(Hey, folks.  Sorry for the delay in getting this up on the site.  One thing after another after another meant that it simply wasn’t getting done unless I stayed up late, and I spent a good chunk of the weekend (and Monday) sick, so when my wife got that stern look on her face, pointed, and said, “GO TO BED!”…
Let’s say I’ve learned where there’s room to argue, and when to cut my losses.
Anyway, please enjoy the next part in our (probably not-so-little) series on threat assessment.  Be warned…It might get a little preachy, and it might ramble a bit, but I have a particular (wait for it…) emotional attachment to the subject.
…Yeah, that was terrible.  Apologies to one and all.  
Enjoy the read…
àCass)
“WHY THE @$&% WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?!?!?!”

Magic is a game, and even a casual format like EDH is measured as such.  There are different ways to define “winning” and “losing” when compared to competitive formats, but the end result is typically the same.
What is different is that EDH is a persona-driven format by nature.  When you’re playing in a draft or a Standard FNM, chances are better than not that your choice in deck construction has absolutely no emotional weight at all, save how it improves your chance of winning versus the rest of the field. 
With EDH, the deck construction is usually completely about persona.  You’ve chosen a general, and that decision has been reached through a litany of personal questions and goals.  It could be a theme deck, or it could be build around a specific strategy or a pet card, but the chances are you’ve spent time pouring your heart and soul into the stack of cards in front of you.
(Aside – Unless you’ve built a deck for the express purpose of grinding wins in for-prize side events, in which case this article isn’t for you.  Hell, this website may not be for you either…)
When you sit down at a table, you present a deck and a general, and you adopt a persona.  Case in point – how often have you seen EDH play-by-plays that abbreviate unknown players with the name of their general? 
Edric untaps with Mana Reflection in play and swings with an army of little dudes.  He draws 26 cards.”
Jarad reanimates Lord of Extinction.  I’m ready to punch him squarely in the face.”
EDH is all about persona.  The natural extension is that the games are all about personality.
And that means it’s incredibly easy for things to get personal.
PUNCHING JARAD IN THE FACE…

Patrick laid down a fantastic bit of groundwork for our series on threat assessment last week.  As he said, this is something that we’ve been brewing and discussing for a very long time, and it’s not something that is easy to pin down.  As he said, there are an incredible number of factors involved in assessing threat in EDH, and it’s not something that’s easy to do right.
Today, I’m interested in talking about how to do it wrong. 

 

Let’s start with an example:

You’re playing your Basandra, Battle Seraph deck.  It’s a new deck, and you’ve designed it to be a little-less competitive so that you have something to reach for if the shop has some players new to the format on a given night. 
You find yourself sitting at a table with one of the newer players in the shop (we’ll call him “Skippy”) playing Ghave, Guru of Spores, a player who comes in from time to time and is not well-liked due to anger-management issues (we’ll call him “Capt. D-Bag”) playing Memnarch, and one of the stronger regular players in the store (let’s call him “Mr. P.”) playing Savra, Queen of the Golgari.
There’s an interesting personal dynamic in play already; you and Capt. D-Bag have a bit of a heated rivalry that has been known to boil over at times.  Skippy is new to the format, yet so desperately invested in trying to make everyone believe he’s a fantastic player that he takes fifteen-minute turns deciding which expert play in his hand is the right one; come to find out, it’s whether to play a third-turn Kodama’s Reach or Cultivate.  (I wish I was kidding…)  He’s also incredibly susceptible to suggestion from other players.
So you shuffle up.  You look at a hand with one Plains, a Sol Ring, and Sensei’s Divining Top.  It’s a dangerous keep, but it has the ability to get you going if the cards fall correctly, so you keep.
You win the die roll and go first.  Land, Sol Ring, Top, activate.  No lands in your next three cards.
Everyone else spends a turn playing a land.  Capt. D-Bag also manages to find a Sol Ring.  Your turn rolls back around; you draw your card and immediately activate your Top to try to dig for a land.  Still nothing. 
Fast-forward a few turns in.  Mr. P has Sylvan Library in play, and Skippy played a Solemn Simulacrum last turn.  Capt. D-Bag untaps and says, “This is only because I need some acceleration too…I only want to get that Simulacrum on here.” before playing Mimic Vat.  Skippy grins.
Return to Dust targeting your Vat.” He declares with a smile. 
Mr. P interjects.  (Skippy has asked him for help in getting better at the game)  “That’s not an immediate threat at this point in the game.  Why wouldn’t you wait until your turn to play the Return, so that you can hit two targets instead?”
Skippy thinks for about five minutes before finally taking the play back.  Play resumes. 
Mr. P does nothing of consequence, playing a land and passing the turn.  You untap, draw, and Top, and there it is…Arid Mesa.  You activate the Top, draw the Mesa, and finally make your second land drop. 
Skippy untaps.  He thinks, and finally announces Return to Dust again.
“Targets?” Capt. D-Bag asks smugly.
“Mimic Vat for sure…” he trails off.  You notice his eyes glazing over.  “What else should I hit?”  He’s asking the entire table.
Mr. P interjects quickly, sensing what’s about to happen.  “Realistically, the biggest threat after Mimic Vat is probably my Sylvan Library.”
Skippy goes into the tank, and D-Bag seizes the moment.  “Sol Ring is a problem too.  I know I’ve got one, but he’s got Sol Ring plus Top going over there, which is worse than Library.”
You go cold.  “No, it isn’t,” you reply.  “I just hit my second land drop.  Are you kidding?”
Skippy looks at Mr. P for help.  “It’s your call.  I told you my opinion; go with what you feel.” He returns, with a hint of disgust in his voice.
Skippy grins and points at your Sol Ring.  “I know where this is going!” Skippy blatantly lies to everyone (himself included.) 
“Kill your Ring!”    
 
