The nature of most CCG’s, Magic: the Gathering included, is that as your stack o’ cards grows and your experience with the mechanics of the game increases, so too do the opportunities for crazy shenanigans, regardless of the format you’re playing. But what happens when those shenanigans take a turn from the cheeky and fun into the realm of the cruel and tragic? You end up wrecking the game, and not just for your opponents.
The three faux pas I’m going to address today fall under a larger heading I’ve termed “Denial of Game”. DoG (arf!) is what happens when your opponent’s strategy isn’t to win, but to make sure you can’t actually play the game. The DoG player turtles up inside a fortress made of lame until they can deliver their game ending five-finger-facepunch. It’s a totally legal strategy by the way, but one that isn’t going to make you any friends.
Unless you’re an actual dog in a fort. I can’t stay mad at that face, even if he does play control.
The three DoG strategies that I’m going to address today are the three that grind my gears the hardest and appear most frequently in my Commander community (though they’ll occasionally crop up in Standard too).
Mass Land Destruction is the prize pig of DoG tactics, and also one of the easiest to pull off. Land is the foundation of MtG; you need it to cast (almost) any and all spells you’re going to play, so without it, you’re hooped. In addition, you can usually only play one land per turn, so having it all blown up means you’re effectively back to first turn unless you’ve already got a solid board presence.
There are a ton of cards available that blow up the world, largely in the red and white portions of the color pie, and if the DoG player can establish a decent board state before wiping out your entire mana base, you get to sit for the next several turns watching them run you out of town while you can’t cast spells. It’s a real good time. “But Casual Magic Guy,” you say, “You handsome devil! How could they possibly have such a strong board position if my own is so weak?”
Ultra-Heavy Control. Control is going to be an element of almost any game of MtG you play, but a lot of DoG strategies rely on crazy levels of control. Control is any mechanism by which your opponent removes elements of your board from play, either by countering the spells you attempt to cast, or by removing elements from your board. Control spells are largely the domain of blue (counterspells and mind control), black (killspells), and to some extent, white (exile), and are usually cheaper than the spells they shut down. Control in Commander is particularly easy to pull off, due to the crazy amount of mana usually available, so long as you have access to the right cards through your general.
You know who you are.
The result is that you get to pretend like you’re playing the game without actually accomplishing anything.
Hey there Mr. DoG player! I’m going to cast my biggest, angriest critter-
Oh….Ok. Well, fair enough. I can at least throw my general at you as many times as I like, so long as he doesn’t end up in my lib-
Well, that’s really lame. At least I still have one beatstick left to defend with if you blow up my land-
Castling is the other side of the soot-stained, hideous coin that is land destruction. Instead of opting to blow up your side of the board, your DoG opponent castles up on their side of the table so hard you can’t actually hurt them. This one is usually pulled off through a network of permanents that prevents the castling player from losing any permanents of their own, or a mechanism that prevents them from taking any damage.
Huh. Well that’s cute.
This one stings a little less initially, until you realize that while you can still cast your fancy spells (at least the ones that don’t get countered), they aren’t actually going to do anything. Also, castling always has to have some kind of endgame; either a hard to assemble one-shot combo that will instantly take you out of the game, or just waiting until you draw your entire deck out. Either way, both of those routes usually take more than several turns; often, it’s quicker to just forfeit, scoop em’ up, and try again.
No one is this happy about scooping. No one.
And that, really, is why DoG tactics are lame. Denying your opponent a game or frustrating them to the point where they forfeit is really only winning in the most technical sense. Might be worth thinking about the next time you go to build a deck.
Now I’m going to go think about puppies, or kittens, or tearing up Sharuum.
– Scott out