Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mid-Week Update: June 29

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
Sometimes, things just kind of come out of the blue with no warning. This isn't one of those things. The Wednesday update is here, and I'm packing heat with my man Matt's True Conviction #2! He's back with his unique brand of Commander writing, this week examining the phenomenon of the 'Generic 5 Colour' deck, and he's not pulling any punches. I'll just take the opportunity to say now his articles are probably the most profane posted here, so if you have delicate sensibilities, this might be too edgy for you. You might want to go back to using your monastery's intranet.

You are also almost out of time to enter the Season 3 Contest. Just throwing that out there.

TRUE CONVICTION 02 - An Open Letter to 5-Colour Deckbuilders
Dear “Stan,”

You often say that you’re like everyone else, although ‘I put my pants on one cloven hoof at a time’ sure makes us wonder. ‘My other mount is a Nightmare’ isn’t helping your case, either, though that’s not nearly as heinous as the fact that you think bumper stickers are a great form of self-expression.

But you would think something like that, because you’re the sort of person who builds a five color Commander deck without a general.

Excuse my tone. I promised myself that I’d be civil, but you make that difficult for me in light of all your smug indifference, your blatant disregard for both format and group expectations, and how you’d quite clearly rather be playing Highlander or perhaps Solitaire instead—if Solitaire had a component where three of your friends were strapped to medieval torture devices.

I understand that a fella’s gotta eat, but you really ought to expand your palate beyond ‘devouring the misery of my friends for sweet sweet sustenance.’ Your words.

I’ll never forget the day you joined our group, and not just because that’s when our LGS started to smell like brimstone (that shit’s more than ‘a glandular problem’). No, what truly stood out and burned its way into my memory is the confusion you created when you first sat down to play with us—for some reason smug and indifferent about the six prodding eyes waiting for you to reveal your General.

I’d had to break the silence, “Hey… what General are you playing?”

You’d smirked, “I guess if I HAD to have one, I’d go with Hoard of Notions—but just for the colors.”

I suppose you’d missed the memo that the phrase ‘just for the colors’ is to Commander players as ‘of course I use steroids’ is to baseball purists.

When I’d then asked why you’d sit down to a Commander table with no General and no intention of bringing one, you looked bewildered for a moment before declaring, “Oh, I’ve got a prison-style Gaddock Teeg deck I found online if you’d rather I played that.” You’d said it with such a straight face that I was certain this was your practiced comedy shtick, and I’d laughed.

But you weren’t joking.

You played your 5-color deck for us then, spending your first handful of turns dropping Sol Ring and playing Tier 1 tutors. The first five lands you played totaled more in cost than the entire rest of the other 3 decks at the table combined.

After you played 5 consecutive global sweepers, your inevitable non-interactive combo went off. You looked so proud of yourself, especially when you stood up on your chair, dropped your pants, and proceeded to do what I can only describe as an overexcited hula.

In hindsight, I’m not sure why we were willing to forgive that. But I’ve since learned that evil prevails when good men allow piss to spatter in their faces, as they say.

Which brings me to the next point: You piss all over the ideals of Commander and our expectations as a group every time you play with us, regardless of the deck you bring to the table. There’s a reason I sound like a broken record with all that ‘missing the point of Commander’ talk, and you’re that reason. I can’t believe I even have to say this, but apparently I do; Commander is a format designed for positive social interaction in which you build around a Legendary creature who acts as the ambassador of your deck. Let that sink in for a bit.

Now let’s imagine what kind of statement you’re making about your country when you refuse to give it an ambassador. 

Envision Commander as a hearty band of adventurers journeying to faraway countries to find other individuals who enjoy sporting competition. They gather at the battlegrounds at the center of the world, and each time the neighboring landscapes shift and transform to encompass the country that is each Commander’s deck. There’s a fog of war in the air that shrouds surprises in those landscapes, but you can make out familiar details through the haze that look like amusement parks, sports stadiums, and casinos.

But where there are normally four ambassadors meeting before the event, one spot stands conspicuously empty. However, someone—or something—has clearly risen to the challenge, as there are signs of a country through the misty veil behind where the ambassador ought to be standing.  Beyond the veil, the three ambassadors can vaguely spy an obsidian castle surrounded by a lava moat.

One ambassador, Angus Mackenzie, calls toward the mist: “Hullo?” 

In response, a cold wind blows from the black fortress, and it seems to be whispering “Fuuuuck yooooouuuu.”

Angus, hard of hearing, says “Whats’at ya say?”

A port opens up in the dark walls like a certain unmentionable orifice, and out comes a giant megaphone and the following: “I said ‘FUCK YOU!’” And then a million such orifices open in the castle walls, and five colors of lasers shoot out in every direction, immediately transforming the planet into a French discotheque.

