Embracing the Chaos – Karrthus Disappoints

Wednesday, September 29th – Is second place and the $6 in store credit worth upsetting a good in-League relationship? Sheldon debates what it means to play to win and more in his EDH column!

We’re already into Week Six of version six of Armada Games’ EDH League. How the time flies when you’re having fun delivering the beats. My friend Matt Cross wanted to play, so I loaned him my Intet, the Dreamer deck.

I’d played
Kresh the Bloodbraided last week
, I figured Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund would be the right choice. Although my results were reasonable, I’ll say that this week, the Tyrant of Jund disappointed me a little. My choice to keep weak opening hands that I wasn’t required to (which I’ll tell you about below) played into that a little, so I can assign a good deal of the blame to myself.

The day started when I picked up from the airport DCI Senior Manager of Organized Play and friend of the show, Scott Larabee. Scott was scheduled to be the gunslinger for the Orlando Regional Prerelease on Saturday, courtesy of our friend Jeff Williams at Phoenix Games, so he planned his flights in and out to be convenient for playing EDH League.

He headed straight to Armada, grabbing tasty Cuban sandwiches from the place next door before playing a few warm-up games. In one of them, I demonstrated the power of Intet — confessedly the late-game power, since it can’t really do crazy stuff before about turn 10 — by hard-casting several Eldrazi and then pairing them with Greater Good.

I’m still glad no one else that plays at Armada has learned the power of Cerebral Vortex. I fear that there might be some Molten Psyche happening in the future as well (although being a sorcery, it’s less likely to sting).

Game 1

We have seventeen tonight, which means one table of five, and I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m seated with Aaron (Teneb, the Harvester), Todd (Rith, the Awakener), Torin (Jenara, Asura of War), and Christian (Garza Zol, Plague Queen).

It’s the first time in a while that Christian has been able to play, due to work commitments. He’s always an outside-the-box thinker. You may recall him from an early installment of “Embrace the Chaos” where he was going to try to play sixteen different Generals over the eight weeks of the League.

After shipping my no-land hand, I pass by another one-lander, then come to two lands, Sol Ring. Because of our gentlemen’s agreement (technically the Gis Mulligan), I don’t have to keep it if it doesn’t have three lands, but this seems like it could be good.

I ask the crowd about keeping two-land/Sol Ring and the unanimous consensus is to keep it. How can I go against being a populist?

The first enchantment is Retaliation, which doesn’t seem to be of much interest. Although I think we missed it once when someone threw a Solemn Simulacrum into the path of something else.

Todd is the fastest out of the gate, ramping up like crazy with Sensei’s Divining Top, Sol Ring, a land searcher, Primeval Titan, and Ant Queen.

I’m slow, but end up with a Copperhoof Vorrac and Sword of Body and Mind. Todd is the only guy I can get through when I attack with the equipped Beast. Although a turn later, he gets Academy Rector to point me in another direction — plus Seedborn Muse for further insanity.

We stabilize a bit with some creatures getting destroyed, and then Aaron, who’s been a non-factor so far, once again (in something like the third week in a row) casts Crime on Todd’s Titan. Christian provides some level of reset by casting Void for five and then dropping Bojuka Bog on Aaron.

I come back with both Spellbreaker Behemoth and Ravenous Baloth, and Todd answers with Verdant Force. In what’s becoming a habit of Aaron (getting hammered by the timing on the new enchantments), he attacks with Primeval Titan and cracks Krosan Verge while he’s in there, only to have Seed the Land be the new enchantment right afterward.

There’s a point where a little sloppy play causes some tension. Todd sends his attackers at Torin without declaring first that he’s about to attack, and Torin wants to afterward tap all his guys with Turnabout. I can see the frustration on Todd’s face, since he thinks Torin wouldn’t have cast it otherwise, but if you’re going to play a game of chicken with someone, you have to let them know you’re in the coop, so to speak.

Todd knows how the attack phase works, so he gave Torin additional knowledge. The right play is to definitely back up and let Torin cast the Turnabout.

