Cryptic Commander: You Can’t Always Get What You Want by Andrew Pemberton

Cryptic Commander: Knowing Your Enemy in EDH by Andrew Pemberton


Greetings and salutations, my peeps!

First off, apologies to both you, the readers, and the site itself for the lack of an article for the past month: Unfortunately, both work, personal live and (most recently) Nationals Qualifiers endeavoured to keep me from doing any form of writing. However, that’s exactly what I plan on committing to today. Today, I’d like to discuss a few things. Most notably, my near miss at qualifying for Nats, and how we can tie what we learn in our near misses to our performances in games of EDH.

First off, my decklist:

5  Island


Tectonic Edge

Glacial Fortress

Celestial Colonnade

Seachrome Coast

Scalding Tarn

Squadron Hawk

Stoneforge Mystic

Sun Titan

Spell Pierce

Mana Leak



Day of Judgment

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Gideon Jura

Sword of Feast and Famine

Sword of Body and Mind


15 Sideboard.

Baneslayer Angel


Divine Offering



Sun Titan

…As you can see, it’s a fairly stock list of CawBlade. Unfortunately, I hadn’t picked up on the tech before the event, so a lack of Tumble Magnets was evident, though not terribly dire as I was to find out. The Manchester Nats Q had  9 Slots up for grabs, and I felt fairly confident going into Round 1.


R1: Ben Flounders, BG Rock.

…until I faced off against my new neighbour in Round 1. Ben is a player I’ve known for about a month, who I’d leant cards to the night before so he could compete. His build was fairly rogue, a BG Rock list with kill spells, Sign in Blood, and topping the curve with Grave Titan and Massacre Wurm. He’s also very much enjoyed getting to grips with Commander, and has just recently proxied up and started attaining cards for his own deck.

G1: I kept his creature counts to a minimum with Day of Judgments, then proceeded to Stoneforge-SoFF him to gain a heavy advantage, before a turn of Gideon, Colonnade and a Sworded guy put him to two, a tutored Mortarpod finishing him off.

G2: Unfortunately, he was mana screwed this game. I quickly got a Jace going and started fatesealing his library, keeping him away from lands until he found one after I bottomed a kill spell. He cast a Thrun, but with Jace nearing ultimate, It was my game to win.

1-0, 2-0

R2: David Baldowski, Valakut Titan.

G1: I I countered the relevant spells, letting him Summoning Trap into an Inferno Titan while I had answers in hand. It eventually led to me Sword-bopping him with a Hawk, while he cast spells into my Counters.

G2: More of the same, though it was Baneslayer doing the damage in this match along with Gideon. He kept bolting my Hawks as I equipped them, which was a little annoying, but I kept enough mana up to launch a stable defense, using my Tectonic Edges to limit his green mana as well as swings with two Raging Ravines.

2-0, 4-0


R3: Luke Southworth, Elves.

I’m liking how Nationas qualifiers are so diverse, you can literally face anything. Luckily, I’d thought to prepare a couple of SB plans for the few popular ‘rogue’ decks I could think of, and figured I’d be OK.

G1: My plan went ahead fairly well, my DoJ’s keeping his mana to a minimum until I ran over with a Sworded guy, giving me enough tempo to take the game.

G2: His elves came down thick and fast, and his ramped-up hand gradually whittled down my options until I fluffed on a Brainstorm: Casting Jace, I needed both an untapped land AND a DoJ off the top to stabilize. The order went… DoJ, Colonnade… Oust 🙁 Scoop. The hand I’d kept was incredibly loose – 5 lands, Gideon, Jace, and it was certainly punt-worthy to keep it.

G3: After a little retweaking with the sideboard, I was on the play for Game 3… only to see the exact hand from Game 2. I quickly mulled it away into a reactive hand of double Oust, Mana Leak, Baneslayer, 2 Lands. Unfortunately, Luke was very flooded this game, and every relevant spell was either countered or sent to the top. Banelsayer dropped turn 6 after I missed a land drop, and Gideon soon followed. After him being at 29 from my three Ousts, he soon went down to 18, then 10 (after I found another Oust for his guy), then win. I felt pretty bad afterwards, as I’m sure he did also, but I’ve had the same sort of luck at qualifiers before: You pick yourself up, and you bring your A-game back into the next match.

