fossil mailbag podcast

Hey, I’m back. Sorry for being on hiatus.

wew.

 

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Interview with Moxnix

Hey friends, I did an interview with Moxnix, one of the original Storm pioneers. I’m very happy with the way it turned out. Big thanks to Moxnix, asm for mixing the audio, and everyone who helped me come up with questions. Also special thanks for Stephen Menendian, without his SCG articles the research for our history of combo segment would have been much more difficult.

Retrospective: a cEDH Tournament Through The Eyes of Players and TOs

Hello friends,

3 months have passed since the ending of the /r/competitiveedh Tournament and I decided it would be an excellent time to interview some of the people involved while it was still relatively fresh on their minds. I’ve interviewed 3 members of the top 4 pod (imoc, neosloth, and tournament winner Leptys), two participants (Lerker and Shaper), one organizer (Lobster aka Sigi of /r/LabManiacs fame), and the head honcho for /r/competitiveedh (Shake). Let’s get right into the interviews, fair warning this is lengthy but I assure you, well worth the read.

Meta breakdown from the tournament:

Overall Meta:

Stax – 9

Midrange – 8

Adaptive Combo – 10

Fast Combo – 25

Control – 3

Voltron – 1

Top 4: Gitrog (W), Teferi, 4c Control, 4c Reanimator

Adaptive Combo – 3

Control – 1

Top 16Top 4 + BUG Sidisi, Jeleva, FCT, Azami, DD Zur, Zegana, FCT, FCT, Zur Control, Karador, Grenzo, 4c Scepter

Midrange – 1

Adaptive Combo – 5

Fast Combo – 8

Control – 2

Leptys

 

fossil:

What were your general impressions of the meta, how games went, and why (if you have any speculation) 0 Stax decks made top 16?

Leptys:

I reckon the games were more or less pretty fast, as all of the meta was combo-oriented. There were several Midrange/Stax decks, but because they were at a minority they had a harder time keeping the combo people in check. There were some really weird situations at times, mostly because every pod was with a new set of people and therefore reactive forms of controlling others was in the best of interests. A lot of blue decks as usual did good especially Teferi, I got to play against that twice, once in the round robin and then again in the finals. The reason why Stax decks were a minority in the Top16 mainly comes down to having a small presence in the metagame, which in turn came down to going to an unknown meta where the pods switched up in each game. There was also a big factor about how infamous a certain deck was equaling the amount of attention it got in each game. That’s why I think newcomers like Thrasios/X did very well while some more conventional decks didn’t do as well. I think the reason Teferi did so well was also because people thought it would be more of a Stax list, but then it combo’d off from nowhere in turn 3. A lot was about expectations, then using those expectations to your advantage to fool others, then combo off when the coast was clear.

fossil:

Anything from the finals that really struck you as being interesting for people who may not have been able to watch?

Leptys:

The finals included several situations that could be called “silly”, like using the cleanup step way of comboing off with Gitrog in the first match and that solidifying the fact that there really wasn’t much slow play regulation. That led to having a very long think tank turn with the Thrasios/Tymna deck’s Praetor’s Grasp lines, that in the end just took away my Dakmor Salvage. The most interesting thing I think was just how Telepathy worked out in the finals as a card. First it came off as super useful, and forced the players fighting against each other while the person controlling Telepathy could keep a low profile, but when the games went on, people grew more and more familiar with the Telepathy control deck, so they knew they had to force him to use some of the control he had in order to keep him in check. In the last game, because of that, several misplays were made in the early turns, and I could slip a win through with more or less a t2 godhand. Better be lucky than skilled, they say. I think I won on t3 in the last game, actually.

fossil:

Do you feel like the meta breakdown/results of the tourney were reflective of the meta at large at the time?

Leptys:

I actually don’t think they were, just because the environment was way less established that it would be in something like a playgroup that meets once a week. You had more or less zero knowledge of what you would be up against, and that lack of information leads you to picking a combo deck and rolling with it. In the more established metagames both online and off-line, there are way more Control/Midrange/Stax lists that thrive in their environment. As far as combo deck selection goes however, the results were more reflective but, as I mentioned above, every single deck in the finals had something new going about them, something that was less expected to be good. That’s why people made several miscalculations that led to these rogue decks taking the cake to the top4. That’s natural of course, because all of the 4 decks in the finals are still good decks in their own right.

fossil:

How do you think the meta has changed since the tournament, is The Gitrog Monster still in about the same place? Stronger/weaker?

Leptys:

There’s actually a funny thing about that. After the tournament, in my metagame it came down to 2 factors pretty much regarding how well would Gitrog performed. First factor is the rise of Hulk decks. The second factor was the amount of attention Gitrog would get in each game. Both increased the amount of grave hate in every control deck in my Finnish meta, which is the reason why Gitrog had a very hard time winning any games after my success in the tournament. In the online side of things, new Stax/Midrange brews like Tana/Tymna could get their hands on Gitrog, which was more or less a nightmare for me as a pilot. Cards like Linvala and Leyline of the Void became the main cards to play around, which required adding some weird removal cards like Slaughter Pact and Deglamer/Unravel the Aether. However, quite recently the meta has shifted back to the combo side of things again, both offline and online, so Gitrog has been able to steal more than a few wins once more, after several months of difficulties.

fossil:

Do you feel like grave hate is going to be more common with the introduction of Kess and Razaketh to the meta?

Leptys:

I definitely think so. I wonder if people are going to run out of viable grave hate cards at this point, lol. Razaketh is a variation of Hulk in a way however, so don’t know if the amount of Razaketh decks is going to be too big. /u/MarstheSoos’s Sidisi Buried Alive list has enjoyed the addition though, so there it will definitely be a keep. Kess is more of a mystery at this point, because the amount of brews that are going about with her in the helm has been big but I guess we’ll see how much grave hate she warrants including in the coming months.

fossil:

Can you tell me anything about how the Finnish meta is different from the Trice meta and/or what you would expect from another tournament held on Trice today?

