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


  1. I think this is the big message that many have a hard time understanding, and I did partially as well:

    Adapt or GTFO.

    I was trying to explain to someone on MTGSalvation that the other players aren't whinny babies, they are just not competitive, and enjoy playing a certain way. If you don't like playing that way, adapt or leave.

    I ended up building multiple decks, and my best advice to everyone is build a competitive deck, and build a casual deck if you can afford to run both. I think all I have now are casual decks actually, but I have to say I enjoy playing them more than Arcum.

    Great article.

  2. I would agree with your article... IF it were titled differently. Something like "Why would you bring a bazooka to a knife fight?" Or some such title. But your title, combined with the content of your article suggests that just because someone is playing a 5C Commander deck, they are playing some degenerate, wicked-fast deck that can't lose.

    What your article really focuses on is the people that bring super degenerate decks to the table when the expectation at said table is that a casual game is going to be played.

    It is completely possible to build a 5 color deck that is NOT degenerate. It is completely possible to build a Sharuum deck that is NOT degenerate.

    Every person has a different definition of what is fun and what is "degenerate" and as players we have to find a way to strike a balance. As we do we find that there is no way to ever get completely balanced out, and if it does become balanced then the game has become stagnant. Who wants to play a stagnant game? Not I. As for fighting the competitive players that insist on bringing their decks to a casual game? Be open about what your group expects. They will either change or you will, and in the end their deck will get hated out enough that they will change it or move on to another group. It is very difficult to change the opinions of people and what they find "fun" in the game of Magic.

  3. And yet, would you have even read the article if it were titled "An Open Letter to 5 Colour Deckbuilders Who Don't Bother Playing With a General?" =P

    Point being, the more specific the title gets (and the wordier), the less likely the general EDH community will think that the article has anything to do with them, therefore not bothering to read beyond the title (and I intended this as both comedy for a larger audience and a cautionary to those edging ever closer to 5-color degeneracy). Or so I suppose! That's how I treat my RSS feeder, anyway.

    I appreciate the feedback, and thank you for reading. =)

  4. I think the take-home message is that you need to understand what everyone is expecting from the game when they sit down. That's why I like to build decks of varying degrees of douchebaggery. When I sit down at the table, I ask what sort of decks other people are playing, and choose an appropriate deck for the level of play at the table.

    There's nothing wrong with building a super Spiky deck, but save it for games with the other Spiky players.

  5. This series should be called "Commanding the Truth" xD

    Seriously, a very entertaining read. I will certainly agree with the point. It's always best to think about who you are playing with and what that group expects to get out of the game. Some groups have cut-throat decks that play to win, others want to see big crazy stuff happen and hope to be still standing when the smoke clears and if not at least they had a blast playing.

    I look forward to the next article.

  6. Ok let me see....

    5 colour general: Scion. Check
    Is it just for the colours? No, I also fling nicol bolas at peoples hands. Check
    Degenerate card drawing? Sure! But I also make everyone draw lots of cards.
    Degenerate ways to cheat ludicrous amounts of tubbies into play? Nope! My deck wraths the fuck out of everything or shuts beats down.
    Stupid broken legacy/vintage highlander style combos (a.k.a.) tndrils/oath? Nope.

    So what the fuck am I doing then? Commander as I have sen so far is about bombing in with big timmy effects that would be otherwise unplayable in sanctioned normal formats.I play a win condition of door to nothingness. That is it..... The rest of the deck is engineered around recurring Door and stallng everyone else out long enough so I can do this. usually takes 20-30 turns due to ongoing mana issues.

    Of course mana issues are usually my fault due to recurring instances of jokulhaups and armageddon and winterorb and static orb.

    Is it so wrong to be playing a 5 colour board wiper/resource denial deck if the kill condition is so ridiculously funny?

  7. Sad..... Seems to me the more "normal" decks out there are playing harder nastier stuff than I am.

    I quite often find I have the table looking to me and asking if I can deal with that pesky Sheoldred again and bullshit like that. I'm not bombing out indestructable annihilators. I am not popping out Ionas or tooth and nailling infinite loops.

    I was under the impression Commander or dare I say it EHD was a format designed to enable us to play all the old nostalgic favourites that really are otherwise unplayable.

    So why is it so wrong to slow the game down. What people tell me is supposed to be a slow and fun (not full of fast combo kills) format. To slow it down for a few ridiculous effects. Frankly "Caltrops" is an awesomely hilarious card. "Island Sanctuary" is just sexy.

    All I want to do is slow down any of those whack job combo bullshit decks, make it a game where everyone is viable..... Play somecrazy otherwise completly unplayable cards that make the entire table either laugh their arses off or give me a strange look and ask me why I would play such a bad and strange card..... And then either get taken out with a bang or do something completely bananas.