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The Jedi Mind Trick in Commander

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The Crescent Moon by Montague Dawson (1895-1973).

Scourge of Fleets by Steven Belledin

Faced with a week where I had no clear direction on what to write about, no recent legendary creatures that were lined up waiting to be written about, and no single deck in my collection begging to have a spotlight shone upon it, I did what many of you would have done.

I procrastinated.

In my defense, I've churned out a lot of decklists over the past 12 months and while they weren't all exciting and novel, with clever tactics and unexpected angles of play, they also weren't all Ebondeath, Dracolich. I'm not burned out on writing, but this past week I spent a little too much time playing Minecraft and forgetting that a long weekend was barreling down upon me. Long weekends can mean a few things, but with my schedule they usually mean my editor would really like my Monday column submitted a day or two early.

Fortunately for me, for them, and most of all, for you - I was able to think of a pretty fun topic to cover today. It's one that I've never gone into in any real detail so today I'm going to talk about the "Jedi Mind Trick" in Commander.

What am I Talking About?

If you haven't been living under a rock over the past half century, you are familiar with the Star Wars franchise. In the first Star Wars movie there was a scene in which Obi-Wan Kenobi uses the power of The Force to get some stormtroopers to let him, Luke Skywalker and their two droids past a checkpoint. The stormtroopers were looking for two droids, but Obi-Wan is able to convince him that "these aren't the robots they're looking for".

The "Jedi Mind Trick" isn't a Magic card (yet). In EDH I see it as the ability to convince a tablemate to do something solely by using the power of persuasion. I'm not talking about coming across in an intimidating, bullying manner, nor am I talking about gently grazing their inner leg with your foot, giving them a wink and telling them you'll make it up to them if they do what you want them to do. At most tables either of those approaches would end up being wildly inappropriate and definitely a little weird.

I'm just talking about cashing in all the trust you have hopefully earned over months or even years of straight shooting and honest dealing with someone for a brief, delightful moment of tricking them into doing exactly the wrong thing.

As I see it, you can't and shouldn't lie about the game state or about permanents on the board. You can, however, spin all kinds of stories about all kinds of things in an effort to trick someone. You just can't do this very often or you'll very quickly become that guy that nobody can trust.

You have to be very, very judicious about when you try to pull off this tactic, and you also have to accept that it won't always work. It helps if you are trusted by the person you're dealing with, but that can be hard to know going into the situation. You might think a tablemate generally trusts you, but you might be wrong.

When to Deploy the Jedi Mind Trick

Everyone plays differently, but for my money, there are two times when you should try to pull this off.

The first is when you are in a position to win, but your opponents might not know it and your little attempt at subterfuge could result in a tablemate making a wrong decision that could hand you the game. I mean - the game is in the balance, you're not cheating, you're not lying about the game state or permanents on the board - you're just bluffing in a way that you're hoping will get someone to make the wrong decision about something. If it goes your way, you'll have a good shot at nailing down the win.

The second is when someone else has gotten to a dominant position and a third player has a shot at winning. If you want the player who looks most likely to win to emerge victorious, then keep your trap shut. If, however, they have been doing stuff you didn't appreciate for some reason, you can always try to trick your opponent in a way that might open up the other player to be able to push to win the game. The best example of this might be when a game has devolved into "archenemy" and everyone is struggling to keep up with the player who has the best deck and has been dominating the game.

Regardless of whether you're trying to open up a window for you to try to win the game or for someone else to win - the other key part of this is to have trust and good timing. The player you're about to mess with needs to have every reason in the world to trust you. That means you've been a good, honest and forthright tablemate in their recent memory. You also need to understand the context of the game and be able to pick a situation where your "Jedi Mind Trick" will actually make a difference and could actually impact the power balance of the game.

The Goldspan Dragon Combo

This column sprang out of a game I played just last Tuesday night. It was a night of casual EDH at NexGen Comics in Pelham, New Hampshire. I had lost two games in fairly convincing fashion, playing my shiny new Inferno of the Star Mounts deck and then my Sliver Overlord deck - which is just my The First Sliver deck with the commander switched to Sliver Overlord. I then won a game with my Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord deck and had decided to play Wulfgar of Icewind Dale for the last game.

In that game it was me on Wulfgar and another player on a casual Codie, Vociferous Codex build. I think the third player was on Sisay, Weatherlight Captain and I forget what the fourth player was playing.

