Innovations – Tight Technical Play And Commander In Legacy

Patrick Chapin covers some of the new Commander Deck cards that may see some Eternal play; then, he divulges his thoughts on Legacy and Standard, focusing on elements of tight play—the passing and dribbling of Magic.

With the Block Pro Tour, Legacy Grand Prix, and SCG Invitational behind us, and any possible changes to the banned/restricted list just a week away, we
happen to be in tournament limbo.

As I write this, I do not have the benefit of knowing the Pro Tour results and have already written about my current views on both Legacy and Standard.
With a giant question mark hanging over the upcoming banned and restricted list announcement (It has to be the most anticipated article in months,
right?), it seems silly to speculate further on Constructed decks.

Today, we’re going to focus on some fundamentals, some elements of tight technical play. That’s right, the Magic equivalent of practicing passing and
dribbling. It’s not enough to play games and dunk balls. Passing and dribbling are crucial.

First though, let’s take a moment to review a couple of cards from Commander that might be Eternal playable. Now that the full (51 cards) spoiler is
known, we can scour the list looking for Legacy playables, since the cards will be legal there. There are a number of cards that would be good enough
if they were legal for Standard, but the bar is obviously so high in Legacy that it is not surprising that only a few cards designed for a multi-player
casual product are possibly strong enough.

Flusterstorm      U
Instant              r
Counter target instant or sorcery spell unless its controller pays (1).

Yes, the word “storm” immediately demands that we pay special attention, though historically, storm has been like the “Free Mechanic” from Urza’s Saga,
which never caused any problems on reactive cards (like Rewind). Flusterstorm counts itself and then whatever you are trying to copy, so it’s always
going to be at least a Spell Pierce, albeit with more restrictions on its targets (i.e. it can’t counter Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Batterskull or
Standstill). While it does have these restrictions, it does have a few advantages.

First, if a lot has been going on this turn, it can counter spells much “harder” than Spell Pierce does. For instance, it is easy to imagine an
opponent having already cast Ponder this turn, so when they cast Ad Nauseam, you respond with a Brainstorm, then a Flusterstorm to counter the Ad
Nauseam unless they pay four.

Another benefit of Flusterstorm is that it is much harder to counter. The most likely scenario where this could be relevant compared to Spell Pierce is
that of Mental Misstep. If your opponent goes for a Time Spiral and you Spell Pierce it, they could Mental Misstep your Pierce. Storm spells are
obviously quite good against Counterspells, so even if the Flusterstorm was only for two (they didn’t cast High Tide this turn?!) you still don’t get
stopped by a single Mental Misstep.

Flusterstorm has the capability of hitting multiple opponent’s spells in a single stack, which is uncommon, but potentially game-winning when relevant.
For instance, let’s say your opponent casts Brainstorm, to which you respond by Mental Misstepping their Brainstorm. They respond by cracking a
fetchland, to which you respond by attempting a Stifle. They try to Mental Misstep your stifle, prompting you to Flusterstorm both their Brainstorm and
their Mental Misstep (multiple times). As we saw from Double Negative, these scenarios are not going to come up that often, but they do give you more
options. Double Negative always had Bloodbraid Elf to give you opportunities to extract value from its “ability,” but Flusterstorm’s targeting
restrictions limit how often this could come up from Cascade. Generally, you don’t really need to counter the Violent Outburst, just the Hypergenesis.
Bituminous Blast into Blightning isn’t quite as big in Legacy as it was in Standard.

Flusterstorm does, however, work well against Storm combo decks (yes, the anti-storm, storm-card). Basically, by definition you are going to have
enough copies to Force Spike every copy of Tendrils of Agony, Empty the Warrens, or Brain Freeze. The question then becomes, is this just a bad
Mindbreak Trap? Costing one instead of zero is a lot, and Force Spike instead of Dissipate that can counter uncounterable spells is a huge drop in
power. However, I suppose Flusterstorm does give you the option to use it early against opponents packing tons of Thoughtseizes (though at minimal
value). Since Spell Pierce is not super-popular in Legacy and Mindbreak Trap is much better at trapping and breaking minds, I doubt Flusterstorm will
see that much play. However, the price is right and it does do some exciting things (like being much harder to counter than Mindbreak Trap) so it is
very possible that it will have its day in the sun, eventually. Verdict: Possible Fringe.

