All About EDH (W.I.P.)
All of this primer is my own personal take on the format. I am not perfect, and don't know everything, and so if you disagree about anything here, feel free to write a comment on it, explaining what we disagree on, and how to help change it.
Intro & Rules
Elder Dragon Highlander, EDH for short, or Commander is a format for Magic: The Gathering, which currently is one of the most popular formats due to its ruleset and special gameplay in comparison to other formats.
In EDH, each deck contains exactly 100 cards, no more and no less, and no copies of any cards (unless the card is a basic card, or says it can be run more than once on the card itself) can be in any deck. This is normal for Highlander formats, so what is so special about EDH? To start, it is a multiplayer format, four players to be exact, and each player has 40 life. Also, one card in your deck is your commander.
What does this commander card do? Well, to start, it has to be a legendary creature (or planeswalker that specifically notes it can be your commander). The color identity of the card matters a lot. The color identity of a card is the color of it, like for Azami, Lady of Scrolls , added to each color symbol in its text. For example, Samut, Voice of Dissent has a color identity , even though its color is simply , because of the symbol in its text.
There is one last part of color identity, a land is generally colorless, with one exception: ( Dryad Arbor ). However, in color identity, a land must have its basic land type added, so for instance Godless Shrine has a color identity of .
Other strange rules on color identity are like extort. Basilica Guards is a card that when you read has the symbol in its text, right? Weirdly, it is considered simply , because the symbol is in parentheses, and all italicized text is removed when considering color identity. Windswept Heath may look like it is color identity, but it actually only is colorless, because it never has a color symbol, and though it fetches lands under a basic land type, it itself isn't a land under a basic land type.
So, how does color identity work in EDH? Every card in your deck needs to have a color identity that is under your commander's color identity. This means you can run any card in a deck with Cromat as its commander, however, you can only run colorless cards in a deck with Hope of Ghirapur as its commander. Seems simple enough, restricting, but simple.
So, is that all there is to EDH? It’s a 100-card, singleton (one of each card), four-player, 40-life format with a commander and restricted cards based on color? Not entirely. Remember that commander? There are a bunch of other rules involved. To start, when you begin a game, your commander isn't in your deck, it is in a zone called the Command Zone, in which you can cast your commander from it as though it was in your hand. Whenever your commander would move zones other than from the command zone (if someone killed your commander, or exiled it, or bounced it to your hand, or shuffled it into your library), you may instead choose to have it sent back to your command zone, ready to be cast again!
Well, this is great! You can always have access to your commander, except there are a few things to note if your commander was stolen, in the form of Mind Control or otherwise, it didn't move zones, only changed control. You cannot choose to send it to the command zone in this case. Also, each time you cast your commander from the command zone, the next time you do so it costs an additional . This is called the commander tax. The commander tax stacks, so if your commander is Hope of Ghirapur , it costs the first time, then the second time, the third time, and so on. Also noteworthy is that commander tax only increases and applies when you cast your commander from the command zone. If someone returns your commander to your hand, you can then cast it for its normal, un-taxed cost, and it won't increase the tax for next time.
The last main thing in EDH is commander damage. If your commander deals 21 combat damage to a player, that player will lose the game. Many decks revolve around winning in this way, like Rafiq of the Many , Uril, the Miststalker , or other lists with commanders revolving around getting out a ton of damage fast. These decks are commonly called Voltron. Keep note a commander like Nekusar, the Mindrazer dealing damage from its ability isn't considered combat damage, and so doesn't count as part of the 21 damage to win. Also note that this damage can be spread out over multiple attacks (i.e. you don't need to one-shot someone to kill them with commander damage), and is tracked individually for different commanders (i.e. if Johnny hits you for 11 with his commander, and Tammy hits you for 11 with her commander, you don't die because you don't have 21 damage from any single commander).
There is another popular way to play EDH, a 1v1 commander of sorts, called French, or Dual commander, which has a lot of specific rules to itself, from the Swap commander rules, a separate ban list, and multiple games in a match, etc.
I personally am not up to date on all of these rules, so I would like to forward you to http://www.duelcommander.com, an external link that provides detailed rulings and an in-depth explanation of the format, and constant updates. The format changes much more rapidly than normal multiplayer EDH, and I will not be talking about French in this primer.
Below you will find further information on EDH, but that is the basics of the format!
All cards with the type "Conspiracy" (Use the link http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Search/Default.aspx?action=advanced&special=true&type=+%5b%22Conspiracy%22%5d to see them all!)
All cards that play for ante. (Use the link http://gatherer.wizards.com/Pages/Search/Default.aspx?action=advanced&text=+%5b%22%20ante.%22%5d to see them all!)
Ancestral Recall - too powerful for its mana cost, simply a relic from very early MTG before they knew what they were doing.
Biorhythm - used in big green ramp decks as an instant win, deemed too powerful in the format when you start with 40 life.
Braids, Cabal Minion - used as a Stax commander, specifically because of how well in synergized. Deemed too oppressive.
Coalition Victory - because you can have a commander in the command zone with all five colors, this can be seen as a very cheap win, and so was banned due to prevalence.
Channel - Due to the high starting life total in EDH, this card can make an insane amount of make extremely fast, ending the game with blistering speed.
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn - A commander that was commonly seen with a ton of ramp and either bounce effects or sacrifice effects to cast and swing with it turn after turn until you win. Very consistent and scary.
Gifts Ungiven - Because EDH is a format that is singleton, nearly every card in the average EDH deck would have different names. This leads to it being either a double Entomb or an incredibly powerful and consistent instant speed double tutor to hand in a color with enough card advantage.
Griselbrand - Too consistent a commander for mono-black storm decks.
Iona, Shield of Emeria - A reanimator and hate-card that can shut off many opponents, dependent on the matchup. Makes non-games far too often.
Karakas - In EDH with commanders, it was deemed way too powerful for a land.
Leovold, Emissary of Trest - Combos with many cards, and is simply too good of colors and too cheap and too oppressive a commander.
Library of Alexandria - Deemed too good an ability for a land, and the insane price tag doesn't help.
Limited Resources - A card that was not built with multiplayer formats in mind, for many players it is an instant scoop with a good ramp strategy that "turn one"s it out and drops 5 lands by turn three, while the rest of the table is stuck at 1-2
Mox Emerald - A particularly powerful relic of early magic, before Wizards of the Coast understood how much these would break the game in every format that they could be played in.
Paradox Engine - Combos too well with a number of cards, in particular, mana rocks, mana dorks, and other nonland permanents with activated abilities that use tapping as a cost, as well as Isochron Scepter .
Primeval Titan - Deemed too powerful to tutor two exact lands in a singleton format turn after turn.
Recurring Nightmare - Too easy to combo out with it.
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary - Makes too much mana too fast.
Shahrazad - Makes games go long, and doesn't really follow the rules of the current game.
Sundering Titan - Too oppressive for more casual games. Reanimating/flickering this bad boy repeatedly is absurd.
Sway of the Stars - Makes games go way too long when not an instant win, and commonly considered an instant win with the right deck due to the life totals set so low compared to the normal 40.
Sylvan Primordial - Too oppressive when flickered for casual games, leading to a huge mana advantage.
Tinker - An overpowered Urza's card that was broken in every format it had ever been in. Cheating out a Blightsteel Colossus turn 3 isn't unheard of with this card, in fact, it is tame compared to many things it does.
Tolarian Academy - A card that is generally considered t be one of the best cads in the game, and most often the best land ever printed. Simply makes too much mana too fast. Legendary isn't even a downside in EDH, where it is a singleton format.
Trade Secrets - In a multiplayer format, you can team with players to make this card do incredibly busted things, banned even after it was reprinted for EDH, which was particularly strange.
Upheaval - Either wins the game with a crafty player or makes them go on way too long. Oppressive.
Yawgmoth's Bargain - Originally thought to be the 'fixed' Necropotence , the fact that it draws cards immediately and doesn't exile cards made it insane, and banned/restricted everywhere it has been. In EDH the 40 starting life didn't help.
The accordion blocks immediately following are going over some theory of the decks in EDH. For information on deck building or specific, recommended cards, you can find those elsewhere.
Aggro is the type of deck that generally has a very simple strategy, kill each opponent as fast as possible, using damage, infect/poison counters or commander damage. Due to three opponents and each having 40 life, many Aggro decks need an edge to get out enough damage to win. Using your commander to deal damage makes it so you don't need as much damage, and if you keep buffing your commander, you can win much faster than a normal creature based Aggro build. Token strategies with Anointed Procession can double their damage, and effects like Gratuitous Violence can help deal more damage in almost any strategy. Things like these help close that 120 (40 life on three opponents) life gap to victory.
One upside to Aggro is that a slower player will most likely be unable to protect against your onslaught, however, a downside is it needs some luck against midrange opponents, and will sometimes struggle against faster combo lists.