Leptys:

In Trice I think it’s still more on the combo side of things, as people can change their decks on the fly and the amount of different combo decks that are powerful is large. I think the Finnish meta is pretty balanced as far as the prevalence of Stax vs Combo goes, there are different Control/Stax brews as well as a couple of Combo brews going on. The power of Ad Nauseam is never to be underestimated, and same goes for Mystic Remora and Carpet of Flowers (which are at this point have been jokingly nominated as the “Power 3” of cEDH, lol). If another tournament would be held this quickly, I think the amount of Stax/Midrange decks would be bigger just because of the small amount of time that has passed after the last tournament. Even then, Combo decks would have an edge just because of the new tools they have gotten, mainly Hulk and Razaketh. So it might be hard for slower decks to keep up.

fossil:

Any thoughts on what you would like to see out of future tournaments?

Leptys:

I always like to see new brews, but skilled players of already established lists winning games in unconventional ways is also great to witness. Anything that people like to talk about even after the fact, like the incredible 6-0 score that Lime_Blue got with his Sidisi Hermit Druid list.

Lerker

fossil:

The CEDH Tournament ended 3 months ago, we saw 9 stax decks enter and 0 make top 16. How do you feel Blood Pod would fare against this meta?

Lerker:

I mean, saying the tournament ended 3 months ago is disingenuous when the decklists are all from 7 months ago. But overall it would probably do fine/mediocre if this was a similar meta. Luckily the number of slower midrangey combo decks and the number of Stax decks has gone up since then, so it kind of depends on a lot of things, as EDH always does.

Fossil:

Why do you think no stax decks top 16’d the tournament?

Lerker:

I mean, a slew of reasons but the most pertinent one is that people overvalue removing hate pieces that hurt themselves less than another player. I personally witnessed in 2 of my games in the tournament a player removing a hate piece from a second player and then a third player winning.

It’s also a bit easier to grind your pods with fast combo decks than with Stax, in groups stage your opponents are a bit more likely to make mistakes and that hurts Stax a more than it hurts combo. With Stax you’re also giving your opponents more opportunities to make mistakes that lose both you and that opponent the game, than with fast combo. It also looks from that snapshot to be an unfavorable meta, 1 Stax vs 3 combo is heavily disfavored for Stax and with numbers like those above where 9 decks are Stax and almost all the rest are combo, it’s not really a surprise.

fossil:

So you think it might be a phenomenon similar to how day 1 of GPs and other large tournaments frequently have an overrepresentation of aggro strategies (because aggro is typically the most effective deck against rogue decks) and then as you get closer to day 2, top 8 etc. you start to see higher skillcap decks more represented?

Lerker:

Yup. But unfortunately we don’t hold tournaments that size, so the numbers just weren’t there for any stax decks to make it through to round 2. I think with a bigger tournament some would have probably. There was that one midrangey-staxy boonweaver karador list that made it in to top 16, but we labeled it midrange in the breakdown because of some card choices. Maybe at the next one?

imoc

fossil:

Just basically wondering what your general impressions of the meta were, how games went, and why (if you have any speculation) 0 Stax decks made top 16.

infiniteimoc:

I mean I think that the tourney meta is pretty reflective of what you would expect. Games mostly felt like a game of chicken where people were trying to slip the wins in when they could. Like Stax before TnT was really developed had the limitations you expect Stax to have so like it’s harder to justify playing it in a tourney setting. It gets even worse because people were opting out of playing it for this reason. Meta gaming made Stax even less likely to have it’s ideal conditions aka another Stax or Midrange deck in the pod. The conditions for success in Stax just weren’t available imo.

fossil:

Do you feel like the results of the tournament were meaningful, in the sense that they provided a good snapshot of what the meta looked like the time?

infiniteimoc:

Ehhh. I actually felt like there were a ton of different decks including Stax decks. Plus like many of the people who played weren’t even part of trice meta. It could have very well been a skew created by meta gaming imo. Like the tourney doesn’t reflect the meta at large, but it’s probably a good indicator of future tourney metas. Well, we may end up seeing more adaptive combo or midrange combo or whatever people are classifying stuff as nowadays.

fossil:

Sure, let’s say there was an open qualifier tonight, what do you think it would look like?

infiniteimoc:

Lots of Hulk and Storm, some TnT, maybe like 1 or 2 Rashmi, a few Gitgud Monsters.

fossil:

Is that reflective of the meta at large or just what you’d expect to be the strongest choices for a tournament?

infiniteimoc:

I expect to see meta gaming like previously. So those would be reflective of what I think meta gamey picks would give you. I mean, I think Hulk and Storm are on the rise, so like those might reflect the current meta but a lot of people came out of the woodwork last time so I don’t feel comfortable saying that it’s reflective of anything other than what I think metagamers would come to the table with.

fossil:

What do you think it would take to have a tournament that was more reflective of the meta at large? Is it purely a sample size problem, or is it a product of frequency? Other factor?

infiniteimoc:

I mean I think the issue is defining a meta at large. Like at the end of the day our decks adapt to our pods and our individual tastes. So you might have a bunch of people playing with their home groups in Midrange/Stax land and so the meta at large could be Midrange or Stax. If we are just doing volume of decks being played as a reflection of meta. I think to get an accurate picture you would need to make a super meta and from there observe it for like 6 months.

fossil:

What do you mean by super meta?

infiniteimoc:

Like the meta of all or most people playing cedh. You could also hold more frequent tourneys, that would create a tourney meta which is what most other formats use. Right now the tourney exists in a vacuum and you need to have more of them to give it relative weight, from there you can draw conclusions on what is meta, even if it’s just a metric of tourney metas it’s still better than what we have now imo.

fossil:

What would you pilot in a tournament if you had to choose tonight?

infiniteimoc:

BUGR Thras or Grixis Twin probably.

fossil:

Why Twin over Storm?

infiniteimoc:

Preference, I have a better late game and can pack a bunch of disruptive elements in the deck. Animating Jin-Gitaxias and Consecrated Sphinx is pretty impactful too. And it’s brain dead to play, so I’m less likely to just thonk out fucking around with Doomsday and having to cast a bunch of spells. Too much work.

fossil:

Which variant of BUGR Thras do you favor right now? Still reanimator or do you prefer Scepter or Flash Hulk?

infiniteimoc:

Reanimator, especially with Razaketh.

fossil:

You’re not afraid of incidental grave hate because of Hulk/Kess decks?

infiniteimoc:

Nah not really, I won a game with all my win cons but gorger exiled in the last tourney. The deck has plenty of removal and ways to win. Like because you aren’t trying to reach some kind of critical mass of spells you usually end up with a little more removal spells than you would in Storm so grave hate can be handled. Most of the combos don’t need cards sitting in your grave to execute, and there are like 3ish ways to get to your win so incidental grave hate is gonna harm most other decks more than my Reanimator list. Hulk losing pieces is much more scary for them imo.

