Competitive EDH

Commander (EDH) forum

Posted on May 12, 2017, 9:50 p.m. by buildingadeck

After a lot of discussions with less competitive players, I have found that competitive EDH is frowned upon by many based on the notion that "EDH isn't designed to be that way." I would like to advocate for competitive EDH, not as the only way to play, but as a legitimate way to play the game. I will also outline a few guidelines on how to play competitive EDH (nothing on what your deck should look like, more on how you interact with others).

In his outline of Commander Rules, Sheldon Menery, the creator of the format, writes: "Commander is a Magic:The Gathering format which emphasises multiplayer play, social interactions, interesting games, and creative deck building." All of competitive commander is contained within these bounds, and I will relay how.

Obviously, competitive multiplayer EDH is, well, multiplayer, so there isn't much explaining to do there. Competitive play is also a social interaction just as much as casual commander. Assuming we can define social as done in communion with others and, generally, with conversation amongst players, I have yet to play a competitive game in which this is not the case. Check out this video made by Laboratory Maniacs, a YouTube channel dedicated to competitive EDH, in which the players make puns, chat, and laugh while playing a 3-way competitive game. I would certainly consider this to be social.

Using the LabMen's video as a reference, I think we can attest to competitive games to exhibiting "interesting gameplay." My argument for this based on the linked video is that, though Cameron took control very early, the first few turns were highly interactive: a Thorn of Amethyst completely shut down Dan's Thrasios/Tymna list by restricting his already strained mana base; Gilded Drake stole Yisan, the Wanderer Bard from Simon, which stops the Yisan deck by restricting him from casting his primary engine; the Swan Song targeting the Green Sun's Zenith of Simon's stopped him from getting a win condition or a way from regaining control of Yisan; the Shadow of Doubt and Ghost Quarter interaction was interesting, as was the choice to further restrict Dan's mana base in order to increase his odds of winning (in a 3 man pod, chances are 33%; in a 1v1, 50%; of course, Yisanless Yisan doesn't really stand a chance against Tasigur, but still). While the game may not have been as "fun" as a game posted by the Game Knights where revenge plays are rampant, and the entertainment aspect is upped, it was "interesting" nonetheless.

The last tenant of the commander definition created by Sheldon is "creative deckbuilding." While Doomsday and Storm are both established archetypes, Dan melded them into a new shell with Thrasios and Tymna that differed from many of the Buried Alive shells that have come to define many of the Thrasios builds. Tasigur also ran a host of interesting cards like Dimir Charm and Shadow of Doubt that are aimed at defeating metas that tutor a lot as well as play mostly small, utility creatures rather than the large, stompy ones found in less competitive pods.

Conclusively, I find that competitive EDH falls within the definition of commander defined by its creator and, thus, has a place within it.

Now, for those who play competitive decks, the only real rule is to gauge your playgroup. If your playgroup shows up with less competitive decks than you have, you have four options, three of which I think are viable.

The first option, the one I don't think is viable, is to stomp your meta continually. This option is not sustainable because people will not want to play with you, and EDH will stop being played. At least, this is the case in most places I've encountered. This also doesn't fall within the definition of EDH since these games are no longer interesting.

A better option is to help other players refine their decks to be more competitive. Obviously, this requires willingness on part of your playgroup, but if they do want to play better decks, then I think competitive players much foster a positive, collaborative atmosphere in which we aim to help one another achieve the most optimal forms of our decks possible.

If the playgroup is not looking to play competitively, then you can play less competitive decks in order to have fun, interactive games. You can still try for the optimal lines of play, but with a less powerful deck.

Of course, playing scaled down decks is not the interest of every competitive player, and that's okay, too. Your final viable option is to leave a playgroup and seek a new one. If you cannot find one, I advise reconsidering another of the proposed options, but I do believe that it is our responsibility to not partake in the first option. The only instance in which the first option is acceptable is when prize support is available in a tournament setting. In that scenario, you should always bring the best deck you can.

Let me know your thoughts on all of this in a CIVIL way in the comments section below.

Profet93 says... #2

Thank you so much for writing about this, as I am in the same exact situation. I've been actually trying to go Aggro this time instead of being control.

Many times it is also a funding issue, in which players with a smaller budget usually lose to those with larger budgets.

