Wow, I sure am pleasant to read, aren’t I? In reading over my last two posts, I’m struck by how much I like to write about the things I don’t like. Let’s recap!
So far, we’ve learned that Mr. P hates:
Combos in general
Decks with too many counterspells
Decks that do nothing
Decks that blow up the board every turn
The General Damage rule
Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet, but Mr. P also hates:
The Eldrazis (particularly the Annihilator effect)
The Infect mechanic
“Set your life to 10” effects
Based on this, you might assume that Mr. P only builds balls-out aggro decks. This is about 75% accurate as of right now. However, it took me a while to get to the point where I realized that the only thing that is worth doing in EDH is advancing the board state.
(ASIDE: Here, we reach a crossroads; does Mr. P take the arrogant route and assume that everyone knows what that means, or does he take the pedantic route and explain every single cute phrase that he includes in his awful writing?)
When I talk about “advancing the board state”, I am referring to taking actions that move the game closer to its conclusion. There are myriad ways of doing this; the most obvious is to play a bunch of big dumbos and turn them sideways, since probably 90% of games are won through people taking lethal damage. Other ways of advancing the board state include playing artifacts or enchantments that do stuff, mana-ramping, drawing cards, and various other things that most decks what to do without thinking about it.
The easiest way to understand advancing the board state is to consider thing that have the opposite effect. Recurring Oblivion Stone with Academy Ruins is not advancing the board state. Playing Spell Burst with buyback is not advancing the board state (hell, playing anything with Buyback is not advancing the board state, except for possibly Lab Rats). Playing Propaganda effects is not advancing the board state. Destroying lands is not advancing the board state. Discard is not advancing the board state.
I think the natural tendency for most people when they start playing EDH is to build one of two decks: the “all threats/no answers” deck or the “all answers/no threats” deck. The “all threats/no answers” deck (the “Heavenly Inferno” precon, for example) has a whole bunch of scary things, with no board control or card-draw to back them up. It has no way to deal with anything, so its only plan is to continue to play more threats and try to eliminate people before they can deal with the threats it has played. These are the decks that tend to have to overextend, which makes them bend over to board wipes . These decks can advance the board state all day, but since they often get shut down by single cards, it’s easy to get frustrated with these types of decks.
Some people are worried about this, and so they go ahead and build the logical opposite, the “all answers/no threats” deck. This style of deck can answer everything all day long, without ever doing anything to actually win the game. Usually these deck are based around blue/white, and run lots of Wraths and Counters and a few inconsequential creatures that never actually get there, and the games go on forever and people are glazing over and now they’re wandering off to get a drank and now they’re pulling out their trade binders and now the game SUCKS. I think of these decks as “TurboNothing” decks. The “Political Puppets” precon is a good example of this type of deck. (For a much more interesting and better written account of the struggles DJ and I had with building a deck like this, go over here.)
Semi-interesting point about Political Puppets: most people who buy it and then decide to modify it start by adding a bunch of obnoxious Insta-Win combos (Transcendance, Thought Lash, Illusions of Grandeur, etc). This is because the logical win condition for TurboNothing decks is to eventually combo out; clearly they’re never going to win through doing damage.
This, of course, is the rub; in other formats, the idea of locking down the board before eventually hitting your combo is completely acceptable. One of the main challenges of transitioning from “competitive” formats like Vintage or Legacy into a “casual” format like EDH is wrapping your brain around the understanding that EDH games that end like this are not particularly satisfying for anyone; the people who have been combed out feel cheated, and the person who combed them out (often) feels like a dick. However, this understanding comes with time, which is why many people’s initial EDH lists include things like Counter/Top and Sundering Titan. (Mine certainly did.)
Eventually, most people realize that the format is not about these types of decks and either 1) build something different, or 2) decide EDH is not for them. Part of the joy of EDH is the deck building process, and typically the decks that are the most satisfying to play are the ones that run a decent balance of threats and answers; figuring out how to achieve this balance is part of the fun. I think many people dislike combo decks or combo finishes because they feel too “easy”; people like winning games of EDH in ways that are memorable, and it’s not particularly memorable to tell a story with “and then Steve resolved Tooth and Nail and combed us out and the game ended.”
(DISCLAIMER: obviously, I’m ignoring the fact that there are some people whose playgroups like infinite combos, land destruction, prison decks, etc. I know these playgroups exist, I’m just not writing this for them. )
For me, the revelation that decks that want to end with a combo finish are f'ing boring came through playing with three decks: my friend Melvin’s Horde of Notions deck, my friend Cassidy’s Intet, the Dreamer deck, and the Reaper King deck I’m featuring here.
Horde of Notions was Melvin’s first EDH deck, and it was basically five-color GoodStuff. Although it could do different things, the games always ended in the same way: Tooth and Nail for Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite, or Conflux for Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite or some other combo. Eventually, Melvin got tired of us complaining and took out Pestermite, which meant that the deck was now five-color GoodStuff without a win condition; he ended up taking the thing apart soon afterwards.
Intet, the Dreamer was Cass’s first EDH deck, and it was basically three-color GoodStuff. Although it could do different things, the games always ended in the same way: Tooth and Nail for Kiki-Jiki/Pestermite. Eventually, Cass got tired of us complaining and took out Pestermite, which meant that the deck was now three-color GoodStuff without a win condition; he ended up taking the thing apart soon afterwards.
