The Unthinkable Stack – An MtG AI Archenemy

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Hey Magic players. I hope you aren’t getting too bogged down by the issues plaguing the game this week. I did a satirical piece on the worst Secret Lair drops I could imagine, but others have had much harsher words. Zvi Moshowitz, longtime Magic content creator, player and former Wizards R&D guy wrote this piece theorizing on the root of the game’s problems. His ultimate conclusion was that it was time for a break.

SaffronOlive, probably better known as Seth, wrote this piece, not mincing any words in calling out the corporate greed driving recent game decisions. His conclusion was that putting money in Hasbro’s pockets’ is enabling this kind of behaviour, no matter what we clamour about on the internet. He’s right.

But I love Magic. I love thinking about it and theorizing on deck construction more than anything else, but that just shows off how many different interests the game can serve. I also really like my LGS and want to support them. What do we do? Well, one way is to play with the cards we have, and not just rush to buy the newest stuff. These last few years have been a nonstop barrage of product, and I for one have plenty of cards that haven’t even been shuffled once. I’ve built Battleboxes, Cubes, a stack based on what I call the Best/Worst Game, and this deck, called the Unthinkable Stack. Why Unthinkable? Because it’s all AI.

The Unthinkable Stack

Planeswalker (1)
Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor

Artifacts (2)
Damping Sphere

Creatures (49)
Baird, Steward of Argive
Benalish Marshal
Braids, Cabal Minion
Brood Monitor
Butcher of Malakir
Cliffhaven Vampire
Coalition Honor Guard
Corpse Knight
Desolation Twin
Dwarven Priest
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Experimental Aviator
Fanatic of Mogis
Fog Bank
Goblin Chainwhirler
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Guard Gomazoa
Harsh Mentor
Haunter of Nightveil
Impassioned Orator
Jetting Glasskite
Liliana’s Specter
Maul Splicer
Maverick Thopterist
Myr Battlesphere
Nightveil Predator
Ridgescale Tusker
Serra Avatar
Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Walker of the Grove
Wall of Denial
Wall of Frost
Zulaport Cutthroat

Enchantments (19)
Bottomless Pit
Circle of Flame
Dampening Pulse
Ghostly Prison
Hissing Miasma
Impact Tremors
Liliana’s Mastery
Lunar Force
Mana Maze
Open the Graves
Protection of the Hekma
Raiders’ Wake
Rewards of Diversity
Sigil of the Empty Throne
Tainted Remedy
Valor in Akros

Instants (10)
Blinding Fog
Crackling Doom
Haze of Pollen
Join Shields
Make a Stand
Perilous Predicament
Riot Control
Tower Defense
War Report

Sorceries (27)
Barter in Blood
Call to the Feast
Delirium Skeins
Fraying Omnipotence
Gruesome Fate
Heroic Reinforcements
In Garruk’s Wake
Migratory Route
Plague Wind
Rise from the Tides
Skull Storm
Stir the Sands
Strength of the Pack
Stronghold Discipline
Syphon Soul
Tasigur’s Cruelty
Vicious Rumours

Emblems (3)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Dovin Baan

So what’s going on here? This is an Archenemy-style AI, mostly designed to play against using Commander decks. You can go solo as a testing exercise or co-operative as an alternative to the cutthroat Commander scene. You could also play any constructed deck against the Unthinkable. Here’s how it works.

Life Total – The Unthinkable starts with life equal to the base life total of the format your decks use (20 for most, 30 for Brawl, 40 for Commander) then you add that same amount for each player going up against the Unthinkable. For example, four Commander players would player against an Unthinkable with 200 life.

Setup and Play – Shuffle the Unthinkable. That’s it. To play, each player takes an initial turn, then beginning with their second turn, flips the top card of the Unthinkable as the first trigger at the beginning of their upkeep. The Unthinkable casts the card (if it is a spell) and puts it on the stack. It can be countered or redirected just like any other spell. If it resolves, it enters the battlefield under the Unthinkable’s control if it’s a permanent, or resolves and goes to the Unthinkable’s graveyard if it’s an Instant or Sorcery. My stack includes several Planeswalker Emblems, which simply enter the battlefield, ignoring the stack and things like counterspells and removal. Using different card types in this way makes the Stack less vulnerable to mass removal. Permanents in play under the Unthinkable’s control can be targeted by player spells and abilities as normal. Hexproofers, Shrouders and cards with Protections function as normal. The Unthinkable does not draw cards.

No Targets, No Attacks – The Unthinkable does not target. None of the card it plays require it to choose, or target, or think. It does not attack. That’s the major difference between it and many other similar designs. It relies on the wording on the cards, and non-combat forms of draining players’ life totals to win. One way it does this is by not being a player. Fraying Omnipotence is a great example of a card that affects ‘players’ and would ignore the Unthinkable. Spellshock is another. Perilous Predicament is a good example of a card that affects ‘your opponents’ meaning those of the Unthinkable. Cards like Plague Wind take advantage of wording that affects things the Unthinkable doesn’t control. Plague Wind also benefits heavily from the Unthinkable not having to pay mana costs, as does the otherwise barely playable Skull Storm.

