"To feed or not to feed, that is the the question" - William Shakespeare
In the average journey for aspiring competitive Magic players, one of the very first lessons you learn as you begin to improve at the game is how to play around cards your opponents could have. Navigating games where you invalidate your opponents' removal spells or successfully recover from getting your board destroyed is intoxicating, so much so that one of the hardest level-up moments for many up-and-coming competitive Magic players in any format is striking the balance of playing around too much and giving your opponent opportunities to catch back up because you're trying to play around every single card your opponent can have. After all, it feels better to lose and be able to say you lost because you were playing around things than to attempt a more risky strategy and run face first into your opponents' cards.
Despite this, it is commonly accepted by the highest level of competitive players that there will be times you can no longer play around certain cards or sequences of cards and you should take the risky lines to maximize your chances of winning. "Make them have it" is the concise way this is usually expressed, especially when referring to relatively low-downside plays, like getting your card countered, that don't lose you the game on the spot. If you cast your good card into open mana and it gets countered, the game continues on, and even if you're behind, the winner of the game is not yet determined. Of course, all of this is easy to write into an article, but putting it into practice can be challenging. Determining the exact point you can no longer defeat a card or a certain set of cards is difficult to ascertain, and consequently the majority of the advice is directed at new players that lean too conservatively and play scared. That being said, it's worth mentioning that you should not throw caution to the wind and stop playing around things just because you start to feel a bit behind.
Make Them Have It In cEDH
Knowing when to "make them have it" is hard enough in 60-card formats, but it can be attractive to throw your hands up and not even try to determine the things you can beat when playing a multiplayer, singleton, and interaction-dense format like cEDH. Many of the players I have seen tend to gravitate to the polar ends of the spectrum. They either will 1) play around nothing, and usually reach for decks that can win as fast and consistently as possible, agnostic of interaction to stop them (Ex.,), or 2) play around everything and reach for decks that are loaded down with effects and/or don't even attempt a win until massively ahead through snowballing advantage (Ex. / ). The issue with these philosophies is that, even with the strategies favoring one of the polar ends of "make them have it", there are still quite a few scenarios where you have to reconsider based on how the game has played out thus far. The most common example? and .
These card advantage engines are both unique and powerful due to the dilemma they put on the game. As soon as one of those cards hits play, you are forced to ask yourself whether you should cast your cards and, in the case of , if you want to pay the extra mana for your cards. Mana is at a premium in cEDH, more so than in other formats, and keeping mana up can be the correct choice to leave up interaction over paying for a Rhystic Study, but how do you know when it's correct to allow your opponents to draw cards? Even if they don't draw interaction to stop what you're doing right away, you're giving them an abundance of resources to attempt defended wins with. The obvious answer is that it's contextual! However, there are quite a few cases where it makes sense to feed the fish.
You Should FeedWhen...
- Other players are feeding
Ex. Player before you plays three mana-producing rocks and pays for none of them.
If the rest of the table decides to feed the fish, you are realistically only letting yourself fall even further behind by not following suit. Obviously this leads to the player drawing all the cards being very likely to win the game, but your chances of winning are almost always lower if you are the only one playing underneath a restriction.
- Other players are asymmetrically pulling too far ahead
Ex. A player is triggering Winota while other players are not casting their spells.
Due to the strength of cards like and , it's not uncommon for decks to have a backup plan to accumulate advantage while either paying for Rhystic Study or awaiting for Mystic Remora's upkeep cost to be too great to continue paying for. This is part of the renowned success of or .
- You invalidate the cards drawn
Ex. You feed a couple cards playing mana and cast a as your last card.
This is the most risky of the reasons to feed opponents cards because it relies specifically on resolving an important spell and it can be disastrous to give your opponent cards to interact with that card if it is something like a wheel effect. Fortunately, making plays like this often prices your opponents into defending you if it's something like a wheel and not a win attempt, and this usage of effects is one of the more underrated in cEDH. Note that starting with a effect, even a more limited one like , falls into this category as well.
- If you don't you lose
Ex. Countering a win attempt.
This one is as straightforward as it gets. It's not at all uncommon to play a game in which there is a face-up win attempt on the stack and nobody has any interaction for it so you feed your opponents cards hoping they find something. Outside of the some sneaky bluffs and sandbags opponents can run to get cards, this one is straightforward.
- It's your best chance to win even if that chance is unlikely
Ex. Players are tapped out, low on resources, and your win attempt is compact enough to potentially beat the card advantage.
This is easily the scenario I see missed the most. The "don't feed the fish" heuristic appears to imply never feeding no matter what is the way to go but if continuing to wait and just take draw steps favors your opponents more than it favors you, it may be correct to just attempt to win anyway! These win attempts tend to frustrate the table because as soon as you attempt the win they likely can no longer win at all because if you fail, the player who just drew a bunch of cards is going to win. Even still, wouldn't you rather be the one attempting to win rather than the one watching a win attempt and a player drawing a bunch of cards while frustrated? If opponents aren't working with much at the start and/or are tapped out, it may be correct to just attempt a win!
- They have been through all the cards that matter
Ex. The player with active has no mana untapped and all of the interaction that could stop you and costs no mana is accounted for in public zones. This one comes up the least often. Usually you only see it with -style effects that have exiled much of the player's library or games that have gone on for an extremely long time. However, there is a combination of this and the previous point that can be met where the player has been through most of the cards that stop you and the spot isn't getting better.
There are plenty of times you should feed the fish! Granted, any scenario that doesn't fall into at least one of these categories needs to be fairly unique to justify feeding your opponent more than a few cards. Especially with , because outside of the ability to pay indefinitely, the card will eventually go away over time. Cards like at some point can be paid for provided your deck has a compact win available at all or removed, but that takes more time and it is not unlikely there will be a scenario where it makes sense to feed an unanswered Rhystic in the process of a win attempt instead of waiting for things to get better or for it to get removed.
Make Your Opponents Have It
Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study are the most controversial examples of spots where you need to make your opponents have it, but there are plenty of other spots where maximizing your chances to win involves being willing to take some risks. Wheel effects late in the game, activating without a win available, and even just attempting a turn-one win revolve entirely around taking some kind of risk that can put you far behind based on what your opponent has access to, but they're often the best chance you have in a given game to win.
Ultimately, you should play around cards your opponents can have when you can afford it, usually when you are winning by a lot, and vice versa. But I believe that cEDH rewards players that make their opponents have it even more often than in other formats. The additional opponents and emphasis on seat order do a lot to set you further behind when the game starts than in 60-card formats. In fact, the only players I see consistently able to justifiably play around things are the player in first seat. If that isn't you, consider feeding the fish and tell the table it's because Drake told you to. Thanks for reading!