Scavenging Ooze         1G
Creature – Ooze            r
(G): Exile target card from a graveyard. If it was a creature card, put a +1/+1 counter on Scavenging Ooze and you gain 1 life.


Graveyard hate has long been at a much higher power-level than most forms of hate, due to just how broken graveyard combos tend to be. Leyline of the
Void, Relic of Progenitus, Extirpate, Yixlid Jailer, and Tormod’s Crypt are all amazing options, just to name a few. However, Scavenging Ooze doesn’t
try to be any of those cards. It has its own niche. First of all, it’s green instead of black. This sets most of the competition aside, right out the
gate. Once it only has to compete with Relic of Progenitus, Tormod’s Crypt, Surgical Extraction, Ravenous Trap and so on, we see that it does something
that none of those cards does. It is a creature (so you can get it with cards like Green Sun’s Zenith and Living Wish), it dodges artifact hate (so
Null Rod doesn’t beat it), it sits on the battlefield (dodging Cabal Therapy), and it actually has a big board presence.

It does cost a bit more mana to operate than many forms of graveyard hate, but it is actually a very reasonably costed creature that outclasses
Withered Wretch by far. An easier casting cost and more restrictive activation are not that far off, but the ability to continue to grow (not to
mention gain life) is sweet! Scavenging Ooze actually has a big body (in the making) that it is a fine card against decks that are not dedicated
graveyard combo. Sometimes just messing up someone’s Crucible of Worlds, Knight of the Reliquary, Cabal Therapy, Life from the Loam, Tarmogoyf, Eternal
Witness, Terravore, or Goblin Welder is going to be great, let alone someone’s Entomb, Dread Return, Bridge from Below, or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Legacy is such a powerful format and there are so many great graveyard hate options that this card isn’t likely to shake things up too much. However,
it is probably going to have the biggest impact of any card in Commander, since it does provide a very exciting option for Green Sun’s Zenith decks.
The ability to gain life is not to be overlooked, either, since Legacy does feature a variety of very aggressive strategies, and the body he provides
is going to surprise a lot of people. Possibly the “best” card in the set (for Legacy), verdict: Role-Player (usually as a one-of, but fairly common).

Edric, Spymaster of Trest        1UG
Legendary Creature – Elf Rogue   r
Whenever a creature deals combat damage to one of your opponents, that creature’s controller may draw a card.

The final Commander card discussed today, Edric is the latest in a long and proud line of Ophidians. Costing three and having no evasive or protective
abilities, its upside is going to have to be pretty good, since in Legacy, this effect isn’t even good enough on a two-drop (Vedalken Heretic).
Fortunately, Edric does offer a few pretty big and unique upsides. First of all, since he turns all of your guys into Scroll Thieves, it is likely that
he has “haste.” It is very conceivable that you could play a creature on one, a creature or two on two, and then drop Edric on three and immediately
draw a bunch of cards. A good short-cut to remember is that whenever you get an ability with “haste,” (like the Titans or Emeria Angel) it is a good
indicator that the card is more likely to be a tournament card. The combination of being able to draw cards immediately, as well as draw so many cards
every turn already gives Edric enough power to be a real consideration.

Edric has other subtle strengths as well, though. Most notably, he is an Elf, making him a very strong consideration for Elf decks, both combo and
“beatdown.” It is the easiest thing in the world to splash colors in Legacy, and in many ways it is like he is a sort of a mild Glimpse of Nature every
turn. Summoner’s Pact and Green Sun’s Zenith allow for plenty of good possibilities to find a single copy when he is going to be of greatest effect.
It’s easy to see how this ability can quickly leverage surplus mana elves, Nettle Sentinels, and Wirewood Symbiotes (which even protects Edric!) into a
big game advantage.

