Command of Etiquette—In Which Faith Crumbles

The Twenty Sided Store had its first meeting of the Commander League, and my god was it an event to behold. Thirty-six people crowded into the store, many of whom I have never seen play EDH, and some of whom I had just never seen. Going into the night I was concerned about the state of the meta; a wide-open EDH meta can be a hard thing to gauge, and I didn’t want to be the jerk. I shouldn’t have worried on that front, as plenty of other people stepped up to assume that role.

Here are the decks I brought, with a brief mission statement for each one:

Azami, Lady of ScrollsAzami is my suitcase nuke. She’s weirdly reliable, hard to disrupt, and she can generally hold the ground until she bothers to find a combo finish (usually of the High Tide variety). But my friends don’t enjoy playing against her, so usually she stays in the box. I only brought her for fear of a degenerate meta, but still didn’t pull her out when I ran into one. Lessons for the future, I suppose.

Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder—Mono-black ramp tends to be fun, even if you’re ultimating into some shady shenanigans. It’s one of my favorite decks, and I played it in a pickup game while we were waiting to begin. I won that game by comboing off a Sepulchral Primordial with Pandemonium in play; I got a loop by taking the blue player’s dead clones and popping them with the Grixis player’s creature-based removal, facilitating a reanimation loop that finished them off with the Pandemonium damage.

Adun OakenshieldWarp World! Between the first and second rounds I pulled out this deck to remind myself that a deck can be fun and win. It’s a brutal deck that ramps with effects like Heartbeat of Spring and Mana Flare, before Warp Worlding away a large number of tokens with the hope of hitting something like Akroma’s Memorial to allow for a gigantic swing. I beat a Zur deck and a Kaalia deck, one of which Forced my initial casting of my key spell and Damned the board, before I dropped an Anarchist and cast it again.

Edric, Spymaster of Trest—This was the deck I played in pod one. I was credited with a single point in the end, for having died with the fewest artifacts in play (one). Usually Edric is the perfect EDH deck; he draws fairly little aggro, he draws a lot of cards, and he lets me play fun come-into-play effects on my green and blue creatures. Here he was outclassed by Zach’s (of Drawing Live fame) Momir Vig deck that cast a turn three Jace, the Mind Sculptor followed by a turn four entwined Tooth and Nail. He later finished us with that Tooth and Nail, searching up Craterhoof Behemoth and Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. It was unpleasant, and it completely outclassed anything I was doing with Edric.

Zedruu, the Greathearted—In the second pod, I had the choice between pulling out Azami and pulling out Zedruu. I clearly chose wrong. I keep wanting Zedruu to do well, she’s a tribal fliers deck that runs a lot of cards like Skymark Roc and Firemane Avenger along with Lightning Angel and several Archons. It’s a fun deck, combat oriented, that doesn’t have any degenerate combos associated with it. It’s just a deck that draws well, gains life and plays fliers. I gained zero points that round, despite being the last one to die and gaining at least 40 life that game.

So that’s how the night went, and it highlighted a couple of things that I was worried about going into the whole thing. The points system was a little arbitrary and could stand to be adjusted, but it wasn’t the big problem. The problem, as is typical with a new EDH playgroup, is that other people are absolutely terrible. Here are some of the busted things that happened.

1) Zach’s whole Momir Vig deck. I love Zach and generally enjoy playing with him. Just, maybe not in EDH. I have mentioned in the past that I think it’s a little much to be playing Jace, the Mind Sculptor in EDH. But Zach also played the “I am going to be truthful to the letter of what I said” card early on when one of our opponents asked him if he would block Mindslicer if he swung in at him (if so, he was going to swing at the fourth player for the draw off Edric), and Zach convinced him he could swing in at him without fear of a block. The Jarad player swung in at Jace, though, so Zach double-blocked the Mindslicer leaving us all without hands, but him with a Jace left in play. All’s fair in love and war, I suppose, but I can tell you this: I wouldn’t have done it in his shoes. Even his kill was absurd, since he responded to one of the other players trying to put him on a clock by casting an entwined Tooth and Nail for Craterhoof Behemoth and Kahmal, Fist of Krosa, and just in case, he animated a few lands to make the Craterhoof overrun that much more lethal.

