So after my last article went up, I hit the streets looking for some lessons that people have learned from losing games. As promised, here are some of the best:

Reddit user /u/Wolrund:

I actually have a great example of not conceding to an infinite combo. I once had a game with my EDH storm deck (Melek) where I stormed off three times in the same game, my opponent sat there patiently all 3 times, and all 3 times I failed to play a win con. I conceded shortly after having exiled anything that would have helped me win and found out all my win cons were in the bottom 15 cards of my library!

The deck is pretty budget, so I don’t have enough tutors to really make it consistent, but usually drawing over half your deck in a combo is sufficient to win on the spot. Just think if he had conceded once I had made a ton of mana and cast past in flames for the flashbacks, I would have won a game that I had a 0% chance of winning!

This is a prime example of what I was talking about! Wolrund’s opponent made him/her have it, and it resulted in a big ol’ win. Remember that if you’re only mostly dead, you’re still slightly alive. This gives you a fighting chance if you play it smart.

6a00d8341d607e53ef010536e57f08970b   Next up is Reddit user /u/blackmagemasta:

I’ve been playing EDH for over a decade and over the years had the opportunity to create and hone several EDH decks. I play with several people who either own one or no EDH deck. So I share.

One guy owns a $40ish BG Thallid deck. It’s fun and can absolutely win games, but it is a bit underpowered. He’s aware of this, so if we’re having an EDH session, he might play his deck a time or two and then play one of mine. He knows his deck is holding him back and knows that with money it could be better, but he has other priorities right now that get his money. So rather than be immature and whine, he chooses to borrow a deck (usually one of mine) and have fun. And you know, I’ve never felt bad about losing to my own deck.

This makes me so happy to hear, and blackmagemasta takes it one step further with his last line – “I’ve never felt bad about losing to my own deck”. I have some thoughts on this (which I might get into in a future article), but in this context I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes you might even find that someone else finds a line you’ve never thought of in YOUR deck and you get to see it in action.

Next up we’ve got one from /u/spitfirefox:

It’s hard to stay focused on a game when things look bleak for you. But take one more look at board. Once I was able to draw a card that exiled the creature attacking me for lethal. Or an opponent made an infinite amount of huge token creatures, but they didn’t have haste. I played Legion Loyalist and stomped his life total to 0.

These might be the purest examples of thinking through your topdeck outs and your lines of victory. EDH is a crazy format and sometimes crazy things happen.


Thanks to all the losers out there who shared their stories with me!

This week we’ll be talking about a topic that’s near and dear to my heart – threat assessment. This is a really complex topic, so I’m not even going to pretend that this is going to be an exhaustive article.

This week we’ll be starting a three-part series on threat assessment. In parts one and two we’re going to be going over the six fundamentals of threat assessment, (as well as building on some of the concepts in my previous articles), and in part three we’re going to explore some examples from real games.

Let’s dive right in and talk about…

Fundamentals of Threat Assessment (Part 1)

In this installment, we’re going to talk about six major categories of threat assessment, and my approach to each one.

This Article:

  • Turn zero threat assessment
  • The mulligan
  • When to leave mana up?

Next Article:

  • Is somebody about to win?
  • Is it worth it to burn a card here?
  • Is the coast clear?

Turn zero threat assessment

Turn zero threat assessment involves taking a minute to think about the other decks at the table, how you match up against them, and how they match up against each other. Even if you’ve never played against one (or any) of your opponents, try to get a feel for what they’re trying to do, even if it’s just in broad strokes. This gets a whole lot easier the more EDH you play, because it gives you more exposure to commanders, strategies, and obscure cards that can end the game in unexpected ways.

For turn zero threat assessment, I like to make a mental list of the dangerous things I’m likely to see from each opponent. I find this helps me get into my opponent’s frame of mind. Here’s a few examples from my casual meta and my competitive meta:

Casual Meta

Doubling Season, Earthcraft, Zulaport Cutthroat / Blood Artist, any free sac outlet like Ashnod’s or Phyrexian Altar.

