Have you ever reached a breaking point with EDH?

Have you ever had a moment where you just go, “You know what? I’m done. Screw this.”

Have you ever ripped apart your entire collection of decks in a fit of overwhelming frustration and anger after a night of some really unsatisfying games, which capped a terrible day that started with some really annoying car troubles that never quite went away, magnified by the pending need to spend about $3K to get both your car and the wife’s minivan to pass inspection, on top of a really bad week or two of work, and a washing machine that leaked, ruining the carpet and the sub-floor and requiring several days’ worth of demolition and expensive rebuilding just to be able to wash a damn pair of jeans without being overcome by the stench of mildew?

That can’t be just me, right?

Joking aside, everyone has a bad run once in a while. Sometimes it’s easy to walk away for a bit and re-center, and sometimes it’s pretty tough when Commander is really the only format you play, and Magic is a primary hobby. If you’re anything like me, real life can be pretty tiring at times, and I look forward to playing EDH as my primary mental and emotional release.

So what happens when things go south? Don’t worry. It happens. Find your center, and move on.

Here’s how I did it-

STAGE ONE – Anger

This is my reaction to a really bad run of games:

finger bag

My poor deck bag doesn’t deserve this kind of abuse…

Last Wednesday was relatively minor, all things considered. The two games I played weren’t particularly fun for me – not deal-breakers, but just kind of bad from my standpoint:

-Game one was a relatively hopeless one that ended with Mr. P’s Daretti, Scrap Savant deck finding Darksteel Forge, and then Reiterate-buyback-Reiterating my hail-mary attempt at rebuilding a pretty empty board with a Genesis Wave for eleven in my Freyalise elves tribal deck. No one in the game was really playing any removal, so it was a lot of sitting around waiting for the inevitable to happen.

-Game two got as far as turn six or seven, when the player to my left pointed Traumatize at me and milled thirty-eight cards off the top of my deck. Now, feelings about mill in EDH aside, I did have some graveyard recursion in the Hanna, Ship’s Navigator enchantress deck I was playing, but the visceral reaction that losing half of my deck that early in the game provided was more than I could deal with at that point, so I scooped up my cards and headed home.

Again – not particularly format-breaking in either case; it was more of a ‘final straw’ situation.

The other thing that had been occurring recently is dissatisfaction at my own decks as well. The week prior, I had pulled out my foiled-out Prime Speaker Zegana project deck to try out, as I hadn’t played it in a long time. It’s effectively UG tokens, but it started life as my old “GenCon Metagame Breaker” deck, and also tried to run a ‘lands matter’ theme, so it came out of the gates like this:

Sol Ring –> Cultivate –> Crucible of Worlds –> Exploration –> Avenger of Zendikar

I was barely seven turns into the game, and I was voicing my irritation at how utterly boring and staple-heavy the deck was playing out. It was miserable even as the pilot.

This was on top of a good chunk of other realizations about many of my other decks over weeks prior. Nothing ground-breaking, but small realizations like this were becoming regular:

Palladia-Mors is neat and all, but it’s tribal dragons, and man is that over-represented right now.

-That cool Tasigur, the Golden Fang build? There are cool components in there, but it really does just what everyone things it will – find Prophet of Kruphix, and then spend the rest of everyone-else’s end steps just durdling through activation after activation.

-Bant blink needs Cathars’ Crusade to win, but once it hits, Cathars’ Crusade is miserable to keep track of.

The hits kept coming. I was starting to doubt my deck designs, and the games were not going particularly well either.

 

STAGE TWO – Overreaction

Here’s what happens when you have one bad day at just the wrong time:

piles

Holy hell, are my fingers sore after this!

Yup. That’s what a stack of cards that used to be twelve Commander decks looks like unsleeved. On the one hand, it was a good visual representation of how I usually average out in card type (Left to right: Non-creature cards, creatures, lands) in EDH, but pulling 1,200 cards out of Dragon sleeves at 11:30pm on a work night is not particularly productive. Someone had to pay for the transgressions that…er…transgressed, and my decks suffered.

It felt damn-good, though.

