Rattlesnakes in EDH

city of shakar

Intrinsically, EDH is a very varied game. How you look upon the format affects how you evaluate the cards getting played. Some playgroups are cutthroat “competitive” EDH groups, full of combo decks, stax, mass-land destruction, and plenty of salt. Some groups are casual with modified pre-constructed decks, or decks built from draft leftovers. Some groups might play certain variations of the format, leading to changes in deck lists and strategy, and some might play mostly 1 vs. 1.

ambushviper.hqHowever, most groups of EDH are playing games that are multiplayer, free-for-all style battles. In these situations, unless people are just playing solitaire and trying to combo off, diplomacy will play a part in how the game plays out.

One of the facets of diplomacy that I see used all the time but not often talked about is rattlesnake cards. Today, I want to discuss these rattlesnake cards, why they’re useful, and why they play an important role in our format.

rattlesnake by definition, is a card that in some way says “do not attack me!”. However, the definition goes beyond that, I’ve identified four different types of rattlesnakes: Direct, Indirect, Offensive and Implicit. A card could fall into two or more of these camps depending on how it’s used, but for the sake of the discussion, I want to break it down.


baleful strixDirect – The direct rattlesnakes are the most obvious ones. In this camp falls most creatures that are primarily included for blocking. Examples of these include deathtouch creatures and creatures with good dying triggers. The very best of these tend to generate some sort of advantage other than being just rattlesnakes for the opponent – Baleful Strix, Yosei, the Morning Star, or Archon of Justice. Other examples include cards that outright punishes your opponent for attacking you – No Mercy or Michiko Konda come to mind.

Indirect – Indirect rattlesnakes are cards that doesn’t outright punish people from attacking you, but they put up a big enough deterrence to make people stay away. Cards that act like indirect rattlesnakes tend to be permanents that also act like sweepers – like Pernicious Deed, Kagemaro, First to Suffer or Oblivion Stone. Grave Pact with fodder is also a prime example.

graveblade marauderOffensive – Offensive rattlesnakes aren’t necessarily rattlesnakes at all to begin with, and they work quite differently compared to the previous two categories. In short, offensive rattlesnakes are cards that threaten to strike back at an opponent who has attacked with (non-vigilant) creatures. Any creature threatening enough can have this effect, and the interesting thing is that often these work for other players almost as well as the controller – simply put: if someone has a Graveblade Marauder equipped with a Quietus Spike on the board, you’re not turning your creatures sideways in any direction unless you have enough chumps to stay home.

This is likely the most common form of rattlesnakes in the format, since these situations tend to appear all the time while playing. This is one of the reason that vigilance is so good in the format – while you have one turn to attack and one turn to block in regular 1 vs. 1 Magic, in EDH you have one turn to attack and two, three or maybe even four turns to block, depending on the size of the game. It’s also important to be aware of these situations in a game, since a change in the apparent rattlesnake can affect several attack steps.

heros downfallImplicit – The most esoteric of all the rattlesnakes is the implicit one. What I mean about this is that these rattlesnakes are perceived threats – usually cards in hand. Examples include spot-removals like Hero’s Downfall, or instant-thieving cards like Reins of Power. What’s interesting about these rattlesnakes is that they work just as well or even better when they’re not actually used. If all three opponents around the table decline to attack you because they fear a Hero’s Downfall, you’re up nine mana and three cards.

This means that the implicit rattlesnakes also might well be the most effective ones, since it can save life points, mana and cards all rolled into one neat package. However, these are also the most difficult to use, since it requires careful play, or even certain deck construction. My own version of Wydwen, the Biting Gale (link to TappedOut.net here: click) is a good exampwydwen,thebitinggale.hqle of how everything from deck construction to gameplay depends on these implicit rattlesnakes. The deck has no less than 14 cards that can be used for spot-removing a creature at least temporarily, and the deck is all about sitting back and being reactive to the point when people leave you alone
for fear of being punished too harshly for attacking.

Implicit rattlesnakes demand a certain demeanor around the table – everything from language to mannerisms help towards making others certain you have spot removal or other tricks – even when you might be holding two lands and an equipment. I’m not saying I have it down to a science, but I have won games with Wydwen when I’ve had spot removal in my opening hand and never used it.


So what’s the point? The point is that these strategies are under-utilized in some playgroups I’ve played in, and in a m
ultiplayer format, these cards will save you both mana and cards. Use them, learn to do so effectively if necessary, and they will reward you for it.

I wish you the best of luck in your use of these cards and strategies.

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3 Comments

  1. psykopatmullvad

     /  April 27, 2016

    This is the kind of posts i like to read, the ones that teaches me something!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. Grim Lavamancer

     /  April 28, 2016

    One thing that I really like about these kind of cards is the way they work on a psychological level. If you look at it in a purely logical way that spot removal is really just trading one card for another. And that Pernicious Deed is going to explode soon anyway, better that it happens under your conditions than at the whim of your opponent. You’re usually better of if you remove the bandaid in one swift go rather than beating around the bush. In theory that is.

    In practice the power of the cards above isn’t necessarily how good they are but rather the mental obstacle they represent. Sure, you could attack the player with the Baleful Strix on his table and trade one creature for another, and then be able to attack that player at will. “Buuut…” you think “I can also attack that other player without any blockers and let someone else sort out the Strix later”. I’ve seen this tons of times, even the smalest of deterrences can become a huge mental obstacle, I’ve seen players with Propaganda out avoiding to get hit for almost the entire game, simply because people preferred not to pay the 2 mana tax for attacking.

    As you wrote it’s important to be subtle. What your opponents *think* you have is often scarier than what you actually have. Another thing that’s probably the most important factor of them all is to think small when it comes to rattlesnakes. A deterring card or two can work wonders, but play too many and the table might very well rally against you. It must always seem like attacking you or working against you simply isn’t worth it, but if you come across as someone who must be dealt with no matter what, your snakes will have the opposite effect and provoke the other players to take action against you.

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