The Kitchen Table #349 – The WALD Theory

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Wednesday, August 4th – Hello folks, and welcome to my latest article. Today I want to talk about a theory of mine I’ve discussed from time to time in my articles, but usually for never more than a paragraph or so. It seemed like a good time to expand on that theory, and dedicate a whole article to it. This theory looks at game-changing cards, when and why they work, and how to best utilize them.

Hello folks, and welcome to my latest article. Today I want to talk about a theory of mine I’ve discussed from time to time in my articles, but usually for never more than a paragraph or so. It seemed like a good time to expand on that theory, and dedicate a whole article to it.

I came up with this idea years and years ago, and occasionally I use it when discussing how different cards work. The theory is named after the three key cards in it. This theory looks at game-changing cards, when and why they work, and how to best utilize them.

Ready? Let’s begin.

The Wrath of God Cards

The first type of card is those that resemble Wrath of God. When you play a Wrath, you know that you are playing a time-honored card that has proven itself valuable time and time again. Why? What makes Wrath of God so good?

It’s good because it changes the game state. There are a lot effects in Magic, and very few change the game state significantly. Impulse doesn’t change the game state. Counterspell doesn’t change the game state. Barring a very weird set of permanents, something like Paradise Mantle doesn’t change the game state.

Wrath of God does. It does so in a very powerful way. However, this change to the game state is in a very certain way. If you are winning, does Wrath of God push you even farther towards the goal? Probably not. When do you play Wrath of God?

You drop it when you are behind. You play it when you are being attacked by three major creatures and all you have out is an Uktabi Orangutan. Then you kill the creatures and your Orangutan. Whew! Safe at last. Your Wrath of God massively changed the game state from a losing one to a neutral one. Your opponent could follow with some more creatures to keep up the pressure. You could start playing creatures of your own, and push back. You have made it anybody’s game.

You have taken a game state, and moved it from being highly against your favor, to neutral. This is what a Wrath of God is good at. To have a Wrath of God impact on the board, you need a card with a similar impact. Because Wrath of God is a sweeper, it’s easy to see these cards as sweepers, and many are. Akroma’s Vengeance, Rout, Starstorm, – these are all Wrath of God style effects. They don’t have to be a sweeper, however. There are other examples.

One of the basic words we use for this is a reset button. Wrath of God resets the board. Other cards that reset the board or game position are also Wrath of Gods. A card like Sway of the Stars is obviously a reset effect. Everything gets shuffled back into each other’s decks, and then you draw seven new cards, and keep going. It is very much a reset button.

Some cards are Wraths without killing anything. Moat is a great example. You are making your opponent’s ground creatures useless as attackers, and thus, virtually resetting the board. Sure, they can tap and use abilities and flyers can get over, but you have taken a negative position and made it neutral again, barring some of these ways around it.

Lots of times we can use a card as a Wrath of God. Suppose your opponent is playing a combo deck, and is using an enchantment and an artifact to win, and will win in a turn or two. If you play Hull Breach and destroy both elements of the combo, you have taken the game back to neutral. And yet Hull Breach is not a Wrath of God. Perhaps neither of you has creatures or threats out, and both are in topdeck mode, and your opponent draws and plays Jace’s Ingenuity. If you draw and play Fugue, then you basically took everything back to neutral with it, despite the fact that Fugue would not normally be considered a Wrath of God style effect.

Now that we know what Wraths do, let’s look at the next entry in the WALD Theory.

The Armageddon Cards

The actual Armageddon is a powerful card. Its impact on the game was great that Wizards had to pull it, and never print anything with a power level that’s even close. Armageddon decks and strategies were very successful year in and year out. By the time it was pulled, this four-mana sorcery was just as tried and true as the first four-mana sorcery we looked at. Yet their power is much different. Armageddon is the opposite of a Wrath of God.

You play a Wrath of God when really behind the 8-ball, and suddenly you are back in the game. A Wrath saves you. An Armageddon does no such thing. If you are being attacked by three creatures, playing Armageddon will not help. Wrath of God is a prayer for help. Armageddon offers none. An Armageddon only serves those who are already in control of the board.

Simply put, an Armageddon takes a board state that slightly favors you, and swings it hard in your direction. It can take a temporary advantage and make it permanent. Armageddons reduce your opponent’s chance to find an answer to whatever threat you have served up. An easy example to see is Standstill. You are in a slightly dominating position, and then you play it, giving you a much stronger one.