Midrange strategies are similar to Aggro in that they commonly want to beat the opponent down and win, a lot of time through dealing damage, but instead of trying to do it as fast as possible, they are trying to protect themselves at the same time, leading to slower play, and more consistent play than Aggro, yet faster and less consistent play than control.
A major upside is that the deck is powerful at all stages of the game. Few times are midrange decks entirely ‘Aggro-ed’ or controlled out of the game, however, the downside it is not extremely good in any stage of the game either. Kind of a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none deal you have here.
Control builds are slower builds that try to make the game go long, and then win. They normally either try to shut down the opponents, as a stax build, or use removal and countermagic to deal with threats your opponents play like a permission build. Either way, the game goes long into whatever win condition the deck is packing.
An upside is that control players are commonly the victors if the game goes long, but a downside is that they are much worse at playing the early game, and may have to spend a lot of the cards in there hand to survive.
Combo builds are normally like Aggro or midrange decks, except instead of attempting to deal damage as fast as possible, or protect their forms of damage, they are trying to use some combo to instantly win the game. This is different in many ways, from the use of tutor and card draw, and the lack of repeated card effects, along with generally more explosive turns and slightly less consistency.
An upside is that they don't generally care about life totals, and a downside is that they are more easily shut out of the game, due to a combo piece getting exiled or something.
It should be noted other types of decks exist, but most types of decks fall under these categories.
- Tier 5 - Gimmick/Theme/Jank/No Focus
These decks are generally built as a joke, or from random cards a player has. These decks aren't considered very powerful, as they usually lack a clearly defined game-plan, little to no consistency, and aren't very fast.
- Tier 4 - Casual/Unfocused
These lists are decks that have cards they were specifically chosen to follow a game-plan, but might not be the best cards for the job, the decks might not have decent ramp or card draw, and they normally aren't very consistent.
- Tier 3 - Focused
These are the middle of the pack decks, they have a clear game-plan, have decent ramp, decent card draw, and decent consistency levels. Normally they don't run the best cards for the deck, due to budget concerns or otherwise, and usually reasonable in price, from $80-$400.
- Tier 2 - Pub-Stomp/Very Focused
These are generally powerful, tried-and-true builds, like a Rafiq of the Many Voltron deck, an Atraxa, Praetors' Voice superfriends deck, or an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic control deck. All of these decks have a clear goal, are consistent, run very good cards for the game-plan, card draw, ramp, the whole package, all at a price tag many players can afford, from $200-$800 commonly. These decks can take over Local Game Stores and playgroups, and many players will find these decks are the most powerful decks they play with or against.
- Tier 1 - cEDH/Most Focused
These are the most powerful decks in the format, with nearly always no budget replacements, and the best ramp, card draw, and consistency. The faster decks can win turn 1-4 with no disruption and turns 3-5 with medium disruption. The slower decks can shut off each opponent with extra cards in hand to win. Costing anywhere from $800-$8000, these decks are commonly out of reach for most players.
Keep note many different players use different ways to rank decks, and this is not a perfect way, but it is the method I personally would recommend to many players. Ranking decks 1-10, 1-3, and my names and not numbers are all normal.
Tribal decks are decks that pick a tribe, like Zombie, and then make most of the deck's creatures have that tribe, then use cards like Coat of Arms , Door of Destinies , or any other tribal cards to get out more damage, or other effects like more card draw with Kindred Discovery .
See an example at Elf Tribal Ramp (AAEDH)
Artifact decks are decks based around using synergies with artifacts, like Mox Opal , Darksteel Forge , Inventors' Fair , or other such cards to gain value. Many decks in this nature have the benefit of not using as many creatures as some other decks, so they are safe from Wrath of God effects, yet leave themselves more open to Shatterstorm effects.
See an example at Artifacts (AAEDH)
Enchantment builds are normally decks that simply run a lot of Enchantments and synergies with them, like Sphere of Safety , but enchantress decks use the specific Enchantress's Presence effects on some cards, to get a large card drawing engine when a lot of the deck is enchantments.
Voltron decks are decks that are based around building up one creature to be very large, whether by using auras, equipment, or other such effects. The creature is often the commander, as commander damage allows you to now rely too much on the pump abilities. Enchantress effects are recommended for aura builds.
Stax decks are control decks that attempt to stop opponents from casting the spells in their hand, not just countering spells or removing permanents. They can do this by using stax-pieces, or locks like Rule of Law , Rhystic Study , Smokestack , Tangle Wire , Winter Orb , Gaddock Teeg , or Trinisphere , all are powerful effects that make casting spells harder or detrimental for your opponents. These decks make sure not to lock themselves out by running cards in their deck that specifically deny these effects for themselves.
For example, if all of your cards are creatures, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben won't affect you, will it?
Permission decks are control builds based on answering specific threats with removal, "targeted" discard and countermagic. These decks need a lot of card draw as many of their answers only deal with one opponent’s threats when you have three opponents. Effectively every answer is card disadvantage then, so you need card draw to make up for it.
Lifegain strategies commonly are decks that use effects like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic , Words of Worship , Well of Lost Dreams , Pristine Talisman , etc. Lifegain in itself isn't great, but it is good. Using it with effects like Felidar Sovereign can win games, which is truly the value here.
- Infect/Poison Counters
Frowned upon in many playgroups, but infect allows you to get around the 40 life, and only need you to get 10 on each opponent. Using Proliferate effects and other ways of getting out more counters leads to very fast gameplay.
Token strategies are very powerful in EDH, the number of token doubling effects like Rhys the Redeemed , Harvest Season , Parallel Lives , Anointed Procession , Doubling Season , and the like, allowing you to dole out tons of damage, and can lead to explosive gameplay. Using anthem effects along with a ton of small tokens can do even more!
Superfriends or planeswalker strategies are very good in EDH, due to the general slower gameplay, they are value engines, grinding out board advantage over time. Yes, creatures can kill them, but most board wipes don't, most removal doesn't hit them, etc. This means along with a decent couple blockers, you can protect 4+ walkers and take over a game.
Reanimator strategies are decks that are built around tossing a creature into the graveyard and cheating it out onto the battlefield with an effect like Reanimate . This allows you to get out giant threats with extreme speed, but leads to blowouts if an opponent has a Scavenging Ooze in play.
Sacrifice decks, using effects like Grave Pact , Dictate of Erebos , and Viscera Seer all are good at causing a lot of death triggers to go around, as well as give a lot of value in a 4-player game. What death trigger? Blood Artist can deal a ton of damage with all of that. Sacrifice decks are generally abusing a powerful commander such as Thraximundar or Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest .
Storm decks are generally combo decks based on the principle of getting more mana than a card costs and more card than a card costs for each card, allowing them to cast effectively their whole deck. Some of them rely on an engine, such as Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder , Ad Nauseam , or Paradox Engine , others rely on simply having all of the good rituals and card draw.
- +1/+1 Counters
- -1/-1 Counters
Not a super common strategy, mostly existing due to the popularity of Amonkhets's Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and The Scorpion God , cards like Necroskitter and Blowfly Infestation become really powerful in decks built with them in mind.
Mill is a strategy of deck that attempts to remove portions of your opponents' decks until they have no more deck, at which point if the draw a card they lose the game. Commanders like Oona, Queen of the Fae , Phenax, God of Deception , Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker , Lazav, Dimir Mastermind , Szadek, Lord of Secrets , Circu, Dimir Lobotomist and The Scarab God are the most popular, leading to be basically the only color combo for mill.
Blink decks are decks that make creatures or other permanents 'blink' or get exiled and return to the battlefield all to gain value from ETB or LTB effects. Using Roon of the Hidden Realm every turn on a Thragtusk is a good example of the value they bring in, 2 mana for 5 life and a 3/3 every turn? Sign me up!
Discard decks are usually one of two decks, the first is the type that synergizes with making its opponents discard cards, using effects like Nath of the Gilt-Leaf , Waste Not , Geth's Grimoire , Necrogen Mists , and Liliana's Caress type effects to gain value.
The other main type of discard deck is one that just makes opponents discard, instead of synergizing with it. If they have a commander that just over time will close out a game, all they have to do is stop players from playing and they win! Necrogen Mists , Bottomless Pit , Oppression , Words of Waste , Creeping Dread , Liliana of the Veil , Cunning Lethemancer , painful quandry, Sadistic Hypnotist and Chains of Mephistopheles will mean no one has a hand.
A lands matter deck is generally based around a commander that cares about them, like Borborygmos Enraged , Tatyova, Benthic Druid , The Gitrog Monster , or Omnath, Locus of Rage , and about 40+ lands to make the deck have a ton of synergy with the commander. Not all lands matter decks are like this, but the vast majority are. They often ramp out really well, have green in their color identity, and have some land-related win condition.