The point of this is that there’s nothing positively social about playing Commander like an isolationist fortress comprised entirely of assholes. 

Additionally, it ought to have been immediately clear by the confused and annoyed reactions you caused with your opening statement that you weren’t going to jibe with our group’s expectations, as none of us were playing combo or lockdown or ‘for the colors.’ I sincerely regret that we weren’t able to communicate this effectively enough at the time, but the constant stream of insults that were your every move left us speechless. 

Sure, you’d asked after our first game if we’d feel better about your deck if you bought that Hoard of Notions after all, but that’s missing the point; even if you had a taxidermist’s nightmare blob of animals standing impassively in front of your fortress, your deck would still be all secrets and selfishness. It would still not be designed for social multiplayer gaming.

And that brings us to our final point, which is that you’re simply not playing Commander. What you’re playing is the primitive distant relative of Commander, a format called Highlander. This is the format for those who want to play their cards to their chests and build up their win percentages, a dead format that was slain by derivative 5-color combo decks and a banlist that couldn’t keep up. Deckbuilders like you are making this trend all too prominent, endangering the health of our casual, creative community.

But since all the other Highlander players have gorged themselves to death on human misery, I have a few other suggestions for games you can play. For starters, there are solitary card games like, y’know, Solitaire. And there are card games where winning actually kind of matters and people won’t think you’re an asshole for being so obsessed with the idea, like Poker after you’ve anted up your teensy left testicle—although that might require too much social consciousness for you. Well, there’s always Kitten Punting. First to make a bystander cry wins!

That was a joke. Please don’t punt kittens.

Trust me when I say I understand the impulse to build the most powerful decks, and it’s undoubtedly a rewarding challenge to build a deck that beats not only one but THREE opponents simultaneously, but Commander isn’t the place for that. Not group Commander, anyhow. You never ever bring a duel deck to a casual 4-way game.

A duel deck, if you’re confused, is a deck designed to win first, win the most, and win the fastest. A duel deck is a race to the finish, where the end goal is you standing atop the piss-spattered corpses of your enemies. If you’d sat down at our table and saw Sharuum, Azami, and Scion of the Ur-Dragon in the little General orgy pile at the center of the table, then your duel mentality would have been welcomed. The utter lack of General still, however, would have elicited disapproving smirks at the very least.

Those smirks are warranted because we’re playing a different game than you, a game where our Generals are the heart and soul of our decks—and no doubt that is a large part of why this format prospers; it’s as if we’re putting our souls onto the table in the pregame, expressing to everyone what we’re made of and the sort of experience you can expect from us. When someone reveals Angus Mackenzie and explains “He seemed like the best General for Bird Tribal”—that is the sort of soul you’re happy to find in commander.

But you? You have no soul. Or at least, that’s the impression we get from the flippant statements you’ve made and the show-off, cutthroat cards you bring to the table every week. And no, the spinning-rims shiny motif of your deck isn’t distracting us away from the bottom line; that your Oath of Druids is a Foil DCI Judge Promo doesn’t excuse the fact that you put together a derivative of a broken Legacy deck based around Oath of Druids.

So where does that leave us, “Stan?” Do you think there’s any chance of reconciliation between you and our group? Though I suppose if I’d thought that there was a chance, I wouldn’t be condemning you in an open letter on the internet.

I guess we can both be jerks sometimes.

Maybe that’s why I’m so loathsome of your behavior, because I’ve had all your same anti-social impulses in one life or another—but I managed to defeat them. And I never had the advantage of someone spelling it out clearly to me that I needed to change my attitude. Somewhere, buried beneath your cold and calculating exterior, I know that you have some intuition in there as well, the sense that guides conscious people to be mindful of others. Though the voice might be a faint whisper to you, the message is the same for everyone: Adapt or GTFO. 


~The Casual Inquisition

Monday, June 27, 2011

CommanderCast S3E5: Violence of the Sun

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
CommanderCast is back to running on schedule! The season's fifth podcast begins a series where we're putting mono-coloured decks in Commander under some scrutiny, with a strategy and technology segment centered on whatever colour we've chosen to discuss. Each week, we'll also have a new guest with some experience and thoughts on that colour. This week, we're doing the best installment in the series: MONO-RED.

Of course, that's not all. My man Devon, aka Obsidiandice, aka 4th Place in Great Designer Search 2 has a variety of topics to hold us down with, including a look at card design and multiplayer (EDH in particular), as well as the 2-mana installment of Curving Out. Carlos is also on deck backing me up as we continue to explore various facets of Commander on this audioscape adventure.