Suppose you have out a Watchwolf, while your opponent is devoid of creatures. Simply cast Armageddon, and ride that wolf to victory. Sure, your opponent can feasibly draw and play two lands and drop Wall of Omens, or a Mountain and a Lightning Bolt. These things happen. But the game state is swung significantly in your favor.

Another great example of an Armageddon is discard. If you have that Watchwolf out and are swinging with it, imagine playing Mind Twist and stripping out all of your opponent’s cards from his hand. You have a great chance of riding that wolf to victory now. Sure, he still has his lands and could draw goods, but you removed options. Similarly, the Armageddon left him his hand to play more lands with, neither is perfect, but both are very powerful.

Imagine the game state as the combination of resources available to you — life, cards in hand, mana available, and permanents. The pendulum swings back and forth over the course of a game. A Wrath of God takes it from your side and puts it in the middle. An Armageddon takes it from slightly on your foe’s side, to significantly on their side.

The Armageddon doesn’t have to be discard and land destruction. A Portcullis is dropped when you have out 2+ creatures, and your opponent cannot play anymore. A Nether Void does similar damage to an Armageddon in terms of board state. Sphere of Resistance and similar effects are like mini-Armageddons. You never want to play one when behind, but when ahead…

Look at it this way — Wrath of God takes resources that your opponent was relying on winning with, and removes them as a threat. Armageddon takes resources that your opponent was relying on to stop you winning, and eliminates them.

Armageddons are also powerful because they eliminate What Ifs. What if your opponent was about to stop that Watchwolf? What if they were about to play Zombify on that Akroma in their graveyard? What if….

Alright, now let’s take a look at the final element of the WALD Theory.

The Living Death Cards

This is your final segment, and it is the most powerful, sometimes. One of the things that players of Living Death realized quickly was that early in the game, the first Living Death was often a Black Wrath of God. Nothing of consequence has died or been discarded, and you play it just to keep yourself alive. Thanks Wrath of God!

However, later in the game, or when you built around it, a Living Death became something more. It became both a Wrath of God AND an Armageddon. It is very rare in Magic when you can play a card that takes the pendulum threatening to kill you any moment, and swing it back all the way to where it is about to kill your opponent. Living Deaths do it.

If you’ve rocked Living Deaths before, then you know what I am talking about. Its looks like the gig is up! You are being attacking by a bunch of creatures, and all you have out is an Uktabi Orangutan and several in the yard. You chump block with the monkey, and all looks lost until… you play Living Death! Your opponent’s creatures hit they yard, and outcome all of yours. Your monkey, and several other creatures all pop out. All your opponent got was a Sakura-Tribe Elder. Now you are the one with the significant advantage, and your opponent already played a lot of removal spells to get your guys in the graveyard in the first place!

A proper Living Death takes a game state from zero to hero, from last to first, from behind the 8 ball to behind the cue ball, and from passenger to pilot. In one card, you go from losing to winning, and it’s a great feeling. You can snatch victory from defeat. These are the events that make stories. These are your epic wins. These are the games you remember.

The best example of this card may not be Living Death anymore, but Martial Coup. It single-handedly takes a game state where you are losing to one where you are winning. Nice!

A Wrath of God eliminates your opponent’s threats. An Armageddon eliminates your opponent’s answers. A Living Death removes both. It is a major, game altering swing. It is the Upheaval with floating mana followed by a Psychatog. It is the Obliterate with an indestructible creature out.

Because it massively alters the game, a Living Death is usually harder to set up. They may have higher prices, or limited uses. Because they change the game state, they often involve putting lots of things into play. A Hypergenesis or Patriarch’s Bidding. It could be the death of a Protean Hulk or an entwined Tooth and Nail. A Cataclysm was often a Living Death when it got played.

It can involve other things. And again, like the others, this can be situational. If your opponent brings back a powerful card from the graveyard to his hand while in topdeck mode, but cannot play it this turn, and you are in topdeck mode, then a Syphon Mind is a sort of Living Death, getting rid of the threat and drawing you a card to get you out of topdeck mode and into threat mode more quickly.

The Next Level

The fun thing about this theory, is that it is not just a fun way of looking at cards. It also suggests ways to build decks. If you can make those Wraths and ‘Geddons more like Living Deaths, then you really be in a strong place.

