pie chart

The EDH Multiverse - A Model of the EDH Landscape

Commander / EDH Casual Competitive Primer

Beebles


Welcome to an overview model of the EDH format

This is my latest attempt at modeling the EDH landscape. It is a summary of many ideas already out there in the community presented in one visual overview. Hopefully it can help EDH players in navigating the many different interpretations of our format. The graphic itself should be self-explanatory, but in this primer you can read more about the main uses and get more information about the different model elements.


Before you dig in, know that this is just a guide, and that it is not meant to be used during rule 0 talks


EDH Guide

The current version is 1.10. Earlier versions of this guide were also shared on Reddit.


1. About this guide

Trying to win and trying to prevent others from winning are two fundamental drivers in the game. In EDH, the extent to which these drivers are pursued will lead to different experiences that different players prefer. Some may even forgo these aims entirely and create decks that do something very different instead. This model describes how decks and types of play can differ using those two drivers as the defining characteristics.

In this section you can read more about the ideas that went into making the model and what are its main uses.

EDH has a characteristic that I view as being both a great strength and a great weakness: it can be played in many different ways. By focusing on the social aspect of the game EDH has become a format of many possibilities, allowing every player to join, regardless of budget, skill or time. This is great in that there is something in EDH for everyone and everyone should be able to find an EDH game they will enjoy.

At the same time these many possibilities have created many different preferences and ideologies among the EDH player base. One could say it has become somewhat of a format multiverse, leading to considerable differences in expectations between different playgroups (or players within the same playgroup) and arguably even to different sub-formats. It's a Myriad Landscape. This can cause challenges in translatability and accessibility of EDH, especially in a more casual setting and for newer players.

The solution to this challenge in my opinion is not one party forcing their preferences upon another. I see more chances of success in acknowledging that there are different EDH interpretations to play in, and that all of them are viable as long as everyone at the table is on board. And instead of conforming to just one, we can be open to switching between interpretations across games. Like a planeswalker moving from one plane to the next so that every player can get their preferred deck out for a spin and get the experience they are looking for. As long as EDH means different things to different people, we can prepare ourselves to play in EDH interpretations that are different from our own.

With this model I don’t seek to assist in the rule 0 alignment process directly. There are way simpler and more effective means out there to get on a similar page with strangers quickly. Instead I wanted to take a step back and describe the overall EDH landscape and create an overview of the main different ways one could interpret EDH. To make a bit more sense of our EDH Multiverse. I see these main uses for the model:

  • Increasing format understanding by creating an overview of the main different possible interpretations of EDH
  • Presenting players concepts and words to help them express what kind of EDH they want to play
  • Understanding the root cause of tensions in certain playgroups
  • Facilitating conversations in regular playgroups about the different ways they want to play EDH
  • Gauging for what format interpretations your decks might be suitable
  • Understanding how your suite of EDH decks can be changed in order to increase its overall format coverage

The model was born from the realization that most EDH guides leave out a dimension of the format that I find vital to understanding it: how far players want to go in stopping each other from winning. Playgroups that avoid cards like Armageddon, Mindslicer, Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger or Rest in Peace don’t do so because they are overpowered for their meta. They do so because the effect that these interaction pieces have on the experience doesn’t match with the type of gameplay that the group is looking for. It's for social reasons, not power reasons. I think interaction impact can help to better understand the format, as well as what makes Casual EDH and cEDH different.

Restraint - The casual challenge

Although now enjoyed at all levels of competitiveness, EDH was created with the intent to be played casually. As an alternative to competitive formats. Instead of trying to build the most powerful decks possible, in EDH you could build and play decks that were toned down in power to give room for a larger cardpool and for an alternative experience.

To facilitate that experience, restraint has to be applied in the deck building process. Restraint in how good your deck is at winning: after all, if you can win way faster than the rest of the table, they might get the experience that they did not really have a chance to participate. The classic pubstomper scenario. The same is true however for your deck's ability to stop others from winning: after all, if you are way better at shutting down your opponents than them, they might also get the experience that they did not really have a chance to participate. Neither tend to be a recipe for an entertaining game. At least not for the majority of the table. Ideally, both aspects of the deck you choose to play are appropriate given the expectations of all the players at the table.

