Monday, 05 August 2019 22:51

Commander: The difference between winning and victories

Written by Mayson Agnew
Commander: The difference between winning and victories WORTHPOINT

For the purposes of this article, I like to think of winning as being the only player left alive at the end of the game, while a victory are the little moments during a game when you cam say to yourself “My deck did the thing it was supposed to do,” or “This is a moment we will remember.”

Now if you look closely, this article’s core idea isn’t all that different from Mark Rosewater’s psychographic profiles Timmy/Johnny/Spike.  Timmy likes bib moments of victory, moments he and his friend swill remember.  Johnny prefers creative victories, showing off the cool cards he put in the deck and its synergies.  Spike simply enjoys winning, and showing he can beat everyone at the table.

The point of this article is to talk about the different types of victories that exist in a game of casual commander and how to make sure that your play group can withstand the test of time and repeated games against one another.  Being aware of what the “victories” of your play group are can help in making sure everyone has fun and in finding new players to play with.

I am going to run down a couple of examples of players and their decks, and then talk about how these players can make sure they have fun together.  Now, this article is aimed more at reducing friction in a play group of Johnnys and Timmys.  And if someone is fully a Spike, then think of this more as a plea to see things from another angle.  Casual Commander is different that competitive Commander.  You often play with the same two-to-four people every time.  After one game ends, you usually play anoter one immediately.  If you only focus on the win, your play group can get boring rather quickly unless there is a solid balance between the decks.

For example:

  • Lazav players are playing a deck based around milling their opponents and reanimating their creatures.  They don’t really have any win conditions in their own decks, preferring to steal them from others.  Their victory is telling everyone to mill a card or two every upkeep and frequently asking to see everyone’s graveyard after drawing a reanimation spell.
  • Zedruu players play a deck based on donating terrible cards to everyone else and gaining a lot of life.  They don’t really win the game so much as grind it to a halt.  Their victory is owning the best permanents on the board and counting up how much life they gain each upkeep.
  • Ghave players play a token deck, love making their board huge, and grow it each turn.  Their victory is swinging for massive amounts of damage spread out across the board.
  • Daxos the Returned players are playing an enchantment deck with a lot of cards that care about enchantments.  They’ve built some interesting synergies.  Their victory is getting to see those synergies and combos go off.

Each of these players have built their decks to give them victories throughout the game even if they happen to lose.  They can play multiple games against each other witht the same decks and still have fun because each of them can have a victory in any given game without necessarily winning.  The danger of building a deck that does not have any victory conditions is that only one player can win any given game and if that is where you put the entirety of your fin, it’s very possible that you could play three games in a session and not have any fun in any of them.

Think of a combo deck for, for instance  If the goal of the deck is to combo out and the player will only have fun if they successfully combo out, then there will be games where that player doesn’t have fun.

Focusing on victories can also help you have fun no matter the play group.  In a play group where you have the most powerful deck, focusing on your victories can make sure you don’t steamroll your friends.  Your friends focusing on their victories can make sure they have fun even if they know they probably won’t win the game.  A Spike in the same situation can’t do much but change their deck and try to make it more powerful, which is something that doesn’t help them during the current play session.

In casual commander, it’s important to make sure you know what your deck’s victory condition is and to nurture it to make sure you are having fun.  For the other psychographics, however, it takes a little more intimate knowledge of their deck and its goals.

Let’s look back at the some of the commanders we talked about earlier:

