WE PLAY TOO 15: Reader Mail and a Poker Pro’s Affair with Merieke


WPT 13 generated a fair amount of traffic in the comments section regarding styles of play. As I said in the comments section from WPT 14, it was written before #13 was published, since I was going to GenCon, and I didn’t have the opportunity to respond then. I thought I’d take the time to respond specifically to some of those comments now (and then tell you how former Magic pro and current professional poker superstar David Williams fell in love with EDH).

First of all, EDH is not intended to be “normal” Magic. Everything we’ve done with the format is intended to shape a particular kind of environment, one where the casual player can play without necessarily falling prey to the more competitive player. The rules that apply to 1v1 tournament Magic simply don’t apply here. That said, we don’t want to Banned List to be onerous to maintain or remember.

Local groups will have their own character and social strictures. I fully support the right of local groups to, through both social and in-play pressure, to try to shape the environment in which they play. Social pressure, through things like (good-natured) trash-talking or just an honest “we think that’s kind of dickish” comment are fine. In-play pressure, like engineering your deck to make sure that certain other decks have a tough time, or ganging up on the style of deck your group dislikes is also fine. Again, players should, especially in a social format, make every effort to shape their own environment.

User Lord Faust hit the nail on the head when he said “I think a lot of people are confusing ‘free to play any style of deck you want’ with ‘free to play any style of deck you want with zero repercussions.’ I don’t see a difference between teaming up on combo decks and packing 4x Volcanic Fallout and 4x Great Sable Stag because you *really* hate Faeries.”

I also agree with user Lung when he says “I like interactivity and coolness and funness just as much as Sheldon does, but those words mean different things to different people. Honestly, people should gang up on the players using Obliterate.”

That means to me if your local guys all want to play the most cutthroat and/or combo decks, go for it. Shape your environment however you will. User whatisfgh comments “If combo is really degenerate then the rules should not allow it. Peer pressuring people into playing worse decks seems poor.”

We don’t want to from the top down, try to legislate what the local group does. That said, as a member of a local group, I have every interest in trying to make my leisure time as enjoyable for myself as possible–but I also have the responsibility to make sure that a maximum number of people are also having a good time, which is a point I think many players are missing. They only think of their own good times (“It was great! I killed everyone turn 3 in both games!”) and are not considering the whole. While this isn’t unreasonable in 1v1, competitive Magic, it’s contrary to the goals of the format to be social and interactive.

User Adam writes “I’m pretty opposed to people playing combo in casual, so I won’t get involved there, but I must agree that I am getting the vibe that Sheldon disagrees with any strategy that is not similar to his or weak against it.”

Although I’ll use my rather loud voice to promote a style of play I’d prefer to see, I don’t have a moral objection to any particular way of doing things. I don’t “disagree” with anything, I just have a preference. It’s like with D&D. Some players prefer hack-and-slash, some prefer deep roleplaying. Each group has to make its own choices, and just because you make a choice that I wouldn’t, I don’t consider you to have some kind of ethical flaw–I just don’t want to play that way. If my local group were to decide that winning was the do-all and end-all of EDH, and insane combo decks were the way to go (and trust me, it’s easy in the format, which can be broken rather easily) then I’d simply find another group to play with. Until such a time, I’m going to set a vision for my group and try to implement that vision.

The points system was conceived with the EDH vision (again, interactivity and sociability) in mind. It obviously promotes one style of play over another–because we wanted there to be more than one way to “win.” When you Control Magic my Darksteel Colossus, I might get a point, but when you crush me with it, you get points as well. When you take extra turns, you get minuses, but taking extra turns tends to win games–hence points for you (and one of our local players has at least considered the idea of giving extra turns to opponents as a win condition). The system as designed was a joint effort between me and the owners of the shop I play in, who have since taken over responsibility for its upkeep. They have dreamt up and added new awards. They randomly remove some awards each week to keep everyone guessing. Again, it’s designed to maximize the fun for the largest number of participants.

Adam continues “You can have fun playing EDH, but you’d better not play anything that upsets Sheldon, even if it isn’t good (you ever attempt to play Counterspell in a 5-man game? It’s pretty lackluster). Perhaps it’s just the way that Sheldon writes about it, but this playgroup sounds really frustrating and awful.”

This playgroup is actually loads of fun. The wild-and-wacky have definitely taken precedence over the winning. How else do you explain multiple Hive Minds in play and then firing off Warp World? This illustrates the difference between the casual and competitive. Casual is Hive Mind/Warp World. Competitive is Hive Mind/Pact of the Titan.

