The Justice League – Two Heads are Better than One

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Thursday, November 5th – Now that we’re immersed in Zendikar, I really like this set. It’s a lot of fun, without having to be the most technically minded player at times. Fun sets like this usually have me thinking about building new decks, and that’s something that I haven’t done in over a year. However, when I think of construction I tend to be looking for cards that will fit into a Two-Headed Giant deck first and foremost.

Hello everyone! It’s been a very busy month for me, as I’ve spent three of the last five weekends jumping on planes and dashing across the country on more flights and connections than I’d care to remember. Although the flight part was rather easy peasy, it’s the whole ‘getting to the airport on time’ part that proved increasingly challenging. Many would have learned their lesson after a strong lecture from the check-in clerk, arriving a mere 50 minutes before their flight to Austin departed. However, seeing as how I arrived with just 45 minutes to spare just seven days later for my flight to Tampa, it would appear not to be the case. At times like this, I have to fall back on some charm and accentuate the important reasons for me catching said flight.

I have to say, now that we’re immersed in Zendikar, I really like this set. It’s a lot of fun, without having to be the most technically minded player at times. Fun sets like this usually have me thinking about building new decks, and that’s something that I haven’t done in over a year. However, when I think of construction I tend to be looking for cards that will fit into a Two-Headed Giant deck first and foremost. My fondest memories of 2HG are playing with another judge pal of mine Eman Palmeri and the reactions we got from some of our decks at a friend’s store (Jon Reese) in Michigan. I remember Eman and I bringing an Affinity deck and a Blue Control deck, which smashed the local field. Must have left a lasting impression on the locals, since when we announced ahead of time that we were going to return two months later for more 2HG, we arrived to find a sizeable portion of the field running artifact hate. Pity (for them) therefore that we were both running decks packed with Relentless Rats. So to make sure that 2HG doesn’t go unloved and overshadowed by the ever rising in popularity EDH, I think it’s time to do an old Lee Sharpe style look at the format and cards with special interactions for the format. Interesting side note: since I’ve had it confirmed to me that Relentless Rats can be packed into a 100 card EDH deck, I might just have to start scouring eBay for more foil Rats (all decks I’m nostalgic about end up being ‘pimped’ and foiled out.

Okay, let’s start with the basics which separate 2HG from normal single player formats of Magic.

The Basics.

2HG consists of one game, but if that game ends in a draw and time still remains in the round, the teams continue with a new game until there is a winner or time is up (MTR 9.1). If the match does go to time, then the end of round procedure has 3 extra turns, not 5 (MTR 2.5). Each team starts with 30 life (C.R. 103.3a).The primary player sits on the right of the team, but each team can change their primary player from one match to the next (MTR 9.4). If both players on the team have triggers to put on the stack at the same time, many people mistakenly think that the primary player’s abilities automatically go on the stack first. Not true. Being the primary player is about making the final call if the team can’t agree on a course of action (C.R. 806.3a). Albeit that this may include disagreements about the order to stack abilities or which creatures to attack with! Each player in the starting team announces whether they will mulligan, then the players in the other team decide and all mulligans are taken together (C.R. 103.4c). The first mulligan for each player in a game results in that player drawing a fresh hand of 7 cards. Subsequent mulligans follow the normal rules of drawing one card less each time (C.R. 806.6a). You can converse and see your team mate’s hand, but you can’t see the result of their mulligan before deciding whether to take one yourself! The team playing first skips its draw step on the first turn,
so neither player draws (C.R. 103.7b). Some players still remember the days when only the primary player skipped their initial draw in 2HG, but it was decided that there was too much advantage for the team going first to have one player still draw.

Most of that probably wasn’t exactly a revelation, but 2HG public events on the Pro Tour and side events at Grand Prix tournaments are continuously peppered with these kinds of questions. Let’s look at some things that take on special meaning for 2HG.

Special 2HG Interpretations

2HG is a team game, but cards which use the word ‘you’ or ‘your’ refer specifically to just that member of the team.
e.g. Bant Sureblade is not interested in multicolored permanents that your team mate controls and therefore won’t count towards giving him +1/+1 and first strike.
e.g. The activated ability of Dauntless Escort won’t make the creatures your team mate controls indestructible until the end of turn.

