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By: stsung, Jaroslava Stefankova
Nov 21 2017 11:00am
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Another article in the tribal series will be different from the previous two. To talk about what I had in mind and what's been bugging me for quite a while I had to wait for the release of Commander 2017 on Magic Online. I'll be talking about Edgar Markov. Before I get to talking about this powerful Vampire I'll talk about Magic in general. Understanding what this card signifies, we need to look at the game as a whole. What makes games of Magic good? It could be broken down into 3 things - interaction between the players/their decks, diversity, and game rules and mechanics. 

Interaction

Magic has always fascinated me in terms of game design. The game mechanics and deckbuilding is something that lured me in and it is also what made me a successful player. It was clear that I wasn't a good technical player but I was good in maximizing the value of cards in my deck. Often these cards weren't powerful on their own, but together they could do wonders. In constructed my decks were usually very good, I knew how to build a solid or even a broken deck and I knew how to play it. In limited, my pile of not so good cards was good enough for me to beat better decks. With certain skills one could outplay other players relatively easily because the power level of cards and decks at the time wasn't that big as it is now. Nothing was for granted. We had to earn our wins. Our decisions mattered a lot. The games we played were mostly interactive. I always wanted to play a game of Magic against my opponent not their (powerful) cards. 

Magic has changed considerably but interaction with your opponent or their cards is something that keeps many people interested in the game. The game becomes less interactive when there is imbalance between certain group of cards. For example in a format or a set removal in general can be weaker than creatures. This is something that can become a problem and people would start playing the more powerful creatures omitting the ways how to deal with them. We'd lose a certain degree of interaction and the games would tend to be proactive rather than reactive. We'd try to simply deploy our threats first so our opponent wouldn't be able to catch up - much like what happens in certain mirror matches. When certain group of cards or even decks can't deal with something, the decks we start building are linear proactive decks that do not interact with the opponent or their deck.

When a format becomes non-interactive I lose interest and return to a singleton format of sorts be it EDH, 100 Card Singleton or Vintage Cube. These formats used to be diverse, complex and often involved some kind of battle of wits. These formats are known for their high power level, but that power level is available to anyone meaning that we also have the right answers to cards or strategies we'd encounter. This way it comes down to our understanding of the format and good use of the cards we have available to us at any given moment. This way we could often get our opponents in position we liked - often after a long attrition war. This concept though is becoming more rare. The creatures are becoming too strong for even the most powerful spells. Planeswalkers are creating value each turn they stay in play which also means catching up with cards with single effects is difficult. When we add a powerful general to the mix, we may find ourselves in a position when the best strategy is to play even more powerful threats. 

Diversity

People enjoy the game when they can play what they like in their favorite format, be it Standard or Vintage. A format where different deck archetypes can be played in many variations is a healthy format. Unfortunately sometimes certain strategies become predominant, because they are simply more powerful than others. Sometimes it's a single card that can do this - Collected Company or Smuggler's Copter. Sometimes it is a mechanic - energy decks in Standard are now a good example of that. In a rare case something even worse happens - see Pro Tour Oath to Gatewatch and Eldrazi. 

When EDH became officially supported by Wizards of the Coast (and renamed to Commander) I saw hope. I thought that more players and more events could be good for the community. When 1v1 was introduced to Magic Online I was very happy, because it allowed me to play crazy games and also allowed me to play a control deck or combo-control deck that I was not allowed to play anywhere else. Unfortunately with more and more cards printed the format's power level went up. The format was played both multiplayer and 1v1 and questions about banlists arose. Before 1v1 on Magic Online, in paper, there were already several variants for it. Unfortunately with each new Commander set or even a regular set things got complicated quickly. I hoped that Wizards of the Coast would slowly figure out how to balance the format so it wouldn't end up like the attempts at 'balanced format' in paper. Unfortunately the banlist each time made certain generals shine and the format became warped around them. This led to similar decks being played - other decks simply couldn't keep up with the decks to beat.

