Embracing the Chaos – Armada League 8, Week 1

Wednesday, January 12th – Sheldon Menery, one of the originators of EDH/Commander, recounts drawing 63 cards with Momentous Fall, laments the lack of quality delis in Tampa, and again reminds players to play for fun, not profit.

Armada Games EDH League 8 (they haven’t changed it to Commander yet because they have materials printed up already and didn’t want to waste paper) started this past week, providing the normal amount of insanity and demonstrating that my Kresh deck may be a bit more of a one-trick pony than I like. It also demonstrated that people will come out in larger numbers for prizes (sixteen showed as opposed to the average of about ten for League 7), regardless of how small those prizes are. It further showed that some people are miserable enough to want to be fun-wreckers regardless of how little is actually on the line. More on what’s sure to reignite the forum flame war over play style after a brief aside regarding bagels.

I like bagels. Bagels are kind of the Tex-Mex food of breakfast breads—they’re always good, never great. You can’t really score a brilliant culinary success with a bagel, but you can sure find your way to an epic fail. The city I live in (although, confessedly, in the suburbs, where things are a little more white bread), Tampa, has a great number of New York and New Jersey transplants. This leads me to believe in the likelihood of cultural transplant as well. So why the hell can’t I find a decent bagel here? I’m reduced to getting the grocery store ones, which are edible, but serve more as a cream cheese delivery platform than anything else. The other thing that I can’t seem to get my hands on here (again, with all the North Easterners around) is a decent pastrami sandwich. South Tampa has a few delis, but none of them are even in the same sport, let alone league, as a Katz’s or Carnegie in New York. But I digress over bread and beef.

Speaking of digressions, Katee Sackhoff reigns over the
Battlestar Galactica

women. I know there are both Tricia Helfer and Grace Park fans, but the girls with the physical presence and attitude do it every time. That the character is way more interesting than the others certainly helps, but even just taken in a vacuum, Starbuck rules the stars.

I’m relatively sure that I’m not going to convince anyone on either side of the play style argument to move off their stance. There are folks who believe that since there’s stuff on the line (in this case, $2 per head in store credit to be split over the winners of four different tables—basically just enough to help the game shop be able to support the event), one should play as cutthroat as possible. I absolutely recognize the validity of their opinion and stipulate that in the greater moral sense, it’s no different from the side I’m going to present. I’m going to ask them to abandon it anyway.

Here’s an example of what’s stuck in my craw. There’s a kid who comes to the shop—I’ll confess that I haven’t even been interested enough in finding out what his name is—with a very tightly focused Skithiryx deck. It’s pretty much centered around getting out the Commander and rushing to ten poison counters. It runs stuff like Bitterblossom and Contamination and Infernal Darkness to lock out all nonblack decks and is pretty much otherwise Mono-Black Control. Like I said, it’s pretty tight. The thing is, like many of the Rafiq decks, it serves to eliminate one player very quickly and then run out of steam, or at the very least get sufficiently gang-piled so as to return to some kind of equilibrium. I think this style of deck is simply bad for the format, since it generally leaves a single person (in a group of people) with a pretty bad taste in their mouth.

Aside: There are some people who will get a bad taste in their mouth unless they win. We’re not talking about them. We’re talking about the people who honestly come in search of a good time for more than themselves.

While I prefer a more “see how you can have more people have fun” style, I appreciate that some folks don’t want to play that way, and it’s difficult to exclude them from an open league. What irritates me to no end is their not owning the choice, and this kid does that. I would have a certain appreciation for someone saying “Yes, I don’t care if I’m wrecking someone else’s night; this is the way I’m going to play.” It’s still dick-ish, but at least it’s honest. When someone starts mealy-mouthing about their deck being “fun” and “casual” after they’ve killed someone on turn 5, I have to resist some pretty unpleasant urges.

