SCG Talent Search – Don’t Be a Menace

Thursday, October 28th – I want to tell you about the best change I ever made to a deck. It’s a single card change, and it’s a cut, not an add. It might be hard to believe, but I improved this EDH deck an untold amount simply by removing one card.

I want to tell you about the best change I ever made to a deck.

It’s a single card change, and it’s a cut, not an add. It might be hard to believe, but I improved this deck an untold amount simply by removing one card. It’s an EDH deck. I’ll tell you all about it in a minute, but first I’ll give you the list. See if you can spot the change.

General: Scion of the Ur-Dragon


Arcane Sanctum
Azorius Chancery
Boros Garrison
Crumbling Necropolis
Dimir Aqueduct
Evolving Wilds
Golgari Rot Farm
Grand Coliseum
Gruul Turf
Izzet Boilerworks
Jungle Shrine
Mirrodin’s Core
Mosswort Bridge
Orzhov Basilica
Rakdos Carnarium
Reflecting Pool
Rupture Spire
Savage Lands
Seaside Citadel
Selesnya Sanctuary
Simic Growth Chamber
2 Swamp
Terramorphic Expanse


Bladewing the Risen
Bogardan Hellkite
Dragon Mage
Dragon Tyrant
Hellkite Overlord
Jugan, the Rising Star
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund
Keiga, the Tide Star
Knollspine Dragon
Loyal Retainers
Mist Dragon
Nicol Bolas
Quicksilver Dragon
Ryusei, the Falling Star
Scourge of Kher Ridges
Teneb, the Harvester
Thunder Dragon
Yosei, the Morning Star


Animate Dead
Ashes to Ashes
Austere Command
Azorius Signet
Bant Charm
Boros Signet
Braid of Fire
Breath of Life
Careful Consideration
Coalition Relic
Compulsive Research
Crystal Ball
Dance of the Dead
Darksteel Ingot
Diabolic Servitude
Dimir Signet
Dread Return
Esper Charm
Fact or Fiction
Golgari Signet
Izzet Signet
Lightning Greaves
Living Death
Makeshift Mannequin
Miraculous Recovery
Oblivion Ring
Orzhov Signet
Path to Exile
Patriarch’s Bidding
Rakdos Signet
Selesnya Signet
Sensei’s Divining Top
Simic Signet
Sol Ring
Swords to Plowshares
Thirst for Knowledge
Twilight’s Call
Vigor Mortis
Wheel of Fate
Wheel of Fortune
Wrath of God

I’ll tell you a little bit about the deck: this was and is my best EDH deck. I wanted a deck that did the following things:

-      Made good use of the general without being utterly reliant on it.

-      Featured a lot of fun tactile interactions with the physical deck, such as drawing and tutoring.

-      Played a lot of big, flashy creatures without just being a typical big mana deck.

-      Contained powerful, interesting, and fun synergies.

This list was almost there. Did you spot the problem card? Of course not; you didn’t read that entire decklist, and if you did, you probably fell asleep at the keyboard, possibly bumping your forehead on the desk as you did, losing a fair portion of your Magic knowledge, and rendering yourself unable to analyze this or any decklist without extensive rehabilitation and possibly costly brain surgery. Sorry about that.

The card is Dragon Tyrant, and it took me all of two test games to realize that it was simply ruining the deck. Here’s how they went:

Game the First:

Turn one: land

Turn two: land, Signet

Turn three: land

Turn four: land, Scion of the Ur-Dragon

Turn five: land, activate Scion of the Ur-Dragon, search for Dragon Tyrant, pump pump pump, attack for twenty-two general damage, gg.

Game the Second:

Turn one: land

Turn two: land, Signet

Turn three: land

Turn four: land, Scion of the Ur-Dragon

Intermission: at this point I noticed, as I’m sure you have, that this game was thus far virtually identical to the first. Actually, it was so close to identical that I copy/pasted it just now. Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for the opportunity to pad my word count, but this doesn’t make for the most exciting game. So I decided to deliberately try to take a different route to victory.

Turns five through ten: search out a Dragon, get my general killed, reanimate the Dragon, attack, replay general, he wraths, I miss a land drop, he plays a bunch of guys, I wrath, I reanimate some guys, he plays creatures, I play my general, and so forth.

