This past Wednesday, the games I played at Worlds Apart EDH Night taught me several lessons. Unsurprisingly, the concept of “broken” rose to the surface each time.
Let’s start at the top – Titania, Protector of Argoth
I put the finishing touches on my Titania deck over the past week, scrambling to find odds and ends like a Beta Kudzu and an appropriate amount of Snow-Covered Forests in time to take the wrapping paper off and give it a trial run Wednesday. For those of you who caught my last article and/or follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve been very apprehensive about this deck; I’m a control player at heart, and I prefer decks with solid card advantage and control elements, and with a land count somewhere near 36 to allow for cramming in as many business cards as I possibly can into my decks.
Titania flies in the face of all three of those conditions. Here’s the current list:
[Deck title=Titania, Protector of Argoth]
17 Snow-Covered Forest
Titania’ Protector of Argoth
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Bane of Progress
Oracle of Mul Daya
Wave of Vitriol
Spine of Ish Sah
City of Solitude
Horn of Greed
Journey of Discovery
Edge of Autumn
Life from the Loam
Crucible of Worlds[/Spells][/deck]
In order to fill my mono-green “lands matter” itch with Titania, I focused on a very strong theme that focuses primarily on her second triggered ability to create an army of reasonable beaters. Going in this direction set off several warning bells all throughout by build process, including but not limited to:
- Too many lands (for my comfort!)
- A bad balance of business versus utility (read: holy ramp, Batman!)
- Removal. As in, “Where is it?”
- What happens if someone pops off Terminus?
I was pretty convinced that my lack of skill in building this sort of deck was going to leave me with a deck that didn’t do much of anything other than ramping non-stop. I was positive I’d sleeve up a pile of junk, get steam-rolled, and tear it apart as soon as I got home. It turns out I was wrong.
I’m fairly convinced Titania is the most-busted general in the Commander 2014 set. This is both cool and interesting, and also problematic. More on that in a bit, though; here’s a rough game recap:
I sat down for a five-player game that, among others, featured Mr. P playing his GenCon Tournament-Winning, Metagame Breaking Coin-Flips deck. Things got going fairly quickly, and I began ramping, hitting an early Exploration. An early Cultivate led to Journey of Discovery, and I naturally drew Strip Mine and Wasteland. Titania hit play on turn four rather innocuously; the following turn, I played Kudzu on one of my Forests and sacrificed two other lands to drop Scorched Ruins into play. I was now representing 20 damage on the table after tapping the Kudzu-ed Forest.
At the end of Mr. P’s turn, I tapped the Kudzu-ed Forest, Strip Mined another Forest, and Wasteland-ed my Dark Depths. I untapped with eight 5/3 tokens and Titania. Mr. P very strongly urged me to just take him out of the game, as he would play a board wipe the following turn if I did not. I disliked doing it, but it was the correct play. We were down to four.
From here, things get a bit fuzzy. I found Life from the Loam, and despite multiple board wipe effects from the other players, I was able to continue the Wasteland-Strip Mine shenanigans while actually increasing my land count in the process, even while replaying Titania multiple times. Horn of Greed helped to keep things going as well, and I felt fairly confident in my plan. Finally, the unthinkable did happen and a Terminus hit, and Titania headed south for the winter. Back to square one?
I continued to rebuild my lands, and started focusing on the Dark Depths plan. I Loamed it, replayed it, and removed half the counters in one turn. The following turn, the player to my right attacked into me, and Marit Lage dropped in to block his last remaining flyer. I asked him what his life total was.
I untapped, attacked, and we were down to two.
The player to my left was able to chisel my life totals pretty far south, but on a critical turn, I drew into Zuran Orb. I attacked him down to four and passed. He counter-attacked, and I Orb-ed myself into a safe life total. The other player, running a Prime Speaker Zegana deck, untapped and attacked him with an unblockable creature to take the game to two.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should have probably been the next to go. The Prime Speaker player was deep in all manner of seafood tokens – a huge pile of squid from Chasm Skulker, and some whales from Reef Wurm, coupled with a giant Prime Speaker. He was at 34 to my 3, and my land recovery wasn’t enough to offset the damage I’d need to soak up with Zuran Orb. Marit Lage could trade with Prime Speaker, and I’d get squidded to death in the process.
I untapped and drew. Snow-Covered Forest. I played it and drew my card from Horn.
