You Lika The Juice? – An EDH Primer, Part 2

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Friday, August 28th – I just wanted to thank everyone for their great feedback in the forums the past week regarding Part 1 of my EDH primer – you all certainly provided some fantastic information for EDH fans new and old to further enrich the community that’s sprung up around this fun format!

I think what is and isn’t in the spirit of EDH can be summed up like this:
EDH: Hive Mind/Warp World.
Not EDH: Hive Mind/Pact of the Titan.

— Sheldon “EDH Godfather” Menery, DCI Level 5 Judge

Before I get on with it, I just wanted to thank everyone for their great feedback in the forums the past week regarding Part 1 of my EDH primer – you all certainly provided some fantastic information for EDH fans new and old to further enrich the community that’s sprung up around this fun format!

A couple of you had some thoughts and questions regarding Part 1 that I thought I’d touch on here prior to moving on with Part 2.

First off was some confusion regarding Rhys the Exiled in my list of “starter generals.” Several people said that he wasn’t a legal EDH general; jakgotbak said “Rhys the Exiled doesn’t actually work as a general. Since he only has Green in his casting cost, but has a Black mana symbol in his text block, he would actually be illegal in his own deck.”

If you go to the official EDH rules page (and apologies for not including this vital link in Part 1 of the primer) and click on “Construction” you’ll find Rule 3 says:

The General’s mana cost defines what color of mana symbols may appear on cards in the deck. Colored mana symbols which may appear in an EDH deck are restricted to the colors appearing in the General’s mana cost.

In the forums jakgotbak quoted this rule to justify his contention that Rhys the Exiled cannot be used as a general, and I can certainly see that point of view. Rule 5 says An EDH deck must contain exactly 100 cards, including the General. This would suggest the General is a part of your EDH deck and must follow your EDH deck rules, so a general like Rhys the Exiled prevents himself from being in his own deck — and how silly is that when you think about it?

While you could probably win this argument in a court of law, an EDH table is meant to be a friendlier arena than that; I’m fairly certain 99% of EDH players out there would not object if you showed up at their table with a Mono-Green Rhys the Exiled deck. In my view, your general is your starting point; it sets the rules of your deck and the rest of your cards fall into the guidelines set by your choice of general. Seriously, the notion of a small handful of generals who make themselves illegal in their own deck is just absurd.

To my mind, the bigger problem with Rhys the Exiled and the few like him can be found in Rule 4:

A deck may not generate mana outside its colors. Anything which would generate mana of an illegal color generates colorless mana instead.

Now in this case I think the rules are pretty clear – Rhys the Exile as your general means you can only generate Green mana, so his Black mana ability can never be used. Even so, I thought his other ability makes him fine for an EDH Elf deck, which is why I mentioned him as a “starter general.” In retrospect however, given the weird gray area he falls in I probably shouldn’t have put him on that list.

Note that many playgroups will be willing to implement house rules so that you can get the most of these misfit generals. For instance, maybe you’re allowed to add Black mana sources to your deck that can only be used to activate Rhys’s special ability (or as “colorless mana”). Or maybe you can flat out run a Green and Black deck with Rhys as your general. Just check with them ahead of time if you really want to play one of those guys.

Reindeercards offered up some other beginner’s generals ideas I thought I’d share for those who have not waded through the forum comments:

Balthor the Defiled is a good choice for a beginner combo-ish deck without necessarily getting into infinite combo cheese. Think Cabal Patriarch (and similar effects), Endrek Sahr Master Breeder, various 187 creatures, transmute and other pseudo-tutors, dredge, Altar of Dementia, gravedigger effects, etc. Empress Galina – to be deliberately annoying (steal other players’ generals); Tsabo Tavoc – to be very annoying (kill other player’s generals); Jiwari, the Earth Aflame; Kira, Great Glass-Spinner; Masako the Humorless (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!); and Sygg, River Cutthroat.

Personally, I think Empress Galina (who can just tap to steal other players’ generals) and Tsabo Tavoc (who can just tap to kill other player’s generals) are too dangerously provocative at an EDH table, particularly for a new player who might not be used to the political heavy-lifting you’d need to successfully win with these generals, but your mileage may vary.

Next up, a few people took some level of exception in what could be considered a negative bias towards infinite EDH combos in my primer last week. As rickiep00h posted, “Say I’m playing Tooth and Nail. I don’t have any tutors for it, but I have Mephidross Vampire and Triskelion in my deck. I have no tutors beyond Tooth and Nail. If I happen to draw Tooth and Nail, or I somehow manage to draw both creatures and have them in play at the same time, I win on the spot (barring any shenanigans.) Does that make me a dirty combo player, or someone who’s just hoping to luck out in a long game?”