Turn eleven: I survey the board. I have just my general out, and he has six guys totaling twenty-some power. I review the dice. I’m at fifteen, and he’s at twenty-eight. Not looking good for our hero. Not quite resigned to my fate, I tap two to activate Scion one last time and start sifting through my deck, hoping to come across something—anything—that will help me pull out a win on what is clearly my last turn.

Oh. Dragon Tyrant. Pump pump pump, attack for twenty-two general damage, gg.

Clearly, Dragon Tyrant is a really good card in this deck. Or is it? I wanted this deck to give me a bunch of fun interactions to play with, but it seemed to actually only have one interaction: Scion plus Tyrant plus general damage equals sad opponent. So I took it out, and the deck immediately started doing everything I wanted. It gave me dozens of interactions, tons of options at any given time, and lots of choices to mull over. It tested my play skill and my knowledge of the deck, and it continues to show me something new every time I play with it. It’s absolutely my favorite EDH deck as of now, and one of my favorite decks of all time, and all I had to do to get it to that point was take out the best card in it.

This has all been a roundabout way of describing a problem with which many of us are faced: we don’t know how to make bad decks. Well actually, let me rephrase that, because I’m sure none of us actually has trouble making

decks as such; what I mean to say is that we aren’t necessarily good at making decks that are just bad enough to be fair for casual play. It’s a skill. In fact, it’s a kind of backwards optimization. It’s not really all that different from the kind of optimization that gets done in tournament formats, only instead of making the deck as good as it can possibly be, it’s about making it just the right quality and no better.

It’s a problem that afflicts mostly people who are in the same boat as myself: people who play (or used to play) competitive Magic and who play casually with people who never really did. It can be hard to rein in the impulse to make your decks better and better, especially given that each playgroup is different, and there’s no single, universally appropriate power level. As an aside, I’m well aware that the whole “serious casual vs. casual casual” thing is kind of a hot button issue right now, and this isn’t intended as a salvo in that argument. Lots of people like to play EDH and other casual formats in a very serious and cutthroat fashion, and that’s fine. What I’m talking about are playgroups that do play truly casually, in which one or more of the players finds themselves playing decks that are a bit more powerful than they (or their opponents) would like.

The way I see it, the goal of casual play is to have a metagame in which the decks are pretty well balanced against each other, so that nobody keeps getting blown out and everybody has a good time. The power level your deck needs to be at in order to accomplish that will vary, but in my experience, the things you need to do to get down to that power level are universal. So here’s how to take the Dragon Tyrants out of your various decks:

-      Look for cards and strategies that aren’t really beatable at your playgroup’s power level. I’m not talking about Baneslayer Angel at a table where nobody plays removal spells here, but if people would have to run specific answers to beat your storm combo deck, it probably needs toning down.

-      If you play a deck like the one above that’s supposed to have a lot of different ways of winning, but you find yourself always using the same one, you should probably take that one out.

-      If you have a couple of cards that are good anyway, but they happen to also make an insta-win combo with each other, it’s a good idea to just take one out if that combo seems too good for your playgroup. In my experience, just trying to resign yourself to not use all of your deck’s potential is a recipe for bitterness, as you either lose games that you could’ve won or win games that you “shouldn’t” have won.

-      When you’re considering putting a very powerful card in your deck, ask yourself one simple question: “Will this lead to better games?” If that Necropotence is going to help fuel your hilarious Pariah’s Shield/Blessing of Leeches/Coalhauler Swine deck, cool. If it’s going to propel your Vintage-legal Trix build to victory over your opponent’s Ooze tribal deck… not so cool.

-      When all else fails, make a house rule. “No Zur in EDH.” “No infinite combos.” “No Bird Maidens.” All are fair and valid solutions to the problems that can arise when some players feel like they’re just getting battered game after game, and as long as they’re spelled out in advance, these kinds of things can help a play session go smoothly.

Above all, be willing to make these concessions. Suck it up; it’s for the greater good. Optimizing a deck for any environment is about making it as good as possible at accomplishing the goals of that environment, but in true casual play, the most important goal isn’t simply winning as many games as possible; rather, the most important thing for a casual deck to do is contribute to games that are enjoyable overall, regardless of who wins. If everybody at the table has a deck like that, everybody has a good time, and that means everybody wins in the end.