Tag Archives: Lessons Learned

How you SHOULD be playing EDH

Disclaimer #1: Pretty much everything I say here should be taken with several large buckets of salt. Normally when I’m making posts like these I’ll say things like “I think” and “some people” and I’ll at least try to represent the other side of the argument. Not here, and not today. I feel pretty strongly about this subject, which in and of itself is unusual, and so what I’m about to say is opinionated and preachy and downright arrogant in parts.

Disclaimer #2: Although I’ve tried to keep this as general as possible, by which I mean I’m talking about the EDH/Commander community as a whole, my personal experience comes from games within my playgroup. I’m a big fan of my playgroup; I think they’re a pretty awesome bunch of guys and girls, and they are a large part of why I’m such a big fan of EDH. However, since it’s the only group I play with, any examples I have here will have to come from them, for which I apologise for singling them out – however, the examples used here are indicative of the problems I see/read about in the wider community.

Disclaimer #3: I’ve written, edited, re-written, and re-edited this damn thing for about 2 weeks now. It’s a little fragmented as a result. I still think it makes all the points I wanted to make, but not really in the way I wanted to make them. I know people are waiting for this (I have no idea why…) so this is what you’re gettin.

If you want a less ranty version of what I’m about to write, check out Mr P’s latest; Mr P Hates Everything

So what’s the big issue here?

You’re Playing EDH Wrong.

Let’s just get this out there right now; it is NOT the purpose of EDH to win! If you build your EDH decks to handle a table of other players, grind out a victory, and win game after game after game, you’re playing the wrong goddamned format. Sure, your deck has to have a way to deal 40 to multiple players (or whatever your wincon of choice is), but if that’s entirely what you’re focussed on, you’re missing the point.

EDH is not about having answers for everything and making sure that your position is so completely secure that is doesn’t matter what the other players do to you. In fact, if you’re playing EDH properly, you don’t even care about your opponents except as targets for your fun and interesting shenanigans!

  • If your deck is based around controlling the entire table so only you have stuff to play with, you’re a dick and your deck is not fun and you’re doing it WRONG
  • If your deck is based around do nothing do nothing do nothing do nothing, play infinite combo and kill everyone, you’re doing it WRONG
  • If your deck consistently blows up everyone’s lands, or makes them all discard their hands, or counters every meaningful spell played (BONUS dickhead points if you do it with some kind of buyback spell) your deck SUCKS DONKEY BALLS and I will never play it again. (“Nice game, you win, got another deck?”)
  • If you have just played Draining Whelk, Yosei, Primeval Titan, Avenger of Zendikar, or Time Stretch for the fourth time in a game, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG
  • If you spend more time playing with yourself than interacting with the other players on the table (via combat, tricks, counters, abilities) go and rent some Magic Porn – I assume such a thing exists – and don’t waste my time.

Now I can see two immediate objections to my 100% true and correct statements above (accept no substitutes).

Pathetic Pointless Objection Number the First

“Of course I’m supposed to win – why would I build a deck that doesn’t win?”

Go play Legacy or Vintage then. Besides which, good on you for missing my point. Winning is SECONDARY in EDH to having fun and doing cool things. There’s a BIG difference between 1) laying down moderate threat after moderate threat, ensuring you don’t overextend, dealing with any large threats your opponents play and winning 28 turns later, and 2) playing Concordant Crossroads + a bunch of big fat fatties, and swinging until people stop moving (and even then, swing some more to make sure). Which leads me to:

Stupid Brainless Objection the Second

“You’re telling me to play bad decks!”

Bullshit. Stop putting words in my mouth. I’m telling you to start playing interesting decks. If I’m able to name over half your deck after you tell me who your General is, I’m not interested in playing against it. I’ve played against that deck (or teeny tiny little variations of it) a thousand times already, and I’m OVER IT. There are 12,000 Legacy-legal cards in Magic; you’re telling me that you can’t find 60 or so cards that do what you want them to do, without resorting to shutting your brain off and putting in Prime Time because, well, he’s just so good (pathetic whiny voice)?

Addendum to SBOtS:

“You’re telling me to play bad cards! Why would I play <x> when <y> is so clearly better!” Really? You think EDH is a format about playing the best cards printed?… Lemme go find a quote for you:

variant format which emphasises social interactions, interesting games, and creative deckbuilding

–, main page, emphasis added by me.