While Edric does gain some value from being Blue (Force of Will?), being a Legend (Karakas?), and more, it is his being Green (Green Sun’s
Zenith/Summoner’s Pact) and being an Elf (tons of synergies) that I think will push him into Legacy rather than being used as just a Scroll
Thief type. Does he die to Swords to Plowshares? Sure, but Plow is going to be awesome against your Elf deck anyway. It’s not like you aren’t
overloading it. Besides, if you can catch your opponent tapped out, it only takes one hit to have a big impact (with each of your random donks drawing
you a card). Verdict: Role-Player.

Okay, switching gears. Let’s look at a few of the concepts that go into tight technical play. A Commander review for Legacy does not a whole article
make, and I have been looking for a good opportunity to discuss some fundamentals.

Just as you surely are familiar with some of these ideas, we all forget to honor them as often as we should. To begin with, a strategic concept that
almost everyone is familiar with, yet almost everyone does wrong. Think and act in groups of actions! Figure out everything you are going to do, up to
the point at which there are too many variables added by the opponent’s possible actions to plan further. Then do them all! Most people just mindlessly
figure out one thing they know they want to do, they do it, and then they figure out the next thing. The problem is that your future actions could
cause you to have wanted to do earlier actions differently.

For instance, let’s say you draw a card for the turn and it is your only land. You play it immediately, knowing that is one thing you are definitely
going to do. Then you realize you counted your mana wrong and you are actually going to Preordain this turn. You see two blanks, ship them to the
bottom, then reveal an Inkmoth Nexus that you really would have liked to be able to play this turn!

It isn’t just about deciding what plays to make. I can’t tell you how many people I see immediately put one back from Brainstorm, but tank on the
other. The same is true for discarding cards to Mind Rot and plenty of other cards requiring you to make multiple choices at once. Make them all in
your head, then make them all in real life! It isn’t just enough to look ahead to when your opponent will make a play, however. Consider what possible
plays your opponent could make and what that would mean for your future plans. Imagine every possible order you could complete your actions in, looking
to optimize the most “value” (card advantage, mana advantage, dealing more damage, preventing more damage to yourself, and any other incremental

This isn’t to say that you should play super-slow or anything. In fact, I think altogether too many above average PTQ players fall into the trap of
thinking too much all the time when they test. When you play faster in playtesting, you get used to having to think quickly and force yourself to
develop a stronger intuitive grasp of the decisions that need to be made.

Obviously, if you are trying to brew a new deck, it is more important to focus on understand each and every possible play, rather than play the
tightest technical game, long term. Once you are comfortable with the deck or know the deck is good, however, forcing yourself to know on an
instinctual level what to do in game situations can help you both at combating time constraints, as well as with mental fatigue. Additionally, I have
found that an alarming number of people just talk themselves into making plays that they know are wrong. If you practice playing faster, then you learn
to trust your first instincts. 

Continuing the theme of operations management, when you draw a card, it’s a good habit to shuffle it into your hand before playing your land. While
many players do this when there isn’t a lot going on in the game, all too many forget little operations management stuff like this when games get
intense. If you didn’t have a Counterspell last turn and you draw a land and put it into play without mixing it into your hand, your opponent knows you don’t have a Counterspell this turn.

Each of these tiny pieces of information add up. Knowledge is power in Magic, and you won’t always know which pieces of information push your opponent
to making a correct decision about a play, but it is a non-zero amount (and you won’t always know). For instance, what if your opponent has only one
victory condition left in his deck (which you can’t kill), but five more Counterspells and three discard spells, as well as some library manipulation.
He knew you didn’t have any Counterspell last turn, but you have one new card when he draws his victory condition.