Also of importance: this is the last week for you to put in entries to the SEASON 3 CONTEST, and subsequently win a top-tier card alteration from Dave Lee aka Derfington of Durdling Around. But that's not all... I've got two Stoneforge Mystics sitting here, donated incredibly generously by my man and CommanderCast diehard supporter Manny for runner-up prizes. Get them alterations in! E-mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject header "Season 3 Contest Entry" for a chance to win.

Show notes and pertinent links below. Enjoy.

00:00 to 05:07: Intro: Introducing the podcast, your hosts, and a brief rundown of podcast news for the week.


05:15 to 21:11: Card Design and Commander: Devon shares his thoughts on card design as it pertains to EDH, looking at what makes a card a success in Commander, a failure, stumbling blocks in design, and an overall look at the new product.

21:23 to 34:10: Too Mean for Commander:Have you ever won a game and felt like you needed to take a shower after? During deck construction, do you ever sit there staring at a few cards, having a flashback to tables flanked by slumping, silent, salty players? Maybe your deck is a bit too mean for a social game. In this segment, we examine how to diagnose something as antisocial, how to walk the line between powerful and mean, and some personal anecdotes about the topic.


34:22 to 55:35: Mono-Red: We're taking a good, hard look at mono-red strategies. What is red good and bad at? Why bother with a mono-red deck at all? How can you shore up the weaknesses, or play to the strengths? What roles does a mono-red deck assume in the natural ecology of a healthy metagame?


55:47 to 1:12:34: Mono-Red Technology: Following up the mono-red strategy, we're putting some solid mono-red cards in the scope for your pleasure.

Andy's Picks:
Ruination, Hellkite Igniter, Steel Hellkite 
Devon's Picks:
Aftershock, Knollspine Dragon, Hoarding Dragon
Carlos' Picks:
Spinerock Knoll, Goblin Marshal, Ichor Wellspring

1:12:47 to 1:27:24: Curving Out: CMC 2: Continuing up the mana curve, we find ourselves needing some two-mana favourites. Like the one-drops, these two-mana spells need to be pretty strong to be bothered with in EDH... but we've got some solid suggestions here.

Andy's Picks:
Artificer's Intuition, Reassembling Skeleton, Back to Nature
Devon's Picks:
Spreading Seas, Knight of the White Orchard, Steely Resolve
Carlos' Picks:
Sylvan Library, Stoneforge Mystic, Hatching Plans

1:27:34 to closing: Outtro.

  • General show contact/Andy: E-mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com / Twitter @CommanderCast
  • To Contact Carlos: E-mail cag5383(at)gmail(dot)com / Twitter @cag5383
  • To Contact Devon: E-Mail obsidiandice(at)gmail(dot)com / Twitter @obsidiandice

Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Flashback: June 24

Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
The first Friday Flashback is here! ...I don't feel very different.

This Friday, we're putting up the second in Justin's article series, where he continues to delve into Commander deck construction principles for newer players. It might seem like a while since you say the first part of this series, so feel free to follow this link for a refresher. Fortunately, with the new M-W-F update scheme, you can expect to see Justin every other Friday now, making it easier to keep up with him. Next week, you can look forward to more of Matt's thoughts and humour, followed up with some of my own worthless ramblings.

So much content, even the shakiest, most scratchy Commander fiend should be left satisfied until Monday. Here comes the deluge!

Here's a video by CMDRDecks on a Geth, Lord of the Vault Deck:

Finally, Justin's second Unifying Theory article, working towards that complete deck of 99 choice cards.
    Unifying Theory 02 - Theme Funnel
    Welcome to part 2 of my deckbuilding series. Last time we talked about using a theme as the starting point for your Commander deck. But where do we go from there? Today we’ll discuss how to progress from that single starting theme to a final, honed decklist.

    Branching Out

    One of the tenets of major themes is supportability, and that’s what I’m going to focus on today. Sure, some themes have so much space and are so modular that it makes sense to build your entire deck around them.  For instance, well-supported tribes such as Elves or Goblins will have more than enough on-theme cards to fill an entire deck. However, most themes aren’t like this. Even if your theme has enough support cards to fill the deck all by itself, it won’t necessarily be the best thing to do. Mindlessly following a theme may not let your games develop the way you need them to, leaving you without some important resource or making you very vulnerable to certain types of attack. As an example, tribal decks probably won’t get very far just focusing on playing synergistic creatures and turning them sideways until your opponents die. 

    Decks built around a single theme are probably going to play very similarly each game. A classic example is a deck built around Uril the Miststalker. Such decks are almost always built around putting awesome auras on Uril and attacking with him until they win the game.  The problem with this is that when your deck plays so uniformly each game it probably won’t remain fun for very long. You or your playgroup will get tired of it. One of the defining elements of Commander is the 100-card singleton nature of the format, so having a little bit of randomness isn’t a bad thing.

