Since the radical announcements from Wizards of the Coast regarding Worlds, a lot of people have been discussing the value of community. To summarize that chatter, there isn’t a game if there isn’t a community. Group support is what makes tournaments possible, regardless of the level of play involved. But we also can’t forget the value of the individual voice – all it takes is one person speaking above the clamor with a voice of reason to prove a point. Professional players illustrate this practice every time they sit down and write a format challenging piece, or critique in any fashion. To a much lesser (though no less important) degree, Commander players do the exact same thing with open discussions on ban lists, deck lists and playgroup affairs. When one voice is stifled through the roar of the crowd, the community ceases to be just that and instead becomes a anarchistic power struggle. Hence, as powerful as words are, individual action is also necessary to bring about sweeping changes. Challenging ourselves and the group by pushing innovation and politics forward in a progressive fashion is the key to resolving community issues.
Do you have to get your hands dirty? Oh, yes. Will you make a few enemies? Again, yes. Can it lead to preserving your playgroup, and educating them on key factors of the format, thus improving the overall health and competition of your playgroup? Not always, especially if those first two questions make you queasy. But if you’re not afraid to be the loudmouth combo-playing sleazebag everyone loves to hate, sure. Our meta is defend by innovation bred from loss, what we’re willing to give up for the sake of having people to play with. Taking that for granted on either end means responding in kind with the same is both necessary and an effective means of proving a point.
Last article I graced you guys with an Eladamri brew I’d concocted as a way of combating a lopsided playgroup, touting that answering an arms race with a bigger gun would just perpetuate the power imbalance. I support this statement still, but also realize it’s a flawed one. Building a strong, meta-challenging list can cure problems temporarily, but a permanent fix requires going right to the source. Our playgroup has continued to suffer under the busted Time Walking of Momir Vig, and Eladamri was a linear solution to the problem. Asking the pilot to stop playing with us wasn’t realistic, nor was ending our weekly Commander game night as both would mean denying group members perhaps their only hours of non-work related socializing. I chose to pull Momir’s pilot aside for a moment to address the power level of the deck we had both put together. In the most polite fashion I could muster, I asked him to scale back the deck, or better yet, tear it completely down and build something new. After all, he had to be sick of playing the same deck to great success for months, right? I even offered to help him again, albeit to a much lesser degree than when we’d built Momir.
While I won’t say he spit in my face, he did say “If you guys weren’t being such durdles and played something good, maybe you wouldn’t keep getting your asses handed to you.”
Well, okay. I tried words. I tried taking him down by myself through Eladamri. The time had come at long last to blow the dust off a general that had itself been problematic for the group, but had served as an educator, the example of successful mana curves and stability that had pulled the rest of the group’s lists from random piles into slightly more tuned and strategic game winners. If I was going to “play something good”, I was going to do so with a general that dealt with the problem player while reminding everyone else about the value of threat assessment, board control, and knowing your opponent’s deck almost as well as your own.
It was time to get Sharuum and I back together, at long last. With some help from my good brew buddy Carlos Gutierrez, here’s the list I came up with:
I Like Big Cats and I Cannot Lie by Jack LaCroix
The point of this list is to win through one of the three primary combos (which we’ll review in a moment) or secondary win cons while piloting with a mix of control and political manipulation. Sharuum is dangerously political: forcing your opponent to answer tutors and threats draws attention and is the wrong way to pilot the list (hence why certain cards like Darksteel Forge, Blightsteel Colossus, and Mycosynth Lattice aren’t included). Shifting focus away from yourself by casting the minimal amount of cards at the correct time allows you to ditch targets for Kitty to the yard, and bring them back to cause headaches at your convience through Kitty herself, Yawgwin or Open the Vaults. The primary combos feature cards that can swing the game alone, and again, you don’t have to use any of the following to actually win:
The Obvious Win –Cast Sharuum with Sculpting Steel/Phyrexian Metamorph in the yard and let either come into play as a copy of Kitty, putting the copies ability on the stack. Due to the legend rule, both cards will kill themselves, going to the yard. Let the ability resolve, targeting Sharuum and have her bring back Sculpting Steel/Metamorph. Repeat process as many times as you like. Cast Bitter Ordeal, and remove your opponents’ libraries from the game. Substitute Bitter Ordeal with Disciple of The Vault if you so wish, though that card is worthless outside of this combo.
