This entry is part 3 of 13 in the series (Vexing) Devil's Advocate

378127_10150441621792624_1477312954_n“…And you win again.” Fred fumed, shuffling up for another game. He took another hateful look at the Maelstrom Wanderer deck that seemed to smoke him every time they played. George hadn’t even needed to play his general this game, simply entwining a Tooth and Nail to go fetch Kiki-jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts for the combo. 

George similarly started shuffling up his deck, but he did it in silence. This was a strange change of pace, as George usually never shut up when his deck got to go off.

“What’s up?” Fred asked, his concern tempered by the butt-kicking he just had served up on a silver platter.

“I didn’t expect to win.” George said simply, “You were broadcasting counter mana, and I know you run Render Silent.  I was trying to eat the counter spell so I could cast Wanderer next turn.”

“What? That doesn’t make sense.” Fred protested, “That is a totally incorrect play. If anything, you should have cast Wanderer to shield the Tooth And Nail, It’s a guaranteed win! You know better than to play like that.”

“I know.” George mumbled. “I just really wanted to cascade…”

"Sir, Exposing Bloodbraid Elf to the super soldier serum and gamma radiation had some unexpected results..."

“Sir, Exposing Bloodbraid Elf to the super soldier serum and gamma radiation had some unexpected results…”

There are some cards that I cannot defend.

There, I said it. I have admitted defeat. I shall step off the stand and hang my head in shame. I have failed my trade and craft, and brought shame upon my dojo.

It was a sad realization I came to when trying to figure out how to defend the most vicious and cutthroat generals in EDH. Sure, I could lie outright, try and spin things, fudge a few facts here and there. But ultimately, my arguments would all ring hollow, and the simple truth would win out. Some generals are just so powerful that there is no flip side of the coin to present. They aren’t hated because they are misunderstood. They are hated because they have the ability to walk into a game and win so consistently, so overwhelmingly, that it enrages their opponents. Generals like Zur the Enchanter. Like Jhoira of the Ghitu.

Like Maelstrom Wanderer.

The realization looked a lot like this.

The realization, and aftermath, looked a lot like this.

I was all but ready to throw in the towel when my friend said something that made everything clear.

“Eric, there is nothing you can do. Some people just like to play easy mode Magic.”

It took me a second before it clicked. “That’s it!” I shrieked (in a way that was in no way similar to a little girl, thank you very much.) “I don’t have to defend the cards!”

I was too busy running to the computer to pause for an explanation, leaving my friend very perplexed. I didn’t care. My mind was already reeling with all the arguments, the points and counterpoints, the references to pop culture and one liners about unreasonably sexy cards.

Because the truth is most players don’t like easy mode Magic. We crave a challenge, we’re all puzzle solvers by nature. That’s why we love the game. But sometimes the general that tickles you in that just-right-and-maybe-slightly-inappropriate-way happens to be one that everyone hates. So they pile on you, and rant about you, and single you out. Never stopping to consider that there was any factor to your choice of general beyond a win percentage.

I can’t show the misunderstood side to a overpowered card. But showing the joy someone takes in their general? Why they would be drawn to a specific card for the most integral choice of EDH deck building? Demonstrating beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is more to that player than a sadistic desire to crush their enemy, see him driven before them, and hear the lamentations of the women?

Now that is something I can work with. Court is now in session.

In My Client’s Defence…

Anybody else play Diablo 3? How about World of Warcraft? Or my particular video game mistress, *shudder*, Borderlands 2? (Oh god, just saying the name is good. Someone get me a cigarette.)

If you’ve ever enjoyed these or similar western RPGs then you are familiar with the loot system. For those of you who have managed to avoid this particular brand of heroin, let me give you a quick summary. The player accomplishes task (killing ten giant rats, collecting pieces of a key, deflowering a princess, etc.) and is rewarded with a chest. Within the chest is a random piece of loot, which the player then uses to accomplish even greater tasks (Killing a ancient red dragon who also happens to be a vampire/wizard, collecting pieces of a shattered castle, deflowering ALL the princesses, etc.) for which their reward is a bigger chest with better loot. Wash, rinse, and repeat until you remember that you need food to survive and your own body odour physically forces you into a shower.