Neosloth

fossil:

Just basically wondering what your general impressions of the meta were, how games went, and why (if you have any speculation) 0 stax decks made top 16.

neosloth:

I think that has more to do with how decks were classified. It was the awkward transition period when the adaptive combo term was coined. For example, I think that a few of those Midrange decks are probably Stax decks, what was Karador then is 4c hatebears now. Well some of the variants are. The tournament meta in general was pretty weird because it had a lot of less competitive decks and homebrews, so I don’t think that the top 16 represents anything and there were a lot of logistical problems and people dropping out. The only reason I got the best win record in the tourney was because a lot of people dropped out making my pods into 3s, which Teferi excels at. Deck is still strong but it wouldn’t have been quite as ridiculously good otherwise

fossil:

Interesting, so are there any ways you feel the tournament could be structured to give better results for people who might be interested in a more accurate snapshot of what the meta looks like

neosloth:

Only use one platform like Discord and not Discord+Reddit+whatever because trying to find a common time with the person who only wanted to use Reddit was a pain. Also people need an incentive to play.

fossil:

What I mean is not so much from an organizing perspective, more what would it take to get meaningful data about the format?

neosloth:

Oh. Not much you can do imo.

fossil:

More frequent/smaller tournaments? Pop-up events?

neosloth:

It’s an awareness problem. Maybe more frequent tournaments, yeah, but the last tourney still seemed like it was half people who wrecked their FNMs and thought they were hot shit.

fossil:

How much would an invitational with qualifiers help?

neosloth:

Could help. Hard to tell. I feel like the community now is a bit larger than it was during the tourney

fossil:

How did the meta feel during the tourney compared to where it’s at today if we held an open qualifier?

neosloth:

No partners, like, partners have changed the format in a massive way.

fossil:

Sorry, to clarify, you mean just less partners right?

neosloth:

Yeah, what I meant is that partners weren’t as ubiquitous, they weren’t “the default decks” and people were still testing the waters.

fossil:

It seems like they would probably be more represented today. Would you be piloting Teferi again if you had to choose right now, or do you feel like there’s a better choice out there?

neosloth:

I would be piloting Teferi again because I still think that he is one of the best decks in the format but he is a bit worse because of the partner hatebear decks.

fossil:

What makes the deck so strong in your eyes?

neosloth:

It has an easy 1 card combo and it can play 3 gameplans with stax, control, and combo. The game goes at the speed you need it to be.

fossil:

How much interaction would you be running for the graveyard strategies with Razaketh, Flash Hulk, and Kess running around?

neosloth:

Same amount, maybe a hate piece like Tormod’s Crypt if it gets really bad. Tymna is the problem for Teferi, not Hulk.

fossil:

Why is that?

neosloth:

The deck doesn’t have a way to deal with on board creatures. There are a few removal spells but if there are multiple bears you can’t really stop them from beating you down.

fossil:

What decks do you think are underplayed right now? Teferi?

neosloth:

Teferi and Zur.

Sigi

fossil:

How did you end up organizing the tournament?

Lobster:

I had an idea that I wanna do something about ffa multiplayer ranking, matchmaking, and tournament structure as my bachelor’s thesis, so I came up with a method of pairing people that I wanted to test out.

fossil:

Mind if I ask what the method was?

Lobster:

Round Robin, but for 4 players being matched rather than 2. Which complicated things quite a bit.

fossil:

Were you happy with the results?

Lobster:

I was very happy with how it would’ve worked in theory but in practice, there were several issues. People couldn’t get their pods together because of time zone and availability issues, some people didn’t commit to the full duration of the tournament, so we had a lot of dropouts, which lead to a lot of 3-player matches being played, etc. One of the main issues behind that, however, was that there wasn’t really any incentive for people to stay committed. On top of that, it was really stressful for me personally

fossil:

Would you do it again/do it differently if you did?

Lobster:

What I’d do differently would be to separate groups into timezones/availability to make organizing easier and to maybe expedite the process. I’d also offer some kind of bigger prize, or use a small buy-in – something that will make people committed if it’s an “open” tournament where everyone can sign up. Or I’d do an invitation-only tournament for the people I know would be committed to the end.

fossil:

Have you thought about doing an invitational with open qualifiers?

Lobster:

Not really, to be honest – the invitation-only part came to my mind as I typed up my response. To be fair though, with how much I’ve got going on right now, I couldn’t organize another tournament even if I wanted.

fossil:

That’s fair. Did you get a chance to watch much of the tournament?

Lobster:

I actually did commentary on a bunch of rounds – sometimes together with Dan, sometimes with Lerker, sometimes with both. So yeah, I got to see a fair amount.

fossil:

Any overall thoughts on the meta at the time?

Lobster:

Fast combo has always been the most popular archetype on trice, so it doesn’t surprise me to see that many here. Outside of that, a few less popular decks got their moment in the spotlight, but there’s nothing that’s too out there in the top 16.

fossil:

Is fast combo less represented on playEDH?

Lobster:

Yes, it is.

fossil:

Why do you think that is?

Lobster:

  1. Fast combo Decks are often easier to pick up and do well with quickly compared to more interactive decks. There’s less of a learning curve to most of them before you actually see results.
  2. When you build a list in paper, even if it’s entirely proxies, it’s more of a commitment than loading the list up on trice. That’s why people on there prefer decks with more “depth” and/or decks that have a more balanced matchup against the cedh meta as a whole.
  3. When you play on playedh, you’re basically sure to play with people that have the same understanding of what cedh is. That’s not always the case on trice, and fast combo decks have a much better matchup against noncompetitive decks than the other archetypes.

fossil:

One thing I’ve been asking people, is now the best time to prioritize grave hate?

