The Art of Avoiding a T-Rex

Erik TiernanCommander, Strategy

Jurassic Park is one of my sister’s favorite movies. While it is an amazing film, we only had one TV, so I’ve seen this movie more than most people. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized the film has lessons that can be applied to Magic.

Building up to your game plan while avoiding being eaten is difficult. Luckily, we can take some lessons from Jurassic Park to become better players.

Vision is Based on Movement

Commander players are basically all Ghalta, Primal Hunger. Giant decks, giant mana, and giant footprints at the table. To avoid getting eaten by a prowling pack of predators you should follow Dr. Grant’s advice — Don’t move!

In many Commander games, this advice seems counterintuitive. But sometimes, the best plan is just do nothing. Moving draws the attention of your opponents and, trust me, you do not want to be Ian Malcolm.

Recently, I was playing a game with my Grothama, All-Devouring deck, and the table was getting scary. I had some mana, but not as much as I wanted. I could make tokens with my Ant Queen to keep away big predators, but not enough to actually make any attacks. So I passed several turns, doing very little except making some end step insect tokens.

But this bought me time. When the inevitable board wipe happened, I had a break to ramp hard, and the next turn I cast an entwined Tooth and Nail. Snagging Vigor and Worldspine Wurm was horrifying for the table. One turn later without anyone finding an answer, I slammed Grothama, All-Devouring and swung.

In the early part of the game, my opponents had very strong positions. If I ramped harder and tried to cast the Tooth and Nail very quickly, I would have been overrun by an angry Boros army and a horde of saproling tokens. Big effects win games, but big effects before the right moment can just get you eliminated. Simply surviving a turn may not always be exciting, but it means that you can continue to play. You don’t get to keep playing if you lost.

A 25-power Grothama and Worldspine Wurm mid-attack phase caused one player scoop immediately. The next player drew for the turn and scooped as well. My final opponent conceded and Grothama won.

Not moving is critical in these types of situations. If I made a big play, the whole table would take notice. Since I just waited until the T-Rex was looking somewhere else, I was able to make my big play without being punished. Just wait out the T-Rex and it will find something else to focus on.

Be Like a Raptor and Strike from the Sides

The next important lesson from Jurassic Park is to attack like a velociraptor: from the sides. Just because the enemy knows an attack is coming doesn’t mean they know from where the attack is coming from. As Dr. Grant says, the raptor in front of you is a distraction — be a clever girl and use that distraction to your advantage!

This advice may seem like a koan, but it’s a real strategy. In the game I described, the Ant Queen is a threat. But what my opponents didn’t know was that I was a Tooth and Nail waiting in my hand. By keeping the board relatively stalled through insect tokens, I held off a saproling horde and the Boros battlefield.

I cannot stress how much this requires you to actually be a velociraptor. Don’t be coy and bluff — be willing to fight with the first raptor. Ant Queen is capable of winning games, and if I didn’t need to commit more resources, then I would have gladly gone that plan. But the board was scary and I knew a board wipe was coming due to the wizard deck digging like crazy. Rather than overcommit with Ant Queen, I just kept pace and added some more mana while I got all my raptors into position.

Have Auxiliary Power for the Park

If Jurassic Park didn’t have a backup power system, then the door locks would never have stopped the raptors at the end. Have a backup plan! The biggest mistake I see in games is that players overcommit to Plan A and don’t have a Plan B lined up. Build around your commander, but make sure you can do something when that plan goes wrong.

I had plenty of potential backup plans in the Ant Queen game. Ant Queen could win the game on its own, if need be. When that failed, I went with Tooth and Nail for Vigor and Worldspine Wurm. If the big wurm was killed, then I would still have three 5/5 trampling baby wurms, Vigor, and Grothama. If Vigor was killed, then I would lose Grothama and draw fifteen cards.

I know that Commander is about the commander, but that doesn’t mean you need every line of play to be an all-in approach with that commander. You will lose permanents over the course of the game; don’t underestimate your opponents’ ability to deal with your threats. If you have no backup plan, you’ll need ways to protect your creatures and keep that plan moving forward.

Do you have any lessons that I missed or just regular bits of strategy that get overlooked? Reach out to me (@Erik_Tiernan) or to @Card_Kingdom on Twitter with your thoughts.