Most other guides out there focus on mapping "Power level" alone. With this guide I propose that understanding the expected range of "Interaction Impact" is equally important for knowing what your playgroup is OK with, especially in a casual setting. This is because, at least in my experience, showing restraint on both of these areas defines what it means to play casual EDH:

    To build your decks so you can play your game and try to win in an expressive way,
    but never at the cost of the other players feeling they've lost their ability to do the same.

Now where those boundaries lie exactly will differ from playgroup to playgroup, but that balancing act of finding a shared ballbark of both "power level" and "interaction impact" with the people you are playing with is what casual EDH means to me. It's about respecting the time of the other players at the table.

That is where the casual challenge lies: How much restraint are you going to apply? This is something you'll have to talk about with the people you are playing with before you start, which is something not seen in any other format. Finding the shared ballpark takes some effort, and because of the many possible outcomes it's challenging at times to get on the same page or to not run into some feelbad situations every now and then. In my opinion, it makes Casual EDH best suited for playing with a fixed playgroup, because it gives you a lot more time to know where everyone's at and to craft one or more casual EDH interpretations that everyone can get behind.

When playing casually, the concept of Interaction Impact can help players express what level of restraint they prefer in the trying-to-stop-each-other-from-winning department. Just like the concept of Power Levels can help them express what level of restraint they prefer in the trying-to-win department.

Unambiguity - The competitive advantage

This balancing act is less of a challenge when playing EDH competitively. In cEDH, at least in my understanding, the expectations tend to be very clear and consistent:

    Play to win, without compromise.
    Anything that is legal in the format is tolerated.

That is the opposite of applying restraint. As a result, there is little room for ambiguity in that EDH interpretation, which for some is one of the main draws of cEDH. That is not to say there is no room for expression in cEDH, or that cEDH players don't respect the time of their fellow players. In the end cEDH is also about a social experience and enjoying a game of Magic together. In cEDH you will just have less problems when aligning on what that experience should look like, because for the cEDH interpretation it is relatively hard to have different expectations. This absence of restraint in cEDH also means the concept of Interaction Impact will likely be less relevant to you the more competitively you prefer to play.

Which EDH interpretation is correct?

So on the one end we have the casual mindset, seeking a specific experience by applying restraint when building a deck to both its power to win and its power to stop others from winning. On the other end we have the competitive mindset, seeking a specific experience by not applying such restraint in their deckbuilding, but instead exploring how far the format can pushed competitively. Which one is correct?

In trying to answer this question we could look at how the format was intended to be played. Its creators made EDH as an alternative to competitive play. That is the game they designed and it’s that experience that The Rules Committee has committed their resources towards. They know the format is easily broken and advise players not to in their Commander Philosophy Document. They aren’t committed to balancing the format, because that is not relevant for the game experience they set out to develop and maintain. And even if they wanted to, it would probably not be possible anyway.

This may lead people to believe that Casual EDH is the only one correct way to play the format. Or that the casual way is more correct than cEDH because it’s closer to the way it was originally intended to be played. Personally I don’t think that's how this stuff works. For example: the electric guitar wasn’t intended to be played in the ways that Jimi Hendrix ended up using it, but those ways surely proved to be entertaining for a lot of people.

Perhaps a more fitting comparison is Mario Kart 64. That video game, like EDH, was designed to be played as a local multiplayer game. A party racing game you enjoy with 3 of your friends casually with some beers and banther. And the majority of players probably play it in that way. However, because it's so easily broken it accidentally also ended up becoming one of the most entertaining speedrun games ever made. Its speedrun community still thrives, despite the game not getting a speedrun game mode, in-game leaderboards, or bug fixes from the game developer.

If EDH is the Mario Kart of Magic, then the cEDH player base is its speedrun community. The game wasn't designed to be played like that and its developers never committed resources to support that way to play, but that doesn’t make it wrong to do so.

