Off Topic: Interactive Magic

As requested, I want to take some time to talk about the advantages of mana dumps in the Commander format. Along with this conversation, I have some new lingo to introduce to the Magic community. It isn't exactly new for it has always been present. What I hope is to ingrain the thought process into your Magic psyche. It may even change the way you look at your decks. It came about this after writing my last article talking about aggro and control. Something was there. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I wanted to write a follow-up to my last article and talk about mana dumps. However, the thought was nagging at me. Then I stumbled on Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's article What Makes a Deck Good?. Probably one of the best articles I've read in some time were I actually felt like I learned something about Magic. The words that congealed out of those two articles were reactive and proactive.

I won't talk too much about being proactive today. A few of the reasons are that proactive cards are more of a metagame choice and the fact the decision tree on playing those cards is very small. Magus of the Moon is a proactive card. The inclusion of Blood Moon on a stick is due to a player anticipating the effectiveness of such a strategy. Hosers typically fall under the proactive category. Sure, when proactive cards work, the strategy can be astronomical. However, the problem with proactive cards is they depend greatly upon opponent and what they are playing. Such a nuance is for the majority just a bad idea. Take the punishment set of cards from Judgement. The fan favorite Browbeat never produced results in Standard. At a glance, the cycle appeared to be full of powerful spells. Time revealed the flaw is the ability of an opponent to influence the outcome. Giving the opponent a choice in the matter effectively negates the usefulness of the punishment spells. It is one of the reasons I dislike the werewolves in Innistrad. Don't get me wrong. I really, really, really wanted to like werewolves. As the spoilers released, I cringed at the fact that my opponent gets to influence my creatures' transformations. It is never a good thing when an opponent has a say about my cards. Time has proven this to be true and will continue to be true in the future.

This brings us to the liquid gold of the conversation: reactive. The ability to respond to an opponent is one of the biggest advantages a player can do in Magic. Take my quick demise the other night in a Commander game. My opponent cast Tooth and Nail entwined to bring in Avenger of Zendikar followed by Primeval Titan. Instantly, an army of 6/7 saprolings removed me from the game since Fires of Yavimaya gave them all haste. The play was powerful, but the big hang up was I could not respond since I was tapped out. A timely removal spell directed at the Avenger of Zendikar would have left my opponent with a bunch of hasty 0/1 saprolings. It was all the more frustrating when I had a removal spell in hand and could do nothing more than watch the unfortunate events unfold.

Over the years, the advancements in metagame decisions and deck construction have advanced greatly. I think this is great. The downfall has been the lack of focus on play skills. The ability to play cards correctly is just as vital as having the correct cards. I've bested more than one archetype utilizing Stone Rain in my day by casting a timely Harrow. Such correct plays allowed my janky decks to beat more formidable decks. The reason I triumphed is my janky decks were able to react to my opponent's plays. I was able to out play them rather than competing with them on a pure power level. Here is a successful jank deck I played online back in the day.

Old School JankMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
4 Force Spike
4 Diligent Farmhand
4 Repulse
4 Exclude
4 Beast Attack
4 Temporal Spring
4 Werebear
4 Harrow
4 Grizzly Fate

25 Land

The deck was far from Tier one, but it had a lot of things going for it. During the whole course of a game, I could respond in a variety of ways to my opponent's game. I could search for a land, bounce a creature, or put a creature onto the battlefield all during my opponent's turn. The deck had options. This brings us to the other important part of being reactive: options. One more time with feeling… options. A decision tree creates options. Decision trees create the opportunity for optimal and sub par plays. How many times have you heard a player talk about he/she made the incorrect play during a tournament? A decision tree also creates opportunities for my opponent to make an incorrect play.

Reactivity plays an important role in the tournament scene, but it is even more important in Commander. Games of Commander play a lot longer, sometimes hours, compared to a 30 second Legacy game (Ancient Tomb, Mox Diamond, Show and Tell, I cast Hive Mind, Pact of Negation, I win). This is another reason I am a proponent for mana dumps. It doesn't mean I suggest using a mana dump every turn. Mana dumps provide options. One of my favorites being Myr Matrix. With the indestructible token generator in play, I have additional choices during game play. I love the fact I can use a mere five mana to thwart a Novablast Wurm or Thraximundar. If I so choose, I could instead use the mana for Thrist for Knowledge. Just the mere presence of Myr Matrix diversifies my plays. Cards that provide lots of options are always good in my book. It is the reason I love cards like Qasali Pridemage and charms. I have the option to attack or sacrifice my precious cat to get rid of a pesky artifact or enchantment.

Maybe I am going about this all the wrong way. Let's talk about all the bad things that can happen when a person cannot interact with his or her opponent. Lack of interaction results in me watching The Mimeoplasm come into play as an Akroma, Angel of Wrath with ten counters from a removed Artisan of Kozilek. It gets equipped with Whispersilk Cloak and smacks me for lethal since Avatar of Slaughter is on the battlefield. Those plays are like being stuck on a railroad track and watching the train come at you. A variety of different tactics would have prevented my exit from the game. Graveyard removal, point removal on Akroma, Angel of Wrath or if need be…Avatar of Slaughter, artifact destruction on Whispersilk Cloak so I could at least chump block with Wall of Denial. Epic plays such as this happen all the time. Most multiplayer games have players strolling along until as Captain Jack Sparrow puts it: "Waiting for the opportune moment."

Before I head to the takeaway, let's talk a little bit about Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The card was aggressively costed and the abilities were powerful. To me, what put the card over the top were the four abilities. Not just the four abilities, but that each ability allowed a player to attack their opponent from a multitude of different angles. Looking at the other planeswalkers, we see that many planeswalkers only have one relevant ability. Chandra Nalaar's first ability isn’t interacting with the board and is stuck with one relevant ability. Ajani Goldmane suffered from the same problems. As we examine better planeswalkers, we see planeswalkers with two good abilities from the get go. Garruk Wildspeaker, Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and Ajani Vengeant all have two different abilities. Liliana of the Veil will definitely be good for this reason. Garruk Relentless is phenomenal due having five abilities that can approach the game at many angles.

At the end of turn for this article, I hope you, as a reader, are thinking about how the cards in your deck interact with your opponents. Interactive cards allow a player to out play their opponent’s by choosing those opportune moments. It will prevent opponents from abusing your lack of interaction of being unable to react to their big plays. In EDH, mana dumps will help increase the amount of ways a player can interact in a game and react appropriately. This will lead to more wins. Also, it just might lead to more enjoyable games.

Off Topic: Innistrad

Oh, where to start? You know, I am actually not that upset about the double face cards. I do think the double face cards are pretty, well, blah. I do feel for such a major tweak that the transformation cards needed to be good. Not just okay, but really, really good. So far, we have gotten blah. What I find the most unappetizing about the set is that it doesn't feel like Magic. In a sense, I am saying Wizards of the Coast has sold out. Such a statement isn't entirely true. I like horror. I like werewolves and vampires. I guess the set feels too synthetic and forced to me. It feels like something stolen rather than an entirely new concept. Add a bunch of parasitic cards to the set and the feeling only gets worse. What do you guys and gals think? Should Magic avoid such heavy real world influences? Should developers strive to Magic as unique as possible?

That’s all for today folks.


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