Interaction

This weekend while playing some games, it was really brought home to me how lacking many of my decks are in ways to interact with my opponent. Too many of my decks consider combat to be the main method of dealing with an opponent’s creatures, and focus so much on their own synergy that they often just can’t win because the opponent’s plan comes to fruition quicker or the opponent is able to actually interact and disrupt the deck’s game plan. I know this is nothing new for competitive players, but I suspect that I’m not alone among the casual crowd who too often build decks that can only really win against a goldfish (the Johnny writer at MagictheGathering.com seems to have this problem in many of his decks). I have a hard enough time cutting out cards that could synergize with the deck’s main plan, such that there is no room for general utility. But this weekend I mostly lost because I did not have enough Doom Blades (or couldn’t target those pesky BLACK Germ tokens), or because my opponent was busy exiling all my creatures. My only reaction could be, “I’ve got to get me more of this removal action.”

This leads to the very practical question of “How much?” I figured I would start by examining a few decks from the latest StarCityGames.com Open series. Interacting with your opponent seems to come down to two main categories: Control and Removal. Control includes various forms of counterspells (i.e. nope, sorry, you don’t get to play that spell of yours), discard (Oh, I’m sorry, were you hoping to be able to play that card soon? Sorry…), or redirection (I know you were aiming at my big scary monster, but you’ll have to settle with actually hitting my bambi). Removal is about getting rid of permanents of a variety of forms (creatures, enchantments, artifacts, lands, etc.)–I’ll give bounce only half-credit, since it does remove tokens but otherwise simply delays, and disabling the same (OK, you’ve turned my land into a simple Island, but I can still tap it for mana, so it’s not completely useless).

So, let’s look at a few decks, think about their nature, and see how much interaction they’re packing. Obviously, the exact numbers are going to be metagame dependent, and the deck’s archetype will also determine some of the numbers, but we’re just looking to get a little better educated about removal here, so we have to start somewhere. One other caveat is that sideboards will probably have more removal since they are designed to target specific problems, but since I don’t usually play with sideboards, I’m only going to count those cards as half. But I will count sweepers (marked with an *) as double, since they will usually get rid of more than one problem at a time.

Caw Blade

This deck started as a UW control deck, so we should expect a bit more control than usual.

Control

3 Spellskite

4 Mana Leak

3 Spell Pierce

Removal

3 Dismember

1.5 Into the Roil

4 Tectonic Edge

SB:

1 Deprive

2 Flashfreeze

3 Mental Misstep

2 Ratchet Bomb*

1 Dismember

2 Day of Judgment*

2 Revoke Existence

Control:10 + 3 = 13

Removal: 8.5 + 5.5 = 13.5 (Creatures = 9, Artifacts = 4.5, Lands = 4, Enchantments = 4.5)

U/R Twin

A combo deck that just wants to dig for pieces and survive long enough to pull of the combo.

Control

4 Dispel

2 Mana Leak

Removal

2 Into the Roil

1 Dismember

SB:

1  Spellskite

2 Mana Leak

2 Combust

1 Dismember

1 Twisted Image (kills Spellskites and Battlements)

4 Pyroclasm*

Control:6 + 1.5 = 7.5

Removal: 3 + 6 = 9 (Creatures = 9, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 2)

Mono Red

The problem here is that a lot of the removal is also supposed to be direct damage to the opponent, but Red isn’t much for control so it has to bring more removal to the fight. Perhaps the numbers should be halved unless it’s clearly aimed at creatures.

Removal

4 Grim Lavamancer

4 Lightning Bolt

4 Searing Blaze

4 Staggershock

4 Arc Trail

4 Flame Slash

SB:

4 Manic Vandal

4 Dismember

Control: 0

Removal: 24 + 4 = 28 (Creatures, Artifacts = 2, Lands, Enchantments)

Tempered Steel

As an aggro deck, don’t expect a lot of either here.

Control

1  Phyrexian Revoker

4 Spellskite

Removal

2 Dismember

4 Dispatch

SB:

2  Phyrexian Revoker

2 Leonin Relic-Warder

2 Revoke Existence

Control: 5 + 1 = 6

Removal: 6 + 2 = 8 (Creatures = 6, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 1)

RUG Twin

A different version of the combo deck.

Control

2  Spellskite

3 Mana Leak

Removal

1 Acidic Slime

2 Dismember

SB:

1  Spellskite

3 Flashfreeze

3 Nature’s Claim

3 Pyroclasm*

Control: 5 + 2 = 7

Removal: 3 + 4.5 = 7.5 (Creatures = 5, Artifacts = 2.5, Lands = 1, Enchantments = 2.5)

Caw-Bade II

Another version of the Caw Blade deck.

Control

1 Deprive

4 Mana Leak

3 Spell Pierce

Removal

1 Into the Roil

3  Oblivion Ring

3 Dismember

1  Tectonic Edge

SB:

3  Spellskite

3 Flashfreeze

1 Celestial Purge

3 Day of Judgment*

2 Revoke Existence

Control: 8 + 3 = 11

Removal: 8 + 4.5 = 12.5 (Creatures = 10.5, Artifacts = 5, Lands = 1, Enchantments = 5.5)

Pyromancer Ascension

Not quite a combo deck, this whittles you down with lots of small spells copied over and over. Its core is an enchantment, though.

Control

4 Mana Leak

2 Spell Pierce

Removal

3  Burst Lightning

2 Into the Roil

4 Lightning Bolt

SB:

1 Deprive

2 Dispel

3 Mental Misstep

1  Burst Lightning

Control: 6 + 3 = 9

Removal: 9 + .5 = 9.5  (Creatures = 9.5, Artifacts = 2, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 2)

Vampires

This is an aggro deck that wants to clear the way for its attackers, so it’s all removal really.

Removal

4 Gatekeeper of Malakir

4 Dismember

3 Go for the Throat

4 Lightning Bolt

3 Staggershock

SB:

3  Manic Vandal

2 Combust

1 Go for the Throat

2 Arc Trail

Removal: 18 + 4 = 22 (Creatures = 20.5, Artifacts = 1.5, Lands = 0, Enchantments = 0)

Conclusions

So, the nature and number does vary from deck to deck, but the overall average is about 20 ways to interact with your opponent. Since this includes sideboards, which may sometimes replace main deck interactors, we might guesstimate that a deck should run about 1/4 interactors, or 15 cards for a 60 card deck. With 24 lands, that leaves only 21 slots or so for the meat of the deck 😦  At the very least, this will help remind me to include a few ways to interact with my opponent as I build my decks.

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