Doubling Season, anything with Infect, Contagion Engine

– Free sac outlets like Ashnods and Phyrexian Altar, Eternal Witness, Skullclamp, Spore Frog

Competitive Meta

Null Rod*, Trinisphere*, Gaea’s Cradle

Entomb and Reanimate effects (for Bomberman or Worldgorger Dragon)

Food Chain, Tainted Pact, Demonic Consultation

*These are dangerous to my competitive decks specifically

These are just super general examples to demonstrate that each of these decks has something it’s trying to do. When I sit down across the table from them I’m going to keep in mind that they’re trying to steer the game in a direction that favours these types of cards.

The mulligan

For how much practice we all get doing this, this has to be one of the most difficult things to get good at. Whether or not you mulligan is one of the most important decisions you can make. It should be based heavily on your turn zero threat assessment. Generally speaking, a good opening hand should ensure that you:

  • Hit your first few land drops
  • Have something worthwhile to cast in the early game
  • Have some way to disrupt a player who jumps the curve and drops a threat before you’re established

I drew a few sample hands from my Anax and Cymede aggro deck (list here: grab some examples of good and bad opening hands:


This hand doesn’t contain any disruption at all, but I would snap keep this every time and never look back. We’ve got a little bit of acceleration in Boros Signet that allows us to cast either Anax and Cymede, Heliod, or Iroas on turn 3, and we are guaranteed the first 5 land drops of the game. This deck’s curve is really low, so 5 mana should be enough to do anything we’re looking to do for the rest of the game. We’re the beatdown with this hand, because we’ve got 2 threats that are incredibly difficult to deal with that will be on the board by turn 5.


I’d call this an average opener. It has an incredibly versatile piece of disruption in Swords to Plowshares, and access to both colours of mana the deck needs. This hand could be a bit of a gamble, as we’re banking on drawing into another land of any colour by turn 3 when we need to be casting Anax and Cymede. I would generally keep this, but it’s a little on the loose side.


Unfortunately, this one is too loose to keep. Mark of Fury is one of the best cards in the deck for getting in for early damage. I might consider keeping this if there was one more land or a 1- or 2- drop creature. As it stands, I’m not guaranteed to be able to cast Anax and Cymede or any of the cards in my hand in the first 3 turns.

Now, this is how these mulligans look in a vacuum, but how do they look against the casual decks I’ve listed above?

If Ghave, Atraxa, and Meren were my three opponents in a game, I would probably consider Atraxa priority #1. If I can direct enough combat damage that way during the early game, they should be at a low enough life total by the late game that other players can get in for damage directly. Once you’re into damage control mode, trying to attack planeswalkers instead of the pilot, it’s a pretty rough position to be in. Early damage means we hopefully don’t get to that point.

I’d consider Meren my #2, for most of the same reasons. Being a boros attack deck, we basically lose to a Spore Frog lock.

Finally, Ghave is #3. The deck can be pretty scary when it combos off, but Anax and Cymede’s heroic ability laughs at chump blockers.

Chandra’s Ignition is really good against Atraxa if they’re playing superfriends, because the damage to player can be redirected to planeswalkers they control. Boros Charm will also help out quite a bit if they’re running a full suite of boardwipes like Wrath of God and Damnation. The hand with Swords is much better against Meren and Atraxa.

Mulligans take a lot of practice, but you can do some of it away from the game table. Pick 3 random popular commanders off of EDHREC (, draw 7 and think for a bit about whether it’s good enough in the context of this imaginary game.

When to leave mana up

Leaving mana up can serve two purposes – it can ensure that you have enough mana to cast instant-speed disruption like spot removal and counterspells, or it can signal to your opponents that you’re doing so.

