Let’s be honest here: we all love to play Magic not only because we’re a bunch of analytical geeks, but because we’re a bunch of competitive analytical geeks. We like to win. We like to win a lot. But there’s winning in a way that leaves everybody feeling like they’ve fought a worthy and satisfying battle, and then there’s winning in a way that leaves everybody feeling frustrated, locked out and ready to give up on the game. What’s the key difference? Leaving aside play styles and personalities of the individual players, which obviously have a huge role, I think the big difference is interactivity.
Look, we play Magic in general and EDH in particular because we want to play our spells. We want to set up our battlefield. We want fuck with our opponents’ board if they start getting out of control. We want to bounce back when other people fuck with our own board. We want to pull off some fun tricks and admire other people’s fun tricks when they pull them off. In short, we want to play Magic. And Magic is at its core a game about using our resources the most efficiently based on the imperfect information we have. However, efficiency isn’t just about maximizing your own resources. Interfering with your opponents’ resources also puts you ahead. Locking down everybody else’s resources is a fantastically efficient way to win Magic games, especially in multi-player. But it’s not necessarily a great way to win casual Magic games, especially when the goal is to have a social, interactive experience.
That’s why my list of unfun decks and plays center around a lock or complete resource denial. They deny other players a chance to respond through anything short of countermagic (and crazy as it sounds, not everybody wants to play blue) or the building of fairly dedicated hate decks. The game rapidly devolves into one player abusing triggered or activated abilities at every other player’s end-step, or taking 20 minutes to tutor the perfect combo while the rest of the table contemplates the viability of stabbing a bitch.
But before we get to the list proper, I’d like to present an Honorable Mention:
Decks that clear the board continually with sacrifice effects. Yes, I’m looking at you, Savra, Queen of the Golgari and Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker. Shirei decks are especially pernicious because those creatures keep. Bouncing. Back. They’re especially gross with Possessed Portal or Smokestack on the battlefield. Playing any creatures becomes an exercise of futility, and each turn starts to take 15 minutes each because the person running the Savra or Shirei deck sacs all their creatures at the end of everybody else’s turns to (take you pick) create mana, mill somebody, scry 1, put a -1/-1 counter on a creature, draw cards. And on. And on. And on. Try to tuck away the General with Spin Into Myth and other such effects? Just sac it in response. And even if it’s tucked away, odds are good the player will be able to tutor it back out. Try to blow up the sac outlets? Oh look, have seven more, plus the ones you just threw into their graveyard are being dragged back into play with a combination of Eternal Witness and Phyrexian Reclamation. The only saving grace: dedicated graveyard hate will kill a Shirei deck and slow Savra down considerably.
And now, on to the list proper:
Candy’s Top 5 Least Fun EDH Decks and Plays
1. Mass land destruction. Especially one-sided mass land destruction, which can happen with a continually bounced/flickered/persisted Terastodon or Sundering Titan. In one-on-one games, a continually bought back Capsize targeting lands has a similar effect. This topic has been hashed and re-hashed by EDHers everywhere, but I’ll repeat it here: Land is the most basic kind of mana a player can have in a game of Magic, and having that resource stripped away makes the game disheartening to play for the majority of us. An adequate mana base allows us to cast spells. Casting spells makes Magic fun to play. No mana = no fun. It’s really that simple.
2. The vast majority of Jhoira of the Ghitu decks. It’s not just the fact that Jhoira herself makes throwing out mass upon mass of fatties and big, expensive spells insanely efficient. It’s the fact that Jhoira is red (which means access to many, many land destruction cards) and blue (which means access to countermagic if you attempt to disrupt whatever horribleness is coming down the pike four turns or less from now). Well, that, and the fact that the creatures have haste once they come out of suspension. How do Jokulhaups, followed by Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth strike your fancy? They don’t? TOO BAD THEY’RE COMING FOR YOUR FACE ANYWAY. I’m all for big walls o’ fat, and I’ve encountered one semi-fun Jhoira build that didn’t involve Eldrazi or exploding lands en masse, but most of them eat away at your soul because they’re both high-stress and kind of boring. Back when Emrakul, the Aeons Torn was still legal, Jhoira decks were even more insufferable than they are now.
3. Permanent countering effects. Some of the most popular iterations:
a) Erayo, Soratami Ascendant + Arcane Laboratory. Step 1: Play four insanely cheap instants in a row. Flip Erayo so she becomes Erayo’s Essence. Step 2: Search/transmute for Arcane Laboratory and cast it. Step 3: Duck the chairs and cards being flung in your face.
b) Countertop: The classic iteration of this is Counterbalance and Sensei’s Divining Top, but really, any sort of effect that lets you dig through your library works, too—in some ways, Descendant of Soramaro is even more pernicious because it lets you dig even more deeply. The combo effectively becomes 1 (or 1U): Be a dick. Counterbalance and Top abuse are two of the biggest the reasons why I include Krosan Grip in all of my green decks, no exceptions.
c) Dovescape + Guile. Now, I, personally, find the chaos of Dovescape by itself kind of hilarious, but once you throw Guile out there…. No. Just…. No. The existence of the Dovescape+Guile combo is reason enough for you to keep a Boseiju, Who Shelters All ready to roll in your sideboard.
4. Stasis-style locks that force you to skip your untap steps, or that force you to untap only one or two mana sources per turn. The most infamous of these is probably the Pickle Lock: Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter. The people who run this lock inevitably wait until that one point in the game when most of the people at the table are completely tapped out, and then proceed to make sure nobody else gets an untap step. Ever. EV. ER. The fact that this combo is somewhat more disruptible than many others makes it a tiny bit more bearable, especially if there are any white players in the playgroup—there are an awful lot of cheap white exile spells. There are other iterations, of varying degrees of awfulness: Hokori, Dust Drinker, Static Orb and Winter Orb also aim to starve opponents out.
So here’s an all-purpose tip: if you’re playing an EDH game like a particularly sadistic siege, in which you don’t bother slinging rocks at the castle ramparts but opt for poisoning the wells and making sure the city’s inhabitants don’t get food for months, your strategy is probably enraging and frustrating your buddies more than it is endearing you to them.
5. And speaking of Stasis-style locks: Arcum Dagsson decks tend to run them. They are legion, and they are insanely easy to achieve because of his tutoring ability. Mycosynth Lattice + Kill Switch. Masses of mana artifacts + Winter Orb. (Special Guest Star: Back to Basics.) And then there’s the blow-up-everything-in-the-world-except-your-stuff combos. Darksteel Forge + Mycosynth Lattice + Nevinyrral’s Disk. Arrrgh + Mwwwarrgggh + AUUUUGGGHHHHHHHH I GIVE UP I’M NEVER TURNING A CARD SIDEWAYS AGAIN.
These are my personal peeves. What decks and deck archetypes have you run up against that have made you want to tear your hair out?