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Here There Be Dragons: Abusing the new EDH Banned List

by Sean Catanese

A New World

For most tourney-versed Magic players, the world they live and play in was not significantly altered by March’s Banned and Restricted announcement. For EDH players, the update portended much greater changes. Tinker and Metalworker, integral to numerous blue strategies both as a pair and independently, were banned and three more format staples were put on the watch list: Gifts Ungiven, Time Stretch, and Sundering Titan. At the same time, Crucible of Worlds and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, were paroled from the banned list. Though players could always run Rofellos somewhere in their decks, he was banned from being head elf in charge.

While I’ve heard many players say that the three new watch-listed cards are long overdue for serious banning debate, just as many have expressed some confusion as to why Metalworker got the axe at exactly the same time Rofellos was set free. In explaining the changes, the EDH rules committee argues, “Cards that easily and cheaply produce great deals of mana are inherently dangerous to the health of the format. Metalworker is clearly one of those cards, and had to go.” This is a simplistic explanation of Metalworker’s multivariate brokenness.

While I can count the number of Mishra’s Workshops I’ve seen on both my hands, the potential to drop a turn-one Metalworker in a deck made up of mostly brown and gray cards is pretty insane, and there are plenty of other ways to hit three mana on turn one. In a properly designed deck, an early Metalworker will likely be tapping for six or eight mana on turn three or four and creating a near-insurmountable tempo boost.

With a few artifacts in hand, Staff of Domination and Metalworker make arbitrarily large amounts of colorless mana, which can then fuel, say, an absurdly charged Magma Mine, another ridiculous win condition of your choosing, or just funneled back into the Staff to gain an arbitrarily large amount of life or draw your entire deck.

Even without Staff of Domination as its partner in crime, Metalworker can fuel any variety of mana-accelerated shenanigans from an entwined Tooth and Nail well ahead of schedule to dropping a crater-making Sundering Titan out of thin air.

In short, Metalworker is quite the broken little Construct. Broken enough, the rules committee would argue, to threaten the integrity of the EDH environment.

Rofellos

Many have argued that Rofellos is really no different. He breaks Staff of Domination just like Metalworker, but can do the artifact creature two better by pulling it off on an empty hand and making all green instead of colorless. A decent turn four will see Rofellos tap for GGGG and Metalworker tap for 6 with a preview of what’s to come. Both offer immense tempo boosts with minor drawbacks.

The main difference between Metalworker and Rofellos in EDH is experience. Metalworker is a highly sought-after staple in mono-blue and other artifact-centric strategies because its value has been proven time and again. It changes games and wins them. Rofellos was, to use Rules Committee member Gavin Duggan’s words, “banned without any testing.” Without real-world proof of brokenness, the ban on Rofellos was putting the cart before the horse. So, it sounds like some cardboard-crunching, face-smashing is in order.

One quick aside: When I design and test decks in a column like this, it’s different from proposed decklists you might see in articles on Standard or Extended. It’s impractical to sort through a complete 100-card list and still retain a sense of a deck’s main objective, especially without Oracle-esque card knowledge or constant distracting clicks through to a card database. Rather, I’ll be providing you with a structure that outlines the basic elements of a deck utilizing the strategy. With the synergystic strategies highlighted, consider filling out the rest with format staples and ideas of your own. For every card I’ve put in a given decklist, it’s likely that numerous cards have been made that will satisfy that role just as ably. If you do happen to want a complete list of what I’m running in a deck, let me know in the forums or via e-mail and I’ll be happy to share. With that out of the way, let’s get to it.

How to Crack Rofellos

One basic design consideration has to be mana cost. With a turn-two Rofellos virtually guaranteed, this deck can run a curve weighted heavy on the 6+ side without too many adverse consequences. When green is just one of a few colors in a deck, paying 4GG to Vindicate or paying 6 to remove a creature is excessive, but a mono-green deck has very few creature removal options, so Desert Twister and Duplicant are good fits made even better by the high likelihood of hitting GGGGGG available on turn three. Potential game-breakers in the six-drop slot include Kamahl, Fist of Krosa; Mana Reflection; Primordial Sage; Silvos, Rogue Elemental; and Planar Portal.

Similarly, the deck should be lighter on two-drops that we’d normally want to hit in the early game. I’ll still put in fitting, protective staples like Lightning Greaves, but Scroll Rack and Umezawa’s Jitte, commonly used as format staples, are marginal in this concept and Grim Monolith is certainly out.

Staff of Domination – One of Rofellos‘ favorite toys. He breaks it just like Metalworker does (or did).

Helix Pinnacle – The most direct conversion of mana into win condition is also the silliest, but surprisingly viable in this deck. Paired with Seedborn Muse in a group setting, Helix gets ridiculous quickly.

Wirewood Lodge – A green Cabal Coffers. Also allows a soon-to-be-massive “elf” Chameleon Colossus to play in both sides of combat and adds another dimension to playing around any other elves you’re running. Rofellos doesn’t really need (or like) too many non-Forest lands in his deck, so the Lodge, three Strip Mine-esque lands in the Fastbond package below, Maze of Ith, Yavimaya Hollow, and maybe Gaea’s Cradle are all I’ll run.

