Hate is important for a healthy meta. It’s what stops the best decks in your local meta from winning so consistently that you get sick of playing against them. What is it? How do you start hating on decks in your meta?
I was inspired to write this series by one of the best hate pieces that’s been printed in recent memory. Rather than talking about Damping Sphere and what makes it good, though, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about the types of strategies it is good against, and the characteristics of Damping Sphere that make it effective in the fight against those strategies. To cap things off, I’m going to talk about the things we should avoid doing so ensure that we’re not inadvertently enabling our opponents to storm off.
Is This Too Mean?
“Why would anyone want to play these miserable, spiteful cards? Me and my buds just want to play Magic!”
On the surface, this sentiment makes a lot of sense. When people get together with their friends they want the mood to be light, social, and friendly. I can honestly tell you that some people can’t handle playing in games where these types of cards are played. If a game of EDH is a foot race, a game without hate is a straight, dry track.
If you’re not the fastest person running the race, you can change the terms of engagement to reward the person who can best navigate the obstacles. When you’re in a situation to pick the obstacles, you want to choose a set that you’ll be able to navigate easier than your opponents will. Each piece of hate that you add to your deck is an obstacle that the runners have to get around if they want to keep advancing towards the finish line. These obstacles could be hurdles, different road surfaces, climbing walls, pools of water, or anything else you can think of. Based on inherent differences between the racers, each one is going to handle each of these obstacles in a potentially different way.
The skill in choosing hate pieces is fully understanding how each type of deck you’re likely to encounter is going to handle them, and whether your deck provides you with a competitive advantage while they’re in play.
When you’re establishing the terms of the race you need to be aware that — although some of your opponents will enjoy the challenge of navigating these obstacles — others are only interested in a dry, straight track. This is where your social acumen is going to come in. My recommendation is to start small. Include one or two pieces that don’t totally lock a single player out of the game consistently. Things like Spirit of the Labyrinth are pretty tough to argue with because they enforce “fair” play. This is actually the exact card that my brother brought in against my Nin, the Pain Artist deck when my meta first made the shift towards more competitive deck construction.
How Much is Too Much?
Sometimes people can go overboard when including hate, to the point where they forget they’re in a race at all. Going back to our analogy, these are people who dump 20 feet of snow on the track, burying all the racers. Rather than using the obstacles to gain a competitive advantage, they’re setting up obstacles that are insurmountable for everyone including themselves. They might take some kind of sick pleasure in it, but it’s neither fun nor effective.
If your playgroup is receptive to hate pieces, make sure that your selection and deployment are done in ways that get you closer to winning.
With that, let’s talk about the first strategy in this series!
Explosive Turns, Multiple Spells
There are a ton of different strategies that rely on casting multiple spells per turn. The strategies can look pretty different when they’re going off, but the hate pieces that shut them down are remarkably similar.
Fast mana is one of the most powerful things available in our format. It’s one of the things you see in nearly all of the highest-power decks. These pieces are usually net-positive in that they produce more mana than they cost on the turn they come down.
These aren’t necessarily win conditions like the other strategies we’re going to talk about today, but the common factor among all of them is casting multiple spells in a single turn. Quite often you’ll see fast mana strategies lean on Paradox Engine as a win condition, because — after dropping a few rocks — they can usually cast as many spells as they can draw.
Storm is an archetype that relies on casting a lot of spells on the same turn. Storm decks usually use a combination of cantrips, net positive mana rocks, untap effects, and recursion to inflate the storm count to the point where they can close out the game using closers like Aetherflux Reservoir or Tendrils of Agony. Decks like Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, Selvala, Heart of the Wilds, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Sidisi, Undead Vizier often fit into this archetype.
Spellslinger and Spell-Based Combo
Sometimes even if your opponent isn’t storming off, they’re trying to cast multiple spells in a single turn. They might be digging for their win condition, setting up an infinite loop, or generating infinite mana. Decks like Yidris, Jhoira, Melek, and Mizzix will commonly fall into these camps. They might use combos like Reiterate/Reset/Lightning Bolt, Dualcaster Mage/Rite of Replication, or Future Sight/Sensei’s Divining Top/Helm of Awakening.
Slivers and Go-Wide Creature Strategies
It seems a little weird to include Slivers in with Storm and Spellslinger, but it absolutely fits into the category of explosive decks that like to cast multiple spells per turn. Sliver decks usually rely on things like Gemhide or Manaweft Sliver along with combo pieces like Mana Echoes and Intruder Alarm to dump a hand full of threatening creatures on the field. This can extend to other creature-based strategies where the creatures generate a significant amount of mana through things like Cryptolith Rite, Rishkar, Peema Renegade, or Earthcraft.
What we’ve identified here is a category of strategies with a few common characteristics, but mostly I want to focus on the fact that they want to cast multiple spells per turn. In general, things that interfere with people who want to cast multiple spells per turn are going to shut down these strategies. How, then, do we interfere with people who want to cast multiple spells per turn?
Bring on the Hate
Attack Their Mana
Mana is one of the main resources that players use to cast spells. It should naturally follow that if you want to stop people from casting a stack of spells per turn, restricting their access to mana is one way to do that.
A lot of people will jump right to mass land destruction here, but there are so many tools in this toolbox. Mass land destruction can be a useful tool for really swingy card advantage plays, just like how board wipes can net you a 10-for-1 or more. Limiting or eliminating a player’s access to mana doesn’t have to be a nuclear solution.