Meanwhile, I had recently gone 4-0 at the Shadowmoor prerelease with a silly deck that featured Reaper King and six Scarecrows (and two Farhaven Elf for mama fixing!) Not wanting to miss out on all the miserable combo fun, I set out to build my own obnoxious combo deck.
The initial build of Reaper King was pretty terrible. You look at Reaper King, and you think “wow, he can blow stuff up!” The downside of this is that the way he blows stuff up is by playing Scarecrows, and the Scarecrows are all pretty terrible. So now you’re saddled with a bunch of suboptimal creatures that are only worth playing when your General is in play. This leads to one of 3 options:
1) Play changelings
2) Play GoodStuff
3) Play combo
The Changelings are all pretty underwhelming, although they do give you the option to go into Terrible Tribal Shenanigans!™ territory. More likely, you’re going to end up in the land of either GoodStuff or Combo.
From a GoodStuff standpoint, five-color gives you access to…well…everything. The most obvious route is to just grab all the best cards of each color, shove them into a pile together, and add a pile of terrible Scarecrows and call it a day. This was my first pass at Reaper King. I also ran a fair amount of Affinity stuff, because BROODSTAR! Because I was a terrible deck builder, I decided that I didn’t need to run much removal because, hey, my General was removal! This worked until someone Control Magic-ed my General. Back to the drawing board.
The second pass at Reaper King wedged in some Wrath effects, and also worked in a fairly substantial draw and tutor package including the Blue and Black Bringers. (As a side-note, the Bringers are my one issue with the “color-identity” rule; I hate the fact that you can only play these guys in five-color decks. Whatever.) If you ever want to run a contest for “creature that will draw you the most hate ever of all time,” make sure you leave room on your nominations list for the Blue and Black Bringers. Good lord.
Somewhere in the deck building process, I began to figure things out. The main thing that I figured out is that HOLISTIC WISDOM IS GOSH DARN BROKEN. Seriously. In a world where EDH drives the prices of obscure bulk rares from older sets into the $5+ range, I cannot for the life of me figure out how this card is still selling for 75 cents. THIS CARD IS INSANE.
Here’s a quick list of what Holistic Wisdom does in this deck:
1) Turn any late-game Sorcery topdeck into an extra turn.
2) Turn any late-game Artifact topdeck into a Vindicate
3) Turn any late-game mana-ramp topdeck into Last Stand
Make no mistake; this deck is a Holistic Wisdom combo deck. The main interactions it is looking for are:
1) Time Warp recursion
eventually followed by
2) Last Stand recursion
In order to accomplish this, the deck is full of Time Warp effects (in its optimal build it runs three), and it also runs a large suite of Sorcery mana ramps (which can be turned into Time Warps if drawn late game.) It also runs the requisite suite of Scarecrows, so it can get some damage in early before the combo finish. Finally, it runs a fair amount of 5-color good stuff because hey, where else am I going to play that foil Maelstrom Nexus?
This deck starts off doing the standard: mana ramping, drawing cards. It usually wants to wait to play Reaper King until it has a scarecrow in hand, as Reaper King often doesn’t stay on the table for very long. It runs enough board control to make it to the mid-game, at which time it starts taking extra turns and generally boring people out of their minds. Eventually, it gets people into range where it can finish them off with Last Stand. (Side note: I realize that this listcould be substantially more "optimized" in order to reliably counter out. If you're having those ideas, you may not be the target audience for this blog.)
(if you were to build this…)
Start by apologizing to your friends for boring them to death. Then curse SCG and the Legacy format for what it has done to the price of duals. If you can’t dig out a Capture of Jingzhou (which I’m sure most people have kicking around in their bulk rare box), you can always run Walk the Aeons in this slot, although the buyback is pretty steep. If you can’t dig out a Temporal Manipulation (which I’m sure most people are currently using as a bookmark), you can run Beacon of Tomorrows or Time Stretch in this slot, although both are insanely expensive and Beacon of Tomorrows doesn’t recur very well (Time Stretch is on my list of cards that are “too easy” and I refuse to run it, even in an obnoxious GoodStuff combo deck like this one.)
If you want to take this in a more pleasant route, start by picking a different general. Seriously. The Scarecrows thing on its own is pretty awful, and 5-color GoodStuff decks are totally boring. Honestly, the only other interesting thing I can think of to do with this would be to make some sort of 5-color Metalcraft, although that just sounds awful.
(sorted by function)
Scarecrows (or something like them) (13)
Guys that Find Things (2)
Guys that Do Things (2)
Not Very Good, but Seems Cute (1)
5-Color GoodStuff! (1)
Let’s Protect the Team! (3)
Let’s Reuse Things! (5)
Let’s Draw Some Cards! (7)
Let’s Get the Things We Want! (3)
Let’s Fix Our Mana! (1)
Let’s Ramp Our Mana! (10)
Let’s Take Some Extra Turns! (3)
Let’s Do Stuff! (1)
Let’s Get Rid of Stuff! (6)
Let’s Encourage People not to Attack us! (1)
Let’s Do Something Broken! (3)
Plains x 2
Island x 2
Swamp x 2
Mountain x 2
Forest x 4
From a nostalgia standpoint, I love this deck. From every other standpoint, I hate this thing.
Up Next: Attacking, and all the issues that go with it, plus Episode Three: A Deck Mr. P actually likes!