Playing against one other person in Magic: the Gathering is a lot of fun. Sometimes, however, you just want to get with friends and play casually (or maybe you don’t, I know I do). Sometimes, you just want to not worry about playing the best cards in a tournament and you just want to play with fun cards that can combo off with other cards that would otherwise be “bad” in a tournament setting. Basically, you just want to do whatever you want and still be successful while having fun at the same time with your friends.
Welcome to Elder Dragon Highlander, or Commander as it is called by Wizards of the Coast.
What is EDH?
EDH is a multiplayer format in Magic: the Gathering that requires you to have a 100 card deck (yes, 100 cards) and one of those cards are your general/commander.
- There can be no more than one copy of each card in your deck unless it is a basic land.
Your general must be a legendary creature. This card will sit in your “command zone” where it can be cast from. The rest of the 99 cards must be revolved around this card in terms of color, or “color identity” as it’s called. Color identity is a deck building rule that states that a card in your deck MUST have cards in it that have the same mana symbols as your general.
- Let’s say you have a mono-white commander and you have a white card that has an activated ability that requires black mana. If the text has the black mana symbol on it, you cannot play that card in your deck.
- This also applies to “Hybrid Mana” cards, which have mana symbols that indicates you can pay with one color or another. If it indicates that you can also pay a red mana for the cost, then you cannot put it in your mono-white deck.
- You are allowed to play colorless cards, such as artifacts. As stated before, you can play them as long as they don’t have a mana symbol that isn’t shared with your color identity.
How to Play
There is a handful of differences between traditional 60-card games of Magic and EDH.
The first notable difference is that you are playing with 100-card singleton decks. At the same time, each player’s life total starts at 40.
- This rule, in particular, is why cards like this are super busted in EDH and I’m surprised it’s not banned in the format. You will find this in almost every lifegain deck unless the one playing it has a heart.
EDH also adds another win condition, on top of others such as bringing a life total down to zero or emptying your opponent(s) decks out before they get a chance to play them. Your general is able to deal out something called “commander damage”. If a single general deals 21 commander damage to an opponent, that player is out of the game.
- This win condition has an entire archetype built around it called “Voltron”, which means you put on as many equipment and/or aura cards on your general as possible and swing out with them. One of the most popular generals to do this with is Rafiq of the Many.
- Also note that whenever your general leaves the battlefield to any zone in the game (graveyard, exile zone, library, hand), you can return them to your command zone. However, each time you do this it adds a casting tax of two generic mana.
EDH is also a very political format, meaning that you can’t just go full out kill everyone as fast as you can (unless that’s the point of your deck). In order to last in a game of commander, you are going to have to learn when is the right time to play the cards that you want on your field. This is especially important with bombs, the cards that will win you the game either eventually or immediately.
Let’s take Consecrated Sphinx as an example, a popular bomb amongst many EDH decks running blue. Let’s pretend that you are playing 3 other people since the number of players on a table fluctuates. With each cycle of turns, you’ll be drawing at least 7 cards, including the first draw of your turn. Consecrated Sphinx is able to bury your opponents in card advantage, making it to where you will more than likely have answers to what they are doing and have the ability to play a land each turn. Opponents will notice this and turn on you if they are smart enough.
This is one of those cards that you will want to wait until your opponents are in a position that they can’t do anything about it being on the battlefield, or you have cards that can protect Consecrated Sphinx.
How to Build an EDH Deck
First and foremost, you will need to pick a legendary creature card to be your general. In this example, we will be using Captain Sisay.
Captain Sisay’s color identity is green and white. She is a squishy 2/2, so commander damage is probably not how we are going to win our games. However, she has an ability that allows us to search our deck for any legendary card, not just a creature. So we’re going to design a deck full of legendary cards, allowing us to tutor up our deck as much as possible.
- There has been a recent rules update that counts Planeswalker cards as legendary, so Captain Sisay is able to acquire those as well.
Now, we can’t just throw whatever we want in the deck and call it a day, we need to have a layout of how we’re going to build this deck, otherwise known as a template.
I am going to use the following template:
38 Land cards
10 Mana Ramp cards (cards that either puts more lands into play or produces mana)
5 Removal cards (cards that destroy or exile single permanents)
5 Field Wipe cards (cards that remove multiple types of cards at once, mainly creatures)
5 Tutor cards (cards that search for a specific card from the deck and puts it into your hand or on top of your deck)
5 Bomb cards (cards that either win you the game immediately or eventually)
5 Draw cards
5 Protection cards (cards that will stop any opponent’s removal or field wipe)
5 “Enhancements” cards (cards that make our strategy go faster)
5 Recursion cards (cards that return others from the graveyard to our hand)
11 flex slot Cards (cards that can be whatever you want to put in your deck)
- You do NOT have to follow this template. In fact, different EDH decks will require different layouts.
- If you ARE going to use this template, but don’t want a certain number of cards in it, then you can adjust accordingly. For example, if you wanted more bomb cards but fewer draw cards because Sisay gets you whatever you want anyway, you can subtract 2 draw cards from the template and add 2 more bomb cards.