I’m writing my primer with players new to the format in mind, and many EDH players frown on infinite combos and will go out of their way to take down players who are either known to play those combos, or who telegraph the combo. Say you’re a Spike player with a soft spot in your heart for the Tooth and Nail Vampire/Trike combo from Standard several years back and you decide to include it in your very first EDH deck. On turn 3 some maniac plays Wheel of Fortune and the random Mephidross Vampire you had drawn last turn gets tossed into your graveyard, where the sharp-eyed Magic veteran to your left notices it and immediately calls the attention of the table to it. If you’re playing Green and Black, Mephidross Vampire is a pretty big telegraph for a Tooth and Nail infi-kill. Best case scenario the other players keep a close eye on you; worse case people gang up to take you down so they don’t have to worry about you going “oops, I win!” out of nowhere. It’s no fun getting ganged up on by a table full of players in your first game or two, and I’d hate for someone first trying out the format to get turned off by the experience.

So what if you’re an experienced EDH player – then would rickiep00h’s hypothetical be smart or slimy? Depends on your playgroup. Being fine with combo kills lets everyone shuffle up for the next game that much quicker. But if combo kills are frowned upon you might find yourself alone in the winner’s circle for quite some time while everyone else keeps playing.

My suggestion is to not even go that route; including the combo means if you draw one single card and it resolves you just flat out win, and that runs contrary to the social aspect of the game that EDH tries to encourage. As schrecklich said in the forums, “the reason why I find losing to a bunch of hasty dragons cool but losing to an infinite number of squirrels lame is that Bennie did not plan for the game to end that way when he built his deck. It required many turns of set up and interaction with his opponents. The infinite squirrels on the other hand came about because one player purposely put those two cards in his deck so that he could produce infinite squirrels and negate all the interactive play that happened before that point in the game.”

Tooth and Nail is a fantastic EDH card; there are plenty of cool “haymaker” big plays you can pull off with Tooth and Nail that won’t immediately go off and win the game. Save your Mephidross Vampire for your Zendikar & M10-fueled tribal Vampire EDH deck. But if you have to include the infi-combo (say there’s a guy who always plays absurd amounts of lifegain), just go off and kill that guy, and then let your Triskelion die as a gesture of good will to the rest of the players. That way you’re the hero instead of “that guy.”

Keep in mind the “mission statement” of sorts provided on the EDH Rules page:

EDH is designed to promote social interaction. It is founded (and dependant) on a social contract, otherwise known as a gentleman’s agreement. Unsporting conduct (whether extreme or simply “being a jerk”) should not be tolerated by players. Refusing to play with antisocial persons is the fastest way to better EDH community.

With EDH, winning isn’t necessarily the ultimate goal you should pursue, but rather you should look to have fun hanging with your friends.

Okay, let’s get back to the Primer, Part Two…

Mana Requirements
Modern Magic decks typically run 24 lands in their 60 card decks – 40% mana, and that’s not including Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarchs, which can push your mana percentage towards – or even over – 50%.

So does that mean you should be running 40 lands in your 100-card EDH deck, plus 8-12 additional nonland mana sources? Personally, I think that’s probably excessive, though if your deck is top-heavy on spells or a huge mana hog you may need to go that route. I typically start with 34 mana-producing lands and 6-8 additional mana sources. I also try to keep a close eye on my mana curve, to make sure I have a fair number of things I can do early on in case I do stall on mana at some point. I typically lay out my cards in piles of five by mana cost, grouping creatures and non-creatures together, so it’s easy to quickly count how many cards I have at various points on the mana curve and roughly what percentage of creatures I’m running. I put lands that don’t generate mana (Maze of Ith, Arena) in the “zero mana cost” pile – don’t accidentally count them as mana-producing lands! If I’ve got too many cards I want to play in the deck, I will usually start trimming from the top end of the mana curve, and sometimes trim them for lower cost stuff until I get a nice sloping curve.

EDH groups typically have very generous mulligan rules, employing a free “big-deck mulligan” with no loss of card economy, all-land or no-land free mulligans, piggy-back on other people’s big-deck mulligans, and then if all else fails Paris mulligans. EDH is a social event, and you don’t want to have an opponent or two who gets mana-screwed from the get-go and is unable to participate in the game. The more generous the mulligan rules, the less mana you can get away with (and thus allowing more room for “action” spells).

One thing to keep in mind is that there is a lot more variance potential in a 100-card singleton deck as opposed to a tight 60 card Constructed deck. I’ve seen a lot of newer players pick a five color legend as their general and then struggle for much of the game just trying to fix their mana to play the cards in their deck when they draw the wrong color spells for the mana they’ve got. It’s hard enough to minimize mana screw in a five-color Constructed deck; in EDH it can take a lot of time — and money—to get the mana just right. Unless you come to the format packing plenty of dual lands already, I’d recommend sticking with 1-, 2-, or 3-color generals at first.

One trick I sometime use to strike the right mana balance is to count the colored mana requirements of the spells in my deck (both in the casting cost and any activation costs). A spell with RRGGGWW in its casting cost would put three counts in Green and two counts each in Red and White. Then I’d tally the counts and figure out a percentage, and using that as a guide I’d pick my colored mana sources accordingly. Another thing to keep in mind is to minimize colorless mana sources the more colors you have in your deck; you’d hate to have seven lands in play but with 3 of them providing colorless mana while you stare longingly at the Ultimatum in your hand.