We’re about to get really meta here. Leaving mana up to bluff interaction can be really tricky, and you have to have a good idea of your opponents’ threat assessment capabilities. If your opponents are really good at assessing on-board threats, they’re going to notice that you’ve left a couple islands untapped, and they’ll probably make some attempt to play around it. If your opponents are not good at assessing on-board threats, there isn’t usually much of a point to leaving mana up at the expense of advancing your board state.

In general, these are the types of things I like to think about when I’m considering leaving mana up:

Has anyone been ramping a ton?

  • If one or more of your opponents have been ramping and is significantly ahead of the curve, it’s time to think about disruption. If you’re at 3 mana available and your opponent will be untapping with 7, it’s likely a good idea to play the draw go game and make sure you have your disruption available. At the very least, make a show of playing draw-go, draw people’s attention to the player you perceive to be the threat by asking questions (eg. “How many cards do you have in hand?” / “You’ll be untapping with how much mana?” / “What’s it like having all that mana?”). This helps to remind your other opponents that that they should be thinking about the incoming threat as well.
  • Has anyone been tutoring? Tutors – especially unconditional tutors like Demonic Tutor and Vampiric Tutor, can be incredibly dangerous. Combo players love to assemble their machines, and wherever possible it’s generally beneficial to assemble a combo in your hand rather than on the board. Pay attention to when people are casting their tutors, and try to guess at whether they’re tutoring for something responsive like a counterspell, board wipe, or spot removal, or whether they’re tutoring for something proactive like a piece of a combo or a big beefy threat.

What type of threat am I likely to encounter?

This is where the turn zero threat assessment comes in really handy. When you’re considering leaving mana up, you need to think long and hard about what kind of threat you’re likely to encounter, and what responses your deck has. In my Nin deck, sometimes when I’m activating Nin (targeting herself), I’ll pump all my available mana into X except for 1 or 2 blue. When I make a deliberate show of it, it signals to my opponents that I’m holding a counterspell in case they try to interact in some way. This costs me a card or two, but if it successfully discourages my opponents from interacting with me, it’s mission accomplished. If they don’t force my hand, they’re probably also going to make future decisions based on the (incorrect) assumption that I’ve got something like a Dispel or Negate in hand.

The answer to this question can also help you determine what colour(s) of mana to hold up. If you’re playing against a creature-based deck that’s likely to attack you, white mana available is likely to be more scary to them than blue due to the availability of Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, and – to some degree – Oblation. Likewise, if you’re in blue, nothing sends a stronger signal than leaving up UU. If I’m looking to send a signal that I’m holding up disruption in blue, and I have access to UUUU and 2 colourless and I’m looking to cast a spell that costs UU1, I would definitely use UU2 to cast it (letting 1 colourless go unused) rather than UUU.

A note on free disruption spells

On the flip side of all of this, sometimes it’s 100% to your benefit to tap out deliberately. We’ll talk about this more in the “Is the coast clear?” section next time, but tapping out can signal to your opponents that you’re unable to interact with them. If you’ve got free disruption spells like Force of Will, Pact of Negation, Submerge, Slaughter Pact, or Snuff Out, they could be inadvertently playing right into your hand.

I’d like to cap things off by asking you guys for some examples to use! I got such a great response to my last article, Lessons Losers Learn, that I’d love to use some reader examples in Part 3 of this series. Who are the commanders you frequently square off against, and what are the broad stroke threats you’re looking out for on turn zero? Do you have any examples of keep-able and not keep-able opening hands against your meta? Send me your examples and I’ll post the best ones with a few of my thoughts on each.



If you are struggling with a problem in your local meta, send an e-mail to with a detailed description of the dominant threats in your meta. Be sure to include the commander (and archetype if applicable) as well as the pilot’s preferred ways of closing out the game. Also include your decklist, budget, and any deckbuilding restrictions you’ve imposed on yourself (themes, house rules/banlist, and overall spikiness of your playgroup). Your situation may be solved in a future installment of The Metaworker.

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