With the prevalence of high-impact, big-mana producing lands in our format, Damping Sphere is one of the best pieces of hate that’s been printed in Standard in a long while. Gaea’s Cradle, Cabal Coffers, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and some of the flip lands from Ixalan block — rather than providing their controller a massive advantage, Damping Sphere effectively shuts them down without setting the world on fire. You can get a similar benefit out of Strip Mine and Wasteland by just removing them before their controller can get a ton of benefit.
If you’re in a situation where the big bad in your meta pumps out a lot of lands through traditional ramp, though, Damping Sphere and targeted land destruction just won’t get you there. That’s where things like Winter Orb, Back to Basics, or colour-changing effects like Blood Moon and Contamination come in. These also limit people’s ability to use their entire resource pool they’ve amassed in the way they want to use it, but they do it in a slightly different way.
When I first started playing, I looked at cards like Thorn of Amethyst I thought long and hard about why I would ever want to universally increase the cost of casting a spell. On its surface, this effect looks symmetrical to the point where it doesn’t actually benefit anyone. In my previous article, Who Does This Benefit?, though, we established that each in-game action that appears to be symmetrical can actually have a pretty lopsided effect on the game.
Quite often you’ll see people reduce their own costs as a way to cast multiple spells in a single turn.
Putting a tax on each spell cast can negate the effects of these discounts, and in some situations it might even overpower their discounts. Our good friend Damping Sphere fills this role, along with more situational taxes like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Trinisphere.
Even if people aren’t discounting their own spells — as is the case in hard ramp strategies — taxes can seriously slow things down. If you’re playing against an opponent that wants to chain mana rocks together in the early game, tacking on a 1-mana tax onto each rock means they often have to spread their ramp over multiple turns. I commonly play turn-1 Mana Vault into Izzet Signet, using the 1 mana left over to activate the signet and cast a third spell. A tax effect on the board means I have to spread that out over three or more turns, because I can’t always cast the Mana Vault on turn 1, and the Mana Vault by itself isn’t enough to cast and activate Izzet Signet.
Although they’re not really taxes, you can also look at things like Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, Kambal, Consul of Allocation, or Kaervek the Merciless. Rather than increasing the mana requirements to cast spells, they impose a pretty hefty penalty on people that want to cast spells.
Put a Cap on It
This is perhaps the most obvious way to hate on strategies that want to cast a lot of spells each turn. Effects like Rule of Law, Arcane Laboratory, and Eidolon of Rhetoric simply put a hard cap on the number of spells you’re allowed to cast in a turn. Using the earlier example of Mana Vault and Izzet Signet, a fast-mana deck under Rule of Law needs to choose between casting their mana rocks and casting the things that those mana rocks would normally allow them to, like interaction or threats. The weird part about Rule of Law effects is that they disproportionately disadvantage players that design their decks with a low, efficient curve. Spells like Ponder and Preordain are great because they’re things you can do without devoting an entire turn to them, but when you’re forced to devote your entire turn to them, they tend to be pretty underwhelming.
The decks that are going to benefit from this type of hate are decks that have well-distributed curves, want to make it to the late-game, and generate their advantages through incremental value engines rather than flash-in-the-pan-type turns. This is doubly true if your value engine doesn’t require you to cast spells — things like Wild Pair or Vial Smasher that amplify the effectiveness of the spells you cast, or even activated abilities of commanders like Yisan, the Wanderer Bard can really run away with a game while playing under this kind of a constraint.
Attack Their Ability to Draw Cards
This method is more of a secondary way to hate on decks that want to cast a lot of spells. If you prevent a storm player from drawing cards, you generally prevent them from casting things. Hate pieces like Chains of Mephistopheles and Notion Thief fill this role really well. If they’re drawing cards through an activated ability like Necropotence or Thrasios, you can use pieces that hate on activated abilities like Pithing Needle, Phyrexian Revoker, or Harsh Mentor.
What Not to Do
Perhaps as important as choosing the right pieces to counter a strategy is ensuring that our actions don’t enable or encourage the strategies we’re trying to hate out. What, then, should we avoid doing when we’re trying to counter explosive turns with multiple spells?
It can be really tempting to play symmetrical effects to try to even things up. Things like Howling Mine, Dream Halls, or Aluren might allow everyone else at the table to play a game similar to the player you’re trying to take down. If you’re considering doing this, don’t. If you’re playing against a deck that’s designed to benefit from playing multiple spells in a term, making it easier for them to do it will generally disproportionately benefit them and not you.
Assume They’re Doing Nothing
This one is something I see constantly when I’m reading first-hand accounts of games online.
“She spent all game doing nothing then played a half hour solitaire turn”
“He won out of nowhere”
When I read things like this, I generally assume that the writer doesn’t pay attention to what’s going on in-game. Sure, it’s possible that the winner was lucky and drew into a brainless combo. What’s more likely, though, is that they were tutoring and drawing cards for the entire game without raising alarm bells from their opponents.
The ability to play multiple spells in a turn is something that you generally have to cultivate carefully, getting pieces in place to draw a ton of cards, reduce mana costs, and usually holding up countermagic. Get to know the warning signs and talk to people about when it might be appropriate to interact.
That does it for this week! How do you deal with players that like to take explosive turns with multiple spells in your local meta? Do you have any super-secret tech to share? Hit me up in the comments!
Next week we’ll be covering off a strategy that’s near and dear to my own heart — Artifact-centric strategies!