This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Tragic Slipping Tier One

Sniping SWAT Style in Commander

By: Hayes Pierson


Back when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 came out quickscoping rose to the top of the competitive gaming scene. Quickscoping is where a player fires a shot with a sniper rifle while at the same time starting to zoom in to look into the scope. The bullet exits the gun before the player sees where the crosshairs are pointing. Mastery of quickscoping requires that the player can visually memorize where the bullet is going to travel on his HUD while he is not zoomed in with his rifle. This is so he can sprint, see an enemy, start the zoom in action and immediately fire, then continue to sprint.

Some Commander players are quick to judge creatures and immediately feel the urge to kill them  before any reasonable threat assessment can be performed on them. This creates an advantage for combo decks because they only have to wait patiently until they can find the right time to run out their pieces. If players learned more about the ways they can interact with combo I think the Commander community in general could benefit from a better metagame.

Less experienced players are quick to perceive large creatures as greater threats because of a higher exposure ratio to formats such as draft and limited where big monsters stomping your face in is a much more of a realistic way to die. This isn’t as true in high tier commander games because of the higher starting life totals and the intricate politics, wraths, and spells that cause mass effects across the battlefield. If a big creature hits you the game is not immediately over. You don’t need to kill everything that moves. Wasting resources to destroy a threat that isn’t actually going to kill you in the next few turns not only costs you a card, but some mana and sometimes an entire turn of resources.

Cards such as Orim’s Thunder are dangerous additions to decks that play in a tier one environment because of the higher casting cost. Not only is this card’s targets narrowed down to only artifacts and enchantments, it costs one more mana to cast than naturalize or disenchant and has a kicker that is enticing to players to use. In normal non-tier one games this is a fine card and can severely punish players. In tier one it is bad because its cost stems the player’s ability to develop their own board. Having the spell cost one or two more mana than its counterparts in order to receive a benefit that is sometimes relevant is not good enough when playing in metagames where the decks are built to be smooth and fast.

Understanding your opponent’s deck and how fast it can develop a board is equally important. Decks in EDH tend to ramp or draw cards in the early game, especially in tier one metas. Players who play Azami, Lady of Scrolls tend to use their first few turns playing wizards or playing mana rocks. This is because they are generally trying to accelerate into an Omniscience or mind over matter. If you are ignoring casting your rampant growths in order to hold up removal during the first three turns you might be overvaluing your opponent’s moves.  If you understand what your opponent is trying to go for you can attempt to time your moves so that when your opponent gets to the turn they want to try to win the game you can try to stop them. In the case of Azami, this means the game won’t be over necessarily when they go for Omniscience. Once Omniscience is out you can respond when they cast their first draw spell. I’ve had a game where I bounced an Omniscience in response to an Enter the infinite. My opponent didn’t have enough mana to recast Omniscience that turn, and it bought the rest of the table enough time to find hate for Omniscience the next turn.

                                                         Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Any seasoned Commander player can see that once Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breakercomes into play from Tooth and Nail the correct time to cast the kill spell is once the Kiki-Jiki player has announced his copy target. It strips almost all the value from the player who spent nine mana entwining Tooth and Nail and stops the game from ending immediately. If the players you are playing with value political moves the guy across the table with a huge army will smile upon you and the control player will perhaps be a bit more friendly in deciding whether or not to counter your medium level threats. Also, the guy who tried to combo out will have his pants down and any aggro deck can move in for damage.

                                                         Tragic Slip

                                                                        Goodbye Pestermite

These are simple card + card = win combos where an opponent is trying to win the game within the action of one turn. By playing removal you force them to respect your plays more and gives you more time to do what you are trying to do.

This is where SWAT analysis comes in to assist. It’s a useful tool in evaluating whether or not to burst removal now or later. The acronym goes over the Strengths, Weaknesses, Accuracy and Timing of the move you are about to make.

Strengths: How are you benefiting from your move? Does the kill spell in question give you a benefit? Does the converted mana cost associated with that benefit merit running it in your deck?

Weaknesses: Are future targets that could be better to kill? Look at the creature/permanent in question and think if this creature/permanent posses a serious threat to you. Think of past games and who your opponent’s generals are. Don’t be wasteful. If you always answer the first threat that knocks on your door you never get to see what would happen if you held back and waited for other threats to rise.

Accuracy: Is the spell going to be countered? Are there other effects that can disrupt your disruption? Cards like Glen Elendra Archmage are the usual suspects. Having an awareness of what is going on in the battlefield is important; you want your kill spell to do what you want it to do.

Timing: Are you doing it at the right time? Should you wait until the monster attacks you? Do you have priority? Consider letting players who have priority before you possibly killing the monster/permanent. Also take into mind that there might be a wrath effect being played soon that could sweep up all the creatures.

Don’t forget that power levels are relative to a SWAT analysis. A big creature in tier one Commander will not be that big of a deal usually but in other groups big creatures can take a different perspective. Understanding your group’s metagame is a must for this skill to be of any success.

Hopefully this acronym can support players in thinking more about the decisions they make. Commander is a fun format and should be played with the goal of fun in mind, mine personally being one where fun = interaction. Educating players and making them more aware of what they can do is a good thing.

Hayes Pierson



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