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Your Guide to Control in EDH, Part 2: Answers

We’re back, folks, and this part of my Guide to Control in EDH will talk about answers, perhaps the most critical component to Control decks in general and a large component of any kind of EDH deck. See the end of this article to move to the third and final part of this guide.

The Answers

Reacting to threats is the next step. Typically speaking, if it directly lowers our own chances of winning the game later on or worse, it’s perhaps worth looking into a counterspell/removal spell. While some players make the mistake of pulling the trigger on earlier and more “flashy” threats to remove, it’s worth noting that persistent threats that either tax or prevent our deck from doing critical things throughout the game (like a well-timed Stranglehold or similar), even at the beginning, are other worthy targets for answers that go under the radar — a deck that has slammed a Rest in Peace on turn 2 against our reanimator deck will be a problem at one point or another, and probably is hurting us a lot more now by preventing us from abusing Sakura-Tribe Elder than later when we’re trying to close out the game. It’s most fun to have the ability to ignore what appear to be huge threats, because there are actually other players at the table who may need to respond to it as much (or moreso) as we should (or should *have*). In this way, we can get a lot of people to actually use their own cards in hand to do the work early and mid game *for* us, netting us card advantage while also removing threats on-board alongside removing critical removal/countermagic that we don’t have to worry about later on. This is a fairly typical example of how a player can gain/hold incremental advantages during the game to help him/her while trying to close out the game. This can also play favorably into a typical “political” strategy in multiplayer EDH games, where creating a guise of being the player who is the “underdog” or is struggling to find answers to threats.

“Answers” in the game of Magic: the Gathering typically come in the form of removal spells, counter magic, fort effects, and lock effects. The first two are typically card types that either enter the graveyard after resolution or are sacrificed for their desired removal effect. The last two are permanent card types that passively affect how players can and can’t do things on the table.

Removal is pretty simple: you need to get rid of things that prevent you from winning the game, from choices as simple as that Eldrazi Titan that will Annihilator your lands to oblivion next turn to that Rhystic Study that you are confident people won’t ever pay the extra costs for. Strong removal is absolute, non-situational, flexible, fairly-costed, and sometimes even card-efficient. Krosan Grip is played in virtually every green deck that packs instant/sorcery removal because it’s instant-speed, cost-efficient, uncounterable, and can kill different kinds of permanents. Image (1) The age-old Wrath of God is played in a great number of white decks because it’s cost-efficient, card-efficient (netting us card advantage), and even has an added clause to it that gives it some flexibility (Regeneration is no popular keyword in the world of EDH, but would you want to play Day of Judgment if you didn’t have to?).

Countermagic is perhaps the most complicated of the “answer” types: counter spells negate strategies of our opponents before they actually resolve on the stack. Especially while permission is being passed around with an active stack being “stacked”, it can easy for players to cast their instant-speed spells impulsively and potentially foul up their strategies later on. It doesn’t help that most playgroups hate games that “could have” taken shorter amount of times, and people tend to get even more impatient when decisions need to be made on an active stack (which are also probably fairly important decisions that may determine the results of a game). The most important thing to understand about using countermagic as a means to answer threats is that it answers threats before they even resolve, which is sometimes a strength and other times a weakness. For example, countering an Eldrazi Titan may seem like a great idea at first, but the opponent has already gained the benefits of casting the Eldrazi itself, and the Titan doesn’t have haste by itself — simply “Swordsing” it before the player’s next combat phase is probably a safer investment, and even then someone else at the table may answer it for you. On the other side of the coin, creatures with activated abilities are much more popular for countering (my personal favorite being Shaman of Forgotten Ways, who’s cost me two games for even being resolved on the table. I hate that guy. Biorhythm on an activated ability is crazy powerful. I’ll kill him with brutal force every time I see him in EDH, ever), simply because their abilities may be insanely powerful, and can be more difficult to interact with on the stack than just your typical spell.