And of course, if someone “upsets” me, I’m going to respond. That’s part of the politics of a multiplayer game. If you start destroying my stuff, it’s likely that I’m going to respond in kind, or suggest others do so. When you steal my guys, I’m going to try to kill you, since that means I get my stuff back. In a league, where you’re playing most of the same players each week, memories can be longer than single games.

Although I bluster about it a fair amount for dramatic effect, I’m not actually opposed to counterspells. I play a few myself (preferring those that do extra stuff, like Draining Whelk or Overwhelming Intellect). I agree with Adam that a raw counterspell strategy in a multiplayer game is lackluster and asking for trouble–but counterspells also protect the group against the guy who decides to play combo. There’s a give and take. And trash-talking, especially if you’re not getting personal, is a reasonable part of the social game. “Bog Wraith is for noobs!” or “I’m attacking the first guy who counters my stuff” is reasonable. “You’re a pimply-faced geek who couldn’t even get his cousin to take him to the prom” is not.

Fun and Unfun

I’ll agree with multiple comments that “fun” and “unfun” mean different things to different people, which is again why I support local groups and the strongest voices in those groups to shape them they way they see fit.

User Joki has promised to stop reading, but just in case, when he says “How about you just adjust what you are doing in your deck, it is what the rest of us do all the time with our 60 card piles. I play EDH on occasion. I have a Teneb deck and a Stonebrow deck, and they are insanely fun to play. Do I cry when I lose to the Zur or Azami decks floating around the house? Because it sounds like Sheldon would whine and eventually start banning cards in said decks if he lived in my house,” I have to remind him that I’m actually a proponent of banning fewer cards, but that’s a different argument for a different time. What I’d do against the Zur or Azami decks is pack more enchantment removal, uncounterable and Pro Blue guys, and Boil–which seems like just what he suggests in the first place–adapting to the environment. Reiterating what Lord Faust hints at above, you can shape the environment with both your voice and your cards.

Andreas comments “And this more than anything shows us all why “casual” players are the scum of the earth. Words like “unfun” represents the age of stupidity ushered in by MaRo and his cronies, and ruins one of the coolest aspects of Magic – diversity.”

Seriously? Scum of the earth??? We’re talking about a good-timey card game, and not genocide, right? Comments like that make it difficult to take seriously the rest of what Andreas has to say. Nonetheless, I’ll contend that there’s way more diversity even in a socially-controlled EDH environment than in any other format.

User SnowPaperMonkey has a few things to say. “Even being a compulsive reader and a big fan of EDH, walking throught this article lines was painfull. Turn by turn reports are massively boring and thou I liked the overviews on the middle of them, this discussion here was far more attractive than reading Sheldon complaining like a little kid about combo being unfun and counterspells being the devils work.”

I’ve actually gotten considerable feedback that the play-by-play is a great feature. It’s painstaking and difficult to record every event in a game (although having multiple players makes it a little easier to catch up), especially while trying to play, think, and politic at the same time. There are times when it limits my fun a little, but I think the payoff, in the form of providing it to the readers who like it, is well worth it. Hopefully it’s formatted so that if you’re not really interested in all of it, you can just scan past to the “meatier” parts.

He adds “It would be very good to see Sheldon writing about the other decks he mentioned and brainstorming about the format, as long as he can keep an open mind to combo and control being unsplitable parts of the magic game we all love.”

I have no doubts about combo and control being parts of the game of Magic, but EDH is nearly a game unto itself, and not intended to be like “regular” Magic. If groups decide that they don’t want a particular element being played, then that’s okay by me. Again, this applies to social formats, not truly competitive ones. And I’ll be happy to talk more about other decks (both mine and other folks’) and some brainstorming on the format. Actually, after a quick report, I’ll do that with a new-ish deck.

Thursday night of GenCon, after Scott Larabee and Brian David-Marshall and I had eaten at Harry & Izzy’s in Indianapolis (home of the world’s spiciest shrimp cocktail), we were wandering back through the TCG hall in search of a spot to play the 100 card decks. We ran into Dave, who hadn’t done as well as he had hoped in the Vintage event. We invited him to play with us, and he said that as long as he could borrow a deck, he was in.

