October 23, 2012
Posted by “Dan” aka “ChaosorbFTW”
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. I’ve heard that more times than I care to remember. It’s a phrase used to remind people that you need to look past the first impression and really find out what is going on within before making a decision. Threat assessment in EDH is no different, as an understanding of game state and possible deck contents of everyone at the table plays a crucial role in determining what is a threat at any given time.
No matter what level of skill you have at reading a game state and evaluating your level of danger, there are certain cards that can hit the table and always put a bulls eye on themselves. Clearly this isn’t new information, as every group knows what the typical problem cards are in their environment. However, there are some cards that are so universally feared and reviled they immediately turn the attention of the entire playgroup towards them, and very often label their caster as “that guy” at the table.
That guy who plays the card everyone hates.
Often, the inclusion of these problem cards isn’t done with malicious intent. When building a deck, these are cards that subtly call out for their inclusion. Their power level is often very tempting, and they are very easy to build around. Often the last thing a person thinks before including one of these cards is“well, if everything goes wrong I can just go and get…”. Therein lies the issue. That card starts out as a crutch, a staple that was added to a list just to make sure you have a safety net. Then, after testing a few times things slowly begin to change. Instead of being cards that can save you randomly, they are cards that a player actively seeks out to gain an advantage time and again.
Many of the cards I’m talking about fall into either a slippery slope category, or a no fair use category. Either a card is added into a decklist to be a minor component and suddenly becomes the one piece you tutor for game after game, or the card is just blatantly abusive in all scenarios. Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, Cabal Coffers, Jace, The Mind Sculptor, and Earthcraft all fall into these categories. While each of these can cause a problem during games, my top offenders are listed below.
Survival of the Fittest:
It is theoretically possible to use this card in a fair, balanced manner. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do it. Clearly using repeatable tutor is an unfair advantage in the first place. Add in the fact that most of the decks that are packing the 2 casting cost enchantment are also looking to either abuse the graveyard or ramp packages means that it’s controller has an uninterrupted stream of creatures with which to wear down the table. Adding insult to injury, those creatures are generally just as much fun as the enchantment that found them.
Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur:
This card is literally just no fun. That statement is coming from a player who loves casting Moat and Jace, The Mind Sculptor. This card is in the same boat as Sundering Titan and Iona, Shield of Emeria in stopping other people from actually playing the game. There are power cards, and there are cards that just stop the game from being fun in any way. After a fairly recent game where the entire playgroup spent all of their resources countering, reanimating, stealing and bouncing the avatar, we banned him locally. Since then, using Islands has never been more fun.
On the surface, this card is fine. It costs a fair amount for it’s effect, and it hits all players equally. The problem is generally two-fold (no pun intended). In one case the caster can blow up the world, float mana in the process, and then cast a bomb or their general when the table is in it’s weakest state. This is time consuming and generally a great drain on resources, but generally still fair. The reason this card (and to a similar extend Jokulhaups) can cause problems is the reset for no reason. When the caster has no plans on following up the spell, and just uses it to reset the board condition and making everyone start over. Nothing spoils a game like having to start playing from scratch when no one has a path to victory. These are the types of games that make people stop playing.
Similar to Survival, this card is almost impossible to play in a fun, friendly way. You start by adding it for value, and suddenly your list is built upon creating an in game situation where you can blow out your opponents with Saffi Eriksdotter and other infinite loops. This is one of those slippery slope cards that fit so easily into a list and suddenly warp the direction the deck was meant to take, becoming a focal point for every other card choice and line of play.
There is really nothing that can be said to defend this Ice Age bomb. When the worst drawback is that it costs 3 black mana, there is a problem. Somehow, this card was left off the banned list when almost all similar cards were removed. Maybe it was for nostalgia’s sake, maybe there is a rules committee conspiracy to bring back 2000’s level Necro-Donate. Either way, if you are packing Necropotence be prepared to be hated off the table. Or at least for your group to try.
Sensei’s Divining Top:
There is nothing overtly offensive about this card. It doesn’t win the game by itself, and it won’t cause a noticeable advantage for it’s controller. The problem is it’s ubiquity. It goes into any deck, and it makes every deck better. You don’t need to build around it, you don’t need to protect it. It comes out as soon as you have 1 of any color mana and it has built in evasion to protect itself. Every reason it is exceptional is the exact problem with it. Like Sol Ring, it is an auto-include that takes no skill to use successfully and can randomly put the player lucky enough to draw it early into an unfairly developed position.
I hesitate to call for the Rules Committee to ban these cards, and I don’t want to start a parade of cards that one group calls “unfun” being axed. I don’t want to try and preach that everyone should suddenly start to play group hug decks that never make the game uncomfortable for their opponents. I personally like playing with a lot of tournament level staples in like minded playgroups. However I also understand that a lot of groups are just looking for a good time, and the inclusion of these cards can take away from much of the fun of casual Magic.
So what I recommend is cutting these specific cards from your deck lists. Give it a try for a few weeks, and see if it makes your games more enjoyable and less consistent. Take the time to check out the also-ran section of your binder or card boxes and find some alternatives that might be better for everyone involved. Your group might enjoy your EDH time more, and you may find some hidden gems you’ve overlooked. It will absolutely challenge you to become a better deck builder, and without your staples to rely on it will also build your ability to play out of more situations using different strategies. All that seems worth cutting six cards out of your repertoire, don’t you think?