There are very powerful generals in all colors. Some are better than others though. When we want to have the highest chances of winning we need to choose generals that are good enough to win. There is not an unlimited number of them and some really shine among all the legendary creatures printed. Their identity is often blue, even though they are often multicolored. This format allows us to play cards that are banned in many formats and allow for crazy combos or interactions.

Mono green ramp is an opposition to blue decks for example. The 4 color generals and partner mechanic though allowed players to play decks that are not really limited by color. One could say that four-color decks could bring diversity back into the format, but alas the opposite happened. The decks simply play the best available cards in those colors. A three-color deck was often very solid and good but lacked in certain aspects - those were often the weaknesses of the deck. We had the means how to fight the deck by attacking it from the angle of missing colors. The partner decks though do not suffer from this either because they also have access to colors they shouldn't. Having access to more colors in EDH is a very dangerous thing. The times when more colors meant our greedy decks would become inconsistent or fragile is over.

The power of generals is something that shouldn't be taken lightly and we can clearly see that if we look at decklists from 1v1 Leagues. The inclusion of cards like Pyroblast or Carpet of Flowers were the first ones to indicate that the metagame is not healthy. Later it was all the artifact hate against Breya. In my last challenge one of my opponents started with Pyroblasting a creatures of mine, playing Abrade on my general and then landing Kataki, War's Wage. Those are not cards you play in a metagame that is diverse! 

Rules

What makes the game enjoyable and what makes it work are the game's rules. The golden rule is that what is written on a card overrides the rules. In most cases the cards are designed in a way that this exception to the rules doesn't break the game. Unfortunately there are also cases which break the game and legendary creatures, especially those from Commander sets, are such cards. 

See the conception of an additional card that we have access to all the time already changes the way how a game of EDH is played compared to a normal game of Magic. We start the game knowing that we can cast this card when we want to, we can count with it. Many decks are build around their generals and that is most probably what this format should be about. When the general is a win condition or a part of a two card combo things can get nasty though. When a general alone does something broken is printed it gets bad, because the format needs to deal with something that should have not been printed. Everyone is trying to fight something that violates the rules of Magic.

Here are several examples that are breaking the rules in a very bad way.

For example Oloro, Ageless Ascetic is a such card. It has an ability that works even if the card is in the command zone (it gains you 2 life). The ability itself is a strong one too, because life can be used in a different way than normal. When playing Storm I just didn't need to care about aggressive decks trying to kill me. I could also draw many cards just by casting spells like Painful Truths, Ad Nauseam, Skeletal Scrying, or Damnable Pact because the life loss wasn't relevant. I could do whatever I pleased with this resource.

 

Similarly we had Derevi, Empyrial Tacticion. While this creature doesn't have an 'Eminence-esque' ability it also does something that breaks the command zone rules. If I ignore its ability to untap/tap permanents it has an ability that allows the player to put Derevi onto the battlefield from the command zone for 4 mana. This means that you can't even counter the spell or disallow your opponent to cast it. Not to mention that when Derevi dies you can always just pay 4 mana instead of 6, 8, 10 etc.

A few days ago I played EDH. I was on Tymna/Kraum and my first opponent was on Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. When I looked at the card I knew one thing for certain. On turn 4 I'd most probably stare at Prossh and some Kobolds. A turn later I'd be dead. My only chance to beat the deck was to be faster. A turn 4 kill is possible, right? My deck full of fish with mostly low power and that was not good material for dealing lethal damage in 4 turns. In my case 3-6 damage was more likely. The game went as expected. I lost without any kind of possible interaction. All I managed before losing the match was to discard two cards, play two creatures and that's it. A 3 minute game. Countering Prossh even if I could do that wouldn't help since the Kobolds themselves are usually lethal and next turn Prossh would just show up again, meaning even more Kobolds for the opponent.

In a world (metagame) that is very blue and counterspell driven a general like this is also game breaking. The deck itself is a bit slow but it is one with which you can't really interact. The only possibility is to simply win faster (or cast Armageddon once in a while - I don't mean this as a joke, I'm serious. There are decks usually UR/URB that can cast Wildfire effect several times per game keeping the opponent without any lands or creatures).