The Other Obvious Win- Leyline of the Void + Helm of Obedience. Cast either with the other in play. Activate Helm, remove target library from the game. Repeat as necessary until you’re the only person left.
The “LETS GET IT”s – I was discussing the dilemma of finding another suitable combo for the list with Carlos G when he suggested using Ashnod’s Alter with Nim Deathmantle to recycle effects with Sharuum and any given artifact, or creature. When discussing decks with Carlos, it’s important to keep plastic wrap on all your nearby furniture to catch flying grey matter after he BLOWS YOUR FREAKING MIND by making your lists better. With Ashnod’s Alter and Nim Deathmantle in play, sacrifice any creature and Kitty, pay the mana for Mantle’s ability and target Sharuum. Recur her and grab the creature, make use of its ability and repeat the process again. This allows you to gain infinite life (Filigree Angel), draw out your library/ramp (Solemn Simulacrum), blow up every land in play (Sundering Titan with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth out), do infinite damage to your opponents and their creatures (Triskelion), or just exile all your opponent’s dudes (Duplicant). Needless to say, Carlos is THE man, and you guys should totally read his stuff over at the Arcane Laboratory – he cranks out the decks dreams are made of.
If you’re incapable of using any of the above, beating your opponent over the head with creatures, poisoning them to death with Inkmoth, using Jace’s or Tezz’s ultimate ability, or beating them with manlands are always options. I recommend utilizing all of them at every possible moment you can afford, as assembling the above without someone noticing can be a tricky, subterfuge filled affair and isn’t always advisable. Remain as neutral at the table as you can muster-drawing any attention opens the door to the base assumptions everyone makes about Sharuum pilots and graveyard hate. And besides, every good Troll makes use of their Shroud and stay out of the firefight, right?
And for the most part, the list played to the plan. My playgroup was a bit startled to see the Big Kitty back in form and function and our first few games were a tense combination of learning and careful political ploys. I wrathed when necessary, cooperated with the rest of the table when it was beneficial for all involved, and managed to stay one step ahead of Momir the entire time. Thanks to timed plays and thoughtful piloting from all involved, our playgroup returned to a sense of true normalcy rather than the rock-and-a-hard-place dread that using Eladamri had brought. I was even able to talk Momir into joining me in banning a key card for several decks at our table and his most important combo piece (Sensei’s Divining Top), bringing an even greater balance to every deck across the board. I hadn’t answered the arms race with a bigger gun, I’d exerted mutually assured destruction and ended it outright.
I like to think of these last few weeks as a small example of how every player can turn the tide of the game and their community, something we shouldn’t forget as we push forward into a new era of constructed tournament play elsewhere. While we can rally around our e-petitions with our Twitter-made Megaphones all we want, it’s only through dramatic action that we’ll be able to accomplish anything where the recent changes at WoTC are concerned. Discrediting this purely as a “spike” issue is ludicrous, as what drives the tournament players ultimately drives the quality of the casual communities as well. Spikey tournament players are often treated like pond scum from the casual community who are quick to forget that their constructed counterparts are often the most vocal and action prone members of the MTG crowd and exhibit en masse what they do at their kitchen tables every week. Taking note of their behavior and imitating it (especially when it’s constructive) is the least we can do for our playgroup’s survival and our own self-respecting rights to play.
Until next week, remember to speak even if your voice quakes, and pack that graveyard hate! Stay classy everybody.
This article was inspired by the douchebags I play with, who are thrilled to have their names withheld from my articles. Big props to Carlos(Cag5383), who is a better deck builder than I’ll ever be, as well as an amazingly nice guy to work with. Got an idea you’d like me to write about, or just want to belittle me? Hit me up in the comment section below, or reach me at my email-Jack@mtgcast.com, or on twitter at the highly original @jacklacroix. You can read even MORE of my thoughts on MTG and life in general at my (NSFW) blog The Bitter, Better Man: http://jackfromnc.tumblr.com/