There’s an old Saturday Night Live sketch called “Bad Idea Jeans” (Link here on Hulu, sorry to those out of the country who can’t see it). Basically the gist is it’s a parody of 90’s jeans commercials where the actors in the ad say a bunch of, you guessed it, bad ideas:
“Hey, we’re gutting our apartment. Ripped the floors, pipes, wiring, having everything completely redone.”
“You’re renting, right?”
See, that’s a bad idea since you’re wasting money on something you don’t own. The whole ad had the men spout out such ideas to promote the brand “Bad Idea Jeans” much like if you’re going to advertise a perfume called “Whisper” you have the people in the ad whisper. What does this have to do with our friend Tarmogoyf? Well, we’re going to be talking about EDH deck construction today.
In EDH, he’s a pair of Bad Idea Jeans.
Before we get started I want to make it clear that I am talking about if you have the ability to get access to the cards you want. If you’re starting out or just don’t have the money, then I’m not going to wave my finger at you and say “Why not? I do.” Sometimes selection is what hold you back in some areas of improving your EDH deck. There’s no fault in that. I’m going through a similar experience on my time on MTGO and it’s a very different perspective when you don’t have all of the cards.
So let’s look at Tarmogoyf:
Why am I ragging on what is debated to be one of the best creatures ever? Well, if you take the text of what its power and toughness is and give it its best possible scenario, you end up with this creature:
Even if you were able to get it to be an 8/9 on the first turn in a four player EDH game, would anyone really be scared of this guy? ‘Goyf is really good in 1v1 games where life starts at 20, not 40. Why wouldn’t I care about Tarmogoyf?
He doesn’t do anything.
In competitive aggro decks where you have several undercosted beatdown threats, Tarmogoyf makes you wet your pants. He puts you on a clock and doesn’t let go. But he can be killed, bounced, chump blocked and tapped like most vanilla creatures. Because he is so cheap and can end the game quickly if you have other pieces around him (Kird Ape, Force of Will, etc). Most of the time those are the cards that could help any creature (even Chimney Imp) be a threat. If you put a Rancor on him doesn’t he get better? Yes, but putting Rancor on any creature will make it more impressive.
So which one do you think I run in my EDH decks?
Rancor does something, Tarmogoyf doesn’t. There is a right format for a card like that. Aggro creatures that are great power/toughness but don’t have anything else they can add to the game tend not to do so well in EDH. These creatures:
Are not as good as these creatures in EDH:
All have seen play in aggro decks (Maybe not Psychatog as much, but it can been seen that way) but the cards that can do something besides just swing are better in the format. Psychotog can discard cards for graveyard tricks. Knight of the Reliquary can go get any land. Grim Lavamancer can Shock annoying creatures and opponents. Each one of those cards are better than just swinging away in a multiplayer game. Each of these creatures has a repeatable effect, but that doesn’t mean that those are the only ones you should use (but it is a good idea to think of those).
However, the idea of a “useful” card doesn’t just mean creatures as well.
What you see here is a simple drawing spell. While it was put in M10 to give the impression of new players what Blue can do, it’s nice and boring. This doesn’t mean that all of your drawing spells need to do something exciting to see play, but it doesn’t hurt. You know what would cost the same but be a better choice for EDH?
For the same cost you can evoke the Mulldrifter and draw your two cards. But, if you pay 4U instead, you get a 2/2 flying creature you can bounce to keep drawing you cards. For the very same mana and you can cast at the same time, you can get a better card that does something. Bringing it back from the dead to recast it, chump block with it, equip it with something and swing, draw damage or a kill spell.
Divination can’t do any of that.
Alright, what happens if you don’t want to use a creature for a 3 casting cost spell that draws two cards, what do you do? Use any other of the 2U draw two spells in Magic. In a format like EDH, there’s endless possibilities of cards that you can have that allows you to do something, even more than something.
When laying out your deck and seeing what its contains look at every single card and asks if it does something in the deck. Is it part of a combo? How does this help me control or win the game? Be honest with yourself. If you can’t find an answer I suggest you find another card for its place.
The trouble with Bad Idea Jeans cards is I tend to see them in tribal or theme decks more often then not. Yes, fun cards are fun, and if that’s the whole point of your deck, then don’t take it out. This isn’t some Spike manifesto to say you need to make your decks ultimately streamlined; even good “casual” decks tend to be smooth and everything is in its place. If a card doesn’t do anything then why are you running it?
On MTGO I’m in the middle of building a Celestial Kirin Commander deck. The first step I went to was to go look up White Spirits and Arcane spells. Hmmm, some of them aren’t exactly the pick of the litter. Does that mean I use sub-standard spells that are only good for my General to be in play just so I have an ability to kill everything at that casting cost? It’s an internal debate.
I try to have a few spells at each mana cost that I can go and make sure I control the game. (What I’ve discovered is that there are no Spirit nor Arcane spells that have a casting cost of 0, so I’m starting to run a token theme in there as well). But should I run “bad” spirits just so I can kill different things at different times? While this might not be the most optimal General to say “well, it’s a theme deck so go ahead and run bad cards” because I’m trying to control the board not get as many Elves on the table.
So even looking at a real life example it’s a little bit tougher about what you should do rather then “Don’t play that card.” I try to have all of the cards in the deck do something rather than just sit there in my hand waiting to be cast to kill something:
No, it’s not a finalized decklist yet. Does it look like I’ve tried to take out as many Bad Idea Jeans cards in this deck, or can I go further?
But really, when is an EDH deck really final? You might discover a combo in your deck than you never saw before and want to exploit that and change your deck around, or out comes a new card that you want to put in your deck but don’t know what to take out. Building an EDH deck is a fluid process. Just be on the lookout for cards that don’t actually do anything the next time you play.
‘Cause you don’t want to be caught in a pair of Bad Idea Jeans.