You Lika The Juice? - EDH Miscellany
There’s quite a bit of EDH stuff to talk about so this week’s column is going to be a bit scattershot and I hope you’ll bear with me. There are new EDH bannings first thoughts on Archenemy fundamental and subjective douchebaggery and a reboot for my EDH decks.
The big news to EDH fans last Friday was a very rare banning announcement from the EDH High Council. In case you missed it effective as of June 20th:
Sheldon explains the rulings here. Some folks have asked me what I think about the bannings… I think they’re good calls and I think most are directly tied into issues with Eldrazi. Academy Rofellos and Channel are all fantastic engines for ramping your mana up to casting an early Eldrazi and while we’ve had lots of crazy things to do with fast and early mana few have been as devastating as Emrakul.
Back in early April when we first started getting previews of the Eldrazi the buzz was that these guys were going to be awesome for EDH; I was concerned the opposite might be true. Here’s what I said back then:
"I’m a bit concerned about the impact this set is going to have on Elder Dragon Highlander. The rare and mythic Eldrazi cards are so damn powerful and big mana is so plentiful in the format that I can really see the format warping around finding and casting Eldrazi and stopping people from doing so. Cards generals and strategies that don’t fit along these axes might very well become uncompetitive. I’m not so alarmist to think ROE will ruin EDH but I do think there’s going to be some turmoil and I’m a little concerned how everything will shake out."
Personally I haven’t actually had a chance to play with or against Eldrazi in EDH yet but I’ve heard some grumbling from local players that they’re over the top insane and something needs to be done about them.
In Sheldon’s column this week he won one of the games on the back of Emrakul and had this to say at the end:
"Even though it did well for me I’m not actually sure I’m that big a fan of the Eldrazi package. Annihilator just seems so mean. Perhaps I’ll actually consider some anti-Annihilator ideas. Hrm."
I’m sure when Wizards were finalizing the Eldrazi they wanted them to be popular with the casual crowd so I don’t think the EDH rules committee wants to outright ban a bunch of them from the most visible multiplayer format. I think these mana engine cards were banned instead to try and keep the Eldrazi as "fair" as they can be. However I’m pretty sure eventually Emrakul will likely get the axe he’s really just too over-the-top insanely powerful even in a format where over-the-top crazy stuff happens.
Archenemy & EDH
After a weekend of rather disastrous Standard play and a general dissatisfaction with the way the format is warping around Jace the Mind Sculptor I was ready to focus on having some Magic fun. I wasn’t working my part-time job last Friday so I was really looking forward to heading up to Richmond Comix. FNM was Standard and I typically play FNM and then when I’m done (either eliminated or playing the finals) I then jump into the first of hopefully a couple EDH games. Since Standard doesn’t seem like much fun I skipped the FNM and went directly to the purchase of an Archenemy deck. My weapon of choice was "Scorch the World with Dragonfire" since I already had a Karrthus EDH deck ready to roll and I’d been practicing my evil laugh all week. I boldly called out for victims to see if anyone would be foolish enough to try and stand against my schemes and soon five opponents sat down to oppose me.
They kicked my ass. Twice. It wasn’t even close.
I started off pretty strong; the first scheme hit everyone with Know Naught but Fire (a Storm Seeker) and since it was the very first turn everyone took second. The next one was I Delight in your Convulsions (Syphon Soul for 3) so right away everyone was at 10 life and I was at 55.
Other than the schemes though the five were doing a good job shutting me down. One player hit my first land with a Wasteland and when I played a basic land the next turn another player nailed me with a Strip Mine. The first spell I tried to play got Counterspelled. Soon a couple creatures hit the board and started chipping away at my life total and with four of the five players running Blue in their EDH decks they were totally able to shut out any action from my actual deck and once I hit a streak of rather unimpressive schemes that did little to establish a good board position (All Shall Smolder in my Wake Realms Befitting My Majesty) I was toast.
Everyone was kinda surprised at how easy I was to defeat and while the schemes were high on flavor (with great names); they really weren’t all that scary to face down.
