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The Tergrid Problem & What it Means for EDH


Sea at Night by Alton Melbye (1865). Fell Flagship by Titus Lunter.

For this week's column I'm going to explore one of the more problematic commanders to be printed in a while. Before I go any further, I should emphasize that I absolutely do not think that Tergrid, God of Fright should be banned. Leovold, Emissary of Trest was banned for making it way, way too easy to lock your opponents out of the game. Tergrid, like Leovold, demands interaction, but doesn't present quite the same easy win that Leovold does.

My major concern is that if you let a player keep Tergrid out for very long and they are playing even a casual build of the deck, the game won't be much fun for anyone but the Tergrid player.

Tergrid, God of Fright

Tergrid requires that you do something other than just play her to get any real value. That means she's unlikely to see play in true cEDH games. The top end of our format now runs so fast, sixmana commanders are almost unplayable, and five-mana commanders are pushing it. She'll be hit with a counterspell or a Chain of Vapor if she actually hits the table. They run answers, and for good reason. You can't compete in cEDH if you're light on interaction.

Tergrid does win the game if you can cast Tergrid's flip side, Tergrid's Lantern, and you have infinite Black mana. An infinite mana outlet in the command zone is very powerful, but you're stuck in one color if you want it in the command zone. You can run filters to turn colorless mana into Black, but that does add a piece to the puzzle you're trying to solve. Building mono-Black combo Tergrid might be fringe cEDH but I don't think it's the next Kess, Dissident Mage, Najeela, the Blade-Blossom or "TNT" deck.

There is still a lot of interaction in high-powered EDH and decks with challenging and powerful leaders don't always have an easy time winning. You can't just build around a strong commander and run away with games because people know that they have to respond. Removal and interaction is expected. While Tergrid will see play, I don't think it will be a problem for strong metas.

I do think Tergrid will be a problem in lower-powered metas. When you build Tergrid, you run a basic suite of force-sacrifice effects and spells that force your opponents to discard cards. Neither are fun to play against, but they look to be very, very effective in a Tergrid deck if Tergrid is on the field. Nobody likes losing their creatures or discarding cards and they like it less when they are forced to watch an opponent then put those cards onto the battlefield. Looking across a table at your own cards under the control of an opponent can be really frustrating, so I imagine when Tergrid runs away with a game it will be very salt-inducing at tables where they are not used to such cutthroat tactics.

Leovold was banned not because it made for a miserable play experience, as much as for the easy game lock you could get with something like Teferi's Puzzle Box. There will be a call for people to ban Tergrid, but Tergrid's "lock" isn't nearly as extreme. Let's say you manage to get Tergrid, God of Fright and Sheoldred, Whispering One out at the same time.

Sheoldred, Whispering One

If you force your opponents to sacrifice a creature at the start of every turn, and Tergrid winds up giving you control of that creature, it's going to be hard to lose the game. Your opponents have to play more than one creature per turn to keep ahead, and you'll be gaining creatures and getting one back out of your graveyard on your own upkeep.

That's not a lock.

That's really good synergy and the table might just scoop rather than play it out, but it isn't even a combo. It's oppressive. It's frustrating. It's also highly reliant on keeping these key pieces on the field and not running into too much interaction or removal.

I was lucky enough to open a Tergrid out of a prerelease pack, so this will be an attempt at a mid-powered build. If I were running Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, Jeweled Lotus, Nyx Lotus, Cabal Coffers, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and cards like that, I'd call it high-powered. A high-powered deck would also be running infinite mana combos so I could win with Tergrid's Lantern, though that might push it more up into fringe cEDH territory.

Tergrid Commander Essentials

Before we get to the part where we abuse Tergrid's abilities, we need to make sure we're covering our bases. That means we make sure there are ways to increase our mana output, protect our commander, and deal with problems outside of our main gameplan.

Bubbling Muck
Swiftfoot Boots
Massacre Wurm

We don't have the ramp package a deck in Green would have, but running cards like Bubbling Muck, Dark Ritual, Cabal Ritual, Crypt Ghast, Jet Medallion and Extraplanar Lens will go a long way towards letting us cast and maybe even re-cast Tergrid. Swiftfoot Boots, Lightning Greaves and Mask of Avacyn should keep our opponents from targeting Tergrid with removal spells. That should help our general stick around.

Massacre Wurm will clear out any opponents' weenies and might even kill them if they've got enough small creatures. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is also in the mix and will help me gain a little life. It might even do enough damage to really hurt my opponents, but the deck isn't built around "Gary." Thief of Blood is in there to clear out any opponents' planeswalkers and it should inconvenience any opponent who is really building up +1/+1 counters. Having ways to deal with problems is important, even if you can't guarantee you'll always have the right answer at the right time.

While those cards are important, they might be better described as mono-Black essentials rather than Tergrid essentials. When I'm looking at what Tergrid brings to the party, I'm thinking about running cards that force my opponents to discard or sacrifice creatures.

Fleshbag Marauder
Archfiend of Depravity
Soul Shatter

I'm running every creature I could get my hands on that forces my opponents to sacrifice a creature. Fleshbag Marauder, Plaguecrafter, Slum Reaper and Merciless Executioner are all auto-includes. Archfiend of Depravity is the gift that keeps on giving, forcing each opponent to sacrifice all the way down to two creatures on their end step. The spell Soul Shatter will not only force my opponents to sacrifice a creature, it will force them to sacrifice their highest CMC creature or planeswalker, hopefully guaranteeing I'll get something nice. This instant could be backbreaking in the right situation.

