Greetings and salutations and welcome to the Ten Guild Challenge. This column will be dedicated to, what is, in my opinion, the best casual format in Magic today: EDH / Commander. Today I’m going to outline my take on EDH. From what makes this format fun for me to different formats and the fundamentals of EDH deck construction, I want to give the primer on what I think what makes EDH fun.
There are over 519 Legends out there with only four of them banned as commanders. While some of those commanders are, well, awful, that leaves a lot of room for my creative soul to roam in and build around. Further, the banned list for this format as a whole is 38 cards: four as commanders specifically, 34 other cards that cannot be used as either commanders or in general. For every archtype, there’s a general. If you want to build your deck around bringing the biggest beat down there is, there’s a general: Prime Speaker Zegana. You want to play combo? Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind and (ugg) Zur the Enchanter are here for you. Control? Child of Alara. And, of course, for all you truly degenerate players, there’s Sliver Queen.
2: Restriction Breeds Creativity
While it’s nice to put four of a specific card you know you’ll need in a deck, with EDH, you are forced to come up with other options. In some cases, you luck out and there are three or four variants of that card that you can use. As a good example, the classic Llanowar Elves. You have Fyndhorn Elves, Noble Hierarch, and Birds of Paradise… if you wait a couple of months, there will also be Elvish Mystic in M14. Same CC, same P/T, new name that is no longer plural. Also, functionally similar, you have Arbor Elf, Llanowar Mentor (which makes Llanowar Elves), and Deathrite Shaman. Either way, it is possible to have other options and get multiples in.
Then there’s the argument to add or not to add tutors. Tutors can get you that exact tool you need, but at the cost of card slot that could be used as a different tool. In the case of my Niv-Mizzet deck, you will note there is only one tutor in the entire deck. This is partly due to the lack of tutors which will accomplish what I need in those colors and partly due to the nature of the deck itself.
Lastly, when you only have so many slots available for spells, you have to be exceedingly choosy about what you put in. My average EDH deck runs around 35 lands. That leaves me with 64 spell slots. It may seem like a lot, but it’s not. There’s always another card you wish you could fit in.
I firmly believe EDH is at its best when playing multiplayer. Four to five man games are ideal and part of the reason I’m doing the Ten Guild Challenge. I want to be able to do as many variants as possible. Some of my favorites, “five guild star melee”, “Kingdom” and “Survive the Horde”, are multiplayer formats. Also, in multiplayer, it’s more likely that someone will be able to stop another player from “Going Infinite” and winning. It makes it both more satisfying for non-combo decks to be able to play out their win-con as well as the combo player (and I am a combo player) to be able to achieve the winning combo despite the odds against them.
While I’ve already touched on the multiplayer aspect, there are a ton of other formats it supports such as Planechase and Archenemy. From Survivor Series to Grand Melee to massive eight player, 2 vs. 2 vs. 2 vs. 2 headed giant games, EDH is a great casual format that can be blended with almost any other format out there. It’s good for the experienced player, letting the draw on their breadth of knowledge to come up with unique strategies. It’s also good for new players, helping to expose them to new cards and new strategies.
Okay, so I’m more a Johnny as opposed to a Spike, but there is such a thing as “Competitive EDH”. The local game store here has weekly EDH tournaments that I actively look forward to. There are your commanders that are exceedingly good at what they do and some I vehemently hate (I’m looking at you, Zur). However, until the new Legend Rule comes into play with M14, I can’t say there are any that realistically need banning that aren’t already, regardless of how I feel about them.
My Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck could, arguably, be considered un-fun to play against. It is designed to combo off in about seven different ways, most of them by turn six or seven optimally. Like any combo deck, once the engine is online, it’s over. Other decks, like Kaalia of the Vast, can lock an opponent out with a well timed Iona, Shield of Emeria. There’s also Uril, the Miststalker, whose Hexproof and consistent beats make him a monster even without the new rules change. Even the dreaded Zur the Enchanter has to have the other tools in hand to defeat you, such as Armageddon or Helm of Obedience.
The point is that you can be a Spike and still love this format.
Now to the basics of design.
I’m going to start with the cards I feel every deck should have in their suite. While a lot of these cards can be expensive, I’m going to cover the basics that every deck, if you have them, should run. The problem, for me is that building ten decks with all of these gets exceedingly expensive and prohibitive. Building one is not so hard.
These two cards, unless you have a huge amount of card draw in your deck, are the singularly most useful filters for your deck. It not only lets you plan ahead but can get you the top card(s) of your library.
Unless you’re playing green, you will likely find your mana ramp choices exceedingly thin. Even if you’re playing green, these ramping all stars are worth it in almost every deck, with Gilded Lotus having a greater impact in multi-colored decks as color fixing as opposed to mono-colored decks.
If you’re running at least two colors, the ten guild signets provide both mana ramp and mana fixing. A turn one Sol Ring into a Boros Signet can enable a turn two Tajic, Blade of the Legion, regardless of what color your first land produces.
4. Shock and Buddy Lands
Again, if you’re playing more than one color, these fixers will help you get out your spells more consistently. If you can afford them, the fetch lands and revised dual lands are also good buys but are also far more expensive.
Aside from being probably the cheapest protection for your generals, both cards give haste.
Good for any deck that relies on creatures, including winning via general damage.
The downside with these cards is your opponents get to draw insane amount of cards. The upside is that so do you and they have incentive to not kill you off as quickly in multiplayer.
When everything just needs to go BOOM and you’re need a sweeper, it’s a go to. Note, it doesn’t blow up Planeswalkers. Keep that in mind if you have them and want an edge or your opponent has them and you don’t have an answer.
Aside from these cards, everything becomes more specific to colors and deck design, so I’ll leave that for another day.
Next week, we’ll be seeing my Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind deck and it’s wonderfully simple combos. It is the deck I am most often willing to loan to a player new to combo as an archtype as it’s as straight forward as it gets.
And of course, if you’re still here, thanks for reading.