Maybe that was just a fluke so I kept smiling shuffled up for another round. "Okay that was not actually me that was my simulacrum… now you will truly face your doom!" Jess swapped out her Blue deck for Rofellos Griff swapped out his Blue deck for one Tommy had that his son Logan built that was all about burn to the face… and they still pounded on me like I was The Vulture facing down The Avengers… with Thor. The best scheme I was able to muster was My Wish Is Your Command though it was much worse than I originally thought - at first glance I thought I got to choose a noncreature nonland card from each opponent’s hand but instead I got to choose just one from all the options. The best choice was Maelstrom Nexus and while it did help me accelerate into more mana by the time I was able to cast one dragon from my hand Jess was attacking me with Rofellos enchanted with Eldrazi Conscription and it was over with shortly thereafter.
I’d like to extend apologies to Amber a lovely young woman who played Archenemy EDH with us. I found out later that she reads my columns and had come out to Richmond Comix looking to play some good games of EDH and she left after the two horrible horrible games of Archenemy EDH. Amber if you’re reading this I certainly hope you will come out and give me another chance for some fun EDH games… very likely without Archenemy cards involved! Feel free to get in touch via my email address below and let me know what your EDH background is.
So… my initial impression of Archenemy with EDH decks was not at all favorable. However I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. I suspect facing down 5 fully-powered EDH decks some in the hands of grizzled EDH veterans is probably asking too much from a "precon" scheme deck along with what is a relatively slow Karrthus dragon deck. Three on one is probably a more reasonable matchup and I suspect that you can better merge schemes and spells into a more cohesive – and lethal – weapon. So EDH fans - what has been your experience with Archenemy so far?
Fundamental & Subjective Douchebaggery After the disastrous Archenemy games I was looking to cleanse my palate with a real game of EDH; I was still on a quest for Magic fun I’d yet to have in a long while. Unfortunately several of the players had decks designed to pretty much stifle whatever fun trigger the rest of us tried to put on the stack. Whether it was the guy who thought it was hilarious to play Mesmeric Orb Forced Fruition and Underworld Dreams or the guy with Words of Wind along with a zillion Howling Mine effects (LOL!) or the guy with Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience to remove people’s libraries from the game one-by-one… after about an hour or so of really not being able to play anything I built my EDH deck to play I scooped and went on home disgusted and saddened by the level of douchebaggery that seems to have infested the Richmond Comix EDH scene (that night at least). Not to mention my quest for finding Magic fun remaining unfulfilled.
I spent a couple of days thinking about that disastrous night and pondering what had turned a previously dynamic and fun-tastic EDH scene into such misery. There are a couple of EDH players who nearly always play decks designed to win by combo-killing the table and unfortunately their level of success is fairly high. And rather than adjusting their decks to address the issue some have taken to building their own combo-kills and powering up the decks to get there faster and more reliably. The metagame is warping in just the wrong way so I resolve to dismantle all of my EDH decks and instead build some to address the problem head-on. The first one I plan to build will use Phelddagriff as the general and stuff the deck full of "carrot and stick" cards - ways I can punish people banking on douchebag strategies and ways I can reward those who eschew that crap and instead go for haymakers and fun splashy strategies. Half regulator half care-bear. I don’t plan on "winning" with the deck much but I certainly hope to impact the game and hopefully the sorts of decks people bring to the table in the future. And to me that will be sweet sweet victory.
Early this week I get a notice that Eric is now following me on twitter. Eric plays up at Comix and he’s a hard-core Spike who took a hiatus from Magic but recently came back to the game with a vengeance culminating in a spectacular Day 2 performance at Grand Prix: DC. Eric is also interested in EDH but he tends to build his decks with the ruthless efficiencies of a Spike and most people who sit down with him immediately put him high on the threat list before the game even starts. That can sometimes lead towards getting ganged up on pretty early in games and that’s not too fun. So Eric sends me a tweet:
Eric: I'm trying to run some cards together for a less "spikey" EDH deck.
Me: Just remember Rule#1: no douchebaggery.
Eric: Where does Grave Pact fall on that scale?
Me: Depends on how you use it. Are you breaking it off so that no one can keep any creatures on the board? Or as a way to wave off removal for your men? For me fundamentally douchebaggery is preventing other players from playing the game in some manner.
Eric: Wanting a more themed deck leaning toward Anowon as my general.
Me: I would say Anowon is a bit of a douchebag general.