Every single one of you reading this just had a response to the situation I detailed.  I would be willing to bet that not a single one involved an analytical approach, either.
Putting myself into the situation, here’s my reaction sequence:
DURING RESOLUTION OF RETURN TO DUST

-Must talk Skippy out of nuking my Sol Ring at all costs.
-Must look for heavy object to throw at Capt. D-Bag.
-Skippy can’t assess threats properly to save his life.
POST-RESOLUTION

-Rage.  R. A. G. E.  Rageragerageragerage.
-Note to self- Never play Capt. D-Bag ever again unless it is with Riku; do nothing but counter his stuff and try to actively take him out of the game.  
-Consider revising stance on ‘being political’ in-game.  Next time, talk Skippy into nuking his own things with his stupid Return to Dust.  Tell him no one will hate him for that.  He’ll probably buy it.
RANKING THREATS FOR REMAINDER OF GAME

#1 – Capt. D-Bag.  Must ruin his life at all costs.
#2 – Skippy.  Must teach Skippy a lesson.  Overly-punish him for something, and make it a point to mention ‘in passing’ why you did it.  (That’s not really breaking the ‘no politics’ thing, right?)
#3 – Wait…who else is playing this game with us again?
The answer is Mr. P, and he wins the game handily. 
No-one pays him any mind as he quietly gets Savra and a sacrifice outlet online.  By the time I finish decimating Capt. D-Bag (starting a yelling match between us in the process when he begins complaining about ‘always being picked on for no reason’), Skippy untaps and top-decks Craterhoof Behemoth, and easily overruns my exhausted board state.  Skippy then defines “exercise in futility” as he continually tries to attack Mr. P, only to have his board picked to pieces every time.  He finally laughs and windmill-slams down Avenger of Zendikar, only to take 300 damage the following turn when Mr. P plays the Massacre Wurm he’s been sandbagging since his opening draw.
What are the takeaways here?
-Emotion rules the day.  Capt. D-Bag and I have our blood feud, and as a result, he decides to leverage table politics to gain an edge over me.  Skippy wants to feel like he’s got the respect of the table, so he folds to peer pressure.  I can’t control my anger at having my legs cut un-necessarily out from underneath me, so I punt the game in order to prove a point.
-Emotion ruins proper threat assessment.  If I’m sitting at this table, nine times out of ten I should be assuming that Mr. P is the biggest threat, and most of the time I’d be right.  (The tenth out of ten is when D-Bag is playing Jarad.)  He’s the best deck-builder of the bunch, and easily the best player of the bunch.  (This is using outside knowledge to effectively influence threat assessment.  Stay tuned for more on this concept in part 27…) 
Instead, I have to prove a point, so I get to sit back and watch other people play for an hour instead of enjoying a game myself.
-Cooler heads prevail.  Skippy blissfully has the game of his life, because he thinks he’s done everything correct and just lost to a better draw at the end.  Mr. P sits back and correctly assesses the situation, knowing that most of his work will be done for him by the time we all reach the end-game, so he spends the game preparing for that situation exactly, and he is not disappointed.  
EDH is an emotional format.  That’s all there is to it.  Having a personal connection to your deck creates this feeling, and that’s not a bad thing; for most of us, that’s the joy of the format to begin with.  
The important thing to understand is that it’s still a competition between you and several other players.  The point of EDH may not be to “win” in the classic sense, but taking the above example into account, there are a whole bunch of losers – Capt. D-Bag in the literal sense when I take him out of the game first; myself next when I realize that I’ve spent an evening being angry instead of enjoying myself playing a game I usually love; likely Skippy and Mr. P last, because they’ve had to endure anger and arguments that have trivialized and likely cheapened the game they showed up eager to play.  
Emotion rules the day, and that’s rarely a good thing.  It sure wasn’t here.
The TL;DR:

Pour yourself into your decks, and enjoy your games.  When it comes to assessing threats properly, however, check your emotions at the door.  Make the right plays, don’t overreact to perceived slights, and don’t be a jerk in general.  Your games and your plays will be better as a result.
àCass