Life Totals. Damage, gaining or losing life happens to an individual player’s life total and is applied to the teams shared life total (C.R. 806.9). If the game needs to know an individual’s life total then the team life total is divided by two and rounded up (C.R. 806.9a). If you think about it, this rounding up has to happen, as opposed to rounding down, otherwise a team at 1 life would calculate an individual life total to be 0!
e.g. Team life total is 25 life and the primary player casts Invincible Hymn when he has 35 cards in his library. His individual life total is 13 (25/2 and rounded up) and so setting his life total to 35 would mean a life gain of 22, giving a new team life total of 47 (25 + [35-13]). See C.R. 806.9c.
e.g. Magister Sphinx enters the battlefield and the controller targets the primary player of the opposing team when they have a combined life total of 27. The individual life totals are 14 (27/2 and rounded up). His life total becomes 10 and he has effectively lost 4 life to set a new team total of 23 life (27 — [14-10]).

Combat. Players in a team share phases and the combat phase is no exception to this rule. Therefore, you attack as a team and the two opponents, the defending team, block as a team (C.R. C.R. 806.7a). The set of declared attackers must be legal as a whole (C.R. 806.7c). If something prevents one or more of the proposed attacking creatures from attacking one of the defending players then that creature can’t attack the defending team. This is usually caused by an effect like Teferi’s Moat controlled by one of the defending players. Likewise the declaration of blockers has to be legal as a whole (C.R. 806.7d). A creature like Inkwell Leviathan can’t be blocked if at least one of the defending players controls an island. The M10 rules changes also apply to 2HG, so a creature blocked by multiple creatures has the order of blockers assigned by the attacking team. Any blocking creature which blocks multiple attacking creatures will have the damage assignment order designated by the defending team (C.R. 806.7e). Although the active players attack as a team, any combat damage that would be assigned to the defending team by a creature during the combat damage step is assigned to a specific defending player on that team (C.R. 806.7f). This is important for cards like Elder Mastery and Empyrial Archangel.
Extra bit – Any one shot effect from a spell or ability that would apply to an attacking or defending player applies to only one of the two attacking or defending players (C.R. 806.7b). The choice of player is made when the effect is applied and includes the triggered abilities of cards like Nemesis of Reason and Thraximundar when attacking.

“Each step/phase” vs “each player’s step/phase” triggers.
Triggers for a particular step which say, “at the beginning of each [step/phase]…” trigger just once during your teams relevant step/phase.
e.g. Cunning Lethemancer triggers just once during your upkeep and causes every player to discard a card.
e.g. Dragon Broodmother triggers just once during each team’s upkeep to produce one dragon per turn. The Devour on the token works as normal and can devour any other creatures you control to get bigger.

Triggers for a particular step that say in part, “At the beginning of each player’s [step/phase]” trigger for each player during the relevant step.
e.g. Defiler of Souls triggers for each player in the active team and causes each of them to sacrifice a monocoloured creature.
e.g. Font of Mythos triggers for each player in the draw step and therefore both players in the team will draw two cards.
e.g. Predatory Advantage will trigger for each of your opponent’s at the end of their turn. So you’ll get two tokens if neither of them cast a creature spell. Extra — The ability has an intervening if clause (C.R. 603.4.) and won’t trigger for an opponent if he did cast a spell and won’t produce a token on resolution if they cast a creature (say with Flash) before the ability resolves.

Adding/Removing steps, phases and turns. Remember that teams take turns, not players (C.R. 806.4b). Therefore, if an effect would cause a player to take an extra turn or add an extra step or phase to that players turn, the team takes an additional turn or adds an extra step or phase to that turn (C. R. 806.6h).
e.g. Finest Hour will add an additional combat phase for the team, but only triggers if a single attacking creature controlled by you was attacking in the first combat phase of the turn. The new combat phase occurs immediately after the original combat phase ends.
e.g. Time Sieve causes the team to take an extra turn.
If an effect causes a player to skip a step, phase or turn then the entire team skips that step, phase or turn.
e.g. Dragon Appeasement causes the team to skip their draw step, but the second ability only triggers when you sacrifice a creature. Extra — It doesn’t allow you to sacrifice a creature for no reason! There must be some cost being paid or an effect being carried out that makes you sac a creature before the ability will trigger.

Let’s look at some abilities and how they work in 2HG.

Abilities with a 2HG Twist!

Exalted is a real let down for 2HG players, maybe because they thought it would be too powerful otherwise. Creatures with Exalted will only trigger if one single creature attacked for the attacking team, and only triggers for the creatures with exalted that are controlled by the controller of the single attacking creature.
e.g. In 2HG, I control an Akrasan Squire and a Battlegrace Angel. My team mate controls a Court Archers and a Noble Hierarch. If we declare an attack phase and attack with just the Court Archers, then only the Noble Hierarch and Court Archers will trigger. If we attack with a Noble Hierarch and a Battlegrace Angel then none of the creatures exalted abilities trigger. If we attack with a Battlegrace Angel then the Akrasan Squire and Battlegrace Angel are the only ones that trigger.

