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Jun 10 2015

What’s Fun About EDH and How Can We Standardize It

I did not really cover my comprehensive approach to EDH building and playing philosophy in my first article, so I decided it would be best to take this time to do a run-down of the tenets of my “ideal” EDH experience, like other authors of this site have done (I also built and promptly took apart roughly 3 decks this week and am in no real shape to introduce another brew — but no one likes a lazy writer!).

If you haven’t read my previous article and primer over one of my more resilient decks, click here if you are interested in reading my debut and primer over “It Ain’t Like That”.

Now, let’s jump in!

What Makes EDH Fun?

Let’s start a bit basic. I find a couple fundamental things key that make EDH such a rewarding and long-term casual format. Of course, these things will vary from person to person, from mildly to wildly. But below are my fundamental columns of EDH and my assertion behind why EDH sports this concept well.

Playing Magic: the Gathering

This one’s a no-brainer. Many planeswalkers forget that, despite the vastly different formats and the respective communities they support, we all stem from the same basic game our father Richard Garfield envisioned: a duel between two powerful mages, using the resources of the worlds around them to summon monsters, cast hexes and blessings, and ultimately decimate the opposing mage’s 20 life points. This framework has no doubt evolved (EDH was designed as a multiplayer format of Magic, after all!), yet it has all for the benefit of a game whose basic rules still are being taught to new players every day. Wizards of the Coast has printed upwards of around 15,000 different cards for planeswalkers’ choices in library construction, and no set of cards has ever become “obsolete” or void. The creation of an interactive experience in a Magic: the Gathering game was a working relationship between an unshakable set of strong and outlined rules and the game’s individually-designed cards: this game has never disappointed in allowing the player’s mind to explore strategy, fantasy, and mostly discovery.

Playing a Casual and Multiplayer Game

The format of Elder Dragon Highlander was created by DCI judges after the working hours of supervising Wizards-supported competitions. If you weren’t already aware, judges of this game like this game, a lot: they would be doing something else with their time otherwise. Well, at these tournaments like Grand Prixs and Pro Tours, there are more than just two judges who’d like to get their Magic fix in before the night is all over with (they had been teased with spell slinging surrounding them all day, but they were on the clock). The original five Elder Dragons (which reminds me, if details have been released yet, I’d love to know how/why the dragon lords of Tarkir were labeled as Elder Dragons from a lore standpoint) seemed like the perfect first generals for the players to try out the singleton, 100-card format.

I bring up the story about the DCI judges because, although their authority on Magic’s extensive and complicated rulebook, the judges were interested in playing a fun and interactive game of multiplayer Magic, and not much else seemed like a priority of the format. Unlike the players they had watched and monitored all day during the official tournaments, there were no stakes to stress about, and little pressure to win even when the judges had access to an immeasurable amount of old and rare cards of use in EDH, like Sylvan Library, Demonic Tutor, and even some later-banned goodies like Ancestral Recall and Biorhythm. They simply wished to construct unique and strong EDH decks to finish the night with.

In application, I prefer this lighthearted style of play to more cutthroat styles due to my belief that a late triggered ability trigger or similar should not cause a table-wide debate about the already-extensive rules and to what extent they should be followed in the casual game at hand. Additionally, I can also forego playing Sensei’s Divining Top if it means saving $30 because I believe that my decks are very capable without it, although I understand why other players enjoy its consistency and draw power.

Playing a Non-Formulaic and Unpredictable Game

It’s part of Garfield’s vision of regular MtG too: variance adds fun potential, no matter how you slice it. An expert player of chess will almost always beat a novice chess player. Almost always. For the first-timer who shows up to the local FNM for a Standard Tournament, that’s no indication of a competitive environment’s accessibility. The first-timer will be turned away by the innate conditions of localized competition in the game. It’s why we only draw the first 7 off the top of the deck to begin the game, and get penalized for trying to mulligan those cards away; it’s why the difference between two top-decks across the table from another can decide games; it’s why the Sealed Limited format exists. As an old friend from FNM would say to me, smiling, “You can’t win ’em all.”

I’ve learned to understand this much before my time with Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been a gamer my entire life, with hazy beginnings with classic board games like Monopoly with the family alongside 8-bit arcade hits. While there are some games that benefit from unadulterated symmetry at the onset (like chess, for example), I don’t think Magic would be one of them. There’s a reason why the fabled “tutor” cards exist as they do now; there can only be a certain number of any given card in a constructed deck, promoting a varied deck with a composition that extends an entire collection of legal cards to play. Don’t get me wrong, tutors play an important and unique role in both EDH and other formats: I don’t think I have a deck that plays black that doesn’t at least run a Diabolic Tutor or similar (Demonic Tutor is just a bit too steep for one tutor card for me!). However, I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed playing against EDH decks that consistently search, fetch up, recur, and then cast a select and narrow combo (anywhere between 2 and 4 cards). That’s pretty much my threshold for recognizing true “combo” decks, since it feels that just well-oiled, synergistic decks typically have combos in them, but a major amount of the nonland cards present also provide support/synergy/combo to a central theme for the deck.

