EDH Political Science — Straw Man and Threat Assessment

Politics wouldn’t be the same without lying. There is a precedent for it. Lying as part of any political system exists simply because there are clear advantages to doing so. A politician can get caught lying and still come out ahead. The fact that information is out there is more important than if it was truth or fiction. Probematically, the political landscape of Commander is not immune to this.


If I Only Had a Brain

One of the most important ways misinformation and lies reach the public ear and affect the world around it is through logical fallacies. A logical fallacy doesn’t have to be a lie, but they do often work together. All a fallacy must be is an argument that is logically inconsistent; something contradictory. Exemplified in how logical fallacies and lies go hand in hand is the straw man argument. When arguing, if someone takes what you say out of context or exaggerates it in order to attack the newly presented idea, that is a straw man fallacy. They are trying to argue against something that is not logically the same as what you are.

As an example, let’s say two people are arguing about the reserved list in Magic: the Gathering. If person A argues that the reserved list helps continue support by creating a healthy collectors market, and person B argues back that they were surprised person A wanted to “kill Legacy as a format,” that would be a straw man argument. Person B is twisting the other argument out of context and imposing a whole new argument in the conversation. Where this gets tricky is that we don’t know whether person B is ignorant of the context of what is being argued, or whether they are trying to win the argument through a logically inconsistent attack. Now what if I told you this fallacy happens at most every Commander table?


Ignore the Man Behind the Curtain

FireballUlamog, the Ceaseless HungerMikaeus, the Unhallowed

Extrapolating the straw man fallacy to Commander politics is playing a bit loose with the definition but understanding the logic can help sort your play sequencing and threat assessment. If we instead replace arguments over an issue with arguments over assessing threats or choosing attacks we get something we can process. Let’s say you decide to cast a giant Fireball on the player with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. This player argues the mono-black player could have Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and they should be the target because that player could combo off and win as soon as they draw it with Triskelion. The Ulamog player is taking the game out of context and attempting to create another target to be the victim. This may seem like an obviously bad play to make for you, but there are a lot of factors to consider here too and skill level of players is a major thing to include. Let’s get more context.

 

Commander (1)
Creatures (23)
Instants (11)
Sorceries (5)
Artifacts (9)
Enchantments (13)
Lands (38)

This Zur the Enchanter list I made is based around Arcane Adaptations choosing Zombie and Rooftop Storm to play any creature for free. If you were to play this list you would have to be careful about how you play your cards. A Zur the Enchanter deck can easily be unfairly targeted for being an unfun or overly competitive commander to play against. I would be hard pressed to comment on how unfun it would be to play against, but it is not terribly competitive in comparison to true competitive EDH builds out there.

Zur the EnchanterRooftop StormArcane Adaptation

How about we add this build to our logical equation from before along with some new context. The Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger player is our Zur the Enchanter deck, the mono-black player actually has Mikaeus, the Unhallowed as their commander, and you are running mono-red with Neheb, the Eternal. In this context it is a lot more likely that this Zur player is not just trying to pull a fast one on you, nor are they terrible at assessing threats. They could have the option of drawing Counterspell or another relevant spell, but there are legitimate concerns you could have on both sides of this equation and you, as the Neheb player, have most of the control at this moment to take people out at will.

Our scenario starts to go deep down probability rabbit holes quickly, but there is a point here. What we can take from this are two things for certain. First, threat assessment is a game of context. All games we play must be played considering all available knowledge; our experience, assumptions, and current relationship with each player and the cards available to them. It may be a worthy assumption that a kid playing with no sleeves can’t afford Gaea’s Cradle in his elves deck to combo off. Secondly, if politicking is going on take the hyperbole and out of context assumptions through a logical thought process. It’s easy to always gank the combo player, but understand the context.


Off to See the Wizard

Looking at our Zur the Enchanter list we first notice the power of playing turn six multiple Eldrazi with plenty of mana up on our remaining turns. However, we want redundancy. I put in some tutors and a few other ways to play the big spaghetti monsters. Braids, Conjurer Adept and Quicksilver Amulet as ways to play stuff without drawing or having a destroyed Rooftop Storm. Accidentally landing a turn four big bad evil guy is not such a bad back up plan if you ask me. And as a secondary back up plan you have plenty of big ramp spells like Gilded Lotus that could cast your big spells or be great mana producers for fetchable mana sinks like Sacred Mesa

Graveborn MuseSacred MesaCorpse Harvester

Another synergy is simply drawing zombie-focused cards. Zombies have some of the best payoffs in magic. Graveborn Muse can draw you a card every turn for every Pegasus you make with Sacred Mesa if you have dug out Arcane Adaptation with Zur’s ability. You can then simply fetch any creature you want with Corpse Harvester and scry until you hit bottom with The Scarab God.

While building this deck it occurred to me there were many ways this list could be assembled. The zombie theme could be a lot more prevalent here with just a few giant monsters to cast on the chance you draw rooftop storm. Making cheap tokens for zombie lords like Lord of the Undead or other powerhouses like Undead Warchief. You could also bring in auras to go traditional Voltron, or suit up your 10-cost cards with Aqueous Form.


No Place Like Home

Circling back to our threat assessment topic, sequencing here is important. If the first thing you do with your commander is search up Arcane Adaptation you are likely not going to see it in play for very long. Clever players may sniff out your combos, and vigilant players may simply understand it as a key focus for your list. You can protect it and yourself from being targets by slow rolling your searches. When you want to play your finishers is completely contextual. Many games getting them out early is simply too good to pass up.

I hope everyone enjoyed our look into logic puzzles for this piece. Let me know what you think and if you want to see more of this sort of thing. Is there a zombie related card I missed? How would you build your Zur the Enchanter and Arcane Adaptation list? Which tribe other than zombies would you focus on? Thanks for reading and stay logical!

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Rick is a professional bookseller, writer and gamer. He could be battling international trade atrocities with his Bachelors Degree in International Studies, but he would rather be playing games of magic, running game night at the bookstore, playing an insidious dungeon master at a convention, or talking and writing about any of the above.