On his turn, he announces that he wants to “help everyone out” and casts Windfall. My hand is nothing to lose, but I do have Red Elemental Blast. When I use it to counter the Windfall, he gets a little upset, and tells me he doesn’t understand why I wouldn’t want to draw five cards. I explain that five cards for me is fine, but five cards for each of my opponents is a really bad ratio for me — as I’ve previously called it, multiplicative asymmetry. I was going to lose the REB anyway, so countering it is the strategically correct choice.

The turn afterward, I cast Sarkhan the Mad despite having no Dragons — although I’m already dreaming of casting Karrthus — and on the next turn, I use his first ability to peel Decree of Pain. John “Peaches” Howell, sitting next to me, urges me on to do it. With Todd having dropped Avenger of Zendikar, there are 35 creatures on the board, so I’ll draw 33 if I sacrifice both my Beasts. There has to be Reliquary Tower in there somewhere, right?

I don’t really need to play it right now, but I can actually get into the game with some more land and decent cards. I cast it, and don’t come up with the Tower. I keep the seven best cards and pitch the rest.

Todd casts Symbiotic Wurm and then Greater Good, which Christian responds to by Terminating the Wurm. It starts a discussion over whether it would’ve been better to cast the Greater Good first. Todd says that he figured that there’s more enchantment removal getting played than creature removal, which is true depending on how you look at it.

In an absolute sense, there’s more creature removal for sure. In that board situation, it seems like it’s about 50-50. I think casting Greater Good first is the slightly better play, but I, at least, see where he’s coming from. By casting the Wurm first, he’s showing us everything. If he casts first the Greater Good, we don’t know if he has a creature, especially one that’s as good with Greater Good as the Wurm.

Aaron casts Debtor’s Knell, and Torin Recollects his Windfall. Christian casts Rise from the Grave on my Puppeteer Clique (which I want to regrow myself for the very thing he’s about to do) to get Todd’s Primeval Titan. One of the lands he gets is a bounceland, with which he gets back Bojuka Bog and drops it on me.

I cast Lurking Predators. Although I now only have fifteen creatures left in my deck. I get Big Game Hunter when Todd casts Karmic Guide, but there’s nothing that great to kill. He takes back his Symbiotic Wurm, which he casts and sacrifices to Greater Good.

He drops Gaea’s Cradle, generates seventeen additional mana, casts Primal Command — putting Debtor’s Knell on top of Aaron’s library and searching up Kamahl, Fist of Krosa — and drops Fires of Yavimaya. He Overruns twice, and kills Torin, which brings up an interesting discussion point about the politics of multiplayer and especially Leagues.

Players remember. Torin may have tried to ratchet back things a notch by playing Jenara — a good but less obviously threatening General — but that’s not what got him killed. He thought that, by switching off of Sasaya, Orochi Ascendant or whatever he played last week with the Hive Mind/Pact combo, he’d deflect attention from himself.

He underestimated our (human) need for revenge. The lesson that he’s painfully learning is that while doing something douche-y might win you a game, it’s going to cost you more in the long term. Someone pointed out that killing him like that is just going to drive him back to the combo deck, which may be true, but I think that will just end up being worse for him.

He’s going to have to do his time, so to speak, before painful memories fade — and some folks remember far longer than others. My point is that when you play in a regular group, you can’t ever take a single game in a vacuum, and if you do something to put yourself in jail, serving a single day’s sentence will never be enough.

We’ll see in game 2 how a play may have impacted my (in-game) relationship with another player.

Aaron once again misses on the enchantment change when he draws his card, and the enchantment immediately changes to Think Tank. Now it’s just getting funny. When Aaron casts a Lurking Predators of his own, I get Indrik Stomphowler. Since that Predators isn’t a valid target yet, I blow up Todd’s Beastmaster Ascension.

