Monday, May 11, 2020

Magic: The Gathering - Commander Night Playback - Choices, Both Good and Bad

Some EDH games don't take too long, only about an hour or so. Others can be marathons where the tides ebb and flow, each player taking their turn in the hot seat until someone is eventually able to establish that final lock to close out the match once and for all.

This week, my table played both of types of games last night. The first of which was the one that wrapped up quickly. I piloted a combo deck using Gyruda, Doom of Depths, and my opponents were Vial Smasher/Ikra Shidiqi (with Obosh as the companion), Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, Mairsil the Pretender, and Mayael the Anima.

I had the good fortune of having Panharmonicon in my opening hand, and with it my combo was made significantly more consistent. To explain, when Gyruda enters the battlefield, they mill each player (even their controller) for 4 cards. Their player may then choose an even-numbered CMC creature from those milled cards and summon it.

The hope is that we hit a card like Clone or Spark Double, that can enter the battlefield as a copy of Gyruda. Even if we have to sacrifice it to the legend rule, we'll still get the ETB trigger and activate Gyruda's effect once more. Ideally, we can keep this chain going forever, until all players are out of cards.

There are two ways to protect ourselves from falling into that same fate, either through a way to win the game if our deck is empty like Thassa's Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. This deck used Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, whose ability allows us to shuffle our grave back into the library when it goes in.

And while the combo went off without a hitch, the resulting bad feels reminded the table too much of why we banned Mindcrank from going into the same deck as Syr Konrad, the Grim. It was technically a win, but I lost the moral victory. Needless to say, this will likely be a deck I never pilot again, just because it's irritating to play against.


After profusely apologizing to my playgroup, I promised to change decks to something less miserable for my next match. It is for that reason that I picked up my Monty Python and the Holy Grail deck. (Don't tell me he doesn't remind you of that movie.)

I hear you, the reader, groaning that Kenrith is an overpowered cEDH-level commander. And you're right, if he's built that way. I opted to go in a politics direction, generating tons of mana and using it to strike deals with other players.

Everyone else played the same commander except Jarad, who switched to Gavi, Nest Tender. That said since this game took an entire three hours, I won't be detailing every move that happened. Instead, I'll go over some of the best board states that occurred during that match and what happened to stop them.

The first big problem for the group came from Mayael. Like me, she also had a Seedborn Muse out with her commander. Except where I was helping other players (and giving myself a few extra draws) in exchange of favors down the line, Mayael was summoning a board that grew increasingly more difficult to deal with. Since two of them were Archetype of Endurance and Sigarda, Host of Herons, dealing with these threats wasn't beyond my capability. (I wasn't drawing any board clears.)

Fortunately, Gavi managed to hit the board with an overloaded Cyclonic Rift. No one else had made any major commitments to the board, so we could all rebuilt easily enough, but without a Reliquary Tower, Mayael was forced to discard over 20 cards at the end of the turn. Once I countered Seedborn Muse on recast with my own Pact of Negation, that was enough to seal her fate.

Gavi was managing to set up her own army thanks to the tokens she generated with her ability, but since she wasn't doing much swinging in with them the real threat became Mairsil who dangerously close to establishing a combo win, constantly blinking their commander with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling to exile more and more cards for Mairsil to steal abilities from.

As for me, I was close to entering my endgame. Because I had been getting many excess draws using Kenrith's ability and my still living (despite eating several removal spells) Seedborn Muse, I had managed to discard Meteor Golem and play Altar of Dementia. Resurrecting the Golem with Kenrith, then sacrificing it to my Altar to mill myself and set up for a Thassa's Oracle win, I was set to start controlling the board and setting up my win.

Unfortunately, I underestimated the general fatigue that was starting to set in. After a exhausting almost three hours, Gavi was growing (rightfully) tired and seeking to wrap up the match, even if she wasn't the winner. I don't think she saw that I was in the middle of setting up my own victory, because if she had it's unlikely she would have stopped my attempt to lock Mairsil out of the game by using Meteor Golem to kill it until perform it could be blinked to exile its winning combo. As I went to do so, they blinked it themselves with Astral Drift.

This allowed Mairsil to generate their win-condition and exile Tree of Perdition, with Spikeshot Elder already caged. Having had to use my resources to mass exile the token army beforehand, I was not able to establish my board quickly enough to avoid the lethal kill shot. The rest of the table was taken out in short order.

Still, I can't be mad at my performance. With Kenrith, I was able to do what I sought to do and keep the heat off myself with everyone else used me to take care of the bigger threats. It's easy to say that "If X didn't happen, I could have won", but that's the danger of focusing on politics. Failing to manage the mood of the table just means you'll get taken out.

And maybe I misplayed by using by mass exile spell. Though I had to sacrifice Kenrith earlier when Mairsil copied Empress Galina's ability, I had more than enough mana to recast him and could've just used my mana to gain life and dodge the Spikeshot Elder damage. Part of why I enjoy writing these posts is that they give me a space to evaluate not just my performance in the game, but also how I can help keep our meta healthy.

If you learn have any takeaways from this post, make it these two:
  1. Gyruda is one of those abilities where it's not game breaking, but it may be just annoying enough to resolve, either in Cockatrice or in paper, than it's not worth running. In an automated UI, the feels bad would not have hit my playgroup so strongly
  2. At some point, the game has to end. Even the most ardent MTG player would be hard pressed to last 3 hours in Cockatrice. And with more than 4 players, the odds of that happening just go up.

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