A bounce deck is commonly misinterpreted as a deck that bounces your opponents' stuff, generally, it is the opposite, a deck that bounces its own cards to gain value, from stuff like Paradoxical Outcome to Uyo, Silent Prophet , and most of them are in blue. Similar to blink decks, bounce decks can use ETB and LTB effects over and over again, to gain value, like a Archeomancer with an Erratic Portal constantly retrieving spells from your graveyard, turn after turn.
Chaos decks are pretty much exclusive to EDH, or multiplayer formats. It is a gimmicky style of deck, that needs some luck to win, and can often kill itself from playing weird effects like Planar Chaos , Possibility Storm , Warp World , or Scrambleverse . Generally, they need to be in red but aren't always.
Steal/Clone decks are decks that are good if you are in between playgroups, and want to play at different levels with the same decks. They most often are blue decks, that copy or steal your opponents’ threats instead of making their own. This allows you to only be as powerful as your opponents’ decks.
Self-Mill decks like Tasigur, the Golden Fang normally have some graveyard synergies, like Traumatize and Creeping Rennaisance to get a makeshift draw half your deck! Sidisi, Brood Tyrant , The Mimeoplasm , and Muldrotha, the Gravetide are also great choices!
Legendary decks are basically just tribal decks, with the tribe being legendary, but stuff like Time of Need , Captain Sisay , and Reki, the History of Kamigawa along with all of the Dominaria historic effects give them an edge in terms of card advantage! Heroes' Podium and Day of Destiny are also great ways to build up their bodies too.
- Group Hug
Group hug decks are reasonably popular in EDH, though generally don't win, and instead give out tons of cards with Howling Mine or giving out tons of mana with Mana Flare . Effects that give each player resources are what make a group hug deck tick.
Generally, this is a single commander that helms wheel decks, Nekusar, the Mindrazer , and wheel specifically are effects like Wheel of Fortune , Windfall , Magus of the Wheel , Timetwister , and their brethren. Wheel decks can also be storm builds, or builds like Nekusar, the Mindrazer , but not using him as the commander.
These lists are commonly green, creature-based decks using stuff like Primordial Sage , Lifecrafter's Bestiary , Soul of the Harvest , and other effects that draw tons of cards when you cast creatures, and a lot of ramp, like Arbor Elf , Birds of Paradise , Elvish Mystic , Llanowar Elves , Fyndhorn Elves , Devoted Druid , Priest of Titania and other fast-mana dorks, to make a fast deck that drops a ton of creatures onto the battlefield in an explosive manner. Using a haste enabler like Concordant Crossroads can be a near instant win in these builds!
Originally a Doran, the Siege Tower -only deck, Arcades, the Strategist is now another commander that can use high-toughness creatures and make them very powerful. Using these creatures, specifically ones with low power like Wall of Omens , you can abuse sweepers like Retribution of the Meek , Slaughter the Strong , and Fell the Mighty to be one-sided sweepers (or three-sided in 4-player)! Assault Formation is a near-must-have in these builds, as if your commander is unable to be accessed it can still win games. Other good effects here are Meekstone , Overgrown Battlements, Wall of Mulch , Axebane Guardian , and Tower Defense !
- Land Destruction
Land destruction decks are right what they say on the tin, destroy your opponents' lands! Use Armageddon / Ravages of War effects over Stone Rain effects, as they hit tons more, and aren't 1 for 1s. Generally these decks use artifact or creature mana so a Decree of Annihilation won't kill them, Ruination , Cataclysm , Catastrophe , Impending Disaster , and Devastation should be greatly considered for this type of deck.
- Extra Combats
Decks based around extra combat steps usually are combo decks like Godo, Bandit Warlord / Aurelia, the Warleader with Helm of the Host , and a lot of Aggro tacked along. With other damage doubling effects like double strike or Gratuitous Violence , you can dole out absurdly fast damage!
- Extra Turns
Extra turn decks are often frowned upon, due to the abundance of time spent on a single player's "turns". If you have a good card draw engine (or card advantage engine like Kess, Dissident Mage ), you can repeatedly cast extra turn spells, and with recursion, you can chain together extra turns and go off really well! They effectively need to be in blue for the Time Warp , Temporal Manipulation , Time Stretch , Expropriate , and other extra turn spells, along with the card draw. These decks take a long time to combo out though, so be aware of that.
Dredge decks are a form of self-mill deck, one that uses the dredge mechanic and card draw, like Golgari Grave-Troll in a Damia, Sage of Stone deck. If you have a discard outlet like Putrid Imp , you discard it, then you draw a card, dredging it to your hand as a replacement effect, milling 6. You hopefully mill some more dredge cards like Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug , then discard Golgari Grave-Troll and 2 other cards, dredging a bunch of cards, milling more! That is the power of dredge. Karador, Ghost Chieftan and The Gitrog Monster are other popular dredge commanders.
- Pillow Fort
Pillow fort is a strategy that tries to shield yourself from your opponents with effects like Ghostly Prison , Propaganda , Ensnaring Bridge , Leyline of Sanctity , Solitary Confinement , Aegis of the Gods , Orbs of Warding , Witchbane Orb , and occasionally Heroic Intervention and Teferi's Protection effects. These decks are commonly control decks that don't care about your opponent's threats at all, not stopping them, instead, acting like they don't exist. Generally, they build up to something like an Eldrazi Titan or some other unstoppable threat late-game once they have become effectively immortal.
Morph decks are basically tribal lists for face-down cards, with lords like Ixidor, Reality Scultpor, tribal benefits like Secret Plans / Trail of Mystery , and a common combo-lock with Vesuvan Shapeshifter + Brine Elemental !
Curse decks are decks based around the Curse Enchantments, commonly using Curse of Misfortunes and other curses to build up a powerful amount of hate. These decks can be extremely political decks, while also being able to shut out players more easily than most other deck sub-themes, for instance, you drop a Curse of Death's Hold and Overwhelming Splendor on a creature-based Aggro deck.
Wrath decks are decks with a ton of sweepers, and normally are the EDH equivalent of turbo-fog effects. Commonly under a commander like Avacyn, Angel of Hope , so they can cast Catastrophe after Armagegeddon after Wrath of God after Ravages of War after Day of Judgment turn after turn sweeping out everything. ‘Wrathing’ like this is sure to get you some hate but is effective in many playgroups.
In many playgroups and local game stores, plenty of things in EDH are frowned upon or simply banned. Occasionally separate rules are made for different playgroups, such as making infect go from 10 to 20 poison counters needed for a player to lose. Other playgroups have different ban lists, such as legalizing Prophet of Kruphix and banning Sol Ring , stuff like that.
Below I will go over the most notoriously frowned upon things in EDH, and though I personally think players should play how they want to, and of course many playgroups have different standards of etiquette. Be sure to ask about that before playing in a new group.
- Playing at a Different Power Level
When you play a Pub-Stomp deck against a casual deck, you will consistently win, and it won't be fun for them, so try to play where each player has a reasonable chance at winning. The best deck is one that both wins and can still lose to any opponent. If you are playing in-between playgroups, try a steal-your-stuff deck or a clone tribal deck, so you can only have threats as powerful as your opponents' threats.
- Stax and MLD
MLD stands for Mass Land Destruction, like Armageddon , Decree of Annihilation , or cards in that category, and Stax can be effects like Rule of Law , Trinisphere , Thalia, Guardian of Thraben , or Gaddock Teeg , together they can be extremely powerful ways to shut down your opponents, however not playing the game isn't very fun for most players, and so it is banned in many playgroups.
- Infinite Combos
Though many playgroups don't care, plenty dislike fast combo, or infinite combos in general, most combat-based player groups have to become more controlling, slowing the game to a point at which they can't get a game in without sinking in an hour or two, or the rest of the playgroups needs to incorporate their own combos to compete. Combo-control is a playstyle many playgroups don't want to be drawn down, so they ban it outright.
- Tell the Truth
Most playgroups ban lying as a way to win the game, if you make a deal, follow it. That is the general idea, but on a different note, well-worded deals are generally accepted, for instance, if you make a deal between another player and you that you won't attack each other, and you Fireball your opponent to death, that is perfectly fine, you didn't attack them, did you? Again, this is a general thing, some playgroups ban these well-worded deals, other times they allow you to lie as much as you want. I have seen a playgroup that basically has all deals written out and signed as though they were going to take each other to court or something!
- Numeric Life Total Effects
Okay. I made up this term, I don't actually know what it is called, but most players ban these. Serra Ascendant , Felidar Sovereign , Test of Endurance , and the effects of that sort. Because you start with 40 life, a turn one Serra Ascendant doling out 6 ‘lifelinking’ damage a turn is much more powerful than most playgroups want to deal with, the same goes for winning the game with Felidar Sovereign , if you can Teferi's Protection and save yourself until you win the game, your opponents can't do much, and so they get banned or frowned upon.