Wraths are easy to see, and I mention a couple of ways to turn them into Living Deaths. An Obliterate is a clear reset button. An Obliterate with a Darksteel Gargoyle out is a Living Death. An Upheaval is a Wrath of God. An Upheaval that floats mana and drops a Psychatog is a Living Death. A Damnation that avoids taking out your man lands is a Living Death. A Sway of the Stars that is played when you have a Deep-Sea Kraken suspended and about to get played is a Living Death. A Starstorm in a deck full of Protection from Red creatures is a Living Death.

It’s a bit harder to see with Armageddons. When could playing one act as a reset button of a Wrath? Well, perhaps your threats are a few smaller creatures (maybe a pair of 2/2s), while your foe has out two manlands including a Celestial Colonnade that he is beating you down with. In this case, casting an Armageddon would be both a Wrath of God (removing his threats) but also making your guys much more unlikely to be answered.

Therefore, an actual Armageddon is harder to see. Perhaps you turn your opponent’s creatures into lands with various things. A bit zany, but it makes the Armageddon into a Living Death. There are ways to turn other Armageddon cards into Living Deaths though. A classic example is Nether Void. Suppose you combine it with many man lands. In an aggro deck, if you just played it after having out a creature or three, you are using it as an Armageddon. If you use it to lock off your opponent’s access to cards and stopping them from playing threats while you drop down man-lands, it’s a Living Death.

That’s the end of another article. I hope that you enjoyed today’s look through the WALD Theory. I’ve talked about it 6 or 7 times in my articles over the years, but I’ve always dedicated just a paragraph or two, and never anything more. I think it is good enough to get an article today.

Remember to check out the deck in the appendix today. It uses some classic “Abeish” cards with interesting spins on them. Seriously, how often do you see me use Manabarbs?

Until later…

Abe Sargent

APPENDIX — This deck is from an article from Mar. 23, 2006; where I try to make decks from cards in my Underused Hall of Fame. You can find the article here.

I started this, oddly enough, as a Commander Eesha deck. One thing led to another and I ended up with something totally different. I suspect that this deck is even more “stream of consciousness” than the previous deck.

Let’s see if I can remember where I started… ah, yes!

I wanted some defense for Commander Eesha, so I went with Silent Arbiter, which is a great blocker and way to slow down an opponent. One Eesha and Arbiter can hold off ten thousand creatures. They make a nice tag team.

I decided to add Propaganda and Ghostly Prison to this mix. I wanted some more slowdown until I got the creatures that I wanted. I realized that I would need an alternate way to slow down hordes of creatures in case the Arbiter or Eesha bit it, or if I didn’t draw either.

I wanted another set of flying creatures. Since there were already Propagandas and Ghostly Prisons in the deck, I figured I should stay on theme and go with Windborn Muse. Lastly, to round out my defense as well as to tutor for a Propaganda, I tossed in Drift of Phantasms.

Now I had a deck with a variety of defensive creatures and taxing effects on attackers. I thought to myself, “Gee, wouldn’t it be keen if I could use the taxing effects to punish my opponent beyond preventing an attack.”

What would be the ideal card? I thought to myself that, well, Manabarbs is obviously the ideal choice… but that’s Red, so I can’t use it.

Then I realized that I certainly could use it, and in it went.

Since I had this “punishment for creatures” theme in my deck, I felt that Fade Away was a natural choice. You can use it after they tap out for your many taxing effects, or with a Manabarbs out. Either way, it really worked.

I then realized that my control/combo-ish tempo deck might die from taking Manabarbs damage of its own. Normally, opponents should take damage faster, but you never know how much damage that you take from early beats or burn later. There should be some way to prevent the Manabarbs damage… something in White.

And so there is. With Sphere of Law out, you can prevent two damage from every Red source, which Manabarbs just happens to be.

To round out the deck, I added Impulse, Enlightened Tutor and Sleight of Mind. The Sleight of Mind is a one-of as a way to change the color on Sphere of Law to something else in an emergency. It’s the type of surprise that you can really only pull off once, so there’s a single copy in here. That also helps to eliminate drawing the Sleight when there’s no Sphere of Law to be seen. It also makes a Sphere of Law useful when you haven’t drawn any Manabarbs, or if they’ve all been Cranial Extracted.

Since this deck relied so heavily on enchantments and the right creatures, I felt Impulse would smooth things sufficiently. It also helps out mana in the early game. With three colors, smooth can’t hurt.

Lastly, the Enlightened Tutor will grab any Taxing enchantment, Silent Arbiter, Sphere or Manabarbs. That’s a lot of work. If you want, toss in a copy of each artifact land in Red/White/Blue so you can tutor for land if you need it.