Assembling The Dragon Engine: Building an EDH Deck – Part VII

Imagine yourself driving. It’s down a typical road on a typical day under typical conditions. As you approach an intersection, the light changes red. You seek to continue on your merry way ahead. Meanwhile, the blinker of the car in the opposite lane indicates it seeks to turn left. Presumably, one of two things should occur once the light turns green: either you’ll allow that person to turn left before you drive forward, or you’re going to go forward while they wait for an opening after you. Pretty straightforward from your vantage point. In this case, you decide to go first.

Except, that’s not the way it plays out.

Perhaps ballooning isn't so crazy of an idea after all...

Perhaps ballooning isn’t so crazy of an idea after all…

Instead, the light changes and you both make a move through the intersection at the same time. Realizing this of course – the last thing you want is an accident – you pause to give the other driver the window to carry on…just as they also hold up to let you pass. Momentarily, neither one of you are moving.

Fine, you say, recognizing they thought twice about trying to cut across your right of way, and gas it forward. Simultaneously, the other person believes the opposite and moves forward as well, causing both of you to hit the brake again.

This continues as many times as necessary until one of you makes the conscious decision to be decisive and just go.

This sounds like a convoluted hypothetical situation, and yet I suspect almost every driver at some point has been in a similar situation. It’s the opposite of road rage: it’s road skittishness. Hesitation. Second guessing. Indecisiveness. In situations such as driving a car, not only can hesitating be frustrating to other drivers, it can actually be dangerous.

In situations like building a deck, indecisiveness leads to inaction altogether. Last time I warned about interest in the deck making process waning because of taking too long, and while it’s a very real concern for most, it’s not the only gremlin to be concerned about. Hesitation is in many ways the opposite side of the coin here, causing plans to stall not due to interest but due to not moving forward in a timely manner.

That’s where I generally find myself at this stage of the deck construction process.

It’s always a concern when you take the long approach to building, and it’s doubly so for me given my natural inclination for analysis paralysis. Being able to parse and process large amounts of variable information is great for analytical and development-based thinking but terrible if you’re unable to actually act on that information in a timely manner. It’s why most Chess games are timed, for instance.

Alesha has little patience for excuses

Alesha has little patience for excuses

Because of these factors, this is always, always the part of the process where I personally hit the wall and get stuck, as is evidenced by the slow progress of the deck build. While there have been other factors at work, such as a lack of adequate time needed to actually go through the deck of late – a common issue in the latter months of the year – it has admittedly taken longer to get to the final stages of my Alesha deck than I had planned.

Luckily, I’m nothing if not persistent; you need to be if you choose to go down this deck building style. And, just like drivers at an intersection, momentary hesitation towards making decisions over an EDH deck can be overcome by hitting the gas once again. Use whatever process you need to make that happen. For example, sometimes stepping away briefly can be worthwhile. Other times it’s a death knell. It’s different for each person. Only you know what will be a good motivating force to continue on. Figure that out and capitalize on it.

 

Part Seven: The Long Cull

It's best not to ask

It’s best not to ask

To force my own hand, it involved chastising myself for falling into my typical late-stage rut. Much disappointment was felt due to not fulfilling my initial eight week goal. We’re still moving along much faster than my average pace, but as I was committed to being much quicker about it this time around, I saw any delay as failing my own conditions. Alas. Still, doing it in 10(ish) weeks is still far better than 18. Or 26 Or…let’s not go into how long Ramses Overdark took. Inevitably, you have to approach this like you would running a mile: you may have run in 10 minutes instead of 8, and while you may not have reached your projection, you still finished. That is something to be proud of. The same is true here.

Having forced myself to sit down and start making the hard choices that needed to be made, then, we arrive at where we are today. It certainly isn’t finished as there is still some more tweaking to do, but heavy, even painful progress has been made.

When we last saw the list, we were staring down the barrel of 166 cards – almost three times as many cards as we can legally squeeze into a Commander deck.

It's all about looking at the right pieces in the right way

It’s all about looking at the right pieces in the right way

In the last segment, I expanded on the concept of using categorization to compartmentalize cutting cards, much in the same way I compartmentalized adding card types into the deck list to begin with. Unlike some EDH players, I don’t have specific categories to fill when making my deck. I don’t like the idea that any Commander deck is too formulaic. Instead, I found overarching card patterns and organized them accordingly. Doing this helps you do two things. First, it lets you focus on a much smaller portion of the deck at any given time so as to not make it feel unwieldy to handle. Second, it allows you see where all of your potential overlaps are.

