Hello, everyone! Welcome to another edition of Fat Stacks, the weekly Magic column dedicated to EDH / Commander. This past weekend, I played in a, EDH tournament at my LGS, New Game in Town. It was a new kind of tournament that I had heard about, but didn't have a chance to play yet. They call it ‘Grand Melee,' and boy, is it awesome!
The basic idea is that all the tournament entries sit at one table in a circle. If there were too many entrants, I am guessing that it would eventually spill into a separate game. Anyways, all the players are playing in the same game, taking turns in a circular order. Usually, there are two active players that are sitting across from each other, and are hopefully at least three players away from each other. Even though everyone is in the same game, you can only interact with / affect players to your immediate left and right. This is very similar to the way Emperor Magic has the player-pairs that basically don't exist to each other.
Each turn has a maximum time of three minutes, and the next turns do not start until both active players have both passed their turn; this was important, because it made sure the game stayed orderly. Taking extra turns is forbidden, so if someone casts Time Warp, it basically resolves as a blank card. This makes sense within the structure of the tournament, and actually makes for a much better game, since Time Warp effects are so powerful.
The other major limitation is that combos can only go to three iterations a turn before shutting off. This means that Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker can only make a few Pestermites, and not a million of them. I love this rule, and I think it reflects a lot of peoples' feelings towards getting bum rushed by combo decks. This does take combo out of the legitimate strategies in the tournament format, but it does mean you can run uber-combos without feeling guilty.
The banned list is mostly the same, with the addition of Darksteel Reactor, and Darksteel Forge. Since the rules are evolving as they move a long, these cards were banned as a reaction to what was necessary. Speaking of banned cards, one of the players in the tournament accidentally packed the recently banned Trade Secrets, which made for a pretty funny moment.
The prize payout was interesting, as it really didn't matter who actually won the mega game. Basically, you get a pack per player you eliminate. This encourages faster decks, which can rack up the packs by smashing players early on. It is worth mentioning that you can only kill two players at a time, since the next players over don't enter your sphere of influence until the start of the next turn.
Although I knew I was attending an EDH tournament, I was not expecting to play this particular format. When I was tuning my Karador deck for the tourney, I was worried about the very things that were banned in the tournaments – combos and Time Warp. Karador has a lot of good control / combo-breaker cards, like Gaddock Teeg or Yosei, the Morning Star, so I was decided to play it safe, and run the deck with the most options. I even included a little combo of my own – Devoted Druid and Quillspike – which I replaced with a Blood Scrivener and Varolz, the Scar-Striped as soon I heard about the combo limitations of the format.
Karador was a double-edged sword for this tournament, as I had enough early game aggro to completely blow out a player with no resistance, and enough of those options to deal with most problems. The tool-box feature of the deck actually proved to be a major downfall, as the decision-trees usually involved too much thought for the short turns. I mean, once you have a Survival of the Fittest in play, the act of rifling through the deck for the right card takes a significant amount of time and attention. There were a few times where I made the wrong decision, and realized it only after I've had time to stop and think about it.
We played two rounds, so I will start off with a roll-call of the generals present, relative to my position. Starting to my left, and going clock-wise, there was:
As you can see, I started off against Savra and Jor Kadeen. The Boros deck was severely mana-screwed for pretty much the whole game, so I rarely had to devote any resources his way. The only time we really interacted at all was for a few small attacks in the early game, and then when Karona would land on his board (giving him something to attack with).
Sakashima was a bit of a challenge, especially since Sakashima was able to copy Karador, and made recurring a Phantasmal Image a real nightmare for my super-team of legends. The Body Double was even more problematic, and made it so I couldn't really prevent Elesh Norn from being used against me. After a lot of grinding and quick thinking, I managed to knock out Sakashima as well.
I was down to five or so life, and I now had to face off against a Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius deck that was mostly 100% by this time. He didn't have the Dracogenius on board at the time, so he didn't have enough mana to cast him, and burn me to death. Still, if I couldn't answer the Dragon, I would die to his activated ability on his next turn. Even after killing the Dracogenius, I was still finished off by a Snapcaster Mage'd Invoke the Firemind.
