It’s a magic number. Yeah it is. It’s a magic number.
Many great things come in threes. Adam and I have discovered that families come in three this year. Magic blocks, for the most part, come in threes. However, the more classic example is that of the three-act story. A three-act story is one of the most commonly used ways to write and break down a storyline.
First act – The setup
Second act – The rising action
Third act – The climax/resolution
The setup is when you’re hooked into the story, the rising action is where the story always happens, and the climax is when the movie ends. Yes, this is an oversimplified version of what the three-act story entails (and we’re ignoring the five-act storyline, so don’t bring that up). When people have an idea for a story, it’s always the setup or the ending; it’s never the boring part in the middle with which writers always have such a tough time. You always know where you want to start and how you want to end, but it’s a journey to connect A to B. Example:
A ring is evil, so a group of nine men take the ring to be destroyed. That’s the setup. SPOILER: The ring is destroyed. That’s the climax. What you get for your “second act” is three movies of people walking (insert obligatory Clerks 2 clip).
Listen, I’m not saying that lessons aren’t learned or it’s always boring in the second act because people always complain when the ending ruins a movie, and that’s thanks to a strong second act (Mr. and Mrs. Smith should’ve ended at the Butch Cassidy moment because there had been plenty of references in the movie to it).
No, Gathering Magic hasn’t turned into a movie review site. Magic also has three acts.
First act – Early game (the setup)
Second act – Midgame (battling for position)
Third act – Endgame (going in for the kill)
What draws players to Commander is all of the insane things that you can do. The mixing of cards from all of its sets while creating unique game states is a powerful beckoning to continue to mess around with decklists and the actual game. Most of that happens in the midgame. No one dreams of the first-turn Plains into Wall of Hope and second-turn Forest into Wall of Resistance. People want the wacky plays where Warp World has gone off while everyone has ten tokens from Alliance of Arms. That doesn’t happen turn three.
The goal of the early game is to lead into the midgame to lead into the endgame. While every deck gets to its own version of the mid- to late-game at its own pace (aggro decks arrive there quicker, control decks much slower), they all have the same basic arc, just as with storytelling.
However, it’s sometimes sitting in that midgame when people think they can do anything when really they shouldn’t. I know that this is a flaw with me, but I do see this when it comes to building and playing decks.
Let’s take a look at my Sygg, River Cutthroat deck from a few weeks back:
"Avacyn Restored–Updated Sygg, River Cutthroat"
If you notice, there’s no real finisher in this deck. There’s nothing in the deck that screams “finishing blow.” Some of the larger creatures may be candidates, but most of those are card-advantage gimmicks—Consecrated Sphinx, Massacre Wurm, and Teferi. Even the Exsanguinate doesn’t have anything ramping into it. The combo of Exquisite Blood and Sanguine Bond is a game-ender, but the deck doesn’t head toward that.
The Sygg deck is a little different because I’ve built it around Sygg: the trigging of 3 life to draw a card. There’s small bleeding effects and incremental advantages because that’s how I want the deck to function. If I wanted to, I could throw in some finishers (Ulamog and the like), but that’s not how I want to play this deck. I want to live in the midgame while forcing my opponent to do the same. And that’s where I get into trouble.
It’s all Magical Christmasland. The whole deck doesn’t have to be on the table to work like a giant Rube Goldberg machine, but that would be nice. I live in a state of constant delusion where I believe that I can do anything I want in the midgame because that’s where all the fun is. Being a Johnny, I want to create this elaborate setup and spend all day there.
I am Pee-wee, and this deck is my Breakfast machine.
Sometimes I end up like Peter, but that’s a risk I’m willing to make.
Sitting, and purposefully staying, in this midgame strategy can hurt your games and playgroup if you don’t recognize the issues that come with it. Constant Propaganda-like effects, slowing everyone down by constantly resetting the board, and preventing anyone from doing anything are all symptoms of decks that want to not progress the game further. There’s obviously a fine line between casting Wrath of God because someone put a hundred tokens onto the battlefield and you want to survive and casting Wrath of God just because you were bored and it was in your hand.
Robby takes a look at his own deck.
I understand that my Sygg deck can be annoying, but it doesn’t lock anyone out of the game other than with the rarely used Words of Waste/Geth's Grimoire combo. I don’t prevent people from casting spells, I don’t destroy lands, and I don’t spend ten minutes on a turn to kill everyone. I also have some things to help me out with getting to the end game: Beacon of Unrest, Body Double, Bribery, Psychosis Crawler, and Ob Nixilis, the Fallen. This isn’t some deck that I bring out when we’re just looking to “have fun” with wacky situations and Planechase. And I know this isn’t as cutthroat as it could be. This is one of those decks that I play when my opponents and I want to stay in the world that we’re building for a while.
Maybe for a movie or three.
The midgame is where we play Magic, where interactions happen and the game happens. The first and last parts of the game are important, but it’s in the middle where battles are fought and stories are told. You can spend time in the midgame, figuring out where everything goes, but you do need to move on and finish telling your story.
After all, don’t you want to start a new one?
Before I go, I want to address what will probably be the most talked-about section in the comments. Bannings happen on the June 20 (in addition to the release of Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012), and I want to address four cards that will be talked about:
Prediction: Unbanned, but watched very closely, as it could go back on the list.
Griselbrand – I don’t get the commotion about this card in Commander. He’s good; I’m not saying he’s not. He’ll draw you a ton of cards. But you have to pay 7 life each time and draw seven cards—it’s not a one-card-by-one-card basis like Yawgmoth's Bargain. To use him as a Commander, you have to play mono-black, which is cool, but it’s more restrictive even though you have access to Drain Life effects. I feel commanders such as Jhoria are way more broken and annoying since you can cheat the cost and have almost no interaction with what she suspends. While a “properly” built Griselbrand deck could cause issues, that’s the same for any deck. The Rules Committee hasn’t banned a commander for drawing cards—just fast mana and interactivity.
Prediction: Left alone
Ad Nauseam – This is a joke. Why can’t colors besides blue have access to card-drawing? If you’re going to warp your entire deck to play and abuse this card so you can play that deck in a competitive Commander tournament, go ahead and do that. The only time I’ve heard of this card being broken is when someone’s trying to win money in Commander (or store credit, or whatever). You’re not guaranteed to find the card you’re looking for, and you’re taking a chance of killing yourself, which is the whole point of the card. If you’re just filling your hand to play a giant Tendrils of Agony in all of our faces to kill us, you’re basically just masturbating. I don’t mean to sound crass, but that’s what you’re doing when you play in a deck based around Ad Nauseam: You’re playing with yourself and making us watch, and when you get done you feel guilty. (Or, worse, don't.) That’s not Commander; stop it.
Prediction – Left alone.
Worldfire – This one was just previewed for Magic 2013. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, check it out:
This is really close to Biorhythm, which is why I think it will eventually be canned. It’s another card in Jhoria’s arsenal that will incur table flips, but the only real way to stop the card is by countering it. Its caster can certainly have Oblivion Ring—or whatever—in play when this is cast, and then that player has the only thing on the board. (Or even a Koth emblem would work.) Traditionally, cards like this are banned because the goal is not to get everyone to play blue in their decks. Watch it stick around for the summer then get the axe in September. Not every card printed has to be Commander-approved.
Prediction – Will get banned in September, as it’s not out yet.
Next time, maybe, just maybe, we’ll finally get to the rebuilt Highlander Collective.