Goddamn it I can’t find the quote I wanted; it was Sheldon – the guy who practically invented the format, and the guy who knows it better than most – saying that EDH is a format about the forgotten cards, the weird, wonderful and wacky interactions, and the format where every second card you play is greeted by “what the hell does that even DO?!”.

I’m drifting off course again. Let me quote something else from the website:

predicated on a social contract: a gentleman’s agreement which goes beyond these rules to includes a degree of interactivity between players.

–, “philosophy” page, emphasis added by me, again

The very best decks in competitive formats may have some degree of interaction, but generally speaking they’re designed so it doesn’t matter what you do, they’re going to do their thing, and there isn’t anything you can meaningfully do but try and win before they do. (Incidentally, do I bonus interweb points for using they’re, their, and there all in the same sentence?) EDH is not such a format – you should be playing risky, you should be letting people do crazy shit, and you should ride the wave of awesomeness to see where it crashes onto the rocks of, uh, some rocky place.

EDH is about craziness. EDH is about variance. EDH is about seeing cool combos, obscure cards, and strange synergies. The absolute worst thing that can happen to you in an EDH game is that you get knocked out. So what? You don’t lose ratings points. You don’t lose out on prizes. No one is going to suddenly think you suck at the Magics.

I tell you what though – I’m playing this game to enjoy myself. I enjoy myself by seeing some dumb combo (see: Essence of the Wild + Pollenbright Wings) come together. I enjoy myself by seeing what card I’m going to draw next. I enjoy myself by smashing into the redzone with OVER 9000 power of creatures and seeing what happens.

Which brings me to the next stupid point someone will inevitably bring up:

I have to play answers!

Well my very first response to that is “Do you?!” But I guess, at some level, yes you do. Just don’t play a deck FULL of them. I had an interesting experience last week during my games – I played with, and against, two different mono-blue decks. One of them (nominally Sakashima), that I played against, played Crawl Space, Propaganda, counterspells, and I don’t know what else, because it died first. It generally did nothing (not helped by being land-screwed) but the few things it did do annoyed the rest of the table so much that it was pretty much targetted until it stopped twitching. The other deck, that I played, was Uyo. It played Ambassador Sphinx, Arcanis the Omnipotent, and Myojin of Seeing Winds. It had a great time copying the Asuza deck’s Cultivates and Harrows, searching through the Momir Vig’s deck (with the Sphinx) landing a Vigor and a Psychosis Crawler. It also played counterspells, but only a few, and only to counter things that were literally Game-Ending (in one play it copied Tooth and Nail with entwine from Azusa, fetching Venser and some other guy. Another time it Counterspelled a Rude Awakening). That deck actually did things and was one of the last to get knocked out. It was a blast to play!

Yes, you need to play answers. But if you START your deck with 25 cards that deal with problems, then you’re just doing it wrong. Your deck should DO SOMETHING first, and handle other people’s decks second.

I have one more thing to rant about, (two, really but they’re related) and then I’m done. Those two things are;

Tutors and Recursion

The reason I lump these together is because they do the same thing; get you the spell you want, when you want it. I can hear the complaints now – “But that’s a good thing!” they scream. “You want me to do cool stuff, well, these let me do cool stuff!”

First of all, let’s think for just a second. Be completely honest here – do you tutor for Sphinx of the Steel Wind, or for Damnation? For Future Sight, or Draining Whelk? In my experience, tutors are used to go get answers, not threats. Likewise, recurring things (out of the graveyard, usually, but bouncing your own permanents to your hand also counts) is usally done to STOP another player, and not to further your own cause. It (was) called Highlander for a reason! Part of the allure – a LARGE part of the allure of the format – is the variance caused by the one-of restriction. “Put more graveyard hate in” is a common answer to decks which constantly cast the same cards out of the graveyard, but that misses the point. You should – to borrow a phrase from Sheldon Menery – Embrace the Chaos and see what happens. If you’re casting the same spells every game, or over and over again in the same game (Karador probably excepted from this…. since he’s been designed that way), you’re not doing it right. One of the biggest drawcards to the format for me is that each game, with the same deck plays differently. Perhaps not overall – my Kitsune Mystic deck will always cast lots of enchantments – but in the specifics – it will more than likely get different enchantments every single game.

Basically, my message comes down to this:


There is NOTHING riding on the outcome of these games. It doesn’t MATTER if you lose. Concentrate on doing cool things, in as many different ways as you can think of doing them, and you just might accidentally find that EDH is the funnest format you’ve ever played in. I know I do – when I’m not struggling to play my own deck against some boring fuck who’s intent on stopping me from doing anything….


