The Art of War and Magic: Weak Points and Strong (6/13)

We've been doing this for a while, right?
So you know what this series is? We can just get right into it?

1. Sun Tzu said: Whoever is first in the field and awaits the coming of the enemy, will be fresh for the fight; whoever is second in the field and has to hasten to battle will arrive exhausted.

The first in the field is the guy who has the most fight-capable creatures on the field ahead of the rest of the table, but in a much more important sense, they're also the guy dictating the rules of the game. Grave Pact, Everlasting Torment, Ghostly Prison, Rhystic Study, No Mercy, and Intruder Alarm create a game in which you get to do things but your opponents aren't allowed to participate. This is most 'in flavour' for white, who gets to set rules - and the rules are that white can do things but you aren't allowed to. Black can also set rules, because black can break the rules and because black will do anything to win.

This line of thinking is most profitable if you're already likely to be public enemy #1 at the table (whether because you run other unpopular cards, because of an unbroken streak of victory, or because you just smell, like, really bad and everyone wants you to go away. If the last one is the case, they say that the higher the level of competition in Magic, the better the body odor. It's definitely correlation over causation, but hey, I'd run with it).

2. Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy's will to be imposed on him.

Artifacts, Enchantments, and Enchant Worlds are the way to impose new rules on your opponents. They can only be dealt with using answer cards, which most people prefer to ignore in favour of something more directly damaging to their opponents. If there is a permanent type in play that you can't deal with, it is going to wreck you.

In contrast, creatures and planeswalkers die in combat all the time. Creatures die to Doom Blade all the time. Wrath of God hits creatures and plenty of people own some variations on that. In contrast, the only commonly used board wipe that hits other permanent types is Akroma's Vengeance. If you don't have artifact/enchantment/graveyard hate, you need it. If you do have it, the next time you cut cards from your deck, add more of it.

3. By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.

I have a theory, which I've tentatively entitled the Bryndon's Braid Postulate. That theory is as follows: there is nothing sweeter than playing Blue Braids (or Hypergenesis, or Eureka, if you're from money steeped in tradition and lore) and making your contribution to the table an Oblivion Stone. Yes, there's a stupendous cost in political capital, but everyone falls for such an awful trick the first time around. Do not make this your default deck.

4. If the enemy is taking his ease, he can harass him; if well supplied with food, he can starve him out; if quietly encamped, he can force him to move.

(In the following context, read "opponent" as the guy you want to beat, or the guy who beat you in the previous game.)

If your opponent has thus far neglected to develop his board presence in favour of stockpiling removal, hit him with tokens, try to get at his hand, play a 'weird utility creature', or just play Whispersilk Cloak on your commander.

If your opponent is ramping, you can make him suffer for it - attack him while he's still ramping, destroy his lands, or use some sort of group-hug mechanic (because the point of ramping is to play big spells, so an appropriately timed Hunted Wumpus gives everyone access to their big cards early on).

If your opponent is seeking an opportunity to dig in (I'm assuming a fortress-esque deck consisting of Moat and friends, but you can adjust this to deal with different permanent types or crazy synergies), force them to attack (Jimmy, we've been over this already), or remove their layers of protective enchantments with one of the smaller Eldrazi. If they're already entrenched by the time you become aware of what's going on and its impossible to pick the key cards off one by one, you'll need a sweeper. If you don't feel like using a sweeper, try and find someone else who can do the brutalising for you.

5. Appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.

People can handle losing threats. People barely even blink when you destroy their commander. People cannot handle losing their lands, cards in hand, a combo piece out of their library or utility cards. It seems cruel, but think of it in this way - if I begin my first turn with a Forest and a Sol Ring, you know that unless you deal with that Sol Ring, I can do marvelous things by casting expensive spells. You'd feel no shame in destroying that Sol Ring as soon as you were able. What makes my Llanowar Elf different from that? As long as we're talking purely about winning, what makes the Forest somehow above this line of discussion? It's the Forest that is responsible for all of these mana accelerants in the first place! This is a truth of Magic - efficient beaters don't kill people, broken but innocuous engine cards kill people. Learn it and prioritise engine cards over random riff-raff cards like Primeval Titan. Yes, people kill the big green dude a lot, but one of the lands I fetch out with it is the ever-awesome Volrath's Stronghold. He comes back. On the subject of Primeval Titan, Hideaway lands + Ravnica bounce lands = tech.

6. An army may march great distances without distress, if it marches through country where the enemy is not.

On a creature-by-creature level, evasion is a must-have. Lord of Extinction is not a good card in Commander. It means two things: 1) you've been forced to add ways of adding trample to your deck or 2) you're playing a 50/50 creature without any form of protection that attracts the notice of the entire table who want to know who you're swinging at first, because you think the card is good enough on its own. Flying isn't really evasion, because all people need is another flying creature. Trample counts as evasion. Shadow is evasion. "Cardname is unblockable" is evasion. Esoteric blocking conditions are also evasion ("Can't be blocked except by three or more creatures").

On a metagame level, being able to play the game in ways that your opponents' decks aren't able to interact properly with can be a huge boon. Check out alternate win conditions. Rule-setting. Taxing effects that you're well-equipped to pay. Enchantments that scramble decks if you feel your deck is less powerful (Shared Fate / Knowledge Pool)

7. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked.

When you construct a deck that focuses on making incremental gain, you construct a deck that loses games. If it doesn't 'win big', you're vulnerable to people who can 'win big'. Incremental victory is only remotely okay if the metagame is so choked by removal and counterspells that this becomes the only way you can get anything done. Anything that's only holding off the bad guys for a few turns is going to cost you the game and then you'll be all sad and you'll cry and such.

8. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.

Whenever you have space in your Commander decks (Ha! I know, right?) consider the creation of a toolbox suite - some repeatable effect that serves as a potential answer to multiple threats or multiple threats to evade any number of potential answers.
For example, Life from the Loam can be used to recur fetchlands, manlands, and Strip Mine (don't hate the playa, hate the metagame), giving you mana development, creatures and answers to problem permanents.
Wild Pair allows you to seek out your effective utility creatures each time you play a creature.
9. O divine art of subtlety and secrecy! Through you we learn to be invisible, through you inaudible; and hence we can hold the enemy's fate in our hands.

When you have the hero in your clutches, don't pause to monologue about how "everything you see here is only possible because of one innocent, innocuous Land Tax providing me with the mana I needed in the early game".

When you play a card advantage machine, don't announce it as such - you're just playing the thing and then you're passing the turn. Let everyone freak out about Zur while you quietly do your thing.

Subtlety and secrecy are difficult to achieve in such a complex game of Magic, methinks. Magic has no "You didn't realise this, but I've secretly attacked you for the last three turns and you haven't noticed" mechanic. To play a card, you have to actually show people the card that you're playing (Too blindingly obvious, you say? Yet, there have been Jedi mind tricks of bluffing what you're about to do).

Even when you play something as enigmatic as a morph creature, people are still going to have a semi-decent chance of working out what it is and make an educated guess as to whether they want to see that sucker unmorph (... they probably don't). All you can hope to do is understate the level of threat that you present to the table. You can't make the outright lie that your Darksteel Colossus is actually an Obsianus Golem, but you can point out that it's far less of a threat than Ulamog. This is subtlety - achieving the same effect (say, not having your creature exiled or being attacked just for owning a huge robot, in this particular case) with less lying and manipulation on your part.

