EDH Political Science – Political Positions
(Kraum, Ludevic's Opus | Art by Aaron Miller)
Political Positions Theory
“An Iron Curtain has descended across [Europe]…” Winston Churchill spoke these words on a sunny March afternoon in the southern U.S. city of Fulton, Missouri. At that moment, the sun shined upon the first speckles of this North Atlantic partnership between America and Britain. However, the lights were growing dimmer across eastern Europe. Stalin’s border cordoned off the new world’s ideologies. The second world war’s dust settled,, but a new world order appeared in the haze without the likes of Churchill in office. Two superpowers simultaneously rose up, each unlike anything the world had ever seen: the United States of America, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Churchill packed a lot into these words. He saw, better than most, what these changes could bring. Political positions shifted because of the elimination of Germany as a military power, and the world was about to change in ways that few understood.
The pivot to superpower of the U.S. and Russia is analogous to a common occurrence in our multiplayer game of EDH. Let’s pause on this moment in history and see what lessons we can glean.
The Axis of Your Allies
Welcome to EDH Political Science. History, politics, warfare, and data from EDHREC all inform us how to adjust our deck design and gameplay decisions to fit this multiplayer format. This week, we're inspecting the power of political positioning. For our purposes, political positioning is the ability or action of creating an advantage from the resources that other players have. We will do a deep dive into the different types of political positions in future articles, but for now I will briefly cover the types of political positions and how you can use the principle to build EDH decks that are better suited to handle the four-player landscape. The types of political positions are broken into two gameplay axes in relation to three mechanic classifications:
Threats, answers, and resources are the mechanical classifications. Each are categories of cards that all function similarly to each other. Threats are creatures, damage spells, mill sources, etc. Answers are removal, counterspells, mana taxes, etc. Finally, resources are lands, mana rocks, card draw, etc.
Agency and means are the gameplay axes. Agency highlights player choice and gameplay options available to a given player at any given time. Means is production, meaning your access to or quantity of threats, answers, or resources.
In this article, we're interested in paying attention to how agency and means play differently at a multiplayer table than they do in one-on-one Magic. How can you manage these axes early on to ensure that you make it to the late game? Also, how do you pivot your play when you get there?
The War Machine’s Rhythm
Discussing what agency and means are and how they relate to a game of Commander is the most important thing to tackle first. The intersection between agency (player choice) and means (production/advantage) is often grey and hazy. Granting means often grants agency. Drawing extra cards gives you agency. Casting more spells than you normally would have because you drew more spells is extra means. That alone is easy enough to grok. The situation gets increasingly complicated the more players there are.
In one-on-one games, you are trying to push your own agency and means so far ahead that the other player cannot make up the distance before their life total hits zero. Aggressive decks are attempting to push their threats to deal damage so fast that the opponent has no time to transition their threat or answer agency into means. Control decks eliminate every threat and resource that the other player has until they no longer have agency over the outcome of the game. Tempo decks are a unique blend of the two. They try to not eliminate all agency from the other player, but enough so that their threat means overpower the game before the other player can stabilize. That gives us the most interesting cross-section of agency and means.
This tempo concept is awkward in four-player games. As soon as you try to set a tempo, there will be pushback from three other players. It becomes a puzzle to solve at a multiplayer table. Can you manage each threat as it comes up and expect to stay ahead of all of them? The group’s dynamic sets the tempo of the game. Can we use the group dynamic to our advantage to manage only the threats to our board? How do you maintain that tempo well enough to win the game?
To answer these questions, we'll use one of my favorite Partner pairs, Kraum, Ludevic's Opus and Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist. With these Partners, we will attempt to depend on our opponents for advantage, then copy and/or steal their advantage, all the while managing the perception of our threats.
Politics, an Earnest Business
That being said, depending solely on the actions of your opponents is dangerous in EDH. Outsiders to the format think this aspect of multiplayer is all about playing cards with Tempting Offer and Join Forces effects. However, the best versions of player-dependent cards are also the ones that maintain quality in one-on-one situations. Fact or Fiction (FoF) is a 60-card constructed all-star, but it can sometimes be even better in EDH. About half of the time I play FoF-style effects, they become a draw four or five. People sometimes like to give you all of the cards for fun. This is obviously meta-dependent, but probably worth a try. At its worst, it's always moderate card advantage or great card selection, and it's only helped by the fact that it doesn't trigger Smothering Tithe. For some, those points are not good enough, but depending on your meta I would advise playing this in many blue decks.
Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora have a history of taking over the game even while being dependent on your opponents. There are more good niche cards that depend on opponents; however, finding those other cards is sometimes tricky. For some, Spelltwine and Arcbond are generically useful enough to work wonders. For others, they wouldn’t apply in enough situations to constitute being useful for your meta. If your meta has specific weaknesses, those can be exploited. Risk Factor can be a draw three for three mana if you know someone who loves to dance with death a little too often. Cerebral Vortex can be a lethal dosage of card advantage against that Wheel of Fortune deck. Depending on your opponent's choices is a meta call. Fact or Fiction is fantastic in my meta, but Spelltwine is too often a whiff. Depending on what the other players are doing is often risky, so do your best to find what works for you.
Stripped Bare by the Curse of Plenty
Copy and steal effects are common in casual EDH; I mean, the very concept permeates Magic: the Gathering's history. Sen Triplets is an example from over a decade ago, and Kalamax, the Stormsire from Commander 2020 is brand-new. There are multiple themes on EDHREC devoted to the idea, and from there we learn that Izzet colors have access to most of this utility. If we look at EDHREC’s themes tab and sort by strategy we can find a couple themes that add utility to our copy and steal effects; “Spell Copy”, “Theft”, and “Clone” themes are all places to find the best cards for utilizing others' spells.
