Okay, today I’ll wrap up the primer and do a walk through in how I go about building an EDH deck. This three-part series (see part 1 and part 2) was written with people new to the format in mind, but with the hope that even veteran players will find parts interesting and thought-provoking. I still have plenty more EDH stuff I’d like to write about, between the Planechase cards and Sheldon Menery new “achievement points” system for competitive EDH, but I’ll hold off and go into those topics in more detail once I get a chance to delve into them.
I also want to give a quick thanks to Tom, Steve, and the gang of the Monday Night Magic podcast. They gave the EDH Primer series a nice review in episode #169, and if any of you came over to read me at their suggestion, welcome! I hope you’ll keep coming back.
Steve highlighted a point I made in Part 1 that he found particularly useful even as a veteran EDH player, so I just wanted to reiterate it as something to keep in the front of your mind while building your EDH deck:
“Since EDH is singleton format, your general is the most reliable and consistent element of your deck.”
Alright, back to the Primer…
Blatant Power vs. Subtle Synergy
When I left off last week, I was talking about the importance of card advantage in multiplayer Magic formats. With so many opponents, it’s easy to quickly run out of gas as you react to numerous threats around the table. In the interest of maximizing the impact of each of the cards in your deck, it’s easy to start down the path of just stuffing your EDH full of high-power cards. However, if every card you play in a multiplayer game sits way out in front of the power curve, you’re bound to start getting a lot of concerned attention from the other players in the game. Too much attention can be hazardous to your health, since even the highest concentration of quality cards can’t often stand up to a united front of multiple opponents working to take you down.
So while you definitely want to keep an eye on card power and card advantage, you should also fill in cards that are more subtle in nature, that rely more on synergies that can gather below the radar and yet eventually net you winning board positions. As an example, years ago I had to stop playing Elvish Farmer because everyone would kill him the minute he hit the board. Why? Because the little guy was instrumental in a spectacular win that caught everyone off guard. I had a deck that could create a fair number of Saprolings, from Aura Mutation to Verdant Force. I had an Elvish Farmer out there and played Fecundity. I cast Crop Rotation for Gaea’s Cradle, tapped it for a bunch of mana, then sacrificed the Saprolings to the Farmer for a bunch of life and drew a bunch of cards. Then I cast Spontaneous Generation, made a bunch more Saprolings, sacrificed them and drew some more. Fecundity made that sacrifice on demand ability of the Farmer into a backbreaker. If you are interesting in reading more about that deck, I wrote about it here (and it is obviously written for casual multiplayer before I’d even heard of EDH).
Magic is full of fun little synergies that can catch people by surprise, and I find building EDH decks and stuffing them with low-key cards that can combine for spectacular effects the mother lode of good times. If you can key a lot of them off your general then you will be able to pull them off much more consistently than you would if it were just two random cards in your deck you hope might pop up at the same time. My deckbuilding walk-through below shows a pretty good example of this process.
Griefer or No?
Not long after Star City alum Tom LaPille joined Wizards of the Coast and began writing for them he talked about designing “griefer” cards in Magic. Basically, these cards are designed for players who don’t want to just win, but they find enjoyment in making other players miserable. In Part 1 of the primer, I went on at some length talking about being careful about choosing a General, and one of my examples was choosing a general that annoys the table without sufficiently shutting down everyone. That same warning applies to other cards you put in your deck.
Some years back there was a Vintage player who wanted to give multiplayer Magic a try without a group so he expanded on his very most favorite Vintage deck – Parfait. The White-based Vintage deck was all about shutting down everyone’s paths to victory before finally — finally, after a long, long timeâ€”claiming victory. His group game deck did the same thing, and he was casting a never ending stream of Wraths, Armageddons, Humility, Balance, Moat, Island Sanctuary… each card seemingly chosen specifically to annoy the crap out of everyone at the table without actually knocking them out of the game. He would eventually win with 1/1 Pegasus tokensâ€”but this was before Storm Herd came out that could actually make enough to win in decisive fashion. No, losing to him was death by a million paper cuts.
He stopped playing after a while because he felt like he was always being ganged up on. And he was! You know why? Because he’d drawn those battle linesâ€”it’s me having fun over here on this side by myself, and all of you getting annoyed over there on that side. He had forced everyone to gang up on him. I would highly recommend you avoiding drawing those sorts of battle lines, because they are a recipe for disaster.