I offered him the choice of any of the decks I had with me, and he said “something with blue.” I listed Thraximundar, Lord of Tresserhorn, and Merieke, at which point he told me to stop, that was the one. Just a few turns into the game, his face was lit up with the pure joy of playing–this is a guy that absolutely loves Magic–and he kept repeating “this is insane!!!” He got a little stuck on the mana, and I actually don’t remember who won the game or how, but it was clear that it wouldn’t be a one-time thing for him. It was late and the other three of us had to work the next day, so we agreed to find him when we next sat down.

On Saturday, Scott was running Planechase demos for some of the WotC volunteers and GenCon staff who hadn’t gotten a chance to see or play it yet, and we had an entire seminar room to ourselves. BDM showed up with Dave a little later, and we played well into the night, this time with Dave piloting Thraximundar. Each time he drew a card, it was like a kid at Christmas. It occurred to me that here was a guy who could be doing pretty much whatever he wanted to, and what he wanted to do was play EDH.

I traded Facebook wall posts with him after the event. I told him I was glad he caught the bug, and he responded “Its all I’ve been thinking about. Gonna start brewing when I get home tonight. Have some fun ideas.” We’ll see what he comes up with.

Dave liked the Merieke deck so much, that I thought it would be cool to play it next league night. I don’t think I’ve talked about it here, so seems like a good topic to discuss, complete with the whys of certain cards and how I’ll approach the matches.

I really wanted to capture the power of Merieke, a low-cost General with a good ability. The WUB suggests some kind of control, but I also want to still live a little in the Red Zone. I wanted interesting cards to play with, cards that give me some flexibility and the ability to try to outplay my opponents. Sometimes you outplay them by building a better deck; sometimes, you do it at the table. I wanted this to be the latter, and then hope I’m up to the challenge of assessing the game situation and making best use of the cards. This is definitely a more reactive strategy than I’m used to or prefer, but it’s important to sometimes stretch one’s own capabilities. After all, when you’re weak at something, the only way to get good is to practice.




There are some obvious choices in the colors (like Angel of Despair and Teferi) and card-drawing utility (Enigma Sphinx, Jushi Apprentice, Mindless Automaton, Mulldrifter, Jens, Weathered Wayfarer). I wanted to take advantage of Deathbringer Liege’s ability to destroy tapped creatures, so Loxodon Gatekeeper and Seasoned Marshal seemed like good fits. Divinity of Pride and Exalted Angel are in for the life gain, with the former being pretty crazy if you can drop him turn 5. The deck seems like it might need a little help staying around. Bane of the Living, Blinding Angel, Pentarch Paladin, Nekretaal, and Ethersworn Adjudicator are control-y. Larabee had shown me the power of Stonecloaker in Indy, so I resolved to try it out myself. I’m not sure about Magister Sphinx, since there’s not a great deal of finishing–it’s unlikely that I can set someone to 10 and then outright kill them, but I opened one in foil, so it seems like the powers-that-be are telling me to play it. I’m also worried about getting it Bribery’d out and used on myself. Galepowder Mage seems like it’s full of shenanigans, either clearing the way to attack, reusing my own enters-the-battlefield triggers, or resetting stuff like a giant Draining Whelk. I put Uyo in there to copy really cool stuff (especially when one of my local guys was playing [card]Eternal Dominion[/card]), but it’s another that kind of got in there just because I cracked a foil version.




Most of them are obvious. Chronomantic Escape has in other decks proven time and time again to be an MVP in keeping me alive. Angel’s Grace was originally in the deck because I was playing Phage (for those Telemin Performance people), and a little backup always helps. I really like Ghostway, but I’d like it more if I had more guys that do stuff when they enter the battlefield. Time Stop is a “OMFG we need to get out of here!” backup plan.




Aura of Silence is a no-brainer to me when playing White. Debtor’s Knell is the best enchantment ever in Black/White, Leyline of the Void is to keep graveyard recursion from running amok, and Copy Enchantment is a cheap way to get Mirari’s Wake or something equally crazy.




Elspeth is obvious, Liliana is an emergency tutor.




Some standard mana acceleration stuff, and color fixing that gets deeper into the deck. Thousand-Year Elixir makes Merieke a creature destruction machine gun. Sword of the Paruns also seems kind of obvious with her, but there just wasn’t room.




Minamo is obvious with Merieke, but can also either help play some politics or catch someone attacking into a suddenly-untapped Legendary fattie. Tower of the Magistrate is useful at getting attackers past Sharuum and friends, or making equipment fall off at an opportune time. It’s also good protection from Vedalken Shackles.

Those are the cards I’ve put together for the next installment of EDH League at Armada Games, which will be week 7 of 8. I’ll bring you that report for the next installment of “We Play Too.”

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