Obviously old-school dual lands and Ravnica’s shock lands provide some of the best quality mana lands in Magic, but you can find plenty of cheaper alternatives around. Most recently, Shards of Alara tri-lands, Terramorphic Expanse, Rupture Spire and Unstable Frontier are all fine lands to help fix your mana. I would tend to avoid the painlands (Karplusan Forest and the gang) since you may need that colored mana quite often during the course of a long game and that damage will certainly add up. The Ravnica bounce lands are fantastic.

Here are some inexpensive non-land mana-fixers you’ll want to add to your EDH card pool: Fellwar Stone, Darksteel Ingot, Coalition Relic, Solemn Simulacrum, Armillary Sphere, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Rampant Growth, the Obelisks from Shards of Alara, Journeyer’s Kite, Carpet of Flowers, Kodama’s Reach, the Ravnica Signets, Coldsteel Heart, Invasion Cameos, Alara Reborn Borderposts (if you play enough basics), Sol Grail. You want permanent, reusable, pain-free sources of colored mana that costs you three mana or less (with the notable exception of the Simulacrum, which is awesome enough to stretch the rule).

What About the Randomness?
When players first come to EDH and its 100-card singleton format, many of them freak out a little at the sheer randomness of it. How do I build a Living Death deck if I may never draw the one copy of it in 100 cards? The natural inclination then is to stuff as many tutor effects and library manipulators (Sensei’s Divining Top, Sylvan Library, Scroll Rack) as you can to improve consistency. You may even add variants of the card (Twilight’s Call, Patriarch’s Bidding) to make your game plan play out more predictable. Players who lean heavily on that killer combo to win rely on this style of deck building.

There could be some negative ramifications for hewing too close to this style of deckbuilding. For one thing, tutoring through a 100-card deck can take a fair amount of time, especially if you’re not positive what you’re hunting for ahead of time; meanwhile, everyone is sitting there waiting and possibly getting irritated with you. If this seems to happen too often you could start attracting random aggression. Another problem is that, if you’re busily searching through your deck for just the right card, you become a glowing target for someone who’s holding a counterspell or some sort of hand disruption.

These days I try to minimize these sorts of cards. Instead I add more raw card-drawing and embrace the randomness, enjoying the discovery of what my deck offers up during the course of the game. Sometimes it doesn’t do much, but most of the time things get wild and unexpected. There’s some political cover you can gain from this too; if people aren’t concerned about you assembling your killer combo with precision, then they’re more likely to turn their attention to other more troublesome players and leave you time to draw into your haymakers.

The Importance of Card Advantage
As in any multiplayer game, spells that trade one card for one card don’t take you very far. Are you going to use that Swords to Plowshares on Rafiq when you’ve got Mortivore, Baneslayer Angel, Thornling, and Empress Galina also staring you down around the board? You still need to have removal spells available, which is why you run Shriekmaw over Terror, Indrik Stomphowler over Naturalize. Buyback spells are golden in multiplayer, since you will usually have the time to pay the mana for ‘em. And of course sweeper spells are mandatory – Wrath of God, Damnation, Akroma’s Vengeance, Pernicious Deed. You need to have your emergency resets, though I would urge caution playing spells that also nuke everyone’s mana; Obliterate seems like the perfect uncounterable way to stop someone’s onboard madness, but after a game’s been going on for two hours, resetting everyone back to zero isn’t likely to win you many friends at the very least.

There are a ton of artifacts available that draw you cards, from the classic Jayemdae Tome on up to powerhouses like Skullclamp and Memory Jar, and they can all help keep your hand fueled with gas no matter what colors you’re playing. There’s little worse than sitting at a table full of players, and you have no action on the board, no cards in hand, and you keep ripping lands or blanks and pass the turn… and then waaaaaaaaaait until everyone else goes to see what your next card will be. Urza’s Blueprints is a fantastic and cheap card to use; sure, it’s costly at 6 mana, plus echo, but once you invest the mana it’s a constant and free source of cards. Worse case scenario you can cast the Blueprints, tap and draw a card, then when the echo payment goes on the stack, tap to draw another card and fail to pay the echo if you have something better to do with the mana (and you can make that decision once you’ve drawn your second card).

One thing that is sure to come up is: Howling Mine or no? Some folks swear by this card, pointing out how many friends you make with this card, that people will be loathe to kill you off so long as you are supplying them with cards. Personally, I never play with Howling Mine – you’re investing a card that doesn’t net you any personal card advantage until it’s given everyone else at the table two cards. Unless your grand EDH strategy is to deck your opponents, that just seems like a waste of a card slot. On the other hand, I almost always play Mikokoro, Center of the Sea if my color requirements can handle it. What’s the difference? Timing makes all the difference; you activate it during the player to your right’s end step, and you are the one who gets to take immediate advantage of the extra card.

Okay, I’m pushing a pretty good word count at this point, so I’ll break things here for this week. Next week I’ll wrap up the primer, and will do a walk-through as to how I go about pulling together cards for my next EDH deck. Don’t worry Craig – this won’t turn into Bennie’s “My Fires” — there’s Standard and Zendikar stuff I want to get to soon! [No worries, Bennie… the series is excellent — Craig, amused.]

As always, I eagerly await your feedback in the forums or via email.

Take care…


starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com