The game of Commander is a form of entertainment. You are playing it correctly when you and the people you are playing it with are having a good time.

  • The guide is not for facilitating rule 0 conversations: That would resemble playing a game of battleship before you can play commander. Instead this model is for facilitating analysis outside of play. Consider it a game theory resource. It is a tool you can use if you find it useful.
  • The guide is not a measurement tool: This model is not suitable for objective measurements. Instead, it is meant as a tool to facilitate subjective assessment of decks and types of play.
  • The 4 example format interpretations are a suggestion: the 4 boxes defining “~cEDH”, ‘~High Power Casual EDH”, “~Casual EDH” and “~Tolerant Casual EDH” are meant as a suggestion and starting point. And not as the correct definitions of these sub-formats. Instead, the user is encouraged to define their own preferred format interpretations by drawing their own lines.
  • All interpretations are considered viable: This model is built from the principle that there is no correct or incorrect way to play Commander. Only a more or less appropriate way given the expectations of the players at the table.

2. Explanation of model elements

In this section you can read explanations about the different components included in the model and what they represent.

This axis asks players to consider what range of "Power Level" (or "Winning Power") of decks is preferred when they play. Power level is defined here as "How far does a deck go to win?". Five main categories are presented for distinguishing different power levels and for identifying what range you find enjoyable. These categories should align with the main power level assessment tools and concepts already out there. They are based on:

  • Main driver: This scale expresses how far your deck goes in trying to win. Is your deck built mainly to “play to win” or to “play to socialize” (as proposed by The Professor). Most decks will have a mix of those 2 drivers, but the balance between them tends to shift as the power levels change.
  • How fast can it threaten a win: This metric has been proposed by many content creators. It basically means at what turn clock your deck can reliably threaten a win independently most of the time when goldfishing. This doesn’t mean it always does so in real games (for example: because it’s not always the best play to threaten the win when you can and other players will also chip away at your opponents). Instead this metric removes the game state from the equation and only looks at the built-in winning speed of a deck.
  • What decks it can control: A limitation of when a deck can threaten a win is that it does not work well for control decks. To address that limitation, each power level category in this model also includes control decks that can reliably win by controlling the decks at that power level. For example, a cEDH Stax deck may not threaten a win between turns 1-4 when goldfishing, but it is still very much built to win games at that power level of play and therefore fits the highest power level tier.

Note that this model does not advocate any specific Power Level. It just describes that decks can have different power levels and that different playgroups may seek to play within different Power ballparks.

The second axis asks players to consider what range of "Interaction Impact” (or "Stopping Power") of decks is tolerated, especially when playing at tables that are not competitive. Interaction Impact is defined here as "How far does a deck go to stop others from winning". Five different categories are presented for distinguishing different levels of play, and for identifying what range you find enjoyable. These categories are based on:

  • Main driver: This scale expresses how far your deck goes in stopping other players from playing their game. Is your deck built mainly to allow others to do their thing and “see what happens” or is it created to “control the game”? The balance between these drivers tends to shift as the impact levels change.
  • The impact of the interaction: What is the effect of your interaction on the ability of the other players to play their game? This is the main way to assess Interaction Impact. The 5 levels of impact are described in the different tiers.
  • The amount of interaction: If the interaction impact of your deck is not evident, looking at the amount of interaction slots can also inform what level of Interaction Impact your deck might be. But this is not a 1-1 operationalization. You can put entire games to a standstill with just a few interaction pieces of the highest impact or run 30+ interaction pieces of low impact, so weighing both the count and the effect of interaction on the other players is advised when assessing a deck’s overall Interaction Impact.

Note that this model does not advocate a specific Interaction Impact. It just describes that decks can have different levels of Interaction Impact and that different playgroups may seek to play within different Interaction ballparks.

What is considered interaction?

In this model, interaction is defined as any card that can stop or hinder an opponent’s action (apart from declaring blockers). It includes single target removal, board wipes, counter- and redirection spells. But it also includes protection spells, tax and stax pieces, silver bullets, or any other effect that stops or hinders what an opponent is trying to do.

