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75% – Counterculture

Reddit

I'm not going to shock anyone if I reveal that I am a regular in the EDH subreddit. I like having the occasional post about introducing new players to the game pop up in my feed. I don't even mind the occasional post saying, "I'm at the airport in Atlanta for the next seven hours—anyone around to play some Commander?" because they're not that annoying, and I could see myself making the same post out of desperation. I have a history of being at the airport for too long due to how long it takes me to make it through security. I'm not sure what it is. Adam Styborski posted on Facebook this week that the TSA ignored his bag of computer equipment but decided that his Commander foils merited additional scrutiny. I have had similar bad luck whenever I tried to take deck boxes on a plane, especially when I used one of those Rook 4 deck cases. Either my cards are suspicious or I have one of those faces that says, "Better pat my groin just to be safe."

Merieke Ri Berit
The EDH subreddit also gratifies me when I do a search for "75%" and see that the ratio of people asking for help building a 75% to people implying 75% is "doing it wrong" is roughly 5:1. I try to chime in on the threads where people ask for help. I don't want to be an authoritarian on the subject. Luckily, people responding to my feedback frequently aren't even aware I'm the person who writes this column (despite using the name JasonEAltMTG with a flair that says, "75% project"), so my comments are judged on their actual merits, which I appreciate. Occasionally, someone will ask a question that I think merits an entire article in and of itself. The discussion there continues to inspire me, and this week, I found a good one.

/u/SleepingSheeperson posted a query about wanting advice for a 75% Esper control deck. /u/buttcutt suggested running one of Abe Sargent's budget decks, which is a great budget deck. There's no black, and 75% isn't necessarily a budget format, but it may or may not be a good starting point. I think that if you're going to run Esper control, the commander doesn't matter a ton. Merieke Ri Berit is as good a commander as any if you're not trying to do anything super-specific. It's a popular choice, and I think swiping creatures is a great way to get going with that whole scaling-with-the-power-level-of-their-decks thing that I love so much. The cards in the deck matter more than the commander if you're trying to replicate a way to play Magic that you like to play in sixty-card formats.

While there wasn't a ton of great advice in the thread (I'm not going to imply I contributed anything better than anyone else, as I didn't) and the discussion fizzled slightly, a good train of thought was started by /u/Vergil25 regarding permission and its role in a 75% control deck. You know, it's occurring to me that I'm giving you the play-by-play of something that is published on the Internet for posterity. If you want to read the full thread, it's here. I liked Vergil's perspective—use Counterspells sparingly, and counter game-breaking spells. I think a 75% Esper control deck can load up on board wipes (I really like bulk-rare board wipe spells a lot in Commander; I will play a $1 Phyrexian Rebirth or Life's Finale over a $50 Damnation), and since Wrath of God and Day of Judgment have been printed to death, you can load up for cheap. Thanks, From the Vault: Annihilation! Draw some cards and destroy some creatures, artifacts, and enchantments—maybe stick a win condition or two. Steal opponents’ dudes to get the job done because that's what we like to see in a 75% deck. But countermagic is tricky. I have some opinions on the matter, so let's look at what kinds of counterspells I like in a 75% control deck and which kinds I don't.

Do Include These

Desertion
Desertion Desertion reminds me a lot of Bribery, which is a card I really like for 75% decks. Mind Control is cool, but I feel that seeing what an opponent’s deck entails can inform how you play yours. That's important for a 75% deck specifically. Desertion doesn't let you see someone’s whole deck, but it does help scale and give you a nice big or useful creature to try to win the game with. The best part of Desertion is that it can counter noncreature spells. I love to hang onto a Desertion to make sure there is nothing I need to disrupt before I snag a creature. If we're waiting for must-counter spells, this is A number one in that category. Don't leave home without it.

CounterlashThis is a cool card no one cared about when Dark Ascension was in vogue. It’s a cool effect, but 6 mana was a bit steep for Standard. Paying 6 mana in Commander, conversely, is not as much of an impediment to the card seeing play. Is it tough to keep 6 open? It is sometimes, but if you want to play your spells on the turn right before yours, you could keep up 15 mana in a Commander game until people force your hand. Counterlash is a great way to reward you for not playing stuff in your main phase by letting you cheat something into play, which then lets you cast a win con without tapping out in a way that leaves you vulnerable. Remember that we're not trying to erect a wall of countermagic, but keeping a Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger off the board, and being able to windmill an Ashen Rider for free feels pretty good.

Draining Whelk
Draining WhelkThis big-mana monstrosity was playable in Standard. I loved having a miser's Whelk in Sonic Boom (so called because it featured Guile), and you could afford to keep 6 up during Lorwyn's slow, meandering format, in which a five-colored deck was Tier 1 and Goblins played 6-drop creatures. Draining Whelk can end games depending on the spell you counter, it's expensive, so you're not countering something early, and if you're going to hold countermagic for a spell that really deserves it, you should have high upside. I'd say a 9/9 flyer is good upside.