    Last time I wrote about support cards for your main theme, but we’re going a little deeper into that today. For now, the simplest route to take is to look at our main theme again.  We’re looking for other themes that fit with our main theme. Synergy is the important thing.  Supporting themes will either boost what our main theme does or cover its weaknesses. Either way, it’s important that the supporting themes mesh well with the main theme and don’t create a lot of conflicts. For example, if you’re building a deck themed around a small creature tribe like Goblins and you want to be able to beat the larger creatures that your opponents will throw at you, you probably won’t want to make Wrath effects a secondary theme. You need your creatures too, so wrath effects will conflict with your main theme’s goal. Focus instead on something that works with your main theme, like creature pump.

    What would go naturally with what our main theme is doing? What weaknesses does our main theme have and how do we want to address those? The answers to these questions are not only going to help lead us to good supporting themes, but they will also help tell us what supporting themes are going to be more important than others. After all, your main theme may have more than one weakness in need of support.

    For example, I have a deck built around creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers. As a general rule, creatures like this tend to be weaker than simpler creatures because they are most effective when they enter play rather than once they get into the thick of combat.  There are some exceptions of course, but on average your creatures are going to be weaker than your opponents’.  There are plenty of ways to address this problem, from utilizing a lot of removal on your opponents’ creatures to using bounce and “flicker” effects on your own to reuse their abilities. You can even use Equipment, Auras or pump spells to let your naturally weaker creatures win in combat versus Titans and Dragons.

    Whatever theme you use, it’s important to ask these and other questions so that you can shore up the weaknesses of your deck. Additionally, asking these questions helps you determine whether your main theme is, in fact, going to be your main theme. You may find that the idea you started with is a little too narrow or it doesn’t do enough to really be the primary focus of the deck. Maybe you thought your main theme fit the five points I talked about last time, but it turns out it’s a little too small or needs too much support. Sometimes, you’ll find that the main theme you started with isn’t panning out, but one of the supporting themes seems like a lot more fun, and you use that as your main theme instead! It’s great when this happens because you can use everything you’ve already put together and start thinking about the deck from a different angle.

    One more thing to keep in mind when choosing your supporting themes is to make sure they go well with one another, not just with your main theme. After all, you probably won’t be able to control how the cards come out of your deck each game. If you draw cards that are all from your supporting themes, then you want to make sure that they complement each other as well.  

    Deckbuilding is meant to be a fluid process, and if you’re like me at all you’ll tune your decks frequently between games and play sessions. Maybe in actual play it will turn out that one of your supporting themes isn’t pulling its weight. There’s nothing wrong with taking out entire themes if they don’t pan out and replacing them with more effective cards. The key is to be thinking about how the cards in your deck are working together so you can identify what cards need to be replaced.

    One by One

    Through this whole process, you might have found that your main theme has a lot of different areas that could use support, and you have too many supporting themes to try to cram into the deck. After all, the entire point of the process is to get your starting list down to the 100 cards you’ll play with, and too many options can be as difficult to work with as too few. This is where individual supporting cards, rather than themes, come in.

    Every color has numerous options for powerful utility cards, and lists for these can be found on sites such as or These utility spells are multipurpose and will often serve as great answers for single or widespread problems. For instance, if your deck seems weak against graveyard recursion, Tormod’s Crypt or Relic of Progenitus may be all the support you need. Artifacts and enchantments getting you down?  Rather than a full destruction supporting theme, it might be enough to play a Krosan Grip or Return to Dust.

    It is important, however, to keep these utility cards in perspective. Many people will refer to these cards as “auto-includes” due to their versatility and power level. I strongly disagree with this assessment. The most appealing thing to me about Commander is being able to play with whatever I want. The very idea of “auto-includes” goes against that philosophy. If I’m just “supposed” to play with all the best utility cards, then there is often not much space left for my themes, and my deck is going to play like any other deck of the same colors. That’s not particularly interesting to me, and I like to get a little more enjoyment than that out of my Commander experience.

    How do we resist the allure of the “auto-includes”? The simplest way is to look at those cards only as ways to fill out your deck once your main and supporting themes are in place. Let’s say our “enters-the-battlefield” deck has problems with artifacts and enchantments. I can play a few on-theme cards like Acidic Slime or Kor Sanctifiers to handle those problem cards and thus have less need for the “auto-includes” that have similar effects.

    If you look hard enough, you can often find on-theme answers that will allow you to eschew the “auto-include” cards. Gatherer (or is going to be your best friend, as you’ll be able to locate every card that could possibly fit your theme. This can lead you to some Secret Tech gems that would have otherwise gone unplayed.  

    Sometimes, however, you will need to go to the more general utility cards for help, and there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, you may want to play with them once or twice anyway just to see what all of the fuss is about. Just don’t get stuck in the trap of thinking that any particular card “needs” to go in every deck.