There’s another regular player at the shop, Brian (who, by the way, made the top 100 cut on GDS2), who freely admits that when he says something is “fun,” he means “fun for me” and doesn’t care if it’s not fun for anyone else. I won’t forget Brian turn 3 killing me with Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary (back when it was legal) and Umbral Mantle—although the T3 kill was the minor sin. It was that he rolled a die to determine who he was going to attack. This I consider nothing more than cowardice. It’s abdication of responsibility, and I’m pretty big on personal responsibility. “It wasn’t me! It was the die roll!” is crap. Man up.

Again, even in a**hattery, there’s a value to honesty and ownership. The good thing about Brian is that he cheerfully accepts that that incident will come back to haunt him more than once in the future (and you’ll see some small evidence of that later). There’s a kind of honor in “this is the stance I’ve taken, and I’m sticking to it,” even if I don’t agree with the stance. I’m still not going to play any casual games with him—when it comes to casual games, playing with like-minded people is going to lead to a better experience for everyone…

…which is essentially the basis of my argument for the way I’d like to see our League games go. During League 7, which was ‘random prizes drawn at the end of the league, based somewhat on participation,’ and you got to choose who you played with, there was no bad blood. Fun was had by all. In Week 1 of League 8, there were some undesirable moments, and it was all about the competition. I’m not saying that we should eliminate competition; I’m saying that bringing the attitude that the competition is secondary to everyone’s broader enjoyment simply makes a better experience for everyone concerned.

In any group endeavor—and I consider the League a group endeavor, not a series of individual efforts—sometimes subordinating your own desires leads to a greater whole. Consider for example the folks who choose to serve in the military. Many of them take far less pay than they’d earn in the civilian section to do a more dangerous job. The result is that our society is better in general for everyone concerned. I’m suggesting that in local Leagues, we bring the idea that we’re all going to have a good time together. It’s a tricky balance, and it’s certainly and utterly subjective. I can’t write out a flow chart for how to achieve it, but it starts with the attitude that you truly want people other than yourself to have a good time.


in my opinion is where the creativity within the format begins. If you think you’ve been ‘creative’ by demonstrating how broken the format is, I believe you’ve come from the wrong direction. There’s little to no challenge in doing broken stuff. The challenge is

doing the broken stuff or at least not doing it too quickly.

Random aside: Yes, Reveillark + Eternal Witness + Karmic Guide + [insert any of a thousand cards] is a combo. I don’t have any problem with you running it. Just don’t play it like you think you


Second random aside (since mention of beautiful women seems to resonate): Mary-Louise Parker = my second favorite Mary to Mary McCormack.

It’s my opinion that creative deckbuilding doesn’t bring you to the turn 4 kill; it brings you to the turn 14 kill. It leads to the epic game, where there’s punch and counterpunch, question and response, where more than one player is doing wild things, where the momentum of the game swings in multiple directions. It’s fine if it suddenly ends with a giant haymaker. In fact, it’s generally the big splash that ends games, but it’s the big splash that comes after the involved struggle that makes games interesting and leaves those who’ve been involved with a sense of enjoyment since they’ve been part something cool.

There’s little to tell from the first game except how one player’s completely out-of-left field scoop and departure completely screwed the other two players who weren’t me. The game was Griffin with Uril, the Miststalker, Matt B. with Child of Alara, and Jay with Numot, the Devastator. I like the choice of Numot to keep some of the crazy lands (like Academy Ruins) in check or, like Jay did with me, to wait until I had too many cards in my hand and take out my Reliquary Tower.

Griffin is wearing a Patriots cap, and we have the discussion about my supposition that Tom Brady is the Meryl Streep of quarterbacks—really awesome but not, as many people believe, absolutely the best ever, effectively making them overrated. Meryl Streep is certainly one of the best five actors, male or female, of our generation, but she’s certainly not so much better than everyone else to have the insane number of Oscars and nominations that she has. I won’t argue with Tom Brady as one of the top 5 QBs of the last thirty years, but it’s my opinion that’s he’s benefitted from perhaps the best organization in the history of the game (although the 70s Steelers and 70s Cowboys may also lay that claim). He’s an integral part of the machine, and his leadership is unquestioned; he merits being the MVP, but they’d win with Matt Cassel
at QB, too. If Brady were the Rams’ QB, they’d still be 7-9. Okay, maybe 8-8. It’s Griffin’s opinion that Brady is

which I hardly think possible, so we agree to disagree. We do agree that the Patriots are on such a roll that it would be a real surprise for them to miss out on the Super Bowl.