Because of the relative increase in power, quadrupling the effective power of a creature in EDH instead of simply doubling it in modern, pauper, or legacy. This leads many playgroups to either make separate rules on poison counters such as setting it to 15 or 20 until the player loses. Occasionally they ban it outright, whereas other playgroups simply frown on players that use it.
Okay, storm decks are decks that try to chain cards together, normally with some cards that can help you do it like Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder , and can take upwards of 10 minutes to win, that amount of time spent on winning can be annoying, and though commonly storm decks don't take that much time, if one does, it is commonly frowned upon.
- Extra Turn Effects
Extra turn effects prolong an inevitable win, at least that is how most players see decks that use them like Narset, Enlightened Master , but most plenty of other taking-turns decks are still considered annoyingly slow to play against, and so are frowned upon, and many playgroups ban the use of extra turns in general, or just adopt more Ugin's Nexus / Stranglehold effects.
Scooping in a game is normally find if you have to leave for whatever reason, but when a player scoops right before they would die, maybe before a creature would deal lethal combat damage to them like a Wanderwine Prohpets, someone will be upset with you. They wanted their extra turn and you denied it, not win an in-game effect but with something outside of the game, just to spite them. This is generally frowned upon and some playgroups ban instant-speed scoops and only allow sorcery-speed scoops.
Okay, in some playgroups, take-backs are okay, in some they aren't I personally wouldn't suggest ever using take-backs, even when you did mess up, simply because messing up will allow you to learn better in the future, and that will allow you to play in playgroups where take-backs aren't allowed. Even where they are allowed, players that use them a lot will be frowned upon most of the time.
- Rules Lawyering
Rules Lawyering is where a player specifically calls out other players when they don't follow the rules, for instance, some player casts a spell on your upkeep, but they didn't have priority, but some players have never heard of priority. Generally, it depends on the playgroup to decide how much they want to be specific on rules, but some players that follow the rules more closely and constantly call out other players will be frowned upon.
So what is this "Politics"?
Well, I'll give you an example of a game with wars and truces.
Player A goes first, then B, then C, then D.
We are on around turn 5, player A is decently aggressive, running a Sigarda, Host of Herons Voltron build, but are more of a midrange strategy, with just Sigarda on the battlefield. Player B is a very aggressive Rhys the Redeemed token strategy, with a wide field right now who has been swinging out some damage around. Player C is a Control player, running an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic lifegain/pillow fort list, with answers up but no permanents other than lands. Player D is a combo player, running a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker list, with a tutor ( Gamble ) in hand, but no combo right then.
It is now player A's turn, and they play out a Duelist's Heritage and swing 10 damage at the Player B, because Player B swung at Player A a turn or two ago, and then passes the turn.
Upset by this, Player B drops an Overrun and swings out with 6+ creatures at Player A in retaliation (this is an example of a war), then Player C asks Player A if a question:
"If you give me double-strike from you Duelist's Heritage , I will protect you from this, okay?"
Player A says yes, and Player C casts AEtherize , obliterating Player B's field of tokens. Player B then passes the turn to Player C, who passes to Player D, and the game continues.
Right now, there is an alliance or truce between Players A&C against Player B, Player D is simply trying to win, and so really can't easily help out to get in on an alliance. This means since Players A&C can pool their resources, they will have a good chance at winning the game, before they fight. This is politics in EDH.
We already mentioned two good cards for politics in your deck, AEtherize and Duelist's Heritage , both are good on their own, an instant speed sweeper for 4 is good, and so is a 3 mana double-strike on any creature is good too, but they can help your opponents if you need to make a deal.
Sweepers, in general, do this on their own. Any player without a large field won't mind a Day of Judgment if it kills a threatening player's It That Betrays and maybe some other threats too. Instant speed is also very useful, think Rout or AEtherspouts , all of these cards can be both useful on their own to protect you, or your opponents.
Other cards that can be double duty are removal spells in general if you don't need a threat removed, think about what your opponents need to be removed, think about what you would like from them, and try to strike up a deal. You can Into the Roil an opponent's commander if it was stolen, and help out its owner. Bounce spells can be very useful when saving your permanents, or hurting your opponents, but what about saving your opponents creatures with an Unsummon , that can score some serious political points.
Some decks run many cards based on politics, instead of ones that are simply good with or without politics. Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer is simply a political card, it is removal and card draw wrapped up in a nice package. Assault Suit on your Voltron commander gets out more damage, and also makes attacking your opponents more appealing to attack.
Effects such as Curse of Bounty make attacking an opponent more appealing, and Ghostly Prison makes attacking you less appealing, these aren't going to make truces per se, but they do use your opponents as a tool against each other, which is very political.
Most auras can be put on any creature, and so are useful tools in politics, especially when you are in the Voltron mirror match, and don't want to anger the other Voltron player, but still, want to have players die, why not attach a Armadillo Cloak onto it. It gets pumped +2/+2, and you gain life whenever it connects, what's not to love!
So, are there some commanders that are staples? Yes, do those have to be the commander, no. Pick the commander that best suits your playstyle, or is the most fun for you. Many players play casually, and you will have no problem playing a commander that might not be the best, and even if you play in cEDH, the best decks in the format, you can still win with a subpar commander as long as the deck is built well and you play it to the fullest extent (Why Every Commander is Competitive for more information).
Well, to start we should figure out what the use of a commander really is. A commander is the 8th card in every opening hand, and a card you always have access too. This means if it is part of a 2 card combo, that combo is effectively a one card combo since you always have the other piece. If you always want ramp in your opening hand, run a commander that ramps you, if you always want card draw in your hand, run a commander with card draw.
But let's say you want to run Ad Nauseam as your commander, well, you can't since it isn't legal as a commander, so you should look for something similar to it. The closest there is to it is Griselbrand , but he is banned, so what is left? Run a commander that can find you Ad Nauseam , like Sidisi, Undead Vizier , and you will effectively have any card of your choice at your disposal. Commanders that are tutors, or cards that search through your library, are some of the most powerful commanders. Captain Sisay and Arcum Dagsson are commanders that similarly can search for cards in your library, and Sidisi, Arcum, and Sisay are all high tiered cEDH decks.
Card draw on a commander is very powerful, think Azami, Lady of Scrolls , Tymna the Weaver , Edric, Spymaster of Trest , or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy . All of these commanders are similarly high tiered cEDH decks, with card draw in the command zone, you can always make sure your hand is full and ready to win or stop any opponent from winning.
Ramp is good too, a commander like Selvala, Explorer Returned can be a very powerful Stax commander, getting you the mana needed to drop some big locks on the game. Other good ramp commanders like Seton, Krosan Protector can make great elf ball lists, along with the right deck.
The last main category of commanders are the win conditions, think Godo, Bandit Warlord with a Helm of the Host in the deck. As soon as you cast it and get 5 extra mana you win. The colors it gives isn't great, it is a tutor, but just to win the game, and it doesn't give card draw or ramp.
Well, so what is the best all-round commander? Thrasios, Triton Hero is a good example of what might be the best commander, it is card draw, colors since it is a partner commander, is reasonably cheap in terms of its Converted Mana Cost, and is a win condition if you can make infinite mana. You really want a commander that does multiple things and helps you in all stages of the game. Think Selvala, Heart of the Wilds , it is a win condition with Umbral Mantle or Staff of Domination , it is ramp, it is card draw, and it is relatively cheap to cast.
Most of these uses are just what should be done when choosing any card. Some commanders are separate like Derevi, Empyrial Tactician for instance is specifically powerful, yet isn't card draw, it isn't exactly ramp, a tutor, or a win condition, yet has high synergy with Stasis or Winter Orb type effects, untapping your lands when your opponents can't is great. The point is a commander should be whatever card you most want in your hand at all times.
Now this doesn't work for all commanders, because of commander specific rules, a card like Sidisi, Brood Tyrant can be used in Food Chain combo decks because you can exile it, return it to the command zone, and recast it over and over, and use it for combo. Prossh, Skyraider of Kher is similar in it's use with Food Chain combo, these cards are different than a card you would want in hand, as you wouldn't be able to combo out with it without those rulings, but they are win conditions in essence, and you would want that in your hand.
This is too much for them. Generally, there are a few ways Aggro compensates, one of which abuses the already built-in system of 'Commander Damage.' Building up a ton of auras and equipment on a commander to make it huge and swing in for 21 damage works in a lot of cases, and is called "Voltron." The main issue with this is a cheap and fast commander like Rafiq of the Many is too easily prone to removal like Swords to Plowshares , and more controlling commander like Sigarda, Host of Herons or Uril, the Miststalker are generally a bit too , slow to get around board wipes like Toxic Deluge , Wrath of God , Damnation , Day of Judgment and Supreme Verdict .
