A while ago Kyle Boddy wrote an article on the concepts of momentum and inevitability, which was based off an article written by Flores. It was an interesting topic and really got me thinking about what inevitability actually means in different formats. Inevitability itself is hard to explain, since between two decks with similar strategies and speed, there is nothing truly tangible to argue one way or the other. It becomes completely dependent on the board state and resource position when two decks of similar types square off typically. Here’s my basic definition of inevitability…
Whether a deck can afford to simply stall or whether it has to try to win.
In a matchup, the deck that becomes more and more likely to win as the game goes longer would be the deck with inevitability.
Let me explain my reasoning behind this definition of inevitability. Every deck in Magic has some sort of goal it’s trying to accomplish. Whether it’s playing and attacking with Goblin beats to deal 20 damage to the opponent or assembling an Academy Rector and Cabal Therapy to fetch Yawgmoth’s Bargain, draw 10 cards and drain 20 life from the opponent. Every deck has a central goal it usually needs to accomplish to win; they can be specific or broad, but all fall under a strategy to win. And in all matches one deck wants to accomplish its goal first.
So what does inevitability mean to you? Well it’s a common way to realize what you’re role is in a match. The key difference between this and “Who’s the Beatdown” by Flores is this theory is designed to cover the exceptions and is all pre and early game and not directly influenced by internal factors. Basically you figure out if you need to actively win the game before the opponent or if you will naturally win by defending yourself for more time. Inevitability can usually be realized by simply considering the two goals of the opposing decks. I’m of the opinion that in any given match, one deck’s conditions to win will always be inevitable. This doesn’t mean the other deck will automatically lose, it simply means that the deck lacking inevitability will have to attempt to delay the opponents goal from happening so they can win.
Inevitability isn’t necessarily found in any one deck or archetype; instead you realize inevitability from comparing a matchup between two decks. Once you analyze each deck’s goal, you can then apply the definition and realize which deck has inevitability and your correct position in the match. Assigning inevitability is essentially saying, “Well if X deck gets to turn Y, it’ll win the game. But my deck can’t win before turn Y, so I have to delay the opponent until I can win.” This is the main reason why inevitability is so obvious in Aggro versus Combo matches, inevitability is very clear and here’s an example from the Extended season…
Goblins vs. Desire: Desire has inevitability
The Goblin deck wants to deal 20 damage to the Desire deck before it can assemble the pieces necessary for it to win. Goblins means of dealing 20 damage isn’t fast enough to beat the Desire deck before it goes off. So Goblins’ concedes inevitability to the Desire deck and is then forced to delay the inevitable combo with Cabal Therapy and mana denial (Rishadan Port for example). As a result, Goblins extends the amount of time it has to accomplish its goal before the Desire player’s inevitability kicks in and he combos and wins the game.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
1. Dealing 20 damage to the opponent as quickly as possible with Goblin beatdown
Now looking at the goals of each deck in the context of this matchup
Goblin’s goal in the match:
1. Slowing down the Desire deck before it can assemble a board/hand position to go off
2. Dealing 20 damage to the opponent as quickly as possible
Notice how Desire’s goal doesn’t change in the matchup? That’s because the goal of the Desire deck isn’t compromised in this match; it still wants to do the exact same thing and has the means to do so. This example was probably the most simplistic and easiest way to explain inevitability. Desire has inevitability since the Goblin deck is forced to win before Desire assembles the pieces to win and Goblins cannot race the Desire deck.
On a side note, I noticed in the SCG forums Chad Ellis referred to Goblins as having “a form of inevitability in the short term”. Now I believe the description here is correct, but the phrasing is misleading. A better way to say it might be that Goblins has a short-term goal and the means to extend how long it has to accomplish the goal. Aggro basically has a time limit attached to its goal. The longer the game goes on, the less likely you’ll deal 20 damage and the more likely it is that your opponent will reach his goal (Combo out, take control of the game, etc.). This is why aggressive decks typically run cards to disrupt and keep the opponent from reaching his goal. It leaves Aggro’s window of opportunity open against other decks longer. Aggro and Aggro-Control are almost never the decks with inevitability, except against other Aggro (in which case it’s match dependent) for this reason.