In our colors, we can find Reverberate is one such spell. In some instances it can act as an extra copy of some powerful effect, in other instances it can throw a Counterspell back at someone when you only have two Mountains untapped. Rite of Replication is a powerful effect that can close out games. As for theft, I have personally had the glory of stealing another player’s Venser, the Sojourner with a Word of Seizing and removing all eight counters to get that sweet emblem.
When including these copy and steal cards, you will want to tread lightly, ensuring that whatever you include is going to have utility both in the early game and after the game has pivoted to fewer players. We are piloting a tempo deck, utilizing these cards for their powerful effects, not a clone deck trying to out-tempo the table. Some of the best cards to consider will have a higher synergy on the EDHREC theme pages we listed above, like Wild Ricochet. You can use these cards to turn resource agency of others into your own resource means. Narset's Reversal targeting a card like Explosive Vegetation can turn tempo to your favor very quickly.
You Must Look at Facts…
Managing the perception of your threats is essential for maintaining your political position. The first step is something I’ve harped on in the past: choose your commander wisely. Every time I see Mizzix of the Izmagnus at the table, it becomes very likely that every resource I have is going towards killing that player. Even though our Izzet spells list that we are making would probably be much more powerful with Mizzix at the helm, we would also incur much more hate from the rest of the table to the point that it quickly becomes difficult to maintain a lead. We'd have more eyeballs on us. The cards that pass through our end of the stack are considered much more carefully when a threatening commander is at the helm.
That being said, meta determines everything in this category. If your deck is oppressive and everyone knows it, then it doesn’t matter what the others are playing. Alternatively, if your table is filled with salty commanders or cEDH-level of decks then who is going to notice you? Playing Mizzix of the Izmagnus spellslinger is an afterthought when The Gitrog Monster is mid-combo.
Within the context of the post-WWII era, western Europe's power shattered in the costs of total war. Everything changed with the pivot to Cold War politics. The battlefield went from a multi-national confrontation to a bi-polar war with each side amassing insurmountable threats. The agency of third parties was a non-issue going forward. The only thing that mattered was the means to manage threats, resources, and answers. Managing their threats early meant that they were positioned to be players later in future war.
…Because They Look at You.
The best way EDHREC can help you manage this perception of power is by glancing through the top decks of the color combination and the top cards by color. If you glance at either of these lists you'll likely notice the commanders near the top of the list (usually with over 600 lists) are the ones known for being the most powerful. At the top of Izzet, you'll see Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, and The Locust God. These are commanders with a powerful ability to close out games quickly after they hit the field. Niv-Mizzet often Wheel of Fortunes again and again, while Jhoira Storms off with low-cost artifacts.
As for powerful spells to throw in your 99, I would recommend staying away from the known powerhouse cards that draw the eye. Often this means you can save a few bucks on deckbuilding along the way. Instead of Blue Sun's Zenith or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur going into the deck to draw a ton of cards, maybe consider Opportunity and Nezahal, Primal Tide. These cards are still going to incur some attention when they hit the stack, but not nearly as much.
Speaking of Jin-Gitaxis, EDHREC has a handy guide of cards that incur the wrath of the other players. If you look under the “Cards” tab at the top of any page there's a link to the “Saltiest Cards” page. Generally you should know these ones and only use them sparingly.
Ludevic and Kraum Tempo
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Our tempo list is looking to dissuade threats early. Playing Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist as soon as possible gives us useful resource means and incentivizes your opponents to direct their threats elsewhere, though he does help your opponents dig for answers to any potential combos, for better or worse. This is risky, but the agency it gives the table is a powerful tool if used well. You are looking to close out the game with a giant Comet Storm, steady commander damage to the final opponent with Kraum, Ludevic's Opus, or bide time while ticking up Chandra, Awakened Inferno.
There is a Ral, Storm Conduit combo in here as a last resort. It is highly conditional and has a few too many moving pieces to be reliable, but it's a good out for unwinnable situations. Expect not to play the pieces for the combo often, but I'll link Saffron Olive explaining the combo from a standard deck tech.
Fierce Guardianship and Deflecting Swat are new cards that have a huge impact on this tempo list. Kraum, Ludevic's Opus is a more significant win condition than you might think. I've hit blackjack with that Zombie Horror more than a few times. Loxodon Warhammer and Runechanter's Pike also both provide magic numbers, meaning that they can increase the power of your flying, haste commander to seven (and up), giving you the three-turn clock. Insult // Injury is an easy way to sneak in and make that a two-turn clock.
Other notable details: a little mana fixing, a few Counterspells, and only three creatures. The lands chosen for this list work well with Blood Moon, Back to Basics, and Ruination. I've run those here on and off, but they are very meta-dependent. Counterspell cards are fantastic, but I've found them do a lot of harm to my political position at the table while providing relative card disadvantage in a multiplayer format. The creatures here make Reality Scramble do a lot of work without gaining the ire of the whole table. Scramble is the hinge of the deck; it can be recurred, and it targets any permanent type. That card does wonders.
The High Roads of the Future
The agency of the others at the table matters. Their choices, small and large, are influenced largely by those that you make, small and large. Coming face-to-face with three other opponents is difficult. You are not supposed to win more than roughly a quarter of the time, so how do we swing those odds in our favor just a little more often?
What would you do to make this list better for your meta? How can you utilize agency and means in the future? What are your ideas for the upcoming examinations on the intersections between resource/threat/answers and agency/means? Let me know here, on twitter @RickWorldNews or on reddit u/xebra7.