But there are other tricks Aggro has up its sleeves, think infect. Really, infect is just as powerful in Modern or Legacy than in EDH, right? Well, not exactly, yes infect still only needs to deal 10 poison counters to kill a player, but you still have to deal at least 30 damage given your opponents can't kill faster than you, or if they are also playing infect. It's tracked differently, so if someone is at one life, they can take up to 9 poison counters and still live. Running Atraxa, Praetors' Voice can give some inevitability to your infect win, and stuff like Saskia the Unyielding can also be run to make you only have to deal 20 damage to win with infect.
The biggest issue with infect is that players generally frown upon it, and will target you, or will play cards like Solemnity as a counter to it. Some playgroups set the poison counters needed to kill to 15 or 20, and some outright ban it. Also, since there are no commanders other than Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon directly support it, there is little consistency to infect decks, despite their explosive turns and wins.
Well, that is the aggro problem, it is what leads so many decks to be control, midrange, combo, or hybrid builds, and why the format is generally considered slow. This isn't to say decks can't win turn 1 or anything, tons of combo decks can, however, and this is what leads to the final point. Combo is generally the best win condition, not to say a deck like Edric, Spymaster of Trest shouldn't beat face to win, but for most decks, combo with differing levels of disruption is the best strategy.
Many playgroups don't use combos, whether they are more casual, frown upon combo, outright ban it, or simply run more beat down strategies and don't care for combo particularly. This is perfectly fine, and reasonable, but it is the workaround for the Aggro problem, while not relying solely on control.
White is a color with a lot of powerful cheap removal, protection, and minor advantages such as small tokens. Swords to Plowshares , Path to Exile , Return to Dust , Condemn , Day of Judgment , Wrath of God , and Disenchant are all great pieces of removal, leading to no permanent being protected from the versatility of white's removal. White has little card draw and tutoring, but cards such as Recruiter of the Guard , Weathered Wayfarer , Land Tax , Inheritance , Enlightened Tutor , and Idyllic Tutor still give some power in that aspect.
White is one of the best colors for protecting yourself and your permanents, Greater Auramancy , Ghostly Prison , Grand Abolisher , Silence , Mother of Runes , Magus of the Moat , Sphere of Safety , Aegis of the Gods , True Believer , Leyline of Sanctity , Teferi's Protection and Devoted Caretaker can be great help with combating removal, attacks, countermagic, and burn from your opponents, allowing white to be a great asset to combo lists, control lists, Aggro lists, and especially pillow fort lists.
White doesn't have a ton of ramp, though they can easily fetch lands with Tithe , Land Tax , Knight of the White Orchid , Weathered Wayfarer , Endless Horizons , and Gift of Estates type effects can get something close to ramp.
In terms of combos, Auriok Salvagers and Lion's Eye Diamond gives you infinite mana of any color if you discard your hand. Then dump that into a Thrasios, Triton Hero or Goblin Cannon or something like that and you win the game! Remember if you have a commander, it isn't in your hand, so if you run a Heliod, God of the Sun or Oketra the True EDH deck, you can cast your commander and use it infinite times with infinite mana, and you can make infinite tokens. Rest in Peace + Helm of Obedience can exile any player's deck once per turn, due to strange interaction too!
White has powerful Voltron benefits, with equipments and auras specifically. Open the Armory , Puresteel Paladin , Kor Spiritdancer , Retether , Mesa Enchantress , Open the Vaults , and Sram, Senior Edificer are good card advantage in those decks.
White also has powerful tribal benefits with angels, cats, kithkin, soldiers, humans, knights, clerics, and kor creatures. They also are good with tokens, and have both token generators like Heliod, God of the Sun , but also anthems like Glorious Anthem , Honor of the Pure , Intangible Virtue , and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite .
Stax decks normally are in blue or white, due to their effects. White has mana disruption like Hokori, Dust Drinker , Stony Silence , Kataki, War's Wage , Armageddon , Ravages of War , Cataclysm , Linvala, Keeper of Silence , Kismet , and Loxodon Gatekeeper type effects, along with tax effects in the form of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben , Aura of Silence , Glowrider , and Vryn Wingmare , and some stax-like hate like Spirit of the Labyrinth , Leonin Arbiter , Aven Mindcensor , Rule of Law , Eidolon of Rhetoric , Tocatli Honor Guard , Hushwing Gryff , and Ethersworn Canonist .
In terms of answering specific strategies in you meta, white is great at stopping specific decks from stopping reanimator with Containment Priest and Rest in Peace , stopping storm with Stax, ETB decks with Tocatli Honor Guard / Hushwing Gryff . With all of the removal, you can stop pretty much any commander and permanent, and generally are safe.
Planeswalker decks are also often in white due to cards like Call the Gatewatch , Djeru, With Eyes Open and Deploy the Gatewatch , along with a number of powerful walkers like Elspeth, Sun's Champion , one of if not the most popular planeswalkers in all of EDH.
Blue is a color of card draw, countermagic, bounce, untap effects, and artifacts. With blue, you are a well-rounded color, and though you don’t have green's ramp, white's protection and removal, or black's tutors, blue has straight card advantage to win a game, with powerful combos and efficient synergies.
In terms of removal, disruption, and protections, bounce and countermagic is generally where blue lies. Rapid Hybridization , Pongify , Reality Shift , Ixidron , and Curse of the Swine are the exceptions, but blue has , or insanely versatile removal like Chain of Vapor , efficient removal like Into the Roil / Blink of an Eye , or even more versatile removal like Cyclonic Rift . In terms of sweepers, AEtherize , Cyclonic Rift , Evacuation , and Devastation Tide are all powerful effects, though mostly temporary.
Almost all countermagic is in blue, from the simple Counterspell , to the efficient Swan Song , Spell Pierce , and Remand , to more political cards like Arcane Denial . Free counterspells exist too, Force of Will , Mindbreak Trap , and Pact of Negation . Effects such as Unsubstaniate, Cryptic Command , and Supreme Will can be used for alternate things, whereas effects like Rewind and Condescend just do a lot at once. Countermagic can hit a lot of spells, and unlike removal, they can affect things before they enter the battlefield, but unlike removal, they have to be used at an exact time. The tradeoff is versatility of what it can hit for the versatility of when it can hit.
In terms of tutors, blue is generally good at tutoring three things, Artifacts, Instants, and Sorceries. Mystical Tutor , Fabricate , Whir of Invention , Personal Tutor , Spell Seeker, Trophy Mage , Reshape , Trinket Mage , Treasure Mage , Transmute Artifact , and Merchant Scroll are the norm for blue tutors, with few exceptions like transmute effects ( Muddle the Mixture , Tolaria West , etc.).
In terms of card draw, blue has it all, Brainstorm , Opt , Impulse , Ponder , Preordain , Sleight of Hand , and Serum Visions are all incredibly powerful ‘cantrips’, toss in Fact or Fiction , Dig Through Time , Windfall , Treasure Cruise , Timetwister , Time Spiral , and other such cards are the most powerful card draw effects in the game, let alone in EDH.
Combo in blue is plentiful Dead Eye Navigator combos with Great Whale , Peregrine Drake , or Palinchron , and Palinchron combos with High Tide , Caged Sun , Gauntlet of Power , Phantasmal Image , and Extraplanar Lens . Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal make infinite mana with enough mana rock/dork mana, and so can Power Artifact and Grim Monolith or Basalt Monolith .
Blue has good synergy with artifacts, such as Vedalken Archmage , Etherium Sculptor , Thoughtcast , Argivian Restoration , Vedalken Engineer , Arcum Dagsson , Chief Engineer , Grand Architect , Grand Architect , and Muzzio, Visionary Architect . It is most often the best artifact color, and gives pretty much any synergy with artifacts you could ask for.
Tribes in blue are faeries, sphinxes, wizards, merfolk, sea creatures, illusions, moonfolk, and it has some good tribal benefits such as Kindred Discovery , Faces of the Past , Distant Melody , or Call to the Kindred .
Black is a color of tutors, creature removal, graveyard effects, card draw, minor ramp, and discard. It can do everything you need to do yourself but doesn't protect well against others. One of the best reasons to play in black is its abundance of tutors. Demonic Tutor , Grim Tutor , Vampiric Tutor , Imperial Seal , Mastermind's Acquisition , Diabolic Tutor , Cruel Tutor , Tainted Pact , Demonic Consultation , Dark Petition , Rhystic Tutor , Beseech the Queen , Razaketh's Rite , Increasing Ambitions, Diabolic Intent , Demonic Collusion , Insidious Dreams , Rune-Scarred Demon , and Liliana Vess are great ways to effectively remove the 'one-of' rule for each card in your deck. The more tutors in your deck, the more consistent, and black has the tutors that search for any type of card.