Jonathon Richmond the world’s biggest Thieving Magpie fan chimed in:
Me: Yes definitely. People play reset buttons Wraths etc. and that makes abyss-effects creature lock-outs which is the antithesis of fun for most EDH decks. There's a fine line between having a couple resets and stuffing your deck chock full of them. If you have more board resets and creature removal than creatures in your EDH deck you may be a douche.
At that mtgcolorpie quickly created a twitter hash tag #youmightbeanedhdbif and it quickly went viral amongst Magic twitterers who were paying attention. Here’s a sample of what people added to the conversation:
You Might Be an EDH Douchebag If…
… You keep track of your life and counters in your head basically forcing other players to do it for you.
… You insist on playing a UB Storm Combo deck in multiplayer and kill everyone on turn 4 taking a 20 min+ turn.
… You cast Time Stretch.
… You cast Time Stretch… With Eternal Witness and Crystal Shard.
… You wait until your turn to use the washroom get a drink and pause the game in some way.
… You attack the same person with a certain 15/15 legendary Eldrazi on more than two consecutive turns.
… You play Shahrazad
… You copy Shahrazad.
… You run Erayo full stop. Add Arcane Lab for added dbaggery.
… You snack on nachos and touch everyone else's cards.
… You wait to use all you shuffle tutor or Top effects until the end of turn of the person on your right.
There were also a couple profanity-laden ones that I’m not at liberty to put here but were quite funny.
Aaron Forsythe even got in on the action with:
… You think anyone that regularly beats you is #anedhdb.
Here were my contributions:
… Stroke of Genius is your kill card of choice.
… You never intend on actually casting your general.
… The recent bannings totally hosed your favorite deck.
What I thought was an exercise in hilarity turned out to really get under quite a few people’s skin as typified by Ken Krouner’s contribution:
… You think your strategies are fun and other people's are not.
Now as far as I know KK has maybe played EDH once or twice at the most but I suppose this thread must have stepped on one of his pet peeves. At any rate there were quite a few people who expressed very similar sentiments. One guy was so offended he immediately wrote up a blog post: This drives me away from EDH.
In response to the negative reaction I came this close to tweeting:
… #youmightbeanedhdbif #youmightbeanedhdbif offends you.
… but in the interest of civility I refrained.
Here’s the thing: casual multiplayer Magic games like the Elder Dragon Highlander format tries to foster involve a fundamental social contract: all the players are coming together to spend time having fun. Of course if you’ve got five people sitting around the table chances are there’s going to be at least one or two players who’s idea of what’s fun in Magic doesn’t line up with what the other players think is fun. How do you solve that sort of dilemma? You have to get down to the fundamental common ground: all of you are looking to have fun playing Magic. So fundamentally - let the other players play Magic.
Pretty simple right? And yet there are a lot of people who have deep ingrained resistance to this basic principle. Maybe they’re griefers and they get a lot of joy ruining people’s plans or locking people out of playing anything or maybe they’ve got strong Spike tendencies and their view is if you stop others from playing Magic (and thus possibly winning) then your path to winning is more assured. These sorts of players need to alter their view of what winning is. In a duel winning is pretty simple - you kill your opponent you win. Yes you technically "win" an EDH game by being the last player standing but if only one player feels like a winner and everyone else feels like a loser then on the balance the EDH game was a failure. What would be the motivation to continue investing the considerable time and energy it takes to build EDH decks and play in EDH games if at the end of games you feel like everything’s been a waste?
It’s in the best long-term interest of all your players that as many of them are having fun each and every EDH game so they keep coming back for more and the easiest and most reliable way to maximize that potential is to let people actually play their cards. It’s why we have such liberal mulligan rules in EDH - it’s no fun to mulligan into oblivion and sit there doing nothing while everyone else plays.
That’s why to me there’s a fundamental level of douchebaggery that involves playing cards and combinations that stop other players from participating in the game. When you add these types of cards to your deck you are being a douchebag. Mass land destruction is particularly egregious because most EDH decks are trying to build up to casting big splashy haymaker spells so they don’t usually hold back lands "just in case." To be clear I’m not opposed to pinpoint LD like Strip Mine or Wasteland because there are problem lands like Maze of Ith or Dark Depths that you’d be well advised to have answers to; but when your plan is to nail everyone’s mana and reduce them to drawing and discarding turn after turn you’re being a douche.
