Tagged: disruption

Don’t Play Your Hand, Play the Situation

This article will discuss a problem unique to muliplayer Magic.  To borrow a phrase from hockey, it’s like skating through the neutral zone with your head down — you gotta watch the play, not watch the puck, or you’re going to get leveled.  In Magic terms, you have to play the situation, not play your hand!

It’s not necessary in two-player Magic to do what the multiplayer crowd calls “threat assessment”.  Threat assessment is understanding who is the biggest threat at the table.  In a two player game, you only have one threat — your opponent.  100% of their resources are devoted to stopping you from winning, killing your shit, and winning the game.  Multiplayer Magic is infinitely more complex — temporary alliances can form and fall apart, the most powerful player at the table varies sometimes by the turn, and occasionally it’s better to leave people alive than it is to kill them. 

Consequently, multiplayer Magic is significantly different from two-player Magic in how one should evaluate their lines of play and pick when to play their cards.  Multiplayer Magic forces us to understand the dynamics of many players all trying to win the game at the same time.  There are many more threats on the table and potential threats in players’ hands, and you simultaneously must not lose to all players, all the time.  Meanwhile, they’re trying not to lose to you as well.  Remember: the single most important factor in winning games of Commander is not losing games of Commander.  Not losing is really hard — everybody is out to kill you!

The potential problem that arises when confronted with this much information is to stop looking for lines of play and evaluating the dynamics of the game, and instead just play out your hand as though you’re goldfishing.  This, in my opinion, is not only a bad play strategy, but it also is the single most important factor informing why people hate combo and land destruction.  Because players are not reading the table and instead are just trying to play the cards they see in their hands, when somebody comes along and stops what it is they think they’re trying to do, they get upset.  And rightfully so, given this mindset — games of Commander can take hours, and when your strategy gets disrupted by somebody suddenly winning or you having all your lands destroyed by an Armageddon, it’s a big kick in the nuts.

But, had you been paying attention, you could have seen this coming and avoided it — or, at least, mentally and Magically prepared yourself for the eventuality.  Here’s how to do that.  But first, a quick scenario on how important this is.

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Politics: When to Slow Roll, and When to Go For It

I said in Friday’s article that this would be about how much and what type of mass removal to include, but while I’ll address that somewhat, the main subject of the article is going to be about gauging the commitment level of other players at the table and how to know when to commit yourself.  By commitment I’m not talking about going steady, but committing to the board.  What this means is, you start committing to the board when you extend somewhat to secure a position.  The commitment aspect really means something like, “commitment with risk” — you have to extend somewhat to secure a position, but you also have to be wary not to extend too much such that mass removal sets you really far behind.  As such, it’s a Balancing Act, and requires some amount of skill, a lot of guesswork, and more than a little luck.

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Cardz of the Week: Sweepers!

This Friday’s CotW is a bonus feature covering ALL the sweeper removal in Magic!  Well, most of it, anyway.  It’s a pretty broad category, and some cards can only be considered a sweeper if you stretch the definition somewhat.  The definition I intend to use for this article is that a sweeper is a card that removes (destroys, exiles, bounces, etc.) all permanents of a certain type, even if there is a condition attached, and that does so by not targetting them or dealing damage.  The condition is often based on converted mana cost (e.g. Pernicious Deed).  As such, Mutilate is a sweeper, but Violent Ultimatum is not.  The definition is pretty fuzzy, as Overwhelming Forces can either be a sweeper or not by these criteria, but you get the idea.  It’s mostly a “feel” thing.

I’m going to go in categories based on what card type the sweeper removes.  The goal is to give everybody an idea of all the options they have in certain colors to get rid of all kinds of permanents at the same time, which is obviously a great thing to do.  Using one card to get rid of a whole bunch is just Good Magic.  I’m also going to leave out Planeswalker ultimates, because, well, they never happen.

Monday’s column will be a strategy article on just how many of these type of cards to include, to tie in with this one.  With that said, here we go!

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Casual vs. Competitive: What’s Going On? and, A Proposed Solution

I imagine there are not many playgroups out there that haven’t suffered some conflict based on the casual and competitive division in this format and the debate that arises therefrom.  Like it or not, this format attracts about the widest variety of Magic players you can find, both in terms of style and of play skill, to an arena where their relative styles and play skills have no bearing on who plays who.  To make matters worse, the card pool is exceptionally large and some very expensive and hard to find cards can make their way into decks; those players who have the benefit of having played for a long time and have a large collection have a massive advantage in card quality over players newer to the game.  On top of all this, there’s little way to tell ahead of time which player is which and which deck is which — people don’t come with glowing neon signs saying “15-year Magic vet with $2500 Commander deck”.  It’s a situation ripe for conflict, and will remain so unless the format is dramatically altered by changing the banned list.  (That’s a subject of another article, but I’m really fucking sick of playing with and against Primeval Titan and Cabal Coffers.  Anyway.)

While Commander is often branded as the “fun” format, or the anti-competitive format, it should be pointed out that neither play group has a legitimate claim to “ownership” of the format, and neither group has an advantage on who deals with the situation in a more positive and constructive way.  A format that allows you to play Mana Crypt and Imperial Tutor cannot honestly call itself “casual only”, but on the other hand, a format that expressly resists any formal competition cannot honestly call itself competitive.  As it stands, judging by the air space this topic receives and the sheer volume of complaints from one side about the other, both sides can take an equal share of the blame for not meeting in the middle.  The competitive crowd (like me) belittles the casual crowd either aggressively or passive aggressively (like I do), for lacking deck building skills, card selection skills, and Magic play skills.  The casual crowd passively aggressively promotes an atmosphere and tone of debate that “EDH should be fun“, and commonly points out the competitive crowd has many other formats to direct their competitive spirit toward.  To them, the casual crowd “just doesn’t get the format”.  One side tries to win, the other side claims they don’t.  Both sides insinuate or just come right out and say that the other should conform or GTFO.

