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BMoor's Magic The 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: mana 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 concerned.

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 them?

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 from bad?

Thanks for answering all my previous questions. I hope these aren’t too inane or basic for you.

Bob

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

There are no dumb questions, Bob, only irrelevant ones, and these certainly seem germane to the issue. The issue in question? Dependence.

"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 card.

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 it. 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 [2][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 Yojimbo.

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 evidence?

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 decks 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 you 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 few questions:

1) How likely am I to have what this card is depending on?

2) How much worse will the card be if I don't?

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.

Good luck!

~BMoor

 

 

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