Actions and Reactions – by Jeffrey Milton

Today I’m talking about a subject that I’m starting to feel very comfortable with in my few years playing magic. Actions and reactions or proactive and reactive strategies.

This article will cover different styles of gameplay and explains the small intricacies within a fun game of Commander as well as a cycle of new cards from Journey into Nyx that are certain to have some impact in constructed formats.

Imagine yourself playing an epic game of Commander against 3 friends in a giant Free-for-all Battle Royal! I figure I’ll put you, the reader, on the front lines to hopefully have you better understand the meaning of proactive and reactive gameplay.

You’re playing Nekusar, the Mindrazer and your faced up against Omnath, Locus of Mana, Sygg, River Cutthroat and Derevi, Empyrial Tactician.

Before I go any further, let me give you a brief explanation of each deck. I’m not going to write up 4 commander deck lists. I’m just going to tell you a bit about what each deck does.

Nekusar Control

Control deck – Plays a defensive role using removal and counterspells to fend off opposing threats. Accelerates mana using artifacts and eventually wins the game with giant X spells or draw damage… or both.

Pros: – Strong political game.
– Plays the most amount of disruption in black and red and lots of counterspells in blue.
– Plays Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker along with other powerful planeswalkers.
– Access to tutor cards like Demonic Tutor and Liliana Vess.
– Commander creature type is Zombie Wizard (Seriously how cool is that?)
Cons: – Difficulty with resolved enchantments.
– Rarely uses the combat phase due to small amount of creatures.
– Weakness to overwhelming aggressive strategies.
Cards to watch out for:
– Teferi’s Puzzle Box
– Forced Fruition
– Phyrexian Tyranny

Omnath Smash

Mono Green Stompy – Accelerates mana very quickly and tries to abuse Omnath’s ability to the fullest and eventually win via Commander damage or with big Eldrazi.

Pros: – BIG creatures that are often hard to deal with.
– Fastest winning deck if left unanswered.
– Creature heavy deck that applies constant pressure on opponents.
– Strong against aggressive strategies
Cons: – Sometimes draws no mana acceleration to get any advantage.
– Sometimes only accelerates mana but doesn’t draw into big spells.
– Weak to heavy removal decks.
– Limited creature removal.
– Always the biggest target in a multiplayer game.
Cards to watch out for:
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Genesis Wave

Sygg Tempo

Tempo oriented deck starts the game off with a few cheap, efficient threats like Delver of Secrets and utilizes hand disruption, creature removal and cheap counterspells to allow its early pressure to take over the game.

Pros: Low average converted mana costs allows for a smaller land count.
– Access to black tutors to find anything it could need.
– Can play the game well with a small amount of lands in play.
– Good matchup against midrange decks

Cons: – Limited artifact and enchantment removal.
– Difficulty against aggressive strategies.

Cards to watch out for:
Wasteland + Crucible of Worlds
Tangle Wire

Derevi Lockdown

Toolbox style creature deck, able to adjust its game plan according to how the game is playing out. Uses effective utility creatures to stay ahead of the game.

Pros: – Effective commander ability can be used at instant speed from the Command zone.
– Able to lockdown opponent resources.
– Plenty of utility creatures able to handle most situations effectively.
– Deck plays effectively without the need of it’s commander.

Cons: – Limited creature removal.
– Difficulty against control decks.

Cards to watch out for:
Hokori, Dust Drinker
Mother of Runes


The game starts off slow, Sigg comes into play early to pick away at defenseless foes, Derevi is fixing his draws by spinning Sensei’s Divining Top while Omnath is perpetually accelerating his mana each passing turn. You’re sitting pretty with your lands untapped keeping everybody honest. Everyone is a potential threat.

It’s your fifth turn, you draw your card and find yourself in an awkward situation. You don’t have a 5th land to play and your grip is filled with counterspells, removal and a foiled copy of Font of Mythos. You could try digging for land with Font of Mythos on your next turn but everybody gets a chance to draw extra cards before you do. Your opponents are also free to play spells without the worry of getting any spells countered.


So what do you do here? Pass the turn with counterspells in your hand or play Font of Mythos?

A Nekusar EDH deck needs artifacts and enchantments with repetitive card drawing effects. Your early game consists of being reactive to your opponents plays by countering the important spells and killing the important opposing creatures. The deck isn’t all Howling Mines and Temple Bells, its a control deck. Notice how I put a bit of emphasis on the word reactive.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
There are proactive and reactive strategies in the game of magic.

The Proactives
An aggro deck will normally always be considered a proactive strategy and is widely known to be popular among a large percentage of the players out there. This strategy basically says: “You have to answer my threats or I will win.” This strategy is very popular in most newer formats (i.e.: Standard post rotation) because nobody knows what the best deck is so they have little knowledge on what to prepare for. They build a deck that they think needs to be answered rather than build a deck that needs to answer everyone else’s.

The Omnath deck in our story is an easy example of a proactive strategy. Ramp into big mana for big creatures to smash face and win the game. About as simple as the Hulk.

The Derevi deck in our story plays a proactive role by playing small efficient creatures and locking down the opponent by means of having a Winter Orb effect on the battlefield and tapping down everyone’s lands or untapping its own lands with Derevi’s triggered ability. Creatures like Kira, Great Glass Spinner and Mother of Runes ensure that it’s creatures are well protected by heavy removal.

