Everyday we are bombarded with advertisements about one brand of soap or car insurance being the best offer on the market. We hear encouraging things from politicians about their policies. We work at places that tell us why “Jen” got a big gold star for being employee of the month. When we sit down at the table to play Commander we should just be able to have a break. That is not how our format works, though. You can be swept up in the torrent of the three-hundred opposing cards, or you can take control. If you can create a meek image to those who show mercy, or grit your teeth at those you couldn’t defeat, then you may have what it takes to win surely lost games. Turn your Propaganda machine on.
Propaganda has been around since the dawn of language. Using propaganda is a holistic way of looking at how others perceive you. Like how Sting wanted to still be cool without The Police, but really he didn’t realize that having good music also must play a part of people liking your music career. If you want to lead strong propaganda against your opponents, it comes with not only how good your deck plays (or music is) but who your commander is, your sleeves, deck box, and playmat change perceptions too. Everything you say, do, and that which you don’t need to say plays a role.
Toeing the line between propaganda, censorship, or plainly lying is a tricky thing. This is not to say you can’t lie or play Censor in commander, but for our purposes of discussion we must draw boundaries. Propaganda, as we will use it today, will specifically be about managing perceptions without lying or shutting any one opinion down.
One of the first things said at many tables before the game starts is who your commander is. The others already know your game plan, at least vaguely. You may want fear to be the first thing in the other players’ minds. An Olivia Voldaren player strikes fear into the others, but maybe not quite like a Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder. Olivia could be a silly vampire tribal and Yidris a powerhouse tear-machine, when, in reality, the same amount of tears could flow from each decks. I like to downplay the fear. I love playing underwhelming commanders like Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis or Ephara, God of the Polis. Neither usually make others fear for their lives and instill a desire to kill either of them with fire as soon as it hits play.
At this stage, or at any point in the future of the game, never be shy to point out what another player is playing to the table. Simply stating, “They have a Triskelion in a black deck,” should raise enough eyebrows to work with you. Even more benign things like, “they have two Island untapped,” is also good. It doesn’t matter what’s true so long as you are pointing out things obviously factual enough for people to agree with you.
Everything you play is important. Each target you make plays a role in how you are perceived. Playing targeted removal is ideally limited, versatile, and painful. In my Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis deck I don’t want to counter everything that moves just because I play blue. If you Path to Exile a creature or Swan Song something deadly it either has to place them in a position where they can’t do anything back at you, or it must be logical enough to use the “common sense” tactic. As in you cannot be seen as hating on this person because “it just makes sense” to get rid of that threat. Often times if you play it right even the person you did it to couldn’t disagree.
Playing passive cards are important moves to keeping your image stable. You paint yourself a target with Fevered Visions but not Howling Mine. Propaganda effects play a key role here. They keep you safe and don’t usually incur others fury. If you are looking to be intimidating though you want your presence to be defensive as well as offensive. A powerful anthem effect like Collective Blessing or Always Watching will do the trick.
Ending the game is important to your propaganda machine. If you ever play that person again how they lost previously sticks with them. Breaking your word to win earns the ire of that player for future games. Threading the needle of “oops I won” takes patience and luck. The way you win should mostly be from known threats after you turn the corner for a win. Attacking with your normal creatures or whatever your known quantity is (burn for red, mill for blue/black) makes for the best way to keep your perception. Pulling an infinite combo out of nowhere can lead to apprehensive or aggressive opponents even when you play another deck in the future. In a similar fashion, counter spells in an otherwise aggressive deck labels you as the control player to many.
It seems fitting for this article to give you a bonus of one of my decks, Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis.
This deck is so fitting because it embodies the perception of others underestimating you. The deck is group hug like any reasonable K&T deck. I just tore apart a few of the win conditions from the original for my own, clones. I loved the idea of ramping everyone into their best stuff and cloning/copying them. I had a game where I could play Catch // Release into It that Betrays. The deck needs some work with which clone effects I have. Clone Legion would be great for instance.
Propaganda is a useful tool here in small pieces. If you use it, then use it subtly. A little influence here or there can shift a tightly played game in your favor, but used too much you become disingenuous. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is probably not the best place for it and I know my build isn’t optimal, but constantly think about how other perceive you and make adjustments. I hope politicking works well for you and I hope to hear what you think.