The mood was pretty good at the table, but my deck didn't end up drawing into much of anything to help me make a push at winning the game. I had a couple of creatures out that could give +X/+0 with an attack trigger, but they didn't have trample and I didn't want to swing out and lose creatures for nothing, so I had been holding back.

Somewhere in the mid-game, a thing happened that definitely caught my attention. It was going to be a casual game as far as I was aware, but in casual games at this particular LGS it's not uncommon for players to go infinite, play stax, play Praetors, play infect, and all manner of other nastiness. In this meta, it's basically "casual" if it isn't turn 3-4 cEDH. You can always have your pre-game discussion, but we often just shuffle up and see how it goes.

The play that made me realize I might have been playing patty-cakes in the middle of a knife fight was when the kid to my left played Scheming Symmetry and then held priority and played Opposition Agent. To this day I find it puzzling that Hullbreacher was banned and Opposition Agent is still legal, but my point is that it's not the kind of play I enjoy seeing in a casual game.

Scheming Symmetry
Opposition Agent

Really, it was fine. I wasn't about to win the game given how my deck was performing and it was the Codie player who got hit with the Scheming Symmetry. Still, I knew at that point I would do whatever I could to try to keep the Sisay player from winning. That wasn't much, but there are plays and cards I just don't appreciate and if I can make it harder on a player who is playing them, I'll gladly do so.

The poor Codie player had been struggling to get much of a boardstate, and the Sisay player didn't just nail down a win right then and there. After a few turns, the Codie players was able to draw and cast Approach of the Second Sun.

Approach of the Second Sun

I had no reason to either want or not want him to draw back into Approach, cast it again and win the game. I mean - I wanted to see my deck get rolling and do something but that didn't feel like it was going to happen and I'm often inclined to root for tablemates with weird wincons that aren't seen very often. This Codie deck fell into that category, so I certainly wasn't rooting against him.

Several more turns went by and the Sisay player was blowing up. They had managed to play The Prismatic Bridge, which I was able to remove with a Return to Nature. Then they were able to get out Sanctum of All and start playing out Shrines at an alarming rate. If I had known what they were up to, I might have saved my removal for Sanctum of All, but there's a good chance it wouldn't have made a difference. They were proving to be a very capable player with a good deck that just happened to be blowing up.

The value the Sisay player was getting out of their Shrine game plan was fantastic and it was very clear that we were going to all die pretty soon if nobody was able to do anything. I knew I didn't have much in the way of answers, and it seemed like the only shot at stopping the Sisay player from winning was to get the Codie player to draw into and cast Approach of the Second Sun a second time.

Goldspan Dragon

The Sisay player had somehow managed to get some creatures out of his opponent's decks. I don't even remember how he did it. I don't think it was from an Etali, Primal Storm trigger, but somehow he had my Goldspan Dragon on the field. My Wulfgar deck has a healthy number of Dragons in it, including a few that combo with doubled attack triggers to go into infinite combat steps.

I wasn't inclined to worry too much about what the Sisay player was doing. I figured they'd win soon enough.

When they used some recursion to get Scheming Symmetry back and proceeded to cast it again - with that pesky Opposition Agent still on the field, I had had enough. I was going to do everything in my power to keep them from picking the Codie player and having that Approach of the Second Sun get shuffled away or just searched out of their deck with the tutor.

My problem was simple. I had no open mana, no relevant cards in hand and no real way to stop that from happening. That, my friends, is when you have to get creative. The ensuing conversation went something like this...

Me: "So you're going to pick me and combo off with Goldspan Dragon, right?"

Sisay Player: "Huh?"

Me: "You can pick me for that Scheming Symmetry, grab the card that combos with Goldspan Dragon, play it and win the game. I mean, it's not how your deck is meant to win, but you can do it and just win right now."

Sisay Player: "Really? Oh. OK, I guess I'll pick you..."

The Sisay player then takes my deck and starts going through it looking for the elusive Goldspan Dragon combo. He's got my Goldspan Dragon. He's a smart guy. He figures he'll find it and I'll help him if he has trouble figuring it out.

Me: "Oh wait... The combo is Aggravated Assault and Savage Ventmaw, NOT Goldspan Dragon! Oh no. I'm so sorry. Well, you should be able to find something good in there."

I promise - my voice was not dripping with sarcasm... but it was relatively clear to everyone involved that I had tricked him good. I had also convinced a few other people watching the game, though the Codie player saw through it and knew I was making up a story. It was also relatively clear to everyone that on some level he had both deserved it AND that would probably win the game anyways.