Lobster:

Let’s see – Razaketh is popular, Hulk is popular, Kess is gonna be popular, and most of the hatebears lists also have graveyard synergies and/or combos. So yes. Graveyard hate is top quality at the moment. You need the right kind of graveyard hate though, if you jam 5 extra narrow graveyard hate cards, you’re not gonna get anywhere, partially because that means you removed a bunch of cards that are probably more generally useful from your deck.

fossil:

So it sounds like you’re pretty high on midrange/hatebears strategies is that fair?

Lobster:

Yes, but I will make the caveat that, on average, they require a more skilled and experienced pilot to win.

fossil:

What would you like to see out of the next cEDH tournament?

Lobster:

Pretty much the changes I talked about earlier, outside of that, maybe more coverage and exposure. Something to get people that don’t normally take an interest in cEDH to watch.

fossil:

So a foil Grim Monolith on the line? Or better yet, a foil Wanderwine Prophet?

Lobster:

It’s not necessarily about what’s at stake, for the spectator side at least. It’s more about making people realise that cEDH is interesting, fun, and unique, and has nothing in common with the pubstomp experience so many people have at their local stores.

Shake

fossil:

What were your general impressions of how the organization of the tournament went from your perspective (sign-ups, getting pods together, the round robin)?

ShakeAndShimmy:

My impression was that it was being capably handled by the Tournament organizers, which were primarily Lobster and Coinman, with a shoutout to Lerker for stepping up for the assist.  This was actually our first tournament setup that I really had no part in helping with at all.

fossil:

Nice, do you have any idea how much growth we saw this year in terms of viewers/entrants compared to past events?

ShakeAndShimmy:

This years tournament was our largest ever.  I’d have to talk to Coin or Lobster to find out exactly how many signed up, but I’m pretty sure we had 64 sign up and then about 50 actually commit, but I might be off on those numbers.  Prior to that our largest tournament was 32 sign ups with maybe 29 of those following through on their rounds.  We also had many more recorded games this time, so our viewership was much higher than it ever was in the past.

fossil:

That’s awesome. Moving forward, as the overall EDH format grows and the cEDH community grows with it what are your plans for future tournaments?

ShakeAndShimmy:

Our plans for future tournaments basically revolve around improving the existing model.  We want cleaner brackets and shorter play windows without compromising the pods themselves.  We’re experimenting with some different ideas, perhaps a series of smaller tournaments to ensure more consistent player participation.

Our biggest issue is people not showing up to play, and our second biggest issue is dealing with the massive time zone and scheduling conflicts that come with international pods.

fossil:

Is there any sort of timeline or are things in the planning stages?

ShakeAndShimmy:

Definitely in the planning stage at the moment, we learned a lot with the last tournament but right now the goal is to figure out how to best implement what we learned and maybe solve some of the issues we ran into. Once things settle down a but for some of our mods I think you’ll see something more concrete.

Shaper

Shaper:

I was happy to see a variety of decks in the top 16; we saw everything from mono-color to 5-color, a variety of wincons, commander-centric and commander-agnostic decks, and representation from a few surprising archetypes like reanimator Thrasios, control Zur, and Food Chain Zegana.

The games were varied and interesting as well, exhibiting early wins, intense midgame power-struggles to victory, and late-game grinds. Everyone played solid games and they were very fun to participate in and watch.

Stax was unsuccessful for a few reasons: primarily, stax as an archetype is weaker than the combo-centric strategies. It’s simply easier to win than it is to prevent 3 other players from winning. Secondly, it’s incredibly hard to build a stax deck (a strategy that is reactive to what others’ are going to try to do) for a blind metagame like an online tournament. Stax as a strategy is predatory on knowing what your opponents are trying to accomplish so your hate pieces can dismantle it. And tertiarily, people are cognizant of the above, so they bring combo-centric decks to play — the more combo and less stax in the metagame, the less successful stax tends to be.

fossil:

What are your feelings on how the meta has changed between the tournament and today?

Shaper:

Protean Hulk unban is undoubtably the biggest change. It made Druid + Flash/Hulk strategies a solid contender in the fast-combo realm of decks and did a lot for GBx strategies: Varolz Hulk appeared as a nifty fast-combo deck, Hulk being a buff to what once was Boonweaver (now “Hulkweaver”), and other options emerged for more niche commanders like Meren, Mimeo, a spicy Tana/Tymna “Hulkball” build by tw0handt0uch, and others.

Razaketh is also an interesting new contender. He represents a definite strengthening to Reanimator decks similar to the BUGR Buried Alive deck that infiniteimoc took to the finals. I’ve been putting up solid success with a BUGW Raza-centric adaptation, helped tune a very solid BUGW Razaketh bears build by Wedge, and I’ve seen lots of awesome brews like mono-B Sidisi Naus/Raza by soos, BUGR Raza builds, etc.

People also continue to explore deeper into the partners. Particularly, a Tana/Tymna Bloon Moon stax build featuring Kiki combo by the name of “Blood Pod” has appeared and taken hold as the strongest amongst the popular stax builds. Lerker, infiniteimoc, and Splitmouse have done great work bringing it to life. Even beyond that, we’re seeing cool decks pop up all over. I’ve seen various Tymna/Tana stax/sac builds, Silas/Sidar stasis, Ishai/Reyhan Food Chain, Ishai/Akiri stax, and lots of others.

fossil:

It’s awesome to see the format growing as much as it has, not only with the evolving meta but also with the growth of the subreddit and EDH as a whole. What’s next in your eyes and what can enfranchised players do to help continue this growth?

Shaper:

The best thing to be done is to keep expanding our own understanding of our format and archiving that knowledge for players beginning the journey into the competitive sphere. We still have a long road of showing other Magic players the depth and fun that can be had in competitive Commander, but I’m more than confident that that will be evident in time.

To new and old players alike: Stay creative. Bring new ideas to life. Aspire to share your knowledge. Never let anyone make you give up on your dreams until they’ve crumbled in your hands — and know that new ones are always in reach.

fossil:

Finally, a question that’s very interesting to me personally, there has been a lot of discussion on stax in my interviews about this tournament and it seems like people definitely feel like Fast Combo and Stax have a place in the format right now. What are your thoughts on Midrange and Control? Are they tournament viable, are they being held back, why or why not?