Other forms of card advantage exist in black as well, though normally at the cost of life. Dark Confidant , Underworld Connections , and Phyrexian Arena are engines to draw cards, and Night's Whisper , Sign in Blood , and Read the Bones are efficient draw spells. Ad Nauseam is so powerful is practically made ~3 cEDH archetypes, from Sidisi, Undead Vizier Ad Nauseam , to Grixis Storm, and so on.
In terms of creature removal, black has Dismember , Fatal Push , Doom Blade , Slaughter Pact , Go for the Throat , and every single target destroy effect you could ask for, in terms of sweepers, Damnation , Mutilate , and Toxic Deluge have your back.
In terms of combo, black has a ton. Doomsday piles, Necropotence / Ad Nauseam storm kills with Tendrils of Agony , Leyline of the Void and Helm of Obedience , Mikaeus, the Unhallowed and Triskellion, Exquisite Blood + Sanguine Bond , and tons more combos, along with the tutors, mono-black combo is easily able to be done, and splashing black in combo is normal if not expected.
The graveyard is probably most important to black decks, Reanimate effects are prevalent, so when using Buried Alive / Entomb effect a deck and dropping a giant Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger into the graveyard, all you have to do is cast an Exhume , Animate Dead , Necromancy , or any other reanimate effect to cheat it out turn 2 if you want. The risk is that effects such as Relic of Progenitus , Tormod's Crypt , or other graveyard exiling effects leads to 2+ card blowouts, and can be devastating to your tempo.
For instance, if you cast a Buried Alive , tossing in Bloodghast , Mikaeus, the Unhallowed , and Triskellion, then play land to get out Bloodghast , then cast Victimize pulling your infinite combo out, you expect to win, but if an opponent discards a Faerie Macabre and exiles them, you effectively lose five cards and 6 mana worth of value to one card and 0 mana worth of value, which can be the thing that kills you further down the road.
In terms of discard effects, used to protect combos most often, Duress , Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek can be used in this way, but when you want your opponents to not have a hand at all, Bottomless Pit , Oppression and effects in that same vein can be very cruel. Using Phyrexian Arena effects can still allow you to keep a hand yourself, and get ahead of the pack.
Ramp in black normally comes in two forms, rituals like Dark Ritual and Cabal Ritual , effects that give you mana for a turn at the cost of a card, yet have no long-term benefit and mana doublers. Nirkana Revenant and Crypt Ghast are the go-to examples of mana doublers in black, but effects like Cabal Stronghold and Cabal Coffers are certainly similar.
Tribes in black include zombies, vampires, rats, spiders, demons, horror, skeletons, and mercenaries, and include tribal benefits like Cover of Darkness , Kindred Dominance , Aphetto Dredging , and Patriarch's Bidding .
Red is a chaotic color of creature removal, artifact synergies, artifact removal, rituals, looting/rummaging, and Aggro. It has little 'card advantage' but makes up for it with cards like Faithless Looting , Tormenting Voice , Cathartic Reunion , and Rummaging Goblin . Red also has nearly no ways of dealing with enchantments.
A major boon to running red is because of its artifact synergies. Trash for Treasure , Daretti, Scrap Savant , Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient , Goblin Welder , Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer are all powerful effects that can make or break (often both) an artifact deck.
Aggro is another reason to run red, haste enablers such as Urabrask the Hidden , Ogre Battledriver , Anger , and Hellraiser Goblin can be useful, as well as cards such as cards like Furnace of Wrath, Dictate of the Twin Gods , or Gratuitous Violence can end games faster.
In terms of removal, red has artifact removal from Smelt , By Force , and Shattering Spree to effectively artifact sweepers like Vandalblast and Shatterstorm . Creature removal like Forked Bolt , Lightning Bolt , or Flame Slash to sweepers like Blasphemous Act , Anger of the Gods , Chain Reaction , Rolling Earthquake , or Sweltering Suns . Chaos Warp is probably one of the best cards in red for EDH, and is one of their only answers to enchantments, while also hitting nearly anything else.
Red is actually pretty good with stax effects, having Blood Moon , Magus of the Moon , and also a number of effects that can destroy an artifact or creature mana that is used to counteract the stax effects. MLD, or mass land destruction is rampant in red, from Ruination to Decree of Annihilation to Devastation , and is a great bonus to the destruction of artifacts and creatures, all together, when done properly you can remove all of the mana your opponents can generate. Some hate effects like Stranglehold or Treasure Nabber can be greatly beneficial dependent on your Meta, and are also used in stax decks.
Tribes in red are goblins, dragons, dwarves, elementals, ogres, soldiers, minotaurs, pirates, giants, devils, barbarians, demons, and devils. Tribal benefits include Kindred Charge , Shared Animosity , and Mana Echoes .
Green is a creature color, with lots of non-creature removal, ramp, card draw, tutors, and recursion. Green has tons of ramp, from creature based ramp like Llanowar Elves , Elvish Mystic , Fyndhorn Elves , Arbor Elf , Boreal Druid , Birds of Paradise , Priest of Titania , and Devoted Druid to land ramp like Nature's Lore , Rampant Growth , Cultivate , Kodama's Reach , Skyshroud Claim , and Explosive Vegetation , and even enchantment ramp like Wild Growth , Utopia Sprawl , Carpet of Flowers , Fertile Ground , and Overgrowth .
With all of that ramp, what kinds of card draw does green have? Well, surprisingly a lot. Green has a lot of normal card draw and dig spells, like Harmonize and Commune with the Gods , along with card draw engines like Lifecrafter's Bestiary , Sylvan Library , Argothian Enchantress , Eidolon of Blossoms , Primordial Sage and Soul of the Harvest . Card filtering effects also exist in green, like Mirri's Guile and Abundance .
Tutors in green are almost always for creatures, whether it is single time to top like Worldly Tutor or Sylvan Tutor , to hand like Summoner's Pact , to the battlefield like Green Sun's Zenith or Chord of Calling , or repeatable like Fauna Shaman , Survival of the Fittest , Yisan, the Wanderer Bard or Birthing Pod .
Recursion is plentiful in green, and though it isn't reanimation like black, effects like Regrowth , Eternal Witness , Noxious Revival , and Reclaim are common, as well as reshuffling effects like Gaea's Blessing .
Combo is plentiful in green, from Umbral Mantle / Sword of the Paruns / Staff of Domination + Priest of Titania / Karametra's Acolyte / Elvish Archdruid /Selvala, Heart of the Wild/ Marwyn, the Nurturer to Squirrel Nest + Earthcraft to Protean Hulk / Survival of the Fittest / Hermit Druid lines.
Tribes in green include elves, cats, dinosaurs, snakes, treefolk, spiders, hydras, druids, fungus, walls, shamans, wurms, insects, archers, centaurs, wolves, kavus, beasts, dryads, trolls, bears, oozes, and green has tons of tribal benefits, like Alpha Status , Kindred Summons , Steely Resolve , Reins of the Vinesteed , Descendants' Path , Grave Sifter , Caller of the Hunt , Bloodline Shaman , and Tribal Forcemage .
Removal in green is artifact/enchantment removal like Naturalize , Nature's Claim , or Natural State , to land destruction like Mwonvuli Acid-Moss , or the most basic variant of non-creature destruction being Bramblecrush . If you really want to remove creatures though, running Beast Within , Lignify , and Song of the Dryads are great options. Fight effects like Prey Upon can also be used.
So what is bluffing? Well, to start, there is simply claiming you might remove a threat or counter a spell, if they cast it, even when you can't, and there is also the more subtle bluffing like leaving two untapped islands open, threatening a Counterspell .
So, in EDH, many players you play with you will have played with before, if they know a fair portion of your deck, you can abuse that in your favor. If your playgroup knows you run Fated Retribution , you may want to hold up 7 mana to threaten it, whether or not you have it, just so you don't get attacked, because if they think you have it and attack you, they would expect their board to be obliterated, and this will help you out.
If they don't know your deck but know the general staples of the format, you could hold up mana to overload a Cyclonic Rift , while not even owning one, but threatening it can really help you not get attacked, or your opponents not dropping threats.
So now that you know what bluffing is, there may be a glaring downside that you see, if you have 7 lands, for argument's sake make them all islands, and it is your turn, and you have a Fleet Swallower in hand, you could:
A - Cast the Fleet Swallower and leave up no mana.
B - Leave up 7 blue mana, threatening a counterspell or Cyclonic Rift .
Now, obviously, you would cast the Fleet Swallower if you know your opponents can't counter or remove it and have no nonland permanents. So what would make you hold up the mana? Well, if you think from the perspective of each opponent, each slightly different play they make having noticed your massive amount of open mana should be added together and considered in the making of the choice.
So, while bluffing is generally important, you need to know it is very based on the ideology of your opponents and will differ from playgroup to playgroup. I may bluff one way, for the people I play with, and you may bluff your own way, but the general rules are the same. Bluffing might not work against a 'YOLO' mentality, as they might just go for the win whether or not they think you could stop them. By occasionally testing your opponents' bluffs even when they could possibly stop you, and trying out bluffing yourself, you can learn your playgroup and adapt.