Much like control decks, some Aggro decks seek to disrupt the opponent from reaching his goal; the difference stems from the time frame and means that the both use. For aggressive decks this usually is mana denial and/or discard combined with the normal plan of dealing 20 to the opponent. These measures are meant for stalling though, unlike control, which seeks to completely dominate you and specifically stop you from reaching your goal until the control deck can win.
Now we can move onto something harder, explaining a more controlling deck against a combo deck that only gains 1 million life points…
Life vs. Rock: Rock has inevitability
You’d think Life actually has inevitability since the Rock has no sure way of stopping Life from comboing off. Nor does Rock have any way of typically winning before the Life player gains his life. But the Rock deck doesn’t care if the Life player gains 1 million life or not, because of it’s back up win condition. Eventually with Cranial Extraction and Eternal Witness it will strip every win condition out of the Life deck and continue to take cards out of the Life player’s deck until he runs out. The Life player must actually win the game before this is allowed to happen. Hence the Rock has inevitability, Life actually has to win the game before it loses all of its win conditions.
Look at the goals of Life
1. Assemble a hand and board position as quickly as it can that allows it to gain 1 million life or so
2. Cast a win condition and win the game
The key difference between this and Desire is Life in actuality has two real goals in every match. Usually goal 1 would give a near unlimited amount of time to accomplish goal 2, but against decks whose win conditions aren’t damage based, goal 2 becomes important as well.
Look at the goal of Life in a match against Aluren, Desire or Rock:
1. Assemble a hand and board position as quickly as it can that allows it to gain 1 million life or so
2. Cast a win condition as quickly as it can and win the game
Unlike the previous example with Desire, Life’s number 1 goal does not immediately end the game. Against most decks, that won’t matter though since a million life a pseudo game winner and goal 2 is merely a formality at that point. But against the 3 decks I listed, their goals remain unaffected, so Life must quickly accomplish goal 2 before the opposing deck can accomplish the normal goal they have (I.E. assembling their combo and winning). This may give some helpful insight into why Life has a pretty lousy matchup against these decks in general.
Moving onto control decks and where they fit in the grand scheme of inevitability. Basically control has inevitability against the vast majority of decks, because it’s goal is to survive and stop you from accomplishing your goal far before actually winning the game. Whether or not the control deck has inevitability depends on how well it can contain the opponent’s strategy. If it can do this effectively, it has the inevitability. If not, then it shall be forced to take the active role in the match. For example in 1.x Gush Tog vs. Aluren, eventually Aluren would force through enough threats to win the game. As a result the Tog deck had to typically take the active role in the match and destroy the opponent. As you’ll see below, Dragon vs. Control Slaver is another example of a control deck being forced to take an active role against a combo deck. Though these matches are actually rare, they do exist and are typically matches control decks have lousy games against.
Control decks typically have a goal setup like this:
2. Prevent the opponent from carrying out his intended goal
3. Play a game ending spell or threat
Points 1 and 2 are very similar, but have a crucial difference. Point 1 needs to be accomplished against everything; point 2 however only needs to be enacted if it would conflict with the original point of survival. For example against a typical Black or Red beatdown deck, survival naturally disrupts their game plan. Against a combo deck, you must actively stop the opponent from carrying out his goal, otherwise he can eventually assemble a hand that make goal 1 impossible. Examples of this include “Don’t counter the Necropotence, counter the Donate” syndrome and trying only to kill the game-ending Brain Freeze / Stroke of Genius / whatever, despite the fact that they have countermeasures in hand to prevent that already. It also is noticeable against combo decks that have other ways to win than just comboing out. Aluren casting Living Wish for Meloku the Clouded Mirror and then beating down, Dragon casting Animate Dead on a Verdant Force and simply attacking and other such examples. Stopping these won’t put you closer to stopping the opponent from accomplishing his main goal (going off with their combo), but they directly affect your survival anyway.