Griefer cards aren’t always as easy to spot as say Winter Orb or Hokori, Dust Drinker. Sometimes they look like goofy little cards that everyone will have fun with. Take for instance Zur’s Weirding. This global enchantment affects everyone equally, so what’s the harm in that? The problem of course is that players don’t typically want their hands out there on the table for everyone to see. They also don’t want everyone else having veto power over their draw step. Since you can actually prevent them from drawing a card that can get rid of Zur’s Weirding, players may decide to get rid of it by getting rid of you.
What about Warp World? That’s a tricky call, since most people recognize it as a total hoot to play and even play against in Standard. But what’s fun in a duel becomes a potential headache in EDH! First there are the mechanicsâ€”you gotta shuffle all your permanents back into a hundred-card deck. Sure, you “shuffle” the deck after tutoring, but you don’t really give it as good a thorough randomization as you should. But if you’re shuffling 10 or 20 permanents back into your deck, you really do need to break it down and shuffle it good. Not everyone is adept at shuffling such a large deck.
Then there’s the problem of stolen cardsâ€”not literally stolen, but say you control someone else’s creature due to a Sower of Temptation and you inadvertently shuffled it into your deck from the Warp World. If you or the creature’s owner don’t catch the mistake, it’s totally possible you accidentally walk home with someone else’s card in your deck. Cards like Thieves’ Auction, Blatant Thievery and Cultural Exchange all have a high probability for accidentally taking someone’s card home with you, and I would tend to avoid them.
Shahrazad isn’t officially banned, but there’s a House rule at Richmond Comix that you cannot play that card. This came after someone played it about 4 hours into the EDH game, and the subgame took 3 hours to resolve. Not everyone is going to think that adding a lot of extra time onto an already long game is funny. Thankfully, I wasn’t there to experience that crazy long game, though I would have urged everyone else to concede the subgame to the guy who played Shahrazad, lose the life, then call a truce until we eliminated him from the game.
I would also include spells that “destroy all lands” as griefer cards, since setting everyone’s resources back to zero has a strong probability of annoying a lot of people at the table.
Researching Cards for Your Deck
If you’re building an EDH deck from the bottom upâ€”starting with some cards you want to play with, building a deck and then picking a General with the right color schemeâ€”then you likely don’t need to do much research. However, if you start with your general, and then start pulling cards to play with him, it doesn’t hurt to do some digging even if you’re already sure of your game plan.
Set your general in front of you and really take a look at the card. Think about all the implications, from its printed text box, creature type, power, toughness. Think about what players might do before it gets cast. Think about what players might do after it gets cast. Think about whether you’ll need to defeat someone by invoking the “General deals 21 points of damage” ruleâ€”is your deck up to that task?
There are quite a few card databases out there; the two I use are Star City’s own card database and Gatherer over at Magicthegathering.com. Even if you think you already know what cards you’re going to want to use, go ahead and run some queries through the card databasesâ€”there are likely cards you overlooked that would fit your plans perfectly.
If you have the time, it doesn’t hurt to scan through your entire collection sometimes and just see what ideas pop up as you go along. For me, there’s something about holding the actual card in my hands that seems to oil the gears of creativity much better than staring at a computer screen. As a time saver, don’t just pull cards for the current EDH you’re looking for, but consider the next General you’d like to play and pull cards for it too.
Over time, you’ll find there are cards you go to time and time again for EDH, so it pays to set aside a special box or two for just those very cards, an EDH Toolbox that’s easy to find and access.
My friend (and fellow multiplayer enthusiast) Jay sent me an email this week telling me he was enjoying reading the Primer columns, but warned that I was inferring a level of “table talk” during games that some groups may frown atâ€”and he makes a good point. My gaming background is mostly board games and role-playing games, and when we crossed over to Magic it was a loud, messy, trash-talking free-for-all, so my multiplayer political education included both crass and subtle manipulation. Still, not every group tolerates that, especially those who come from traditional card games where blatant table talk is frowned on or out and out cheating. If you’re not sure of the play style of your local EDH group regarding table talk, assume they don’t like it and it will soon become apparent whether they don’t mind table talk or not. It doesn’t hurt to practice the art of subtle manipulation anywayâ€”instead of saying “Uh-oh, fellasâ€”that spell means trouble!” if people aren’t paying attention, you instead ask, “What did you cast? Can I read the spell?”
A Final Word on Politics
Speaking of politics, I did want to spend a few quick words on it. In a regular duel you need good cards, good play, and a little dose of luck to win. In multiplayer you can play powerful cards, make excellent plays but if you draw the wrong battle lines you’ll find yourself losing time and again. If you’re a competitive player, think about how powerful the card Time Walk is in a duel. The power is not just in simply taking another turn; the power comes from the fact that you’re getting an extra untap step, you’re getting an extra upkeep, an extra draw step and card drawn, an extra main phase to use all your mana again and play another land, and an extra attack step. That’s a huge advantage in a Magic game, which is why Time Walk-type cards printed since Alpha-Beta-Unlimited have cost quite a bit more than the original.