Damage – While a portion of the Unthinkable Stack is geared towards reducing players’ resources, some of the rest is designed to deal damage and drain players’ lives. These cards take all sorts of approaches, from capitalizing on the resource reduction like Raiders’ Wake, to punishing opponents for their activated abilities with Harsh Mentor, or for their excess with cards like Stronghold Discipline. It can hurt them for attacking the Unthinkable’s resources with cards like Hissing Miasma, or for killing its creatures with cards like Zulaport Cutthroat. It can be of the variety like Cliffhaven Vampire or Gruesome Fate where the better the Unthinkable is doing, the worst things get for the players, or even snowball like with Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Fanatic of Mogis. Plenty of these cards synergize, forcing the players to stay on top of things or else be overwhelmed.

Lifegain and Disruption – Some of the Stack is devoted to lifegain effects like Impassioned Orator which helps keep the Unthinkable nice and healthy. It also packs stuff to mess up the opposing plan by slowing it or taxing it with cards like Ghostly Prison, Mana Maze and Eidolon of Rhetoric. The Stack is a great home for weird and unique disruption cards like Coalition Honor Guard and Lunar Force too.

Creatures, Tokens and Buffs – The remainder of the Stack is made up of tough to remove creatures like Nightveil Predator and Wall of Denial, token generators like Migratory Route and Maul Splicer, and some stuff to make the creatures bigger, like Strength of the Pack, Ridgescale Tusker, Benalish Marshal, and even Tower Defense. This all creates a defense force that players will have to fight through in order to damage the Unthinkable by combat.

Zones of Defense – The Unthinkable has four zones of defense. Think about them like a city with concentric tiers of defensive structures. Like Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings. The Unthinkable itself is in the centre. The next zone outwards is Planeswalkers. Planeswalkers with static abilities, like Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor are the only real options for this zone, but they work well. The next zone is comprised of non-defender creatures. The next is creatures with defender. The last, and outermost, is tokens. Each of these three zones are further broken down into flyers and non flyers. Tokens with defender go in the outermost zone, but it’s pretty easy to avoid including those.

Attacking – Players may only attack the creatures or planeswalkers in the outermost zone. When assigning attackers, they must assign at least one to each non-flyer if there are any. They may assign multiple attackers to each creature if they desire. For example, if there is a single Saproling token in the outermost zone, and a player has 30 creatures to attack with, it may assign all or one to the Saproling, but may not attack the next zone as long as it’s there. Flying attackers may attack any creatures in the outermost zone, however they must be assigned to creatures with Reach first if there are any. If all the creatures in a zone have flying, any player creatures may attack them, whether they have flying or not. This all allows the Stack designer lots of options to create obstacles for players, most notably with token-producers. Stir the Sands, Brood Monitor, Liliana’s Mastery and Experimental Aviator all offer different dimensions of defense. Taking advantage of tribes or flying tokens can be a great subtheme for the Stack.

Evasion – Like targeting, the Unthinkable does not declare blockers. This nullifies abilities like Skulk, Unblockable, ‘Cannot be blocked by…’ etc. However, once the players have decided what they are attacking, any creatures being attacked are considered blockers. If a creature has protection from a colour, they can still attack a creature of that colour. It will do no damage to the protected creature. If a creature has Trample, damage only carries over if the blocker is the last line of defence, ie. no zones between it and the Unthinkable. It should be noted that Planeswalkers effectively negate Trample.

Adjusting for Difficulty – I only have a small sample size so far, but the difficulty seems right for tuned casual Commander decks. You can absolutely tailor it to what kind of experience you want, and make it more or less difficult. A more difficult Stack might contain cards like Armageddon, Jokulhaups and Ankh of Mishra that attack mana. Since the Unthinkable does not have an upkeep, cards like Winter Orb and Stasis are pretty vicious. My Stack also covers lots of bases and is kind of a random experience. You can make a much more efficient killing machine or Stax machine pretty easily. Stacking cards like Impact Tremors with lots of ETB effect creatures would be a powerful setup. If you want to make it easier, make it more combat heavy. I’m considering building one that wants to mill the opponents out, too.

Take Your Decks into Consideration – Some decks simply roll over the Unthinkable. Decks that combo quickly into a source of infinite damage are probably going to have their way. But that’s not really the point. We know those decks can win. You might want to build a Stack that challenges decks like those, and you can, but mine is not like that. It’s also not really designed to play against a mill deck. Definitely not several at once. You are likely going to find other loopholes. I haven’t tested this exhaustively, and it’s by no means meant to be definitive. Hopefully it just gets the conversation going on building Stacks like this, and other ways to use the cards we have.

Give the Unthinkable Stack a try! It’s a good time, and easy to adjust if things screw up badly. Cooperative Commander is an especially fun experience, and helps defuse the arms race, power creep and format frustration that’s hanging like a dark cloud over most of the multiverse. Thanks for reading! Your life matters! Black Lives Matter!

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