Maybe the right play is for him to play his card right now giving you as few looks as possible. Maybe the right play is for him to wait until he tries
to make sure he can force it through. Regardless, the more useful information he has, the more likely it is he’ll make the correct decision. If he
knows you have no Counterspell, he knows he has you beat by playing it now. Even if he is only 2% likely to not play it if you play the land that was
already in your hand, instead of the one you just drew, that is still a 2% chance you will have another turn to draw a Counterspell (while hoping that
he draws nothing).

This can actually be twisted the other way, as well (which starts to verge into Jedi Mind Trick territory). If you know that you don’t need to use the Counterspell in your hand on your opponent’s Mindculling, since you have two
land to discard and he has so few relevant spells left in his deck, you can gain a non-zero advantage to snap okaying his Mindculling.

This makes it appear like you don’t have a Counterspell (since you didn’t stop to think about it), and then when you draw a land next turn, you can
“act” frustrated and just set it onto the battlefield without mixing it with your other cards. The frustration helps the opponent believe what they
want to believe anyway (that you have nothing and are just drawing land), which can prompt them into getting greedy and making a play they can’t
actually afford to make (like playing their last victory condition with no way to force it through).

It is important to remember to stay focused on making tight technical plays, however. So many people get some idea of some way to be clever in their
head, and then focus on that so much that they forget that making the tight technical plays is ten times more important. You can get game winning edges
from Jedi Mind Tricks and good reads on opponents, but those are edges of an order of magnitude less important than killing the wrong creature, missing
a point of damage, blocking wrong, playing the wrong land, playing your spells out of order, Preordaining wrong, or choosing the wrong modes for a

Tight technical play isn’t just about playing the right cards. It is also about playing them in the right order. Sometimes the reward you get from
playing them in the right order is only protecting information, but that is still very important. It isn’t a Jedi Mind Trick to not give away your
hand. It is just good Magic. When you consider what order to do things, one of the factors to consider is what will your opponent learn from each
possible line.

For example, if your hand is Mycosynth Wellspring, Slagstorm, and a Mountain and you have four lands in play, generally you want to play the Mycosynth
Wellspring first. Then play the land you find immediately, then play Slagstorm. This way, your opponent has no idea what the last card in your hand is.

We have all been guilty of violating this, myself included. You were trying to figure out each play as you go, so when you see you have only one land
in hand, you play it without even thinking about it. Now, you decide you do have to play the Slagstorm, leaving you with two mana to play the
Wellspring. As much as you’d like to hold the Wellspring, you might draw Inferno Titan, so not casting it would be a huge mistake. You probably realize
at this point that you played your cards out of order, but will you change your mental shortcuts to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Since you can’t know you are doing it wrong until it is too late, it isn’t a matter of knowing it is the wrong play. That’s easy! The key is
developing a way of thinking about these sorts of situations so that you naturally do it right without thinking.

Most people have the shortcut that if they only have one land in hand and at least one other card, they just play the land. This shortcut may work most of the time, but it isn’t nearly as good of a mental shortcut as “plan all your actions that you can with the information you have, then
execute them all.” If you instead have the second shortcut, you will make mistakes like we just mentioned far less. Most players don’t even realize
just how many mistakes they make over and over, almost every single game. Amusingly, top players feel like they make way more mistakes then
amateur and even “good” players, since they have much better shortcuts for determining when their actions were in error. As a result, they may feel
like they are actually making tons of mistakes (which they are), despite most people saying they are playing awesome (and despite playing much better
than the people around them). This is why it is so common to see top players say (and mean, from their perspective) that everyone (or most
everyone) is terrible.

Tight technical play also means gaining information that you can logically deduce based on the plays so far in the game. For instance, let’s say you
are playing the Caw Blade mirror against a skilled opponent and they keep their seven-card hand on the play. They play a Seachrome Coast on one and an
Island on two, passing the turn. What seven-card hand did they keep that did not contain Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, or Preordain?