It seems like a useless loop, and it is. But people (myself included) buy into it because it has hacked into our brain in a very sneaky and profitable way. Every time you go for the new loot it triggers a reward response in your brain, flooding it with dopamine (basically the chemical that makes your brain enjoy anything.) and putting a smile on your face bigger than the Joker’s.

And that is one big smile. One big, creepy as hell smile.

And that is one big smile. One big, creepy as hell smile.

We like the rush, so we come back for more. It doesn’t matter wether the actual loot was any good, because it is the anticipation that gives us the rush, the loot afterwards just reinforces that it was real. Casinos have been using this system for years with their slot machines (along with pretty much any other game you can find in a casino.). If you want a quick taste yourself, just head to your local gaming store and buy a booster pack. Now rip the package open, but not all the way and dont take any cards out. That moment of insane desire to tear the cards out and feast your eyes on your well earned reward? That is the loot hack. Drink it in, feel all those tasty endorphins swimming around your brain. Enjoy it.

Congratulations, you now know what it feels like to pilot Maelstrom Wanderer.

It's like this, but with cardboard! And if you have the one from Arsenal, it's shiny! Aaaghh!!

It’s like this, but with cardboard! And if you have the one from Arsenal, it’s shiny! Aaaghh!!

Every game of Magic has this reward system ingrained into its design. We all get a tiny spike of joy when we reach to draw a fresh new card, hoping that it will be the one to swing the game. But Maelstrom Wanderer takes that knob and cranks it all the way to 11. Not only will you be getting a new card, it will be a free card that is guaranteed not to be a land. Not only will it be a free draw, it is a free cast. If it is a creature, you will get the instant gratification of a attack. Oh, and after you’re done you get to do it again. It’s a small wonder people don’t experience tiny orgasms when they play the card.

William asked that I remove the image I found for tiny orgasms. He is no fun.

William asked that I remove the image I found for tiny orgasms. He never lets me have any fun.

You want more proof? Easy, just watch someone resolve a cascade off of him. The effects are always visible. Some people will pause to enjoy the anticipation before flipping the first card. Some will become excited and animated. But they are all thinking the same thing: “What loot is going to be in my treasure chest this time?”

And the deck wins. A lot. Giving another spike of endorphins and reinforcing that the card is something that brings happy-feel-goods to whoever uses it. However, if a Maelstrom Wanderer player gets to resolve their general and cascades into something fun, but still loses, they generally are very okay with that. After all, they got their hit off of the cascade, so they’re happy (just now realizing that comparing Maelstrom Wanderer players to drug addicts may not be the greatest way to sell you on them. Eh, it’ll do.). They don’t play the general because they want to win every game in a landslide. They play it because it is fun for them. And last I checked, playing for fun is the mission statement of this format.

Kryptonite Rings and Silver Bullets

This one is going to be a uphill battle. The trouble with Wanderer is that even if you don’t put the super competitive cards into him (Most online lists don’t play Jokulhaups or Devastation. For those of you that don’t know the interaction: Wanderer cascades into a Jokulhaups, the world goes boom before Wanderer resolves, you get 7 power haste on a empty field.) the advantage he generates tends to be enough to seal a win on it’s own. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. And we have more than one way.

"Did somebody call for reinforcements?"

“Did somebody call for reinforcements?”

Take a moment to check out that handsome devil up there. He is going to be leading the intervention of cards that deny your opponent their addictive cascades. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir will prevent your opponent from resolving their cascades on the stack, thus shutting down the card advantage engine of their general. Orim’s Chant, Silence and Rule of Law will also be able to help out with this game plan. Special shout out goes to Render Silent, for being the only one of these cards that also deals with Wanderer at the same time.

Absolute proof that someone at WOTC hates Wanderer as much as you.

Absolute proof that someone at WOTC hates Wanderer as much as you.

General denial also works well against a Wanderer deck, including the usual options of Declaration of Naught, Meddling Mage, or Nevermore. Tucking him after a cast with a Chaos Warp or Condemn is also a good option. Bonus points for using a Hallowed Burial to tuck him and any  buddies he brought to the party with him.

