Meta-Tate: Attrition through Marginalization

at-tri-tion: A reduction in numbers, usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death Active There is a maxim in life that rings true in Magic: if you’re going down, take someone with you. Your hope is that pounding for pounding, you’ll eventually come out ahead. Here’s a simple example: Player 1: I attack with…

at-tri-tion: A reduction in numbers, usually as a result of resignation, retirement, or death

Active Attrition

There is a maxim in life that rings true in Magic: if you’re going down, take someone with you. Your hope is that pounding for pounding, you’ll eventually come out ahead.

Here’s a simple example:

Player 1: I attack with my 3/3.

Player 2: I block with my 3/3… Both die.

In this case, both players ended up losing a 3/3. This is an easy case of creature attrition. Each side loses one creature with the hope that they will somehow come out better. While the original symmetry was”one card generates one creature,”Magic has evolved to where people can start getting two-for-ones – Flametongue Kavu being the best example.

Flametongue Kavu


Creature ? Kavu


Planeshift Uncommon

When Flametongue Kavu comes into play, it deals 4 damage to target creature.

In this case, you remove one creature and have one of your own. You get a solid creature while your opponent loses one. In this case, you come out ahead. Another example is Call of the Herd.

Call of the Herd



Odyssey Rare

Put a 3/3 green Elephant creature token into play.

Flashback 3G

In this case, for one card you get two 3/3 tokens. This gives you more cards to kill other creatures or just straight-out kill your opponent.

In each instance, these cards are designed to generate you card advantage – that ubiquitous term you hear from pros. Those two cards are great examples of where it is almost as if you are cheating since you are, in essence, drawing more cards. Flametongue Kavu is actually a 4/2 as well as a Lightning Blast (for creatures). Call of the Herd is actually two Elephant spells wrapped up into one. These cards create advantages for the caster because of their ability to inflict punishment that your opponent can’t withstand.

Take a look at Tomi Walamies‘”Dumbo Drop” deck from New Orleans:

3 Adarkar Wastes

3 Flood Plain

1 Plains

4 Savannah

4 Tropical Island

4 Tundra

2 Wasteland

1 Morphling

3 Brainstorm

3 Call of the Herd

4 Counterspell

4 Fact or Fiction

1 Forbid

4 Force of Will

2 Gaea’s Blessing

4 Impulse

1 Intuition

3 Seal of Cleansing

3 Swords to Plowshares

3 Tithe

3 Wrath of God

So how does he win? Through complete attrition. Call the Herd provides the beef, while Wrath of God ensures that you’ll lose tons of creatures in an attempt to beat him. On top of that, Gaea’s Blessing ensures that he can get his cards back for round 2.

In each case – Flametongue, Call of the Herd, Dumbo Drop – your deck is built to maximize your cards by placing threats that destroy your opponent’s plan.

Marginalization Attrition: Sideboarding tricks

On the flip side, attrition can also take on a different form. Rather than play a game of”My card eats your card,” you can try a game where”My card is not as dead as yours!” This is the art of sideboarding passive attrition cards. In other words, rather than play cards that outright destroy your opponent, you play with cards that make their cards worth much less. For example, take a game of WW vs. Sligh. White can side in Absolute Law – an enchantment that gives all creatures pro-red. While it doesn’t directly kill you, it neuters all your red creatures so that his white ones suddenly look much better. On the other hand, you can run Thran Lens, which turns all permanents colorless. You have just incorporated a card that doesn’t directly help you win either, but it makes his Absolute Law”more dead.” Suddenly, his Absolute Law doesn’t look too hot anymore. In essence, you’ve created a dead card for him.

Even worse, think about Humility. All creatures become 1/1. Suddenly, your WW deck looks pretty hot, with all its one- and two casting-cost spells, compared to Rock and His Millions, where his 5cc Spiritmonger, with all its abilities, is now an overcosted vanilla 1/1.

