C(ube) + C(ommander) Magic Factory #9 – Disruption in EDH Part 2

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Welcome back to C+C Magic Factory.  It’s been a hot minute since I picked up the Bloodletter Quill as end-of-year job duties caught up with me, but now that we are in the warm relaxation of the summer, it’s time once again to talk some EDH.  In part one of this now three-part mini series on disruption, we looked at what disruption in EDH means (messing with what your opponent has planned) and looked at some examples of six common classes of disruption you might see played during a game of Commander.  For reference, they are: spot removal, wraths, board wipes, catch-alls, 187s, and Disenchant effects.  Today, we’ll examine four of the remaining seven classes: discard, counters, prison, and theft (and for the final installment, we’ll discuss mana denial, chaos, and “going over the top”). On to the discussion!

7. Discard

The Good: Discard effects are great at nipping problems in the bud. With so many cards having immediate impact and/or built-in resiliency, pre-emptive solutions become very valuable.  Discard is also a great equalizer if you have a player in your group who is known to run juiced-up decks, since the power of discard scales with that of your opponents’ cards.  By pulling the trigger at the right time, it is often possible to slow the player in pole position down just enough to have a more fair and interactive game of Magic.

The Bad: Like spot removal, most discard is targeted, leading to the same card-disadvantage-in-multiplayer problem that you see with the former group.  Even if you mitigate the disadvantage with an X-for-1 discard like Rakdos’s Return or Identity Crisis, the result is even more unbalanced since all those cards come from one player.  That trait can also lead to some feel-bad moments as the discarding player can be put quite far behind the rest of the table.  Also, it must be noted that discard is not always good, since it does not protect from the top of the deck and there are an abundance of graveyard-themed strategies, like Karador, Ghost Chieftain, and The Mimeoplasm, that are resilient to and can even benefit from discard.

Who Wants It: Decks that have difficulty dealing with permanents and can recoup the card disadvantage are best positioned to make use of this traditionally black ability. This form of disruption is also metagame-dependent, as it can be used as a way of keeping certain decks in check while never being truly dead at a table with multiple players.

8.  Counters

The Good: Blue does it best.  Just like its black brother, discard, blue has the ability to stop pretty much any problem before it reaches problem status.  But while black does it proactively, blue does it reactively.  This has the political upside of avoiding the misery of being Blackmailed or put under Duress by stopping opponents’ cards at the point they become a threat rather than when they were just a twinkle in their planeswalker’s eye.  It has further collusive application by threatening a counter should an opponent step out of line. Counters can also be used as protection for your own threats and combos since they are one of the few answers to the many forms of disruption being reviewed in this article. Counterspells are incredibly versatile and make up the rare class of cards that can stop pretty much whatever your opponent tries to do.

The Bad:  Once again, the problems are the same as with spot removal: inherent card disadvantage and the need to keep mana open on your opponents’ turns. This is why Pact of Negation is such a great counter in EDH; you get all the upside of holding a counter with none of the downside, since you can progress your board business as usual and all the game-breakers in EDH cost five mana or more anyway.  Additionally, counterspells are incredibly difficult to play correctly—a fact made more true by the singleton rule.  The best counters get value in hand (even if they aren’t yet there!) as a threat and then get cast to counter a spell that will win the game for one of your opponents or lose you the game.  Sculpting that board state in a multiplayer game is no soft job and not for the faint-of-heart.  If a counter is fired off at the first spell on the stack, the card disadvantage will be a problem.

Who Wants It: Ux decks where x is not white or green will want some number of counters. They are one of the few ways of dealing with would-be problem permanents of all types non-creature.  Control decks want counters to seal the deal once stabilized and combo decks will want counters to protect combo pieces.  Decks with instant-speed card draw will best be able to leverage counterspells, regardless of archetype. Many players will want counters just because it’s fun to counter things.

9. Deterrents/Prison Pieces

The Good: Looking at this collection of six cards I pulled from my various Commander decks, I notice that each of these cards either makes a statement (“You can’t do that!”) or asks a question (“Do you really want to do that?”).  I grouped them together because the connecting theme is that in each case, you get a lot of disruption out of one card, enough to control the flow of the game. It is very difficult to quantify how much life a card like Ghostly Prison will gain you and cost your opponents over the course of a game.  Until turn eight, the card is superior to Moat, as all those creatures that would have come your way will be sent smashing elsewhere rather than just sitting at home washing their tights.  In the case of the prison, it works because it provides a disincentive for your opponents to attack you and that disincentive is strong enough that aggression is not worth it.  In the end, all the above cards (and many others, such as the curse cycle from Commander 2013) change the rules of engagement just enough to warp players’ actions and motives.

The Bad: Unlike many previous examples of disruption, prison-style disruption is permanent rather than directed spell disruption.  The upshot is that in addition to being susceptible to disruption itself via removal, the outcomes are unpredictable.  Sure, in nine games out of ten, no one will attack you while you have Ghostly Prison out because they want to tap out for Peregrination or whatever, but there will be that one game where a couple players are flooded and opt to get value from their lands by smashing you with their Commanders. Sometimes that Zur’s Weirding will lose you the game. Furthermore, if an opponent’s game plan is on a different axis than your disruption, these cards might just not do anything.

Who Wants It: The best prison cards are white, not because there are necessarily more in that color, but because white has the most cards that affect creatures in a meaningful way. In the above examples, a deck looking to win outside of combat will benefit from these cards since by dedicating one or two deck slots it becomes possible to negate swaths of your opponents’ cards.

10. Theft

The Good: While there are many other cards that can do what Treachery does, Treachery is the king of this type of effect. Most Control Magic effects are very similar, save for exceptions like Bribery (theft from deck) and Ray of Command (borrowing).  This class of cards has quite a lot going for it in that there is no card disadvantage or loss of tempo when measured against all the players at the table.  Furthermore, it can often create huge tempo swings  when the object of desire costs six or more mana.  Lastly, theft is a “75-percent friendly” way of killing your opponent with Ulamog or Vorinclex, since those had to start the game in their deck anyway.

The Bad: None, really. Being enchantment-based in most cases means the stolen item can usually be Returned to Dust, where dust is what’s left of your opponent after a good trouncing by their own creature. Also, if you kill the owner, then the creature goes with it, so be sure to save the best for last. While it makes the most sense to compare theft to spot removal, they do fill different roles, as something like Swords to Plowshares is a much more permanent solution despite lacking the #value of a Treachery.

Who Wants It: Since most cards of this type cost four to six mana and are blue, there is no deck that wouldn’t benefit from Control Magic and friends—and I have yet to see a blue deck that tops out at three. Perhaps a combo deck would leave this effect on the sidelines for more focus or a mana-plus-bombs deck like Animar, Soul of Elements, might have its sights set on bigger things, but then those decks had better be going over the top.

Out of respect for my word count and my urge to wax philosophical about mana denial in Commander, this series will wrap up with the next installment.  Until then, let me know in the comments or on Twitter how the new Conspiracy or M15 cards are working for you in your Commander decks or Cube drafts!

Play more lands,

Max Brett.

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Email: djkensai at gmail dot com

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Max Brett

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Max manages a rare cube and a peasant cube, as well as playing a fair bit of Commander. He cracked his first pack in 1995 and is still hooked! Get in touch if you would like to share your thoughts on Cube theory or the Commander format.
Max Brett

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