BREAKING IT DOWN
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but “ETB” triggers typically make for powerful interactions. This alone is likely enough to push Titania to the top of the list of new general options, as the rest of the others all come packing activated abilities that take time to get going. The planeswalkers sidestep this a bit, and Jazal Goldmane has the potential to end a game in one activation with the correct board, but none of the ‘walkers have the raw ‘turn-one’ power Titana’s abilities have, and she brings a potential game-winning team on her own, which Jazal can’t do.
Speaking of abilities, my first inclination was to include ‘blink’ effects to try to gain value out of Titania’s first ability; I’ve come to feel that this is wrong. The deck as it is built has no issue replaying her any number of times due to the heavy ramp component, and with access to Life from the Loam, Crucible of Worlds, Groundskeeper, and so on, recursion of lands is not a problem.
Titania makes tokens at a truly frightening rate when built around. I’m sure that I’m not breaking new ground with this deck, and I know you can find similar builds elsewhere right now – after all, she is a ‘build around me”-type general. What came as a bit of a shock in practice was exactly how frightening she really was capable of being. I didn’t go as deep into the well as I could have, leaving potential sac-lands such as Terminal Moraine and Heart of Yavimaya on the cutting room floor, but the deck still didn’t have any issues generating two or three elementals a turn while still advancing land production.
I wasn’t even able –nor did I even need to – resolve any of the scalable sacrifice spells, such as Scapeshift or Wood Elemental. The explosiveness of those plays could be game-ending for an entire table. Even plays like Terastodon alone can nearly be lethal alone due to the value created. (One Terastodon targeting three of your own lands will net you a 9/9, three 3/3 elephants, and three 5/3 elementals. One card.)
I’d be terrified to see what a better builder could do to tune this to the bleeding edge.
The real issue with the deck is that it unabashedly declares itself to be a one-trick pony; the power of the deck, as described above, is the ease in which it can rebuild itself after board wipes. Attacking the tokens – Maelstrom Pulse, Aether Snap, and the like – hurt the game plan, but what shuts it down is effects that prevent things from going to the graveyard. Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace shut the deck off, forcing it to find removal…
…Which is the next issue at hand. Mono-green, right? The issues with green removal are obvious and well-documented, and when you add to the mix the fact that this is a deck that needs slots to fulfill its proactive agenda, you can easily end up in a position where you’re stuck trying to dig hard for a very limited number of answers. I’ve included a few bits of ‘universal’ removal to try to cover all bases, but it is likely that those will be overwhelmed with enough must-answer problems.
Flyers are a problem as well; a decent number of threats in the air from multiple players could present a large-enough clock that the token creation couldn’t overcome. (This is why the pre-con itself came packing Tornado Elemental.)
Of course, tuck effects are a big piece of the problem. As noted above, losing Titania into the deck is the one place that is hard to recover from. I lucked out in my game and had access to a pretty powerful ‘plan B’, but that won’t always be the case.
Moving forward, I plan to address the ‘tuck factor’ with some increased tutors. This will likely be some combination of Chord of Calling, Green Sun’s Zenith, and possibly Worldly Tutor. Upgraded protection in the form of Darksteel Plate will likely happen too, along with an increase in artifact/enchantment destruction and a nod to flying threats. There’s a potential Survival of the Fittest package that would include Acidic Slime, Yavimaya Elder, and the like; this would serve to address all problems in one place by providing a way to find a tucked Titania, key removal, or further acceleration and land recursion. Something to consider.
THE BIG PICTURE
There she is – Titania in all of her glory. Possibly the biggest problem I can see is one of reputation; it took all of five turns for the other players at the table to start focusing on me with alarming veracity. I can easily see this as one of those generals that people will instinctively go after due to the strength that it can represent, and that might serve to be a further stepping stone in the future. For now, though, Titania has earned a solid place in my deck boxes.
We went to play a second game on Wednesday, and this exchange (roughly) happened.
Me: “What do I play?”
Mr. P: “No offense, but play something not-as-good.”
Me (as I dig into my boxes): “Hrmm…either Momir-Vig or Narset?”
(The two other players at the table laugh uncontrollably…)
As it turns out, I think might have forgotten how to build to a lower power level. The game, as it played out, involved me playing my Kresh the Bloodbraided deck, likely the “weakest” deck in my repertoire, and still ending up in a position where I played Soul’s Fire to Mr. P’s dome for sixty-four damage, then activated Shizo, Death’s Storehouse to send the huge namesake of the deck on an unblockable attack to end the game on the spot.