In the current Extended environment, there are quite a few cards that help you win by marginalizing the usefulness of your opponent’s cards: Circle of Protection Red, Null Rod, Choke, Back to Basics. All of these cards neutralize the usefulness of your opponent’s cards, while not necessarily providing you with a win condition. In each case, you stand to lose a little if you are playing cards that are directly affected by them (Island for Choke, artifacts with Null); however, you just hope to come out better off than your opponent. Is this strategy necessarily worse than”offensive attrition”? Not necessarily. Sometimes your deck needs time to”set us up the bomb” and only through great delaying tricks can you pull it off. Other times, you realize that by marginalizing everything, you are better off.

So you ask, what cards are there that would marginalize the game such that I’d be ahead? Or something like that. With that, I’d like to list the top 5 Sideboard cards for Marginalizing stuff in Extended.

1. Limited Resources



Exodus Rare

When Limited Resources comes into play, each player chooses five lands he or she controls and sacrifices the rest. As long as there are ten or more lands in play, players cannot play lands.

This is one of ultimate marginalizers in Magic: This card can single-handedly create more dead cards in a game than any other. An early Limited Resources means that players will be forced to play with only five lands each. If you miss a land drop… It just gets ugly. Every land in your hand becomes dead unless you can find a way to unload it (Seismic Assault or Firestorm?). Of course, players can take advantage of this if their casting costs are low enough or if they are playing LD. Needless to say, playing this first turn is almost an autowin against Stasis or Turboland. Last time I checked, they don’t function well with five lands. Not to mention if this spell ever resolves, it has the functional equivalent of”semi-Armageddon you!”

2. Cursed Totem



Classic Sixth Edition Rare

Players can?t play activated abilities of creatures.

My personal favorite for a long time. Morphlings become overpriced elephants. River Boas no longer regenerate. Spikes can no longer remove counters. It’s a root canal against Rock and His Millions, since almost all of their creatures have activated abilities. Oath… Well, they can scoop. My Dumbo deck runs Totems sideboard, even though I have Morphlings; Totems place premiums on cheap creatures with strong stats. It makes Call of the Herd strong, as 3/3 is about the usual size of a creature and Call can do a good number on attrition.

3. Tsabo’s Web



Invasion Rare

When Tsabo?s Web comes into play, draw a card. Lands with an activated ability that doesn?t produce mana don?t untap during their controllers? untap steps.

The silver bullet solution against Rishadan Port. Strangely, it is very effective against manlands, Mirage lands, Dustbowl, and Wasteland. You even draw a card for that! Rather than having three Phyrexian Furnaces between your sideboard and maindeck, replace one with the Web instead. As with my previous article, I value cantrips highly, and this one is a good one at that. Nothing says”SUCK!” more than cards that prevent lands from untapping.

4. Energy Field



Urza?s Saga Rare

Prevent all damage dealt to you from sources you do not control.

When a card is put into your graveyard, sacrifice Energy Field.

The ultimate marginalizer. Unless they can force the card into your graveyard, you’ve bought yourself a turn from anything damage your opponent can throw at you. Infiltrators, Ball Lightning, Morphling… All just have to sit back and wait (except for Ball). Believe me, unless they have a Pyroblast, Sligh just sits there. So what can you do that won’t jeopardize the field? Flashback! I discovered some amazing synergy between Call the Herd and Energy Field. Since Call tokens aren’t cards, they can die with impunity and not trigger the field. In the meantime, you can flash Calls out of the graveyard, without worrying about Call entering the graveyard.

5. Arcane Laboratory



Urza?s Saga Uncommon

Each player cannot play more than one spell each turn.

Boy… Wouldn’t it suck if you resolve a Lab? It immediately throws many cards into chaos. Counterspells suddenly become useless if you play the first spell. On the other hand, you know that your counterspells will always resolve against an opponent’s spell. Or what about combo decks in Type II? Early Harvest??? Dead! This card will slow a game down to a crawl, as each side has now been restricted to a spell a turn. Clearly, if you are afraid of combo, this is the way to go. Donate cannot win against the Lab if you are packing your own counters.

There you go: Five cards that serve no offensive purpose. However, each one can greatly affect your opponent’s strategy by turning his well-tuned engine of a deck into a lemon.