Rule of Law – The Type of Reach Spiders Only Occasionally Provide


Before he gets into the main topic of the article, Matt has a brief GP Minneapolis Report for you! – LSV


Rounds 1-3

3 Byes. 3-0

Rounds 4-9

My sealed deck had 2 Vampire Nighthawk and 2 Gatekeeper of Malakir with enough Black to run 12 swamps and 2 RB Refuge.


Day 2:

Draft 1

I managed a 2-1 with an aggressive Red-Green deck featuring 3 Savage Silhouette and a Goblin War Paint (they might have 1 Journey to Nowhere or Into the Roil, but they usually already took an extra 2 or 4 from the enchanted creature and won’t have an answer for the second one. I had never tried the “creatures and several pants” draft strategy in Zendikar before the GP, but I’m always on the lookout for any kind of redundancy that overwhelms the opponent’s answers).


Draft 2

1-0 with nearly Mono-White beatdown, then 2 draws into the Top 8.


Top 8 Draft

I drafted a poor deck and would have switched into Black when I opened a Nighthawk pack 3 (I had 2 Harrow and wasn’t married to a second or third color yet) but I had passed good Black cards (Mind Sludge and Crypt Ripper amongst others) to my teammate and friend Brian Kibler in pack 1, and cutting him off pack 3 would have likely ruined his deck. I took a Puma to go with my Oran-Rief Survivalist and Umara Raptor instead of the Nighthawk. I selfishly regretted this pick immediately after the draft because I really wanted to win the tournament. Upon reflection, this was childish and in the big picture it was correct to take the Puma. Our team is a pretty tight-knit 10 or so players, and we have been preparing for each PT and GP together and enjoying a lot of success as a team. As the eventual results proved, I could still hope to salvage a decent deck by taking the Puma and preserving Brian’s ability to win the event. If it is just a player I know and like, and not a teammate, I would take the Nighthawk.

I misbuilt my deck for the Top 8. I should have splashed White instead of Red. I corrected this error for all 6 sideboarded games I played in the top 8. (I won game 1 of the finals, the only match I lost, so the deckbuilding mistake went unpunished; in other words I got away with one). If I had known decklists would be exchange before the semifinal and finals matches, I almost certainly wouldn’t have gone with the Lavaball Trap plan. The element of surprise is not something to ignore, as Conley Woods has wisely advised regarding Constructed deck choice.


I get the right kind of draw 2 games out of 3 and squeak out a close one vs. Owen Turtenwald. His deck wasn’t great, but almost certainly had an edge on my mediocre deck. Your job as a tournament Magic player is just to make as few mistakes as possible, not to apologize when you get good draws, so I was happy to be moving on to the semi’s.

Semifinals vs. Brad Nelson.

Game 1 I am demolished by an early Rampaging Baloths. He has a fully charged Khalni Heart Expedition in play which is threatening 2 4/4’s during my end step. Knowing this, I just don’t cast a creature even though I have two in my hand, threatening Lavaball Trap if he does crack the Heart. I don’t really have a way to win this game if Brad plays reasonably, even if I did have a Lavaball Trap. I need to give him a chance to misplay with an attack that lets me block the Baloth, and then maybe I can topdeck a Lavaball Trap and steal the game. Brad doesn’t come close to throwing the game away, and I die.

Game 2 Brad keeps an absurd 2 land hand (Khalni Heart Expedition and Harrow, along with Mind Sludge and other action), but he doesn’t draw a third land. Meanwhile, my line is turn 3 Greenweaver Druid, turn 4 Woodcrasher Baloth, prompting a concession when the third land still hasn’t arrived.

Game 3 Brad mulligans to 5 on the play and isn’t left with enough action to combat my 7 card hand on the draw.

Finals vs. Zohar Bagat

My deck is somewhat well-positioned vs. a deck with 3 Welkin Tern and other flyers. I have a Tajuru Archer which is likely game over, and a Oran-Rief Recluse that can kill a flyer and block the others. I also sideboard into 2 Kor Skyfishers and a Noble Vestige (which is excellent in both game 2 and game 3). His 2 Merfolk Seastalkers are very problematic for me, and as you can see from the coverage, and they kill me games 2 and 3 despite my ability to deal with his deck’s flying threats. Zohar played well, drafted the best deck, and earned the trophy.

My 2009 Magic year ended in Minneapolis (I had to skip Worlds due to work) with a bang, and I felt like I played the best Magic of my life this year. I only played 3 GPs and 1 PT this year, and finished in the money in all 4 events (Top 64 at GP LA, Top 64 at GP Boston, Top 50 at Pro Tour Austin, and runner-up at GP Minn.), earning Players Club level 3 and enough money to pay for the travel.

