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Magic Memories: Overrun


The Tentacled One
Usually when I come up with these threads, I pick a card that is among my favorites, was among my favorites, or one which had some special place in my own decks at some time. But there are a couple that strike me more for their presence across the table. Not many. And most of those are a weird kind of mix of both, like Yawgmoth's Bargain. I mentally associate Yawgmoth's Bargain with my friend, Nick. But while I might have vivid memories of Nick/Al0ysiusHWWW using cards like Bargain, Scalpelexis, and Mist Dragon against me, I invariably used the cards myself. And in the case of Yawgmoth's Bargain, I went on to use the card more than he ever did.

See where this is going? The question occurred to me, "But which cards in the 90's do I really remember as being ones that were used against me, rather than ones I put in my own decks?" And there are a few of those cards. Not many, but a handful stick out. And one sticks out above the rest...

This was the favorite card of "my opponents" in the 1990's, fading from that spotlight a bit sometime in 2000. But that wasn't the end! It'd get reprinted right after that...

And the resurgence of Overrun as a card used against me would continue for a few more years after that. Nothing to do with my personality or playstyle. I don't even think it's got anything to do with the demographics of my opponents. Overrun was, is, and should be a kind of casual favorite. It's no wonder I saw it so much.

It gives your whole team +3/+3 and trample! How awesome is that?


The Tentacled One
The mana cost of 2GGG is rather steep. And Overrun needs a critical mass of creatures on one's board to accomplish anything. Fast-paced tournament environments often emphasize early combat dominance and the flexibility of using multiple colors, and that's bad news for Overrun. Despite this, the card has seen tournament success on the occasions when it appeared in Standard. It's even had some success in deeper competitive formats. I'll try to get to the reasons for that later. It's nuanced. The card is clearly powerful, but has some glaring limitations. While those limitations pigeonhole its role in tournament formats, the field is far more open in casual play.

The (usually) slower pace of casual play offers more time to set up a big Overrun. And for casual duels, the effect is pronounced enough. But Overrun takes on a whole new life in multiplayer games. In casual multiplayer, players are incentivized not to fall behind on the board, so the board can get big. Efficient attempts to trade up in early combat and to push damage through, emblematic of "spikey" tournament play, tend to mean that the player is going to fall behind late game in a multiplayer setting. Yes, your board could get hit by a "reset button." Eventually, it almost certainly will. But most multiplayer games reach a state in which the players attempt to estimate the damage that opponents might throw at them. Success in multiplayer can mean intuitively navigating turn after turn, making careful decisions about who to attack, when to attack, and how much to commit to each attack. And in that kind of environment, Overrun shifts from being situationally powerful to being amazing.

Overrun might already be good enough in duels that it doesn't need any help from other variants. But the extra dimension of multiplayer, especially free-for-all multiplayer, creates new uses for Overrun. The guy who seems to be in control and carefully balancing offense and defense could get taken out by a well-timed Overrun. Late game it can be used to finish off an opponent (or two?) and then followed by a board wipe spell of one's own, eliminating the biggest threat while preparing for a reset. If a long game with several players draws to a close, Overrun could be used to suddenly finish off the few remaining opponents and win the game. If used in a combo with other spells, perhaps copied multiple times or used alongside something to make one's whole board bigger (Overrun does give your whole team trample, after all), it could be used to wipe out all opponents in one turn.

On some level, experienced players are aware of all this, and whether they watch to see if you've got triple green mana available or whether they cautiously eye your board of small creatures in anticipation of a big Overrun, the reputation of the spell is enough that even the threat of an Overrun could influence the behavior of your opponents.


The Tentacled One
For casual play Overrun is still decent. I tend not to see it much, but it does occasionally make its way into a deck. The downfall of Overrun wasn't that the game moved past the power or speed of the effect, but simply that better options have become available. Overrun was first, but it isn't really the best at the job anymore. To name a few of the card's potential successors...


The Tentacled One
I don't have much more to say about Overrun. I've seen it in a lot of decks. I've run it myself on occasion, but not really that much and it wasn't a memorable card in any of my decks. I've been killed by it and I've had to counter it. I've seen it win games. I've seen it fail to win games because of Fog-like spells. Overrun and its younger siblings are power plays meant to finish players off after setting up a board that would not, by itself, constitute a lethal attacking force. I'd say this usage of Overrun has some variations to it.
  1. Go wide. Fill the table with small creatures, such as tokens. I might not be able to finish my opponent off with 10 1/1 saprolings. But turn that into 10 4/4 saprolings and suddenly it's a different story.
  2. Go big. While Overrun is probably at its strongest when used with numerous creatures, it can also be a good card alongside a smaller number of big creatures. The key is that it gives them trample. The spell gives you less total power on its own, but if your deck can easily get big creatures out, then Overrun to make them a bit bigger and to give them all trample is a great finisher. While a lot of excellent cards offer the utility of giving a single creature trample, blanket effects for all creatures you control are less common and generally look like green cards mimicking Overrun. More recently, some red cards (like Volcanic Rush) give team-wide trample.
  3. Go for broke. In multiplayer, some combination of going big and going wide can lead you to a position where Overrun lets you run the table, killing all opponents in one combat phase. This is easier to pull off against a smaller number of opponents, although engine-based decks with token generation and such can try to set it up to kill several opponents. Notably, for any kind of deck that can go especially wide, Craterhoof Behemoth outscales other options and can easily provide lethal damage even at large multiplayer tables. Just this weekend, I witnessed a Craterhoof Behemoth give +41/+41 in a Commander game (the player still lost on account of Teferi's Protection, but would have been able to run the table otherwise).
  4. Go poison. People will see it coming, but depending on the environment, they might not be able to stop it. Giving infect creatures trample can force poison damage through, which is deadly. I've seen Overrun used in poison-based decks, although it's generally less efficient for that type of deck in competitive duels.