Matt throws out some early action, complete with Oblivion Stone, all the while telling us he’s no threat. Several turns in, Griffin end-of-turn Krosan Grips the OStone, then enchants up Uril with Runes of the Deus to swing at Matt for eighteen. I have Greater Good, Lurking Predators, and Altar of Dementia all going by this point, but Jay (who is to my left, with Griffin after him) casts Bribery on Matt, getting Kederekt Leviathan to reset the board. A turn or two later, I’m back in business with Withered Wretch also in play and the Leviathan now back in Matt’s graveyard. I decide to leave the Leviathan, since I don’t think a board bounce hurts me all that much. I have enough mana to just recast everything, and I’m slightly ahead in that department. Matt unearths it, and we start over again.

A few turns later, I have Kresh the Bloodbraided, Mitotic Slime, and Spearbreaker Behemoth on the battlefield when I cast Lord of Extinction. It’s pretty big, and everyone else’s life total is below twenty. Griffin’s life loss has all come courtesy of his own Sylvan Library. I end my turn and get up to go talk to one of the other tables because I hear some swearing and tempers getting high, and I want to see if I can help keep the peace. I come back, and it’s still Jay’s turn, but Griffin has scooped up his cards. You can see the question marks over my head, and he says something like he’s not having a good time, and he has nothing on the top of his library. I make mention that there’s an agreement in the League to not d-scoop and that his just quitting has a significant impact on the game, and he doesn’t care. His doing that has really screwed over Jay, who had some designs on using some of his permanents to equalize the board. As it sits, I’m now in a commanding position where before I had a slight advantage. Forum debate can now rage over whether or not the d-scoop is justifiable.

Side note: I had intended on doing play-by-play but was sidetracked by, of all things, a thumb injury. On New Year’s Eve, before I had anything to drink, I was cleaning one of the kitchen knives and slid the blade across my right thumb, laying a relatively deep gash in it, most of a full inch long. It wasn’t bad enough to go to the ER, and I certainly didn’t want to be in the ER on New Year’s Eve, so I field dressed it. I considered calling my friend Dr. Beverly to see if she would come over and throw a few stitches in it but figured since it was about 10 pm, she’d already be celebrating. She did come by the following night and told me it would’ve been worth stitching, but the field dressing is fine. The upshot is that you use and put pressure on the thumb of your dominant hand a good deal more than you might realize. It’s scarring over pretty good right now, but writing is still uncomfortable—so it might be another week or two until we return to the PbP.

With Griffin inexplicably gone, I go for the kill on Jay. I attack him with the team, and he Time Stops. He and Matt don’t do much on their turns, and I really want to go for it again. Getting greedy almost costs me. I cast Woodfall Primus, which Jay counters with Desertion. Primus then targets my Altar of Dementia, which is my only sacrifice outlet left. Lord of Extinction is 38/38 at the moment, and Numot has also taken care of my Skargg, so I have no way to currently give him trample. I sacrifice Lord of Extinction to the Altar, milling Jay. I then cast Makeshift Mannequin, bringing back the Boom Tube. Jay thinks about doing something about that, but it turns out that all he has is Venser, and I have enough mana to recast the Mannequin. I mill him again for his library. He then Vensers the crazy big Kresh to help out Matt, but I have Fling in hand, which kills Matt. Jay has no way of putting any cards back, so he loses on his own turn. I take the table, but I’m still a little disappointed in the way it happened.