Now consider a five-player game, where you think you’re in a pretty commanding position and have drawn the battle lines of you against all four of them. Can you handle four Time Walks against you? Can you handle four hands of cards to your one, four draw steps to your one, four main phases to your one, four attack steps to your one? Four turns against your one turn is pretty daunting odds.
Don’t treat your opponents as “opponents” until absolutely necessary. Don’t pick fights for no reason. Keep an eye out for ways to win temporary allies, especially when one player is setting up to dominate the table. Like any skills, learning effective multiplayer politics takes time and practice, but just rememberâ€”minimize annoying griefer cards and maximize fun plays, subtle synergies, and a few spectacular haymakers, and you’ll be off to a good start. For more advanced looks at multiplayer politics, make sure to Google up articles by Anthony Alongi and The Ferrett, many of which are right here on Star City.
Inexpensive EDH Staples
A quick caveatâ€”claiming to have a definitive list of “staples” for a format as large as EDH is a bit foolhardy, so in keeping with my primer’s focus on newer players I’m narrowing the list to a fair number of what I consider generally useful cards that are also inexpensive as singles. Even so narrowed, the list is far from comprehensive and I imagine people will suggest other inexpensive staples for your consideration in the forums.
Hopefully you’ve already got some of these in your collection or can easily trade for them, but if not they should not break the bank to buy them. While compiling this list, it occurred to me that cooking up a larger list of staples regardless of singles cost, along with categories such as “utility,” “haymakers,” and “politics” might make for a great project and topic for a future column. If you consider yourself well versed in the format, drop me an email and I may add you to a list of people I’ll be soliciting for some ideas on the project down the road!
Keep in mind I mentioned some staples for mana fixing in part 2 last week, so I won’t repeat them here.
â€¢ White: Devout Witness, Invulnerability, Glory, Valor, Martyr’s Cause, Stonecloaker, Mother of Runes, Allay, Steelshaper Apprentice, Reveille Squad, Galepowder Mage, Soul Warden, Ray of Revelation, Moonlit Wake, Archon of Justice
â€¢ Black: Filth, Spoils of Evil, Ambition’s Cost, Necrolagia, Beacon of Unrest, Twilight’s Call, Abyssal Gatekeeper, Death Denied, Syphon Mind, Syphon Soul, Skeletal Scrying, Withered Wretch, Bone Shredder, Shriekmaw
â€¢ Red: Anger, Volcanic Wind, Insurrection, Inferno, Price of Progress, Reiterate, Starstorm, Wild Ricochet, Fault Line, Mana Geyser, Shattering Pulse, Mogg Maniac, Goblin Bombardment, Hamletback Goliath, Word of Seizing
â€¢ Blue: Wonder, Trinket Mage, Rhystic Study, Desertion, Spelljack, Clone, Draining Whelk, Opportunity, Soothsaying, Whispers of the Muse, Body Double, Time Stop, Take Possession, Mulldrifter, Overwhelming Intellect, Chromeshell Crab
â€¢ Artifact: Sun Droplet, Crucible of Worlds, Loxodon Warhammer, Mind’s Eye, Power Matrix, Feldon’s Cane, Relic of Progenitus, Scrabbling Claws, Thunderstaff, Mind Stone, Power Matrix, Cauldron of Souls, Illuminated Folio, Phyrexian Splicer
A Walk Through: Building my Doran the Siege-Tower EDH Deck
To conclude this primer, I’m going to step through how I went about building an EDH deck with Doran, the Siege Tower as my general. Now, green/black/white is probably my very most favorite multiplayer color combination, and I’ve got enough individual “favorite” cards spread across those color combinations to make four or five decks without repeating cards. It would be very easy to make a “good stuff” deck and just use Doran as the 100th card.
But for this exercise, I decided I wanted to use Doran to drive the rest of the deck. What sort of cards would I want to play with to maximize Doran’s abilities? Obviously, we want high-toughness creatures since they will benefit the most from having Doran in play. Doran’s power is zero, and many creatures that have a high toughness will often have a low power, so we may be able to take advantage of that too. High toughness, low power creatures will likely include Walls and Spiders (and other creatures with Reach), so I will keep a close eye peeled for those. We’ll want toughness boosting cards too.