(Aside: this was a learning opportunity. Most people, when they think of Kresh, immediately also think of Fling effects. My original intention was to build a deck that showcased an aggressive Voltron threat, and in my mind, that ruled out effects that caused Kresh to be sacrificed in order to deal damage. What good Voltron threat wants to keel over dead? He should want to crush his enemies, see them driven before him, and hear the lamentations of their women – all difficult to do when, you know, you’re dead.
As it turns out, I should have kept pulling not only the sacrifice effects, but also the ones that just deal straight damage based on a creature’s power. They’re really not much fun, since it’s easy to get Kresh up to a size that can make them into one-shot kills. That’s effectively a two-card combo, and I’m not a big fan. Flesh/Blood came out a while back, and Soul’s Fire is following suit before I pick the deck back up again.)
SUBTRACTION THROUGH ADDITION – FINDING THE MISSING 25% (AND BEING WORSE FOR IT)
By now, most EDH fans are familiar with Jason Alt’s “Building a 75% Commander Deck” article over at Gatheringmagic.com. It is a great article that outlines a great way to approach the format for people struggling with power creep.
I also fundamentally disagree with it…even though it speaks to the root of my current problem.
As it stands, the decks I have now are all tuned to be as good as they can be at whatever they are designed to do both thematically and strategically. This is largely because over the last year, our metagame has had a decent swing in power level due to new players and power creep. I will say I’m proud that our players are getting better, all while still embracing the heart of the social contract – as a group, we’re not running infinite combos, land destruction, or taking infinite turns. Generally, we all just want to have fun games together.
That said, when you get beaten soundly by a specific deck or strategy, it sticks with you. You don’t want to let that same thing happen again. For most of us, we start digging through card boxes and researching Gatherer to find ways that we can make our decks more resilient to whatever caused that loss. Sometimes, it’s hate cards like Null Rod to deal with a particularly strong artifact threat, or Deflecting Palm to teach big-damage goons a lesson.
Sometimes, we look at our decks and decide that a design deficiency caused the loss. Why couldn’t I find the correct answer to that threat when I needed it? Maybe, as I said above, adding a Survival of the Fittest tutor/toolbox package would fix the issue; possibly, it just involves pulling a few sub-par cards for better ones.
Maybe you bring that deck to the table the following week, and maybe you win. Guess what that player is going home to do tonight?
And thus the cycle self-propagates. Everyone keeps making moves to gain a little edge or sure up a deficiency, and before long, the power level of the group is at a fever-pitch high.
That’s where I was at a few months back – sick of losing to stronger decks that unabashedly played better cards and better synergies. Ultimately, I decided to beat them by joining the arms race. No offense to Jason Alt, but a 75% deck was not going to cut it for me. I wasn’t about to intentionally make my decks – any of them – worse simply for the sake of doing it, guaranteeing a continual mid-pack finish in the process. I don’t think building with my foot a quarter of the way off the gas pedal needs to happen to hit the mark.
And thus it was on Wednesday that I found myself sending 64 damage to Mr. P’s face with a ‘casual’ deck, and causing two people to keel over laughing when I named my “less-competitive” decks. This is a problem, and I need help solving it.
HELP FILL CASS’S FINAL DECKBOX SLOT
I’m asking for help. I have eleven decks at the moment, three each to a Fat-Pack box. That leaves me one open slot. I’m guessing a tuned Melek, Izzet Paragon storm deck won’t help my casual cause any, so I’m bumping him off the drawing board.
I want you to simply answer this question – What Deck Do I Build?
Here are my criteria:
These three lands are sitting on my desk starting at me, begging for a home. Hit up the comments below and offer me a suggestion that uses at least one of these lands as a color defining characteristic. I’m looking for something that aims to hang in a chill game – not something specifically down on power, because I want the deck to be able to function in a reasonable environment. I do want it to be fun and interesting, and be something I’m both excited to pull out and not uncomfortable grabbing when a bunch of people say, “Hey…let’s play a fun game.” It should likely be very strategy driven, since those are the decks that can sacrifice “good-stuff” cards for other options that are worse in a vacuum but better in the given deck.
Hit me up in the comments below. Tell me as much as you can about the following:
- Who is my new general?
- What is my deck about?