If an opponent sacrifices a commander, they'll be able to just put it in the command zone when it hits the graveyard and deny me the ability to steal it with Tergrid.

Burglar Rat
Dark Deal

Creatures that force my opponents to discard cards will work well with Tergrid. I might not be able to control what they pitch but forcing them to bin cards they'd rather keep is always effective. Spells like Thoughtseize will be fantastic with Tergrid because I'll be able to pick which card my opponent discards. Whatever they have in their hand, I'll be able to grab the one I want the most. Dark Deal is a black wheel spell that will leave everyone with one less card in my hand but may well give me a nice pile of new creatures.

Rankle, Master of Pranks
Fraying Omnipotence
Morbid Curiosity

Some of the most interesting cards in this deck are going to be ones that give me some flexibility. Rankle, Master of Pranks will probably see me forcing my opponents to sacrifice creatures more often than not, but having other options is nice. Fraying Omnipotence will hit every player, but an opponent having to sacrifice half of their creatures and discard half of the cards in their hand could be huge for me.

The question is what to do with all these creatures. I think running spells that let me draw cards at the cost of sacrificing a creature (or losing life) makes sense, and Morbid Curiosity might be the best of the lot. I could easily see myself drawing 6-8 cards and not even having to sacrifice one of my own creatures.

The Decklist

All things considered, this is a relatively budget deck. I might be running Sheoldred, Extraplanar Lens and Jet Medallion, but this list is largely made up of relatively cheap magic cards. Tuning this up to the point where you'd be chasing infinite mana combos, playing mana-positive rocks like Mana Crypt and Chrome Mox and occasionally trying to Peer into the Abyss would shoot the budget up by a lot. That would be a fringe cEDH deck and would not be focused on the discard / force sac side of Tergrid nearly as much.

I think the core problem of Tergrid is that a casual build might cost under $100, but it would still have the capacity to make life miserable for truly casual tables. I don't mean miserable in that way where you just don't come close to winning. I mean miserable as in you spend two hours unable to maintain a boardstate and anything good you draw into or play gets stolen and used against you. It's a special kind of misery that is incredibly salt inducing.

Early Results

I'm very happy to be able to say that I was able to build this deck in paper and play it last weekend. I played it in the first game at the LGS at a relatively casual table and the results were interesting. The other players didn't choose to just gang up on me, and with a five-CMC commander they had early turns where they could have just piled the damage up if they had wanted to. I accurately represented the deck as being a Tergrid list but without the Mana Crypt level of high-powered cards that would push it up into a high powered or fringe cEDH power level.

I was able to play some early force-sac creatures and do some board control even without Tergrid on the field. When Tergrid came out, it actually stuck around for a while. I was able to slowly accrue extra creatures and value, but the turning point of my game was when I forced an Edgar Markov player to discard Whip of Erebos, setting me up to be able to crawl up out of a relatively low life total.

The game wasn't a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, but I was able to navigate the politics of the table and both play and steal enough creatures to win. It helped a lot that folks were interested in seeing what my deck would do, rather than just being interested in murdering me as fast as possible.

Before that game even started, two players switched decks because they felt that the deck they were going to be playing would basically play right into Tergrid's strategy. I don't think either opponent swapped over to a deck meant to be a good matchup for mine, but I was a little sad to see them switch. I hadn't chosen Tergrid because of their deck choices and it worked out OK in the end.

I asked what they thought of the deck, and they all thought it was fine. Later in the afternoon, when we had lost one player and gained another, I asked about playing it again and one of the newer guys basically said the last thing they wanted to deal with was playing against a Tergrid deck. I couldn't blame him, it's pretty obnoxious to be constantly sacrificing and discarding.

All in all, it wasn't as oppressive as I thought it would be. That doesn't mean it's the kind of deck most players will enjoy playing against.

Final Thoughts

I don't often build Black decks. I just don't enjoy playing decks that want to do the sorts of things most Black decks like to do. I'm more of a Green player if anything, but I like to occasionally stretch myself and explore other playstyles.

My suspicion is that Tergrid doesn't belong anywhere near casual tables. One game is one thing, but playing against a constant drumbeat of the stuff Tergrid wants to do to a table would probably get a bit tiresome.

The problem with Tergrid is that lots of players, myself included, will build Tergrid decks and play them just to see how powerful this God of Fright really is. We'll try to play her at the right tables, but with a commander like this, it's almost a guarantee that there are going to be lots of miserable games over the coming year as a result of the way Tergrid begs to be built. Some people like a challenge, but most players just like to be able to play their cards and not be constantly messed with.

Even if you built a deck with no intention of ever forcing opponents to sacrifice permanents, there are just too many cards that show up at all levels of play for you to not get a huge benefit. Every Evolving Wilds or Terramorphic Expanse or fetchland will show up on your side of the battlefield once it's sacrificed, along with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Burnished Hart, Caustic Caterpillar and many more cards that see play in our format. I don't think it's reasonable to expect Tergrid players to not build with synergy and I expect that synergy will be hard to deal with for less competitive players.

I do not think Tergrid should be banned, but I also don't think Tergrid is particularly good for the health of the more casual side of our format. We'll get through it, but the casual players who find themselves stuck playing against an even slightly tuned Tergrid deck won't enjoy it. Of course, those casual players could just run more removal. We should all run more removal. It's a lesson for all of us, and Tergrid might just be the commander to finally drive that lesson home.

That's all I've got for today. If you think I've got it wrong about Tergrid, about power levels, or if there are just cards I've missed and should be running please leave a comment!

Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week.

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