    Even ubiquitous cards such as Sol Ring and Sensei’s Divining Top are not necessarily in any of my decks. My mono-green ramp deck, for instance, doesn’t play Sol Ring because the green ramp spells are more permanent and harder to disrupt. Sol Ring gets easily out-classed in this case. I have a few decks that can’t make great use of Top because of their having few shuffle effects and plenty of other ways to draw cards; the card selection doesn’t help as much. This is not to say that those cards and others don’t belong in any deck, of course. Just make sure you think about every card you include and have a reason for it to be there. Autopiloting your way through a deck is the quickest way to ensure your deck is less fun for you to play.

    Closing Points

    We’re going over many different aspects of deckbuilding here, and there is still a lot more to say. For now, just remember to think about what your themes do and how they interact, and make sure your cards work together to form a cohesive whole. Even “bad” cards can be good in a deck that supports them. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to explore new ideas!

    Next time I’ll be discussing the most important—and probably the most ignored—aspect of deckbuilding: the mana base.

    Thursday, June 23, 2011


    Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS
    Off the hop: this is late. There was a technical issue with a program I use to send files to Donovan, the prooflistener, and some other stuff. Then, tonight when I wanted to post it, there was a power outage. But the podcast is here, and it's a bit of a doozy, clocking in at almost two hours with some other important stuff in this post. CommanderCast's personnel have been busy. I've paired today's podcast with the mid-week update, so when you're done checking out the podcast, don't forget to read the article by Brionne!

    In today's late podcast, we've used the spare time prior to this posting to spend more time straight-up GRINDING with the new Commander product! Between release parties, pick-up games, and even online play, we're here to provide a reasonably comprehensive look at there five new beasts as they're released into the wild. On top of that, we've gotten feedback from out listeners who are contributing their thoughts on the new stuff to the podcast.

    This week the staff consists of myself, Carlos, Justin, and lastly we're joined by newcomer Brionne. In case you are not familiar with this name, it was the woman whose name I ever-so-gracefully gender-bent in the Season 2 Circle of Judgement, apologized to, and subsequently discovered the blog of. I was short on personnel to contribute to this podcast and she jumped in to help.

    For this super-focused podcast, each podcaster is tethered to a specific deck for review purposes. Assignments are as followed:
    • ANDY is reviewing Heavenly Inferno
    • CARLOS is reviewing Devour for Power
    • JUSTIN is reviewing Mirror Mastery
    • BRIONNE is reviewing Counterpunch
    The five of us pooled our experience to talk about Political Puppets.

    As a few quick reminders before you start listening to the show:
    • Enter the Season 3 Contest!
    • The Mid-Week Update's structure has changed to Wednesday, with the Friday Flashback now being posted on Fridays. This means on Wednesday you can expect to see an article occasionally accompanied by some other goodies, and on Friday we'll be posting an article, the links to our affiliates and a video from CMDRDecks. This is kind of a big leap, so I hope it works out.
    Show notes and links below. Enjoy!

    00:00 to 07:38: Intro: Introducing the podcast, your hosts, and a brief rundown of podcast news for the week.


    07:45 to 20:35: Free-For-All Roundtable: Banned List Update:We celebrate the much-called-for unban of Worldgorger Dragon and discuss potential implications.

    20:47 to 55:57: Deck Reviews: This will be a catch-all segment where we discuss the new Commander preconstructed decks, looking at them from a few angles. We're also talking about our experiences at the release events, local groups, and the impact these have had. Each deck is discussed individually. This is only a single weekend of play, mind you, so keep in mind these are early impressions.


    56:08 to 1:13:44: The Political Cards: Many of Commander's cards had a slant towards a 'political' angle, with the Vow and Join Forces cycles. Cards that affect the politics of the table, reward opponents while taking options from them, and leveraging the resources of the other players to your advantage. How do we like these? What level of effectiveness are we seeing? How do they influence strategy?


    1:13:53 to 1:29:53: Flops: Not everything can be rainbows and lollipops. We take a brief detour into Hater Country to discuss our biggest disappointments with the new decks, the worst cards from the precons, and stuff that will never see use in one of your post-precon decks.


    1:30:05 to 1:51:33: Staying Power: Conversely to the Flops, we're looking at our favourite Commanders and non-Legendary cards alike. Wat cards do we think are fun, powerful, and likely to have a big splash in the future of the format? Which archetypes benefited the most? What kind of decks benefit big time here from an arsenal of new cards?

    1:51:42 to closing: Outtro.

