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Let’s Get In Character for EDH

Simple question: Does an Azami, Lady of Scrolls play differently as a commander than Lady Caleria or Lady Sun? I mean, besides the fact that they all incorporate the honorific ‘lady’ into their title and while fictional possess two x-chromosomes?

Of course they do. It’s about knowing and understanding your general’s strengths and motivations.

Allow me another question. Does a deck with Heartless Hidetsugu as commander handle differently than Captain Sisay or Pianna, Nomad Captain? (Sadly, EDH has yet to print a Captain Falcon card, but I’m a patient man. I know it’s coming down the pike–maybe in Battle For Zendikar?)

Shut up, I can dream, damnit.

Of course the cards above handle differently. It’s all about how you alter your mind-set to fit your general. What we’re going to be talking about today is an under-appreciated aspect of EDH: role-playing and using your general the way it wants to be used. Let me give some obvious examples:

Rakdos, Lord of Riots EDH

Rakdos, Lord Of Riots is not a diplomatic card.  Rakdos wants to party, not talk. Rakdos just finished making horrifingly-non-consensual love to a building and is so high he believes his hand is in fact a Peruvian professor of economics. He wants to attack, attack and then burn down an orphanage while cackling insanely. To play Rakdos efficiently (there is a truly great article on how to do so on this very site, as a matter of fact) you have to forsake diplomacy and run screaming and naked into the battlefield with no regrets and your reproductive organs bared to the wind (figuratively speaking). Why? Because Rakdos rewards aggression with a huge decrease in creatures casting cost–he’s having a party and all the multiverse–especially the Eldrazi–are invited! To play Rakdos and other ‘exploding’ decks, you need to take big risks for big rewards and have no regard for your own safety. You have to be OK with the concept of loss and instead play for the theater of it–to see how many players you can drag, burning, down with you.

Zur, the Enchanter Like Rakdos, Zur wants to attack. Unlike Rakdos, Zur has at least a few drops of ‘give-a-damn’ in his brain and so attacks with the intent of solving problems. Breathing problems. Zur wants to pillow-fort, or that failing, go for the quick win with Necropotence. Again, in contrast to the approach used by Rakdos, that means the timing of Zur attacking must be exact—too soon and people will dog pile on him or worse tuck him. Too late, and you can’t recover lost momentum fast enough. In order to get the most out of Zur and other combo/control decks, you need to be composed, focused and be keenly attuned to the board state–especially cards in hands of your opponents and the amount of mana available around the table.

Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer For some reason, I imagine Gwafa with a incredibly offensive gangster-accent. “‘Ey, buddy. Howsabout you draw yourself a nice card and take a powder, see? No need for something–tragic ta happen to you.”  As a general who isn’t terribly combat oriented and has an activated ability, to use Gwafa efficiently you want to trigger his abilities at the beginning of other players end step, invest heavily in card draw and generally be as opportunistic as possible in your dealings with other players. You should probably be slippery and obsequious, you did choose a schemer as a commander afterall.

EDH relies a lot on flavor, unique interactions and being forewarned to your opponent’s likely strategy. A cunning EDH player will pick a middle-of-the-road or even sub-par general to allay suspicion and color his opponent’s perception of him in a group format. This tactic will be elaborated upon later and in greater detail.

This was a briefer article than I would have liked, but never fear! I shall return with more stuff later this week!


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  1. I eagerly await the continuation to this!

    It’s interesting what you say about these generals, because there are many (like the ones you listed) that essentially make players play and build around them (that is no foreign concept to us, however). I personally dislike the typical “build-around-me” generals though, because we’ve essentially codified EDH environments the world over to say “____ will always be playing this, and ____ will always head a deck with this theme”. It’s why I dislike when WotC gives too much fun to a certain tribe in one particular tribal commander — tribal decks all aim to take creature-based synergies and swing for lethal damage (save for azami wizards, essentially, but that deck could win with combat if it wanted to). Ezuri will always be a elf tribal deck, and Riot Rakdos will always be an aggro-esque creature deck. It’s frustrating to see so many generals become one dimensional like this. It’s why I prefer to look at deck techs and primers for generals like Damia, Tasigur, Riku, and similar generals, because there are actually fundamental differences between many of their decks online. Maybe I’m alone on this opinion, and I’m no doubt a fan of playing to a general’s strength (and any flavor accuracy is a bonus), but I guess I have my own wishes for how this could positively be different.

    Nice work!

    1. I also scour the interwebs in search of deck techs and to see how others have built a particular commander. Even though I have my decks that do fall into the typical stereotype (Kaalia, Uril, Purphoros) I still enjoy the freedom given by some of my other commanders that are less conspicuous of an assured tactic or game plan (Surrak, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, Hanna).

      This may sound weird, but I have found Prossh to be a multi-dimensional commander. Yes, he has entrenched a reputation of being nasty and untrustworthy making him a target, but I have seen so many different deck builds that a new Prossh deck at the table can still leave you second guessing at what they are bringing to the table.

    2. Cailtis: I agree that some generals are absolutely ‘build-around’ and one-dimensional. Those are the worst–and i believe it’s because they lack utility or a way to be useful to the table. It’s why cards like Animar and Ghave should be shot on sight–they are not interesting to the table, only to the person playing them and aren’t terribly interactive as Generals. There are, in contrast, generals who work best when used in accordance to a certain archetype (Rakdos being the prime example) because of their limitations (the damage clause). These, to me, are interesting because not just any deck can run them. The fact is that a Rakdos deck will seldom profit or win by if the person running it tries to force it to act against its nature–like a zur or ezuri deck. I agree–tribal is trite and uninteresting in a multiplayer environment with a few exceptions.
      Wally: Prosh is multidimensional because you can run http://essentialmagic.com/em2/Cards/default.aspx?ID=1681 Rohgahh of Kher Keep with a straight face :). I jest, but not really. Prosh addresses one of the banes of a JUND general–counterspells. Even if countered, you still get tokens and presumably another turn of life because of the wall of mooks you just threw up. He can go anyway, because he brings his own army 🙂
      Thanks so much for the feedback guys! More coming!

  2. A Barbarian (Rakdos), a Mage (Zur), and a Rogue (Gwafa) walk into a bar…

    This was quite an enjoyable piece to read! Looking forward to the continuation.

    1. Rakdos, Zur and Gwafa Hazid walk into a bar.
      Rakdos screams in berserk fury and punches the bar into orbit while simultaneously doing a line of cocaine.
      Zur fetches up a Gift of Immortality and goes on a monologue about the absurdity of a lowly bar being able to hurt him.
      Gwafa Hazid spits out a broken tooth and tucks a few hundred dollar bills under the bar saying ‘Get your family something nice’.
      Yeah, I know, I can’t tell jokes.

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