After searching the card databases and perusing through my collection, I gathered several piles of cards that could play various roles in a Doran deck, listed below. The cards with an asterisk denotes cards that ultimately made the final cut for inclusion in my deck.
Pile #1: High Toughness or Low Power Matters:
Miren, the Moaning Well
*Retribution of the Meek
*Wave of Reckoning
Four cards jumped out at me that would force a major decision for my deck– Meekstone, Crackdown, Ensnaring Bridge, and Noetic Scales. These permanents will often cause major disruption to most creature decks in EDH, where large monsters often rule. However, nearly all the creatures I’m considering will operate just fine under them. However, these cards come awful close to the griefer line I warned you about earlier, massively annoying while not outright winning the game.
They’re also going to preclude me from playing many creatures that would otherwise fit in my deck but have too high of power. The major one I’m concerned about is Vhati il-Dal, who’s an absolute beating with Doran out, tapping to effectively turn any creature into a 1/1. He doesn’t work so well under a Meekstone.
Ultimately, I decide to go ahead and play the three powerful artifacts (I ultimately cut the Crackdown as the weakest of the four), with the idea that I’ll not play those cards aggressively, but instead only when I need toâ€”say, someone’s got a Uril, the Mist Stalker enchanted to deadly levels and I play Noetic Scales. That way I’m the hero instead of the zero.
One card I ran across while just perusing through my collection that got me very excited: Sworn Defender. If you’re not familiar with the card, click on the link and check it outâ€”it kicks ass with a Doran out there, pretty much able to kill any creature who’s power is at least the same as his toughness or higher and survive!
Pile #2: Toughness boosters:
Scars of the Veteran
I was expecting more of these to make the cut, but ultimately they were dropped to make room for action cards. I am however looking forward to using Belbe’s Armor with Doran out there!
High toughness to power ratio creatures:
Pile #3: (Walls)
Wall of Blood
*Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Essence
*Wall of Glare
Wall of Junk
Wall of Light
*Wall of Mulch
Wall of Nets
*Wall of Putrid Flesh
Wall of Resistance
Wall of Reverence
*Wall of Roots
Wall of Shards
*Wall of Souls
Wall of Tombstones
Wall of Vipers
Glyph of Reincarnation
Glyph of Doom
Glyph of Life
My initial stack of Walls was so thick I decided to pull Rolling Stones and some Glyphs, but ultimately I cut back on all but the very best. I’m looking forward to Wall of Putrid Flesh helping to defend against scary generals like Uril and Rafiqâ€”Protection from White for the win!
Pile #4: (Spiders/creatures with Reach)
Pile #5: (Other interesting creatures)
Beacon of Destiny
*Birds of Paradise
Chorus of the Conclave
Genju of the Fields
Kami of Old Stone
Karn, Silver Golem
Kjeldoran Royal Guard
*Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo
*Order of White Clay
Orim, Samite Healer
*Sapling of Colfenor
Spirit of the Hearth
A lot of these creatures fell victim to the decision to run Meekstone and company, and Karn was a tough one to lose. I mean, the ultimate passive creature turns into The Hulk in a Doran deck when blocked or blocking! How awesome would that be?
I was also really sad to cut Graceful Antelopeâ€”I mean, if not in a Doran deck, then when?
Once I made the first cuts, I counted up the cards to see how many open slots I had available, and then filled in with utility cards that didn’t necessarily strictly into my theme but are there to draw more cards and address problems that crop up in the game. At this point I decide to see how “color balanced” my card choices are; after all, I’m going to want to play Doran early and often, so I’m going to want my mana balanced out between the three colors, which means my colored spells need to be balanced out too.
I do this by counting each colored mana in the casting cost of the spells, and my first pass surprised meâ€”for black the score is 13, for green it’s 27, and for white a whopping 42!
I end up doing another round of hard cuts, focusing almost exclusively on my white cards and adding more black cards, to get a final score of 26 black, 28 green, and 27 white.
Here are the lands I’ve pulled to fill my 34 land slots, leaning more heavily towards green to accommodate some of my early green mana fixing, but trying to stay fairly balanced:
All color sources: Forbidden Orchard, Exotic Orchard, Rupture Spire, Windswept Heath, Reflecting Pool
G/B sources: Bayou, Overgrown Tomb, Golgari Rot Farm, Twilight Mire
G/W sources: Savannah, Temple Garden, Selesnya Sanctuary, Wooded Bastion
B/W sources: Godless Shrine, Orzhov Basilica, Fetid Heath
White sources: Mistveil Plains, 5 Plains
Green sources: Gaea’s Cradle, 6 Forest
Black sources: Shizo, Death’s Storehouse, 4 Swamp
I’m no mana-ratio wizard, and I’m sure someone like Richard Feldman could make the mana mix much better, but this should be decent enough considering where I play EDH has very generous mulligan rules.
