Watch any player long enough and you’ll see a pattern of behavior, either in terms of the way they play, the decks they build, or both. It’s not that players are predictable necessarily. Rather, it’s just that we all have certain traits, ticks, and degrees of tact that affect how we approach games like Magic. This is no secret; it’s been discussed here several times even. Nor should it be surprising. Magic has a diverse litany of ways the game can be played, and what will entice one person to it is never a guarantee that it will entice you. Hell, it’s possible that something you love about the game is exact thing someone else despises.
The trick to your long-term enjoyment is ultimately about finding other people who (generally) focus on the things you like most. Trying to force wildly disparate play styles into the same meta isn’t likely to go over smoothly. Most of us have certain tendencies or preferences in our play groups that will range from mutually appreciated, to those that our friends and colleagues tolerate, to those that individual players really dislike, to those mutually disdained. Your group’s health and happiness are directly dependent on finding an equilibrium of those preferences.
For instance, a number of years ago, one our regular weekly Magic meetup attendees brought along another friend of his. He was a nice enough guy: he was cordial, amusing, and made an effort when he attended to engage with the group. On the surface, he seemed like he’d fit in just fine, and we’re always interested in adding new people to the fold. Over a series of weeks, however, the opposite became true. He didn’t quite fit. Yet it wasn’t a matter of his personality insomuch as the style of Magic he liked to play.
Our local Magic circle has mostly focused on multiplayer games over the last decade or so, and Commander specifically over the last two. Recent months notwithstanding, games of 4-6 were common, and as such, most of the normal flow of our games focus on shifting power allegiances, keeping runaway leaders in check, and trying to craft strategies that set you up to win without drawing too much attention to yourself. Because these games tend to be long, one of our unwritten rules of decorum was generally understood that you don’t single out any one person too early in the game to kill off unless they do something that warrants it. After all, the last thing you want is to be that person who gets knocked out of a five player game 20 minutes in, only to sit around for another 90 minutes for the rest of the game to end.
This person didn’t ascribe to that idea. Even in multiplayer games, his decks focused on taking out a single opponent as quickly as possible. He realized and acknowledged that doing this made him an instant target for retaliation, but in his mind, if he could take out one or two people before going down himself, that was a win in his book. Moreover, his attempt at multiplayer tactical adjustments was to play cards that antagonized everyone equally. (i.e. Manabarbs, Winter Orb, etc.)
As you’d expect, he died in games both early and frequently.
He stuck around for few couple months before he stopped coming to the meetups, in part because he felt like his Magic needs weren’t being met. In some ways you can’t blame him. At the most basic level, this guy was more interested in getting kills and doing as much damage as possible as quickly as possible. When you have a single opponent, being bullish is ideal. When you have four, it doesn’t go over as well. It’s not that his approach to Magic was wrong. It just didn’t line up enough with the antics our group encourages.
This isn’t to say, however, that our group lines up 100% on every game style either. Most of us despise one-sided land destruction, for instance, but some don’t even like spells that do targeted removal. A few get overly frustrated at repetitive board wipes. I personally can’t stand game-ending life siphoning spells like Exsanguinate or uncreative infinite combos. But none occur with enough frequency for people to feel like the group doesn’t match their vision of Magic.
Echoing similar past admissions, one tactic that I’m particularly a fan of is using a player’s own assets against them. Whether this results from cloning or stealing their creatures to redirecting their massive damage barrage, I enjoy the idea of Magic-based Jujutsu. Most colors besides Green can pull this off to some degree, though the cards that allow you to do this are more frequently seen in Blue. Amusingly, though, while there are many great Blue cards that allow you to shift an opponent’s resources in your favor, one of my all-time favorite cards to do this is actually in Black. And it’s that card which brings us here this week.
Today we have: Praetor’s Grasp
Name: Praetor’s Grasp
Edition: New Phyrexia
Focus: Card Stealing / Tutoring
Highlights: Praetor’s Grasp is not a complicated card. Black has a long history of allowing you to dig unfettered through a deck, with a precedent going all the way back to Alpha’s Demonic Tutor. This card keeps that dark magic flavor of searching for answers at any cost but in the former world of Mirrodin, the card mechanics are inverted. With this card, you don’t go searching through your deck – you go searching through someone else’s.
Part of why Praetor’s Grasp is so versatile is that it costs just three mana, making it highly effective to cast at pretty much any point in the game. It can solve early game roadblocks, give you access to a well-needed board reset, or use an opponent’s heaviest hitting spells against them. What’s more, unlike many cards that make you use the card immediately, you can sit on the chosen card for as long as you want. It provides a dual purpose of denying your opponent access to their powerful spells while letting you use it against them.
The one limitation to this card, be it in EDH or otherwise, is that if you want to cast it, you must have access to the colored mana required. In this sense, the more colors your deck has, the more useful it becomes. That said, because Praetor’s Grasp can also claim useful lands and artifacts – two things almost every EDH deck contains – it really can fit anywhere. At the very least, it’s always a surefire way to yank out someone’s Sol Ring or Swiftfoot Boots.
Also, in a fun bit of psychological warfare, the fact that Praetor’s Grasp exiles the card face down is a nice little bonus, not letting your opponent know exactly what they stole from you until they use it against you. Letting it sit there in front of them, not knowing what you chose…it can be quite amusing.
And, yeah, while that approach isn’t beloved by everyone, I’m certainly quite a fan.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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Do you have a particular Commander card to suggest for us to shine a future Spotlight on? You can send suggestions to email@example.com