10. You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy's weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.

This is how I think of Zur, regardless of how
many times I've already killed him.
In the process of writing this article, I did some 'research', by which I mean, 'I played Commander. Then I took notes'. One such game was absolutely dominated by a guy playing Zur. There were a couple of players on the table who simply could not deal with Zur after he ended up with Inviolability, Pariah, Alexi's Cloak, Flickerform, awesomesauce and a few other boring cards. He asks if I can deal with him and I say 'no'. This is a lie and my friend (piloting Oros) knows it. He winks at me, which means that we're working together to exhaust Zur's mana so that we can use a sweeper to take out all of his Auras in one go.

What does my erstwhile ally playing Oros do during his turn? Swings at me for massive damage. Why is this not an instant deal-breaker? Because I can't afford to waste time using up precious removal or attackers on non-Zur targets. We kept co-operating and eventually, he used his mana to force Zur to tap out and I dropped the sweeper. I don't remember who won, but there's a lesson in it for ya: when your 'allies' have to prioritise someone else over you, their life total isn't critical and they can't sacrifice board position, don't think of them as your bestest buddy. They can (and will) use their answer card to keep themselves in the game even if you reduce them to a single-digit life total.

11. If we wish to fight, the enemy can be forced to an engagement even though he be sheltered behind a high rampart and a deep ditch. All we need do is attack some other place that he will be obliged to relieve.

There's a couple of ways to go after someone that you can't simply 'attack': going after their allies, going after their planeswalker, Edicts, board wipes, Insurrection, Blatant Thievery. All of these nullify some aspect of having a highly defendable position.

12. If we do not wish to fight, we can prevent the enemy from engaging us even though the lines of our encampment be merely traced out on the ground. All we need do is to throw something odd and unaccountable in his way.

Sometimes, you can throw people off with a well-timed blubber or by misting up a little when you murmur "no blockers" - I've never done it myself, but I have occasionally seen other players hesitate a little bit when they attack someone playing possum.

Other times, you can throw down something that is clearly intended to be the last word in defense. (My access to Gatherer tells me that as a collective, your favourite walls are Wall of Denial, Wall of Blossoms/Wall of Omens, or Wall of Tears. I congratulate you on your taste.) But when we talk about "odd and unaccountable", do we mean threatening to play One with Nothing if someone attacks you? That is odd. There's no easy way for your opponent to rationalise why that might stop them in their tracks. What we can do is play a card that screws up their ability to accurately gauge the outcome of an attack. For example - a morph card could be Akroma, or Liege of the Pit, or some other 'battleship' type creature, or it could be Bane of the Living or Soul Collector, which ruin a different kind of combat math. Of course, it could also be a Thrashing Mudspawn, so...

Other cards that ruin the ability to attack are Pernicious Deed, Chamber of Manipulation, or Royal Assassin. In these cases, it is pretty clear that something terrible is going to happen, but it's difficult to know with absolute certainty what will become of you.

13. By discovering the enemy's dispositions and remaining invisible ourselves, we can keep our forces concentrated, while the enemy's must be divided.

We return briefly to the golden rule of multiplayer - hang back and watch the action, stockpile removal, and move in for the kill when everyone is weak. Now, we move on to something new and interesting!

14. We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy's few.

Team up. In Survivor, the very first piece of theory that the very first players in the very first season picked up on was that you need to have friends - from Survivor, we understand that four players can dominate a sixteen-player game. Thus, two players can take on eight people who aren't explicitly teamed up against them, while only in a game of four people or less are you finally safe enough to be able to go all 'lone wolf' and just pick enemies off one at a time.

When you're busy breaking your opponents into tiny pieces, don't let them regroup or spend their last few cards helping someone avenge them. Every card they draw is dangerous to you. An enemy on 5 life isn't quite dead. Five enemies on 1 life each is so very much worse.

In short, look at people who have won games that required them to outplay more than one other person and become the 'last man standing'. What kind of traits do you and your strategies need to adopt?

15. And if we are able thus to attack an inferior force with a superior one, our opponents will be in dire straits.

10:1 odds, yo!