To provide some examples, I’m usually not opposed to spam-heavy blink Roon decks that have Reveillark/Karmic Guide combos in it, because a blink Roon deck will be centered around ETB effects, instant-speed recursion, and permission. The typical KG/Lark/ME (Mirror Entity)/”choose your value ETB creature” could be present in this deck, but I’d understand the inclusion — all of those cards contribute to the deck’s central theme. Like many others groups I’m sure, my playgroup was filled with these sorts of Bant or other UGx decks moreso than ever after the release of the Commander 2013 series released, so in such an event recurring, I would tweak my decks to fight typical “blink for value” strategies (Containment Priest had not blessed our world back in 2013). My tolerance for infinite combos like the above ends when I’m set across from a Sen Triplets player who has invested completely into a KG/Lark/ME/Kokusho, the Evening Star combo in order to win any multiplayer game around or before the fifth turn. For me, there are fine lines between drawing into victory and just simply searching up a victory. There are fine lines between building for synergy and effectiveness and then building for a one-dimensional victory through a narrow combo.

To forward this belief I hold in casual and fun EDH playing, our pal over at GatheringMagic, Jason Alt, actually created a term for this sort of deckbuilding standard for people who want to have interactive, powerful, yet lighthearted games of Commander. He calls such a deck a “75% deck”, and his philosophy on this “75% Project” can be read more about here. I’ve seen Jason frequent the EDH subreddit of reddit.com for some time now, and while it seems like a fairly polarized and controversial concept to many on that forum (even forcing Jason to defend himself and the article in some more tense exchanges), it’s simply the most accessible and communicated keyword for this sort of standard of playing with EDH players, new or old, kitchen-table or FNM-regular. Jason’s intent with the “75% Project” is altruistic and hopeful, which is why I support it. While my article above communicates some more general and expectations (and more specific examples of what is and isn’t acceptable) for what I see in EDH, it is no authority on the 75% Project at all, and I actually am confident many other proponents of the term would disagree in some way with my views on combo and whatnot — and that’s okay. It seems like a recurring motif of the 75% Project is the very gray lines that separate what is and is not acceptable at a player’s respective playgroup table. Some may despise every and all infinite combos while others don’t mind them at all… I can’t guarantee my opinions will be universally accepted or tolerated, and that’s exactly what the 75% Project essentially tries to standardize. There are differences in opinion and environment table to table, but several decks at play that simply can win will inevitably provide more enjoyable results than a table where one specific deck will definitely win.

That’s it for now! Please comment below to leave feedback on my writing or your reactions to either my viewpoints on enjoyable, casual EDH or my support of the “75% Project”. I’ll be meeting up with my playgroup for the first time in a while on Saturday so I shall hopefully return with either some cool gameplay coverage or maybe a new deck. Until next time!

-cailtis

7 comments

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  1. Noah

    I love the content you have been putting out! Keep up the great work man!

  2. Gareth Hughes

    Good article, and I think from reading it we have pretty compatible approaches to EDH. I have to say that I really enjoy Jason Alt’s writing and the 75% project is something I am wholeheartedly onboard with.

    Keep up the goo work! 😀

  3. cailtis

    Thanks for the comments guys!

  4. Wally D.

    Well written and explained, great read!

    I am also on board with the “Cailtis Philosophy” and, of course, the 75% theory too.:)

    I do have to admit, I like tutors and will occasionally creep up the power level of a deck just slightly to stay even with my playgroup. All-in-all, we have a great group and very rarely see the “un-fun” come out in one of our games.

  5. cailtis

    I’m glad to hear such resounding agreement with my tenets in the article! Thanks for the encouraging words, WallyD :). And Cailtis Philosophy… hm… we may need to delve into this further…

  6. Jason Alt

    I think you captured the essence of what I was going for. The more articles I write and the more things I discover about the 75% theory as I go along, the more I am starting to think that it can be summarized by saying “Don’t make someone else miserable.” I think winning is fun, but not being miserable is fun, too. It’s way easier to Armageddon someone out of the game then beat them while they’re defenseless, and it’s tough to devise a strategy where you don’t do something so antisocial and unfun and obvious. Don’t play a deck that’s so bad you don’t have fun, and don’t play a deck that’s so antisocial that no one else has fun. There was initially a fine line, but the more we think about what makes a fun experience, the more the line widens until most of out decks can fit on it comfortably. Maybe I’m lucky – I have always intuitively built with this ethos in mind which is why I wanted to codify it, but with people telling me all the time they built this way, too, I think it’s not just me. Do I think 75% needs to contribute to some sort of standardization? I don’t know. I’m not Baron Von Fun, sent to enforce the fun rules of EDH. I think it’s pretty easy to get a group together with whom you share a common ethos and that’s perfect so no one is surprised. A 75% deck should be able to take any kind of deck down, but the people who don’t make me play a cutthroat game are my favorites to play with anyway.

  7. cailtis

    Thank you for your response, Mr. Alt!

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