Commander Spotlight: Perplex

Like many games with loads of decisions to make, not every act you take playthroughs need be an all-upside one. It seems contrary at the onset, but there are plenty of occasions where putting a moderate amount of difficult decisions before a player actually makes them like the game more. It provides a series of micro-challenges to overcome and gives the player a sense of accomplishment when those obstacles are rectified. If a game is too easy, it becomes boring; too hard and people won’t find it worth their time. This is a key factor of game design.

Magic is a game full of such pain points, or areas where you have a problem – be it real or perceived – that you feel the need to solve. Maybe you feel that a particular player is getting too powerful, or there’s a specific card on the battlefield that is significantly hampering your deck from working and needs to be removed. Perhaps there’s some ongoing effect that is disproportionately benefiting a number of players and one of those players isn’t you. There are myriad scenarios like this in multiplayer games like Commander, leading each of us to decide how, when, or even if we want to address a particular pain point. Not every answer is necessarily going to be enjoyable, even if one does solve it. The cost may be steep, or as is often the case, correcting one pain point immediately uncovers another.

If I’m doing my job right as your opponent, I’m going to try to add pain points to as many of your critical decisions as I can. Not for the purposes of being mean or punishing purely out of malice, but because I should be making it harder for you to win. I should be giving you something to think about. Just like game design itself, it is my purpose to be a worthy foe. I want to be a formidable opponent. If I am too easy to defeat it won’t feel like a valid win. Likewise, putting up enough obstacles to, say, make your deck unplayable or my own unstoppable (Commander is still predominantly casual-focused after all), will sour you to the whole experience. We each desire to be the last planeswalker standing, and it is just as much my job to stymie your progress as it is to advance my own.

This is something I’ve become particularly adept at over 20+ years of playing. My decks aren’t unbeatable; they generally don’t contain infinity-driven auto-win combos or are chock full of whatever the absolute most optimal card choices are for my theme. But through some creative deckbuilding, an abundance of cards that can be used for multiple purposes, and a penchant for knowing when to time certain moves and when to feint, I can often make what you’re trying to do a little harder just by being at the table – even if I’m not directly opposing you. This could mean putting up a notable defense, making me a less easy target, or, on the opposite end, giving you too many viable targets for you to target as the prime concern on the board. I may not stop you entirely, but if I can make your decisions even mildly more difficult or costly, then I’m doing my job.

Accomplishing this can be from persistent cards on the battlefield or like this week’s card, it can be another spell in response.

Today we have: Perplex

Name: Perplex

Edition: Ravnica

Rarity: Common

Focus: Counter Magic / Tutoring

Highlights: There has been a lot of derision over the years about Perplex, leading to a consensus among some that the card isn’t all that useful. However, that consensus is almost entirely based around a single perspective. That is, that Perplex is not a guaranteed counterspell. For many, especially the more competitive-minded, this fact is a non-starter. After all, in a deck where you already have access to Blue mana, why in the world would you choose a counter that isn’t going to work 100% of the time?

The answer is that Perplex is suited more towards someone who is fine with either outcome it offers. This adds to its appeal to some but to the vocal competitive group, the idea has always been a bit…perplexing.

As a three mana instant, Perplex is a decent costing response card to when someone is casting a spell you don’t like. It presents them with a choice: either discard the rest of your hand or let that spell be countered. If they really feel that the spell is worth losing the remainder of their hand over, they’ll opt to discard and the spell resolves, turning Perplex into a three mana full hand discard at instant speed. This is a pretty decent result in its own right – so long as that player has enough cards in their hand to feel like they’re taking a loss in the process.

Alternatively, if they choose to let the spell be countered, then it’s countered just like any other unconditional counterspell out there. Hooray!

If timed right, Perplex is win-win. The trick is knowing when to use it during the game and which outcome you desire. Perplex is much more effective in the early to middle stages of the game when the pain point of that decision is at its highest. If you try to force a player early on, or when they have a full hand of cards, they are almost always going to go with the counter option unless they feel the card is essential to their plans. On the other hand, if you wait until a pivotal moment later in the game when they are trying to cast some big stakes card, they’re almost guaranteed to sacrifice the 2-4 other cards they have in their hand to make it happen. This may leave them more vulnerable afterwards, but depending on what they’re trying to cast that may or may not matter. And again, it would still be a loss of cards on their part for little investment on yours. No EDH player wants to sit with an empty hand.

Finally, Perplex also has the Transmute ability, which allows you to pay three mana and discard it to tutor for another three CMC card instead. For most Blue mages it’s practically sacrilegious to discard a counterspell, but at least in this case if you feel like the card has lost all of its potency (i.e. no one has cards to lose), you have the ability to turn it into something more useful. Which means that the card is never truly as dead of a card as some have made it out to be over the years.

The question therefore becomes: what sort of pain points will it cause you to slot it in a deck?

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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