The Danger of Big Things

We had started the five-player game after completing three rounds of what we affectionately referred to as Crap Draft.1 I had randomly chosen my Polymorph deck as my weapon for this battle. For those of you who enjoy weakly tuned multiplayer decks that are Legacy-legal:

For those of you who have never seen a Polymorph deck, the general strategy is to include a small number of particularly nasty creatures; that way, when you use Polymorph, you will only find a big, nasty creature. To get the creature you need to have for Polymorph to work, you use small token creatures you can generate from noncreature cards. This will also let you run big creatures that have casting costs your deck cannot produce (hello, Progenitus!).

Since using just 1/1 token creatures to defend yourself seemed like a poor plan, I included a few ways to steal my opponents’ creatures. Desertion is among my favorite counters, and it fits nicely in this deck.

I’ve considered taking out Akroma and putting in Griselbrand, but once I got Griselbrand on to the battlefield, there isn’t too much else I’d want in my hand, so I haven’t made the change. At some point, I will probably give it a shot, mostly changing the W/U configuration into a U/B configuration,2 but for now, this is it.

The decks my opponents were playing were far more interesting. Bryan was playing a mostly-Standard-legal deck that involved Restoration Angel, Soul of the Harvest, and other enters-the-battlefield creatures that provide value. Eric was playing what appeared to be Eldrazi ramp. John was playing a deck.3 Tyler was playing many small white dudes that were gaining life and double-striking with soulbond.

I had plenty of lands and ramp to start with, along with some counters, so I figured I would keep and lay low until Polymorph came along.

Unfortunately, Tyler and Bryan were on either side of me, and both came out of the gate quickly. Since I was wide open, Tyler was sending in the occasional guy with lifelink so he could up his life total without risking his creatures. Bryan was growing fast but was keeping just enough back to make sure Tyler couldn’t hit him for too much. After looking around the board, Bryan decided that Eric was the threat he could do something about, so he was poking repeatedly at Eric. Eric wasn’t much of a threat, but Brian was pretty sure he could deal with what Eric had on the table. He rarely hit for more than 3 points on any turn, but it just seemed to keep coming, so Eric’s life total was moving down.

The difficulty with running Eldrazi ramp is that the Eldrazi tokens practically stand on the table like ten tiny Gilbert Gottfrieds screaming, “Emrakul’s coming! Kill me now while you still have the chance!” Eric constantly denied he was the threat, pointing at Tyler as the threat, but it didn’t matter. Bryan was swinging in when it was convenient for him.

I just don’t know who was making the better threat assessment without seeing their hands. Bryan may have had a way to stop Tyler’s small creatures but no way to deal with a single, huge Eldrazi. Based on just the current board state, Tyler was definitely The Threat, but ignoring the Eldrazi that was inevitably coming into play for Eric would be crazy.

Eric finally had the mana and cast Kozilek. It took pretty much every Eldrazi token he had to make it happen, but he was getting run over and needed it now. He managed to get one attack on Bryan, but it was not enough. Bryan brought his life total down, and Tyler finished him off on the next turn.

I think Tyler made a mistake. Let’s go through the options he had at that time:

  1. He could have attacked Bryan. This seemed ridiculous to me. Bryan was getting low on life, and he had clearly irritated Eric to no end. It was obvious that either he or Eric was going to be dead by the end of this round—they were both committed to attacking each other. Why would you attack Bryan and possibly take him out of the game when it appeared that Eric was probably going to do that for you?
  2. He could have attacked and taken me out of the game. Up to this point, I had done nothing in the game. I had 8 mana available on the table with no blockers. Tyler had Grand Abolisher, so he knew that I could not play out any tricks. It was also guarantee that his creatures would live and he would gain even more life.

Repel Intruders
While I am usually a proponent of keeping everyone in the game, we had reached the midgame, and things were about to explode. If someone has been sitting there doing nothing the entire time, it means he has probably drawn something and is waiting for the right moment. I had Repel Intruders and Polymorph in hand waiting to go off the next turn. Taking me out would have been a good play.