Some notes on a few “other” cards that got added to the mix:
Spoils of Evil, Black Market, Carpet of Flowers: with the elimination of mana burn, there is no downside to playing these cards, and each can be anything from mildly decent to breathtakingly spectacular, depending on how long the game has gone on.
Citanul Hierophants: I expect the strong synergies of this deck will end up giving Doran a huge bulls-eye on his head, so I also expect the need to recast him quite a big during the course of the game. Recasting your general costs more and more mana, and Hierophants with a gaggle of other creatures can help get you there.
Glare of Subdual: a generally useful card in a creature-focused deck, I’m looking forward to messing with artifacts (like Howling Mine), and hoping I’ll get to combine with Order of White Clay!
Rootgrapple: since I’m counting on Doran being in play most of the time, why not run one of these, right?
And here is the final build:
1 Doran, the Siege Tower (general)
1 Diamond Valley
1 Maze of Ith
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Carpet of Flowers
1 Sensei’s Divining Top
1 Slagwurm Armor
1 Sol Ring
1 Worthy Cause
1 Deadly Recluse
1 Fellwar Stone
1 Saffi Eriksdotter
1 Sakura-Tribe Elder
1 Sylvan Library
1 Wall of Blossoms
1 Wall of Glare
1 Wall of Mulch
1 Wall of Roots
1 Wall of Souls
1 Word of Command
1 Aura Shards
1 Belbe’s Armor
1 Coalition Relic
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Dauntless Escort
1 Devout Witness
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Eternal Witness
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Opal-Eye, Konda’s Yojimbo
1 Order of Whiteclay
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Reaping the Graves
1 Retribution of the Meek
1 Spidersilk Armor
1 Spoils of Evil
1 Syphon Soul
1 Undead Gladiator
1 Wall of Putrid Flesh
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Ambition’s Cost
1 Ancient Spider
1 Blessed Orator
1 Citanul Hierophants
1 Glare of Subdual
1 Noetic Scales
1 Proper Burial
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Sworn Defender
1 Tawnos’s Wand
1 Angelic Chorus
1 Black Market
1 Crime // Punishment
1 Karmic Guide
1 Sapling of Colfenor
1 Selesnya Sagittars
1 Silklash Spider
1 Austere Command
1 Dark Hatchling
1 Deadwood Treefolk
1 Urza’s Blueprints
1 Forbidden Orchard
1 Exotic Orchard
1 Rupture Spire
1 Windswept Heath
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Twilight Mire
1 Temple Garden
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
1 Wooded Bastion
1 Godless Shrine
1 Orzhov Basilica
1 Fetid Heath
1 Mistveil Plains
1 Gaea’s Cradle
1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
So that wraps up my EDH Primer! I hope that many of you found it helpful and that I convinced some of you to finally give EDH a try. The response to the series has been amazing, and it has certainly encouraged me to revisit EDH strategy more often in my column.
A final word to Virginia-area EDH fans: as usual, I’ll be working the Star City Games prerelease tournament in Richmond in a few weeks (YAY, Zendikar!), and as usual I’ll be bringing along an EDH deck to play later in the day. The last few prereleases I was approached by several people who were like “dude, if I’d know you were going to bring an EDH deck, I’d have brought mine!” Well, now you know, plenty of advance warning, so don’t forget!
Also, we’ll be hosting Wizards R&D member Ken Nagle, who helped design Planechase & Zendikar among other things. In Mark Rosewater column this week he said this regarding Mr. Nagle: “Each member of the Pit has their pet issues. One of Ken’s is multiplayer play. Whenever a card could be tweaked to make it slightly more efficient or fun for multiplayer play, Ken will make a comment in Multiverse.” Sounds like he’d be EDH fans go-to guy in R&D, and I’m hoping to at least score an interview with the gentleman, so if you have anything you’d like me to ask, shoot me some questions at my email address below with “Ask Ken Nagle” in the subject.
I’m also really hoping Ken will be bringing an EDH deck with him and that we can play an EDH game with several other playersâ€”I will be happy to report how the game goes in the following column, and maybe we’ll even get some coverage from Evan on The Magic Show! If you’re an EDH fan who’d like to see this happen, drop Ken and Evan an email and let them know. Between thee and me it’ll hopefully come together.
Join me next week, when I talk about getting back into Standard at FNM after a long break, and of course my thoughts on Planechase and what we know so far about Zendikar!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com