One of the best things about Magic: the Gathering is that there are so many different ways you can play. Want to smack other players around with beefy creatures? Go for it.
Interested in building elaborate combos that end in a stunning (albeit confusing) victory? By all means, do so.
Would you rather build a mini-fortress of cards to hide in and wait for your opponents to attack each other while you sit back? That’s possible, too.
But one of the most complex, sophisticated, and rewarding strategies is surely politics. In this post, we’re going to take a look at what playing politics in MTG means, whether you should try it, and what cards are the best at demonstrating this unique gameplan.
What are Politics in Magic: the Gathering?
Politicking in Magic: the Gathering is much like politicking in real life. Instead of directly doing something yourself – like attacking opponents in MTG – you build relationships and rivalries with other players that you work through to achieve desirable effects.
There are various ways you can do this. One easy way – even if you’re not playing a political deck – is to choose not to attack someone with your creatures if they agree not to cast a board wipe. It doesn’t even need to be explicitly stated; you may simply choose someone you want to form an alliance with early on, then neglect to attack them in the hope they’ll let you be.
Then there are cards that are specifically designed to be political. For instance, such a card might have an ability that says something like, “put a +1/+1 counter on target creature.” It doesn’t have to be your creature – you can easily choose someone else’s. You may to decide to boost an opponent’s creature that is attacking another one of your opponents, as an illustration.
The bottom line is that, when you play politically, you are building relationships with other players at the table with the hope that they will act to your benefit. It is an absolutely sneaky strategy.
Why Should You Play Politics?
There are a lot of benefits to playing politics. First, there’s the aspect of making allies. Oftentimes, when you’re simply dominating the battlefield through brute force, all you’re doing is making enemies of everyone else at the table. You’ll quickly become everyone’s target, which will more likely than not result in your rapid defeat.
On the other hand, when you build a positive relationship with someone else at the table by offering them some kind of benefit, they won’t want to take you down. For the time being, you’ll have one less enemy to deal with, making your survival a wee bit easier.
Furthermore, if you’re using your politics in such a way that you’re convincing someone to go after another one of your opponents, the opponent under fire is likelier to target the attacker rather than you. It’s like waging a war by proxy. No blood on your hands, so you might even get away with it for a time.
Advanced players will also probably find politicking more challenging. It’s an extremely nuanced strategy that takes skill to pull off, so it’s the perfect test of your Magic know-how.
Are There Any Drawbacks to Politics in MTG?
Politics, like any other strategy, can be a bit of a double-edged sword. There are certainly reasons not to use this strategy, as well.
For example, it’s complicated. You need to gauge which players at the table would be most amenable to an alliance and turn them against someone else. You also need to gauge who is the biggest threat at the table (aside from you, that is) and figure out how you’re going to respond to that threat. Are you going to enable them and hope they’ll leave you alone while you build a solution? Or are you going to offer benefits to other opponents for targeting that threat?
Another issue is that many people you choose to empower will turn against you eventually. Politicking won’t keep people at bay forever, and most Magic players are smart enough to know when they’re being used in-game. You need to be prepared to defend yourself on top of being able to continuously play the game of politics.
Politicking also often means playing the long game. While it’s not totally impossible, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to build alliances, paint targets on people’s back, and create a viable defense in just a couple turns. For that reason, this strategy is most effective in longer games, such as Commander games.
This isn’t a strategy for the faint of heart, and political decks generally won’t be very flashy. That’s just another deterrent for those who are more interested in straightforward tactics, like beating opponents down with a tangible army.
Need help building a deck? Take a look at our guide to building a budget Commander deck.
Best Political Cards in MTG
We’ve done a lot of talking about politics in MTG, but what about actual political cards? If you’re looking for some of our favorite examples, here’s a convenient list of some of the best political cards in MTG…
Phelddagrif looks weird but trust us when we say it’s one of the most fun political cards in the game. Not only is it a flying hippo, but it has three different activated abilities that can benefit you in addition to someone else.
You can pay mana to give it trample, give it flying, or return it to your hand. For each of those effects, something else happens, whether it’s making a token for someone else, allowing someone else to gain life, or letting someone else draw a card.
It might not exactly be competitive, but Phelddagrif is a fun card for advanced players to experiment with.
Zedruu the Greathearted
With Zedruu the Greathearted, you have motivation to actually give your permanents to your opponents. At the beginning of your turn, you will gain life and draw cards equal to the number of permanents opponents have under their control. You can pay one blue, one white, and one blue to give one of your permanents to someone else.
If you want to be especially mean, you can put things in your deck that would be worthless or even harmful to your opponents. One example is Jinxed Choker, but that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
The point is that you have flexibility. You can give a good permanent to someone and hope they use it effectively without using it against you, or you can give worthless permanents to people.
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Xantcha, Sleeper Agent
“Sleeper agent” is a fitting name for Xantcha. It might feel strange to give your Commander to an opponent the moment you’re able to cast it, but that’s a strategy that makes sense here.
Like a sleeper agent, she’ll never harm you. Your opponents will be forced to attack with her, but they can’t target you with her, so tensions will rise between them as someone else takes repeated attacks from Xantcha. To add insult to injury, anyone can pay three mana to force the person who’s controlling her to lose two life. Since it lets them draw a card, you can bet opponents will be more than happy to shock Xantcha’s controller.
Strixhaven had some awesome new elder dragons for players to enjoy, and it just so happens that one of them, Shadrix Silverquill, is a political card.
On the combat step during your turn, you will get to choose from two of Shadrix’s abilities. The tricky part is that each ability must target a different player. So you can give yourself an inkling token, draw a card and lose a life, or put +1/+1 counters on all your creatures…but whatever you choose, you’ll have to confer another one of those benefits onto someone else.
To be honest, Shadrix is kind of a weird card. It can be played politically, or you can just equip it with a bunch of swords and use it as a beater if you want to be aggressive.
Kenrith, the Returned King
In competitive EDH, Kenrith, the Returned King is considered one of the best Commanders out there. There are plenty of reasons for this.
For one thing, he gives you access to all five colors, thanks to his activated abilities. For another, he’s extremely flexible. You can buff creatures, gain life, draw cards, return creatures from graveyards, or give trample to creatures.
Because most of his abilities can be applied to “target” player or creature, you can choose who gets it, whether it’s yourself or someone else. Think of the possibilities here. You could effectively fight a war without ever getting your hands dirty – just continuously apply bonuses to someone else while you sit back and let them do all the work for you.
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There are many different ways to build and play a deck in Magic: the Gathering. This is precisely what draws so many to the game, though – you’re free to exercise your own creativity within the bounds of your chosen format’s legality.
Playing politics is just one example of a strategy that has developed from the creativity of the player base. It’s a more advanced strategy, to be sure, but it’s also a blast once you get the hang of it.
I’m sorry, I’m probably a minority in this argument but I absolutely hate politics in commander. I think its a cheap way to manipulate the game so you can sit back, pillowfort, and make others do your dirty work. Win the game yourself, stop piggybacking on others to win. If I see a political commander across from me, they will be my target for the game.
That’s fair – people like different things in their games. My personal pet peeve is anything with Cascade or that otherwise results in turns taking absurdly long amounts of time.