Like most of the cards on the rules committee’s watch list, Fastbond is under close scrutiny for good reason. It breaks a core balancing principle of the game for an investment of a miniscule mana cost, and its one-damage-per-extra-land drawback is doubly minimized by the format’s high starting life totals and the ease with which green gains life.

Sure, Fastbond makes a fun infinite combo with Storm Cauldron and Urza’s Armor or Lifegift, but the G-costed enchantment is far more useful than that. While we’re testing one change to the banned list, why not test another? With Crucible of Worlds now running wild, Strip Mine and Wasteland turn the combo downright nasty. Even more “fun,” Ghost Quarter works just like Strip Mine when it comes to your opponents, and then lets you clean out your library’s basic lands and put them into play. Constant Mists really do become constant with the Crucible in play, and Zuran Orb adds yet another arbitrarily large life gaining strategy to the mix.

Add to this a newly acquired Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Exploration coupled with Life from the Loam, and you have a package that can function (albeit more slowly) even if its primary engine is knocked out.

Other Considerations

The mana costs for land-searching cards are usually priced dependent on the type of land being sought and where they end up. Basic land search spells are relatively cheap, especially if they put the land into your hand. Putting a nonbasic land into play untapped is typically more costly. With the deck’s focus on Forests as a source of mana and three ways to cheat extra lands into play (Azusa, Fastbond, and Exploration), the cheapest option (putting basic lands into hand) works best for that purpose. Things like Journey of Discovery, Yavimaya Elder, and either Sprouting Vines or Seek the Horizon are in. That said, some other land search like Crop Rotation and Reap and Sow will also be included, in part because Reap and Sow entwined is just what Rofellos can afford on turn three, but also to enable some broken Ghost Quarter shenanigans.

With the primary design considerations taken care of, let’s try it out. Though I eschew Magic Online in favor of the tangible cards, I’m fortunate to have a wife that’s supportive of my Magic habit despite not playing herself, and we host a regular Thursday night EDH game. For this deck’s debut, it went up against Sean running Angus Mackenzie, Riki’s Experiment Kraj deck, Gabe with Adun Oakenshield, Inari’s pirate-themed Ramirez DePietro, and Phil borrowing my Kresh, the Bloodbraided deck.

The early game with Rofellos is critical, and I expected to mulligan aggressively in the hopes of hitting three forests and a decent six-drop, but settled for an opening hand with just two Forests and a Strip Mine. With Rofellos on turn two, I hit Primal Command on turn three, tutoring up Vigor as a measure of protection for Rofellos and gaining some life. Hitting the turn-four Forest gave me the capability to cast about 95% of the deck’s contents. For most EDH decks, having the ability to cast anything in the deck so early is a huge boon, but the restriction to mono-green and colorless cards is extremely hobbling when it comes to creating and responding to a wide variety of threats. This was apparent in the deck’s first game and each game thereafter. Once Riki, running blue and green, hit his Gilder Bairn, Experiment Kraj, and Glen Elendra Archmage, with Seedborn Muse thrown in for good measure, the game was his. The green aspects of Riki’s deck magnify the core blue and multicolor mechanics, and having access to blue grants the Experiment Kraj deck control-based tools that Rofellos just can’t access. This highlights the main difference between Rofellos and Metalworker: versatility.

General or not, Rofellos really only fits into a mono-green deck. There’s no green equivalent of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, and Hacking the Tomb isn’t really a viable strategy. Metalworker used to fit into any deck with a decent number of brown and silver-framed cards. Even if I succeeded in extracting maximum value from Rofellos as a general in this build (which is questionable), his ability may make him better suited to a supporting role in a deck led by Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Green is far and away the most effective color for tutoring up creatures, and Kamahl has accounted for half of the deck’s wins thus far. A freak Fastbond/Seedborne Muse combo made for another win, and the rest can be attributed solely to collecting elements of the Fastbond/Life from the Loam/Strip Mine combo.

This brings me to another conclusion running with Rofellos has led me to understand: Fastbond needs to be banned in EDH. Its role as the chief enabler of numerous combos is only part of the story. Dropped on turn one, a minimal investment of two or three life is a tempo boost on the order of Time Stretch, but established well before any opponent has the opportunity to respond. While this did put a target on me that was tough to remove, it often didn’t matter if I could hit either Crucible or Life from the Loam, as my opponents didn’t have any resources with which to respond. More than one game ended before any opponent had actually lost, with the consensus being that the strategically “right” play of continually destroying opponents’ lands and swinging in with a few squirrel tokens was also the least fun for all involved. EDH, as with the rest of Magic, is first and foremost a game, and Fastbond upends one of its most basic rules in a way that is nearly impossible to pre-empt or respond to effectively.

Until next time, this is Sean Catanese telling you to go call down some thunder.

Sean is a DCI-certified Level 1 Judge and confirmed Elder Dragon Highlander evangelist. He runs FNM and other events for Great Escape Games in Sacramento, CA. He’s on most major forums at planarguide and can be reached at seancatanese-at-gmail-dot-com.

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