EDIT: Well this is interesting….

Over on mtgsalvation today, Sheldon has posted a couple of times (which is unusual even in and of itself) where he has said:

I’m hoping there’s a class of cards that aren’t banned which people for the most part choose to not play (Vicious Shadows comes to mind)

to which the obvious question was asked (“Why do you say that?”). His reply is MOST interesting:

VShad is an example a of card that you play if all you want to do is win games–at which I’ll concede it’s horribly effective–but not the kind of card you play in a friendly game

(first comment here, second one here)

While I don’t necessarily agree with the specific example (I personally think Vicious Shadows is fine), the implication is he thinks playing to win (only) is not the correct way of thinking, much as I do. I consider myself completely vindicated 🙂


Posted by on February 3, 2012 in EDH/Commander


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Something a bit different: Innistrad Draft

Just to prove this blog isn’t just about EDH 😉

Went and did an Innistrad draft tonight – drafted the worlds most powerful Werewolf deck, like, evar. I had Grizzled Outcasts, Hanweir Watchkeeps, Tormented Pariahs, Ulvenwald Mystics, Village Ironsmiths and Villagers of Estwalds…. not 1 or 2 but 3 Moonmists. 1 Full Moon’s Rise. Kessig Wolf Run.

Yeah, I went 1-2 with that pile. Turns out fliers are just more efficient and I had no removal, no fliers, and no guys with reach. Next time you see a Prey Upon, and you’re in green, TAKE IT.

Sigh. Ah well never mind. Next time I may actually get a winning record – but don’t count on it 😉


Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Draft, Game Report


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Game Report: Isperia (again), and Kaalia

Had time for a couple of games last night; both were kind of underwhelming but some lessons were learned 🙂

Game 1: Isperia the Inscrutable

The Table: Isperia, (my) Doran, Child of Alara, Glissa the Traitor

After last week’s horrendous performance (three posts ago), I wanted to take Isperia out for another test. I still maintain that despite having Baneslayer Angel, Yosei the Morning Star, Meloku the Clouded Mirror and Glen Elendra Archmage, and more counterspells than any of my other decks, this is by far one of my weakest. All it does really is cast fliers and swing at people; I’ve ranked my decks in power from 1 to 5, and I’ve given this one a 2, tied for least powerful with Zedruu. I started off OK, and had a Pride of the Clouds (as a 1/1) with the Pointy Stick O’ Doom but it wasn’t to last too long and by the time it got destroyed I hadn’t added to the board except for Sensei’s Divning Top. Doran wasn’t faring much better, and actually now that I think about there was very little going on except killing whatever did make it on to the board. I had kept a marginal hand, and was concentrating on trying to get some land into play. At one point I cast Spy Network on the Child player (hey Sam!) and saw Putrefy, Akroma’s Vengeance, a couple of land and Oblation, with a Ward of Bones on top of his deck. On top of my deck (Spy Network is actually pretty good!) was Yosei, Godhead of Awe, Riftwing Cloudskate and Vengeful Archon – four decent fliers, but no land… At this stage I had 6 land and the Divining Top in play. A couple of turns later I had Yosei and a Thieving Magpie in play, with Remand, Cloudskate and Archon in my hand. Child had dropped a Deceiver Exarch. Somehow my spidey-combo senses failed to go off – I think because I “knew” what was in his hand… mental error on my part, for sure. After he drew into Demonic Tutor and cast Kiki-Jiki (waiting until I had tapped out, since I was the only other blue player at the table), infinite Exarchs kill us all just as we were getting some board presence. Although our group generally frowns on infinite combos, I don’t mind them if they end the game on the spot, and I dropped the ball not once but twice for this game; I saw the Exarch and never even considered why such a sub-par card would be in the deck, and I just plain didn’t hear or see him casting the Tutor, which should have set off real alarm bells. As it happens the only counter in my hand was Remand, but he didn’t have 6 red sources to cast Kiki-Jiki twice, so it would have bought us at least one turn. As Sam pointed out after the game, lesson learned, and that deck probably won’t be able to pull that one off again, now that people know about it.