3-0, 6-1

R4, Chris Vincent, CawBlade.

Chris Vincent is a player from the York playgroup, who also comes through to Leeds on occasion. He had also stayed at Magic House (You can probably guess… :p) the night before with us along with 2 other Yorkers, so I knew what he was on, as I’m sure he knew what I was playing.

G1: I took the first game through a combination of Sworded guy and Gideons. I’d managed to get rid of a Baneslayer or two, which helped as we traded Hawks until I finally managed to get in for lethal.

G2: It was his turn for a Stoneforge package game 2, and he quickly came out of the gates with me drawing nothing but land for the majority of the game. A late Oust did little aside from pad his life total. Karma from the last match, perhaps?

G3: Unfortunately, his draws were way better than mine this game. We traded hawks so neither could gain the benefit from Feasting, until he began to drop big guys ala Baneslayer and Sun Titan. At least my draws were spells and not land, but ultimately, I felt he drew better than I did, and so the match was his just before time was called.

3-1, 7-3


R5, Adam Clark, WW Quest.

I’d seen Adam beat my playtest partner Alex Gersaw earlier in the day, so here we were, ready to kick some swift vengeance his way 😀

G1: He got a fairly decent draw with Memnites, Ornithopters and a Tempered Steel that resolved. Luckily, I got shot of the second one, and it was OK from there once I dropped a Sun Titan. I traded it for two Memnites, getting me back a ton of mana to stay ahead, then proceeded to play the permission game until my Sworded Hawks got me there.

G2: Unluckily for my opponent, he had a mulligan to five, and kept a no-lander that produced a Memnite on his turn. He continued to draw no land as I amazzed a sworded Stoneforge Mystic, then a Baneslayer, then Gideon. I even countered Glint Hawk to keep his board prescence to a minimum when he had only a Thopter and Memnite. After the game, he asked if I considered this a win… and I think as far as nats Qualifiers go, you cannot discount anything so long as your performance is up to scratch. I felt like I hadn’t punted as much as usual, and as a result, my play and confidence was up to the grade. I wished him luck for the last 2 rounds, and went on.

4-1, 9-3

R6, Nathaniel Griffiths-Scott, UWB CawBlade.

Nathaniel is a player who I had been sitting near pretty much all day, and had a joke around. Casual glances from my seat led me to believe he was on UB, until I saw the Hawks.

G1: We did the usual trading Hawks move, until he me, taking a Sword from my hand. Once recources were low, I resorted to Colonnades to get damage through, and eventually Gideon won me that game.

G2: Not so lucky this game. Double Inquisition stole my hand of a little gas, as well as the Divine Offering for his sword. His creatures soon overpowered me, leaving me in a predicament.

G3: We traded creatures back and forth until time was called. I had the majority of the board prescence, but knew I had no way to force through 15 points of damage with two hawks in the way of my Titan and Colonnade.

4-1-1, 10-4-1


R7, Alexander Shoemark, Naya.

Alexander is a player I’d seen playing last year at a couple of qualifiers. Unfortunately for me, my win-and-in was against Naya, arguably my worst matchup. Testing with Rob Wagner earlier in the week with the build he took to GP: Barcelona gave me an idea of how to combat the menace, but needless to say, I wasn’t that confident.

G1: We kept the board pretty tightly locked throughout. Unfortunately, I saw no Day of Judgment, and as he amassed Vengevines in his graveyard, his tutored Hero of Oxid Ridge made the math pretty easy.

G2: More of the same. I saw very little of my SB cards, and a tutored up Cunning Sparkmage and THREE Stoneforge Mystics made sure he was fetching triple equipment to smash me with. I had one final look at my hand, smiled, and extended the hand, wishing him good luck for nationals.

4-2-1, 10-6-1


As it stood, the players I had lost to both had qualified for Nationals, which made me happy to know. I received hugs from all the Team Leeds guys after coming so close, but unlike last year, I was retty upbeat. I ended up 18th in a field of 75, and the only performance that ecclipses this is my 14th at the LCQ last year, missing out by a single point.I grabbed my prizes, then we headed home, where Ben and Alex decided on EDH, and I decided on bed.