Time Stretch is a douchebag card because you’re robbing everyone else of their next two turns. Playing with a way to recur Mindslaver over and over so you can lock someone out playing is also the height of douche-iness. Iona falls in here and so does Teferi to a lesser degree.
Sheldon in his recent announcement on the bannings said:
"The watchword of the Rule’s Committee’s vision of the format is ‘interactive.’ We’d like to foster an environment where ridiculous things happen but that everyone playing has a chance to do them. Early reliable hyper-production of mana often leads to a single player playing by himself and others watching and that’s not what we want for EDH."
It doesn’t get much clearer than that does it? Some of the most memorable EDH games come about when one player throws out a huge haymaker to kill someone someone else throws a huge haymaker to kill that guy and then the remaining other dude figures out a clever way to squeak out a victory because he kept his head down.
Dave Meeson wanted to know why I considered Stroke of Genius a douchey card. This got me to thinking about my broad definition of what is douchebaggery as I expressed to Eric above on Twitter: "fundamentally douchebaggery is preventing other players from playing the game in some manner." And yet one of my #youmightbeanedhdbif tweets was "… Stroke of Genius is your kill card of choice." Stroke doesn’t lock someone out of the game or prevent them from playing cards (outside of killing you of course).
So am I being inconsistent? A hypocrite?
It occurs to me that actually there are two levels of douchebaggery; what I’ll call Fundamental Douchebaggery and Subjective Douchebaggery. Fundamental is what I described above no-no’s that I think are pretty much set in stone if you want to play EDH with most EDH fans and not be considered a douchebag.
Subjective douchebaggery are cards that some significant number of people consider to be particularly un-fun. Now I’m well aware that there are likely groups of EDHers out there for which my description of subjective douchebaggery makes no sense - perhaps all the guys at the table love fast combo kills because it means that they can shuffle up and play more games. But look - using Mana Flare to generate infinite mana with your Palinchron and killing everyone with a Brain Freeze - snooze. Storm combo has been done to death in tournament and casual play and it really does nothing to contribute to fun around the table. It’s mundane it’s expected and it’s been done a million times before.
About a year ago I relayed a story about how one player killed everyone by eventually putting together the Earthcraft + Squirrel Nest combo and killing everyone with millions of 1/1 squirrels. The following week I killed everyone with my Karrthus deck by putting a ridiculous number of hasty dragons into play that killed three people one turn and then finished off the last player the following turn. Even as I was killing people they seemed to still have fun because it was splashy fun and unusual. They contrasted it with the Squirrelcraft kill - losing to two-card infinite combos is not splashy fun and unusual. It’s mundane it’s expected and it’s been done a million times before.
Which brings me to Stroke of Genius. Stroke has the advantage of being both an engine card and a kill card that is also in the color most able to protect the engine and the win. People have been getting killed by Stroke of Genius since the card was printed 12 years ago. Now if you’re playing Stroke in your deck to refuel your hand there’s obviously no problem with that. But if you’re going down the well-worn path of using it to kill everyone at the table. Snore. Douchey.
Some of you may be thinking Bennie you’re just biased towards creatures and creature combat. And you’re right but it’s not an arbitrary bias. Creatures provide the best most consistent way to interact with players around the table; the Red Zone is where crazy things can happen in multiplayer; the Red Zone offers a way to kill players with infinite life. Every EDH deck is going to a way to interact in the Red Zone even if it’s only the deck’s general. Every EDH deck is not going to have a way to interact with a bunch of cards on the stack or with triggered or activated abilities or with a ton of artifacts or enchantments or with their Exile zone. When you move further and further away from interacting in the Red Zone you make it less and less likely that the other players will be able to interact with you and when you do that you’re reducing the overall fun.
So when choosing cards for your deck ask yourself - is this card interesting and novel would I have nearly as much fun losing to this card as I would winning with it? Is it a card that people might need to read when I cast it? Will it make the Red Zone a wild and wooly place to engage? Will it make for a great story that people other than you will recount to other players? Those are the sorts of cards that will steer you clear from Subjective Douchebaggery and if you also keep clean of Fundamental Douchebaggery you and your friends are in for endless EDH fun. I guarantee it.
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
My EDH decks: