mine
Seat of the Synod
Academy Ruins
Mystifying Maze
Reliquary Tower
Riptide Laboratory
Ghost Quarter
Tolaria West
Temple of the False God[/Lands][/deck]

 Again, it’s a pretty basic premise – a basic wizard subtheme that utilizes a small amount of acceleration and the free/cheap counter-magic to get to Teferi mana, run him out, and find a card-advantage engine that allows me to keep control of the board state long enough to run the offending competitive decks out of the game. Ideally, other players will recognize the threats for what they really are and capitalize on my situational control to help eliminate those players, and then we can settle in and enjoy the rest of the game.

I had an initial playtesting session last week, running 1v1 against a tuned control/combo Arcanis the Omnipotent deck. The games and the discussions keyed me in on several key points.

WHAT IT DOES WELL:

  • Contains early threats through the array of counters. The threat of an impending Teferi forced my opponent to change his game plan, and a grip that allowed me one fixed-cost counter (i.e. Spell Crumple) in combination with a free counter was typically enough to get to Teferi mana and stick it.
  • Provides a good blend of spell-based and permanent control elements to mix up the approach. Having access to permanents that also could counter threats really made it tough for Arcanis to find an angle that would push through my control elements or win a counter war over Teferi or an equal bomb (Sower of Temptation or Vedalken Shackles.)
  • Wins counter wars.

WHAT IT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT ON:

Win conditions – The strongest one in any of the games was Consecrated Sphinx beatdown, which is pretty weak. See “Other Concerns” below for more here.

Card advantage – specifically, reloading in the mid-game after a multi-counter confrontation. The deck is currently kind of a “Fact or Fiction or bust!” model. This is my weakness as a deck builder; I’m not very good at piecing together a coherent strategy in this area, so what you see for the initial list is kind of cobbled together.

Fear factor – This didn’t specifically come to light in the games, but we did discuss it at length. Teferi as a general is frightening right off, both because of his ability to close out other decks with splash damage, and also because he’s typically the general for the Mind Over Matter/ Temple Bell combo deck. It will take some serious table talk to convince others to get on board with my actual game plan. Some of the other “bomb” control elements – Mindslaver, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, Tidespout Tyrant – are also downright terrifying, and I run a real risk of stacking the table against me without meaning to.

OTHER CONCERNS

The big two:

Where’s the line with the win-cons? The easy out is running Blightsteel Colossus, which is just over the line for me – but Jin-Gitaxis and Mindslaver typically are too. There’s also the angle of running my own combos, but that feels like it flies in the face of what I’m trying to do here. Where’s the middle ground between there and “Four you in the air with Sphinx. Your turn.”

More importantly, what next? I also don’t want to cave in and turn into a do-nothing deck after the competitive decks are handled. What do I pack to bring to the table to play the rest of the game out? What kind of constraint do I need to exercise to defend the social contract with the fair decks, when I’m geared up to hunt bear on the top end?

Please – weigh in on any/all of this in the Comments section below, or email me, or whatever. I’m begging for help in all areas.

CLOSING TIME

GenCon 2015. I’m looking forward to a proper Team GDC ‘boy’s weekend out’. Stay tuned for my next installments, as I tweak, tune, and get this thing ready for the trip; likewise, get ready to see what angles Sean and Dave take for their own ‘Metagame Breaker’ builds.

-Cass
@GDCCommander