 

One of the creatures that not only has a partner mechanic and thus is not really limited by its colors is Vial Smasher the Fierce. Here is a funny screenshot that shows how much the ability is broken. I think it does not need explaining!

 

Edgar Markov

Commander 2017, where this card comes from in paper, was released in August 25. In the digital world, Edgar Markov is a brand new card that can be opened in treasure chests since November 15. 

So what does this currently 20 tix costing Vampire do?

It is a six mana creature that has an Eminence ability (works in command zone) creating 1/1 black Vampire token after you play a Vampire (it does not need to be a creature so if you have a spell with a Vampire creature type, it will trigger, for example Nameless Inversion). It is also a 4/4 First Strike, Haste creature that whenever it attacks puts +1/+1 counters on all Vampires under your control.

To use this creature all one needs to do is have access to mana of the card's identity - red, black, white in this case - and play cards with the creature type Vampire. That's actually pretty easy to do because a mana base for a three-color deck is always a good one and this tribe is popular and relatively big. 

For whom is this deck?

This kind of a deck is for a competitive player who doesn't have problems running linear creature heavy non-interactive deck and is able to stomach endless mirror matches or anti-Edgar decks. If you are looking for friendly Vampires you will have to look for a different general. In these three colors we have Mathas, Fiend Seeker which has an interesting ability and is not overpowered. 

Card Choices

My deck changed considerable during the Leagues I played and the list presented here is not a fine tuned version but it is a list that can get you a 5-0 in a League. Take my decklist as a guideline to build your deck. Depending on how the field will change you may want to play more mirror breaking cards you'd normally not deem necessary to play. There are cards that I wanted to play but during the events I played I didn't really make up my mind about them - Fiery Confluence, Obelisk of Urd, Malakir Bloodwitch. Go through the possible cards you can play and observe what works for you. The time will tell what is the best.

Creatures
The question is can a horde of 1/1s deal 30 damage? The answer is unsurprisingly yes. Doesn't that sound odd or broken?

What we need is to choose roughly 43 creatures that we can cast, some spells and about 37 lands. The creatures should be as cheap as possible because you want to unleash your army as soon as possible. There are about 189 Vampire cards printed in Magic which is more than enough to put together a 100 card deck. While the majority of the cards are black, many of them are red. Ixalan introduced white Vampires and some other creatures from the Commander 2017 decks are also white.

Go through the creatures and start with the best one drops, two drops, some three drops and even few 4 drops that should just win the game or impact the board a lot. Most of the cards that will find their way into this deck are cards you might have played in limited even though some made it to Standard decks like Stromkirk Noble or Falkenrath Aristocrat (if you choose to play this card). Look for Vampires that have abilities that seem relevant. At first a 1/2 body for 1 mana and being able to pump it self for 3 mana may sound bad, but later you may find out that toughness 2 is actually pretty relevant because you will be facing many 1/1 creatures yourself (and also because it is simply one of the better one drops). Evasion is always good - Olivia's Bloodsworn, Vampire Interloper, Shadow Alley Denizen. Pumping the team or putting counters on creatures makes the Vampires very difficult to stop - Bloodline Keeper, Indulgent Aristocrat, Stromkirk Condemned, Drana, Liberator of Malakir. There are creatures that make opponent lose life or deal other non-combat damage like Vicious Conquistador, Blood Seeker, Kalastria Highborn, Blood Artist, Sanctum Seeker, Brutal Hordechief.

Noncreature Spells
One of the spells that shouldn't be missing from the decklist is Shared Animosity. This enchantment in a tribal deck means that even a 0/1 creature (sometimes not even in a tribal deck - Prossh, Skyraider of Kher's Kobolds are often enough for that) can become deadly.