Both of these are essential to how I whittle a deck down, particularly in the latter case. It turns out I had a lot of overlap when building Alesha, alluding to the fact that I clearly had certain archetype ideas in mind when looking at cards to add. On the plus side it means that there were clear duplicate effects that I could strip out of the deck without affecting it. On the negative, that means that while I’ll still likely have redundancy of effect on multiple fronts, some really fun cards had to go.

To expedite the matter, I’ll just breeze through a handful of these categories as examples of what was cut and why.

 

Unable to Be Alesha-fied
Forgive me!

Forgive me!

It was clear early on that I likely will only have 30-something creatures in the deck, and I intend to utilize Alesha’s power as much as possible. Thus, the fewer that are immune to her, the better. We currently had 12 on the docket, and some of them clearly had to go. We lost

-1 Boros Battleshaper. Love the combat manipulation angle, but too costly and bulky compared to other options.
-1 Deathbringer Thoctar. A hard decision, but basically cut because it didn’t fit the deck as much as I wanted it to.
-1 Ogre Slumlord. Another sad loss. Would have been useful on defense, but it’s more situational than it looks and the deck is packing a fair amount of board wipes as it is.
-1 Sun Titan. Lots of recursion already in the deck, and the CMC3 limitation doesn’t gel with Alesha across the board. There’s a lot of expensive but small powered creatures in the deck that Sun Titan can’t touch.

 

Equipment

I knew equipment wasn’t going to have a big presence in the end, even though we started with 10. I wanted to find space for many of them, but it hasn’t been panning out heavily to that end. I’d rather have more board-wide buffs on my creatures than individually, especially since many will be coming out mid-combat. It also meant that of my “Special 71s” – the few cards I had waiting in the wings like Stoneforge Mystic – weren’t going to be needed after all. We say goodbye to:

Auras took a heavy hit for the same reason

Auras took a heavy hit for the same reason

-1 Basilisk Collar. Amazingly useful, but…equipment. Plus, there’s a fair amount of lifegain and possible deathtouch already possible in the deck.
-1 Champion’s Helm. Useful for Alesha, but mildly worth it otherwise.
-1 Kusari-Gama. A sad loss because it fits the Block / Don’t Block paradigm I wanted. But it’s costly to use and unless it’s on a heavy hitter, people are more likely to not block it in the end.
-1 Scythe of the Wretched. See Kusari-Gama.
-1 Sword of the Animist. Mainly in the deck for land fetch, and I believe there are better options for the deck. This is a hole that may need to be addressed by the time the deck is complete, though.
-1 Sword of Vengeance. Of all the useful buffs this card provides, trample is the one I actually held on to it longest for. There’s a notable lack of trample in the deck (unsurprisingly), but in the end I couldn’t justify keeping it around strictly for that alone.

 

Reanimation

If there’s one thing this deck wants to do in spades right now, it’s kill creatures and bring them back. It has a perverted circle of life thing going on. Which I suppose is rather fitting in a macabre sort of way. As such, several cards in addition to those above were cut strictly because we could afford to lose them without damaging the potency of getting creatures back. These include:

Recap surprisingly also didn't make the list

Recap surprisingly also didn’t make the list

-1 Cauldron of Souls. Cut just because of redundancy reasons.
-1 Debtors’ Knell. Knell is always an easy target on the board and I’m already going to have a big bullseye. Didn’t need to add to the hate even more.
-1 Entomber Exarch. The Raise Dead ability would’ve been nice on repeat, but few creatures in the deck care about being cast vs reanimated.
-1 Grim Return. I like Grim Return’s surprise effect, but I had to decide between it and Faith’s Reward. I opted for keeping my army alive versus stealing one of yours.
-1 Kolaghan’s Command. See Entomber Exarch. The discard and two damage are superfluous to me, and there’s still plenty of spot removal in the deck to not have to worry about the artifact destruction ability. To be fair, though, it’s very versatile, and it was one of the last cuts this time around.

 

Sundry

In these cases, almost all of the cards were cut because of similar or duplicate effects in the deck, although they didn’t fit into a specific category per se. A few were for efficiency reasons. Adios went:

