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
– mtgcommander.net, 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 mtgcommander.net website:
predicated on a social contract: a gentleman’s agreement which goes beyond these rules to includes a degree of interactivity between players.
– mtgcommander.net, “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:
CHILL THE FUCK OUT. EMBRACE THE CHAOS, PLAY THE GAME, AND SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE RIDE.
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
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 🙂