2) The girl with the Grave Pact/Debtor’s Knell lock. I used to play Grave Pact in all the EDH decks that could support it, before I realized that it was basically the least pleasant way to control a board possible in the game. It still pops up from time to time in decks that really want for an effect like that, but it’s no longer in Endrek Sahr, for example. So playing that alone was fairly brutal. Following it up with Debtor’s Knell, and then continually recurring a Fleshbag Maurader, is exactly the type of lock that makes the experience unpleasant for the rest of the table without actually winning the game. Losing two creatures a turn, with no way to disrupt the combo, is no fun! She died soon after, and was somewhat confused as to why the rest of the table was ganging up on her. Well, she was facing down two black decks and a tribal deck! What other way did we have to disrupt her combo if not through killing her?

3) Bloodchief Ascension and Sorin the Tenner. Unfortunately, the Debtor’s Knell lock was succeeded by a racked Bloodchief Ascension, supported by Anowon’s own Abyss effect. Bloodchief Ascension is just an unpleasant card to play against in EDH, since it usually turns on after a single time around the table, and cards hit the graveyard all the time in EDH. Still, we held out valiantly. The Ascension gained Anowon’s controller 36 life, 30 of it from me. Just when it was looking like I had a chance to turn things around, she dropped Sorin 1.0, and used it to knock my life total down to ten from 30. Which, as I have stated elsewhere, is something I believe to be one of the more antisocial things you can do in EDH. Two turns later, after I took a hit from a Nirkana Revenant and then gained some more life, she took me and my final ally out with a Profane Command that killed him and prevented me from blocking lethal.

Degenerate.

Look, it’s not like I can’t compete on that level; I have a wide variety of decks and some of them are legitimately vicious. But I must play EDH for a different reason than most people. I play for experiences, for fun stories about games well played and great board states established through less powerful cards. The idea of Commander as some sort of Super-Legacy format is unappealing to me, but if last night was any indication in this way I am in the minority. Every pod contained at least one truly degenerate deck, and often more than one. In one deck I don’t recall seeing a single common; sure, Skullclamp and Mother of Runes were printed at uncommon, but that was about it. And the money! All-foil manabases mixed freely with hundred-dollar cards. It would have been something to behold, had it not been three hours of hard fought survival ending in a mediocre result.

Dana and I were talking about the phenomenon on the ride home, and I think she put it best. We’ve reached an almost post-modern deconstruction of the format at this point. We tried playing the bonkers combo decks and good-stuff sinks, but that’s so monotonous! Now I build decks that try to compete by using off-the-radar rares and draft bombs, while she’s gone reactive and built a jujitsu deck and a pillow fort. The name of the game becomes synergy over raw power, and unfortunately there are a lot of different ways in which even the most synergistic deck can get run over by powerful cards, many of which should be banned.

So I still haven’t decided if I am going to keep doing this. My grand total of one point certainly doesn’t give me any reason to buy in for victory’s sake, and I apparently hate other people and how they play EDH. But if I do go back, I expect to be loaded for bear. Maybe we’re still not at Azami levels of fury, but I think I could probably pull out Ulamog, Glissa and Thalia without seeming too much outside the curve.

On a side note, have you seen Melek, Izzet Paragon yet? Sure, he looks somewhat unassuming, but he fills a niche I’ve been looking to see filled. There’s not a great general for a deck that privileges spells over creatures, particularly not in the Izzet colors. Melek fills that niche admirably, and I look forward to trying him out with Galvanoth and Wild Evocation.

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28 Responses to “Command of Etiquette—In Which Faith Crumbles”
  1. Hey Jess. Sucks you had such a rough night. 2 things. 1, my tables were 180degrees opposite from you, being very friendly and unbrutal. So you had bad luck. 2. It’s worth talking to luis. The modified list is cobbled together from Armada games, and it’s a work in progress with a goal. Your experience suggests that goal was far from met, meaning perhaps there’s a point-modification solution available.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Hah, I figured some people had to have had better experiences. But yeah, the point system has to evolve over time, which I am sure it will. I just know Zach closed out the first game with at least 10 points, while two of us had one and the other had two (I think). I suspect he’ll see the imbalance and churn it up again, probably cutting some of the more broken and less seen achievements in favor of adding more from the list. I should go through and see what my perfect set of achievements from that list would be; a topic for next week, perhaps!

