Today we’re going to be rounding out a three-part series on threat assessment in Commander. If you need to get caught up, part one (turn zero threat assessment, the mulligan, and when to leave mana up) is here.

And part two (is someone about to win?, is it worth burning a card on this?, is the coast clear?) is here.

Today we’re going to launch into a few scenarios you’re likely to see out in the wild. For each scenario, we’ll go over the mechanics behind what’s happening and hopefully arrive at a good idea of how to handle it.

An update from my last article

In the last article I analysed a board state, looking at several different lines and landed on one that I thought was the best available to me. Reddit user /u/JJMarcel looked at the board and discovered an additional line that doesn’t require me to hit a land drop or a net positive mana rock on my turn to win:


[…] you don’t need UUUUUU (6) like you suggest. You only need (5) because you can bounce your fellwar stone with a chain of vapor before copying to hit totem and recast the stone with colorless to generate the last U for trinket mage.

Reddit user /u/Skuloth one ups him and discovers a line that allows me to win this turn!


Likely going all in on this turn, since we know Tazri is likely going for it on her turn following the tutor.

The only problem this poses is that Teferi can sacrifice a land to Chain Nin, which seems to lock me out of a sink for my mana if I don’t have another outlet in hand. To this, /u/Skuloth says:

Chaining Nin does work, but then you get chain back and can bounce your trinket mage [edit: to grab Walking Ballista] to win instead.

It’s definitely much riskier than the line I described, because we don’t have countermagic backup and any modest disruption sets us back land drops. This is a pretty great example of why a post-game debrief is a good idea. If I had gone with my original line and subsequently lost, perceptive players in my playgroup may have been able to see the line I missed and fill me in like /u/Skuloth did.

Thanks to both for providing your solutions! Without further ado, we’re going to launch right into today’s topics:

Do you pay the 1?

Rhystic Study creates one of the most interesting board states to observe. It seems like the second it hits the table, people groan and promptly forget everything they know about threat assessment. In my experience, people tend to resign themselves to the fact that Rhystic Study’s controller is going to draw a lot of cards. They plod through their turn as though they were playing into an empty board, blissfully ignorant of what they’re doing to the game.

What are they doing to the game?

This is pretty obvious at face value, which is why I’m surprised to see misplays as often as I do. Rhystic Study creates a massive imbalance in one of the most important resources in the game of Magic. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of 4-player card advantage, but in general, the following is true:

If your opponent presents you with a choice, choose the option that increases your chances of winning the most.

What does this mean in the context of Rhystic Study? What a good looking question!

Your opponent is offering you a choice with every spell you cast – either act like there’s a Thorn of Amethyst on the field, or gift wrap them massive amounts of card advantage. Whenever possible, acting like there’s a Thorn of Amethyst on the field is the right call unless you’re gaining a ton of advantage by casting your spells, or casting something that makes you better able to pay for Rhystic Study triggers in the future. Most of the time (depending on what turn it is), this means you’re casting one or two fewer spells per turn. As a general rule of thumb, if you can’t get rid of the Rhystic Study efficiently, make your decisions based on the assumption that everyone is going to do the same thing you do. If you’re planning on casting 2 spells this turn, assume each of your opponents are going to cast 2 spells as well and consider what Rhystic Study’s controller can do with 6 cards. Are your two spells going to put you far enough ahead of your opponents that you can somehow negate that 6 cards worth of advantage? Let’s consider a scenario:


metaworrker 34

This gives me a few options:

In this situation, the correct decision is likely to not pay for the Rhystic Study triggers and go with scenario b). Between Crypt Ghast and Sol Ring, I’m boosting my mana production from BBB (3 total) on this turn to BBBBBB2 (8 total) on my next turn. This puts me in a much better position to pay for future Rhystic Study triggers, so giving up the card advantage now is probably fine.

If that Crypt Ghast is any other 4-drop creature, though, it’s option a) every day of the week. Sandbag it for now and cast it next turn when you’ve got enough mana to pay for the trigger.

If we’re playing any other colour identity than mono-black, it could be worth it to Vampiric Tutor for removal just before we un-tap if we’ve got cheap spot removal, but I think that gets even better after Crypt Ghast is on the battlefield because we’ll be able to cast the removal and then cast something for a discount relative to casting that something right now.

Just remember that it might feel bad to be effectively set back a turn, but if the trade-off is preventing one of your opponents from drawing an additional 6 cards per turn, it’s worth it. You do have a choice, and Rhystic Study is not a card draw spell if everyone pays.

Are you Tempted?

I’ve never seen anyone play Tempt with Glory or Tempt with Immortality, but I see a lot of the other three.

These cards are a lot like Rhystic Study, but they start out as being symmetrical spells and become asymmetrical if the controller’s opponents get greedy. This is some incredible multiplayer card design, because the advantage / disadvantage isn’t super evident on the surface.

The difference between these spells and something like Rhystic Study is that players decide in turn order whether they’re going to accept the tempting offer. This gives the player to the right of the spell’s controller the most leverage, and the player to the left of the spell’s controller the least leverage.