Let’s consider the options. Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Emeria Angel plus Divine Offering? Phyrexian Metamorph? Mana Leak, Dismember, and Jace?
Depending on the texture of your hand, you can use this information to sculpt a game plan that maximizes the value you gain. For instance, let’s say
your hand contains two Squadron Hawks and a Stoneforge Mystic. Normally, you’d love to get a Mystic down on two, but if your opponent doesn’t play a
two-drop or Preordain, they are most likely representing removal into a bigger threat (like Jace). They might have a Metamorph, or they might have some
less common threats like Emeria Angel, but regardless of the removal they have, leading with a Hawk is superior.

If they have Leak, you still have another Hawk, and having one of four Hawks Leaked is great. If they have Divine Offering, leading with the Stoneforge
often wastes mana, whereas waiting lets you set up a chance to Mystic down your Batterskull with three mana up. If they have Dismember, they are
killing your Stoneforge Mystic anyway, so leading with the Hawk lets you thin your library faster and get more damage in. Besides, Stoneforge Mystic is
a tutor, so waiting may give you more information about which equipment to get. Batterskull is generally the best, but sometimes Sword of War and Peace
is the right answer to an opponent’s Hawk draw and sometimes Sword of Feast and Famine is the right answer to an opponent’s Batterskull, or you just
have an opening to get a “Time Walk” worth of mana.

Okay, it’s a different day, different opponent, and a different format. After winning game 1 with Hero of Bladehold, your opponent shows you two Stoic
Rebuttals on their way to defeating you in game 2. In game 3, you lead with two Plains and an Ichor Wellspring, on the play. Your opponent plays a
second Island and passes the turn. On turn three, you drop an Auriok Replica. On your opponent’s third turn, they drop a Swamp and pass the turn. Your
hand contains Batterskull, Sensor Splicer, and land. At this point, you attack with the Replica, drawing a Grim Affliction from your opponent.

Now, let’s take a moment to consider this sequence. You know your opponent has at least two Stoic Rebuttals in his deck, but here chooses to tap out to
Grim Affliction now, saving two damage. If he had a Stoic Rebuttal, wouldn’t he keep his mana open to see if he wants to counter your four-drop? He
already knows you have Hero of Bladehold in your deck, so he has to respect the threat. We are talking about two damage in a game where the score is
currently 22-20.

Even if he has a quality removal spell in his hand capable of dealing with the Hero, the possibility of trading a Stoic for your turn four is almost
surely too big to pass up if he has the Stoic. Thus, you can deduce, he probably does not have it, meaning you can actually lead with your Batterskull,
instead of using Sensor Splicer as a test threat. Additionally, he did not Steel Sabotage your Ichor Wellspring, nor your Auriok Replica, despite
having Blue mana up each time. If he were prepared to use a choice removal spell like Grim Affliction on your Replica, surely he would have been
willing to Steel Sabotage it, right?

Besides having a signal that it is a good time to play Batterskull, you actually have much more information about your opponent’s hand. Why did he burn
a Grim Affliction on an Auriok Replica? One possibility is that your opponent has at least a couple more removal spells in hand (they didn’t play a guy
on one, two, or three and used a quality removal spell on a glorified grey ogre). Another possibility is that they have a slow hand with a bomb in it,
and they are just trying to buy as much time as possible to live long enough to play it.

Not only do you gain information about what they have, you know more about what they don’t have. For instance, they probably don’t have a four or five
drop that is 2/3 or larger, since they wouldn’t care about the Replica if that was their plan. Put yourself in their shoes. Why would they make that
play? What is an internal narrative that would make sense? If they are a weak player, perhaps they just saw a chance to use a removal spell or do
nothing, so they used it. However, if you are in the 5-1 bracket of a PTQ, they probably deserve a little more credit.

The fundamentals may not be glamorous like some sweet bluff. They might not be as sexy as some hot new deck list. They may not be as fun of brain-candy
as some new combo. They are just the foundation of winning at Magic. 

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”

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