But attacking a Wanderer deck can be about a lot more than just shutting down their general, it turns out that there are some weaknesses in the overall deck design that we can poke at (this will accomplish the dual goals of both beating your opponent and annoying them to the point of nervous breakdown.)

This deck runs out almost every form of ramp it can get its hands on, so we’re going to spank them for that. The land ramp can be prevented with Aven Mindcensor or Stranglehold (which will also stop their Time Warp from doing anything. Two for one’s, ho!) or punished with Zo-Zu the Punisher and Acidic Soil. The artifact ramp can be similarly answered with a well placed Vandalblast, Shattering Spree, or Kataki, War’s Wage.

"I am here to chew bubblegum and make green decks cry. And guess who just ran out of bubblegum."

“I am here to chew bubblegum and make green decks cry. And guess who just ran out of bubblegum.”

We’re going to need some non-traditional spot removal to prevent our opponent from just recasting Maelstrom Wanderer. While we have already discussed tuck effects (Void Stalker and Oblation can also come to this party.) they are not the only answer. Pacifism effects are very strong against him, and I personally recommend Faith’s Fetters for this purpose, because every white card should come with a coplimentary band-aid (I guess the versatility of hitting permanents is okay too.). And the best sort of spot removal for Wanderer is definitely a good steal effect like Mind Control or Gilded Drake. In addition to forcing your opponent to then kill their own general, you got yourself a free Fervor to go with your 7/5! Now let’s see how they like getting smacked around by this ‘roided up Bloodbraid Elf

Lastly, there is a behavioural flaw created by playing Maelstrom Wanderer (and no, I don’t mean that playing Wanderer is a behavioural flaw…). One of the first lessons you learn as a EDH player, particularly if you’re playing aggro, is the danger of overextending. The high number of wraths zipping around means that you run the risk of having all your threats blown up and having no cards left to play afterwards. But many Wanderer players feel they can ignore this basic tenet, seeing as if things go wrong they can recover to a good board position by just recasting their general. But if they are denied that, or if their cascades whiff (you ever seen a players face after their double-cascade whiffs? They look like they just found out that puppies went extinct.), they are left extremely vulnerable with no action left. Long story short, a well timed Oblivion Stone will hurt a Maelstrom Wanderer deck far more than most.

 We, the Jury, Find the Defendant…

I get it, I really do. The bugger generates so much value that it just isn’t fair, and you’re sick of being stomped by him. But don’t go around thinking that you are some kind of martyr for the last of the good and honest EDH decks out there just because you prefer to run a no-win-condition Yeva, Nature’s Herald deck. They aren’t playing Maelstrom Wanderer to spite you, their choice of deck has nothing to do with you. Someone who plays Maelstrom Wanderer is doing the same thing you’re doing with your friendly deck, the same thing I’m doing when I refuse to play blue, the same thing we all do when we pick up our cards. They are playing the game in the way that is most fun for them. Hopefully, with some tips from this article, that won’t mean stomping over everyone else as a side effect.

And no matter how you feel when they cast Maelstrom Wanderer, always remember. His converted mana cost is 8, so your opponent will never. Ever. Be able to cascade into Omniscience.

Why!? Why would someone think this was a good idea!?

And that is a good thing.

Wanna hear Eric trash Maelstrom Wanderer instead of defending it? No problem, just tune in to the Commandercast podcast this Monday to hear him talk shop with Calvin and William! Why is Maelstrom so hated? Does Eric speak in Bane’s accent? Will Calvin and William strangle their new writer for his inability to shut the f%#& up with the jokes already!? The answers to all these questions and more, next Monday on Commandercast.com!

When not writing (Vexing) Devil’s Advocate for Commandercast.com you can find Eric literally nowhere else on the internet! So please, send him an e-mail at EricBonvie@gmail.com or leave feedback in the comments below. He gets lonely, and you’re probably the only human contact he has. I mean, he isn’t begging you or anything. But really, he kind of is. Leave some feedback, or else he’ll be found crying into a bucket of Ben & Jerry’s again.  

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