In a previous article I gave some options for which article I should write next. The comment sections has spoken and this is the article you asked for. You wanted an article about getting card advantage from your opponents’ decks. I aim to please so let’s get started!
We all build our decks with our opponents’ decks in mind. We do this even without knowing we are doing it. For example if someone in your group has an Edric, Spymaster of Trest deck and someone else has a Krenko, Mob Boss deck then you know right away that a slow, crawling, casual Dakkon Blackblade deck is not a great idea. I am not bringing this up to talk about deck speed however; I want to talk about my favorite topic: card advantage!
You are probably thinking that you can’t get card advantage out of your opponents’ deck. I am writing to tell you that you can get more than card advantage from your opponents’ decks, but also deck space! How?!
One way to get card advantage from your opponents’ decks is to play cards that will be guaranteed to be good in your deck or playgroup. Having useless cards in your hand is card disadvantage. A second way is to play cards that destroy or nullify cards or strategies your opponents play. A third way is to cast spells which force your opponents to spend their resources on another player. I will talk about all of these topics but first I need to mention an important tool. That tool is knowledge.
In order to get card advantage from your opponents you have to know what is in your opponents’ decks. This concept is as important as knowing your own deck. You do not need perfect information on their decks but a working knowledge will do you wonders.
Why do you want to know about their decks? Because you need to know what you can play more of and what you can play less of. Knowing that, we will start with walking through multiple different deck types and how to get card advantage from each of them.
CONTROL HEAVY PLAYGROUP
There are so many different kinds of control decks in commander so I am going to simplify this issue into two decks. In one corner we have decks which play a lot of counterspells, and in the other corner we have decks that play a lot of removal. Combined this covers the vast majority of control decks you will encounter in commander.
Save the sphinxes! Ever notice how few sphinxes are in a Magic world? We need a multiverse-wide ban on Sphinx poaching.
My playgroup often has control heavy games that seem to have more removal than permanents to blow up. The nigh uncountable number of Wrath of God effects and Disenchant effects make permanents feel more like sorceries. It is almost unbelievable how close to reality that last comparison actually is. However, these control decks play few counterspells since they are so much worse in commander.
So how do you get card advantage out of this? Playing few permanents and resilient ones makes the control player’s removal useless against you. This decision both frees up deck slots and nullifies their cards granting you virtual card advantage. Eventually those same useless cards will be spent on your other opponents’ permanents. Now that your opponents are blowing each other’s’ stuff up you get even more card advantage!
This all means you have turned your opponents’ removal into your own removal. You now have both your removal spells and the control player’s removal in your deck. If you added up all the removal spells you will probably find there is a couple cards too many. Knowing that fact you can easily start cutting some from your own deck. This notion may sound ridiculous but I have tested it and it works consistently.
Now you have freed up a lot of deck space cutting vulnerable permanents and dead removal and need to find cards to replace them. What do you fill it with to beat those control decks? The simplest thing to add is more cards which your opponents must answer.
Kamahl? Check. Random creatures? Check. Tons of mana? Check. Opponents willing to watch me do the math? Nope, already shuffling ….
My midrange, token deck led by Kamahl, Fist of Krosa often had this problem. To compensate I chose to add the cards Tooth and Nail, Craterhoof Behemoth, Genesis Wave, Beastmaster’s Ascension, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, Spawnsire, and Regal Force. All of these cards can, and often will, immediately win me the game. This constantly looming immediacy puts too much pressure on control decks. If the control players falter once against decks full of potent cards like these you will emerge victorious.
First he tapped one and three blue then he spoke the most villainous words of all, “counter draw.” And the table let out a great sigh of disgust as they once more began to shuffle their cards.
Playing against counterspell heavy control decks is simpler. Do not stop attacking them and convince others to do the same. They cannot counter every creature you cast and they definitely cannot counter every creature that gets cast that game. We all know control decks love to, and need to, draw a lot of cards. If you kill them early you have essentially countered every future spell they would have drawn. Seems like card advantage to me.
AGGRO HEAVY PLAYGROUP
Getting card advantage from aggro decks is nothing like getting it from control decks. But control decks do teach us how to do it. Wrath of God is card advantage pure and simple and this is the matchup best suited for it.
Some aggro decks use multiple combat steps, tokens, or damage doublers. I am looking at you Aurelia and Krenko. They do not play as many creature cards as some aggro decks so a Wrath effect is often not quite as good as it normally is. Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, and Silent Arbiter are perfect for these situations. Indestructible blockers and creatures with deathtouch work pretty well too.
All of those aforementioned permanents act as deterrent to the aggro player. If your opponent is not attacking you then they are attacking another player. This means you do not spend resources to beat them or kill their creatures. Therefore your other opponents are spending removal on those bothersome aggro creatures. You know what I call your opponent spending cards to stop another opponent from killing them? I call it “card advantage.” Brilliant name right?
MIDRANGE HEAVY PLAYGROUP
Midrange decks are playing a lot of powerful individual cards. Additionally, many midrange decks have a rather even split among card types. These decks are intentionally designed to be difficult to metagame against and accidentally designed to be difficult for opponents to get card advantage out of. To solve these discussion disturbances I will resort to an ancient discussion technique called “the example.”
Okay guys, watch out for Grandpa. He has been in a storytelling mood and we don’t want another lecture based on his Kamahl deck.
Many decks, including every one of mine, have a theme or two. Often people think of themes as referring to a creature type. While that idea is correct, a theme also refers to strategies, card types, or even zones that a deck constantly uses and invests in throughout the game. Kamahl is one such midrange deck. It invests in obtaining large quantities of mana, collecting random bodies to give +3/+3 and trample, and replaying powerful cards from the graveyard.
Now you could randomly stab at my graveyard with a card like Leyline of the Void or you could consider the way the other two themes interact. Most decks are made up of a plethora of moving pieces which combine together like cogs in a machine in order to fulfill a purpose, like winning the game. Most importantly, decks often play similar cards which can be used interchangeably. In the most general of terms my Kamahl deck is made up of both creatures and things to make all of my creatures bigger. Both parts of the deck have to combine in order for it to run smoothly. Disrupt one part and you disrupt the other.
What I am saying is twofold: “I cannot pump up all my creatures if I have none” and “my creatures don’t do much if they are small.” You do not have to stop every card I play, just stop me either from making guys or from pumping them up. Either option nullifies the other. Nullified cards are wasted cards, and wasted cards mean card advantage for you! Disrupt a deck’s theme and you will likely see rest of the deck stumble to function.
Today we covered a lot. First we covered learning about your opponents’ decks; about who is the beat down and who is the control. We learned to attack counterspell control decks and to convince others to help us. We discovered that cutting removal against removal based control decks can get you deck space and force the control player to spend more of his removal on everyone else. On top of that we learned to play blockers, Wrath effects, and other attacking deterrent against aggro players. We also uncovered that themes in midrange decks often interact and that disrupting one theme can make the other useless. We learned that a wasted card means card advantage for somebody. Finally, we learned that I like examples involving Kamahl way too much, which is probably the most important thing you can take way from this.
Last of all I want to let you, the readers, to help me pick out what my next topic is about. I could go deep on the topic of the different zones of magic and how to manage them, or I could talk about the strategy surrounding permanents. Let me know below. I do also post this to my local Magic groups’ Facebook page so their input is included as well.