Candelabra of Tawnos + Rings of Brighthearth, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth Cabal Coffers, Thespian's Stage and Vesuva makes for fun times.

May 12, 2017 11:39 p.m.

Gleeock says... #3

Good show! I play both.

I have found that relative budgets can also be a limiting factor in my playgroup as well... Most our group is fairly competitive. I like pulling a changeup occasionally & playing 2 headed giant, or emperor (although emperor Sisay is ridiculous). I just made my own personal set of rules that I follow NO MATTER WHAT for my ultra-competitive decks, this often can lead to really changed game outcomes, for eg...

1) All feasable hate is directed at the last game winner (unless that is me)2) All feasable hate directed at the "most blue" player, mono-blue 1st, then whatever has the most blue CMC3) "Assist" any decks in game that I truly enjoy, no matter the outcome

Personal codes are hilarious jokes that no one else is in on, especially when you follow them to the letter regardless of board state. I recommend making your own code of ethics/principles if you swing a highly competitive deck it can be VERY fun :)

As a VERY busy family man with a premium on time it is a matter of making the games worth my while. I still have fun but I don't have a lot of time with the tabletop stuff at my disposal so when I only have time to gather & play (a couple of decks) monthly I tend to focus on less decks with more power per deck (because I'm never going to play & build 1/2 the other decks). If you have time constraints I think narrowing focus & refining a few choices/specializing is the way to go... especially considering having to take time to learn your deck.

May 13, 2017 12:09 p.m.

Argy says... #4

As a Casual player, who likes games to go on for a lot of turns, I would HATE someone to try to "help"'me make my deck Competitive.

There is a problem which your topic doesn't acknowledge. That is the fact that if new players only ever face off against Competitive decks, and don't have a large budget, they will often leave the format, because they don't feel as though they can get anywhere.

I have been in the opposite situation to what you describe here and have to leave a Competitive play group to go and find one that was more Casual.

I ALMOST gave up playing all together, for the reasons I gave above.

There is also another way forward for Competitive players and that is for them to set boundaries for their deck, to see if they can still build a decent one e.g. No fetch lands, no untapped dual lands, tribal, no tutors, no infinite combos, etc.

That's what I do when playing Standard with my friends. I have built an unbeatable Competitive Standard deck in the past, but no one has fun playing against it, which makes it less fun for me.

So I rarely play that deck, and I am happier for it.

May 13, 2017 12:18 p.m.

TheDevicer says... #5

Here's the thing though, cEDH is this incredibly tiny and misunderstood community. Most people rightfully recognize that playing the game in this manner won't appeal to them.

I myself am someone with a very firm grasp of cEDH who is forced to play lesser decks for the sake of my friends. Take what I say with that in mind.

When you say cEDH falls within the bounds of what Sheldon and the rest of the RC had intended and continue to advocate, you're simply wrong. You may form your arguments in the form where their language conforms with what Sheldon has stated in the past, but that doesn't mean the play style you advocate actually matches what the RC wants from EDH. It just indicates that Sheldon's post was poorly phrased and doesn't reflect what he truly believes. Sheldon being unclear about something? Oh no, that's never happened before!

enter image description here


If you're actually interested in what Sheldon thinks, he recently appeared on episode 92 of the Commanderin' podcast. He speaks briefly about highly competitive decks. It's worth listening to nonetheless as you can gain a further understanding of his philosophy from other stuff he says. Then there's also all his other posts on SCG although most of them are complete ass if you're just trying to understand the RC a bit more.

All in all, no, cEDH does not match what the RC wants out of EDH. Still, they're not making rules changes to stomp out cEDH. Rather, they recognize it exists and mostly ignore it.

May 13, 2017 12:22 p.m.

Gleeock says... #6

Sounds to me like people are ready to balk from a challenge a little too quickly ;) ... But yeah I have played against some of the tier 1 decks that are "no fun" so I guess I get it.

My group is fantastically laissez faire though. I think we just have such a massive spectrum of competitive strategies (with an insane variety of removals) that the usual suspect Turn3-4 combos almost never are pulled off. Ive played a game where an early drop Zur w/ Vanishing attached couldn't even stay on the battlefield

Really the true evil to me are competitive one "one trick pony" decks; where the same attempted wincon is always searched up or always seems to show up. Again; I have my own little entertaining code of honor to direct my competitive deck in a variety of fantastic ways, I have a buddy who does the same, I don't know all his personal rules but I know he tunnel visions to Atraxa no matter that player's board state, it is a entertaining spectacle.