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Casual vs. Competitive metagaming: Or, why aren’t you playing Stranglehold?

Hey everybody.  After taking last week off for a little vacation and to spend some time with my folks after a loss in the family, I’m back!  While on my long drive out and back, I immersed myself in the world of Magic podcasts (specifically, the Eh Team and CommanderCast, both of which are fantastic.)  I have volumes of upcoming new material for you guys, so pull up your sleeves and dig in!

This article stems largely from a conversation I had with my longest-running Magic buddy and fellow Thwomper Brad.  He was over at my place after some time at the driving range and hadn’t brought his decks, so he was shuffling up my decks against me.  He immediately reached for my Captain Sisay stax build and said something along the lines of, “I need to know what makes this thing work.”  He told me that of all my decks, he most loathed to play against that one, which I was certainly surprised to learn.  He then qualified that and said, it’s not the least fun to play against — that honor belonged to the U/B Dralnu infinite-turns monstrosity that I built here — just the scariest.  I was surprised to learn that what I thought was my best deck, Arcum Dagsson, is neither the scariest or the least fun.

I wanted to understand why he felt this way about these two decks, and the ensuing conversation ties very much into the long-running casual vs. competitive Commander debate that rages on still to this day.  It was particularly interesting to me as I consider Brad more toward the “competitive” side of the Commander coin than just about anybody else we play with, save yours truly.

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Why Sideboarding is Stupid

There are certain playgroups that make use of the optional sideboarding rule as outlined on mtgcommander.net, which reads as follows:

  • Sideboards

    Rather than filling every deck with banal responses, it is preferable to allow some flexibility in the composition of a deck.

    • Players may bring a 10 card sideboard in addition to their 99 cards and 1 Commander.
    • After Commanders are announced, players have 3 minutes to make 1-for-1 substitutions to their deck.
    • Any cards not played as part of the deck may be retrieved by “wishes”.


    Highly tuned threats piloted by skilled opponents mandate efficient answers. The minimum number of response cards required to ensure they are available in the early turns can easily overwhelm the majority of an EDH deck’s building space.

    Sideboards allow players to respond to the “best” strategies in a timely fashion . They should be strongly considered as a necessary defense against brokenness and degeneracy in an environment where no gentlemans agreement on style of play exists.

Sir, I disagree.  Here’s why.

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Disrupting “Annoying” Strategies

I think there’s a pretty widely held conception that there are certain sorts of strategies that are unfun, annoying, unfair, or against the “spirit” of Commander.  Unsurprisingly, these strategies also happen to coincide with the sorts of strategies WotC would rather not encourage in tournament play either.  Most tournament players are “Spikes”, or the competitive sorts who will do whatever it takes to win, regardless of what their opponent thinks or how much fun they have in getting there.  The fun is in winning.  So if the strategy is a good one, it will get played.

This is not the same in “casual” Magic like Commander.  Commander attracts some Spikes, but it also attracts many more players who care more about the route they’re on than whether they win or lose.  Some players, like me, are blends of both.  I want to win every game I play, but I want to do so in unique ways, and I don’t want to make the rest of the table angry.  Well, not too angry.

The casual vs. competitive debate could be the subject of many posts, but it’s really only the background of this one.  The point of this post is to spread some information about how to beat a lot of the strategies that are viable in Commander because the card pool stretches back into the mists of Magic’s past, when cards like Back to Basics, Stasis, Smokestack, and their ilk were commonplace.  These remain good cards, and you will see them from time to time.

In general, I think the sorts of things that really annoy players, especially those trending toward the more casual side of the equation, can be grouped into two main categories:

  1. Lockdown — Not being able to play their spells
  2. Combo — Suddenly losing the game to infinite combos

Beating these strategies is really not that difficult if you prepare adequately.  If you haven’t read the article The Art of Disruption, do so now, then come back.  This is a specialized  application of the strategy outlined in that article.

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The Art of Disruption

I stated in an earlier post that many Commander players don’t spend enough time thinking about how they might lose the game.  Of course, many Commander players spend an awful lot of time thinking about how their deck is going to win the game.  I would hope everyone with a Commander deck has thought about how to win at least a little bit.  But it’s vital to remember there’s an extremely important factor in winning games of Commander — not losing games of Commander.

It seems obvious, doesn’t it?  But few people do it.  They’ll throw in a few Wrath of God-style effects, an Oblivion Ring, one or two counterspells, and maybe an Oblivion Stone or All is Dust, then call it a day.  That’s enough disruption, right?

Maybe it is.  But it probably isn’t.  How much disruption to include and of what kind is a very complicated process.  It involves a lot of understanding of the metagame you usually find yourself in, an understanding of the overarching Commander metagame including an understanding of what top decks do, and an understanding of the stranglehold analysis that underpins the success of any Commander deck.  Synthesizing all this information with your particular stranglehold analysis, coupled with an understanding of how your particular deck accesses not only its strangleholds but its disruption, and an understanding of the relative speeds of competing strangleholds with your strangleholds is a start.


If that sounded like Greek, you’re probably guilty of not thinking enough about disruption.

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