Tagged: stranglehold

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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Deck Salad Surgery: We Didn’t Start the Fire

This week’s Deck Salad Surgery expands on a little idea I had while reviewing the Magic 2013 set: make a deck designed to exploit Worldfire.  The idea consisted of lots of low-cost, hasted dudes so your deck would play better than everyone else’s after a Worldfire.  All you need is a Raging Goblin and you’ll probably win.  And hey, if you don’t, you still blew up the entire world and there was a crazy finish, right?

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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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Threat Assessment

Well hi there.

You know that feeling?  You’ve been hammering on one player all game long, answering their threats, wiping their board, countering their spells.  You just know they were the frontrunner.  If things got out of hand with that player you simply had no way to get out from under their stranglehold and you were going to lose.

Then the player to his right drops a card and wins.  It didn’t look like there was anything going on there.  In fact he was down to 10 life and looked like he was dead to the world.

What just happened?

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Establishing a Stranglehold

I think a fundamental aspect of Commander deck construction comes from the selection of the Commander.  I build the majority of my decks “top-down” after selecting a commander and identifying a synthesis between the Commander’s particular strengths and the strengths of the colors to which that Commander belongs.  The only card a Commander deck has regular access to is its Commander.  Any good power gamer will look at a mechanic like that and realize that maximizing this effectiveness will be key to success in the format.  Because a deck almost always has access to its Commander, a deck that maximizes this access and builds around it will, in general, be more effective than one that does not.  (The corollary to this is that cards that deny access to people’s Commanders are probably good cards.)

If I told you you were guaranteed to have a particular card in your opening hand every time you play a certain deck, would you rather it was Sol Ring or Worn Powerstone?  The Ring is a strictly better card.  There are few conceivable good reasons to pick the Powerstone.  This same selection process applies to your Commander.  More powerful Commanders are better than less powerful Commanders because you can (and, in many cases, probably should) play them in every game.  So, the more powerful the commander is, the more powerful the deck is.  Nobody plays Barktooth Warbeard decks.  At least, if you do, you probably aren’t into this blog.

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On Life Totals and Winning

Commander is one of the most variable, deep, and interesting Magic: the Gathering formats that one can play.  The card pool is larger than any other format save Vintage.  The deck construction rules insist that almost any single deck contains more unique cards than any deck in 60-card magic.  The variability imposed by having the legendary commander imparts a unique aspect unseen anywhere else.  The uncertainty of the singleton format, both in your own deck and in the decks you face down in any other match, is unprecedented in Magic.

Despite this variability and depth, the format is breakable.  While this article is largely powergaming theory, it is not an effort to make Commander “unfun” by teaching how to create “broken” decks.  It is not meant to be a treatise on how to build unstoppable combo decks.  Rather, it is a method to evaluate card selection and, thereby, deck construction, keeping in mind the particulars of the format that make Commander both unique, challenging, and rewarding, so as to create powerful decks that can be reasonably expected to win Commander games.  By using the methods outlined here, one can create decks not reliant on “unfun” combos which are just as competitive as those that do.  This principle can also form the basis of a strategy in actually playing the cards, but that’s material for another article.

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