Shaper:

The potential for any of Stax, Midrange, and Control to be viable/strong always hinges on pod composition. All of the decks that want the game to go on longer are empowered by other players at the table trying to accomplish the same thing. If everyone else is trying to jam wins, Stax and Control won’t be able to stop them; similarly, Midrange will get flown over by decks going too fast if there aren’t Stax and Control decks keeping them docile. However, once you have a mixed pod, say: Combo, Control, Stax, Midrange — the Combo player is forced to go slower, as the Stax player might land a stax piece while the Control player holds up countermagic. Everyone there should be wary of the Midrange player ignoring everyone and ramping/drawing to infinity.

Interestingly, it really comes down the way people perceive viability. If people aren’t confident that they can win piloting the non-Combo archetypes, they’ll choose to play Combo and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy that continues to push out those archetypes.

Viability for these decks is ultimately a question that can only be answered in context. What decks do you expect to see? Where do you want to be positioned temporally at the table? Will people be helpful or averse to you trying to slow down the game? You can be successful on these decks if you pilot them well and the meta is ripe for them; choosing how to play a metagame is just as important as choosing how to pilot the game itself.

 

That’s all for today, thanks so much for reading. Stay tuned for my next article on hypergeometric probability in cEDH and the continuation of my series on banned cards. 

fossil

Stax in cEDH: An in-depth discussion with three prominent brewers

Hello everyone, this article is a discussion with three well-known brewers about the stax archetype in cEDH. All three have worked on the 4c Blood Moon/Birthing Pod hatebear-based decks that have become an important part of our meta today. We’re going to focus on the Blood Pod deck in particular, but expect a thorough examination of Stax as an archetype, its strengths and weakness, and its role in our current meta.

 

Lerker

fossil:

I’d love to know what you think effective Stax looks like in the format, as far as I can tell toolboxy hatebears like WGBx are the best right now. imoc is definitely into it, I have some concerns about it, I’m not sure where you fall.

Lerker:

Yeah it’s pretty decent in the meta at the moment. I agree that you kind of need WGB with how top combo decks are shaping up because you need access to dorks from green, Rule of Laws from white and black tutors to ensure you have the right pieces / close out a game.

If you think about the overall EDH metagame there are 3 categories in fast combo, Stax and midrange with most cEDH decks being fast combo and essentially all casual decks being midrange and if you’re a fast combo player VS 3 midrange players your chances to win are quite good. In the past Stax decks had two key issues which were closing out the game or having enough good pieces to get to the mid – late game; it was very hard to both lockdown the early game AND find a win-con before your lock is broken.

For example, a lot of Derevi decks had the problem of turn 2 dropping their whole hand of stax pieces and then going into topdeck mode for 4+ turns trying to find wincons / things to prolong the game further to eventually find wincons. You sometimes just topdeck more lands / dorks and then are SOL. In Tana/Tymna we finally have a stax deck that solves most if not all of those issues. Tymna allows us to (off of only 2/4 colors) turn our lock pieces (hatebears) into card advantage, and being in Naya gives us a lot of good combo finishes with Kiki, and being in black gives us the tutors we need to find those hate pieces and/or wincons when we need them. Tymna also allows us to utilize wasted mana dorks in the late game by turning them into draws, and draws enough cards that the chance to set up a lock and draw into only mana is greatly reduced. The deck being red also gives us access to blood moons which are incredibly good in the current meta of many Tymna/Thrasios decks.

In EDH, deck archetypes generally fail when they are the only one of their type at a table (assuming actual competitive pods). Shaper came from a meta with all fast combo players, and when he came to play with me and my friends for the first time who were all on more midrange-y decks and he had a lot of trouble taking games because we all had a lot more removal and value cards than him, so we would all durdle while holding up removal and his one counterspell to protect his combo wouldn’t be enough.

Similarly, taking one midrange deck to a table of all fast-combo players you won’t be able to stop anyone from going off, and taking one stax deck to a table of fast-combo players you won’t be able to hold everyone back because even though your Null Rod makes player B completely dead in the water and useless it kind of hurts player C and they end up counterspelling it, leading to player B’s victory

So, for a pretty long time we had a meta with a few niche stax decks, a few niche midrange decks and then mostly fast combo, and unless you were a really good pilot you weren’t really gonna get far as the only X at a table. However, with Tana/Tymna we finally have a deck that is able to compete at a table of all fast-combo, and while generally still being a worse choice if you KNOW that everyone there will be fast combo, it’s a viable option. This has opened the floodgates to a lot of other niche stax decks to make comebacks, because decks like Nath and Ruric Thar fucking LOVE seeing a Tana/tymna deck at the table and once there are 2 stax decks and 2 fast combo at a table there’s a LOT of ways the game can play out.

In general though, most players in EDH are still playing casual midrange decks, and if you happen to know that you’re up against 2-3 casual midrange decks, even if there is another really good cEDH deck at the table, your best option is to probably play fast combo. The overall core of the problem comes from EDH players as a whole being awful at threat assessment and not knowing the meta of top decks. Stax will always be an archetype that comes hand in hand with politics because there are a LOT of players who are too focused on themselves, and so they notice that the Null Rod kind of hurts themselves but don’t notice that it completely shuts down player B (from that example before). So you as a stax player have to point out the threats constantly and hope to try to sway player C into saving their counterspell. So you have to actually play the entire table, and trying to play the entire table is much more difficult than playing just your own hand like you have to with combo. In short, it’s much easier to figure out how to win than it is to figure out how to keep 3 people from winning AND win.

Lastly is spite. It gets thrown around a lot in our discussions “don’t expect your opponents to be bad” and “don’t expect your opponents to make spite plays that lose themselves the game”, but when you play in real life with real people that just doesn’t work. In my experience, many many people dislike playing under stax MORE than they like winning. They just want this game to be over so they can get on with their lives and they don’t care if they hand the game to someone else to end it. People are emotional and if you act even a little “dickish” while playing a stax deck your winrate will notice. You have to be the guy who “wants everyone to have a nice long game with hard decisions, do I ramp this turn with my 1 spell or do I tutor?, you know, hard decisions” and the guy who “is keeping that dirty combo player down, don’t worry guys I’m on your side, Tazri is the enemy” etc. You also have to actually know how everyone else is planning on winning. So you have to understand pretty much every deck in the meta and pretty much every pseudo competitive combo as well

So yeah, overall assessment for me is that in a mixed archetype meta of the highest level of competition, stax is pretty good right now, especially in numbers and especially Tana/Tymna. In most real-life metas, fast combo is still a step ahead, but not 3 steps ahead like it used to be.

fossil:

It seems like you’re saying that Tana/Tymna has solved some of the consistency issues that plagued traditional stax strategies in the past, but may to some extent be held back by meta and/or pilot skill. Is that fair? Is it the deck itself or would you say the meta is friendlier to stax at the moment?