My psyche after this latest installment

My psyche after this latest installment

-1 Ajani Steadfast. It was him or Sorin, Lord of Innistrad.
-1 Cathars’ Crusade. Cut due to army size. There’s little token generation here so it’s unlikely my creatures will be numerous enough (let alive long enough) to get the Cathar benefits.
-1 Conjurer’s Closet. It was this or Flameshadow Conjuring. Flameshadow at least gives the possibility of attacking with it.
-1 Crypt Ghast. I originally planned on a basic land / Swamp subtheme in the deck and would take advantage of that through various means. However, I decided against it in the end. As a result, Crypt Ghast doesn’t make a lot of sense in a tri-color deck anymore.
-1 From the Ashes. See Crypt Ghast.
-1 Gratuitous Violence. It was this or True Conviction. I like the double damage part with first strike creatures running around, but I couldn’t pass up the lifelink bonus on top. At least for now.
-1 Mob Rule. In a few ways I treat this as a pseudo board wipe, given the cost and the effectiveness of the card. It’s a mini Insurrection, and I’m sure it could be quite potent. But the deck would rather just kill everything than steal it, and I must do Alesha’s bidding.
-1 No Mercy. It was this or Spear of Heliod. It was a tough call and I’m still sad about it.
-1 Palace Siege. Originally it was cut to make room for Entomber Exarch ironically. In the end, they were both cut for the same reason.

 

Or whatever this is

Or whatever this is

You get the idea at this point.

I poured through the deck list and culled each of the different categories in it much like a barber cuts hair. A few snips here, regroup, repeat. Card draw, spot removal, board wipes, buffing effects, utility cards, CMC, color, you name it. I looked the deck not unlike one does with an MC Escher picture. Even then, after all of that, I still only ended up cutting half of the necessary cards. Yes, the first half of the culling you see here was massive, but it only amounted to 50% of the 100 or so cards needed to reach the finish line. This is where we currently stand, at 116 cards:

Alesha's Season Three Championship Finalists

Creatures (56)
Adarkar Valkyrie
Anarchist
Anger
Archetype of Courage
Archetype of Finality
Blinding Angel
Brutal Hordechief
Burnished Hart
Custodi Soulbinders
Dark Impostor
Dimir House Guard
Drana, Liberator of Malakir
Duergar Hedge-Mage
Duplicant
Entropic Specter
False Prophet
Flayer of the Hatebound
Guiltfeeder
Herald of Leshrac
Ignition Team
Instigator Gang
Iroas, God of Victory
Karmic Guide
Knight-Captain of Eos
Liliana, Heretical Healer
Lim-Dul’s Paladin
Magmasaur
Magus of the Tabernacle
Markov Blademaster
Mentor of the Meek
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Mindclaw Shaman
Mirror Entity
Necropolis Regent
Necrotic Sliver
Netherborn Phalanx
Ogre Battledriver
Pack Rat
Palisade Giant
Pontiff of Blight
Raving Dead
Resilient Wanderer
Reveillark
Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant
Savage Firecat
Serra Ascendant
Sewer Nemesis
Shrieking Mogg
Siege-Gang Commander
Silent Arbiter
Silverblade Paladin
Solemn Simulacrum
Spike Cannibal
Stinkweed Imp
Vizkopa Guildmage
Vulshok Battlemaster

Sorceries (11)
Austere Command
Buried Alive
Delirium Skeins
Demonic Collusion
Obzedat’s Aid
Praetor’s Grasp
Retribution of the Meek
Toil
Tragic Arrogance
Unburial Rites
Waves of Aggression

Instants (20)
Agonizing Demise
Arcbond
Aurelia’s Fury
Boros Charm
Comeuppance
Crackling Doom
Deflecting Palm
Entomb
Faith’s Reward
Gleam of Resistance
Hide
Insidious Dreams
Master Warcraft
Mortify
Orim’s Thunder
Otherworldly Journey
Reflect Damage
Savage Beating
Utter End
Wild Ricochet

Enchantments (16)
Angelic Destiny
Blind Obedience
Citadel Siege
Darksteel Mutation
Dauthi Embrace
Flameshadow Conjuring
Gift of Immortality
Keldon Twilight
Martyr’s Bond
Mystic Barrier
Phyrexian Arena
Proper Burial
Reconnaissance
Spirit Bonds
True Conviction
Warstorm Surge

Artifacts (11)
Amulet of Vigor
Coercive Portal
Deathrender
Dolmen Gate
Grimoire of the Dead
Infiltration Lens
Obsidian Battle-Axe
Spear of Heliod
Strionic Resonator
Sunforger
Trading Post

Planeswalkers (2)
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad

We’re certainly a lot closer to the end than we were the last time we saw the deck. But we’re not there yet. There’s one more major hurdle to go and therefore more work to do.

So…I better go and get to it. Next time, we draw up the final schematics of the deck and look at what will clearly be some of the hardest choices to make yet in the deck. The final 50 cuts are spread pretty evenly between creatures and noncreatures, which could actually be an issue for me difficulty wise. There wasn’t a huge number of creatures cut for this installation, which means I found reason to most of them around. But what must be done be done. Nurse, hand me my scalpel…