16. The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.

Your combo is a secret known only to you. The contents of your toolbox are known only to you. Your next target in a game is not public knowledge. Keep these three things true.

17. For should the enemy strengthen his van, he will weaken his rear; should he strengthen his rear, he will weaken his van; should he strengthen his left, he will weaken his right; should he strengthen his right, he will weaken his left. If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak.

Some strategies just don't play nice with others. The Rack and Black Vise are forever destined to be acquaintances at best or rivals jockeying for position at worst. You'll never be able to reanimate a token, and if you need to add more Wraths to your token deck, maybe you just need to change tactics. There's a sliding scale between focusing on an overabundance of one resource and the denial of a resource (e.g. Opportunity and Uba Mask aren't synergistic, Tainted Aether and token generation). There's a sliding scale between proactive and reactive.

18. Numerical weakness comes from having to prepare against possible attacks; numerical strength, from compelling our adversary to make these preparations against us.

So, the first step to not-losing at Commander is to include artifact/enchantment removal, a bit of land destruction and some way of dealing with a planeswalker. The first step to winning is building a deck which can use an enchantment, an artifact, a land, or a planeswalker to win, as well as ye olde creature beat(t)down(e), ensuring that they will either spend time accumulating answers to possible threats, or making a satisfying squelching sound as you roll over them.

19. Knowing the place and the time of the coming battle, we may concentrate from the greatest distances in order to fight.

This is why you stockpile removal in one vs. one formats. In Commander, spot removal is still important but it's also important to stockpile Wraths for the turn before the alpha strike (You've got more than one Wrath, right? Living Death and friends count as well.)

20. But if neither time nor place be known, then the left wing will be impotent to succor the right, the right equally impotent to succor the left, the van unable to relieve the rear, or the rear to support the van. How much more so if the furthest portions of the army are anything under a hundred LI apart, and even the nearest are separated by several LI!

If you don't know what an opponent's deck does, you need Jester's Cap so that you can get a fairly good idea. If you can't work out what's in his hand or what his plan in the next few turns are, you need Mind Twist so that he can't do it any more (I know that Despotic Scepter has fallen an awful long way since its heyday in the Weissman deck, but in the absence of investing in developing psychic powers or the years of experience it takes to simply "know what's in your opponent's hand", go for this). If you have none of these things, the best way to avoid dying is to try and convince your opponent to do their one big thing to someone else first and hope that you can take advantage of your next turn to blunt their assault.

21. Though according to my estimate the soldiers of Yueh exceed our own in number, that shall advantage them nothing in the matter of victory. I say then that victory can be achieved.

I'm not going to say that my dad is actually Tommy Wiseau,
but I
am going to imply it.
They say in the clowning industry that 'a knock is as good as a plug', which is why my Dad stopped saying my name out loud after he saw me drop an egg mid-juggle-routine. He'd just say "Oh hai Mark, this is my son, I call him hrrrrrrrrrrrrrk" and then mime that he was dying of shame and horror.

Anyway, this passage makes me wonder: who was Yueh? Why did the very general, otherwise easily applicable text on strategy by an amalgam of different authors mention Yueh? Why does the translation I'm using still contain a reference to him, long after Yueh has been lost to history? Did the original author succeed in defeating Yueh on the field of battle? Did Yueh defeat an enemy general, find this note on him and take it home to treasure the delicious irony and go on to write a part of the text that went on to become the Art of War? Was the boy injured? Why was the sad cebu sad? These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

Here's my take, which is probably entirely fictional. Yueh could easily have been a general, or a neighboring province. Yueh was probably a jerk and (proto-)Sun Tzu didn't hold him in very high regard. Everyone else was probably "Oh, man, Yueh is so great and his army is pretty huge. He's going to trounce our backsides back to the Three Kingdoms." and Sun Tzu was like "Aw, hell no, man. Yueh's a jumped up hick who thinks that just because his king gives him a bit of extra pocket money so he can have those extra light cavalry, he's so great. He doesn't even know how to use light cavalry." After that, people were probably all like "Dude, if he's so terrible, why don't you kick his butt and write a book about it and see who everyone remembers better?", because people always say such terribly shortsighted things when they're dealing with future-famous people (see also "Social networking will never make money, Zuckerberg!", "Focus on pop music, Wolfgang!", "Stop talking about cattle dips, Temple!"). Sun Tzu wrote a treatise about how he was the complete package and included some smack talk so that people would back him up.

22. Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success.

When New Phyrexia came out, we gained a card entitled "Praetor's Grasp", which allows you to tutor through an opponent's deck and fetch out one of their nice cards. Play it. Investigate any semi-powerful card that allows you to rifle through an opponent's deck and learn the intricacies of his deck construction. Build a Thada Adel deck and use it.

23. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.

Send a probing attack - anything non-petty is good (3 power or more). Does your target respond with instant speed removal? Do they throw a chump blocker in the way? What does this mean? Insult his mother, see if he responds with a witty "your face" or with some kind of card. Basically, anything the kids on primary school did to get a reaction out of you, you can pass on to your opponents. Alternatively, ask him if you want to help out taking down a mutual threat, if you feel like he really should be doing something. Why does he do the things that they do?

24. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.

Take notes on the composition of your opponent's decks. Whether formally or informally, it helps you work out what things they can do, what things they can't do and gives you an overview of their playstyles. If your opponent lacks Wraths, don't feel so bad about overextending. If your opponent uses counterspells and creature-stealing to the exclusion of all else, run Quagnoth, because it's easily acquired and dangnabbit, that card needs some love.

25. In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains.

There are two secrets to success in Magic: 1) Don't tell everyone everything you know.

26. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy's own tactics--that is what the multitude cannot comprehend.

Does your opponent love him some Voltron? You like Condemn, but you love Evangelise. Does nothing ever really stay dead? You can steal stuff from other people's graveyards on your own with Animate Dead, which is a fine and useful card. Consider the following shell:

DeckMagic OnlineOCTGN2ApprenticeBuy These Cards
1 Sen Triplets

1 Condemn
1 Hallowed Burial
1 Evangelise
1 Blatant Thievery

1 Mind Twist
1 Animate Dead
1 Bribery
1 Tormod's Crypt

1 Defense Grid
1 Teferi's Puzzle Box
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Guile

1 Gather Specimens
1 Spelljack
1 Overwhelming Intellect

1 Hydroblast
1 Holy Day

We don't want to kill a Voltron general so it costs 2 more to recur, we want to deny him substantially the whole of the benefit he derived from the deck in the first place.

We don't want to simply out-card-advantage a Rock deck. We want to derive our victory from their card flow - things like Black Vise and Rule of Law slow down a weighty card advantage to a crawl.

Stealing their creatures forces them to use potent removal on their own minions.
Tormod's Crypt gives us instant-speed denial against graveyard recursion, while leaving the cards free for us to pick through. If this isn't solid enough, -1 Tormod's Crypt, -1 Animate Dead and run +1 Leyline of the Void and +1 Samurai of the Pale Curtain.

We don't want to out-control a control deck - we want to make it impossible to sculpt hands or develop long term plans and rely on our card quality to hamper their efforts and steal anything that makes it through.

We don't want to have better stuff than a goodstuff deck - we want their good stuff for ourselves.

We don't want a deck that can be preyed upon - we need solid defenses and we need answer cards.

In an ideal world, there is no card your opponent plays that you cannot subvert in order to make their life more painful as a direct result of them having the audacity to play cards. Use Thada Adel to steal their precious artifact mana to fuel your cause. Turn their creatures against them. Drink their precious, precious tears.

27. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.

There is a sign on the highway near where I live advertising that 500m to your left, there is a Tao temple. I've never followed it, but I like to believe that if you do take that particular exit you end up following a long and winding road* only to find a plank of wood at a dead end chiding you for believing that any sign claiming to show you the Way would be the true way.

