I recently wrote an article about a deck-building tool called Shells, where I outlined how Polukranos, World Eater is a “probably should play” card in most decks that included Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and Courser of Kruphix. Shortly after, a friend of mine stated confidently that “…of course you play Polukranos in that slot. What else would you play, that stupid RTR Beetle?!” He was insinuating that Polukranos, World Eater is strictly better than Deadbridge Goliath.
Whenever someone says that one card is strictly better than another, I am overcome with the urge to punch them right in their thick skull, because they’re almost certainly wrong. Magic: the Gathering is a game of situations. Situations will dictate if a card is better or worse than another card.
Instant Speed Detour:
Consider the following: You’ve got a 1/1 Elf, a Garruk Relentless at 3 loyalty, and a burn spell. This burn spell could be either Shock or Lightning Bolt. Your opponent is a gold fish, at 6 life, with a 3/3 Blastoise.
Both Shock and Lightning Bolt are the same color, same cost, and the same card type. The only differences between these two spells are that one does 2 damage, one does 3 damage, and they have a different name. Lightning Bolt does more damage for the same mana cost, so some people say that it is “strictly better” than shock. Some people are stupid.
There are multiple “correct” lines of play here, all of which advance your board state. There is only one line of play that makes you win the game.
Scenario 1: Bolt
Make a wolf with Garruk, Bolt the Blastoise, attack with Elf.
- Opponent loses a creature
- Opponent goes to 5 life
- You are up a 2/2
- Bolt is gone
Scenario 2: Bolt
Fight Garruk and 3/3, attack with Elf.
- Opponent loses a creature
- Opponent goes to 5 or 2 life
- Keep / Cast bolt (optional)
- You lose Garruk
Scenario 3: Shock
Shock yourself and redirect 2 damage to Garruk Relentless, flip Garruk Relentless transforming him into Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, -1 Garruk sacrificing Elf, get Zealous Conscripts from deck, play Conscripts, steal Blastoise, attack.
- Opponent loses the game
- You feel smug
- Garruk dies but you never really liked him anyways
>>> EDIT: 306.7. If noncombat damage would be dealt to a player by a source controlled by an opponent, that opponent may have that source deal that damage to a planeswalker the first player controls instead. This is a redirection effect (see rule 614.9) and is subject to the normal rules for ordering replacement effects (see rule 616). The opponent chooses whether to redirect the damage as the redirection effect is applied.<<<
So case 3 doesn’t actually work. But here’s another example.
Your opponent has a Boros Reckoner attacking you. You’ve got 3 life, an Eye Gouge and a Shock or a Bolt. The only way you survive (and kill the Reckoner) is if you are holding a shock, because the 3 damage redirected to you with Reckoner’s ability would kill you.
Adopting “Mostly Better”:
If I was building a deck, would I play Shock over Lightning Bolt? Of course I wouldn’t. Lightning Bolt is better in a lot of situations. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that Lightning Bolt is Mostly better. I will however, never concede that Lightning Bolt is strictly better than Shock.
A situation doesn’t have to be a board state, either. It can simply be deck related.
Insects and Hydras:Polukranos, World Eater and Deadbridge Goliath are very similar cards. They have the exact same mana cost, power, and toughness. They even both have regular and promo editions. The promos are at the start, here are the normal versions for scale:
The two differences that really matter are: the ability, and that one is legendary. These two things can have major deck-building ramifications.
I mentioned earlier that I love to put Polukranos, World Eater in decks that include Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall, and Courser of Kruphix. These cards are what I deem “control” cards. They remove threats from the game, or set you up to remove threats later. Polukranos is a removal spell stapled to a creature and fits right in with these cards. Goliath is not a removal spell, and it interacts poorly when put into a control deck.
Deadbridge Goliath has a home in aggro:
Aggressive decks are all about playing multiple threats, keeping them relevant, and getting damage though. I picture Deadbridge Goliath in a deck alongside Experiment One, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Boon Satyr. I prefer Goliath here over Poukranos for multiple reasons.
- You won’t get stuck holding one because of the legend rule.
- After it gets removed, it will keep your smaller threats relevant.
- The +1/+1 counters are more relevant on another, smaller creature, than on the 5/5.
What’s the Point?
My mind micro-analyses the minutia of magic. Giant Beetles and Hydras are both cool, but for a card to be strictly better, it needs to be more favorable in all situations, and this is nearly impossible in MTG. “Mostly Better” is a less exciting, but ultimately more accurate term.
Post Publishing Thoughts:
Learning is sometimes an embarrassing experience. I put out an article with a situation that was checked only by “asking around” and not by actually reading through the rulebook. I posted it on Reddit, and within seconds I was corrected. This really speaks to the strength of the public forum.
My intention was to create a theater for debate on the subject and I got so much more out of it than I expected. I learned a rule about magic I had never considered, I was given additional resources about the subject, and I got to see where people stand on the subject as well.
Did I fall on my face and make a little ass of myself? Sure. Am I a better player and writer for doing it? Yes. Thanks to everyone who helps me fill in gaps in my MTG knowledge.