May 16, 2012
By: Imshan AKA Sinis
For a some players, especially those who are game theory devotees, the decision-making process for games of Magic are very broad. Many players only think of decision-making as the set of choices they make after shuffling and before the game (or match, in a tournament setting) defines a winner. Yet, it isn’t really the case. We make all sorts of decisions before we shuffle up and draw our starting hands: we made choices about what cards we play and which general we choose. This makes a lot of intuitive sense when playing competitively; when choosing a deck or card choices, the best ones will be tailored to the local metagame.
Often, players don’t recognize that the choices that they make in deck construction can have very deep consequences in games, and that deck-building decisions should be taken as seriously as any in-game decision in terms of winning the game. A player who plays too many non-basic lands might find themselves the victim of a Ruination or Blood Moon-effect. Sadly, the vulnerabilities that many of these deck-building choices create can have really negative consequences on the enjoyment of the game.
The first aspect of deck construction that can create a great vulnerability is what colours your deck is. I think this is the most oft-overlooked source of vulnerability because the typical Commander player is looking to play a general, or a set of mechanics which end up defining the player’s colour restrictions. Anyone who has read my column since last season will notice I have a penchant for mono-coloured decks; part of liking Kamigawa cards and mechanics meant that I had to accept that any Kamigawa block general I was interested in playing was going to be mono-coloured. Mono-coloured decks have vulnerabilities in a few places, which can cripple them. The simplest way of mitigating these vulnerability is to simply avoid playing single-colour decks. By doing so, you will not only partially avoid Wake and Iona, through greater access to non-basic lands and multiple colours, respectively, but be able to have access to cards and mechanics in other colours. This sort of advice I find somewhat patronizing and trite; many Commander players really want to play a particular general, and then make do with what that general has access to, rather than choose a set of cards they really want to abuse, and then get justly punished for it.
The first vulnerability will be what that colour is capable of. Anyone who has played mono-black will notice that enchantment and artifact removal will be scarce, and any player in mono-white will notice that there is comprehensive removal, but precious little card draw or ramp to speak of. Thankfully, there are at least a few artifacts that shore up these weaknesses, such as Spine of Ish Sah for removal.
The second kind of vulnerability of a mono-colour deck is going to be against a couple of specific cards. Iona, Shield of Emeria and Wake of Destruction are both going to shut out a mono-colour player. For Wake of Destruction, there are few answers. You can hope to recover through Crucible of Worlds, but by and large once someone buries you with Wake, you won’t be coming back. Alternatively, if half your basic lands could be Snow lands from Ice Age and Coldsnap, you’ll be less vulnerable. For Iona, it is pretty much up to Duplicant, Karn Liberated, Argentum Armor and Spine of Ish Sah. While Wake and Iona are generally applicable to any monocoloured deck, there are others that players might see fit to play simply because they have a special hatred for certain colours, such as the player in red who can’t help but play Boil or Omen of Fire.
At the other end of the spectrum, three and especially five colour decks run afoul of Sundering Titan, Ruination, Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon. Dodging all of these cards is nearly impossible; no land is invulnerable to both, and the effects of half of these cards are destruction, while the other half offer alteration instead. While I hold a fair bit of sympathy for the mono-colour players, I have next to none for five colour players. Often, the simple access to every card is enough to require five colour decks to be held in check by cards like Ruination. However, running a great deal of basic lands will go a long way to evading the problems of Ruination and Blood Moon-like cards. Essentially, only the mana bases that mean to cast the most colour intensive cards are going to really be harmed by these kinds of land destruction, excepting a Sundering Titan under constant recursion.
Outside of the mere colours of a deck, there are other ways of setting yourself up for disaster. While there are cards like Ruination and Wake of Destruction that define vulnerability as a function of what you ARE playing, there are just as many that do so by what you’re not playing. Unique effects like Gaddock Teeg will create problems for decks that have not specifically kept them in mind. Thankfully, there are very few cards like this, so even new players will only be blindsided by a relative few.
I initially scoffed at these kinds of problems when situated in the Commander format. The metagame analysis made a lot of sense for competitive formats, where winning is everything. I told myself that Commander ought to be different, and that someone hurling Iona onto the table and naming my monocolour was a bit unsporting. However, time spent with many Commander groups has led me to believe that cards like Iona are only unsporting if everyone thinks they’re unsporting. Where I once had six mono-colour decks, I now only have one.
All things told, the best play experience may come from avoiding mono-colour and five-colour decks, despite that advice being, perhaps, patronizing. While I intensely enjoyed my Kamigawa legend mono-colour decks, they lost. Especially to Iona. Two-colour is often the best place to go, to avoid needing a ton of non-basics while having a solid basic land count that isn’t vulnerable to cards like Sundering Titan or Wake of Destruction. I find that I have a lot more fun now when I don’t dread cards like those.
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