In my latest blog post about Mono Green Lock/Control, I wrote the following intervening bit:
“In my meta, artifact- and enchantment-removal is scarce. I try to play it in every deck, but my friends don’t. That’s why it’s much easier for me to run this kind of deck. It’s almost trying to tell them something. It was a bit frustrating the other day to crush a friend with my Green deck and still not wanting to take countermeasures. I showed him how the game would be totally different if he had just the ability to remove ONE artifact. The game I won wasn’t convincing enough, neither was the passionate speech I held.
Like I said, I was playing my Mono Green Lock deck, still under the impression that it was still a lock deck. It isn’t so anymore; it’s a control deck which uses a soft lock to stall the game and to buy time for it’s big spells to come online and take over the game. This observation weakens Rick’s claim that the deck is not fun to play against. While it may not be the most joyful experience to sit across the table from an Icy Manipulator and Static Orb, it is not a combo of Stasis-like deprival. With just one of each you still can make two mana per turn, three if you hit your land drop or have some sort of Karoo, not to mention what happens if you save mana. I steered clear of cards like Tangle Wire and Winter Orb, cards I learned to hate during my casual carreer. Two to three mana is more than enough mana to blast a troublesome artifact or enchantment into oblivion. Except when you don’t play any of those cards.
So here’s what happened. I won the game on the back of Icy Manipulator and Static Orb, I don’t know exactly how. It was probably a slow game where my big guys were able to control the game until I could safely overwhelm Rick with Garruk‘s Beasts.
“I don’t like playing against the deck”, Rick said while packing it in, me left with my combo pieces on the board.
“I can imagine that”, I countered, aware of the chance people can dislike the deck.
Victory can be bittersweet sometimes; you win, but crushing your friends isn’t fun. It’s entirely possible that this very fact is the reason any pure lockdown deck I build either fails or loses it’s appeal after a couple of go-rounds.
As I don’t like soulcrushing friends, I tried to help Rick. “Why don’t you play some removal for my troublesome permanents?”, I unearthed a topic as old as our playgroup.
“I don’t want to play a card like Naturalize that’s dead a lot of the time”, he said.
Entirely valid – sometimes there isn’t anything to destroy. For instance, those cards are dead against his Loam-deck I was playing against that day.
“You could try cards that do other things besides artifact/enchantment removal”, I said, “cards like Viridian Zealot, Mold Shambler, Wickerbough Elder and Indrik Stomphowler for example. They’re all dudes before, during or after destroying cards.”
A lot of the cards I mentioned have been or still are part of some of my green decks. Wickerbough Elder, for example, is a pretty critical guy in my Eldrazi Peasant deck.
“Still, I don’t like to play those cards.”
That kinda sounded like ‘okay, you are right, but I still don’t want to take your advice’.
“I hate playing cards that are dead sometimes. Besides, my deck isn’t suited for those cards. I flip my deck in my graveyard by dredging.”
Aha, there’s the next argument. Dissynergy with the main plan of the deck.
“How come you play Terravore, Werebear, Countryside Crusher and Sylvan Safekeeper, then?”, is what I didn’t actually say. I’m just putting it here from dramatic purposes, MaRo-style. I should have said it, but just thought of it while writing this.
“Sure you dredge a lot, but when I have these cards out, you can dredge all you want, you’re not winning. Just draw until you draw an answer.”
All he had (has) to beat me is burn (AKA reach) speed, and his deck just isn’t very fast. Add to that the fact I have early blockers for his attack and the almighty Primal Command to gain life (negating his Fireblasts and Shard Volleys) and undo his dredging while offing Terravores, or shuffle my graveyard back to restock said Primal Commands, and you can see it’s an uphill battle.
“It won’t hurt to compromise your deck strategy a little bit, just to ensure you actually have game against my deck.”
“I won’t just play a card because it’s good against your deck.”
“Artifact- and enchantment-removal is rarely dead”, I said, mentioning a legal target in pretty much every deck Rick frequently plays against.
“Every card in my deck serves a purpose. I can’t just take a card out. The deck will be less of a whole.”
“That’s something that crosses my mind every time”, I said to Rick.
It’s perhaps the biggest difference between casual and tournament players. Casual players don’t want to take out a cool card for something as boring as a Naturalize-effect. I have, however, made it a custom for me to add ways to circumvent troublesome cards to a shortlist every time I build a new deck. I hate compromising my deck, but it’s what has to be done. If there’s something I hate even more, it’s not being able to win because my sixty-card-synergistic-monster is incapable of removing a roadblock.
“Say your deck is a car and right now it’s speed is at 100%. Sometimes it better to compromise the speed a bit (like 5%) to gain greatly in other areas, like steering or grip. Apply this to deckbuilding and you can see where I am going.”
It was, however, not an argument Rick could have peace with. Next was a proposed deck shift, focused on more aggressive dredging with Golgari Grave-Troll and Eternal Witness for picking through the garbage.
“If you just play two Naturalize-effects and like two or three Eternal Witnesses, you’ll be much less dead in the water to my combo.”
I am pretty sure playing two Wickerbough Elders and two to three Eternal Witnesses will make the deck much more equipped to handle unexpected problems while still able to deploy their primary tactic, albeit a bit slower. Besides, it’s not as if Wickerbough Elder says you have to destroy a specific card either named Static Orb or Icy Manipulator. It’s a versatile card, ready when you need him against any Oblivion Ring, Teferi’s Moat or Soulcatcher’s Aerie that’s giving you headaches. You can’t be prepared for anything all the time, but you can ensure you at least have game against threats, current and yet-to-be. If someone, someday decides to make, I dunno, a Honden-deck, you’re ready. If one of us goes all-in on Bloodbond March, you destroy it with your trusty Wickerbough Elder and live happily ever after. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with Eternal Witness.
That was that as far as my arguments were concerned. I accepted the truth with a gnawing feeling in the back of my head. I did what I do when one of my own decks is in trouble against deck/card/cardtype/strategy X – I locate the problem and try to fix it. I want to win games, but I want to do it fair. The matchup that spurred this discussion didn’t feel fair, like taking a chopping knife to a rock-paper-scissors game.
As long as he doesn’t change his deck, whenever I play against him I just have to play Static Orb and Icy Manipulator as fast as possible and that’s that. It’s not just Rick; Jeroen (another friend) has this as well. I can remember one game where I was able to stall both of them with a Teferi’s Moat set to green. Jeroen had some red guys to push through, Rick had literally nothing. So I just killed Jeroen first and won the game the second he died.
It boils down to three things: play Naturalize-effects, be the faster deck, or have a way to just ignore the problem. This would be like playing Eldrazi Monument in the above example. Either way, the deck has to change. Sometimes change is the best way to protect your core strategy. If your 100%-synergistic whole encounters a deck you can’t beat, don’t be afraid to go down to 95 or 90%. Just do it. Or better yet, play a solution that has synergy with the deck. Eldrazi Monument not only ignores Teferi’s Moat, it gives the deck a new way to win. And while Mesmeric Fiend was initially a way to ensure being able to play Contamination, it turned out it comboes very well with Viscera Seer and Tortured Existence. Like MaRo says, restrictions breed creativity. Somewhere among the necessary answers a deck must play is a card that just fits the deck, like Mesmeric Fiend did in mine.
Just like creature removal is automatic in almost all of our decks, so should ways to Naturalize be. And if you don’t have any, you’d better have a damn good reason not to. Having a bit less fun every time is still having fun all the time, and way better than having a lot of fun some of the time.