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Brewer's Minute: The Power of Choice


Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute. A couple of weeks ago, we played Black Burn for Much Abrew, and one of the most common questions that came from those matches was, "Why aren't you playing Dash Hopes?" About the same time, Torment of Hailfire was spoiled, and these two happenings form the foundation of our Brewer's Minute this week. When it comes right down to it, Magic is about making good choices, both in deck building and in game play; as a result, there's power in intentionally building our decks in a way that gives us as many choices as possible. At the same time, Magic is also about taking choices away from the opponent and giving them fewer options. As such, our topic for this week is the power of choice in Magic!

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Discussion

As I mentioned in the intro, choice is the very foundation of Magic. Every choice we make during a game is an opportunity to gain an advantage over the opponent, and over the long haul, the player who makes the best choices most often will win the most games. There's a reason we tend to see pro players run control decks and Jon Finkel play Storm—these are decks that give players lots of decision points and allow good players to gain an advantage over their opponent by choosing wisely. Furthermore, Magic is a game that has quite a bit of variance, and building decks that give us lots of options allow us to overcome the Magic gods and force our way through the natural variance of the game. 

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Have you ever wondered why planeswalkers are so powerful and heavily played? While there are a few different reasons, one of the biggest is they offer a ton of choices. Chandra, Torch of Defiance can be a ramp spell, a Howling Mine, or a removal spell, all in the same card. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can make a board full of small creatures; make one big, indestructible creature; or be a Glorious Anthem. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh can attack the opponent's hand, the opponent's board, or the opponent's life total. The number of choices involved with a single planeswalker is staggering, which is why the card type is so powerful. Every turn, they give us the opportunity to make another decision, and each good decision we make moves us a little bit closer to winning the game.

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We see the same trend in Modern with modal cards. With both Collective Brutality and Cryptic Command, every single mode is overpriced, but when you combine a bunch of less-than-efficient modes with the power of choice, you end up with Modern staples that players are more than happy to put into their decks. The same is true in Standard with the Abrade cycle. Take Supreme Will. Paying three for a Mana Leak isn't great, and paying three for an Impulse isn't great, but paying three for the option of choosing between Mana Leak and Impulse is great. 

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This brings us back to the two cards that started the discussion: Dash Hopes and Torment of Hailfire. The problem with both of these cards is they give our opponent a good thing: choice. While it is true that all of the choices are bad, the fact that the opponent gets to choose means if they choose wisely, they will always get the least bad of the bad options, which means these cards (and other punisher cards) are significantly worse than they look at first glance. 

Take Dash Hopes, for example. If your opponent is a 20 life and not especially afraid of dying, they will probably just take the damage. If the opponent is at four life, then they will obviously let you counter their spell. While dealing five damage for two mana is good in a vacuum and countering a spell for two mana is good in a vacuum, the game of Magic doesn't happen in a vacuum, and there are lots of situations where neither mode is especially powerful, and these situations will come up quite often, since the opponent gets to choose. 

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Rather than giving the opponent choices, a much more effective plan is taking choice away from the opponent, and this is the power of cards like Blood Moon and Ensnaring Bridge. Blood Moon takes away our opponent's ability to choose what colors of mana their lands produce, while Ensnaring Bridge takes away our opponent's choice to attack with creatures. Rather than giving our opponent the ability to make choices (as with Dash Hopes and Torment of Hailfire), we want to be stripping away our opponent's decision points one by one. 

Conclusion

Right now, you might be wondering what this has to do with deck building, and the answer is a lot. Next time you sit down to build a deck, think about how many choices you are building into it and who gets to make them. The more choices you give yourself, the better—each time you make a decision is a chance to make a good one and gain an advantage, and the fewer choices you give the opponent, the harder time they will have with winning the game. Of course, I'm not suggesting that you should play Charm.dek, but if you are on the fence about which card you should include in a build, the one that gives you the most decision points and choices is often the best option.

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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