Chris Vincent and Alex Shoemark for qualifying for Nationals 🙂

-The judging team headed by Jules, who led the event efficiently as always 🙂

Alex, Wizbit and Ben for the company on the ride over, as well as the rest of  Team Leeds

-Not punting majorly enough to lose a single game for once!


Alex warning me of my slow play – Sorry Jules and co!

-Nothing in the prize packs :s

-Wizbit placing higher than me with lower tiebreakers?! FAIL!

All in all, it was an amazing event, and I’ll certainly be trying my hand at Huddersfield in just over a week.



…and now that the report is done with, we can finally get onto the substance of why I’m writing today. Nationals Qualifiers have always been a mixed bag for me. Last year, I punted a lot of games due to my own ineptitude: As a control player, I felt that I would have the best chance playing a UW build, similar to Chapin’s Iona build from last year. I think my best record coming out of one of those events was 1-2 drop. It haunted me to no end, knowing that Alex had qualified above me, albeit very much deserved. I went to the LCQ using his deck, and then narrowly avoided qualification by a single point. I didn’t play any more Magic that weekend. It plagued me for months afterwards, I’ll admit, and I even went off the game for a little hiatus afterwards.

It was then that I began to realise what I had lost since returning to the game that took up some years of my adolescence. I’d missed having fun, and Commander was a big part of regaining that lost enjoyment for the game. Through games of Commander, I’ve learned that it can be both fun and detrimental to win – sure, you get that sense of power in overcoming your foes, and doing so in a Johnny-ish kind of way, but do you actually lose from winning? About a week ago, I used Azusa, arguably my strongest, most well-built EDH deck in order to crush a table. I blew stuff up, I destroyed lands, and generally, I felt tainted afterwards. Even in a game where my housemate had blown up everyones lands, I had ways to rebuild my manabase back up, and even constant threats from the other three players didn’t stop me. I had won, but it didn’t feel like winning.

There’s a fine line of balance in EDH, and it’s a line that everyone has to both cross and reserve themselves from crossing to know what the difference is. For example, a player of mine recently built a UB Oona concoction, that could combo on turn 5 in most cases. We got incredibly tired and bored of having every game end this way, and who wouldn’t? Now, he’s changed a lot of the combo cards so that he doesn’t use it quite as often, meaning we have much longer games as a result. I’ve also taken a similar tact: Now that I feel that Azusa is pretty much complete (aside from a Mana Crypt and Vedalken Orrery), I’ve decided to shelf it for the vast majority of games. It’s a project that’s taken a year to complete, but I finally feel like my fun with the deck has reached its peak, and it’s not worth damaging my playgroup to gain some sort of dominance from a casual format. Intet, the Dreamer and Teysa, Orzhov Scion are the focuses of my attention going into the next few weeks, and one will certainly have to come out as my new pet deck in order to keep my player base happy.

From what I’ve learned, I know that I’ll never get everything I desire, through life or through magic, so I try by best to make sure I do succeed in areas that are important to me. I found that I got what I needed just from having an active player base at my disposal (Living in a house with Ben Heath and a Judge/Vendor does have its advantages :D), and maybe Nationals isn’t as important to me as it was last year: It’s not a be-all, end-all if I don’t qualify. Chances are, I’m still going to go as a part of Team Leeds, have some fun with a Cube draft or two, maybe even join an LCQ. Who knows? Now that my fun side has reawakened, there’s plenty of options out there.

Through both casual and competitive experiences, I think you learn to accept when and when not to bring your dominance to the table. In fact, the title itself is rather misleading… you probably could get what you wanted if you tried hard enough, but its the underlying cost of doing such a thing that is the difference between making or breaking a playgroup. I’m an advocate of fun more than anything, and learning the difference is all about how we become better players not only in our casual games, but also in competitions that really matter to us. I know I’ll be going to Huddersfield next weekend, and I fully intend to build on my performance from Manchester in order to do the best I can to qualify.

So, remember kids, just have fun. I know it’s a Nationals Qualifier season, but give yourself some time off in order to relax for once 🙂

As always, you can reach me either on Facebook, commenting below, or at if you have MSN. Next week, I plan on doing a deck tech with one of my playgroup’s decks, and trying to get this series in some form of set release structure. If you guys have any ideas you want to share, hit me up!

As always, enjoy commanding those armies!

Andy P

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