Kheru SpellsnatcherThis is a great, great card. It's new, so it isn't slotted into many decks yet, but this is a great political card. People aren't going to be thrilled that you're running countermagic, even if you're countering only game-breaking spells the likes of Living Death or Tooth and Nail. You could counter a Living Death with Spellsnatcher and exile it and generate basically no value because you were trying to stop the spell from being cast, not be the one to cast it. People will see you invested a lot of mana and got no value beyond being the guy who saves the day. They may or may not warm up to you—until you cast Life's Finale next turn, that is.

SpelljackThis is in a similar vein to Spellsnatcher. You can use this to steer a big spell in your favor, as you do with Desertion, or you can just remove a troublesome spell from existence and be the hero the group needs but not the one it deserves. (Am I saying that right? That whole speech was terrible. Why not blame everything on the dead Joker?) Get some value or stop someone with a Tooth and Nail from ending things early—it's your choice.

Hindering Light
Hindering LightWhile not great in control decks, narrow counterspells like this are good in Voltron decks. You're countering a spell that was going to stop you from doing your thing. Casting Forbid on every spell a mana-screwed opponent attempts to cast is miserable. Stopping someone from stopping you is fair game, and generating value to compensate you for playing a narrow card makes this warrant a spot. I like this in a deck such as one featuring Rafiq of the Many or Bruna, Light of Alabaster.

Arcane DenialYeah, you stopped someone from casting Armageddon, but he or she might not even be made with all the cards he or she is about to draw. I think the card-draw being loaded in the opponent’s favor should make experienced Commander players think twice about being too cavalier with Arcane Denial. You could counter someone’s turn-two Thran Dynamo, but should you? Remember that counterspells are meant to be reserved for dire scenarios.

Don't Include These

Force of Will
Force of WillI see this as a card that gets tossed into blue Commander decks just on principle. Irrespective of its power level, it costs as much as an entire budget deck, it's card disadvantage, and it's really annoying to people when they thought they had you tapped out. I don't really object to Force of Will for any major philosophical reason. Rather, I'm implying that it seems to be an okay card, and I don't really want you to think I am advocating running a card that peaked historically at $100 because it meets our criteria. I don't think the reason, "I can tap out with abandon," is enough upside to giving it a spot when it has to compete with the justification, "I get a free spell or creature of my own," for slots. Force of Will is a fine 75% card that I don't think is ever necessary in a 75% deck. This has nothing to do with how I feel about the card—I play Sam Black's Stoneforge Bant list in Legacy after all.

ForbidRemember my Talrand article? Remember how /u/Revoltofthebeavers made his wife cry by countering all of her spells? I play Commander with my wife, and if I made my wife cry with my Commander deck, I would make a new deck. You're doing it wrong if that happens. /u/Revoltofthebeavers recognized that and asked for help. I can't solve all of the problems in the world or tell anyone how to make the perfect marriage. What I can say is that if you have a counterspell that you can play over and over and all you have to do is discard some Islands, you're not likely to sit on it the whole game and use it to stop a big, game-breaking spell. You're probably going to start countering spells because, "He attacked me last turn," or because, "He hit “next track” when Van Halen came up on the iPod," or whatever excuse you will make for ruining someone's night. Forbid is a very potent counterspell, and with commanders like Azami, Lady of Scrolls and Prime Speaker Zegana running around, it's easy to find cards to pitch. That's kind of the problem in a 75% deck.

Counterspell
CounterspellIt seems that this is inoffensive enough that it should be fine in a 75% deck, right? The problem is that its low cost means you're more inclined to throw it away early in the game, its lack of upside sort of reduces the need to make a big play with it, and its universality may make it seem that you have more countermagic in your deck than you do, which is going to make people inclined to interfere with you in a manner which you may find unpleasant. I say go for counterspells that are harder to cast and have more upside. It will help you in the deck-building process when you have to make cuts.

Remand, Delay, and Ertai's MeddlingI don't think tempo counters belong in a 75% deck. While their power levels are limited by their inherent drawbacks (they are temporary solutions to significant problems), I don't think you want to devote slots to these shenanigans. Ertai's Meddling is a cool card, but I don't think it warrants inclusion. We're trying to limit ourselves to counters that are either kind of tough to cast and to counters that really take care of significant problems and reward our patience. If you play Remand, you're just going to boomerang someone's commander so you can cantrip, and that's not the kind of Magic we want to be playing.




Did I miss a few? Yes, probably I did. That's okay, though—we can get a discussion started below in the comments section and on reddit. Did one of your favorite counters get the axe and you want to make a case for it in a 75% deck? Did I forget a cool, techy counter you like to play that people often overlook? Do you think we could stand to run a few more in a 75% control deck? Do you think one is too many? I want to hear it all! Leave it below or on reddit, and keep on building new decks. Who says I don't call them "75%" because I don't want you to think you're ever done? Until next week!


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