The following will be broken down into steps, made for explaining how to build low/mid budget, focused/very focused decks. For an intro to building cEDH or most focused decks, look at Why Every Commander is Competitive.
Part 1 - Choosing a Color
If you have gone over the tab 'The Colors' above, you may know just what colors you want, but if you don't, you should keep note that though the more colors you have, the more cards you can run, the less consistent your mana base is, unless if you have a lot of money to drop on shock and fetch lands along with other mana fixing.
Some player just want to play with a specific commander, if that is true then you are locked in your colors.
Part 2 - Choosing a Commander
Once you know your colors you can start picking your commander, there are tons to choose from, picking one that you want shouldn't be too difficult, check out https://edhrec.com/commanders (off-site link) and search for an option that you like, and is in your budget, or check out the Recommended Commanders tab under the Additional Resources section for good ideas on how to build different commanders based on color. You can also use the Sub-Themes tab under the
Plenty of commanders are build-around, for instance, a commander like Brago, King Eternal is an ETB/flicker deck. Other commanders like Jodah, Archmage Eternal can just be good cards in 5 colors. You can choose one that suits your ideal playstyle and deck ideas.
Part 3 - Choosing an Archetype
One major part of deckbuilding is the archetype, and that means picking one, you can see all of the archetypes under the 'Main Archetypes' tab under the 'EDH/Commander Theory' section. Remember a deck can be a hybrid or mix of the other archetypes.
To note, each color can normally pull off midrange and combo lists, red and green aren't great at control, similarly blue isn't great at aggro, however, each can pull them off, it is just more difficult for some colors to do certain things that others can do easily.
Part 4 - Choosing Sub-Themes
The last part of picking out the overall direction of your deck is the sub-themes, check them out under the 'Sub-Themes' tab under the 'EDH/Commander Theory' section. You can pick as many as you want, though focusing on as few as possible is generally recommended. Using a commander that supports your Sub-Theme(s) is normal, as a commander such as Azami, Lady of Scrolls is a good tribal commander, and isn't the best lifegain commander.
One thing to note is that other sub-themes exist, and my list isn't perfect, so feel free to research more!
When building your deck, you probably want to win, right? Some decks are combo decks, in which case their entire deck is based around winning with some number of cards and their interaction(s) (like Earthcraft with Squirrel Nest ). Others are control decks, with a few cards that effectively say 'I win the game' (like Insurrection ). Midrange and Aggro decks can often be creature-based builds where the entire deck is effectively filled with possible win conditions.
Whatever the deck, you need to know exactly how you want to win, and consistently get to it when you need to. A midrange deck may be able to wait a bit to get it's win-con, and control deck might be able to wait a long time before it finds it's win-con, but an Aggro deck or some combo builds may just need to get to the win-con as fast as possible, and can't wait.
For Aggro decks, they commonly use repetition in their deck to always have access to it, but unless you are running 50 cards that are the same in a combo, a combo deck will use tutors, or cards that fetch another card from your deck into a more accessible zone, such as the battlefield or your hand (An example of a tutor is Eladamri's Call ). These will be able to find combo pieces, leading combo decks to more consistently win the game.
Control uses a large amount of card draw most of the time and can dig for the win-condition when it is necessary, however normally can wait on finding it until the game has gone long. Midrange normally can be either like Aggro where it can run tons of copies of damage-dealing creatures or auras to pump a commander in repetition or dig to find their win-conditions when necessary.
Examples of Win-Conditions
Aggro decks may want to use cards such as Secure the Wastes and Honor of the Pure in conjunction to pull a win, by pumping up a ton of creatures, obviously running just these two cards won't be enough, so Gather the Townsfolk , Raise the Alarm , and Increasing Devotion might be run in addition, as well as Intangible Virtue , Glorious Anthem , and Marshal's Anthem to pump them all up! Voltron decks might run Rancor and Sixth Sense , but also may run Oakenform and Keen Sense as well for additional effects.
Control builds commonly want to have answers and card draw in there deck, which takes up too much space to have there deck having a ton of duplicate win conditions, which means the win conditions it runs normally have to be compact. A planeswalker like Jace, the Mindsculptor is very compact, with the effect that it is card draw, so it replaces itself, it is removal, and similarly can replace itself, and with enough time it can kill a player. All of these things make it so that it can do what the deck wanted and still win. Chromium, the Mutable will win games given enough turns, and is also unable to be easily countered or removed, making it very efficient as well.
Combo is probably the most complicated, or least dependent on your outlook. They are fully built around a win-condition and will play with it in mind the entire game. Combo lists can run many different combos, but generally, you should pick a combo that:
A - Wins immediately, or with little room for interaction from the opponents.
B - Is compact, and requires little luck to get to the combo.
C - Is consistent, and has little to no chance to fizzle or fail.
D - Can't be easily hated out.
E - Costs little to cast.
Few combos fit all of the above points, but aiming to have your combo fit as many of them as possible is key. For instance, Flash / Protean Hulk is a reasonably compact combo, that wins the game on the spot, is consistent however can be hated out with cards such as Rest in Peace or other graveyard hate cards, as well as effects such as Containment Priest and is also cheap to cast.
Hermit Druid is super compact, being just one card, is cheap to cast, wins the game on the spot, but takes a turn to tap it and win, and can be easily removed, or still hated out with graveyard hate, Linvala, Keeper of Silence , and similar effects.
Other combos obviously exist, but these are simply decent examples, check out the 'Combos' tab under the 'Additional Resources' section.
Take Brainstorm , or Demonic Tutor , while yes, those are cards that get you other cards in hand, the number of cards in your hand are equal before and after casting and resolving the spells. This is card neutrality and isn't card positive. Because of this, these cards will not be discussed in this section, but they will be in the next section, 'Step 4: Building the Card Selection'.
Now, where should we start? Well, I will start with explaining card advantage engines which may be a word you are unfamiliar with. Phyrexian Arena , Argothian Enchantress , Thrasios, Triton Hero , and Azami, Lady of Scrolls will be our examples. All of them see play in EDH/Commander and are powerful in the right deck.
How to use Draw Spells
Draw spells are cards like Jace's Ingenuity , Glimmer of Genius , Concentrate , Foresee , Windfall , and Ad Nauseam . I will be using these to compare and contrast and show the benefits of different types of card draw spells.
The first two spells I want to compare are Jace's Ingenuity and Concentrate , at face value, Concentrate is just cheaper, however that is not the case. Jace's Ingenuity is an instant, however Concentrate is a sorcery. The thing here is, if you are a deck with instant speed answers, such as removal like Swords to Plowshares or countermagic like Counterspell , you may not want to tap out on your turn to cast Concentrate if an opponent cast a spell you'd want to counter, if you had Jace's Ingenuity though, you could pass the turn, hold up the counterspell and the draw spell, and if you counter a spell, then great, or if you don't, on the end step before your turn you can cast Jace's Ingenuity . It's a win-win
Obviously one is not strictly better than another, but generally the more controlling decks would rather an instant speed card than a sorcery speed one. A similar comparison could be made between Foresee and Glimmer of Genius , with Glimmer of Genius being instant speed and Foresee being sorcery speed, but Foresee scrying four instead of two. I would generally say since both cost the same amount of mana, Glimmer of Genius is generally better, but if you don't run a deck with a lot of instant speed interaction, you might rather the Foresee
This leads to the next set comparisons, Jace's Ingenuity or Glimmer of Genius . Is being one cheaper worth switching a draw a card to a scry 2? Well, it depends on your goal. If you only have to worry about emptying your hand rounds 7+, then Jace's Ingenuity might be the better option, but if you will empty your hand earlier, using up too many spells, then Glimmer of Genius is cheaper. If you just need to dig for a combo, Glimmer of Genius is also better.
The same is sometimes true of the comparison for Concentrate and Foresee , but since they cost the same amount of mana, then it depends on two separate things. If you are only splashing blue, Foresee is easier to cast than Concentrate , but if you want more cards in hand Concentrate is better. If you are a combo deck trying to dig as far as possible to reach a combo piece, Foresee looks deeper in your deck.
All of these above cards are good but need to be thought about a lot before simply tossing in any old card draw spell if you have found you don't have enough cards in hand to play out into the late game. Make sure to pick the right spells for your deck.
Some decks that empty their hands very fast, specifically faster than its opponents can run cards like Windfall , by forcefully randomizing your opponents’ hands, which could have been crafted well by tutors or card selection. Windfall can give you a new free hand. Effects such as Day's Undoing , Wheel of Fortune , Timetwister , and Time Spiral can be similar in nature. These are all called Wheels, and shouldn't be run unless you consistently have a smaller hand on average than your opponents or can storm off with them. Some people try to abuse them with effects such as Alms Collector or Consecrated Sphinx .