Other cards that can have a huge impact on the board are Zealous Persecution or Sorin, Solemn Visitor as they pump your team while either giving opponent's creatures -1/-1 or giving your creatures Lifelink. If more and more Edgar decks will be played I'd consider running Marsh Casualties. That is a card I have a very good experience with. A very good card that can deal with a developed board is also Fire Covenant - it costs life, but who cares, right!

As for spot removal I decided to run a bit too much of it. In the wild you actually want the best removal that can hit anything, but in a very limited metagame like the one on Magic Online you may not need that. Some removal is good but you should not go overboard with it like I did in my deck. Instead you may consider running some disruption (Duress, Thoughtseize). Sometimes discarding a Wrath effect can win the game. I didn't include that because I didn't want to draw into a dead card later in the game, on the other hand the removal spells I included in my deck were such cards too and I felt the need for Duress more often than I'd like. I'd certainly play Fatal Push, Lightning Bolt, Nameless Inversion and Dismember. You can add other removal spells like Abrade that is gaining more popularity in any format and in EDH where you are likely to ran into Breya it is a solid choice.

Since Wizards of the Coast still didn't ban Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond (I totally forgot it's still legal) you can also add them to your deck. Because being able to play two creatures early is crushing no matter if your creatures would be 1/1 vanillas.

One of the cards that is legal in the format and is very powerful is Skullclamp. Since you get a steady stream of 1/1 creatures this card is something you should include, when you managed to get it in play nothing will be able to stop you. If you think the same as me and you don't mind running non-Vampire creatures you may as well include Stoneforge Mystic because having 2 Skullclamps in a deck is certainly better than 1. One more equipment that is pretty crazy is Umezawa's Jitte. That is also one of the mirror breakers and in general this card is also seriously overpowered. 

How to play the deck

The deck is very straightforward. All you need to do is play creatures and attack with them. Do not recklessly attack with your creatures if you can't deal lethal damage in 2 (sometimes 3 turns) because things can turn very badly. 30 starting life is very different from 20 starting life we are used to. This deck shuts down any deck trying to play counterspells and disruption. It is prone to global removal though so if you know that your opponent is running more global removal (the usual number is two in more controlling decks - this may change soon) keep some creatures in your hand (don't be like me in the League below). If you keep two creatures you can build up the board quickly because 2-4 creatures become a big threat almost immediately. If you can't keep two in hand, one is fine too! Keep your global removal in your hand for the right moment, don't use it soon, it needs to win the game.

 

Remember that Edgar Markov can be played. It is a 4/4 First Strike, Haste creature that puts +1/+1 counters on your Vampires. This is very strong especially in the mirror or against other creature based decks.

The creatures in your deck may seem weak to you but their abilities can be put to a good use. Don't be afraid to use them. 

Budget

The majority of the cards in this deck are very cheap. The general is expensive (20tix) and the mana base is what makes most of the deck's price (181tix out of 224tix). The most expensive lands can be cut though (Scalding Tarn, Wasteland costing 61 tix). 

On Edgar Markov

When I first saw the creature it reminded me of Prossh, Derevi, and Vial Smasher because all these cards simply bypass counterspells. Edgar Markov does that too and this card is even more broken. Edgar Markov is one of the cards that makes a format less interactive and less diverse. It breaks the rules of Magic because it does something for free from the command zone. It's not the only general with such an ability, but this ability kills very efficiently. There is no way how to stop the ability from happening (unless you cast Stifle on it) each time Edgar Markov player plays a Vampire. The effect is so strong that it can lead to a two deck metagame. The decks currently in the metagame are very strong, but run many reactive cards that are often not useful against Edgar Markov. It can lead to you deciding whether you'd want to play Edgar Markov or play a very focused anti-Edgar deck, or it can lead to its banning. 

