Let’s say something that everyone knows already: Elder Dragon Highlander is a whole different animal from the other formats. It is, of course, a multiplayer, kitchen table format and it is because of these, and not despite these characteristics that endures. Because of those two traits, it is inherently more social, more dynamic and political than the other variants of Magic: The Gathering.In EDH, it matters how you interact with the other people at the table more than what’s in your library, hand or graveyard.
Ok, ok, all you competitive types can put down your machetes. Allow me to explain how an abstract concept like ‘goodwill’ can net you more games and tighten the camaraderie of your playgroup. I’ll be explaining it over a series of articles, so bear with me. This is just the basics, the stuff that every EDH player probably already knows on some unconscious level. This isn’t a screed about competitive decks, by all means build them! But consider adding a card or three from this following list to your decks to grease palms and make friends where you might have had only enemies before. You know, til you kill them, that is.
To use a poker phrase that could just as easily apply to seasoned Elder Dragon Highlander Players: “You don’t play the cards—you play the table.” It isn’t easy, and it definitely can backfire, but when you succeed in convincing another player that you and your deck are worth more alive to them then removed from the game, that’s a win. A warm glow even, just behind the ribs.
We’ll talk about Firefly Syndrome later (meaning how to deal with sudden but inevitable betrayals in the context of multiplayer).
There are, of course a lot of ways to interact with people in the context of EDH, but let’s just look at the most basic ones. Positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement, or more succinctly:
Gifts: in the form of mana, card-draw, information, cooperation. Cards like Rites of Flourishing and Vision Skeins fall squarely into the ‘gift category’ (As does any card with the keyword ‘join-forces’).
Obvious Political Cards (that can go in any EDH deck)
These cards aren’t meant to break your budget—just the opposite, actually. The priciest one comes in at a whole dollar and any of these cards can serve to fill in empty slots in an EDH deck–for additional political pull, you see. The best gifts are the ones that can easily become weapons in the right situation. Remember that when you give someone mana, recur a pet card for them, or let them draw.You have to be able to make people happy to stay alive in multiplayer, so without further ado:
Crown of Doom This card paints a big target on the head of the person unlucky enough to be stuck with it. Even a humble eldrazi token hits like a Grizzly Bear when attacking a player with the snazzy and unfortunate headgear. This is definitely a ‘threat’ card—as in ‘I’d like you to leave me alone, or else who know what could happen to you’ sort of thing. The crown can be used to break up a stalemate and paint a player as a target who otherwise would be deemed too strong to tackle. A word of warning: you should only play it when you have at least five mana open so you can donate it to some other worthy…
Hematite Talisman This is a representative of a cycle from the Ice Age set, and there is one for each color (malachite, nacre, lapis lazuli, pristine and hetamite). I listed the red one for convenience, but this is a neat little toy. Whenever a player plays a spell of a certain color you can turn that spell into an opportunity. A surprise blocker for you or an ally, an extra land so someone can counterspell or boardwipe…there are a lot of possibilities with these cards and their cost is low, so that’s a plus. The only downside is that you are largely restricted to running the Talisman that covers your colors so you can be absolutely certain to get a trigger and not waste deck-space. It, in short, gives all spells KICKER 3: untap a permanent. Very definitely a gift-card.
Lantern of Insight Remember up above where I said information was a gift? Well, no card better demonstrates it than this. Knowing what each player is about to draw is immensely powerful and ensures that people will keep a closer eye on their neighbors than they otherwise would. The second clause, the shuffling one, is what makes this an efficient card for just one colorless mana–it allows you to control who knows what’s happening (expect to see that word, ‘control’, a lot in my articles). It can be thought of as a budget answer to decks that run Momir Vig, Simic Visionary and decks that run Mystical Tutor, Worldly Tutor or any of the Lorwyn-block harbingers to put combo-pieces and threats on top of the library. All you have to do is sacrifice the lantern to deny them the combo piece. This card blurs the line between gift and threat…it won’t be the last to do so, either. You can even target yourself if you don’t want your next card.
