All posts by Sheldon Menery

Deal or No Deal?

by Magical Hacker

I have a method for upping your political game that no one is talking about. Once you start using it, you’ll rarely ever make deals again. What comes to mind when you think of “politics” in Commander? Chances are, you’re probably thinking about making a sales pitch to another player for your “mutual benefit” and the destruction of everybody else. Sounds great, right? But there’s a problem.

The Problem with Deals

The problem with deals is that they lock you in to what could be a bad play in order to convince an opponent to do something that is probably beneficial for them anyways. Say I’m playing a game with my friends, Taylor, Spencer, and Jordan, and at 10 life, with no creatures on the board, and just a Path to Exile in hand, I’m tempted to make a deal, especially because Taylor has an Ulamog the Infinite Gyre on the board, while Jordan has four 3/3 Beast tokens. 


If I get attacked by both players, I lose the game even after using my Path to Exile on the Ulamog, so I decide to make a deal with Taylor. “Hey Taylor, if I get rid of the Ulamog, will you attack Jordan with all your creatures for the next two turns?” It might seem like a fair trade: I don’t take damage from the Ulamog or the tokens, I don’t have to annihilate anything, I stay alive, and Taylor gets to attack Jordan without fear of Annihilator retaliation! But by making a deal I lock myself into a course of action.  

What if Spencer plays out a combo like Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Zealous Conscripts, making enough creatures to kill me and all other players at the table? I won’t have my Path to protect me. Also, what if Taylor overestimates how much influence the deal had in stopping them from attacking me, and Taylor attacks me even more than before? This is why instead of making a deal, I like to use the Art of Inception. 

The Art of Inception

The art of inception is to convince your opponents that it’s in their best interest to help you. Sometimes, our goals will align with the goals of our opponents. In fact, sometimes our opponents will also perceive that their goals align with ours.


Instead of making a deal, say I ask, “Hey Taylor, I don’t think I can deal with Jordan on my own, so I guess that means we are allied against them, right?” That simple question launches the entire political move! At this point, I am forcing Taylor to evaluate the board state. Mentally, they have to decide which opponent is the greatest obstacle standing in the way of them winning the game, and to keep the example fundamental, the simple details tell us that they are going to see Jordan as the primary hurdle to overcome. In that way, Taylor will definitely attack Jordan (unless my commander is scary enough that I’m still a threat without a board state, like Golos, Edgar, or Kykar).


As a result, now Jordan will have to make the same decision for themselves, and with someone attacking them for 12 each turn, they certainly have to start annihilating their board before things get uncontrollable. So, how did I manage to do all this with just a simple question?

The concept behind inception is using the board state to my advantage, and leveraging my unthreatening appearance and the threatening appearances of my opponents to lead them to their own conclusions that they should use their resources to fight back against the biggest threat. In this way, I get what I wanted to make a deal for, but at the same time without having to use any resources of my own! It’s free real estate.

Now that I have performed the political move of inception, I can continue to prepare for whatever happens by waiting to use my Path to Exile, both Taylor and Jordan will use their resources to diminish each other’s life total, and once the dust settles, I’ll know exactly who to use my resources on! But of course, there’s an exception to every rule.

An Exception to Every Rule

There are still times where you know that inception won’t work, and that a deal is your best shot at winning. Sometimes, it’s a hail mary. Sometimes, it’s just the least risky path to victory. Let’s add a few more details to the example and we can see where it might be better to go for the deal instead. Let’s say I also have Heartless Hidetsugu and Loxodon Warhammer in hand, but I have to cast Heartless Hidetsugu this turn in order to cast and equip the Warhammer, tap Hidetsugu, and gain a bunch of life on my next turn. At the same time, I know that playing it down would immediately make my opponents attack me. 

In this situation, I can lock in a deal before the game state changes, allowing me to have a better chance at victory. In fact, this is the most common example of when I’ve seen deals being necessary: when you know you need to become threatening in order to secure a good position, but becoming threatening would kill you.

At the end of the day, politics are key to winning games when all hope seems lost, and I know that using this strategy of inception will be one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal to get there.

So what do you say, deal or no deal?

MagicalHacker is a thinker, a philosopher, and a scientist, constantly searching for the needles of truth in the haystack of what we assume to be true. You might know him from his plethora of YouTube videos (including multiplayer game play, deck techs for commanders previewed within the past week, top 10s featuring only cards he plays in multiple decks, live deckbuilding of underplayed commanders, or even his monthly deck doctor or game play videos for each of his patrons.

18 May 2020 Update

You may have noticed there’s a small line missing from banned list page today. We’ve eliminated the line “Commander is played with Vintage-legal cards.” While the idea has been a useful shortcut for years, it wasn’t really a philosophical foundation, it was merely a convenience. We’ve long been proponents that Commander isn’t alt-Vintage, so it makes sense given the two formats’ divergence to decouple the wording.

The upshot is that between yesterday and today, nothing has changed for us. The exact same cards remain legal (specifically, Lurrus of the Dream-Den is not banned). We’ve clarified the legality language a bit, but none of the descriptions result in specific cards being banned or unbanned. We’ll have our normally-scheduled update in the next cycle, currently slated for 22 June.

We normally reserve changes for the regular schedule; we felt as though the clarification here warranted providing an update out-of-cycle update.