Poisonous and Poison Counters. State-based actions (C.R. 704.5c) track poison counters on individual players and does not calculate ‘accumulated’ poison counters for a team. However, when dealing combat damage to the defending team you have to specify which player the creature is dealing damage to. Therefore, poison counters are given to a specific player, not the team. Therefore you can target one player of the team for poison counters and win the game when a single opponent has 10 or more poison counters.

Okay, time to check out some of the new cards that we got from Zendikar and see how they work out!

Zendikar Specific Notes.

Beastmaster Ascension will only trigger for attacking creatures that you control, not your team mate. The bonus is likewise only for your creatures.

Blood Tribute targeting a player on a team with 21 life will cause that player to lose 6 life (21/2 rounded up to give 11 is the target players life total, then 11/2 and rounded up to 6 to work out half his life total).

Bloodghast will only have haste if the opposing teams life total is 20 or less (21 would be divided and rounded up to 11 for each player).

Bog Tatters cannot be blocked if one or more of the defending player’s controls a swamp.

Eternity Vessel enters the battlefield with a number of charge counters equal to the player’s share of the life total (divided by 2 and rounded up). When a land enters the battlefield for the Vessel’s controller, the resolving ability makes you gain enough life to make your half of the life total equal to the number of charge counters on the Vessel, e.g. a 2HG team is at 23 life when the Eternity Vessel enters the battlefield. It gets 12 charge counters. Later in the game, the controller plays a land when the team’s life total is at 17. The players half of the life total is 9 and it would take a gain of 3 life for the player’s life total to match the 12 charge counters. The new team life total is 20.

When Goblin Guide attacks, you choose which defending player reveals the top card of his library. You don’t have to choose the same defending player each time the Guide attacks.

Guul Draz Specter gets the +3/+3 bonus as long as at least one of the opponents has no cards in hand.

Hellfire Mongrel will trigger for each opponent on their upkeep, but because of the intervening if clause will check to see if it should trigger and check the number of cards again for each opponent when the ability would resolve.

If you pay the cost of Hellkite Charger’s ability, it will untap all attacking creatures (including your team mates) and grant another attack phase to the team.

Luminarch Ascension will trigger for each of your opponents at the end of turn step and you will get two counters if you didn’t lose life that turn. Luminarch Ascension doesn’t care if your team mate lost life.

Scute Mob triggers only once during your team’s upkeep.

Sorin Markov’s second ability causes that players half of his teams life total to become 10, therefore the team will gain or lose the appropriate amount of life in order for that to happen, e.g. if a team’s life total is 25 when the Sorin ability is used, the players life total is 13 and his life total would change to 10 by losing 3 life. The teams new life total is 22 (25 — (13-10).

Sorin Markov’s third ability allows you to take control of the entire teams turn, not just that player in the team. You make all decisions for that team, get to see both their hands, morph creatures face down on the battlefield, cast spells and choose attacking creatures if you really want.

Trailblazer’s Boots makes a creature unblockable as long as at least one of them controls a non-basic land. Having a Spreading Seas enchanting the only non basic land or a Blood moon in play does not stop the land being non-basic and the creature would still be unblockable.

I had intended to talk about PT: Austin and GP: Tampa in this article, but the 2HG just took over in the end. I’ll say that the highlights for me from those two events included being part of the electric atmosphere when Ingrid Lind-Jahn was confirmed as a L4 (we love Ingrid), taking lots of “James Elliott photos”(as Alan Hochman put it), haggling a taxi driver outside Tampa airport down from $120 to $80 for the cab ride, getting a bear hug from TO Jeff Williams, and being burned by Gerry Thompson and Larry Waymon.

Most valuable judge of the month is a tough one with so many fine individuals to choose from. I’ll give the nod to Wes (even he doesn’t know how to pronounce his own last name) Humenczuk. Wes Humenczuk is the man who travelled between Kansas City and St Louis last month overnight to judge two PTQs in two days. You are a star, Wes!

This weekend I’ll be in Nashville for the Star City Games $5000 Standard Open, and the PTQ the following day hosted by The Next Level Games. I have a feeling things are going to be big again in Nashville, maybe even smash the attendance levels seen at the Indianapolis $5K earlier this year (I think it was 432). After that it’s GP: Minneapolis, and then back to Chicago with Pastimes for a PTQ on November 21st (they had 220+ for a PTQ last month- amazing!).

As ever, my thanks to shiny new L3 Eli Shiffrin for his scrutiny of this article at short notice, and may everyone’s top deck stay lucky.