When Christian targets Kamahl with Bituminous Blast, Aaron Predators up Woodfall Primus, taking out the Todd’s Cradle, and I get Pawn of Ulamog. There’s a little bit of attacking back and forth but nothing major for a few turns.

Aaron does start piling up some impressive creatures with Lurking Predators; although he gets Karmic Guide on an empty graveyard. I can finally activate Mosswort Bridge with Pernicious Deed under it, but on Aaron’s next Predators trigger, he gets Acidic Slime, and I decide that blowing the Deed will actually be suboptimal.

There’s a point where I can kill Christian. I figure I’m not long for the game, since my library is down to about fifteen cards, and most of my beef is exiled. I run out Karrthus once or twice, but he doesn’t survive long. I take out Christian, and Todd eventually Overruns (the original!) and kills both me and Aaron.

Points work out so that Todd and I are tied with the most (eight). It forces a ruling from League manager Michael Fortino. Generally, Table 1 for round 2 is populated with the winners of each table, plus a wild card, which is the non-winner with the most points. In this case, there’s someone who scored eleven points but didn’t win their table.

The question becomes: do Todd and I both go to Table 1, or does Todd win our table by virtue of the “most player kills” tiebreaker (which is unofficial, but I think we’ve used it before), leaving me out? The final decision is that “tied for winning a table” is good enough to be the wild card. Looks like we’ll have to do some administrative work before the next League starts to get that kind of stuff formalized.

Game 2

I’m seated with Taliah (Scion and her Dragons), Nate (Radha and her Beasts), Todd (Rith and his tokens), and Scott (Garza Zol and her Vampires).

My opener is two lands, Lotus Cobra, Harrow, and Garruk.

Peaches is sitting next to me watching, and he encourages me to go for it once more. One land by turn 3 is really all I need. It feels a little greedy, but I like the edginess of not knowing whether or not it’ll turn out well. It’s a little exciting.

That excitement wanes when I don’t get a land until turn 4, and of course it’s an “enters the battlefield tapped” one.

Here’s where taking a minute and assessing the other decks would’ve been worthwhile. I’ve seen them all before, and Scott’s is the only one that’s not hyper-aggressive. Nate uses Radha, Heir to Keld as reliable mana ramp, and Todd’s Rith deck has as much extra land fetch as my Intet. I actually don’t think I’ve ever seen him not get extra lands by turn 4. Taliah’s Scion deck — like most of its archetype — can kill you out of nowhere with General damage on turn 5 or 6.

These things considered, I might have enjoyed myself a little more by keeping a stronger hand. Again, it just seemed worth going for.

Fortunately, coming out of the gate quite a bit more slowly than everyone else is probably what kept me alive long enough to at least be in the game. I’ve previously discussed the value of being second best.

Here, the value was in being worst. The turn 4 land was Spinerock Knoll, under which I put Lurking Predators, but I couldn’t get through damage even with Taurean Mauler, and everyone else was careful to deal no more than six damage. Taliah once threw her Flameblast Dragon under the Taurean Mauler bus, but that was more about not taking eight and less about keeping me off whatever I had under Spinerock Knoll.

Todd once again ramps out early and eventually uses Garruk Wildspeaker to Overrun. He thinks he’s going to kill Nate exactly but has failed on the math (good thing he’s not a teacher of any kind…), leaving him at one. Taliah then kills her brother with Bogardan Hellkite’s trigger. She stays on the ropes for a bit and is a little gun-shy about casting her General because of mine. I resolve myself to not twitching on that account unless I’m in dire straits.

There’s some back and forth but nothing unusual. A board wipe or two comes along, and then it all goes south when Scott casts Living Death, getting back six Vampires, one of which is of the Captivating variety, and then casts Baneful Omen. We play a turn or two, but Scott’s Vampires are just ruling the table, and it looks extremely bad for the three of us.

