Monday, September 7, 2020

Magic the Gathering - Commander Night Playback - Mill Wins (Sometimes)

Recently, EDHREC added a new page to their website, detailing the most common and popular combos in the format. And, naturally, as one does when exposed to a new resource of valuable information, I perused it.

Two particular combos, both in Dimir colors, caught my attention, because they resulted in a victory via infinite mill. As someone who loves alternate win conditions (I ran Exodia in my old YuGiOh days), mill is always a strategy that holds my attention. Armed with this knowledge, my reptile brain immediately set to work building a mill deck that I could bring to bear against my Cockatrice playgroups.

To do so, I must of course worship at the altar of Phenax, God of Deception. Answering my prayers, the god jumped to the helm of my deck to help lead my forces into their unconventional battle.

The first of my adversaries ran Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Next, the player who ran Rakdos, Lord of Riots during the Ravnican Guild Night opted to pilot the deck again since he enjoyed running it last time. And finally, Bruna, Light of Alabaster brought up the rear.

The pace and tone of the early was set in round two, when I played my Mesmeric Orb. To be honest, I expected the card to be blown up almost immediately, but it took several turns for it to get destroyed. And because of the untapped I and the other players were doing, I ended up drawing far more attention to myself than I expected to. Fortunately, that was the only real danger on my board. I played creatures like Consuming Aberration, but rarely did they ever stay on board overlong.

Heliod was a wildcard, attacking things seemingly at random, but Rakdos was able to use his discount to consistently build strong board states with demons like Pestilence Demon, Abhorrent Overlord, and Overseer of the Damned, the latter two of which I was able to resurrect with cards like Animate Dead to build my own token defense. 

Bruna was summoned twice, but each time she was killed before she could swing in for the trigger that would spell doom for the rest of us. At the same time, since her pilot was my priority target, his deck was the one being milled. I understood the risks inherent to attempting that strategy, because even one swing would turn Bruna into a near unstoppable voltron. However, it was my only real shot at taking her out of commission. Considering how much land I milled away to prevent her owner from accumulating enough mana to play her, I think that was ultimately still the right call.

The most interesting aspect of the match was the endgame. At that moment, my only cards on board were Phenax and Syr Konrad, along with a contingent of mana rocks. On top of that, I was top-decking, with no other cards in hand. It was extremely good fortune for me that I managed to draw Eater of the Dead. With naught much else to risk, I threw it onto the board and hoped my gambit would go unnoticed.

While Heliod was in a much better position in terms of life, they weren't much better off. On top of their commander, they had a Rhox Faithmender and an Archangel of Thune on board. Unfortunately for me, they were still sore about the vast quantity of cards that had been milled prior and swing both at me. I blocked with Syr Konrad to stem the bleeding, but the Archangel brought up down to a meager six life.

Rakdos, on the other hand, untapped with a Lord of the Void. Since Heliod dropped their shields to swing at me, Rakdos took the initiative, swinging their flying forces towards him. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the card taken was Avacyn, Angel of Hope. And with that mighty layer of protection, Rakdos set about to establish his own victory. Since they had the prerequisite number of demons on board, they played Liliana's Contract in the hopes that the indestructibility would ensure that nothing would die and he could defend himself from any threat.

And I have never been so grateful that someone else posed an immediate, overt threat in all the time I've played EDH. When Bruna untapped, she had a Lighting Greaves in play, and she only needed a single land drop in order to come out. Lo and behold, they managed to saw into the very land they needed.

I asked Bruna's player after the match if he would have attacked me with it if circumstances were different. He told me that he would have absolutely done so, but the immediate, obvious threat of Liliana's Contract caused him to change his plans. For that reason, Rakdos was attacked, and Bruna's triggered ability turned her into a 40/40 with every conceivable keyword known to man thanks to all the milled enchantments like Eldrazi Conscription, Spectra Ward, and Battle Mastery. Rakdos obviously fell to this extraordinary.

Regrettably, a side effect of playing on Cockatrice is that I lack the ability to look my opponents in the eye. If I could, I would have as I informed them that in allowing me to untap, they had both lost. Those familiar with Phenax might have have already realized that this was the "gambit" I referred to when I dropped Eater of the Dead. Along with Phenax himself, Eater of the Dead forms one of the two infinite combos this deck is capable of pulling off.

Since Eater of the Dead was no longer summoning sick, I could tap him to activate the ability that Phenax bestows upon him to mill an opponent for four cards. Then, by exiling a creature card from any graveyard, even my own if need be, I could untap the Eater and repeat this process until there are no more cards to mill or creatures in graveyards. My earlier efforts had left the grave choke full of creatures to exile, so I could deterministically end the game at this point.

Ironically, when my friend piloting Bruna was questioned further about why he would've targeted me with Bruna first absent the threat from Rakdos, he said that I have an annoying tendency to bounce back from tight spots and eek out a win by slipping under the radar. He did not see the combo I had on board, but he was suspicious due to previous experience. I dislike giving him reasons to keep an eye on me, and yet I cannot help it in I can work a table to my advantage.

Of course, being a 4-player format, I lose far more games than I win. Being the writer of the series, I just get to be more selective with the games I talk about. In there's a lesson to take from this, it's to be more attentive about the cards on the table. While Bruna could have taken me out, Rakdos had enough power on board to finish the job as well if he so chose.

Anything can happen in a game of EDH, so sometimes a big risk can pay out in dividends.

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