Gathering Deck Garage You Can Rely On Me:
On Dependence and Dependability October 8, 2013
Welcome back to the Deck Garage, everybody!
Don't mind the cobwebs. Today we're
answering a question from previous
correspondent Bob, who has (instead of a
decklist) two inquiries about how to build
better Magic deks. Unbeknownst to him, his
two questions have one answer. And that
answer all has to do with Pious Kitsune
(look it up).
Greetings and salutations,
I haven’t seen a deck fix from you in a
while, so I thought I’d ask one of my
philosophical questions. Actually this time
around I have multiple questions about two
subjects that are related:
fixers and equipment.
For the longest time I’ve avoided mana
fixers based on the philosophy I’ve learned
from you. Mana fixers don’t win the game. At
best they may help you cast the spell that
wins the game, but that’s one degree of
separation too many, as far as I’m
So my questions concerning fixers are 1.
What makes a good (or a bad) mana fixer,
aside from having a body attached to it? Is
permanence one of the factors? What about a
second ability, like drawing a card?
Similarly, is there a general rule of thumb
on when to use fixers and when to avoid
On to equipment. In an effort to improve my
deck building skills, I’ve been paying
closer attention to my mana curve. So where
does equipment fit on the curve, since to
take advantage of equipment, you have to in
essence pay for it twice at least. How do
you determine what separates good equipment
Thanks for answering all my previous
questions. I hope these aren’t too inane or
basic for you.
There are no dumb questions, Bob, only
irrelevant ones, and these certainly seem
germane to the issue. The issue in
"Dependence" (in terms of Magic: the
Gathering) means how much of a card's
intended function relies on one or more
other cards. There are varying degrees of
dependence, based on how strong the card is
when it has the other card (or cards) to
work off of, how much weaker the card is
when you don't have what it depends on, and
how likely you are to have the depended-on
Dependence is one of the most integral
principles of what makes Magic work. Every
card with a mana cost is, to some degree,
dependant. You need lands to cast
The lands themselves are in turn dependant
on you having something to spend their mana
on-- you can't win on lands alone. Being
dependant, therefore, does not necessarily
make a card bad. The problem comes when a
card is over-dependant. This is where Pious
Kitsune becomes relevant to the topic.
Without Eight-and-a-half-Tails, the Kitsune
is barely worth playing except as a chump
blocker. With Eight-and-a-half-Tails, it
becomes a frighteningly efficient life-gain
engine. Is Pious Kitsune a good card then? I
would argue no. Eight-and-a-half-Tails is
good, and a large part of Pious Kitsune's
power comes from the fact that
Eight-and-a-half-Tails is protecting it. But
if you can catch the Fox player without
[W] up, your kill spell is always better
aimed at the Legend than at its disciple.
Pious Kitsune's slot in your decklist would
be better spent on a Fox who can contribute
even when it's alone on the board-- perhaps
Kitsune Blademaster or Opal-Eye, Konda's
Pious Kitsune is simply an extreme example
of dependence. Equipment are a softer
dependence-- they too are dependant on a
creature, but they usually don't care what
kind of creature it is. A power-boosting
Equipment isn't as useful on a Wall, but it
isn't useless if you need that Wall to be
able to kill the things it blocks. You might
equip a wall if you have the mana to do so
and have no other creatures. Are Equipment
bad because they require creatures to
function? Not hardly. Shortly after
Equipment were introduced to the game back
in Mirrodin 1.0, they had several spots on
the "most broken" list and one in particular
(Skullclamp) had to be banned. Even years
later, they were responsible for the ban on
Stoneforge Mystic. Players and Magic
designers alike are frequently
underestimating the strength of Equipment by
comparing them to Auras.
It's a fair comparison though, isn't it?