Lerker:

First point, yeah that’s pretty much the gist of it. Second point, they are interconnected. It’s a deck that pushed the meta towards being more friendly to stax, there’s a good enough stax deck that it’s opening up people to try to play other stax decks and midrangey-staxy decks. That coupled with the fact that fast combo decks are greedier than ever, meaning that stax has a better chance to catch them with their pants down. Like, if all the tier 1 decks are of the same archetype then that means that you’ll mostly be playing up against that archetype and if all archetypes are better the more there are then it’s suicide to play an off-meta archetype, if that makes sense. All the T1 decks were combo, so to play a game meant that you were normally facing 3 other combo decks, which meant that playing stax was shitty. With a T1 deck that isn’t combo, you’re opening the doors.

fossil:

I feel like the tier 1/major decks to beat right now (and feel totally free to correct me if you disagree) are Tazri, Teferi, Frog, 4c Combo (Scepter/Hulk/Reanimator),  DD Zur,  and Grixis Storm. Are there any of those matchups you feel Pod struggles against/is heavily favored in?

Lerker:

Well the thing is that edh doesn’t quite work like that because there are two other people at the table. Like, Tazri vs Tana is completely different when the other two decks are blue from when they are non blue. Oh another thing of note, stax also is hurt the most by going late in the rotation, generally, compared to combo and midrange.

fossil:

Wanna expand on that?

Lerker:

In the abstract, a single stax deck vs a single fast combo deck stax wins. Similarly combo > midrange > stax. Particularly out of those you listed we have a pretty even matchup with Tazri, 4c for the most part, good matchups against Zur, Teferi and Grixis and bad matchups with Flash Hulk variants and Frog. Mostly we’re relying on artifact hate, Blood Moons, and Rule of Law effects, so decks like Zur and Jeleva who get hit hard by all 3 have the hardest time coming back. Decks like Frog who have a bunch of dorks, basics, and don’t rely on artifacts to win are nightmares.

fossil:

How about going later in rotation?

Lerker:

Essentially, a t1 root maze going first is a lot more potent than when going last. Or a t2 rule of law before or after they have taken their t2. Stax in our format is a tempo oriented strategy, where you try to tempo yourself ahead so you can win without others being able to react, because for each 1 draw step you get there are 3 looking for removal for your cards.

fossil:

Do you feel like that’s something that hits stax particularly hard or is it just a symptom of multiplayer for all archetypes?

Lerker:

It’s more relevant to stax in a lot of ways, especially for the first few turns.  Being able to turn 1 stax piece before anyone else can play their fast mana puts your opponents more turns behind. Like, imagine you’re playing zur and you’ve got a hand of a bunch of rocks (let’s say 3) that you can play into each other on t1, which gives you enough mana for t2 tutor -> ad naus, and I’ve got Crypt Savannah Root Maze Rule of Law for t1 Maze t2 Rule.  If you go first you get all of them out before my Root Maze and then untap and win t2. If I go first I get t1 root maze which means your t1 is free rock, tapped land pass, and instead of a t2 projected victory you’re at a t6 expected victory.

Also fuck. I missed my stop on the train.

 

Splitmouse

fossil:

One thing Lerker said that really struck me was that he felt Blood Pod had paved the way for more stax to come into the meta, has that been your experience since you started playing the deck?

 

Splitmouse:

Yes. With Blood pod, combo decks had to play more cards that protect themselves from stax (more removal) and it slows them down. Because they make those meta decisions, it’s easier for other stax decks that might be a bit slower to get going to exist.

fossil:

Are there any new stax decks popping up or is it some of the more familiar decks returning to a favorable meta?

Splitmouse:

I think it’s more that a deck like ruric thar was good, then combo got faster and it got worse. Blood pod came around and slowed down the combo a bit. And now Ruric Thar is playable again. Sigi and I are working on another stax deck that plays blue instead of red and puts more of an emphasis on mana denial than Blood Pod. As of now it seems okay, but Blood Pod is stronger. I feel like after additional tuning it will be in a good spot.

fossil:

How do you see the meta developing further and specifically stax’s role in it, barring any major changes that may come in Ixalan?

Splitmouse:

I think that people are still leveraging hulk, so Stax decks are adapting to it (I play more grave hate now) but until we see anything from the new set I don’t see anything crazy happening. The new commander set didn’t really add anything to shake up the meta either. So its probably gonna stay about the same.

fossil:

How do you feel about Pod’s matchups in this meta? Obviously it’s very fast combo heavy at the top right now in general, but are there specific decks you feel Blood Pod does well/poorly against?

Splitmouse:

I think that Blood Pod has a fighting chance or good matchup against almost all decks in the meta right now. I switched to Blood Pod after flash hulk came out because I thought it was positioned really well in the meta. I still feel like it’s one of the best decks to be playing at the moment.

fossil:

Do you feel the deck is going to stay pretty close to where you and Lerker have your lists now or are there things you’re still unhappy with tuning-wise?

Splitmouse:

My list: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/tana-and-tymna-blood-pod-primer/

His: http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/tana-and-tymna-kiki-stax

We have about 8-10 cards different at any given time. And the thing you have to keep in mind with stax decks is how we change in response to the combo decks changing (most of the time). Or at least our meta changing. So, if everyone keeps bringing the same decks I think I’ll be set here. If people play less breakfast hulk I’ll cut out faerie macabre and add something else in, or look at other aspects of the deck.

