This entry is part 8 of 9 in the series Line in the Sand

Posted by ‘BRIONNE’ aka ‘FORK OF DOOM’

Recently I played a game with my Azusa, Lost but Seeking deck and did some nasty things. That game is on YouTube, and the responses to that game have been varied. This has made me look at my playstyle from a new point of view, and realize that my views on deckbuilding and playing have changed drastically in the past year or so.

For those of you who haven’t seen the game, I was playing Azusa, which always has the potential to end badly. The deck will either run out of steam or do something stupid like repeatedly cast Eldrazi or win with Avenger of Zendikar (Kamahl, Fist of Krosa overrun optional). In this case, I did something even worse—I simply went after both opponent’s mana bases until they scooped.

What a bitch. 

About a year or so ago, I would have been the first person to say that. Like many other players, my first EDH deck was incredibly bad. I didn’t get how the format worked, so I was playing cards like White Knight and Ballynock Cohort. That’s not to say that white weenie is completely nonviable in Commander, but the rest of my deck was trying to be mono white control. It was about this time that I had my first run-in with mass land destruction. I had seen Armageddon in the binders of some older players, but assumed that it was like so many of the older cards in the game that are simply bad. 

So there I was, totally innocent. La de da, casting my bad removal (Gaze of Justice) and playing my little knights. Then suddenly, one of my friends tapped some mana and laid his newest addition on the table. Cataclysm. Once I had read the card and realized the impact it would have on the board, there was much cursing and insulting of mothers. I seem to remember throwing a fit after the game was over and refusing to play another that day.

I am not very proud of that moment. It is one that helps me understand when people react badly to stratagems and cards that they don’t like. Needless to say that game didn’t make me quit Commander. Nor was it my last encounter with a strategy that upset me so much. Fast forward a few months, and another player shows up with a new deck: Numot, the Devestator. After a few games that ended with me not being the one with the Crucible of Worlds, I learned just how good Armageddon is. 

Step One: Realize that LD is good.

Of course I still refused to play it myself. I mean, I did play a lot of Strip Mine effects even then. I had lost enough games to Gaea’s Cradle to learn my lesson. But then my playgroup shrunk, and that small subset of people were not afraid to spend money on lands. There were enough shocks and Mazes and Mirens running around that eventually someone got smart and started playing Blood Moon. It was a sad day for me when half my mana base started becoming mountains on a regular basis. So I started packing more enchantment removal, and for a few months there existed a balance between the hate and the solution to hate.

Step Two: Become okay with Moon effects.

The arms race is such that eventually this balance was tipped in favor of non-basic land hate. That is to say, we discovered Ruination. All of a sudden my enchantment removal was doing nothing to stop my lands from getting attacked. This forced me to cut down on the number of non-basics I ran. In addition, I started running ways to recover from a Ruination, like Crucible of Worlds. I started building all my decks so that they wouldn’t be as vulnerable to Moon effects and Ruination. 

Step Three: Learn how to not roll over to Ruination.

Through this process I had unintentionally learned how to not only play against LD, but how to play it properly. I put this to good use when I built my budget Kemba, Kha Regent. I realized that if I was going to build a good mono-white deck on a $50 budget, that Armageddon was to powerful to pass up. Without even meaning to, I had come full circle from hating mass land destruction to being the one playing it. It is far from my favorite strategy, but I still really enjoy it. Armageddon and its kin are good cards that require skill and timing.

Step Four: Cast Armageddon. Never look back.

So back to the game. I’m playing Azusa, facing down Thraximundar and my own Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. I’m in a position to win but most of my win conditions have been exiled. I knew both of the decks I was facing inside out, so I knew that if I stumbled too long Thraximundar would cast something like a Time Stretch or Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker and I might end up watching the game get away from me. So I went for the biggest chink in Thrax’s armor—the mana base. I looped Spine of Ish Sah and Strip Mine enough to force a scoop from both opponents. I know that many people consider it an unfun way to win, but I feel that finishing the game with whatever resources are avaliable is better than dragging it out to have the same result.

As I have stated many times before, controversial tactics such as LD are something that should be decided on a playgroup-by-playgroup basis. Winning is all well and good, but if you’re the only one having fun it might be worth it to reconsider your tactics. In this case, I was playing against two people that I knew wouldn’t have a problem with my deck. They weren’t happy, but we’re all about the give and take. I might have won with Azusa that game, but the very next game I got my face smashed in by Drana, Kalistria Bloodchief. Payback is rough.

I didn’t set out to win by blowing out mana bases at the beginning of that game. Spine of Ish Sah/Phyrexia’s Core is in the deck to take care of problem permanents. Normally I do not consider plains to be problem permanents. That being said, when something like a Spine loop, or Crucible/Strip Mine/Azusa falls in my lap, I’m not afraid to play it. I’m a big fan of the “don’t put it in your deck unless you mean to play it” school of thought. This isn’t the first time I’ve had accidental LD fall into place for me, either. The last time it happened I Hallowed Burial’d nineteen lands with a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa fueled by Roefellos, Llanowar Emissary mana. This willingness to embrace many sorts of wincons, even unpopular ones, sometimes makes things difficult for me. People don’t feel bad taking me down first, because they know that I don’t pull punches.

Targeted, unbalanced land destruction is definitely not the norm, especially for green decks. Most people think of Armageddon and similar cards. There are all sorts of LD, ranging from Ghost Quarter and Strip Mine to Ruination and Cataclysm. Every playgroup can find a comfortable spot on this continuum, or maybe eschew land destruction in all its forms. I have gone all the way from an irrational hatred of Cataclysm and one unabused Strip Mine to ruthless mana base elimination. I feel that playing with and against land destruction has made me a better player. I am better able to manage all resources in the game. I have been forced to cut unnecessary non-basic lands and high mana cards in order to have decks that can recover from a Catastrophe. But none of that changes the fact that I’m still the bitch who blew up your lands.

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