Now I’ll give all of you Vintage aficionados a match to judge inevitability on.
Dragon vs. Control Slaver: Who has the inevitability?
I like Cheese
More blank space, tough.
…Got an answer yet?
Dragon has inevitability in the match.
Dragon vs. Control Slaver is an example of a match where the control deck lacks inevitability. Given enough time, Dragon will outdraw the control deck and force through a winning combo piece. This means the control deck is the one who needs to stall for time and then actively win the game before the opponent does. Counter Slaver cannot outdraw, nor effectively disrupt the Dragon deck for a long period of time. As a result they most actively try to resolve Mindslaver and activate it or get out one of its large artifact men and beat the Dragon player down before they lose their library. CS has no effective answer to Bazaar of Baghdad and it has a hard time countering every relevant combo piece once Worldgorger Dragon is in the graveyard.
The Dragon deck is generally considered the poster child for inevitability thanks to the deck’s incredible drawing and search engines. Between broken tutors, Bazaar of Baghdad, Compulsion, Intuition and Squee, Goblin Nabob to power them, the deck can easily generate a hand that’s nearly impossible to stop through reactive means. Yet the deck can also go off fast enough that it still could beat aggro in a race.
Assigning inevitability depends on the specifics of the decks involved in the match, but here are some general rules to follow.
1. Aggro vs. combo: Combo will almost always be favored for inevitability. Why? Because the aggro deck is almost always slower than combo deck and has to disrupt them to win.
2. Aggro vs. control: This is dependent on deck make-up. In Vintage, some control decks such as Control Slaver have massive problems with aggro, while others like Oath have none. Meanwhile in Type Two, a deck like MUC can stomp all over weaker Green and Red aggressive strategies, but lose to a faster higher threat density deck like pre-ban Affinity. [Okay, it’s official – apparently no one understands that Mono-Blue had about a 70% matchup against Affinity, which is why we played it at States in the first place. – Knut, stunned that nobody gets it]
3. In aggro vs. aggro matches, ask yourself what exact type of aggro deck they are.
My general guidelines go as:
Aggro-combo holds inevitability over aggro-control and straight aggro, because it has a combo win condition that will win given enough time. Those are generally free game wins by an early combo slaughter or drawing into it over a long stalemate and winning for free. Examples include Food Chain Goblins (Food Chain + Goblin Recruiter) and Ravager Affinity (Disciple of the Vault + Arcbound Ravager).
Straight aggro usually holds inevitability over aggro-control since straight aggro runs far more threats. Goblin decks typically smash slower aggro in any format because of threat density and running more removal than the opponents. This has been proven in every constructed format ever. Goblins vs. Beasts, Vial Goblins vs. Red Decks Wins and U/G Madness, Goblins against Fish and so on throughout history. The difference is when the aggro-control deck has cards specifically designed to win the match and their ability to find and play them. Worship in WW for an example, these can give inevitability to the aggro-control deck, because they no longer have to race to win the game.
Aggro-control rarely has inevitability. It can rarely outrace opposing aggro or combo decks and control typically has more disruption. Since aggro-control relies on slowing the opponent down so much, it gives up inevitability in exchange for forcing the opponent to interact for the win.
4. In control vs. combo, typically the deck with the better overall draw engine and countermeasures will determine inevitability. Dragon has a great matchup against control, but a deck like Belcher does not. On another note, once specific combo hosers get involved, the control deck is usually the one with inevitability.
On a final note, I’d like to point out that inevitability does not mean you have the advantage in the matchup, it’s merely a way to keep track of which role a deck has in a match.
At this point I’d like to thank my teammates for helping me to read and correct a lot or errors in the first draft of this.
Email: josh dot Silvestri @ gmail dot com