I can’t say enough about both the value of having a good team of players to work with, and about the quality of the team that I get to work with. Rietzl, Kibler, Rubin, Chapin, Jacob, Williams, Parke, Herberholz, Nassif & Burdick are the reason I had such a good year (by “weekend warrior” standards) and the reason I had so much fun this year.

Now on to the Magic theory part of the article

The Type of Reach Spiders Only Occasionally Provide

This article is about “reach.” Not the keyword “reach” that spiders and Lamar Odom have, but rather a concept that impacts deck construction in every format.

“Reach” is a term that can help us understand and describe the answers to question such as these:

Why do Vintage decks often contain 1 Rebuild?

When choosing between splashing Red for a Burst Lightning in my Black-Green Zendikar draft deck or playing only 2 colors with a Vastwood Gorger instead, why does it matter how much Black removal I have?

Why would I want to play 4 Maelstrom Pulse and 2 Terminate in a Standard Jund deck instead of 2 Maelstrom Pulse and 4 Terminate? Why might I want the latter configuration?

You may know the answer to these questions, but how would you explain it to someone who is new to deckbuilding? One of the important “leaps” in a player’s Magic development often comes when a player wants to design competitive Limited and Constructed decks for himself, rather than borrowing decks in Constructed and wandering the wilderness during Limited deckbuilding. In addition to aiding players without much tournament experience, the term reach can aid even an advanced player’s understanding of the impact certain changes to their deck could have. At the very least, discourse among advanced players is aided by a common understanding of and way to describe a recurring topic.

Reach Defined

In the simplest terms, a deck’s “reach” is its ability to deal with a variety of threats (I won’t specifically and technically define “threat,” because its precise definition is not critical. The term “threat” will make sense as you read further, and it is flexible based on what situation/format you find yourself in). Reach is a preferable term to “answers” in my mind because to say a deck has “more answers” says nothing of the deck’s ability to FIND its answers. Thus, the definition of reach has two parts, 1) having the right answers to a threat, and 2) the ability to find those answers when you need them.

Let’s start simple and build up to a more complex understanding of reach as we go on. We can say that a deck with 39 Grizzly Bears, 1 Naturalize, and 20 Forest has more reach than a deck with 40 Grizzly Bears and 20 Forests. Here is an example which demonstrates what it means for the 39 Bear deck to have more reach than the 40 Bear version. Imagine the only other deck in this format (which I call Type Ditka) is a deck with 39 Silvercoat Lion, 1 Island Sanctuary, and 20 Plains. The Green deck with Naturalize has the ability to win the game when the opponent casts Island Sanctuary. The one copy of Naturalize gives it enough reach to never lose to the card Island Sanctuary. The lack of reach in the 40 Bear/20 Forest deck causes it to always lose to the Island Sanctuary (you will be forced to draw your entire deck while they skip every draw step).

For a real world example, lets take a Jund decklist with 4 Maelstrom Pulse vs one with 2 Maelstrom Pulse. The 4 Pulse deck might be significantly more likely to be able to kill an Elspeth, Knight-Errant or Howling Mine than the version with only 2 Pulse. This extra reach might be worth paying 1GB at sorcery speed vs RB at instant speed (assuming Terminate was the card we cut for Pulses No. 3 & 4) to kill a creature every so often.

The Jund example illustrates a key aspect of reach in deckbuilding: it often exists in a trade-off relationship with consistency or linear power. Consistency is the deck’s ability to effectively execute its game-plan, game after game. Linear power is the deck’s ability to overwhelm the opponent in one key aspect of the game. Examples of linear power include an overwhelming creature swarm, overwhelming card advantage, direct damage and haste creatures that quickly add up to 20 damage, etc. The most successful decks tend not to want a number of small advantages in multiple categories. Usually (not always), a successful deck seeks to gain an overwhelming advantage in one or a couple aspects of the game, while either ignoring or neutralizing their opponent’s advantages in other aspects of the game. Adding Terminates to your burn deck will add some reach (the ability to deal with creatures that are resistant to burn) at the expense of consistency (you will have more trouble executing your game plan of “a couple creatures early, then burn to finish the job” and you might have to add Black, making your mana less consistent) or linear power (your deck may be worse at dealing 20 damage quickly since it now has spells that don’t directly deal damage). With the basic understanding of the term reach and the trade-off between reach and consistency/linear power out of the way, let’s turn to the question of how to evaluate these trade-offs.

What Decks Reward Reach?

Here is how deckbuilders in the past decided the reach vs. consistency/linear power issue when building some well known decks:

Classic examples of low reach decks: Affinity, Goblins, Mind’s Desire/Tendrils, Academy, Burn Decks with Lava Spike, etc.

