Saturday, July 28, 2012

Point of view: Spike

In my very first post a couple of months ago, I wrote about how I view two aspects of those who play EDH.

In borrowing from the player psychographics that Wizards' official site wrote about, and then other writers have picked up on, I am simply doing the same.

There's ample evidence to suggest that it's very very fun to be a Spike, and we've all had those moments.  Someone tries to do something that would mess with your plan, but you have the right card at the right time with the right mana open, deal with their play, and take the game.

It seems that an awful lot of people will commend you for running a niche card like Wrap in Vigor but if you counterspell their card, then you're much more of a tool.

Be warned: You may see yourself or someone you know in my scenarios.  Please don't think I'm picking on you.  While I like to use game situations I've been part of, or seen, I'm trying to generalize it to illustrate what can happen and how we see things.

Let's start by looking at two things that appeal to someone who is focused on winning the game: Land destruction (LD) and counterspells.  Why are these so appealing?  They are universally useful.  LD allows you to choke off the spells someone else might be playing, and counterspells stop their shenanigans before they start.

Let's get something out of the way: LD is going to get you targeted, killed, and your car egged.  I realize that when some jerk goes Turn 2 Farseek, Turn 3 Skyshround Claim, Turn 4 Primeval Titan, BLARGH you want to Armageddon them and set them back to earth.

There's two problems with this approach:
1) You're punishing EVERYONE for this.  And not just punishing them, you're messing up their whole plan.  If someone throws 'Geddon turn 6, then that's all the lands that were in opening hands, plus any extra lands found via ramp spells, and lands that were drawn. Now everyone is in topdeck mode for a few draws...and the ramp player is more likely to recover fast because he's got things that go find him land!

2) Everyone is pissed at you now.  They will express their displeasure in ways that lower your life total.

LD also offers the benefit of locking out the big-mana, big-effect plays that we all love to do.  You're preventing someone from casting that big Genesis Wave or Primal Surge that they were ramping into, and for that service, saving the table from losing, you're quickly targeted and killed.  If you view Magic as a game of questions and answers (Example: Can you stop me from killing you with this huge creature?) then ramping is a question that's hard to answer without incurring the wrath of the table.

I don't want to turn this post into "Hating Mega-Land-Guy", so I'll leave it at this: Play Stranglehold if you're red.  Amazing card, turns off a lot of annoying things.

Let's talk about one of the other banes of the format, and something I ran into when testing out my Talrand, Sky Summoner deck: Counterspells.

If you have a counter ready when it's needed, then you're a hero.  You've saved the game from someone's huge spell/creature.  You've also made one enemy for the rest of the game.  As an added level of annoyance, now everyone at the table will be asking your permission when they cast something.  This is generally not fun for them, and they will seek to punish you for that.

A traditional 'control' deck seeks to maintain control of what is on the board, through judicious use of board-wiping spells, targeted removal spells, and counterspells.  This is possible in one-on-one games, where the control player can let someone play their first few creatures, lose some life, then Day of Judgment their board away, and counterspell the remaining relevant threats.  Classic strategy.

It's possible in EDH, but very unlikely, out of pure numbers.  Three other players means that while your Day gets triple value (as in it kills three times as many creatures) you also have to counter three times as many spells and that's just not going to happen. You'll get to counter a few things, but not everything, and eventually you'll run out of counterspells.  Then, you get removed from the game.

Some decks, like my Talrand build, just stuff counterspells in and don't have a specific purpose.  They are there to stop other players from doing the big-time amazing things they want to do--whatever those things may be.  And get a 2/2 Drake.

Therefore, in many Commander games, counterspells have changed purpose somewhat.  In most decks that have a counterspell suite (meaning they are blue-based) they are trying to protect one thing: their game-winning combo.  It's not necessary to counter every spell your opponents play.  If they play some creatures, who cares?  Did they just put together an awesome combination of Propaganda and Ghostly Prison?  You're just digging for the Temple Bell and Mind Over Matter.  (I love MOM's mana cost.  Might as well say UUUUUU.)

Now, instead of counterspells being something that are occasionally annoying, they are focused on a goal.  If your Acidic Slime interferes with the goal, it gets countered.  There's really only one class of card that can get on the same level with counterspells.

You guessed it! Counterspells!

This is why playing a certain number of counters is so appealing to a Spike's perspective.  Those counters serve a dual purpose: They protect the game-winning condition AND can disrupt the opponent's condition.

As I noted in with the Generals That Get You Killed:  Most of the feared generals are blue, because they likely have counters to preserve their win condition.  If Zur the Enchanter gets to attack a few times, he'll be unblockable and killing in one hit. For example: Four attacks gets him the new Tricks of the Trade, Phyresis, Daybreak Coronet, and Battle Mastery--and that's only one combination to deal ten poison in one attack. (there's likely others, for three enchantments perhaps.) The really scary part is that the Zur player only had to tap their mana for the initial Zur--the enchantments are free, leaving counterspell mana open.

My goal with this post is to let a little light into the thought process of how someone thinks when they are building a deck that is focused on winning.  That may sound like an odd sentence--doesn't everyone build a deck focused on winning?  To which I have to reply, no.  A large portion of EDH decks are built to do something a little different, whether it's build up an insane Experiment Kraj, or deal damage with Norin the Wary, or some other odd thing that we want to do.

But the 'serious' decks, the 'cutthroat' decks...this is how the game is viewed, and that is something we've all done too.  We build decks that will answer what the other players do while building into our win.  Maybe that involves casting Armageddon while you're the only one with a creature out.  Maybe you want to assemble Darksteel Forge and Nevinyrral's Disk and grind everyone out with your artifact creatures. 

This is just one way to play.  I hope you enjoy the game, no matter your outlook.


  1. Okay, coincidently I am building my first mono red deck (goblins.) and I intentionaly focused on LD, the thought hadn't occured to me that it might help me win, just that it might slow that green deck that makes you breath heavy down a little. I feel like LD against ramp decks is not spike, just a reasonable answer. P.S. Stranglehold makes me wet, do you have one for trade?

  2. LD is a spike tatic that some people use as a win condition and of course that's where I find it to be spikey. I can handle a third or fourth win con with a dead eye navigator + acidic slime is being a meanie.

    @Alizabeth - Stranglehold is my general's(Momir Vig) best hate enchantment. I can't say that enough. So yes, get one of those for the deck.

  3. competitive edh just makes no sense. I've built 4 edh decks with my kids and none of commander is mono-blue. That's the most unfun thing I can imagine.

    I think EDH is just an awesome format for playing pure Magic -- combos, huge fatties, etc. But control decks are best left to actual competitive play -- standard or modern -- where people want to win at all costs, fun be damned.

    The worst thing that could ever happen to EDH is if it somehow was turned into a competitive format.

    1. It's been states by Wizards a few times that they do not want to make EDH a competitive format. They aren't going to have official EDH tournaments. For the reasons you just said, and because if they can market to the competitive player AND the casual player, then that's a bigger group of people who buy Magic products.

      May I add, well done on having your kids play EDH!