 

imoc

http://tappedout.net/mtg-decks/tymna-and-tana-dance-under-the-crimson-moon/

fossil:

Ok imoc so you’re a stax player, what is making you decide when/why to pick up a stax deck instead of a combo deck and what’s your mentality going into a game?

infiniteimoc:

So, in a world with infinite resources I would have a couple of decks to play and I would play a stax deck into a pod with at least one other midrange or stax deck in the pod. This is the ideal environment for stax decks to be the most successful. With the direction stax decks have taken you are less disadvantaged in the full combo pod if you play Tymna/Tana. My mentality going into the game is to produce a soft lock for most of the table and dig for my combo once I have sufficiently put people behind. You can think of stax having inverse goals to fast combo, especially stax decks like Tymna/Tana.

fossil:

Why do you feel this proactive style of stifling fast combo sans-blue is performing so well in a format where games are frequently won and lost on the backs of reactive blue spells like Force, Pact of Negation, and Mental Misstep?

infiniteimoc:

It’s because of the nature of the tools used to stifle them. Stax decks of old would incrementally reduce the combo decks’ access to resources using tax effects, and sweeping stax effects (like Rule of Law and Blood Moon). The problem with including all these incremental stax effects is that they needed more stax effects to be more than just a nuisance, and got worse as the game progresses. So you used to have a lot of slots dedicated to cards that needed to be played in the early game and needed a few of them to keep their effectiveness. As the meta saw the bloom of 4c creature based ramp really came into the mainstream.

A bunch of fast combo decks were born that were resilient to most taxers. The traditional combo decks needed more wipes too so they also slowed down and became a little more resilient to tax effects, this was compounded by the fact that most of them had incorporated Dramatic Scepter in their combo package. When I was brewing BloodPod I saw this as the end of the go wide and swing stax era.

These decks were becoming more resilient in the late game and harder to nickel and dime in the early game. So I decided to brew with the idea that my goal should be to play a combination of sweeping stax pieces like rule of law that fundamentally change the way a deck plays out. Of special interest was bloodmoon. With 4c decks pushing 2c and 1c decks out (I attribute this to be due to the fact that 4c was very new and open to exploration and without budget options the draws of having a more limited pool of options decrease) Blood Moon became extremely potent in the meta.

An early Blood Moon had the potential of locking all 3 of your opponents from any meaningful mana coming out of their lands. I took the nickel and dime stax pieces out leaving only 1 or 2 that could hit even the dorks and focused on filling the decks with Rule of Law effects, Aven Mindcensor, and land hate. The goal was no longer to just nickel and dime them until you punch them to death. You just wanted to hurt them as much as possible as fast as possible and then set up your engines to victory.

Get a Rule of Law and Linvala/Blood Moon out and then go for the win if able. Sometimes exploring unintuitive strats can lead to the answers to conventional issues. I got a lot of flak for trying to make 4c bloodmoon/land hate but I’ve been pretty satisfied with the results.

fossil:

Do you think there’s any room for traditional Sphere and Sac-based stax decks to come back into the meta or is hatebears the way to go for the foreseeable future?

infiniteimoc:

That’s a tough question. Spheres aren’t unplayable, they just have very narrow utility. If you consider that stax is mostly flex there are certainly meta compositions that could require spheres or more sac based stax pieces, but until they print more options for these kinds of effects (along with hand hate, we need way more hand hate) or the meta shifts in a significant manner, or they make a commander that helps these cards in some way I don’t see a real change occurring.

 

That’s all for today! Tune in soon for a restrospective article on the most recent /r/competitiveedh Tournament and some spicy pieces on Hypergeometric Distribution and Turbo Xerox. Thanks so much to Lerker, Splitmouse, and imoc for making this possible and thanks for reading. -Fossil

“How would [card] impact the CEDH meta if it were unbanned?”

CEDH players love discussing how the banlist is curated, but let’s have a discussion about the cards on it! Anyone who has played a game of Magic can quickly understand why Ancestral Recall is a strong card, but what makes a card such as Balance so strong that it’s Restricted in Vintage and banned in EDH? Most of this article is based on my perspective as a Vintage Cube and Modern player, but we’ll always try to stay grounded in our favorite splinter format. Note that I’m not suggesting any of these cards can or should come off the banlist September 25th, just trying to gauge their true power level and use to our format. On to the cards!

Gifts Ungiven – Legal in eternal formats other than EDH

How Gifts is used in other formats: Gifts is used in two decks currently, one very much a top deck in the Modern metagame and the other slightly more fringy. Modern UR Storm utilizes cost reduction creatures (4x Baral, 3-4x Goblin Electromancer) and makes piles with Past in Flames, Rituals, and additional copies of Gifts to build a Storm count high enough to Grapeshot for the win. The deck is resilient to hate, using Empty the Warrens to win through Rest in Peace and Leylines. Gifts’ other use in Modern is as a reanimator deck to ramp as quickly to Gifts as possible and pile a silver bullet creature (such as Elesh Norn against a dork deck or Gaddock Teeg vs Tron) and an Unburial Rites.

How Gifts would likely see use in CEDH: Gifts is a turbocharged Intuition in some decks, a double Entomb in others, and can make some extremely interesting Storm piles similarly to the Modern UR Storm deck. Let’s dive in. The most obvious home for Gifts at first glance is Kess – the value is nearly 4 Demonic Tutors for 3U. That’s filthy. The real fun of Gifts in cedh is that other archetypes can get in on the fun in a way that happens in no other format. Let’s look at some example piles that put our target opponent in a bind:

Kess Piles:
Yawgmoth’s WillCabal Ritual, Doomsday, Cantrip
High TideFrantic Search, Doomsday, Yawgmoth’s Will

Flash/Hulk Piles:
Protean HulkSnapcaster Mage, Regrowth, Flash
Hulk, Flash, Noxious Revival, Regrowth

Notable commanders that can abuse Gifts: KessJelevaTasigur, JVP, Teferi, UGx Hulk

Balance – Restricted in Vintage, Banned all other formats

How Balance is used in other formats: Balance is a big-time “Level Up” card for Vintage Cube players looking to abuse the most powerful cards in MtG history. At first glance this symmetrical effect looks like a Wrathaggeon that resets the board. So why is it banned in almost every format? Jazz is about the notes you don’t play, and Balance is about the permanent types the card doesn’t mention: artifacts, enchantments, and Planeswalkers. In cube the ideal uses of Balance are to dump fast mana and an enchantment/PW and Mind Twist your opponent OR to let them develop a board and do that PLUS a Wrath effect or Geddon effect or both.