    • General show contact/Andy: E-mail CommanderCast(at)gmail(dot)com / Twitter @CommanderCast
    • To Contact Carlos: E-mail cag5383(at)gmail(dot)com / Twitter @cag5383
    • To Contact Justin: jagteq(at)gmail(dot)com / Too cool for Twitter
    • To Contact Brionne: E-mail / Twitter @SnappleCoffee
    Here's Brionne's premiere article, "The Gift of Deckcrafting". Expect to see Brionne's column focusing on various issues local Commander communities face on every other Wednesday.
    Line in the Sand 01 - The Gift of Deckcrafting
    If you guys are anything like me, then at least one person at your LGS (assuming you're lucky enough to have one) has asked for your help with their EDH deck. For some reason I can't quite figure out, everyone in my area considers me the go-to person for deck advice. I have had the privilege of working on everything from duals-and-all Thraximundar voltron, to Numot Land Destruction control, to Drana tribal vampires. In the beginning, I would get annoyed that people wouldn't listen to my advice. I was suggesting all these great cards, and they were just wanting to play Lava Axe. If they wanted me to help them, why were they still playing all of these bad cards?

    This caused me to stop helping people with their decks for quite some time. That is, until I became a member of the internet EDH community. As I began to read opinions on the format that differed from my own, I realized that I had to stop forcing my views and card choices on others. If someone asks you for help with their deck, you have to remember it is still their deck. The most important thing to do is keep them involved. After all, you're not the one who has to play the deck. Here are some other things that I've learned over the past few months.

    Keep their collection and budget in mind
    When asked for help, especially from newer players, you have to approach their deck systematically. The first thing to do is find out what cards they have avaliable. Some players might not even own cards from sets as recent as the Zendikar block. For them, finding something as simple as refuge lands or an Expedition Map might be a chore. On the other hand, you might be dealing with a player who has been around since Alpha. This is especially important consideration if your LGS doesn't have an extensive inventory.

    Once you've worked out what the players have available in their collection, find out what their budget (if any) is. A lot of players have not only an overall budget, but a limit on what they will spend on an individual card. If you're doing more than just giving their deck a quick glance, then you'll want to talk to them about all this. Look through their binders and maybe even their common and uncommon boxes. This process can be very time consuming, but if they honestly need help, then neither of you will regret it.

    Know their playstyle
    Many of the disagreements in the EDH community, both at large and in my meta, revolve around differences in playstyle. What one player considers a jerk deck might be someone else's favorite strategy. When I'm helping someone with their deck, or even just trying to help them pick a general, I talk to them about their favorite archetypes. What's their favorite color? Do they like a particular card? What about aggro versus control? All the Cryptic Commands and Hinders in the world aren't going to do any good if the person you're helping hates countermagic. Which leads me to the second part of this point: you have to determine what they’re willing to play. Many EDH players hate the usual suspects: LD, stax, and combo. There is also the odd player that loves these strategies.

    Your job when helping people is to find out this information, even if they don't realize it about themselves. I'll use myself as an example. In theory, I'm completely okay with combo and LD as strategies. They are legitimate ways to win the game. But, as anyone who has ever played with me will tell you, Wake of Destruction, Cataclysm, and Armageddon are probably some of my least favorite cards of all time. Talk to the player you’re helping. The more you know about someone's playstyle, the more efficient you can be.

    Accept what their deck is trying to do
    Once you've found out the basics of what you're working with, it's time to get a little more specific. What is the theme of their deck? Because, like it or not, that's what you're working on now. There are some exceptions to this, but you have to really know the person before you suggest changing the goals of their deck. If that is something you think should be done, then the best thing to do is lay out your argument logically. Don't yell at them, or call them names, or degrade them as a player and/or deckbuilder. That may seem like common sense, but it's very easy to do these things if you think they are indeed taking the wrong route with their deck.

    If a logical argument doesn't work, or if you didn't have a problem with the deck in the first place, then you just have to remember to stick to the chosen theme. When you drastically change an EDH deck in a manner that is not in line with its owner's preferences, then it becomes more your deck than theirs. You cannot allow yourself to do this, because self-expression and creativity are pillars of the format. So, get in, make the deck do what its trying to do better, and get out. The time and place for enforcing your own ideas about deckbuilding is in your own decks.

    Don't cut Giant Shark
    Every Magic player I've ever met, especially the EDH ones, has the same bad habit: pet cards. EDH has a well-earned reputation for being the format where you play the bad (or just sub-optimal) cards you love. One of my personal favorites is Tower of Calamities, which I run in my Azusa deck. Many people have tried to talk me into cutting it for better cards. I've told myself many times that Predator, Flagship would be better anyway. Yet, after all this, it stays. It is a cool card, and my foil looks great. If someone like me, who is so obsessed with running good cards, refuses to cut pet cards, then I doubt that few people would. The best thing to do is shake your head and save your breath when it comes to these cards.