Since we are in green and white, the deck will need dual lands that tap for both green and white mana.
But remember, Captain Sisay can get ANY legendary card, including lands. So we will want a handful of those if we ever need to ramp ourselves.
We’re running the following lands:
- Ancient Tomb
- Canopy Vista
- Command Tower
- Dryad Arbor
- Flagstones of Trokair
- 7x Forest
- Fortified Village
- Hall of the Bandit Lord
- Kor Haven
- Krosan Verge
- Miren, the Moaning Well
- Mistveil Plains
- Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
- 4x Plains
- Reliquary Tower
- Scattered Groves
- Selesnya Sanctuary
- Stirring Wildwood
- Strip Mine
- Sungrass Prairie
- Sunpetal Grove
- Temple Garden
- Temple of Plenty
- Temple of the False God
- Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper
- Wooded Bastion
- Yavimaya Hollow
Mana ramp is essential for any EDH deck in order to accelerate our strategy and keep up with everyone else. We don’t need many in this deck, but we do run the following:
- Kodama’s Reach
- Oketra’s Monument
- Sakura-Tribe Elder
- Sword of the Animist
- Azusa, Lost But Seeking
- Rhonas’s Monument
- Selvala, Heart of the Wilds
- Sol Ring
In any game of Magic that you play, removal is always going to be good by taking out the most problematic cards on the field and EDH is no exception.
We are going to run the following:
- Path to Exile
- Swords to Plowshares
- Krosan Grip
- Aura Shards
- Mangara of Corondor
There are going to be times that the board is going to need a restart by killing everything on it. Since we are in white, which is one of the things the color likes to do, there will be a lot of pressure on us if there needs to be a field wipe. Thankfully, we are running these 5:
- Austere Command
- Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
- Elspeth Tirel
- Hallowed Burial
99 cards is a large number to work with. While we do have Sisay to find whatever it is we need, it wouldn’t hurt if she got some extra help. For that, we run the following:
- Time of Need
- Worldly Tutor
- Enlightened Tutor
- Green Sun’s Zenith
- Eladamri’s Call
It’s fun to play with friends but the game has to end eventually, even if that means making everyone on the table angry. As long as you’re the victor in the end, go ahead and make everyone salty with these cards:
- Akroma’s Memorial
- Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
- Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
- Emrakul, the Promised End
The amount of card draw an EDH deck is going to need will vary depending on what that deck is doing. Since we are able to tutor up most of our cards, we won’t need as much as others. Some can’t hurt, so we’ll run a few.
- Reki, the History of Kamigawa
- Sensei’s Divining Top
- Heros’ Podium
- Sylvan Library
- Evolutionary Leap.
Our cards, specifically Captain Sisay, will need a sleuth of protection in order to keep our legendary engine running. Protection cards help us combat both single target removal and field wipes.
- Teferi’s Protection
- Sigarda, Host of Herons
- Lightning Greaves
- Dragonlord Dromoka
- Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Sure, mana can help us cast certain cards a lot sooner but the entire strategy will also need to be accelerated in order to get ahead of everyone else. A good example of this is cards that put creature cards into play without having to pay their mana cost. Or cards that keep our cards untapped at the start of every player’s turn. In this deck, we run the following:
- Paradox Engine
- Seedborn Muse
- Quicksilver Amulet
- Elvish Piper
- Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist
Whenever we lose a card on the battlefield, we will need some way of getting back into our hand or battlefield to play with it again. Not every deck uses recursion, but this deck definitely does.
- Eternal Witness
- Saffi Eriksdotter
- Loyal Retainers
- Hua Tuo, Honored Physician
- Yomiji, Who Bars the Way
With 11 cards left to choose from, you can pick whatever you want. For me, I’m going with these cards.
- Bow of Nylea
- Odric, Lunarch Marshal
- Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
- Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker
- Oketra the True
- Masako, the Humorless
- Thousand-Year Elixir
- Day of Destiny
- Selvala, Explorer Returned
- Garruk Wildspeaker
Great! Now we have the deck assembled! Time to go play EDH with some friends!
- If you are at all interested in building this deck but don’t have the $600 or so that it takes to build it, you can always make budget cuts and still have the deck function. My advice for making budget replacements is to keep the converted mana cost the same so that way you don’t mess up the mana curve. EDH is a very flexible format that is very budget friendly that everyone can enjoy, as long as they like multiplayer games.
- Make sure that your playgroup isn’t going to hate you because you are playing a certain EDH deck. Always double check with them to make sure that the general you play is okay.
- If you are building an EDH deck for the first time, make sure to check the ban list so that way you don’t put something in your deck that you are not supposed to. Some playgroups also have their own customized ban list, so make sure you check with them to see if there is anything else you shouldn’t be playing.
EDH is a format that is full of combos, synergies, and giant monsters. This is the perfect format to be playing if you don’t have an interest in playing Magic: the Gathering competitively and you just want to get with friends while drinking beers and playing cards.
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I will catch you guys next time!