If you don't believe me do an experiment (I personally tried). Create an Edgar Markov deck. Put 38-39 basic lands (mostly Swamps) there, 43 random creatures with the creature type Vampire (in the ratio of 14 one drops, 19 two drops, 6 three drops, 4 four drops). Add some spells - removal, some disruption, other win conditions. Let's say Lightning Bolt, Duress, Shared Animosity, Abrade, Fire Covenant, Dismember, Skullclamp are the cards you want to play (should be cheap) and the rest whatever you like not costing more than 1 tix (I tried this with a 10tix deck excluding Edgar Markov). Bring this list to a 1v1 Challenge (since you are more likely to get your money back) or find players with competitive decks. Play some games and see what your win rate (excluding mirror matches) will be. It will be way higher than many would expect. I brought a fairly good deck, not a competitive one, to 1v1 Challenge and I had seriously NO CHANCE winning a game against all the Breyas, Tymnas/Kraums, Tasigurs or Leovolds. With this random 10tix deck I'd feel way safer, I'd know that I could steal wins away even with this random pile - just because the ability of Edgar Markov is so strong (the basic mana base was killing me though, literally)!

It is very likely that Edgar Markov decks will at least now be played a lot and one should be ready for the mirror match. I'm certainly not the only one who thinks the card is broken. I participated in 3 Leagues after I bought the card. Out of those 15 matches 10 were mirror matches. After the first League I included cards like Marsh Casualties, Zealous Persecution and even considered running Electrickery. Also note, that while I wasn't successful with the deck, some of my Edgar Markov playing opponents got several trophies with the deck that day (I expected them to show up on the mothership, but for some reason they didn't make it there). I don't expect our decks to be diametrically different even though my build is certainly not the best one out there. At least the deck I started with was far from good!

If you'd like to see what this deck does in practice, you can watch one of my Leagues below.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (stsung on Magic Online, follow me - stsungjp - on Twitter)

 

1v1 EDH League - Edgar Markov

Decklist

Edgar Markov
by stsung, 224tix
Creatures
1 Bold Impaler
1 Duskborne Skymarcher
1 Falkenrath Gorger
1 Guul Draz Vampire
1 Indulgent Aristocrat
1 Insolent Neonate
1 Pulse Tracker
1 Quag Vampires
1 Shadow Alley Denizen
1 Stromkirk Noble
1 Vampire Cutthroat
1 Vampire Lacerator
1 Vicious Conquistador
1 Viscera Seer
1 Asylum Visitor
1 Blood Artist
1 Blood Seeker
1 Bloodcrazed Neonate
1 Bloodghast
1 Bloodthrone Vampire
1 Carrier Thrall
1 Child of Night
1 Gifted Aetherborn
1 Heir of Falkenrath
1 Kalastria Highborn
1 Olivia's Bloodsworn
1 Olivia's Dragoon
1 Ruthless Cullblade
1 Stromkirk Condemned
1 Tithe Drinker
1 Vampire Hexmage
1 Vampire Interloper
1 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
1 Mirror Entity
1 Olivia, Mobilized for War
1 Rakish Heir
1 Stromkirk Captain
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Yahenni, Undying Partisan
1 Bloodline Keeper
1 Brutal Hordechief
1 Hellrider
1 Sanctum Seeker
43 cards
Other Spells
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Fatal Push
1 Lightning Bolt
1 Path to Exile
1 Swords to Plowshares
1 Marsh Casualties
1 Nameless Inversion
1 Terminate
1 Vampiric Fury
1 Zealous Persecution
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Dismember
1 Fire Covenant
1 Vindicate
1 Skullclamp
1 Umezawa's Jitte
1 Goblin Bombardment
1 Shared Animosity
18 cards
Lands
1 Arid Mesa
1 Badlands
1 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Cavern of Souls
1 Caves of Koilos
1 City of Brass
1 Command Tower
1 Dragonskull Summit
1 Flooded Strand
1 Godless Shrine
1 Mana Confluence
1 Marsh Flats
1 Mountain
1 Plains
1 Plateau
1 Polluted Delta
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Scrubland
1 Sulfurous Springs
10 Swamp
1 Unclaimed Territory
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wasteland
1 Windswept Heath
1 Wooded Foothills
38 cards
General
1 Edgar Markov