Classic examples of high reach decks: The Rock, Jund, Next Level Blue, Faeries, The Deck, etc.

Classic examples of decks in the middle, with some reach: White Weenie, BW Tokens, Necro, Mono Black Control.

Some patterns are visible from the above list. Successful Beatdown and Combo strategies tend to have less reach, while successful Control strategies tend to have more reach. A Faeries maindeck could deal with nearly any type of permanent and any type of opposing strategy. On the other hand, most successful Affinity maindecks have no way to kill a creature outside of combat, and no way at all to kill an enchantment, artifact, or land.

This leads to the following chart:


o Tends to have less reach


o Tends to have less reach


o Tends to have more reach

The principles which explain this pattern are:

How much of my deck I have access to in a typical game.

How long I want a game to last.

How much my cards depend on other specific cards to be effective.

How disruptive the threats I am likely to encounter are to my gameplan

I’ll discuss each of these important principles one by one.

I. If I have access to more of my deck, I have more reach.

Adding reach to your deck is like saying you have added “the right answer for situation X.” This benefits you in proportion to the likelihood that you will have access to the card when situation X arises. If I add a Naturalize to my deck to avoid an Island Sanctuary lock (an extreme example I realize), I am guaranteed to draw the Naturalize when they Island Sanctuary lock me (since they make me draw my entire library). On the other hand, if my 39 Grizzly Bears deck needs to kill an opposing Nevinyrral’s Disk on turn 4 before they have the chance to untap with it, 1 Naturalize will help a little, but not a lot. I don’t have much time, and my Bears deck is not going to have access to more than 11 cards on turn 4.

This principle explains why Vintage deckbuilders are willing to add narrow 1-card answers to their decks. Because of the number of tutors available in Vintage (Demonic, Vampiric, Mystical, Tinker, Imperial Seal, etc.), players will often have access to any card in their library. Adding 1 Rebuild or 1 Darkblast or 1 Diabolic Edict to a Vintage deck may give it a tremendous amount of reach. A first turn Iona, Shield of Emeria (via Entomb + Reanimate) naming Blue might be game over vs. a Tezzeret deck with only bounce spells as removal, but if that deck adds just 1 Diabolic Edict, they will instantly have at least 3 outs (Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, perhaps Imperial Seal, and the Edict itself) as well as Sensei’s Divining Top to help dig. Understanding and manipulating your specific reach is critical in Vintage.

In Limited, a deck with card drawing will be rewarded more than one without card drawing when it adds reach. Let’s say Doom Blade (sitting in my sideboard for game 1 since I am not playing Black) is my only way to realistically win a game after my opponent casts Baneslayer Angel in M10 sealed deck. Sideboarding for game 2, after just dying to the Angel game 1, do I want to sideboard in my Doom Blade along with a pair of Swamps? A deck with 2 Ponder and 1 Divination is more likely, all else being equal, to want to add this reach. By accessing more of the deck, we increase the likelihood that giving up some mana consistency for some reach is a worthwhile trade-off.

II. If I need a longer game to win, I want more reach and I have more reach.

One of the reasons this is the case is explained above; the longer the game goes, the more of your deck you will have access to. But that isn’t the whole story. In addition to seeing more cards, you will also likely encounter more threats/situations as the game progresses, and you will need answers for those threats/situations. There are also more possible threats your opponents can deploy over a long game. If a game will only last 5 turns, it is unlikely you will need an answer to a 7/7 flying creature. But as soon as our game plan is to win the game on turn 15, we might need to think about the likelihood of facing that huge dragon.

III. If my cards need very similar or very specific other cards to be effective, I sometimes can’t afford to increase my reach.

This is perhaps the most critical of the three principles driving how much reach to include in a deck. Cards that deal damage directly the opponent and only to the opponent need other cards around them that deal damage quickly in order to be effective. If you can’t deal 20 damage quickly, such cards have no effect. Putrefy, on the other hand, doesn’t need other cards which destroy creatures or artifacts to be effective. The rest of your deck could be Green fatties and Black discard. In fact, if someone showed me a deck with ONLY lands, Green fatties, and discard, I might look to cut some of the fatties/discard for some reach in the form of removal. On the other hand, an Affinity deck, which needs a certain number of artifacts in play to compete, can’t add cards like Putrefy unless absolutely necessary. All the other cards in the Affinity deck get worse when you cut an artifact.