  2. Justin says:

    Seems like a result of poor threat assessment/not running enough answers (not necessarily your fault). Depending on what the other people were doing and what their playstyles are like, I probably would’ve just gunned for Zach at the start based on what Momir Vig is capable of (Pickles lock, other combos), and I certainly would have after turn 3 big Jace and/or blocking Mindslicer (although at that point it was probably too late). When in doubt, always kill the blue mage first.

    Also, who plays Mindslicer without a way to break the drawback or an actual recovery plan?

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Yeah, part of the problem in game one was that Zach’s board state almost immediately exceeded mine, so I was left digging for answers by plinking my other two opponents, and none of us managed to get there. We saw he was the threat, but after the Mindslicer thing there wasn’t really anything to do about it. Had he not killed the Mindslicer I would have played out a Soulsworn Spirit the next turn and been able to knock his shields down and get Jace off the table. I couldn’t cast him on turn four because I knew there was a fair shot I was going to have to lose my hand, so instead I played out a clone to copy his Oracle of Mul Daya, which tends to be pretty sick in Edric, and kept me answering some of his things… if slowly.

      Yeah, the annoying thing was I Legended out a couple of his creatures, or tucked them with Proteus Staff, but despite being the only one having any sort of effect on his board I didn’t get the First Blood achievement (amusingly, it was given to the Jarad player in the attack that killed him, when he Ghost Quartered an animated land).

      The threat assessment of game two was a bit more rough. One of the players (Anowon) was just getting back into magic, and the other player thinking in terms of threat assessment was the Lazav player who got totally hosed on mana for the first ten turns. So we recognized who needed to have a target on their back, but it didn’t do much to stop the beats. But Zedruu is light on answers in the first place; she has an enchantment subtheme that keeps me from running any enchantment mass-removal spells other than Austere Command, and prison effects don’t do all that much against the type of lock she managed to get going. But I think I just need to give in and admit that as much as I want Zedruu to work, tribal fliers is not a viable archetype in those three colors (if at all).

      • Justin says:

        I ran Zedruu once (took it apart after 1 game because it was kind of durdly and the game lasted forever and that’s not my style), but it was enchantment-themed with a lot of the bad donation targets (Steel Golem, Taniwha, Illusions of Grandeur, Celestial Dawn, Thought Lash before the errata, etc.), which was kind of funny because those cards are absolutely awful in any other context. If you’re looking for spot removal might I recommend stuff like Oblivion Ring, Journey into Nowhere, Pacifism, etc. that doesn’t care about who the controller is once it’s on the battlefield? Also, Wild Research was pretty boss for me, and I even ran Library of Leng to get around the random discard. Also I recommend Storm Herd and Sacred Mesa if you’re going tribal fliers solely for the Pegasus awesome factor.

      • Jess Stirba says:

        Yeah, it’s really only Zedruu for the colors; I had a hardcore Zedruu deck with global enchantments (but fewer outright hosers or locks) but it was too close to a hugs deck and it won via Splinter Twin, so I ended up taking that one apart. Numot would make the most sense purely from a functional standpoint as a general, but Numot is the Devastator, and thus is almost universally unsuited for general duty. Who is going to ignore the person whose general bombs lands?

        But yes, you’re right I should totally be running those cards. I just had kept them out in favor of more fliers, and while the deck draws creatures really well now, it can’t just rely on other people to handle threatening permanents.

  3. danaflops says:

    At my first table, one of my opponents played a spiteful visions deck including turn 1 sol ring, howling mine followed by turn 2 Iron Maiden, followed by font of mythos and underworld dreams. I had to austere command artifacts and enchantments(in my enchantress deck!) in the ‘for fun’ game just to not immediately die, and blatant thievery away underworld dreams in order to slow the shenanigans in the ‘for real’ game, though I still got destroyed shortly thereafter.

    At table two, I had to spell crumple a JTMS and Volition-Reins-then-sacrifice a planar portal in order to prevent one player from going infinite. I actually said “Jeez, that card, what’s the matter with you?” after I stole it from him. That table was the more social of the two, and we ended up going to time with a four-way draw and some interestingly balanced board states.

