The Metaworker: Threat Assessment Part 2 James LaPage March 22, 2017 The Metaworker If you’re looking for part 1 of this threat assessment series, you can find it here. Last time we talked about a few basics of threat assessment. This week we’re going to dive right in and use some of those basics to talk about some more advanced threat assessment concepts. Fair warning, this installment is going to skew a little more towards the competitive side of the spectrum, but the concepts are definitely applicable to having fun with your friends as well. I’d like to start with this example board state. It’s a situation you’ll see fairly commonly in a competitive EDH game, so I’d like to run through a few things I’d consider when presented with this type of situation. For the purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that Boonweaver, Tazri, and Teferi are the common decklists you’ll see in a competitive EDH primer. My Nin decklist and primer can be found here, and that’s the list we’ll be talking about: A few interesting observations These are just a few thoughts based on the board state and some Turn Zero Threat Assessments I would have done before the game started: This Cursed Totem is putting in work. Of the creatures on board, it bricks Nin, Elves of Deep Shadow, Both Llanowar Elves, and Avacyn’s Pilgrim. Also relevant is the fact that Cursed Totem bricks Walking Ballista (my go-to win condition at the moment) as well as Boonweaver’s Loyal Retainers, Viscera Seer, Saffi Eriksdotter, Carrion Feeder, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. If Tazri has Demonic Consultation in his hand, he could cast it on Teferi’s end step. If he doesn’t exile all of his win conditions, he can grab Food Chain and potentially send Eternal Scourge or Misthollow Griffin to exile. As is, he has exactly enough mana to pull off the Scourge win, and he would need to make a land drop (or Mox Opal/Diamond/Simian/Elvish Spirit Guide) to pull off a win with the griffin. Boonweaver likely pitched Elesh Norn to Survival of the Fittest with the intent to either Reanimate/Animate Dead/Dance of the Dead it, or he wants to put it into play using Loyal Retainers’ ability. The fact that he hasn’t done either yet leads me to believe that he’s either holding up Necromancy in case he needs it at instant speed (weak) or he’s waiting for someone to pop this Cursed Totem. Is the coast clear? / Is somebody about to win? These are some pretty important questions once you get to a certain point in an EDH game, and being able to recognise your last untap step of the game as it happens is a pretty great skill to have. In the scenario above, I’m pretty close to threatening a win on the next turn if I play my cards right, but there’s a ton of stuff to think about. Ideally, I’d love to put my head down and use Muddle the Mixture to grab Power Artifact, Trinket Mage to grab Walking Ballista, and bounce the Cursed Totem with Chain of Vapor. Doing all of these things would cost me 1UU (Muddle the Mixture) + UU (Power Artifact) + U (Chain of Vapor) + U (Trinket Mage, paying for the rest with my Monolith mana). UUUUUU is pretty rough, and it means I’ll have to split this up over at least 2 turns because I only have 4 sources of U on board. Nin is also an option as a sink but it would cost me just as much blue and one additional red mana to pull it off. The way I see it, I have 5 major lines of play available to me: Cast Trinket Mage and use its ETB trigger to grab Walking Ballista from my library, holding up Chain of Vapor as disruption. This is pretty tempting. If I’m going to use Power Artifact and Grim Monolith to generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana on my turn, I need something to do with it. This has to be done, the only question is – “When?”. Cast Trinket Mage and use its ETB trigger to grab Pithing Needle from my library. Pithing Needle is an unfortunately narrow response in this situation. It hits Teferi if I think he’s close to going off with High Tide, and maybe Loyal Retainers if I’m worried about that. Elesh Norn doesn’t prevent me from winning, and Teferi doesn’t have the right mix of mana rocks on board to drop a Chain Veil. Casting Pithing Needle also requires me to tap out (or use my Grim Monolith, which increases the colourless mana requirement to comboing), which means I can’t hold up Chain of Vapor as disruption. Transmute Muddle the Mixture to grab Power Artifact from my library. Like line 1, this likely has to be done at some point for me to win. The biggest problem is that I know Boonweaver has a Harmonic Sliver in hand, so I don’t want to telegraph that I need this Grim Monolith in play and then pass the turn. This will have to be done on the turn I win or not at all. This allows me to hold up Chain of Vapor as disruption. Cast Fellwar Stone and pass the turn. This increases my access to blue mana by 1, meaning if I draw a free blue source like Mox Opal or another island, I can win next turn if no one has answers. This allows me to hold up Chain of Vapor as disruption. If Boonweaver doesn’t blow up this Cursed Totem with Harmonic Sliver, it allows me the option of bouncing Cursed Totem right before I untap, which reduces my coloured mana requirement by U on my turn. Do nothing and hold up both Chain of Vapor and Muddle the Mixture as disruption spells.This option isn’t great. My deck is built around 2-drop combos, and if you ever see me using Muddle the Mixture as a counterspell you know things have gone sideways. The only benefit here is that Boonweaver might blow up the Cursed Totem on his turn, meaning I can crack Nin, targeting Nin, X=2 (or X=5 if I wanted to get really greedy), and draw a few cards before I untap. Lines 1 and 3: are pretty aggressive plays. Because they’re conditional tutors, I have to reveal when I’ve chosen a card. Grabbing Walking Ballista instead of something like Mana Crypt signals to the table that I would gain more benefit from having a mana sink in my hand than an additional 2 mana on board, which suggests I’m close to comboing off. Lines 2 and 5: conversely, are pretty defensive plays. By grabbing Pithing Needle I’m committing to dealing with only one of the 3 threats on board (Tazri potentially casting Demonic Consultation, Boonweaver blowing up my Grim Monolith instead of Cursed Totem, and Teferi), and in doing so I’m not