They both get
attached to creatures to make them stronger,
right? (Not counting Auras like Pacifism,
which function more like kill spells). The
difference is in the dependence. Auras must
be cast while the creature you want to
enchant is on the battlefield. Equipment can
be cast onto an empty field with the intent
of equipping later. Auras are forever bound
to a specific creature. Equipment outlive
their owners and can be reattached to new
ones. Auras require colored mana (usually)
and thus only work in decks of certain
colors. Equipment are colorless (usually)
and can be played in any color deck. These
advantages are enough to justify having to
"pay twice" for Equipment.
Mana fixers are also dependant, but they are
much more "loosely" dependant than Auras.
They aren't dependant on a single card,
they're dependant on anything you might
spend their mana on. So what makes a mana
fixer good? Should it be a creature that
taps for mana? A land-search effect? A mana
artifact? A Ritual?
At first glance, Ritual-style effects seem
to be the worst-- you only get their effect
once, and you have to use it immediately.
Creature-based mana fixers, like Birds of
Paradise, seem like the best-- if you don't
need the mana, you've got a creature. But
I've seen the reverse be true in both cases.
I hope you don't mind a little anecdotal
Early on in my Magic career, when
Counterspell was still being printed, I was
slowly learning that Counterspell can stop
any kind of spell, and that
that run Dark Ritual usually have pretty
nasty things to throw at you. So, I made the
obvious leap of logic and countered a Dark
Ritual. My opponent raised an eyebrow at me,
then laughed and said okay. Why? Because two
turns later he had the spell he had wanted
to cast off the Ritual, and I had no answer.
I later realized that if I'd waited another
two seconds, I could've countered the second
spell, and then I would've made him waste
two cards instead of just one.
Later, I found myself in a multiplayer game.
One player opened with a turn one Birds of
Paradise. Another player used his turn one
to Shock the birds. The Birds' owner
immediately forfeited. Turns out he had kept
an opening hand that had only one land, on
the assumption that his Birds would let him
cast his spells!
So what does all that mean? Should you Shock
the Birds, or wait and see what their mana
brings out? Is Dark Ritual worse than Birds
of Paradise? The fact that Dark Ritual is no
longer printed and Birds of paradise
sometimes still is indicates the opposite.
So what makes a good mana fixer? The spells
you use it to cast, of course!
So what makes a good Equipment? For me, the
question is whether the improvement a
creature gets from the Equipment would be
worth the creature costing [the equip cost]
more. If I'm running 2/2's for two, then an
Equipment that gives +x/+y and has Equip Z
is good if a x+2/y+2 creature is worth z+2
mana. The Equipment may not do anything
without a creature, but think about it: if
you have no creatures on the board, you're
probably losing. And it's not the
Equipment's fault so much as it is the
simple fact that you have no creatures.
Likewise, mana fixers are dependant on
having spells-- ANY spells-- to spend their
mana on. How likely is it that you'll fail
to have them? Ramp decks exist as an
archetype because of the strength of having
late-game monsters while your opponent is
still in the early-to-mid game. Are mana
fixers bad because they expect you to cast
spells? No. But some spells can be bad if
they expect you to use mana fixers. You
don't throw a ten-mana spell into a deck
that can't make it to Turn Ten without mana
acceleration. You don't throw a random red
card into a blue deck and rely on having a
Chromatic Lantern in play. That's not
because Lantern is a bad card, it's because
the red card doesn't belong in the deck in
the first place.
When evaluating Equipment, or mana fixers,
or any card that expects you to be running
other types of cards (I'm looking at you,
Tribal decks), you have to ask yourself a
1) How likely am I to have what this card is
2) How much worse will the card be if I
3) Is the card's strength when I do have the
depended-on cards worth the possibility of
not having them?
If the "worst-case scenario" is unlikely
enough, like never drawing another spell,
then it barely matters how bad the card in
question is in that scenario because you
could play 100 games of Magic and never see
it happen. If the "best-case scenario" is
good enough, like a 4/4 trampler on turn
two, or paying an extra two to turn your
no-longer-relevant 2/2 into a 6/6, then it's
worth the chance of it not happening. You
need to weigh all the factors, and that's
what makes it so easy to depend on Magic:
the Gathering to keep you thinking.
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