    But yeah, people are going to have to figure out that going crazy and stomping faces/comboing out is not necessarily the way to have fun or be well liked in this format, or I will find other play groups to hang with.
    I think folks will also need to figure out some personal restraint. Griefing an entire table just because you can and it’ll give you a quick win is almost certainly the wrong play, because EDH isn’t just about winning and there are three to four other people whose experiences you should be considering very carefully before you take any actions. I am looking forward to next week, if only to see if the meta starts to adjust itself more towards fun and interesting play than winning.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I don’t know that I have the same visceral dislike for Planar Portal that you do, but then again I run it in Ulamog where it’s basically the only available tutor effect. But yeah, Hunter makes an interesting point below, and I kinda like the idea of putting different pod levels together if things continue to get out of hand, or maybe points matching people so that they’re playing against people with similar track records and presumably power.

      • This is backwards. Points should not reflect power level of decks, but rather ability to navigate the league point system effectively. yes if you “win” and get 6 points in two pods, you’ll have earned the most points in your respective games, but it should be easy to get more than six points in a game once the list grows, people figure it out, and learn how to play casually competitive EDH.

        but I like that everyone’s trying to find a judgement free way to put like-minded players together so everyone has fun. It just seems like if the incentive structure pushes people to play stronger decks, some portion of the problem is that incentive structure.

      • Jess Stirba says:

        Okay, how about opponents eliminated then? An algorithm can use the points to sort without having to use the complete set, and that actually makes more sense with a fluctuating pool of achievements for each individual session.

        But I don’t know that I agree with the idea that the points should reflect ones’s skill at getting points. I mean, I see the logic in that position, but it doesn’t seem like it’s any fun. I would hope that the rules (and the points) are in place to improve the play experience, not to simply add another level of metagaming to the way one builds and plays.

      • fair enough. farming points would make for stupid games and that win-based algorithm actually sounds like it could work.

    • Hey Dana, that was me at the first table with the Olivia griefer card draw theme. I will readily admit that that was not the best deck choice to start out for the league. That deck is by far the most nefarious of anything I run. My reasoning for such a deck choice? I was worried about the very degenerate things that happen during EDH games and based upon the league rules that were posted and stories of other EDH leagues that I’ve heard this was the best deck to hit on many of the point thresholds and to defend against shenanigans. I have never played in a league of that nature so I came ready with what I thought would best hold up against a cutthroat field. I am sorry the game went that way; it wasn’t a particularly social or experiential game that I would normally as you said and for that I’d like to apologize. I’m going to run some much different decks based on how everything turned out. So hopefully when we’re in the same pod next time it will be a better experience for all.

      Second game was out of sheer laziness as I did not feel like grabbing a different deck out of my bag. That start was horribly degenerate, and I became what I feared most. When we play in a pod next time, I will make sure to add to the game rather than subtract from it.

  4. Justin says:

    Assuming they weren’t following it up with Stax lock pieces, that Spiteful Visions deck sounds awesome (much better than having to discard stuff to Mindslicer or black Myojin). Unfortunately, turn 1 Sol Ring leads to those sort of starts sometimes though.

    I’ll agree that Planar Portal (fine on it’s own, especially in colors that don’t have alot of tutoring) with Beacon of Tomorrows is dickish though.

  5. Maha says:

    I wanted to play on Monday, I had a deck idea that involved Borborygmos v2 and a bunch of land (close to 99), but I knew I would be outclassed as soon as I read the google group email thread. So I stayed away

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I think there’s a good chance that things shake out to be more reasonable in the future, especially if Luis can figure out some sort of power-matching when he sets up the pods. I mean, people were psyched, 36 people for an event like that seemed like a fair number of enthusiastic folks.

      Speaking of landy decks, are you familiar with the Ashling the Pilgrim deck? Ashling: http://gatherer.wizards.com/pages/card/Details.aspx?multiverseid=141822 It’s basically her and 99 mountains… the deck is silly, but I hear it can be some fun. Still, with Borborygmos you can run a broader suite of utility lands and whatnot (plus loam and other fun cards like that), so it seems definitely like a solid concept!

  6. I think what’s interesting here, as illustrated by Dana’s comment that “EDH isn’t just about winning,” is the clashing understandings of what EDH is about. I imagine for some people that is EDH is precisely about winning—albeit winning in weird, Johnny-tastic ways. Whereas obviously for you guys (meaning Dana and Jess), it’s more about having fun and doing fun things.