Scott’s playing with the top of his library revealed due to Vampire Nocturnus, so he knows exactly how much damage that Omen is going to do. He casts Sorin Markov and sets me to 10. He then spreads out the attacks to significantly weaken Todd and Taliah, and only attacks me with one guy, putting me to six, knowing that Baneful Omen’s trigger will kill me. When Scott goes to end of turn, Todd says he wants to do something in the second main phase. He casts Krosan Grip on Baneful Omen, which saves me.

I thank him by killing him with Karrthus.

I actually kill Taliah as well, and while it might seem like that’s beside the point, it’s a major decision factor. The two of them are weak enough and tapped out (as is Scott), so I can do what I want. For me, the writing is on the wall, and Scott is nearly untouchable. Captivating Vampire has already taken a few things, so the army is only getting larger.

Creatures are unlikely to get through for anything significant. Todd might be able to peel a Wrath, but that’s a long shot. The game is going to end on Scott’s turn.

If I can only kill one of them, I probably don’t take out either, since there’s a slightly larger chance to work together to get back to some equilibrium; although there’s also the chance that one of them decides I’m low-hanging fruit and kills me instead. I figure it’s not worth the risk and grab what I can while I can.

Todd and I have always had a friendly EDH rivalry in the League (he’s really the last remaining other member of Team Lives in the Red Zone). Given the choice, we tend to leave each other in the game and take out a third party instead. It’s not that we gang up on anyone, but given equal choices, we’d take out the third guy, so that we could have titanic battle with each other. We’re generally aware of each other’s decks and how they work, so if it’s obvious that one of us is getting out of hand, the other doesn’t have a problem killing him — but again, given other choices, we seem to have gotten to a point where we’d prefer final battles be against each other.

So when I make the choice to kill him, it stings him a bit. He may have even said something about “burning bridges.” Referring back to my earlier point about not playing any game in a vacuum, the question is: did I make the right bigger-picture choice?

Yes, the game is about winning, but we’ve already discussed winning in EDH has additional definitions. In this case, I know that taking these two kills is going to put me firmly in second place for the table. Even though I have the two kills, Scott killing me and getting the point for “last man standing” will win him the table by a point.

Is second place and the $6 in store credit worth upsetting a good in-League relationship (let’s be clear — Todd is a grownup and would never let reasonable in-game stuff get in the way of our friendship)? I think it’s a great debate question.

My choice boils down to “game was over anyway, I’m grabbing what I can on the way down.” If Todd or Taliah has a reasonable chance to do something, or if my actions make a long and painful game for anyone else, I come at it differently.

Aaron Fortino tells Todd that he should’ve let it trigger and then Krosan Gripped it. Michael tells him he should’ve known better than to keep me alive.

I tell him that he should’ve backed me into a corner and made a deal. If he says “if you promise to not attack me this turn, I’ll Grip that thing and save you,” I have no reasonable choice but to comply. I would certainly never go back on my word just to get a few points in a game. (I make it a habit of not going back on my word whenever possible, but that’s a different story.) I might’ve played chicken with him and said “No deal, but you should save me anyway,” to make it interesting, but I think he doesn’t flinch at that point.

Todd (who is a fine L1 Judge) and I see each other at the Prelease on Saturday, and I ask Florida Super Judge, Todd‘s mentor, and Armada regular, Ben McDole, if he heard the story. He tells me he has and says that he echoes Michael’s sentiment.

When Todd and I talk about it, he relents a little and says he thinks I probably made a reasonable decision — but there’s enough doubt in his voice that I expect I’m going to have to pay that debt at some point in the future. It won’t be an ongoing “I’m going to hit you every time I can,” but I don’t doubt that there’s going to be a (mostly) friendly “And that’s for the Krosan Grip thing!” coming my way at some point.

Thanks to Jeff Williams and the folks at Phoenix Games for fun times at the Prerelease (superb job by the Judge staff); thanks to all the players who came to chat and play with us; thanks especially for the crazy EDH games (although there were fewer than I’d hoped); and sorry to Ken, who waited patiently but didn’t get the chance to Embrace the Chaos with us.

Next week:

Kresh will infect, and we’ll see just how nasty it can be.