The round had a lot more epic moments, including Omnath landing Yeva, Nature's Herald, when the Rhys player thought he had just enough damage to win, or the Sygg player just needing to deal three more damage to Omnath to win the whole thing. Omnath came out on top in the end, which for a major Omnath fanboy like myself, ended up feeling like a vicarious victory.
Round one was so much fun for me, even if I made a lot of regrettable mistakes. Some of the players got knocked out because of luck, but for the most part, the major victories were extremely close. Karona in particular was frickin' hilarious, and made it around the table in a complete circle twice. In fact, Karona was involved in the death blows of the two players I eliminated, and both times I named Wizards to boost my Qasali Pridemage and Viscera Seer.
Going into round two, I was mentally going over what kind of plays I would need to make against the different decks, so I wouldn't choke again. At this point, I was wishing that I had played my own Omnath deck over Karador, because that deck is much more straightforward, and I can play it in my sleep. If I had known that I wouldn't have to fight through combo / Time Warp, I would have gone with Omnath right away, even if that does mean I would have had to temporarily take out Primeval Titan (rules are stupid).
Just like the first time, the seats for round two were picked out of a hat, and I was seated next to the Omnath deck that won the last round. On the plus side, I know Omnath's tricks, so I would not be surprised; on the downside, Omnath is awesome, and can take away the game very easily. My start was okay, but once Omnath landed a Sword of Feast and Famine, most of my creature base would be unable to block him. I didn't draw a mono-white creature, so I was the first to be eliminated in round two.
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I couldn't really be mad, because I've killed so many people with a SoFaF'ed Omnath that it would be extremely hypocritical. Also, I won two boosters for round one, so I made back my initial five dollar investment, which is all I could really hope for. Double also, I pulled a Legion's Initiative from one of the packs, so I actually got a card I wanted.
Karona ended up as the victor of that game, using Door to Nothingness and recursion (I am guessing Academy Ruins, but I can't remember), to cut through the defenses of the other players.
As I mentioned, my biggest downfall in round one was the time it took to properly play a deck like Karador, which always has so many options at its fingertips. Having access to your graveyard like it was your hand can actually be problematic if there is a time limit involved. Personally, I think the three minutes is a bit too short, but it was never really strictly enforced anyways. The threat perception was extremely chaotic, especially since you have to keep a watch on what may be coming after a player is eliminated.
A major part about why I liked this tournament so much was the closeness of those games. You would think that a constantly shifting 10-way game would be a total cluster, but it was actually pretty orderly, and was over faster than a majority of the FFA games I've played. Aggression has a much higher reward than normal, but the control decks have a greater chance of surviving against fresh opponents.
My strong start in round one with Karador cost me a lot of life, with the fetch lands, shock lands, and a few late fees at the Sylvan Library. Considering that I died to a three-point Invoke the Firemind, those small hits really mattered. Life gain was relevant in a lot of tight wins, as was the normally inconsequential life paid to greedy cards like Sylvan Library or Necropotence. I took a bit of damage from my Horizon Canopy as well, and if that would have been a Sunpetal Grove instead, I might have survived for another turn.
When it comes to making suggestions, I would definitely try to figure out a better time system, like starting a two-minute clock once one of the players passes their turn. That way, late game states that require a lot of decisions would be more possible, and you could also have a meta-game going on when it comes to ending your own turns as quickly as possible. While I do see the need for a time limit, it ended up being very stifling.
Next week, I have a Ruric Thar, the Unbowed deck that is really fun, combining classic green abilities with powerful creatures and technologically advanced equipment.
I will be hanging out down in Tennessee for the next week or so, and I will be spending most of that time helping out with my buddies new game store, Gamers' Link. I am bringing a few decks, so if any readers are in the Gatlinburg, TN area, come on down; maybe we can get a Grand Melee going!
Thanks for reading!!
- Cassidy Silver
Questions? Feel free to email me at fatstacksedh[at]gmail[dot]com!
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