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Countering Impulse: Holding Fast to the Decks You Have

By Joseph A. Graves • February 1, 2017

Impulse Counterspell

Hi, I am Joseph Graves and I am an impulsive deck builder. I want to try out my new deck… every time I play. I have my favorites, but what time do I have to play those when I have all these decks I built around a random new card? Besides, people have already seen my last deck and become used to it. I need to move on to the next deck… and the next deck… and the next deck...

………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Okay. That admission sounds a bit negative. That is because, unfortunately, that tendency does have a very obvious downside that people who, like me, love deckbuilding as much as they do actually playing (maybe even a little more) hate to admit.

Impulsive deck-building has several consequences. Many don't realize what they are doing to themselves as Magic players when they so flippantly move on to the next deck. Chief among these is the fact that when you move on to the next deck after playing one only a few times, you deprive yourself of experience… and that goes for both meanings of the word.

The Loss of Experience and… Experience

Impulsive deck building causes you to miss out on valuable playing experience with a certain play-style/archetype. Every build has its nuances and unique interactions that can teach you something valuable about the game itself. Figuring out ways to win or overcome a sticky situation with simply what you have in the deck is a good tool to help improve your understanding and skills playing Magic.

For instance, if you have been playing mono-Red Daretti, how do you deal with pesky enchantments, which Red is most often terrible in answering? If you move on from a deck, say, to build one that better deals with such threats, you have limited your ability to play the game by not learning how to either better deal with these obstacles with the cards available or at the very least play around them.

Daretti, Scrap Savant

Also, by moving on so quickly to your newest deck idea, you are robbing yourself of the overall experience and feel of the game with your current deck. Each deck gives a certain vibe. Your social interaction with each deck is different as people react to their uniqueness. Not enough attention is given to the fact that EDH, or Commander, is far more social than most other formats. Deck-builds have an affect on conversations and personal interactions. Decks can make people cringe at the very utterance of their commander's name or make them become intrigued and curious about a unique choice in it's leader. Spending quality time with each deck you build helps you better understand other people's perception of you as a player and how those decks affect those with which you play.

These two issues occur because an impulsive deck builder poses their own greatest threat. Mentality is the prime detractor in these instances, and there are several factors that normally come into play.

Ooh! Shiny!

The most common problem with impulsive deck-builders is a short attention sp-- Ooh, look! Paradox Engine is amazing!! I better start brewing!

Paradox Engine

Wait. No. I was talking about…

Oh! Yes! Staying focused. That was it.

As dedicated Magic players will attest, spoiler season is like Christmas for Planeswalkers. Players eagerly await word of a new set and watch for each card that gets highlighted early. As soon as a card hits the internet, Magic players are trying to build a deck around it.

This is also true when discussing the discover of older cards as well. We have all spent our time in card shops looking through boxes of random cards or looking at online databases like the one here at MTGAssist.com (shameless plug) and discovered that hidden gem from Magic's past. We are then sucked into a world of new possibilities, even if the original reason we were there was to find cards for a deck we already have. This causes you to generate a new deck idea and, before you understand what's happened, you find yourself no better off on the old deck and that you've wasted your time on a whim.

While this is exciting and explorative building can be rewarding in it's own right, it eventually reaches a turning point after which it becomes detrimental to its original purpose. It is important for oneself to keep that drive in check in order to keep from straying so far into the land of the newly discovered that you completely forget where you were to begin with.

I liken the “Shiny!” mentality to a situation in which you believe you have found a mythical creature in the woods. You immediately decide to chase this creature so you can have proof of your amazing discovery. But, you soon lose sight of the creature and what you were even doing. Plus, you now have no idea where you are. You're floundering and now have to spend time just returning to where you started and what you were attempting to do in the first place.

As an alternative, write down your idea or note the card you've seen. You can always go back later. Stay on the task at hand and you will be rewarded with a deck which makes you happy!

Throwing The Baby Out With The Bathwater

Trash for Treasure

Another prominent mistake of spontaneous creators is their tendency to believe the best option for responding to a deck's weakness is to build a completely new deck that better addresses these issues. They convince themselves that moving on is the best option and that the obstacle the current deck experienced was too pervasive to overcome. A lot of energy is inevitably lost in searching through cards to come up with a new idea.

Going back to that theoretical Daretti deck mentioned above, adding cards like Unstable Obelisk or Spine of Ish Sah are great additions to Daretti's arsenal to deal with enchantments. Defense Grid may have been a decent response to counterspells. There are a plethora of options for Daretti. But, if one assumes there is always going to be a glaring weakness, they shoehorn themselves into a blind instinct to proceed to the next big deck idea. Here, the only true fault is that of the player and their self-inflicted narrowing of perception.

Scavenging for Parts Is Problematic

Too often, established decks are scavenged for parts. A player may find that a new deck could really use that card he put into and older deck. They remove more and more cards over time until the old deck is an empty shell. Eventually, the player will just scrap that deck entirely as there is not enough left to constitute as a viable build. This facilitates the urge to go ahead with a new build.