Four example format interpretations

The model includes 4 boxes that represent 4 example format interpretations. Each box shows what range of power level and interaction impact are expected. As stated before they are meant as a suggestion, and not as the correct definitions of these sub-formats. The user is encouraged to draw their own lines and define their own format interpretations to make decks in. Also, the boxes indicate what ranges of play are expected within each one. Not what deck characteristics are required to play in that format interpretation.

  • cEHD: the expected Power Level of decks is between 8 and 10 and all levels of Interaction Impact are tolerated.
  • High power casual EDH: the expected Power Level of decks is between 6 and 8 and Interaction Impact is tolerated up to level 8. Decks are restrained from running the most powerful win strategies and do not aim to lock down other players. So strategies such as full on stax, hand hate and land destruction are avoided. However, efficient and free interaction, taxing effects, denying access to the commander through something like Drannith Magistrate, and silver bullets such as Rest in Peace and Torpor Orb are usually still fine.
  • Casual EDH: the expected Power Level of decks is between 1 and 5 and Interaction Impact is tolerated up to level 6. Decks are restrained from being too far optimized and do not include cards that would prevent others from game actions. Silver bullets, such as Rest in Peace and Torpor Orb are avoided in this interpretation, and are replaced for alternatives that give the other players more room to move, such as Scavenging Ooze and Strict Proctor. However, most forms of interaction are is still very much tolerated and embraced, such as single target removal, board wipes, counterspells, protection pieces and destroying specific powerful lands.
  • Tolerant Casual EDH: not meant as a true format interpretation. Decks that fall in this ballpark, such as a Taniwha + Sunder deck, or a non-cEDH Tergrid, God of Fright   deck, may require additional alignment before playing.

Four model extremes

A term is included in each of the 4 corners of the model to indicate the 4 extremes of the different axes combinations:

  • Glass cannons (high power, low interaction): what is meant here with glass cannons are decks that put all their eggs in one basket and go for a quick win while not including many spots for interaction. An extreme example of such a deck is the Maralen of the Mornsong Ad Nauseam variant with 80+ lands, or (at a lower power level) a Purphoros, God of the Forge deck that only includes ramp, draw, token makers and protection spells, and 0 removal.
  • Stax (high power, high interaction): competitive Stax decks are a clear example of decks that play to win by completely preventing others from playing their game. They are different from the next category in that Stax decks are very much built to win games.
  • “Nobody Wins” decks (low power, high interaction): extreme examples of decks with a high interaction impact but with no ability to win are decks that try to end games in a tie (for example through the Ajani’s Chosen + Enchanted Evening combo) or certain chaos decks that seek to completely remove everyone’s ability to play the game (including the chaos deck player).
  • Total Jank (low power, low interaction): decks that neither have any power to win or any power to stop others from winning have little to no impact on gameplay, which is what is understood here with a Total Jank deck. That does not mean they can't succeed in achieving alternative goals.

Lastly, the model includes a section with 10 questions for playgroups looking to further customize their experience through the use of house rules.


3. Questions & answers

Here are answers to a few questions that might be relevant to some, but not all readers.

Although not intended for rule 0 talks with strangers, I could see people using this guide guide for aligning on games with their regular playgroup if they don’t mind absorbing a 5x5 matrix for their enjoyment and have understood the concepts in the guide (although agreeing on a couple of presets might be the more practical thing to do if you've reached that point). Then, you could use these 3 questions to align:

  1. How far do we want to go in trying to win?
  2. How far can we go in trying to stop each other from winning?
  3. Are there any objections to me playing X?

If in that conversation you end up being the person compromising the most in your enjoyment, you can choose to agree to that compromise under the condition that they do so next game by saying:

    “I’m ok with that this game if I can play X next game”

Just be aware that not everyone wants to digest a model like this, and that is totally reasonable. Forcing this guide upon them might not be that much different from forcing them to play EDH in your preferred way.