Game 2: Kaalia of the Vast

The Table: Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Kaalia, (my) Nin, the Pain Artist, Ghave, Guru of Spores

I had no preference of what to play in the second game so rolled randomly and came up with Kaalia. I like this deck; it’s very linear and very aggro, and can hit you for 20-30 out of pretty much nowhere. But it doesn’t have much of a Plan B, and it’s a bit of a glass cannon. Aside from Mayael, my Kaalia deck has by far the highest average mana cost, and so it’s rare that I can play a lot of spells. (By way of example, in the later parts of the game I had 10 mana available and could cast exactly (any) one of the cards in my hand, but not two.) Again I kept a marginal opener, with only two lands, but a bunch of Dragons and Demons I wanted to cheat into play – so much for that plan (see later…) I get a third, but not a fourth land, so Kaalia waits not-very-patiently in the Command Zone. In the meantime Nin has landed a Jace’s Archivist, so my awesome hand of beat-down is looking extremely shaky 😦 There’s a fair bit of back-and-forward, then I decide Kaalia has been waiting long enough, so I just cast her naked and hope she survives. She survives approximately 30 seconds, as Nin untaps and casts Soul’s Fire targeting his Archivist and Kaalia. Sad face, but it was what I was expecting. That was just me running out of patience, and slightly frustrated at my mana issues (which was my fault, as well!). Eventually the inevitable happens, and Jace’s Archivist forces me to discard my hand which at the time was Carnifex Demon, Kuro, Pitlord, Angel of Despair, Dragon Tyrant, Rune-Scarred Demon and Hellkite Charger. What do I get back? Aegis Angel, and some spells. SUPER MEGA UNHAPPY FACE 😦 At this point I start wondering why Living Death isn’t in this deck; stuff dies, and Nice Angels...the stuff that dies in this deck is Big And Stompy And Scary. Mental Note: Put the Living Death from the BWG Commander deck into Kaalia. Or Savra. Hrmm. I draw Shattered Angel, and since I can actually cast it, I do so. Nin untaps, Mana Geysers for a million (or 14, one of those) and Rite of Replication with Kicker (of course) my Shattered Angel. Seems good… A little too good for the rest of the table, who then go on to make sure all the tokens die. Meanwhile, on the quiet (sorta) Ghave has got Lurking Predators and Hunting Grounds going, and although they get bounced and/or dealt with, what eventually happens is that they both get exiled to Akroma’s Admonition Angel. A fine plan, until eventually the Angel mets it’s timely demise, at which point Ghave gets his free creatures back. In short time, Ghave has a not very small army and overruns us all, with (effectively) the last turn being when I draw my own Akroma’s Vengeance, and go to cast it before realising that one of the creatures on Ghaves considerable board is Vagrant Plowbeasts. What. The. Hell. Nin cracks the Memory Jar he has hoping that I’ll find my Damnation, but I don’t and we get run over by eleventy-million damage. (Yes the Vengeance would have got rid of the Predators and Hunting Grounds, but it was way too late for that to matter.)

Lessons learned from these two games:

Don’t keep two land hands, ya idiot. In both games I kept a two-lander with potential, and in both games I never really got going. I should know better than that, but sometimes I just want to get on and play the game, instead of shuffling up and trying for a better hand (we are a very casual playgroup; our mulligan “rule” is if it’s no good, throw it back and draw seven again. Yes, that’s incredibly open to abuse. No, none of us abuse it.)

Keep your eye on what the hell is going on. In game one, and to a lesser extent in game two (I could have Liliana‘d up a Vengeance to deal with the Predators/Grounds but chose not to) I lost to not knowing what was coming up, when I really should have seen it coming both times.

Blood Clock is not a good card. OK, so I pretty much knew this already. Blood Clock is in my Kaalia deck so I don’t have to pay pesky upkeep triggers (such as for Dragon Tyrant) or annoying combat triggers (such as for Rakdos the Defiler – who’s not even in the deck yet!), but it’s SUPER bad when your opponents can return Trinket Mages (Nin) and Eternal Witnesses (Ghave) with it! This is coming out RIGHT NOW and being replaced with Living Death, or another Kill Everything effect, which means I may well have to not put Rakdos in at all; that makes me Sad Panda, because I really like the big lug (Ravnica block is my all-time favourite block by about a thousand million miles).

Epic Games are Good Times. Despite losing both games, and not really having a whole lot of effect on either of them (although much more than last week’s dismal effort), I had a really good time slinging cards and watching big awesome stuff happen. Oh, and my Omnath deck (in another game) won on Turn 6 due to stupidness with Seedborn Muse and Patron of the Orochi 🙂


Posted by on November 2, 2011 in EDH/Commander, Game Report


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