Ad Nauseam and cards like it trade life for cards at an absurd rate and are while risky, extremely valuable cards when considering that in EDH you start with 40 life, and so can spend a fair amount. Some decks aim to spend nearly all of their life, or in some rare cases more than all of their life ( Phyrexian Unlife / Angel's Grace ) to draw a ton of cards from their deck, and cast them all racking up a huge storm count (number of spells cast in one turn), just to win with a card like Aetherflux Reservoir or Tendrils of Agony . Other cards like it are Necrologia and Necropotence .
Again, choose cards that fit your playstyle and deck, and think carefully about what you want to top deck or see in your opening hand, and pick cards from there.
Explaining Draw Engines
To start, I want to explain why you shouldn't use Phyrexian Arena in most decks, for 3 mana, it uses a card in hand, and at least until your next turn, doesn't draw you any cards. For the turn you drop it, it is card disadvantage. The next turn, it will have only drawn you one card, and be card neutral, until 2 turns after you drop it, it has finally been card advantage. This may seem fine, but Night's Whisper is both cheaper, and two turns faster than it at that rate. Only until 3 turns after you drop it is it finally better than it's sorcery speed counterparts. I would still rather a Ancient Craving , though it does cost one more, it also doesn't take 3 turns, so I'd say it is better. Read the Bones is equivalent at 3 mana and still doesn't take 3 turns.
Generally, Phyrexian Arena and cards like it, for example Dark Tutelage , are simply too slow unless you are a discard deck, with effects like Bottomless Pit and Necrogen Mists that means each player won't have cards in hand, so you can break the symmetry. Even then there are occasionally better alternatives, but it will have a spot in that kind of deck.
Argothian Enchantress is a different kind of engine, instead of simply drawing cards every turn, it draws you a card for each enchantment you cast. This means if a lot of your deck is enchantments, you can hopefully draw an enchantment for each enchantment you cast, drawing another enchantment when you cast the last, so on and so forth. This kind of engine, if you are lucky can give you effectively infinite cards to cast, all you need then is the mana.
Thrasios, Triton Hero is a great commander, but also is just good in a deck that can make a lot of mana over the course of different turns, ( Seedborn Muse is a good example of how you could abuse it) and don't have much to spend it on, if you don't have a lot of card advantage. Stroke of Genius effects might be better if you only make that amount of mana on one turn.
Azami, Lady of Scrolls alone may seem similar to Phyrexian Arena , but I'd like to make note a few things, the ability on Azami, Lady of Scrolls doesn't have the symbol, meaning it can be done the same turn that it comes out or the turn that the wizard comes out. This allows it to draw the turn it comes out, making it at least a turn faster than Phyrexian Arena . Also, if it is your commander, it doesn't cost a card in your hand to cast. Also, you can use it like Argothian Enchantress if your deck is jam-packed with wizards. You can even use effects like Dramatic Reversal to draw a card for each wizard you have. In the right deck, it can easily draw your whole deck in a single turn.
Using Draw Engines in EDH/Commander
To pick what engines you might want for your deck, first, you should realize why people run them. Thrasios, Triton Hero can be used for good value, but it can also be used in an infinite combo to draw your deck if you can make infinite mana. Azami, Lady of Scrolls with Isochron Scepter and Dramatic Reversal will draw you infinite cards, yet it can also just be used when you are running out of cards in your hand mid-late game.
Really, you need to know when you are going to need cards. If you are an aggressive deck that empties its entire hand on turn four to swing with a bunch of small creatures, Edric, Spymaster of Trest might be a good addition to your deck, rebuilding that hand and helping you with politics. This might not be the best card for a control deck that doesn't even really want to attack at all. In that case, a Rhystic Study can slow your opponents or draw you until your heart's content, similarly, a midrange creature ramp deck might not need such an aggressive draw engine or an engine at all, and rather simply run some draw spells like Divination .
Sensei's Divining Top might not really draw you cards per se, but it can let you pick the cards you want when you want them, and that is incredibly useful in many decks and strategies, and so are cantrips.
Cantrips are cards that you spend to draw another card. Normally they come with some upside, like letting you dig further than simply spending one card to draw one card. Brainstorm for instance lets you draw 3, and put 2 back, this means you end up with the same number of cards that you began with, but still looked further into your deck. Ponder , Preordain , Serum Visions , Sleight of Hand , Impulse , and other similar cards are powerful and shouldn't be underestimated, digging you further to a combo or board wipe or counterspell you desperately are searching for. Running a handful of these are amazing if you aren't a hardcore Aggro or combo deck that is absurdly mana hungry, and doesn't care too much the cards it gets.
Looting effects like Chart a Course or Careful Study and rummaging effects like Cathartic Reunion or Tormenting Voice can also be card selection, allowing you to discard dead cards in hand for better ones, these effects also are powerful on engines such as Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and similar effects like on Search for Azcanta . By repeatedly digging further in your deck, you will get the more valuable cards for the situation and should be able to ride that advantage to a victory against slower metas.
Outside of these, card selection engines are incredible, think Rummaging Goblin or Merfolk Looter , not a lot to look at immediately, very simple in card design, but both allow you to get a bit further ahead on crafting the perfect hand. Other similar engines might be Sigiled Starfish or Thassa, God of the Sea . Scrying, in particular, is a powerful ability when wanting to see exactly what you will get. Crystal Ball is another great engine, especially in non-blue, black, or green decks. A lot of these cards are good, but they do take time to get going in terms of the value they lost by spending a card and the mana on the spell.
Land Ramp, cards like Rampant Growth , Sakura-Tribe Elder , Cultivate , Explosive Vegetation , and Kodama's Reach come to mind, so many think it is only in green, but cards like Wayfarer's Bauble , Burnished Hart , and Solemn Simulacrum are in any color. A benefit to ramping with lands is that a lot of removal will not hit them, similarly with sweepers. Stax decks will though, so if your Meta has a lot you may want to stay away from these types of ramp.
Artifact Ramp, also called mana rocks, these cards are like Mind Stone , Thought Vessel , Azorious Signet, Worn Powerstone , and Sol Ring , commonly these options are very good, as they are reasonably fast ramp outside of green, and are considerably powerful effects when used with untap effects like Dramatic Reversal . Many have other upsides to ramping, like Hedron Archive or Magnifying Glass being able to draw you cards or Boros Keyrune being able to attack and block.
Creature Ramp, also called mana dorks, these cards are like Llanowar Elves , Boreal Druid , Elvish Druid, Arbor Elf , and Devoted Druid and are mostly green, with minor exceptions like Sea Scryer or the Myr Cycle (cards like Gold Myr ). They are most often 1-2 mana and are considered quite powerful in many creature-based decks that need ramp or general stax builds.
Enchantment Ramp mostly comes in the form of Enchant Land auras, which are like Wild Growth , Utopia Sprawl , or Overgrowth , and are generally very fast, but occasionally are weak to Strip Mine type effects, with them being inherent card disadvantage if that were to happen. Carpet of Flowers and other occasional effects can give mana, but they are far and few between.
So, what type of ramp is best for you? Well, there are some more obviously good options, like in a creature-based deck, creature-based ramp can synergize well, and in an enchantment deck, enchantment ramp is particularly powerful, but in other scenarios, you'd have to think about what you want. Generally many decks run a mix of ramp, for instance, they might run some signets (A type of mana rock like Golgari Signet ), a few dorks, some land ramp spells, and top it off with a Carpet of Flowers . The benefit here is no single card will generally shut off all of their mana, like an Armageddon might shut off some land ramp, but not the rest, or a Toxic Deluge , Vandalblast , or Back to Nature won't stop the mana entirely.
Other decks, like a Food Chain deck might just want very fast mana, and so only run the fastest ramp in each type, like Wild Growth or Mana Crypt , and then use the rest of the ramp on mana dorks so they can exile them to Food Chain on combo turn. Not all in on dorks, but mostly.
The main thing that should be done, if you know who you are playing against and what type of answers they have is to play around them. Does your playgroup have a lot of creature and artifact hate, but no land destruction? Toss in a Solemn Simulacrum and Nature's Lore , does your playgroup have a lot of creature sweepers and land hate like Winter Orb , sleeve up a Mind Stone , Thran Dynamo , and Gilded Lotus and keep on playing.
Lastly, though this varies from deck to deck, with some needing more, and others being able to function without, most decks I would recommend about 10 pieces of ramp. This is higher than many run in their lists, but in EDH most players can enjoy dropping 10 mana spells or casting 4 spells on a turn, and so many players want to do that and end up building an over-costed deck to play with, using just lands and need to consistently hit a bit of ramp.
Obviously a deck that wants to cast Genesis Wave for 40 can run as much as 30+ pieces of ramp, with many of those spells doing other things, and other decks being only 1-3 mana spells and not needing nearly any ramp, but in