Rankle, Master of Pranks, by Dmitry Burmak
Welcome back to Battlefield Strategies, the article series where we look at actual historical battles and try to implement the winning strategies into Magic! Today’s article is on the Battle of Cannae!
The Battle of Cannae took place in August of 216 BCE during the Second Punic War. The Punic wars were a series of three wars fought between the budding Roman empire, and the competing empire of Carthage in North Africa. The first Punic War was mostly fought in the Mediterranean over the island of Sicily. The Carthaginians were known for their immense navy and it made sense that these powers would fight over the islands that bordered their territories. Rome defeated Carthage and became the major military power in the Medditeranian.
One of the generals in this war, Hamilcar Barca, had a son. This son was named Hannibal and it is said he swore to his father to never be a friend of Rome. It seemed that Hannibal had taken the loss of the First Punic War personally and he wanted to take the fight to Rome itself, not fight over some territory. He gathered an army, but instead of loading up the navy and making a bee-line straight across the sea to Italy, Hannibal took his army to the Iberian Peninsula, which is modern-day Spain. He marched through Gaul (or southern France) and made the arduous journey over the Alps and into Italy. Traversing mountains is dangerous as a normal army in the ancient times, but Hannibal’s army consisted of about 80 war elephants (sources differ on the number), creatures who may not have ever experienced snow. This march is probably Hannibal’s most famous feat. Why did he do it? It was the element of surprise. The Romans expected Hannibal to sail across and try to take back territories that were annexed in the first Punic War. Attacking from the north was completely unexpected.
Once he crossed the Alps, Hannibal won two major battles against the Romans using ambushes. The Romans at the time considered this to be “unsportsmanlike” and set out to punish Hannibal and squash this upstart general by forcing him to play their game. Rome sent a combined army of 86,000 men led by two consuls, Lucius Amellius Pallus and Gaius Terentius Vallo. It was the largest army Rome had ever assembled to date.
Until the use of gunpowder on the battlefield, fights typically involved the same basic strategy. Both armies would form ranks and would clash. You could either route your enemy by overwhelming the sides of the formation, or flanks, or you could break through the middle and divide and conquer. Usually the flanks were manned by cavalry whose speed and maneuverability made it hard to overtake and Hannibal boasted the better cavalry. Rome decided their best bet was to break the middle of the Carthaginian line with overwhelming numbers. Rome not only reinforced the middle of their formation, but rotated their columns so that they could fit more men in the center mass. Once the line was broken, it would be like a dam rupturing, or at least that was the hope.
Hannibal perceived this and set his formation up in almost the exact opposite of Rome. He placed the fewest, but best, infantry in the center of his formation and heavily fortified his flanks. As the armies met for battle, Hannibal’s center line started giving ground. The Romans thought they were achieving their goal of breaking the line in the middle and pressed even harder. What was really happening was the center line was intentionally giving ground and sucking the Roman center in while the more heavily fortified flanks were pushing the Romans back. Once sufficient ground was given, Hannibal signaled and his army turned inward and began fighting toward the center. The Romans were now fighting on three fronts. The Carthaginian cavalry, who had been off the field harassing the Roman cavalry, swept in and closed the trap. The Roman army was completely surrounded and utterly defeated. Of the 86,000 men the Romans fielded, 67,500 were killed or captured. Of Hannibal’s 50,000 men, 5,700 were killed. That means for every Carthaginian killed, 11.6 Romans were killed. Those numbers are astronomical, and you will still find this battle listed among the most one-sided battles in history!
The Strategy - Building Rankle EDH
Hannibal won using what is called the Double Envelopment or Pincer Attack where an army attacks its enemy on two fronts. As I mentioned in my last article, Sun Tzu, the guy who literally wrote the book on war, speculated about the maneuver. He conceded that it would be a highly effective tactic if completed, but postulated that an army would not be able to fully pull it off due to the enemy either being able to maneuver out or run away before it would be enveloped. What made Hannibal successful was that he convinced the Romans that they were winning until they were completely surrounded.
Enter . Our little trickster friend is the perfect general to attempt to pull off this feat as he can control the board and the hand quite easily. This deck will have 2 main strategies, attack the hand and control creatures on the board.
Since Commander is usually played with around four players, it doesn’t do us a whole lot of good to play discard spells that only target one player. So lets focus on cards that cause either all players or all opponents to discard. , , and give us this effect on a not-great-but-still-useful body. and give us repeatable discard on an evasive body. , , and are great cards that either let us hit two cards out of our opponents hand or help us refill our own hand. Magic becomes a much tougher game to win once a player hits topdeck mode, so keeping our opponents’ hands at 0 keeps them from interacting with us and stopping our game plan. We can even throw in and really take advantage of all the discarded cards.
The second part of our strategy is to keep our opponents’ creatures off the battlefield. This will be attained with forced sacrifice. Cards like , , and can help keep our opponent’s down while cards like and either give us fodder to sacrifice or make the sacrifice hit our opponents harder than us. can give us a repeatable effect while also ramping and drawing us cards. and can give us repeatable sacrifice fodder as well. We can even sacrifice those discard creatures once they’ve entered the battlefield and done their job.
There is a report, though we don’t know exactly how true it is, that right before the battle, a Carthaginian officer named Gisgo made an astonished and somewhat defeated comment to Hannibal about the size of the Roman Army. Hannibal turned to him and said "There is one thing, Gisgo, yet more astonishing which you take no notice of. In all those great numbers before us, there is not one man called Gisgo.” Whether it was true or not, Hannibal used a tactic to convince his army that they had a secret weapon.
Well, in Rankle’s army there is certainly a secret weapon. can take every single creature we make our opponent’s lose and use it against them by bringing it to our side. Every sacrifice or creature discarded is now on our board used to beat our opponents. When we add cards like , , or Tergrid will pretty much end the game on her own.
Envelopment with Rankle EDHView on Archidekt
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I hope you had fun looking at this interesting method of battlefield control with me, and if you decide to build around the Faerie, I hope you enjoy Rankle EDH! Next week we will take a look at one of the deadliest battles in world history. See you then!