    Keep personal bias out of the equation
    The last issue I'd like to touch on is an ethical one. Many people wouldn't even consciously do anything wrong. Still, you have to fully examine your motives when you're tinkering with other people's decks. It can be easy to cut cards that hose your decks, perhaps without even realizing. For example, my boyfriend plays Adun Oakenshield. He runs Wake of Destruction. I. HATE. THAT. CARD. When two of your three decks are mono color, someone resolving Wake means you lose. Often, it will be just you, if other people at the table are not running basics of the same color. So, every time I look at his deck to make room for new cards, I say, “You know, you really should cut Wake of Destruction.” That might be okay, because he knows I'm just annoyed about losing to it all the time, but it could be different with someone else.

    If another person respects your opinion, then you cannot let your own bias factor into card decisions (you can tell them if you have a problem with the card, but that's another discussion for another day). It would also be very easy to talk someone into cutting a card if you know it will make its way into their trade binder (I've had this happen with my foil Japanese Batterskull). Just be honest with yourself. If you have a problem with a card in someone's deck, open a dialogue with them about it. Don't tell them “That card is bad and you should feel bad,” because that's not the truth. You're the one who has a problem with the card, and it is, after all, their deck.

    Saying goodbye
    Helping someone at your LGS with an EDH deck is very different than helping someone on the internet. With those anonymous people, you can suggest whatever you feel like, regardless of budget or their personal opinions. You won't ever know if they took your advice, or if it was at all useful. It's different with the people you see all the time. You know if they took your advice, they know that you know they put some crappy pet cards back. (It's also different than helping new players with Standard decks. You don't have to be as considerate about pet cards, just for heaven's sake make them cut that stupid Lava Axe.) Next time someone walks up with a towering monstrosity of crappy cards, keep yourself from wasting the time of all parties involved. If those people that approach you are willing to be helped, then these suggestions could serve you well.

    Once you're done helping with someone's deck, you might feel a sense of accomplishment. You might even be proud, depending on how involved you were. It is now time to let go. However, there is one thing I like to do to stay involved with people's decks. Whenever I see a nice foil in a trade binder that would look good in someone's deck, I tip off the potential owner. If I see see cheap foil commons somewhere, often times I'll pick it up and give it to them. I'm out fifty cents, and the deck that I've put work into looks nicer. That is how I leave my own personal touch on other people's decks. I've had a hand in the deck, and I remember it when they counter my Tooth and Nail with that stupid Overrule.

    Jerk. I'm taking it back.

    That's what you get for helping people with their decks. Maybe thanks, but mostly you get better opponents and more enjoyable games. That's reward enough for me.

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Mid-Week Update: June 16

    Posted by ANDY aka GHoooSTS

    In Commander news, this week we received a long-overdue update to the Rules Committee banned list that has finally validated a long crusade by a large segment of the Commander community. I applaud the Rules Committee for making this bold decision, and congratulations to all the people who got exactly what they had been hoping for! For more on the change to the ban list change, follow this link...

    Also, don't forget to enter the Season 3 Contest with your most disgusting-sick Sharpie alters! Vote for the Deckbuilding Challenge in the upper-left corner (it's really close right now)! These things are awesome and you can do them!

    A busy week for my mans, for sure. But I was getting busy in the lab as well compiling another sketchy "article" for y'all to peruse and mock. In my filler series, "The Social Contractor", I'll mostly be wasting your time but hopefully on occasion dropping some jewels by accident. Don't worry, the real articles with good content will return soon and better than ever. Justin's untitled series, True Conviction, and a new series, Line in the Sand, all loom on the horizon! Stay sharp!

    Anyway, sink your teeth into this garbage-juice sandwich...

    The Social Contractor - The Worst Thing About Commander
    By ANDY aka GHoooSTS

    The term “douchebag” is the worst thing about Commander.

    Commander is a format inherently loaded with problems: an ambiguous objective (try to win, but not too hard), sloppy banlist and reliance on players self-policing. But, most of the time, these problems are actually kind of fun to work toward resolving. Unless you're among the beardiest of neckbeards, you're probably not going to fly into an asthma-inducing fit of rage when your friend suggests nobody plays with Time Stretch or Exsanguinate. And, whether you admit it, you also probably enjoy sitting around bitching and busting balls after the game when your friend does something really powerful and wins. Why? Well, other than the fact that you play Magic and most Magic players love to complain, you're also actually getting to interact with people in friendly territory. Interacting with peers is fun, and can even devolve into the treacherous realm of friendship.