IV. Just how disruptive to my gameplan are the threats I am likely to encounter?

If the opponent’s threat is a 4/4 flyer and my gameplan is to swarm the board with tokens and play Glorious Anthem, I might not want to remove token-creating cards for an answer to the threat. On the other hand, if their threat prevents tokens from ever killing them (think Worship, for example), I might want to add some reach that allows me to kill it. Control decks that seek to win the game by answering all or most of the opponent’s threats need a tremendous amount of reach to do so. Many types of threats become disruptive when your gameplan is to “run them out of threats entirely” or “survive 10 turns” or anything along those lines.

In Limited, formats with cards like Sparksmith or Timberwatch Elf at common make it critical that a deck has enough reach to destroy a creature in the early turns of the game. A common criticism of the Onslaught block Limited format was that decks often did not have access to this kind of reach, which left them frequently frustrated.

Combo decks are great at illustrating the above four principles.

I. If I have access to more of my deck, I have more reach.

The combo decks that have access to their entire library (due to Mind’s Desire or tutors, for example) often have 1 or 2 “return any permanent to its owner’s hand” cards for added reach that they know they will be able to find. This gives them answers to situations such as an opponent’s Runed Halo naming Tendrils or Pyrostatic Pillar (if tutors are the way the card is accessed).

II. If I need a longer game to win, I want more reach and I have more reach.

Other than the 1 or 2 slots dedicated to “answering the hate” that other decks may throw on the table, combo decks tend to have very little reach. They almost ignore the opponent’s permanents and try to “go off” rather than trying to destroy a couple things here, a couple things there, and then “go off.” They typically want the game to last only a few turns, so they aren’t as excited to add reach to their deck.

III. If my cards need very similar or very specific other cards to be effective, I sometimes can’t afford to increase my reach.

Without the right amount of necessary pieces/protection, the combo deck is just a deck of do-nothings. Putrid Leech can attack and block whether or not I draw Sprouting Thrinax or Maelstrom Pulse to go with it. It doesn’t care all that much. But Mind’s Desire cares a great deal what the other cards I draw are. If I draw Maelstrom Pulse instead of Seething Song in a storm deck, Mind’s Desire may become a do-nothing blank. This makes me less likely to add reach to the deck at the expense of speed or power. There are combo decks that are so punishing on adding reach that when building a sideboard, you cannot include more than 3 or 4 cards for any particular matchup. Identifying how much reach the deck can afford will guide the construction of the sideboard.

V. Just how disruptive to my gameplan are the threats I am likely to encounter?

When the opponent is likely to have a card that completely shuts down my combo, and comes out early and often, like an [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] or a [card]Seal of Cleansing[/card], I better have enough reach to deal with it. If my opponent’s threats don’t affect my combo, such as a vanilla 3/3 creatures, I likely don’t want to add reach that could answer these threats. If the card is merely disruptive, like a [card]Counterspell[/card], I may or may not want to have something that deals with it, depending on all the other factors. Understanding the metagame is critical when deciding how much reach your combo deck needs. You need to understand not only which highly disruptive threats are in the format but also how likely people are to be playing those threats. If no one knows that a combo deck exists in the format, encountering a turn 3 [card]Rule of Law[/card] is not likely. If everyone is scared to death of Mind’s Desire, it might be very likely that over several rounds of play you will encounter [card]Rule of Law[/card] or [card]Ethersworn Canonist[/card] multiple times.

Reach and Diminishing Marginal Returns

As we add answers to a threat one by one, each answer we add provides less reach than the last one did. This could be described as “experiencing diminishing returns on each additional answer.” This is because as soon as we have more than one answer to the same threat, we have a chance of drawing more than one answer when our opponent draws only 1 of that type of threat. As we add more and more answers, this probability of redundancy increases (exponentially, in fact). With the other half of the definition of reach, the ability to FIND the answers, we also experience diminishing returns. Being able to find the answer once may be all we need. Being able to find it 3 different ways may not add much value. This is why you might splash a removal spell if you only have 1 other one, but might not splash a third color at all if you already have 5 removal spells. Sometimes a control deck (both in Constructed or Limited) becomes so concerned with reach that it doesn’t have enough threats of its own. The first 4 times you cut a late-game card for some cheap removal, your deck might have been improved, but make sure to remember that each additional piece of removal you add provides you with less of a return. “If some is good, more is better” doesn’t always apply to reach.

Hopefully this article has given you another tool to use when trying to conceptualize the impact a deckbuilding decision makes on your deck. I often say things like “I don’t feel like Blue-Green has enough reach in Zendikar Limited,” which conveys to the people I am chatting with that I don’t think Blue-Green decks have enough answers to the likely relevant threats against it in the Zendikar Limited environment. More than just saving me a few words when I speak, the concept of reach can aid newer players in realizing that not all decks have the same ability or need to answer threats, and hopefully reach can be a way to learn the concept and then learn how to spot variables that impact the analysis.


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