How Balance would see use in CEDH: Armageddon, Wrath, and Mind Twist are all legal and see next to 0 play in CEDH, is the cost reduction and combination of these effects enough to push it into the meta? The short is yes, as Shaper puts it, “we hail our new Balance overlords”. Nearly every deck with access to white would play this card, as this card in your opening hand with the right ingredients can come close to winning you the game turn 1. Fast mana artifacts are arguably the most common component in CEDH decks and are already some of the most desired turn 1 plays, Balance would push the upside of these turn 1s into absurdity.

Notable commanders that can abuse Balance: Every one with W in it but mostly Zur, wew lad can you imagine Zur with Balance?

Primeval Titan – Only banned in EDH.

How PrimeTime is used in other formats: PrimeTime is the face of one of the two big mana decks in Modern, allowing you to quickly ramp into a game-ending Scapeshift. Prior to the banning of Summer Bloom there was also a deck that used Amulet of Vigor in combination with bouncelands such as Boros Garrison, Slayer’s Stronghold, and Vesuva to win by swinging with a Titan that could deal lethal damage as early as turn 1. Also sees play in the Vintage Cube Gx ramp archetype.

How Primetime would likely see use in CEDH: PrimeTime would surely be a lot of fun for Gx strategies but doesn’t really open up any new decks or archetypes. Any legal method to ramp to PrimeTime or cheat it into play could be used for a different strategy or creature that is more likely to win the game on the spot. Definitely a card that highlights the difference between competitive and casual, where this card is an absolute monster.

Notable commanders that can abuse PrimeTimeSelvala + Yisan might play it but were probably going to win anyway if this is in play.

Recurring Nightmare – Banned in EDH.

How Nightmare is used in other formats: Not fast enough for Legacy but somehow a cube staple, Recurring Nightmareis an enigmatic card. When built around (and things go your way in draft) you will ride this card to victory while your opponent can’t believe how disgusting Grave Titan is. Then sometimes this first pickable card will go unplayed without proper graveyard synergies or token production. Recurring Nightmare pairs best with Buried Alive and Survival of the Fittest.

How Nightmare would likely see use in CEDH: This card is a little slow for CEDH unfortunately, and I think due to this it will see next to no play outside of Reanimator decks (who will love the extra Reanimate effect but may need to add more dorks to accommodate). The strengths of Nightmare are as a value engine or as an inevitability engine with ETB/LTB effects, and those types of decks are typically too slow for the CEDH metagame. One notable example of a deck where Survival/Nightmare might be powerful is in come from Sigi of /r/LabManiacs fame, in which a Tana/Tymna deck that is focused on hatebears can adapt to any situation on the board for the cost of 2BG.

Notable commanders that can abuse Nightmare: Tna/Tymna Hatebears, Tasigur, GBx Reanimator

Tinker – Restricted Vintage, Banned all other formats

How Tinker is used in other formats: Well now, this card is just a little bit much. “An artifact”. Wew. “Into play”. Wew. You know how there are some things in life that go with everything? Frank’s Hot Sauce, the company of someone you love, and Tinker. Some common gross things you can do in Vintage/Vintage Cube are to Tinker into Blightsteel ColossusSundering TitanMemory JarMyr Battlesphere, and Inkwell Leviathan. You are frequently ramping into Tinker with the same artifact you’re sac’ing, although sometimes you use a stax piece you no longer need like Tangle Wire to win the game or reinforce the lock. Tinker is almost never used even close to fairly, and is one of the most powerful cards in Magic history.

How Tinker would likely see use in CEDH: EDH actually has a big disadvantage when it comes to playing Tinker – it’s multiplayer and 40 life so big dumb fatty doesn’t just win you the game and there are significantly less fast mana artifacts legal than in Vintage. There are certainly some good targets (Paradox EngineIsochron ScepterMemory JarPossessed Portal) but perhaps the most significant target would be Chain Veil for Teferi. In my opinion Tinker would work best in CEDH as a way for artifact based stax decks to break parity and win the game.

Notable commanders that can abuse TinkerTeferi, Ux based stax commanders such as Nin.

Upheaval – legal in Legacy/Vintage, banned in EDH

How Upheaval sees play in other formats: Upheaval is primarily known as a card to fear in Vintage cube. The basic strategy is to use High Tide or another method to make a huge amount of mana, Upheaval, and replay your board winning through the tempo advantage. Add Memory Jar to this and your opponent will often find themselves essentially losing the game on the spot. Less common tweaks on this are to utilize Suspend or gain tempo from ETB/LTB effects.

How Upheaval would likely see use in CEDH: Another card where the uses would stay the same, it’s unlikely Upheaval adds any real spice to the CEDH metagame (Palinchron shenanigans are spicy in cube decks but not at CEDH power level for the mana cost) but merely another powerful card. Many Ux decks with narrow color identity might consider this card as a board reset and it would almost certainly see play in High Tide decks, but the card itself is likely too win-more to be meta defining.

Notable commanders that can abuse Upheaval: JVP

Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary – Banned in EDH

How Rofellos is used in other formats: BIG GREEN RAMP RAWR. Timmy’s dream, Rofellos slots in perfectly in Gx ramp decks in cube and allows you to cheat in big stupid token producers or PrimeTime and kill people with Craterhoof Behemoth or Eldrazi.

How Rofellos would likely see use in CEDH: As a commander, Selvala offers significantly more impact as both a ramp engine AND card draw engine that wins you the game, and ramping into big dumb creatures without a way to draw cards isn’t an effective strategy against decks that want to win the game as fast as possible. As a mana dork in the 99 he is definitely strong, but while Rofellos will occasionally be a Gaea’s Cradle he will also sometimes be a dork that taps for GG in multicolor decks that are reliant on generating blue or black mana.

Notable commanders that can abuse RofellosYisanSisayTasigur

I couldn’t cover every card on the banlist in this article, so stay tuned for more discussion about the banlist and EDH’s weird relationship with Vintage in the future! Big thanks to Shaper, Trestian, and Sigi for helping me out with this article. Let me know in the comments what super spicy secret tech I missed, and let me know if there’s any content you’d like to see in future articles.

Thanks for reading! – Fossil