    Many of Commander's problems actually give us a chance to develop friendships through something as stupid as overpriced cardboard. Playing the game is one thing; you're interacting with people, but there's a sort of screen or pretense keeping you from connecting too much. When the game is over, you get a new filter to talk to people through—"that game was awesome/shit"—but it's substantially more porous than the rules of Magic, and interactions permitted by text on cards. In the post-MtG phase of the game, we move into the more social phase of the hobby. We review what we like/don't like, we hug it out (bitch), and then we sit around and trade for a few hours to accumulate pieces for decks we never finish. It's life.

    The awesome thing about Commander is that it's a social format. Yes, it's allegedly designed to promote this in-game, but the meat and bones of the discussion is always post-game. Things such as the oft-debated house rules, expanded ban lists, inconsistent application of the 'official' rules and what is acceptable under the ever-so-nebulous 'social contract' are what show Commander to be a deeply broken format in the purest, technical sense. Yet, as a game designed to promote social interaction, it’s a resounding success. Why? Because, without the duct tape of good will and understanding holding things together, Commander games are often a shit-stained mess.

    As somebody who has played a lot of Legacy I can say--on the whole--I’ve had relatively good experiences with Magic as far as the social element goes, but the most you ever really said was some 'good game' stuff when one guy was dead; maybe commented on a cool rogue deck or card choices. The game didn't really push you to talk much, because you knew the metagame, you knew the rules, and that was that. You could even play a game without saying words to each other, something I've experienced playing against people who didn't speak English. The games were a bit different, but perfectly playable.

    Without the ability to communicate with other players in a meta-game context, let me show you what Commander becomes:

    For the slow, three of four players have conceded, two for no good reason... big ups to Neale aka wrongwaygoback

    Commander's broken nature requires that players interact with one another meaningfully to maintain an enjoyable game environment. This is its strongest feature, as long as everyone is willing to be at least a young adult about it. But, unfortunately, the format still has a vestigial limb left over from it's earlier, unshaven, still-living-with-mom-in-her-basement-oh-snap-a-girl-what-do-I-do days.

    It's the term "douchebag".

    Don't read too far into it. I call my mans douchebags, douchenozzles, douchedicks, etc. all the time. It's how we roll. The term became trouble when it became an EDH-playerbase meme, representing, roughly:

    "Fuck y'all for nebulous reasons I don't feel I should have to explain."

    It's the EDH equivalent of "this conversation is over." Calling somebody an "EDH douchebag" has become an oddly powerful statement, loaded with implications. Anybody deeply into the format knows what is being said and what the argument is without knowing the exact circumstances; and generally the accuser was instantly dubbed a "scrub" or "got it" while the accused was a "funwrecker" or "didn't get it". Battle lines are drawn, and breakdown into nerd slapfight territory is common. All this from a single term (and its lame-ass variants).

    As is, calling people "douchebags" or "EDHDBags" (made even worse with twitter tags, much like virtually anything else) is cancerous for the growing Commander community. It runs against everything that anybody interested in the growth of the format, exploration of its possibilities and socially-oriented gameplay should want. It's a fugly manifestation of the negative side of the community and format as a whole. It says "I don't want to be social and sort out the issue here, plus you're a dick." Why would anybody interested in playing a social format want to use or promote blatantly antisocial conventions like this? It boggles my mind.

    It's harmful because it does the exact opposite of what social formats should do: it closes doors. It excludes people in an unpleasant way, instead of trying to meet them in the middle. And this is just what it does to people who are already familiar with the Commander community. Do you know what it looks like to non-EDHers?

    "I'd like to play Commander, but I don't want to have to navigate what everyone finds fun or not."

    "Commander players are scrubs who play a broken format and get mad at good players."

    "It seems like a lot of Commander players are kind of dicks."

    It's a niggling trend that makes us look bad to others, and feel bad towards other Commander players. It's harmful internally, as the Casual Inquisition and closed-minded players use it as a shield against people with different viewpoints. It's harmful externally as it gives outsiders who aren't playing Commander a really weird idea of what a 'social format' looks like. So why can't we all agree to drop it?

    Granted, the terms 'douchebag' and 'douchebaggery' accusations alike are actually important parts of Commander, as social regulation is all that holds the game together. But 'douchebag' is institutionalized rudeness at this point, and often used as an excuse to be mean-spirited and exclusionary. It stonewalls positive, insightful discussion in favour of an off-the-cuff insult. It's like replacing "no thanks" with "eat shit."

    So for the good of everyone--your local playgroup, trolls on the internet, strangers you meet at an MtG event--remove the term “douchebag” from your Commander vocabulary. Replace it with some more open-ended, friendlier statements. Consider the following:

    "Maybe we're looking for different things in this game."

    "I don’t think our decks are a good fit."

    "It’s not you, it’s me."

    Nah, but seriously, y’all know what I mean.

    Instead of looking like a bunch of whining, infighting haters, why not genuinely be social? Just throwing it out there for you douchebags to consider.