To his credit, he was well positioned to win the game, and he tutored out my Dockside Extortionist, which helped him make a little extra mana. Between his crazy boardstate and my "Goldspan Dragon Combo" diversion, he completely forgot that what he really needed to do was get the Codie player's Approach of the Second Sun shuffled away so that threat to his own eventual win was gone.

So why did my "Jedi Mind Trick" work?

The player trusted me, they were a little overwhelmed with their own boardstate, and I told them what they needed to do in as calm, confident, friendly and self-assured manner as possible. I told them to tutor my library for the second half to the (fictitious) Goldspan Dragon combo as if it was the easiest and most obvious decision they could ever make. I might have even handed them the deck.

There was no reason for them to doubt me, unless they took a good long look at Goldspan Dragon and realized that isn't the kind of card that will combo with much of anything.

Yes, it's quite fair to say that was a dirtbag move on my part.

I'd counter that it was no more of a dirtbag move than springing Scheming Symmetry and Opposition Agent on a relatively casual table TWICE in a single game.

I wasn't mad, but I was going to do everything I could to keep him from winning. To his credit, he wasn't mad either - probably because he clearly had the game in hand and was inches from the finish line.

The story has a pretty good ending. The Codie player did have their chance to draw into something that might get Approach into their hand. That's all I really wanted - for them to have that moment where they might still have a shot at stealing the win.

As it turned out, they didn't draw into anything helpful. Approach was left a card or two down from the top of their library. The other player and myself never pulled into anything that could stop the Shrine deck and we lost to loads and loads of Shrine triggers.

The Sisay player had never had his deck explode quite as spectacularly as it did in that game, so in retrospect I'm actually glad he got his win. It might have been more than a little frustrating for him if his victory had been snatched away through my persuasion and the Codie player's Approach of the Second Sun.

The Codie player wasn't upset about how things went and the Jedi Mind trick didn't amount to much of anything. If this was a made-up story, it probably would have ended differently, but sometimes the "good guys" lose.

I really enjoyed getting the chance to have a little fun with one of my tablemates - tricking them into making the wrong choice and leaving a window open for another player to try to draw into their wincon.

I might not like plays like Scheming Symmetry into Opposition Agent in casual games, but it's really OK. I gripe about the Praetors or if I'm staring down the barrel of a bunch of Annihilator triggers too, but I would never suggest banning them from the game. I don't have to like them and I don't have to play them, and to be honest I probably play other cards and combos that tablemates find frustrating or rude sometimes. Commander is a big tent, and there's room under it for all of us, whether we play jank, turn 3-4 cEDH or something in between.

Final Thoughts

This wasn't the first time I've used the "Jedi Mind Trick" on someone, but it always feels incredibly fun to pull one over on somebody. You have to be able to very seriously and persuasively tell someone to do something they really shouldn't be doing, and you have to do it in a way that makes it feel like your suggestion is the most obvious thing in the world and they'd be an idiot not to do it. You can't over-act, but you can't under-do it either. It's a weird sweet spot that involves being able to read a person, have some level of trust built up, and a plausible enough suggestion that they end up going with what you want them to do.

It can be as simple as convincing someone to attack another player because you're sitting on a Borrowing 100,000 Arrows and want to draw more cards because their creatures will be tapped, or it can be as subtle as convincing a control player to counter something so that on your turn you'll be able to push for the win. For me, it doesn't really matter what the "Jedi Mind Trick" is used for. I just love that moment where you decide you see if they'll let you convince them of something. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. The only caveat is that you really can't do it very often or you'll end up being that guy nobody will trust when you're playing Commander.

As I close out this column, I fully realize some of the guys at NexGen probably read some of my work here. I don't seriously think I'm about to embark on a new phase of playing EDH where every move I make and every word I utter will be second-guessed because I shared this story with you. It would be hilarious if that were the case, but the vast, vast majority of the time I'm going to be honest, forthright and supremely trustable. I have to be, not only because it's good and right to be honest and true, but also because that one time out of a thousand where I REALLY need to convince you to do the wrong thing, I'll have a slightly better chance at succeeding.

I hope you enjoyed today's column. It was something a little different, and whether you think a little less or maybe a little more of me for sharing it - I hope you found it entertaining.

I've you've ever had the fun of using the power of persuasion to convince someone in a game of EDH to do something with no open mana, no bartering, no threatening, and just the willingness to tell an incredibly convincing little lie, you're not alone. In fact, I'd love to hear about it in the comments if you remember the details!

That's all I've got for today. See you next week!

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