Anyhoo, there is a difference between tactics and strategy. Tactics is how you win the game, strategy is how you win at life/the metagame. In this particular part of the text, Sun Tzu is acknowledging that he can really only teach tactics that are illustrative of what good strategy looks like.

*that leads me back to your door.

28. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances.

In my last article, I talked about the different deck archetypes. There's at least one article that I'm aware of that is attempting to define every Commander deck type.
If you're a hardcore enthusiast, try to build one of each type so that you're able to be a unique force in each game.

If you're a casual player who will only ever have one deck, think about the effect you want your deck to have on the game and then go for it.

If you're branching out into a second deck after playing one deck to exhaustion, move on to the next kind of deck after the one you're building. Magic is a deep game, so you do yourself no favors by only ever sticking to the one archetype.

29. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards.

If everything hastens downwards, it is eventually going to reach the nadir of its journey. If all the water starts at elevation Y and only ever travels in a direction downwards and away from X, then eventually all water will reach a nadir and nothing will ever move again. Entropy dictates the same thing happens in real world situations. In Commander, you start out with a cool idea, you streamline it, you take out the weak bits and you add in more synergistic pieces. Eventually, you end up playing a mono-blue control deck with a turn-zero kill, even (especially) if you started out playing red/green Elves.

Recently, I've been dabbling in paying attention to my lectures at university. It's pretty cool stuff, and I recommend this tactic to anyone considering higher learning. I've learned about business strategy, which is one of the many disciplines that tends to appropriate the text from the Art of War in order to sell books. I'd judge them, but that would make me a hypocrite. One of the tidbits I've picked up is the "Porter's Five Forces Analysis", accessible here: (

I'll spare you the semester of learning about entrepreneurship by summarising thusly: if you're an entity trying to survive in a business environment, you need to compete with everyone else who is in the same field as you. There are two ways to do this: do the same thing as everyone else, only better, or do a different thing from everyone else and use that to overwhelm that. The analogy used to further my understanding of this model was as follows: you're flying over a beach in a helicopter, looking at people swimming. The vast majority of people are swimming between the flags, close to the shore. There's a lot of splashing and you can't pick them out as individuals, because really, they aren't individuals. However, if there's someone out in deeper water, a bit left of centre, you can pick them out pretty clearly, because any splashes they're making belong to them alone.

In this analogy, everyone swimming between the flags is attempting to compete on 'price' - making sales and profit by selling their product cheaper than the competition. There can only be one winner if the competition is reduced to a single parameter. If you choose to change the way you do business and instead compete on 'service', you can pull ahead of the competition... for a little while. Eventually, other people adapt, so you need to innovate again, or consent to competing on price alone. In Magic, think of a price war as being a war to make sure that your two-card-instant-win combo goes off quicker than everyone else's.

So, each time you build a new deck or decide that you're happy with your current one, you gotta ask yourself: Does this beat the current best deck at the table? If a new player rocks up at our gaming table, will they be blown out of the water, or is it still within the realms of possibility that a new player will annihilate me? Can I make use of new, unseen threats? How will this deal with new, unseen threats in the future? Can I afford this deck or is there an economic way to achieve what I'm going for?

30. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

As always, kill the guy on 1 life. It doesn't matter if he is topdecking and trying to replace the lands that got Obliterated away, he still has to die before he drops the one-or-two-mana necessary to use spot removal or counterspells. If you love Commander, you love it enough to play quickly so you can fit more than one game in a night.

31. Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows; the soldier works out his victory in relation to the foe whom he is facing.

A magical genie has appeared and offered you a free casting of any Commander-legal card you like. What is that spell? Why? What assumptions did you use in the creation of your answer? Post in the comments section, guys!

