Commander Spotlight: Psychic Possession

Most decisions we make are bound by the limitations and constraints of our available options. That is to say, when presented with a choice about nearly anything, there are a plethora of options which we automatically exclude for one reason or another.

Take something as simple as what you would like for dinner. If you live in a rural area, you’re most likely to opt to make something with the ingredients you have on hand. Not every ingredient imaginable, mind you, but those which are within your financial means, are easily procured by your grocery, and / or fit within the framework of what you personally enjoy. If your area is slightly more commercialized, you may also weigh getting takeout or going to a restaurant instead. But that too is bound by the types of eateries nearby, the added costs involved to do so, and how long you’re willing to wait. Perhaps you go with the sub shop around the corner or the Thai place down the street. If you’re in the mood for a different experience, maybe you opt for that place across town  – it’s delicious but takes forever to get delivered.

Going out brings it own challenges, from the weather outside to the vehicle you take, to whether you can spare the time to do so. If you have a medical condition, or kids, or are simply tired, you have to weigh whether it’s even worth the effort to venture outside.

Pros. Cons. A multitude of micro-decisions to make, shaped by the forces around you, even for something as basic as what food you’d like to shove in your mouth.

Case in point: It’s pretty unlikely that you answered the question by saying ‘drive to the nearest 3-star Michelin restaurant’. Or ‘fly to Paris’. Or ‘dig up worms in the backyard’.

Possible? Sure. Practical? Probably not.

Games work within an even more confined set of parameters, because most of the time your options are even more finite in any given moment. What you should do and what you can do are often not aligned, and much of the time getting to those points is what drives most games forward. Which makes sense: if players had the capacity to take any action on their turn that they wanted to every time, it wouldn’t be as fun. The puzzle would be too solvable. In life, more choices coincide with more opportunities, with boundaries imposed either by the self or one’s environment. In a game, choices are intentionally kept limited to propel the game forward and foster an enjoyable challenge. If someone had the means to declare they have a million dollars and a bazooka at the start of each game, you’d get tired of the experience pretty quickly – whether you’re the one automatically declaring ‘I Win!’ or not.

Of course, how much restraint is put upon you varies from game to game. In Magic, like so many others, things are most restrictive right at the beginning, forcing you to amass your resources and broaden your possibilities gradually as the game progresses. The more imbalanced that becomes among the participants, the more the game shifts in one person’s favor. In a typical worker placement board game, for instance, having more workers generally means you have a slight advantage over your opponents because it gives you additional actions, enabling you to pull ahead. With Magic, this almost always manifests in having more mana and more cards than your opponent. Additional cards offer more tactical options to choose from, and more mana enables you to put those plans into effect. The bigger the disparity in these areas, the higher the chances of you winning, especially in multiplayer settings. It’s why the person who can produce 30 mana and draw 5 cards a round is immediately considered the table threat. It doesn’t take long playing the game to understand that more mana + more cards = winning.

There are innumerable deck building ways to address that equation in the game, each done in the hopes of increasing your chances of victory. This week’s card aids in that pursuit as well, though it may not be obvious at first.

Today we have: Psychic Possession

Name: Psychic Possession

Edition: Dissension

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Card Draw

Highlights: Psychic Possession is one of those cards that doesn’t seem all that appealing at first, second, or even third glance. It’s a wonderfully deceptive card in that respect, because it takes a little thinking beyond its card text to understand its full potential. Most of the time in EDH you’ll see this card used in “windmill” decks that force your opponents to discard and draw lots of cards (usually to their painful detriment), letting you benefit in turn from their misfortune. However, it is more versatile than that, albeit in a more mundane way.

The reason most initially skip over this player Aura is its first main line of text, which states that you – not the person you’re enchanting – must skip their draw step every turn. It’s counterintuitive for a lot of people to consider giving up their one guaranteed draw every round unless they know they can draw cards on their turn though other means. Thus, although it’s a powerful card for a mere four mana, most novice players don’t give it another look.

The key part of its appeal, however, emerges after remembering that when used correctly, you don’t have to draw on your turn for it to be productive. Once that’s pointed out, the card takes on a whole new dimension.

In its non-combo usage, the entire prospect behind an EDH use of Psychic Possession is to keep up with the magical Jones. Casting this on whichever player is currently able to draw the most cards reliably each turn lets you benefit from their actions in equal amounts, allowing you to keep pace with the player most likely in the best board position. If they’re drawing 3 cards a turn versus everyone else’s 1, enchanting them with this card simply says that you both now get to draw 3. It doesn’t seem like much at first, but over the course of several rounds, the effect becomes noticeable. Some may balk at the emotional side of it all (i.e. not being able to cast what you draw on the same turn), but considering you’ll be drawing several turns worth of cards ahead of time , a it actually benefits you in the long run by letting you plan your best move over several turns instead of just your own. This is especially useful when the battlefield can change change drastically between now and then.

And if nothing else, using it on the player to your immediate right is pretty much a 1:1 transaction. Which means at the card’s absolute worst, you still get to draw your next turn’s card early.

Ideally, however, you’ll use it a much more advantageous way.

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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