    I wonder if it wouldn’t help to let people sign for one of three types of pods: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike. I would probably belong in the Timmy group; maybe you guys would be in the Johnny group. Of course you could oscillate back and forth, depending on how you wanted to play that week.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      Yeah, I think it would be positive to have some sort of power matching in play. Maybe estimated deck value tiers? That way if you want to play Jace and fetches and ridiculously broken old cards you get pushed towards one level of play, and if you’ve got a deck with more commons and uncommons you can play in a more relaxed setting that allows for not having 9 mana on turn four. That might be hard to measure, though, and then it raises the question of foils and whatnot. I would think maybe a pointmatching system could be effective, kinda like was used in the store Championship series (there it was a drawback because so much was on the line and it was hard to claw your way back up, but in something casual like this it could be more effective). But there are clearly negatives to that idea as well.

      The one thing I wouldn’t want would be self-selected pods; part of what I liked about the league concept was the mingling. There was definitely time for chatting over the games, and I got to talk to people that I probably wouldn’t have normally.

  7. snottnormal says:

    It sucks that other pods weren’t as cheerful as mine. I wasn’t really sure of the general power level folks would be running, but I didn’t bump into anything outside of the vague “strong, but fair” umbrella. No one was locked out of playing, and I think everyone had fun (as much as I’m able to speak for the folks in my pods). There were some hefty haymakers, but there *have* to be or else games never end.

    That said, I’m guilty of also playing Vig alongside a couple of stupidly powerful cards. I totally run a bunch of commons, though! I’m used to trying to “play fair” in the face of Kiki-Jiki/Jhoira/etc., and will probably tone things down some now that I have a better idea of what people are playing. With such a massive card set, I think things are bound to be all over the place for the first few weeks.

    Hunter – My only worry about “picking your pod type” just because categories can be fairly grey. Ulamog looks pretty Timmy on paper, and the line between Johnny and Spike can sometimes be as simple as how many cards it takes you to knock over the table.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I have to totally agree on the haymaker thing; there’s nothing bad about winning, and even winning through combo. It’s just locking your opponents out of the game kinda sucks, and there are plenty of haymakers that end up being kinda masturbatory once they get going. But I like strong but fair, and I don’t mind losing in situations like that. And half the fun of EDH is to play with powerful cards. It’s just… your Vig deck sounds like it’s more in line with the right type of balance on that front. And that’s how my Edric deck plays out, when it’s given a shot.

      And I agree that the specifics of the archetype-based-pod idea is a little flawed, but I think it really would benefit from some form of leveling. Since the league is going to have continuity in seasons, it seems to me like there should be some way to incorporate points (or at least wins) into a sorting matrix, but I think something on that front should happen.

  8. David McCoy says:

    I built a Kaalia control deck when I first got back into Magic and thought I’d like Commander. It was pretty heavy on the mean/controlling enchantments, though, and doesn’t seem suited for the social/don’t grief aspect of Commander.

    • Jess Stirba says:

      I mean, Hunter’s right when he says different people play for different reasons. It seems like there are plenty of people who would love to play with and against a deck like yours. But the real question is whether or not you’re one of those people. There is another way to play!

  9. Nice write-up! I wasn’t able to make it out, but I certainly hope to get there some night. Personally. I won’t care about the points since I won’t be there all eight week — I’ll be there to meet folks and have fun with decks that are a blend of sorta-power and fun/interaction (example: a tuned Jor-Kadeen.)

    I think for folks who are starting out the format, they’ll begin with goodstuff decks and eventually migrate to less netdeck-y/obvious builds. After all, it’s not fun to have your friends rolling their eyes at your turn six win week after week…

  10. zer0faults says:

    This is why I think so many people go to the Atrium to play, its not super competitive, people are there to have fun, not win anything. Every league the city has had started off as “just a casual thing” but it never stays that way. One guy takes a table, some disgruntled person goes home “tweaks” his deck and the escalation goes, eventually most people are playing the most degenerate thing possible.

    I am kind of surprised its already headed that route honestly, I figured it would be a couple of weeks before things got bad. The Atrium is largely self regulating which is great for me, people will just not play the second game with the game ruining everyone’s night, next time around, they usually bring something else.

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