My personal approach to playing Casual EDH with strangers does not involve guides at all. Knowing the things presented in this model, I build and bring several decks that match different interpretations. Ranging from low power decks restrained in Interaction Impact that no one will ever have any objection with, to high power resistant decks that are appropriate for tables with a more competitive mindset. Then, after a short chat I just pick the deck that matches the table best and go with that experience. There will be a time and a place for those other decks later.

I've seen several people react to the concept of Interaction Impact by saying that they have their doubts if it fits on the same tier as Power Levels. And they wonder if it isn't just a stand-in for people's distaste for things like Stax and MLD. I don't fully disagree with this. I just don't agree that it would make it very different from the Power Level scale. I could use the same reasoning to say that the Power Level scale is just a stand-in for people's distaste for high power or low power EDH, depending who you ask. In the end, both concepts serve the purpose of helping people to express what they like and what they don't like. They just cover a different aspect of the game experience.

Related to that response, some have also wondered why you would add interaction as a dimension to gauge the power of decks, but not other things like resilience, efficiency or consistency. The answer to that question is that this is mainly a format assessment tool, and not necessarily a deck power assessment tool. And with that end in mind, the extent to which people try to win and try to stop others from winning seem to be the two most relevant things for describing the desired game experience.

This model is a tool. As with all tools its value depends on the one who uses it. If you can't imagine ever using something like this just for playing a cardgame, then that's perfectly understandable. Perhaps one of the tools in the next chapter is a better fit for your needs.


4. Other EDH guides

These are some of the other guides out there that were either used as a reference, or are suited for different applications.

This guide was posted on reddit a while back. This was one of the earlier guides I used as a reference. It’s not perfect and has received some fair criticism, but it’s also a good starting point for a conversation. Check the original post on Reddit.

enter image description here

I thought this guide presented a lot of great ideas, but I also had some issues with it. Mainly with the judgmental tone chosen for describing the lower power levels. The guide failed to recognize that many players consciously choose to build weaker decks even if they could easily build more powerful ones. Simply because they enjoy playing at that power level. Also, it did not have a respectful place for iconic EDH jank decks such as Ladies Looking Left or the Chair deck. Those were things I wanted to change.

If you don't want to go about creating your own EDH interpretations and you just want to conform to existing ones, have a look at the segregation made by PlayEDH in this Google Doc.

I find this guide from the Professor an accessible and easy way to align on the game experience and the have fun playing EDH. Check it out on Youtube.


Thank you for taking an interest in this guide. I hope some of it was helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts! The guide has already changed a lot for the better because of community feedback and I keep making tweaks as time goes on. So let me know if you have ideas on how to improve it. Feedback is always welcome!

Upvote and support this EDH Guide!

GL & HF

Beebles

Suggestions

Updates Add

It’s only about 2 weeks ago that I published this guide here on tappedout and so many of you have already upvoted it. Thank you so much!

Another big thanks goes out to the Professor who decided to share the guide on his twitter. It might be a small thing to do, but it means a lot me. Thanks again Brian for putting this out there!

In the process I also made some small updates to the guide

  • I bumped the version to 1.9, which has a higher resolution than before, and has 1 or 2 minor text changes
  • I have been tinkering with the primer. Especially the “About cEDH & Casual EDH” chapter has changed a lot.

Small extra update of May 23: I made a few more tweaks in V1.10 based on some of the feedback generated by Prof’s tweet:

  • I’ve improved the “About this guide” section
  • I’ve added “alters” and “certain illegal cards, like unsets or X as commander” as considerations for house rules
  • And again 1 or 2 other wording changes here and there

Thanks again everyone for your support.

GL & HF

Beebles

Comments

Top Ranked
  • Achieved #1 position overall 4 days ago
Date added 1 month
Last updated 10 hours
Splash colors WUBRG
Legality

This deck is Commander / EDH legal.

Cards 0
Folders Reference Material, Lists of stuff, Deckbuilding info, Resources, sure bruv edh, Useful, Jaw Dropping Decks, Inspiration, Following, Commander, See all 17
Votes
Ignored suggestions
Shared with
Views