The above two “answer” methods also come at the price of typical graveyard recursion: sure, countering or killing that Sheoldred, Whispering One was probably a good idea, but don’t you think that the deck that’s playing that reanimator powerhouse has other ways to reanimate targets too? You’ve also just given them a great incentive to invest in reanimation of their graveyard. This is important to keep in mind while evaluating how important it is to kill/counter a target at times, as recursion of all kinds are popular in most decks in EDH.

Fort effects are probably the simplest to use of the four “answer” types, albeit a bit of an outlier of a player’s “typical” answer base. Fort effects are permanents that passively protect the user from harm, the largest protection being from combat. Instead of trying to kill that Eldrazi Titan we talked about earlier, why not just tax it for doing you any harm during the combat phase, and in turn have it be a weapon that’s used against your other opponents? Propaganda is perhaps the most popular and widely-known fort effect across EDH battlefields, but it is no indicator of how expansive the cardpool is for fort effects. Other cards, like City of Solitude can simply prevent opponents from screwing around during your turn, allowing you to cast spells and do other work uninterrupted. Fort effects can essentially be permanent-type “answers” to combat damage, oppressive on-our-turn interactions, and effects that directly target us. These sorts of effects can be the difference of whether or not you’ll have enough life to be a contender in the late game to whether or not you’ll be able to resolve your game-winning threat — all while appearing very defensive and politically neutral during the politics race of the game.

The last of the “answer” types is the lock effects. This category typically exists of enchantments and artifacts that simply prevent your opponents from doing useful things. I would categorize “hate bear” creatures here as well, as there are a stunning number of creatures in the game that are played explicitly for their controlling static abilities on the game (Praetors, Aven Mindcensor, etc.). A possible example of this would be Spirit of the Labyrinth, which can single-handedly hose those pesky “draw tons of cards”-late-game opponents we’ve discussed. Lock effects are typically more aggressive in nature to other answer effects, because they simply prevent players from doing things in the game. This control guide has primarily revolved around “reactive” control deck strategies, but lock effects are the cornerstones of the other kind of control deck — “proactive” control. The problem with “proactive” control avenues and lock effects in general is that they attract lots and lots of political hate, due to the fact they just prevent players from doing things their decks are designed to do. Sometimes, a good balance of proactive and reactive control elements can create an ideal control deck, that can proactively control some threats without attracting much hate, allowing the deck to hold onto reactive answers that net us card advantage for the end-game. I’ve Tooth and Nail‘d for Vorinclex and Jin Gitaxias before, and while it’s maniacally entertaining to do so, it may not be the smartest decision for fun at the EDH table, and sometimes even winning at the EDH table.

The above two answer methods come with the added complexity of timing: sure, while instant-speed removal and countermagic seems to be the most time-reliant control “answer”, there are steps a player can take with regular permanents to avoid political hate and unnecessary inefficacy. An easy example would be to wait to cast that Rest in Peace until the reanimator player has actually invested creatures into his/her graveyard, that you now can remove.

Bottom Line : Answers are the cornerstone of any deck that wants to endure until the end of a game, which happens to be all Control decks. Choosing the most cost-efficient, flexible, and hardest-to-interact-with answers is key to sustaining incremental advantages for the late game. Timing is a necessary evil here as it can easily determine whether or not an answer will be wasted or not.

That’ll be it for this iteration, good people, but you can click right here for a direct link to the third and final part of this guide, which will talk about the win conditions of a Control EDH deck and some conclusions to the guide itself.

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  1. A fun piece to read. Well done. I’m fairly certain that a Tooth and Nail for Vorinclex and Jin Gitaxias would win via scoop in my group. Ouch, that is a painful combination!

    You hit the nail on the head with Answers. Being able to decide win and “if” you should or should not remove a threat is a skill that needs to be continually developed and fine-tuned by a control player. Myself, I try to evaluate the board when a threat is played and try to decipher, “who does this effect the most?” If it is me, I remove it. If not, then I’ll let those that it effect more worry about removing it.

    Well done. On to part 3!

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