32. Therefore, just as water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.

Your choice of Commander deck should vary. There is no real benefit gained by saying "No, Bryndon, you're wrong and Teneb is the best general ever and he can take on every threat that Wizards has printed or will print in the future". There is no benefit gained by saying that blue is the strongest color or that red and green are the weakest combination. The only benefit you gain from locking yourself into one way of playing is that you'll be able to practise the motions that lead to your inevitable defeat and lose more efficiently than any other player at your table.

33. He who can modify his tactics in relation to his opponent and thereby succeed in winning, may be called a heaven-born captain.

Recent heaven-born captains in this era defined by pop culture: Michael Jordan. I had a pretty lengthy analogy here planned, but it turned out to be something I'd read from The Ferrett, which you can view at your leisure here: (Writers: always cite your sources. We have a critical mass of Magic writers on our hands. Lots of points have already been made and the space you have to make points is limited. Save time, look professional, do citation!)

To summarise: preferences are a thing that most people have, but the really scary people in this world don't prefer aggro, or control, or combo. They prefer winning, which they do by playing the deck type that will win. When the dust settles, we'll someday have a list of each broad stroke that can be called a "Commander deck archetype". Your task will be to win a grand melee with each one.

34. The five elements (water, fire, wood, metal, earth) are not always equally predominant; the four seasons make way for each other in turn. There are short days and long; the moon has its periods of waning and waxing.

Commander went through two grand phases in the last nine months: at the end of "you know my deck is good because it contains Baneslayer" era, the Eldrazi were amazing, with mana-ramp and huge battleship creatures dominating games. At the moment, we're waist deep in poison and proliferate shenanigans, as well as the Titans. Innistrad comes out in October and I see some delicious speculation that it's going to be 'alternate casting cost matters' block (see "Mercadian Masques 2.0" and "my love affair with Snuff Out and anything that kills dudes for 0 mana"), based on the life-for-mana that phybrid offers us. Whatever it eventually turns out to be, it will mean that the Eldrazi will become even less prevalent as the new hotness becomes the focus of everyone's pet deck, then a new hotness will start to force poison and proliferate out of our decks to make way for some new modular ability. Your job will be the evaluation and adaptation/destruction of this new hotness.

In my playgroup, I see wheels either turning, or grinding to a halt. If a player comes through with a new deck that turns out to be amazingly dominant, we either evolve, or stagnate. If we're feeling pro-evolutionary, we either find some tech that helps us deal with the offender, or we look deep within ourselves to find a 'new hotness' that will force everyone to adapt to us. If we're stagnant, we complain and moan, team up, or we ask them to change their decks for something a little less ornery.

In conclusion, good people: these concepts of 'strength' and 'weakness' are just placeholders for our potential for mobility in a game, not a measurement of how expensive our cards were or how big the numbers in the bottom-right look. Can we play something? We're good. Can we play something that helps us? We're better. Can we play something that helps us, without losing ground as a result of the repercussions? We're practically winning.

Strength is not tied up in any one archetype. Strength is found in different situations in each and every archetype. Explore them all.

That wraps it up here, folks. The next chapter is Chapter 7: Maneuvering. I'd expect to see it in July.

As a bonus, this means I can talk lots about those Commander precons! How great is that?

Bonus Section:

When I started work on this chapter, the Australian Tennis Open was in full swing. My wife is a fan, so we watched it. She watched with earnest interest, I watched because that's what you do when you're married and you want your wife to believe the 47" TV was a good idea. I did a lot of Googling and Wiki-trawling and I found this:, which is pretty interesting. Amongst other things: it turns out sports people get upset about 'cheap tricks' and you can play aggro in tennis. Fascinating! I've also heard rumors that there is a book available in everyday stores that claims to be dedicated to 'Tennis Strategy' but is actually incredibly applicable to any kind of competitive game, including Magic. I never thought I'd see the day when jockdom and nerddom would intersect so happily, but here we are!


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