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Who Should I Attack?

Sometimes simple questions have complicated answers! Suppose you have a creature and can damage any of your opponents. Who’s getting attacked? Bennie Smith tackles this Commander conundrum!

I cracked my first packs of Magic in the spring of 1994, and I was the exact demographic Richard Garfield and the creators had in mind when they developed the product—a portable and fun fantasy-based game that people could break out and play in between games of Dungeons & Dragons. One of my D&D buddies and I were the first to sample the game and were immediately hooked, and it did not take long before my entire D&D crew had Magic decks too. We would break them out to play as the appetizer for D&D game nights, but it did not take long before Magic became the main course.

From the beginning, for me, Magic was all about rollicking good fun with multiple opponents. So when Commander exploded in popularity, it was incredibly easy for me to jump in and start doing very well in Commander games. Multiplayer is my primordial Magic state of being.

But as natural as Commander felt as a format to me, over the years I found many people were put off by the multiplayer dynamics that simply don’t exist in a duel. As an evangelist for Commander, I would be frustrated when the things I loved the best seemed to push away some people. A lot of the trepidation was regarding multiplayer politics, and a lot of that boiled down to one simple concern:

Whom to attack?

In a duel, it is easy. If you have a creature that can attack, you have one opponent you can attack. But what happens when you have the first creature on the battlefield and you have two or three opponents you can attack, and you are reasonably sure you can attack with no immediate consequence. Whom do you pick? I thought it might be helpful to share what goes through my mind when I am determining whom to attack in games of Commander.

Revenge

The first consideration has to do with the previous game. Did you play a game before this, and is the victor one of your opponents now? There is a general unspoken rule when playing multiple games with multiple opponents that the same player should not win all the games. All things being equal or at least neutral, it is acceptable to attack the winner of the previous game.

You do not necessarily want to be vindictive about it because each game should be a fresh start, but getting your digs in for the sake of revenge should not earn you any demerits.

A variant of this rule is if the person who killed you in the last game did not end up winning the game. In this case, either the person who knocked you out or the winner is fair game for a revenge attack.

Threat Assessment of an Archenemy

Another important decision-making tool is threat assessment. Unlike tournament, Magic where you generally have no idea what sort of deck your opponent has before you play, in a game of Commander, when each player reveals their commander, you can draw some conclusions on what sorts of decks they’re playing.

Not all commanders are created equal, so if one player’s commander is considerably more powerful than everyone else’s, it is certainly acceptable to start putting pressure on them at your earliest convenience. This is especially so if the commander encourages quick combo kills. If you play a lot of Commander and read up on decks, this will be clear to you, but even if you are not invested that heavily into the format, usually it is pretty obvious just by reading the abilities what the player will be up to.

Sometimes your opponent will protest the attacks and say “This isn’t a combo Zur the Enchanter deck; it’s a fun casual deck that just happens to run Zur!” In this case, you have to decide whether you trust what they are saying. Talk with the other players around the table. Do they believe it? Healthy skepticism is fine—anyone who picks one of the overpowered commanders has to know that alarm bells will sound and they will have a target on their head.

Opening Power Play

In Commander, there are some cards you can cast in the first few turns that provide you with a clear advantage in the game, such as Sol Ring, Mana Crypt and other forms of mana ramp, Skullclamp, Sensei’s Divining Top and Sylvan Library, Rhystic Study, and Survival of the Fittest. These power play moves should get your attention, and if you have the opportunity to take the player down a couple of pegs, you definitely should.

Who Will Have Early Defenses?

One thing to keep in mind is the casting cost of the commanders. If the cost is low enough the window for attacking one player might close much sooner than for other players, one consideration is to attack someone who might not be open much longer.

Random Attack

Sometimes there is no early “archenemy” to pick on, and no obvious power play. There is no revenge to be had. One option is to just sit back and do nothing, but I do not think that is a very efficient use of your resources.

There will be one winner eventually, so you might as well move the game along, right? Randomly rolling a die to determine whom to attack is perfectly fine in the early part of the game, but once you attack one opponent, if it comes back around and you can still attack, you should probably choose another opponent to make it fair.

Future Revenge

Another way to choose whom to attack is what I call “future revenge.” Based on the colors each player is using and the strategies their commander suggests in deckbuilding, you can probably peer into the future and figure out which player will be responsible for killing your early attacker, so you might as well attack them with it if they are going to kill it anyway. If they are playing white, they probably have Wrath of God, Rout, and Swords to Plowshares. If they are playing black, they are probably playing Damnation, Toxic Deluge, Crux of Fate, and Tragic Slip.

Thinking About the End-Game

One thing you should constantly keep in mind: how is the game likely to end, given the current battlefield state? If one player has a clear advantage, it is perfectly acceptable to start applying pressure on them, even if they have done nothing directly to you yet. If you attack someone other than the person who has the advantage, you are in effect helping that person win, and unless that’s something you want to happen, I’d advise against it.

How do you go about deciding whom to attack, especially in the opening moves of a Commander game?

Commander at U.S. Nationals

I am super-stoked about U.S. Nationals being held right here in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia this weekend! While I am not qualified, I do think it’ll be fun to go watch games being played by some of the best Magic players in the States and cheer on a few of my friends who are qualified. I do intend on bringing my Commander decks and playing lots of pickup games of Commander this whole weekend, so if you’re coming for the event don’t forget to bring your Commander deck and track me down for a game or two!

One deck I will be bringing is my Feldon of the Third Path deck. I first built it three years ago, and it is proven to be one of my favorite Commander decks of all time. It is a major departure from the typical mono-red deck, and I really like the silver bullet approach to many of the creatures alongside Feldon’s activated ability. And I love how it’s evolved over the years, so I thought I’d share my latest decklist for anyone who might be interested.

Feldon of the Third Path
Bennie Smith
0th Place at Test deck on 10-09-2017
Commander

Since Feldon’s copies are artifacts, I’ve got a pretty strong artifact theme running through the deck. I’ve included a fair number of ways to discard or “loot” cards I’d be more interested in copying with Feldon than paying retail. I was excited to add more sweeper effects recently with Hour of Devastation and Star of Extinction; I especially look forward to casting Star of Extinction with a Mogg Maniac on the battlefield!

I’m also eager to see Tilonalli’s Skinshifter do some work. I imagine it’s going to have some sweet things to copy in a typical game of Commander! Has anyone giving it a try in their 99 yet?

Let me know if you have any questions about particular card choices. How would your Feldon deck differ from mine?


New to Commander?


If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling
)

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers

)

Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts

)

Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)