In the next round, I’m seated with the aforementioned Brian, playing Ashling the Pilgrim, Cliff with Hanna, Ship’s Navigator, and Matt C. with Rafiq of the Many. This Matt is a PhD candidate in chemistry and happens to be one of the players in my Monday night RPG. He’s a reasonably good Constructed player (when he remembers exalted triggers), and I don’t think I’ve had too many players as excited about playing in my campaign as he is. He’s dived into the game with an energy that I’d love to see from every player, even helping a bit with some world
development. He’s just recently gotten into Commander and has already built a decent deck that straddles the line between being really good and not


The starts are excellent for everyone. Cliff starts with Leyline of Anticipation in play and casts an early Inexorable Tide, Matt gets Primeval Titan going on turn 4 thanks to an early Noble Hierarch and Oracle of Mul Daya. I drop Creakwood Liege and Kresh in succession, and Brian is building up counters on Ashling as well as keeping Jaya Ballard, Task Mage alive for a while. At the end of Brian’s turn, Cliff flashes in Djinn of Wishes, which seems kind of dangerous. I let it resolve but then Red Elemental Blast it. Brian reminds me that REB also counters stuff, and I remind him that Kresh doesn’t trigger off of counterspells.

Due to all the quick starts, everyone is being a little careful with the attacks. Matt has to keep sending Primeval Titan into Cliff since Brian and I can kill it. The Prime Timing looks like it’s going to end when Cliff flashes in Myr Battlesphere and gang blocks, but Matt has Yavimaya Hollow ready to regenerate. All this combat is good for Kresh, who is getting rather large. I have Pernicious Deed in play, which is keeping Matt off of playing his Avenger of Zendikar (and as we find out later, Blazing Archon). We know that Matt has Bant Charm (from the Oracle), which has kept Brian from completely tapping out—he wants to be able to kill Ashling with Jaya in the eventuality Matt Charms it.

Eventually, Brian gets enough counters on Ashling to deal seven to the board when Matt tries to Bant Charm it. Kresh becomes some ridiculous number, although I keep an eye on it because I have Momentous Fall in hand. I don’t want to deck myself. Matt recovers well enough, and Cliff’s life total is low enough that he can Bant Charm one of Cliff’s dudes and swing in for the kill, so he casts Eternal Witness to regrow the Bant Charm. Now it’s decision time for me, since he can actually wait on killing Cliff and counter my Momentous Fall. Even though I think that’s not likely, I want those cards, and the life gain will put me in a safe spot. With the Eternal Witness trigger still on the stack, I cast Momentous Fall and draw 63, leaving me with about fifteen cards in the library. Matt does indeed wait on the Bant Charm, letting Cliff stay alive for the time being. When it gets to my turn, there are new decisions to make.

63 cards drawn

Everyone laughs about the fact that I might not have drawn Reliquary Tower. I have in fact drawn it, but I think the only way I win this game is in a couple of turns, not the long haul, especially since Matt has three cards in hand—Bant Charm, Avenger of Zendikar, and Blazing Archon. I have eight mana (which includes the Forest I drop), so I cast Lord of Extinction and keep Fling, Living Death, Victimize, Artisan of Kozilek, Living Death, Regrowth, and Anathemancer, the latter of which might be able to kill Matt after the unearth. I pitch everything else, which includes all the major players, like Madrush Cyclops and Stalking Vengeance and hope for the best. On Brian’s turn, I decide to give Matt a choice. I’m certainly not going to Fling Lord of Extinction at him because I know he can counter it. I know that Cliff is in the danger zone for a kill from Matt, so without actually saying it, I Fling it at Brian, offering Matt one kill each. He considers it for a moment and decides to not counter it. Brian eats 100-something to the face. Cliff draws no answers, so Matt kills him after tucking a guy. I ask Matt if he drew a counterspell; he says no, and I show him the Living Death, at which point he shakes my hand.

I’m finding that the Kresh deck is reduced to operating on basically four cards: Kresh, Lord of Extinction, Momentous Fall, and Greater Good, hence my earlier assertion of one-trick ponyness. Everything else boils down to waiting for some combination of those (I don’t have that many tutors, especially for noncreatures), which will get anything/everything else, to include the Fling and the Living Death. Sure, I can’t ever do it earlier than about turn 10, but narrowing the deck’s function down to such a point, while strategically reasonable, is likely to lead to lots of reports that look startlingly similar, which becomes yawns for both me and you. I’ll have to find a new way to Embrace the Chaos. Coming soon: a rebuilt Phelddagrif!