The Reactives

The Sigg tempo deck on the other hand might seem like it’s playing a proactive role because it also play small efficient creatures like the Derevi deck does but the reason why it plays a more reactive role is because of it’s use of removal and counterspells to protect the clock it puts on its opponents.

A control deck is a reactive strategy with a late end game that can be harder for any deck to deal with. It uses removal and counterspells to protect its life total and its end game rather than its clock. Control decks are built around known metagames and are built to specifically beat certain types of decks that are expected to see play. It uses card advantage to take over the game once the opponents resources have been depleted.

Nekusar’s gameplan is to have a way to keep Nekusar or something similar on the table and have your opponents draw lots of cards all while being able to keep the opponent from killing him. The obvious disadvantage to this is that your letting your opponents draw more cards, keeping them from running out of resources. The need to continually be reactive becomes much more important.


You decided to slam the Font of Mythos, passing the turn to Sygg. You can see the slight grin coming from Omnath. You had no choice. You either play it now and hope nobody plays anything too back breaking. You take a few hits from Sygg proceeded by watching Omnath draw three while untapping his stack of forests.
“Primal Command? Searching for a creature and targeting your Font of Mythos?” Omnath’s eyes are tunnel visioned on your artifact. This is exactly what you where fearing. Not only does he get a creature but you’re guaranteed not to draw a land next turn… This game feels pretty much over.

“I’ll Memory Lapse that!” Derevi exclaims. “There’s no way I’ll allow the two of you to draw more cards without me getting a piece of the cake.”

The look of anger on Omnath’s face feels oh so sweet as you watch him put his Primal Command on top of his library.

This game might not turn out all that bad after all. If only there could have been a way to avoid the situation altogether.


So how could Nekusar advance it’s game plan while still being reactive?

The first and more realistic answer to this is to wait things out for as long as you can, hit your land drops and eventually attain a hefty amount of land to cast either Nekusar, Howling Mine or maybe even Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker with counterspell mana still up. (Yes I understand that’s alot of mana but we’re playing EDH here and besides who plays a Grixis colored deck without Nicol Bolas?)


The only issue we find ourselves in is that we need a reliable source of card draw to reliably hit our land drops. If we can’t lay out a Howling Mine during our early turns, we’re going to need some other way to advance our board position

The second way we can advance our game plan is by playing everything at the end of our opponents end step. This plan is a bit more ideal to drop our win conditions at instant speed but also puts a target on our heads in a game of politics.

A word from the wise: “Never trust a planeswalker who has one of these in play.”

The basic idea of these are to have access to your reactive spells at the moments your need them and still play what are normally sorcery speed spells at the end of the opponents turn. I’ve caught myself in some very bad situations against cards like these. I think I might have learned my lesson.

“At the end of your turn I’ll flash in Terastodon.”

I’ve never once won a game of multiplayer EDH with Leyline of Anticipation in play. I would become the immediate target even though I wasn’t a threat. The group would either get rid of the Leyline or get rid of me. Either way, I wasn’t winning. I might as well have been playing Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and just asked if we could play 3 on 1.

Since we’re on the subject about everything having flash, have you guys seen the new enchantment Nekusar can use from Journey into Nyx?

Kind of exactly what we’re looking for if you ask me!

I know it about Kruphix again. I just can’t seem to get enough of that guy. Have I ever told you that I collect Prophets of Kruphix in hope that they go up in price some day? But don’t worry, I only have 8.

The Dictate Cycle from Journey Into Nyx is an interesting one to say the least. These cards have been designed to benefit it’s user by being able to utilize it’s effect before anyone else can. This allows more reactive strategies like Nekusar Control to advance it’s gameplan without the worry to have to tap out early.

This card cycle will sometimes help your opponent but will often help you much more since your deck is designed with that card in mind. I’m getting very anxious to see what kind of decks brewers will come up with in standard. I’m sure some are bound to see constructed play.

I remember playing Turbo Fog a couple of years ago right after M12 was released with Gideon Jura and Jace’s Erasure (That’s right!) as the win conditions. The draw engine was 4 Temple Bells and 4 Rites of Flourishing. The unfortunate part about Rites of flourishing was that I caught myself in situations where my opponent draws 2, plays 2 land and Oblivion Rings the Rites of Flourishing to get me even further behind. This is where a card like Dictate of Kruphix can really shine!

Here is a quick untested deck list!

Standard Turbo Fog

Other Spells: 33
4 Fog
4 Defense of the Hearth
2 Riot Control
4 Dictate of Kruphix
3 Codex Shredder
4 Dissolve
1 Jace, Memory Adept
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Detention Sphere
1 Elixir of Immortality

Lands: 27
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Temple of Enlightenment
4 Temple of Plenty
4 Breeding pool
4 Temple garden
3 Forest

Basic Idea to this deck is to have Dictate of Kruphix out to have your opponent draw lots of cards and grind out your opponent with Codex Shredder. The fogs stall the game out long enough to hopefully allow you to windmill slam jace and only need 1 activation for the win. Seems like it could be fun!
Anyways I’ve ranting on now for way too long and I won’t have anything to talk about next week. I hope to see some of at the prerelease coming up on the 26th! Thanks for reading!

Article submitted by by Jeffrey Milton

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