Lodestone Bauble Oh, whatever did we do for land-recursion before the infamous Life from the Loam? We had cards like this, of course! The bauble’s uses are many: you can recur your own basics, fix your draw, screw someone else out of theirs, help an ally recover from land-destruction…the possibilities are myriad. Even better, this thing (and a lot of others on this list) is fetchable with the EDH staple, Trinket Mage, insuring consistency and it costs nothing to play. Bargain!
Temple bell Everyone draws!Temple bell allows you to choose when people get their extra card and forms an automatic table-wipe when paired with an untap engine, such as Mind Over Matter. This is a gift card, but can be turned into a weapon, say in a Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck.
Reito Lantern This handy little artifact is either a great card for second chances, or a way to shaft graveyard oriented cards like Genesis and Wonder. It’s low costing, like most of the things on this list, but allows you to give someone a chance of getting that win condition back into their library (where it can be searched for), yanking a card that would be recurred with something like Dread Return or just allow you to recycle all your fetchlands to improve consistency. It isn’t exactly a high priority target, either, so you can probably trigger it three or four times at least before someone gets fed up with your antics.
Spectral Searchlight To be able to provide one mana of any color to an ally is a powerful incentive for them to cooperate with you, or at least take your attitude towards them into consideration. And if there is no chance of bribing your way to victory through mana-incentives, you can always make the most of the ability. This is one of the best cards for making friends in the early game and assuring some board stability—just be sure you have the measure of the person you’re assisting. Definitely a gift-type card.
Soldevi Sentry This card is a nice little blocker that can allow you to make friends pretty quickly. He’s cheap, durable, and is so small most people won’t waste a spot-removal card on him. Half of winning a multi-player game with politics is seeming to be unambitious and yet too much of a chore to distract from the ‘real threat’ (A notion you should encourage, preferably with graphs and sticky notes). Cards like this are hard to get rid of in combat and can gum up the works something vicious. By attacking you, they are making another opponent stronger through card advantage.
Gate to the Aether I’ll cover this card in more detail in later posts, but suffice to say that this thing can get out of control quickly unless you’re quite careful. I could write a whole blog about EDH ‘Show and Tell’ archetypes. Definitely a gift card…that could easily seal your fate. Play with caution.
Forbidden Orchard A land that should be in every multi-color EDH deck. You fix your mana early, provide a friend (or future friend) with attackers/blockers and if they turn out to be not so friendly…well, there is a reason Mob Rule and Insurrection are EDH all stars, as well as the less flashy and cheaper Illness in the Ranks. Gift-archetype.
Anvil of Bogardan Extra draw! Get your extra draw and graveyard fattening here! Some players might hate you for the discard, but the fact is that this deck helps every archetype, theme and sub-theme out there. Graveyard-based, hand-based, what have you. Ok, maybe it doesn’t help hellbent, but when’s the last time you saw a dedicated EDH hellbent deck, eh? This card has something for everyone.
Pyxis of Pandemonium Everyone gets something…but only when you say so. You can use Pyxis to keep tutored cards out of people’s hands, disrupt land consistency on the draw and (say it with me now) IT CAN BE FETCHED WITH TRINKET MAGE. Definitely to be elaborated on in a later blog about ‘Show and Tell’, but it’s a dynamite card even if you never ‘pop’ it.
There are cards (And we’ll talk more about them later) that can be both a gift and a weapon, depending on the situation. The best example of this is a little card called Donate. This little card doesn’t look so bad, does it? Well, seasoned Magic players remember the days where this was combo’d with Illusions of Grandeur and could give mono-blue a near instant kill in sixty card. Now, in EDH it can do all sorts of things. Strange things. Horrible things. Hilarious things. Like giving your opponent a fatal case of Phage the Untouchable to name one.
So that’s about it for now, but don’t fret. There will be more coming about politics, convincing people to do things they should know better than to do and my favorite topic: betrayal. Feel free to comment if this article struck a cord with you!