This is going to be totally dependent on the spell’s target. This is rarely cast for modest value, so don’t think your one copy of a creature is going to save you from the 4 copies the spell’s controller is getting. It’ll rarely work out in your favour.

There are very, very few situations here where I’m taking the offer – and most of them involve Rakdos Charm. 3 players taking the Tempting Offer here pretty much gives the spell’s controller the ability to kill a single player of their choice, and sometimes more than that. With this one I’ve found it’s pretty much best to take your lumps unless you’ve got something like Ashnod’s or Phyrexian Altar out as well as the ability to funnel the mana into something that will prevent you from losing the game.

I’m generally very vocal about the mechanics of the offer, and most of what I have to say about it has to do with the things the spell’s controller might do with their bounty of resources. Do they play green? Let’s talk about Gaea’s Cradle. Do they play black? Let’s talk about Cabal Coffers and Urborg.

Let’s assume we’re talking about basic lands only

If you’re first in turn order, know that your choice to accept the tempting offer will probably increase the likelihood of your other two opponents taking the offer. Refusing the offer can set the tone early. If you’re second in turn order, it becomes a little easier to refuse the offer, because you know that the worst-case scenario involves the caster being up 2 lands and one other opponent being up 1 land. If you’re last in turn order and the two players before you have refused, it’s generally a pretty good deal to search for the land, but know that the players that refused will probably be a little irritated.

Nonbasics throw a wrench into things

What’s going to affect your decision the most here is your ability to get more value out of your 1 land than your opponents will out of tutoring for their lands. High impact lands like Gaea’s Cradle (and to a lesser extent, Serra’s Sanctum), Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Lake of the Dead, and Cabal Coffers are things you can tutor for to outpace your opponents and break some of the parity of the effect. If you’re the only one packing these lands (or your board allows you to take advantage of them more than the other players), it can definitely influence your decision to take the offer.

The last thing I’d like to toss in here is something someone told me once on /r/competitiveedh:

Tempt with Discovery grabs the 4th best land in its controller’s deck

There’s one corner case scenario that I really love with this card. If all of the opponents grab Strip Mine when they have the option to search, it forces the spell’s controller to make a sub-optimal decision if they don’t want the best lands in their deck destroyed.

The general theme with all of these is…

“How far do we want this player to get ahead by playing a single spell?”. Talk about it with the other players at the table! The board state factors in heavily to this decision, and – similar to the resolution of Fact or Fiction, you’ve got 3 brains that can work together to figure out what the best line is.

Survival of the Fittest

I don’t even have a clever title for this section. The card is so good and way under-costed relative to its effect. If players are using this card, you can be sure that they’re taking advantage of both the cost (stocking their graveyard) and the effect (stocking their hand). Toolbox decks lean on this card to grab silver bullets and set up combos.

This is one of those cards that – during a post-game debrief – players often overlook. If a player sticks this on turn 2 and goes on to win the game on turn 9, you’d better believe that Survival had something directly to do with their win. This is worth burning a card on, whether it’s a counterspell or spot removal.

Free sacrifice outlets

If someone tells you they’re playing fair and balanced Magic: the Gathering just the way Richard Garfield and Sheldon Menery intended, the best indication they’re lying is when you see a free sacrifice outlet hit the board. Unless you’re playing at explicitly and aggressively casual tables, nothing good comes from free sacrifice outlets. Things like Carrion Feeder, Ashnod’s / Phyrexian Altar, and Altar of Dementia should be throwing up alarm bells whenever they hit the board, because they’re the best cards in the game at making your own things die. They enable ETB / LTB combos, stock your graveyard for recursion, and sometimes even provide you with some kind of resource for doing it.

Even slightly less conspicuous sacrifice outlets can significantly change the threat assessment discussion, because an untapped High Market or Phyrexian Tower turns your Path to Exile into a Murder. If you really need that creature exiled, best to hold onto your removal until they tap out.

Lockdown / Prison effects

One thing I’ve noticed is that people in casual EDH games hate seeing prison effects. Winter Orb / Static Orb, Back to Basics, Blood Moon, and Cursed Totem are cards that are near and dear to my heart, but I’ve definitely noticed that people throw their threat assessment out the window when something is on board that prevents them from playing their game unimpeded.

Eliminating lockdown/prison effects as soon as possible isn’t always the correct play! If we look at the board and think about it, often times the biggest threat at the table is also the player that is at the biggest disadvantage when resource denial elements hit the field. You might not like that Winter Orb reduces your options, but if it prevents the player who’s most ahead from slaughtering the table immediately, maybe it’s best to keep it around (or even protect it for a couple turns) while people find answers that will stop the game from ending.

 Here’s where our turn zero threat assessment is going to come in really handy. When these resource denial elements come down, it’s time to ask ourselves “Is this really so bad for me? If it is bad, is it worse for someone else?” before we react instinctively and burn an important card to deal with it.

That’s it for this week! Do you have any examples of poor in-game threat assessment? Good in-game threat assessment? Do you totally disagree with everything I’ve written on threat assessment so far? Leave a message in the comments and let me know!


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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