Rummaging Goblin

And don't fool yourself into making the empty promise to move cards into different decks as you play them. This simple action can actually lead to upkeep fatigue. You eventually just scrap old decks because it becomes tedious to shuffle cards from deck to deck.

To keep those old decks running strong, one should try to find different card options or try to trade/purchase duplicates of Commander format staples. If you have a playgroup, ask them if it is alright to proxy certain cards. They may allow you to do so if they know you already have a copy or two. Most only don't want you to proxy cards you never tried to acquire in the first place.

For instance, I love Doubling Season and have several decks that run it. I've traded for a second copy to fulfill the needs of my decks. I've also traded for “lesser” options like Parallel Lives if the need is only for tokens instead of counters. Likewise, if a deck wants to work with counters, cards that bare the proliferate mechanic might be a decent option to replace the expensive Doubling Season. If my deck just can't hit that specific note without the Season, I'll ask if I can run a proxy just for that deck.

Change Your Surroundings, Not Your Deck

Recently I discovered another cause of chronic deck-builder's disease by, of all things, encountering its solution.

Scapeshift

If you have a playgroup of trusted friends that you play with to satisfy your Commander needs it is often seen as a 100% positive. But, it has some negative elements as well. As one with a playgroup himself, I can attest to the rut one can fall into due to the homogenous experience of playing with the same people… over and over again. Each player in the group knows how each person plays and the cards in each player's deck. They know just how to interact and overcome the threats of the others. To spice things up, players will build new decks.

There are two players in my group that, on two separate occasions and unbeknownst to the other, recently stated, “I better build another deck, because I know you guys are tired of seeing this same deck from me every time we play.” Is this a good thing? Yes. You need to change things up every now and then. But, if we continue to play as the same group for the foreseeable future, how many new decks are we going to have to build just to keep things new and interesting?

I recently was able to meet up with a friend I used to play Magic with during my college years.We found ourselves living only an hour away from each other as a result of recent moves after having lived half a continent away for the last 10 years. I drove out to meet him and we went to his local game store. We sat down with a group I had never played with before and played a couple of games of Commander.

I am very picky about whom I play with and I don't like spell-slinging with hyper-competitive people. I found the people I trust in my playgroup. I dare not venture out from the confines of our safe-zone.

But, I took a chance as I did have one player with me whom I knew and trusted. And what did I find? Another group of people with which I enjoyed playing. I was amongst people who did not know my tendencies or my style of play. I was just as much of an unknown to them as they were to me. The biggest thing was...

I enjoyed it.

Even though I was piloting a deck I had recently finished building, the experience reminded me of when I first started planeswalking with my dedicated playgroup. It brought back memories of my first Commander decks and made me wonder what could have happened if I had played those old decks with this new group of players.

It made me want to play an old deck.

The next time I played with my local playgroup, I piloted my first deck I had ever built for the Commander format… and it won. I had stopped playing it long ago because people had become used to it and soon began bringing new ways to deal with it. But, now, after several iterations of the individuals moving from deck to deck in a desire to overcome other players' tendencies, that old deck no longer had those impediments that had so long ago been set forth by my foes. That old beauty once again had its time to shine. What's more is, I thought of new cards from the newer sets to try to integrate into that old deck.

All of this because I simply changed my surroundings and the people with whom I played.

Should you scrap your playgroup? Absolutely not! Just be open to new playing experiences.

The Circle Is Now Complete

Story Circle

Is building a new deck every now and then a bad thing? No. But it should be considered a treat, not the main dish. Try instead to have a healthy rotation in which decks you play. Soon enough, those old decks will once again bring joy to your game and bring back memories of battles past. It might even strike up a conversation or two amongst your group and be a nostalgic jumpstart to a stale Magic friendship. Keeping those old decks around even after building a new one may lead to the old itself being new again.

A Special Treat

So, you made it through my ramblings, eh? Good for you. As a reward of sorts, I'm going to actually include not one, but TWO decklists.

First, here is that deck I played with that new group of wizardly folk.

Riku, of Two Reflections

Riku of Two Janky Directions

Land:

1 Breeding Pool
1 Command Tower
1 Evolving Wilds
6 Forest
1 Forgotten Cave
1 Gruul Guildgate
5 Island
1 Izzet Guildgate
1 Kazandu Refuge
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Lonely Sandbar
5 Mountain
1 Raging Ravine
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Simic Guildgate
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Swiftwater Cliffs
1 Temple of Epiphany
1 Temple of Mystery
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Timber Gorge
1 Tranquil Thicket

Creatures:

1 Riku of Two Reflections
1 Psychosis Crawler
1 Charmbreaker Devils
1 Djinn Illuminatus
1 Dualcaster Mage
1 Fierce Empath
1 Galvanoth
1 Garruk's Packleader
1 Goblin Electromancer
1 Guttersnipe
1 Hamletback Goliath
1 Horizon Chimera
1 Hydra Omnivore
1 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Ingot Chewer
1 Living Hive
1 Magmatic Force
1 Man-o'-War
1 Melek, Izzet Paragon
1 Nucklavee
1 Plated Slagwurm
1 Rampaging Baloths
1 Simic Sky Swallower
1 Trygon Predator
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge

Artifacts:

1 Chromatic Lantern
1 Mirari
1 Sol Ring

Enchantments:

1 Doubling Season
1 Parallel Lives

Planeswalkers:

1 Chandra, the Firebrand

Spells:

1 Brainstorm
1 Counterflux
1 Counterspell
1 Dispel
1 Dissolve
1 Double Negative
1 Firemind's Foresight
1 Into the Roil
1 Jace's Ingenuity
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Opportunity
1 Peel from Reality
1 Plasm Capture
1 Turn // Burn
1 Boundless Realms
1 Compulsive Research
1 Cultivate
1 Explosive Vegetation
1 Farseek
1 Goblin Rally
1 Hull Breach
1 Lava Flow
1 Mass Mutiny
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Ponder
1 Rampant Growth
1 Ranger's Path
1 Savage Twister
1 Sylvan Scrying
1 Telemin Performance
1 Tooth and Nail
1 Unexpected Results

In this deck I really wanted to explore the flavor of Riku's ability. He's a blue mage with leanings towards Red's spell-slinging and Greens search for creatures and ramp. I had better swing both ways. Am I right? Heh? Heh?

Okay. Bad jokes aside, this deck wants to do two things: Use instants and sorceries to ramp and manipulate, and creatures to bring the pain and rid the board of problems.

I purposely chose the ramp to be mostly instants and sorceries instead of artifacts so they could be copied and get me twice the land! Nine lands in play? A top deck Boundless Realms with Both Riku and Melek, Izzet Paragon out can make that number now potentially be in the 30's! Explosive Vegetation with a Riku-copy will now fetch you 4 lands for six mana instead of 2 for four mana. You'll have no problems setting that Rampaging Baloths off with this strategy.

Several of my creatures have “enters the battlefield" trigger (ETB's) so that Riku-fueled copies could become overwhelming board manipulators. Copying Indrik Stomphowler? Destroy two artifacts and/or enchantments. Copying Magmatic Force? You're now dealing 6 damage each upkeep and winning with flavor text. ETB's and Riku are a planeswalker's best friends.

And who can resist the overwhelming power of Doubling Season in such a deck? A Living Hive and its token counterpart can bring home the bacon. Have Purphoros, God of the Forge out as well? May the gods of Theros have mercy upon your opponents' souls.

This deck is fueled with random, janky cards that fit the mechanical theme of the commander. There isn't anything absurdly abusive in the deck. It's all just for fun!

I was able to Riku-copy an entwined Tooth and Nail and even Riku-copy two of the 4 creatures I was able to pull from the aether! The first creature brought in being Purphoros, that's an addition of 10 damage to top it off. Six powerful creatures and 10 damage to each opponent for 13 mana. Awkward fun for the whole... well… just me, really. Although my opponents did seem to have a good laugh when I pulled it off.

But the experience did remind me of my first deck. What was it?

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

(This is the list as the deck appeared when I took it out of its box for the first time in ages. I've added new toys since, but I'm sticking with this so you can see its older incarnation. Who knows… the updated version might be a deck-tech article in the future!)

Before you say how uncasual Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind can be, notice two glaring absences: Curiosity and Ophidian Eye.

The deck does have some of your typical Niv-Mizzet fare, but the control aspect of the deck has been toned down. I wanted this to be a more casual deck that has a means for other people to answer it if they pay attention.

This deck can go off in one turn in rare occasions, but it's not because of one card. It's built to search for other, more mana-intensive and clunky cogs to make that wheel. You'll spend most of your time just drawing cards. A LOT of cards. The goal is not to bring Niv-Mizzet out onto the board until just the right time. I lost track of how many times I've heard, “Why haven't you played Niv-Mizzet yet?” It has been precisely those instances when Niv-Mizzet was able to win. All because people held off of me because they thought they still had time before my deck worked its Magic. (Pun intended.) If I don't have Niv-Mizzet out, chances are good that I'm amassing the pieces to my engine and you had better pay attention.

The key is patience. Powerful cards like Consecrated Sphinx can no doubt wreck havoc on the game, but they are more or less a distraction. With cards like Mindmoil, which can be much more lethal, out at the same time as the Sphinx, most go for the card draw on a body. This leaves your real combo piece to live long enough to make the commander a living nightmare.

It's all about throwing off threat evaluation. He who misdirects lives longest in Commander.

Often, though, this deck does a whole lot without actually DOING anything. It's fun because of that. You never know how it'll play out.

And Now For Something Vaguely Resembling A Sign-Off

That's it for now. Hopefully you learned something from today's musings. Stay focused on the decks at hand and keep those old faithfuls together, fellow planeswalkers. You'll never know when old is new again.

Until next time, remember and respect who you are as a player and who others are as well.

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