  1. He could have attacked John and brought his life total way down. John hadn’t been doing much either, but he invariably had tricks in hand. Hitting him now and bringing him into the one-attack-and-you’re-dead area of the game would make sense. I don’t know if John would have been a better target than I was, but we were both open.
  2. He could have not attacked. John and I were not any kind of threat. The only threats on the board for Tyler were Bryan and Eric, and they were no threat to him yet. Neither of them could have spared creatures to come after Tyler since they both knew the other would attack that vulnerability. While choosing not to attack was an option, attacking John or me would have been the better choice.

Choosing to attack Eric and take him out seemed the poor play. I understand the desire to remove any creature from the game that has annihilator. If you think Eric is going to come after you, and you have a chance to eliminate that threat, you probably should. Given the circumstances in that game, it simply wasn’t going to happen. If Tyler did nothing, I could take my turn (and continue to do nothing), then it would have been Bryan’s turn. Bryan, knowing that Eric would very likely attack him again (forcing him to sacrifice much-needed board permanents with Kozilek’s annihilator), would have to go after him. Bryan had the creatures on the board to do that and would probably have taken Eric out of the game and left himself wide open to an attack while doing so. Attacking Eric simply meant that Tyler tapped several creatures and left Bryan with only one real threat to deal with.

The next round of turns worked out as I expected they would. Unfortunately for me, on Tyler’s next turn, he chose to send one creature at me, mostly to pad his own life total. I knew I would have to put out my defense next turn or simply sit there and die. Forced into this set of circumstances, I dropped my two Soldiers and used Polymorph, finding Emrakul.

To no one’s surprise, I was dead before my next turn.

The Danger of Big Creatures

Waiting in the Weeds
As long-time readers know, I am a huge proponent of hiding in the weeds. I believe in letting others use up their cards to do the dirty work and waiting until the last possible second before taking control of the game and ending it soon after. An essential part of that strategy lies in how you take control of the game.

Often, people will take control of the game by dropping big, beefy dudes. It is one of my favorite ways to win games. In fact, two players both attempted to do that in the game I described above, and in both cases, the plan failed miserably.

For Eric, the problem was the constant pressure from Bryan. Bryan forced him to play out his cards as quickly as he could to stem the life loss of the constant attacks. Any hopes of laying low were destroyed. Kozilek was cast, not as a way to shut down the game, but because he needed to eliminate Bryan as quickly as possible. Once that was done, he would try to deal with the consequences of playing Kozilek early. Since he was not able to dictate when he played his threats, he was unable to maximize the timing. Even something as nasty as Kozilek needs to be timed properly!

Once Kozilek was on the table, though, all bets were off. Everyone believed that this needed to be dealt with immediately. It skewed the game so badly that Tyler made a poor strategic decision based on the new threat. What I failed to see at the time was that his attack was predictable. A new threat, particularly one like Kozilek, is regularly overstated. There was no reason to attack, but the attack was predictable.

Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
For me, the circumstances were a little different. I played my game changer because I was going to die the next turn. Tyler was going to attack me again to gain more life and I would be dead, so I did something. Unfortunately for me, something was playing Emrakul. I knew as soon as I flipped him over from the Polymorph that I would be dead. Neither Bryan nor Tyler knew who I was going to attack, so both had to attack me or risk being crippled by the annihilator 6 on Emrakul. I knew that Emrakul and my soldier token would not be able to keep me alive until my next turn, but I played it anyway. I was hoping that changing the scenery on the battlefield would produce an unforeseen event that would keep me alive. No such luck.

In both cases, Eric and I lost because we had failed to prepare our positions properly. My Polymorph deck won a few times when I played it initially, then I began to lose all the time. I realized that my friends had adapted to it and uniformly attacked when one of my big creatures entered the battlefield. I changed my tactics at this point and stopped trying to play Polymorph on turn four. I would set up the board with several token creatures and allow other players to become The Threat for the game. This turned my Polymorph play from, “Oh crap, let’s get him!” to, “Yes, now we have a chance to take down John!” Setting the field has made all the difference.

The risk is that the game will go like the one above. Eric got himself into a tit-for-tat battle with one other player, forcing him to act. Rather than be a middle-of-the-road player in the game, I was the whipping boy, the defenseless player who is wide open for everyone to attack. Both of us exploded onto the board before we were ready and paid the price. Set the board to allow you to play out at your pace, and the wins will come.

Bruce Richard


1 In an article coming soon!
2 Sounds like another article coming soon!
3 This is code for, “John’s deck crapped out, and he did nothing until he died.”