 

STAGE THREE – Introspection (and also confusion for those following me on Twitter)

This was about where I started to think about the problems I was facing that led to the massacre. (Well, not at 11:30pm. It was the next day, after some sleep and coffee.) At this point, my actions were still justified, so I started a list:

  • Bad games
  • Bad decks (my own)

I tried to figure out what else was going on, and realized that I had been spending a ton of time writing about how my local metagame had been sliding towards being heavy on decks with agendas and a lack of interaction, and noticed that the one deck that I was really stoked on (but that suffered the same fate as the rest anyway – hey, a culling is a culling!) was the Mishra, Artificer Prodigy deck both @SwordsToPlow and I wrote about – a deck designed to take the expected “normal” game and flip it on its head.

I added:

  • Dissatisfaction with metagame

I then felt bad about blaming the metagame, and changed it immediately to:

  • Dissatisfaction with metagame my ability to interact positively with my metagame

Because after all, it wasn’t up to me to tell others how to play the game. If I was blaming them, I really should be blaming myself instead.

(See? I’m learning!)

I then posted this on Twitter, because self-righteousness was starting to mask itself to look like enlightenment:

Which prompted responses like poor @Erik_Tiernan’s here:

To which I launched in a multi-response explanation that tried to further invoke Buddist concepts and some new-agey BS about the difference between “decks” and “game delivery mechanisms” (sic).

Still…this was at least slightly forward movement. (All apologies to Erik, who now believes his decks that were built with theme and synergy in mind are actually just hollow piles of cards. Or more likely, he’s just still confused at my incoherent ravings and thinks I’m full of shit. Either way.)

 

STAGE FOUR – Enlightenment (Real, Non-BS Twitter Variety)

This is the good part. My head was cleared at this point, and I wasn’t angry or blaming other things for my own feelings anymore.

The first thing I needed to do was accept that I wasn’t personally pleased with the way my own decks were looking. Ramping into Avenger of Zendikar or – let’s face it – hitting Genesis Wave for eleven, even if it doesn’t actually work, really isn’t my thing. It’s absolutely fine if it works for you, and the best way to tell if it does is simple:

Does it make honestly you happy?

For me, it doesn’t anymore. What gets me is ‘getting over’ on the game, whether I win or not. I like having an effect on things, and steering games in new directions, and a run-of-the-mill elves deck, or Tokens.dec-number-4,080 isn’t what I want.

Easy fix – nuke those decks and move on. Forget low-hanging ‘staple’ mentality in favor of things that help me find my happy place. Something cool that happens is always going to be better in my mind than dropping in any one specific card ever will.

Likewise, the metagame problem effectively fixes itself the same way. Are people playing introverted, goldfishy-type decks? Break them out of their mold. Build decks that (pardon the term) prey on those decks. I always talk about staying reactive, so that’s where I need to keep building. The Mishra deck is a great example, and I should learn from that and continue in that vein.

Also, I’m doing this:

trash

Mmmm…prunes.

I don’t need help loading up on options that are tried and true, so tossing out the internet in my case is a necessary step toward finding a good place to rebuild from.

It all seems pretty cut-and-dried, right?

 

STAGE FIVE – The Way Forward

Here are a few shots of my new building tool:

generals

I had stopped using binders a long time ago, since I effectively stopped trading many years back. Where they can shine, however is putting ideas right in front of you. I went through and pulled every eligible general option from my boxes. (For me, ‘eligible’ is equal to foil generals, ones that aren’t printed in foil, and good alters.) That immediately got me thinking about building Adun Oakenshield and Angus Mackenzie as some nice throwback nods, and Sigarda, Host to Herons as a nice new Voltron/’screw up the board with random static effects’ type of deck.

Lands

My one major building hang up is building around manabases; I like to know that I have the appropriate Revised duals, fetchlands, and so on. In fact, if I build around a specific general, I’ll be happy to piece together what I have (with a minimum of 2/3rds of the correct lands, or else I’m buying some to fill in the gaps), but I seem to be compelled to build around all of my available lands. If I end up with any left after I’m done building decks…well, I’m not done, and I’ll try to find a general that matches what I have left.

I figured that since these are my two normal building constraints, having them in front of me would really help the creative process out.

CLOSING TIME

I’ll let you all know how it goes, but so far, being left with no decks and a blank slate seems strangely calming. Now, I’m not saying that this is the cure-all if you get into a rough patch, but the point is this: 

Stop and think about why things are going the way they are, and then take a step back.

Fresh perspective can do a person wonders.

-Cass
@GDCCommander