  • Lazav puts his fun into the basket of reanimating other players’ creatures.  For this commander’s players to improve their chances of victory, they have to get to know their play group.  Who runs the most valuable creatures?  Whose deck is too creature light to target with mill?  Is it better to run cards that mill everyone equally or is there a specific player that should be targeted?
    Also, how does Lazav players have fun even if they can’t get their mill/reanimate engines going?  Maybe Lazav player should put some big creatures in their deck and focus on milling every player at the table, thus ensuring they always have a target for their spells.
    Sometimes this means lowering the power level of a deck to match a play group and make those big, fun moment happen more often.  Think Ashen Powder versus Dread Return.  One is more powerful but can only animate one’s own creatures.  Ashen Powder cannot reanitmate your own creatures, but leads to a different type of fun where other players’ strategies are now brought into the mix.
  • Zedruu players have put their fun into the basket of trading, stealing, and donating permanents.  Wacky situation and strange cards are fun for her players.  Even if a game doesn’t go the player’s way, Zedruu can still have those moments where one of her artifacts hits the battlefield and everyone groans and begins pleading not to be given it.
    How does Zedruu players have fun even if they can’t get a payoff from donating permanents?  How do they have a functional deck even if they can’t give away their cards?  Maybe Zedruu players can focus les son cards that hurt their owner and, rather, more on wide-effect enchantments.  They can still have those wacky moments, but nobody else at the table feels directly attacked.
    Think of Aggressive Mining versus Perplexing Chimera.  One card shuts down a specific player and prevents them from getting more mana (and possibly from having fun).  The other card creates a minigame that still can disrupt the player that they want disrupted, but in a way that still allows them to be in the game.

Here are some ways to apply this to your own play group:

  • Think about what your victory condition is.  Does your deck have multiple?  Can you achieve the victory condition every game?  Is your victory condition winning?  Does this line up with the rest of your group’s goals?
  • What are the victory conditions of your friends?  How can you take advantage of these victories to join in on the fun?  Are any of the victories of your group mutually exclusive?
  • Are there players in your group that seem like the frequently are not having fun?  What is their victory condition?  Is it winning?  Maybe have a talk with those players have figure out what they want to get out of the experience.  Do your goals line up?

If there is a player that consistently isn’t having fun, maybe your group’s goal and that person’s goals aren’t lining up.  For example, the Ghave player liked to build a huge board, but so often his victory condition leads quickly into a win with cards like Overrun.  In order to not lose, the other players at the table have to shot down not only that player’s win, but that player’s victory as well.  This means the Ghave player, although they are a Timmy that likes their big board and cool token creatures, is playing like a Spike and putting their fun into a basket that looks very similar to winning.

            Similarly, Daxos is a Johnny and proud of their cool combos.  Frequently, however, they cause them to immediately win or shut down the other players.  Cards like Sigil of the Empty Throne fits perfectly with this theme and can be fun to use in combo with their other enchantments, but they can win the game very quickly unless the player gets shut down.  They’ve build their deck like a Johnny and has put their victory condition in a combo/synergy basket, but that basket has no bottom and is directly above a win basket.  Neither of these players are having fun because their victory condition is being shut down.

            To contrast it, Lazav’s milling doesn’t even directly kill players and often goes unassociated.  His players get to achieve their victory condition frequently because his victory doesn’t lead directly to a win.  Players die long before cards like Mindcrank empty their libraries.  Similarly, Zedruu players play havoc on the board, but regardless of whether it gets to stay that way or not, they still have a few moments in the game where they got to swap around permanents and have silly plays.  Cards like Humble Defector and Puca’s Mischief can create those minigames and odd moments.  Those moments do not always snowball into a win, but a big board of enchantments or tokens frequently will.  Lazav and Zedruu have separated their victories and their wins in order to make sure they can have fun every game.

            Now, there is nothing wrong with having a victory condition being very similar to a win condition, but it is important to take stock and ask oneself how you have fun in a game.  In a casual game of Commander, thinking you have a fun deck when in reality you’re built for a more competitive group can cause you to feel like you aren’t having any fun in a game.  In can reduce a lot of friction knowing whether your play group is full of people looking for victories and cool moments and showing off their decks, or if it is a more competitive group that wants those cool moments and combos to be how the win the game.

            The point of this article is to give you some insight on how to think about how you have fun in EDH.  There is no right way or wrong way to play, but at the end of the day everyone (Johnny, Timmy, or Spike) wants to have fun in their own way.

            Knowing how you plan to have fun before starting a two-hour long game of Commander can go a long way into making sure you get your victory.