This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series This Olde Guildhouse

Posted by DAN aka chaosorbFTW

Hi. My name is Dan, and I’m an EDH try-hard. I didn’t grow up wanting to be that guy. I didn’t used to think “Hmmm, I wonder if I can ruin someone’s afternoon by playing Zur the Enchanter?” Things just came together that way. Maybe it can be blamed on my tournament upbringing. Maybe my parents didn’t do enough to teach me about constructed vs. casual. Maybe I just fell in with the wrong card crowd. I used to be sure that all that mattered was I really loved playing Magic, and I loved having a deck that really worked. Now I’m starting to think there just might be more to it.

I’ve been a try-hard for years, but after returning from an extended break from playing any kind of Magic between Ravnica and Innistrad I made a concerted effort to follow and uphold the spirit of EDH in both play and deckbuilding. It has not been a perfect process, but I have learned a number of things about myself and multiplayer games I think will positively shape my games in the future.

I recently found myself at GenCon with a number of friends and acquaintances playing a large number of EDH games. I attended the convention solely to play Commander, but I was a little worried about the possibility of theft at such a large event and had only brought 3 decks. One was my pride and joy, a UBW control deck. The other two were what I considered more fun, based around Rafiq of the Many and Mayael the Anima. Within 30 minutes of entering the game hall, my trip-mate and I had found an old acquaintance and had sat down to a 3 man game to pass some time until we could meet up with a larger group. Since it was my first game of the weekend, I decided to break out my best deck and put it through its paces. As we shuffled another player asked if we minded if he joined our game, and he was welcomed to the table and immediately joined in the friendly banter about the dealer room and all of the things we were looking forward to during the event. As the game progressed through a few turns, each deck started to deploy its mana fixers, ramp spells, and early threats. However, it was clear that the original 3 player’s decks were built with a different intention in mind than our newcomer. We were playing very focused, tuned decks, and the fourth player was piloting a much more casual build.

Our game progressed smoothly until we hit a major roadblock: Acidic Slime. Our casual player cast Acidic Slime into a board state rich with targets, however as my try-hard mode took over I began to worry about the possibility of my single mana producing artifact or my small number of lands being a target and stunting my development. I decided I didn’t want to take the risk of letting him choose a target upon entering the battlefield and cast Mana Drain to counter his creature. Before my spell was barely announced, he scooped up his cards and said “Next time I’ll just play a better deck”. I was in a state of shock. My hand actually hung in the air for a few moments, Mana Drain pointed at the empty space that the fourth player had occupied moments before his abrupt departure from the game. I finally placed my spell in the graveyard, untapped and took my turn. The rest of that game is a bit of a blur for me; however that interaction is crystal clear in my memory. I made someone so frustrated with a single spell that they walked away from what I thought had been a fun, friendly game.

Hindsight being what it is, there were probably a lot of things that led up to that particular interaction being so crucial. There had been multiple highly powerful cards like Grim Tutor and Time Twister played by that point of the game, and while the discussions surrounding our play were very relaxed and friendly my two friends and I were playing with the pace and intensity of a tournament game. A point to indicate targets, stopping other player’s effects to make sure stacking was happening correctly to ensure our optimal lines of play were correct. We announced cards and just assumed everyone else at the table understood what they did, and how their interactions would affect the board state. In short, there was a lot of behavior you would see at a Legacy event, including the constant shuffling of the cards in each of our hands. I’m sure that as an outsider not used to playing with us, we came off as intimidating.

As I stated before, it was never my intention to be a try-hard Commander player. Quite the opposite really, as I only came out of Magic hibernation because the format looked like it would allow me to play cards again without all of the drama and stress of the competitive Magic scene. After that weekend at GenCon, I now know that as much as I say that I can stop trying anytime I want to, I have a serious problem with EDH. They say that admitting the problem is the first step. So now that I know there is an issue, it’s time to do something about it.


My Try-Hard EDH Commandments

I. Thou Shalt Take Responsibility for Maintaining a Gamestate Appropriate to All Players Liking

I know I like competitive play too much. However the more I interact with playgroups outside of my own, I see that I really am on the small minority side of Commander players. I have already built decks that are focused on being more fun and casually interactive (Yeah Yeah Braids, Conjurer Adept!), but from now on every time I sit down to a game with a new group, or even when a new player sits down with me I am going to make sure I understand what they want out of a game and adjust my game play accordingly. I will remember to announce targets, explain cards as needed, and generally slow down my pace during games. As a casual format it’s up to me to tone down my level of play, not assume everyone else wants to play tournament EDH like I do.

II. Thou Shalt Maintain An Arsenal of Decks Suitable for All Play Styles

This one can be difficult for me, as even when I build decks to be fun and interactive they can be very powerful. When I first started trying to adapt to a new mindset I immediately assumed that any deck I built that didn’t have blue cards would be fun and interactive. It took me a long time to realize the inherent insanity of the previous sentence. That said, I have worked hard to build decks that actually consider what other players might want out of the game. I always have several deck built to play anyone who wants a cut throat game with no holds barred. From now on, I will also always carry with me deck that are built to have fun. Decks that don’t need to lock the board and win. Decks that don’t generate a crushing inevitability. Heck, I might even build decks that help other people do things! No matter what the focus, I will always be prepared to play at a level that is as casual as my opponents are comfortable with.

III. Thou Shalt Remember This is a Game

Even with rules I and II in place, I know I can get competitive during my game play. It’s my responsibility to remember that. At the end of the day, I need to remember that the sole reason I started playing this game again was to have fun. I’m not qualifying for the World Championships of EDH, and there are no PlanesWalker Points for winning a 4 man game at our store during football season. I’m not the only person at the table, and each of us wants to have a good time. Part of my social responsibility is remembering that I can’t have it all my way, all the time.

These are rules that work for me when I venture outside of the comfortable walls of my local playgroup. I decided I wanted something in place so that I didn’t just pull my punches during games and lose when I didn’t need to. No one wants to be patronized; that can lead to bad feelings faster than any amount of competitive play does. I realize though, that as a truly competitive player at heart, I probably don’t realize all of the little things I do that genuinely annoy casual players. So I ask you to make a small commandment for yourself. We can call it:

IIIb. Tell Me What I’m Doing to Annoy You. Don’t Let it Get In the Way of the Fun

As hard as it can be to tell someone new (or someone you’ve known for a while) that what they are doing is frustrating or upsetting, that temporary sense of discomfort is worth the potential gains. Keep the dialogue open about what you want to happen, and let me know when I’ve crossed a line. If most other competitive players are like me, they will understand where you’re coming from. At worst, they will politely excuse themselves from the group, and find one more suited to them. At best, you’ll find a new productive member of your playgroup that can help you grow and flourish.

I know these rules have helped me become a more beneficial member of my playgroup, and I hope they can benefit yours in a small way. More than anything else, I hope that they open up lines of communication between different types of players. Nothing would make me happier than if someone told me all of the little things that I am missing about what a more casual player wants out of a game. How else would I possibly know?

Series Navigation<< This Olde Guildhouse 01 – Replacing BrainstormThis Olde Guildhouse 03 – Repeat Offenders >>