leaving any mana up at all to interact with what might happen. Line 4: is just right. It’s definitely not the splashiest play I could make, but it sets me up well by increasing my access to coloured mana and doesn’t paint a target on my Grim Monolith. If the stars align, Boonweaver casts Harmonic Sliver and Teferi’s spidey sense goes off. Because Boonweaver doesn’t choose a target until the spell resolves, it may force Teferi’s hand and bait him into countering it. This further clears the way for me on my combo turn, because I’m taking a pretty big risk by going off with no countermagic backup. Now I know a lot of you don’t play competitive EDH, but this is the type of thought process you can put into determining the appropriate action to take on your turn: What are my lines? In doing something, am I precluding my ability to do something else? Am I signalling my intentions to the rest of the table by taking (or not taking) action? What are the biggest threats to my opponents? Can I count on them dealing with those threats so I don’t have to? Are there any threats to my opponents that I have an interest in protecting? Thinking about the answers to these questions helps you to make better decisions when it’s time to act. Is it worth burning a card on this? This question comes up essentially every time you have the opportunity to disrupt your opponent. I’m going to get into this a little more in the next article, but tutors and disruption can be your most important tools in a multiplayer game. Rather than looking for the first opportunity to cast your counterspell, you should be asking yourself “Would it really be so bad if I let this slide?”. You don’t want to be hellbent or F6ed in the late game because you burned your only disruption on a modest threat. In the above scenario, taking line 4 and passing the turn offers me a ton of opportunities to cast an excellent disruption spell – Chain of Vapor. Going in turn order, these are the things I’m likely to see, and how I can use Chain of Vapor to interact: This is pretty loose, because Teferi’s immediate lines to victory are pretty specific. If he has Chain Veil in hand he could pull some fast mana shenanigans like High Tide + Snapcaster Mage + High Tide + Mana Crypt to cast Teferi, untap all his islands, and cast Chain Veil for the win. I wouldn’t count on something like this unless they’ve been casting nothing but tutors all game, but every once in awhile you’ll get burned because they have it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Using Chain of Vapor as disruption here is tough because once Teferi sticks, its controller has priority and will get to untap 12 mana worth of islands. Chain of Vapor can bounce The Chain Veil in response to its first activation or in response to Teferi’s first untap, but neither of those are going to stop this combo in its tracks. The only saving grace here is that we’re the last to act, so it’s entirely possible that Tazri or Boonweaver step in to prevent the game from ending. As I mentioned earlier, this deck has the potential to exile a chunk of its library to find Food Chain, which often puts either Eternal Scourge or Misthollow Griffin in exile, ready to start the Food Chain combo. If he doesn’t make his land drop, Tazri has to cast Food Chain, exiling one or both his mana dorks to cast either of his combo pieces. Chain of Vapor does a good job of bouncing Food Chain here with the Scourge or Griffin on the stack, and it’ll buy us a turn if we absolutely need it to. This is the big wildcard. Harmonic Sliver is probably coming down this turn, and Boonweaver could target my Grim Monolith or Teferi’s Cursed Totem. With the creature spell on the stack, I could: Bounce my own Grim Monolith, which forces Boonweaver to pick the Totem. Pass priority and see if Teferi has any action before Harmonic Sliver enters the battlefield This is actually a pretty tough decision. Bouncing the Grim Monolith allows us to tap it for Mana and get in that X=5 Nin activation as soon as Boonweaver changes steps, but it puts us a full turn behind on executing the combo. There’s a small chance we draw into some fast mana like Ancient Tomb or Mana Crypt, but at the very least we’re pretty much guaranteed another land drop in those 5 cards, which continues to advance us towards the UUUUUU we need to execute the combo. If Teferi counters the Harmonic Sliver we’re basically in trouble because we can’t activate Nin, so that would be the biggest risk of going with that option. If Harmonic Sliver resolves, the ETB trigger goes on the stack and Boonweaver has to pick a target for its ability. Absolute best-case scenario here, he chooses Cursed Totem (maybe with a little gentle encouragement). Worst-case scenario, he chooses Grim Monolith and we’re forced to bounce it in response. This allows us the opportunity to sacrifice a land to bounce Cursed Totem if we really wanted to, but given our shortage of coloured mana I don’t think it’s a great idea to get greedy. Bouncing the Grim Monolith with the creature on the stack is definitely the most conservative route, and it’s probably the way I would go. I love drawing cards, because cards represent options. Drawing 5 restocks the pantry with disruption, land drops, and combo protection that we’ll need if this game is going to last at least 1 more turn. Wrap it up, Jim. You’re rambling. I could talk for hours and hours about board states and optimal lines, but at some point we have to tie a bow on this and call it a method of threat assessment when the game is close to wrapping up. Can we condense it into 4 steps? Let’s see. Make a list of your lines Is the way clear for you to win? Can you clear the way? Is the way clear for someone else to win? Can you obstruct it? Make some assumptions about how other people will act in their own interests, and pick a line based on those assumptions. That pretty much sums it up! Next time we’ll be talking about some things I see in real games, and if any of you want to send me a snapshot of a game, I’d love to analyse it! Try your best to format it like I have above and I’ll include the best ones in my next article. If you are struggling with a problem in your local meta, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org 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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