No boundaries set, just all around competitive decks with enough checks & balances to keep a longstanding deathmatch

May 13, 2017 12:44 p.m.

buildingadeck says... #7

Argeaux: The four items I cleared up do address that issue. If people are "willing" to play competitive lists, then you can help them. Without their consent, you cannot. As far as making someone feel like they want to abandon the format altogether, if you perform the steps I mentioned before, I don't think you will arrive at that point.

TheDevicer: I see where you're coming from, but Sheldon's own philosophy is separate from what he wants for the format. If he wanted c/edh to die, he and the RC could have killed it with bannings, and he could change the phrasing of how he defines EDH. To not do so implies that c/edh falls within the guidelines of EDH.

Altogether, I am personally opposed to playing mini-games within games, though it is an option one could choose, I suppose.

May 13, 2017 12:50 p.m.

Argy says... #8

Ah yes, but there are groups where people ONLY play competitive decks, as I said above.

That's where trouble can begin.

I've also seen new players start playing with precons, and the comp players go easy on them for the first couple of weeks.

They enjoy the games being played.

Then the more experienced players stop holding back, bring out their best decks, and all the fun gets sucked out of the game for the new players and they give up on it.

I found it much harder to improve my EDH playing and deck building skills, than my Standard ones, as it's more difficult to test EDH decks on your own.

May 13, 2017 1:01 p.m.

Rzepkanut says... #9

I couldn't agree more that's why I have 17 different Commander decks of different power levels. I actively try to keep them at different power levels and different strategies so I can always find good decks to play against anyone. Check out my profile page they are all organized by tier. I actually usually try to play a deck that I feel is slightly less powerful than my opponents rather than more powerful because it's more of a challenge.

May 13, 2017 1:23 p.m.

TheDevicer says... #10

@buildingadeck - I was referring strictly to Sheldon's notion of what EDH ought to be with regard to the RC. I wasn't talking of his own, private opinions at all. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

May 13, 2017 3:01 p.m.

buildingadeck says... #11

Argeaux: Then the inverse is true of what I said: the casual player must take the steps necessary to make the format enjoyable for himself. The same steps work, just change competitive to casual.

Rzepkanut: Yes, exactly. I currently keep four on hand when I go. I don't have a fully casual deck, but casual competitive is the standard for most play groups (50-75% lists).

TheDevicer: The RC's actions and definition of the format do not reflect those ideas.

May 13, 2017 4:52 p.m.

Gleeock says... #12

Well I still am going to stick to my guns & say that I enjoy playing that way... But I look at it from the viewpoint more of a fairly tightknit group of 8 or so players who all know each other quite well. I've just experienced many games where the clearly identified nasties (cEDH decks) are dealt with & the more "casual" deck slips through the cracks and eventually wins the game... Usually it all seems to balance out even when the most "imbalanced" decks are involved.

I have 5 decks of varying strength levels and enjoy them all from casual to competitive. I don't think any one is any more legitimate than the other... cEDH can give some certain people something to aspire to; to build a deck to give those lame T1 decks pause. Some personalities may just enjoy the competition. Other people may just come from my demographic & have very limited time to dedicate to 17 decks so they specialize on a few instead. It seems to me most anyone I know who own around 20 decks have at least a couple of real 'ball buster' cEDH decks included, why would they build those if cEDH is a complete waste of time? So if someone can only dedicate to a couple of decks, then yeah; probably 50% of their decks will probably classify as competitive or casual-competitive.

May 13, 2017 10:13 p.m.

ohmless says... #13

I agree with the OP. I see competitive decks as just being the inevitable arms race that occurs when people improve their decks with time. I have a more social/fair deck that I play when appropriate for the play group.

the one part I disagree with is that it has to be multiplayer to be commander. I play nearly exclusively 1v1. It exists.

May 19, 2017 7:34 p.m.

buildingadeck says... #14

ohmless: I wrote the article specifically for multiplayer EDH, not saying that that is the only way to play. But yes, certainly, as you play more and more you want to swap things to make your deck better.

May 20, 2017 12:25 a.m.

Please login to comment