You Lika The Juice? – Pondering Elder Dragon Highlander

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If you regularly follow some of the columnists who are also DCI judges, or read the “behind the scenes” coverage of pro tours, you’ve probably heard about Elder Dragon Highlander, a format that is quite popular for judges to run casually after hours on the Pro Tour. Right now I have zero interest in Time Spiral Block Constructed, and little interest in Standard. So I decided to set up a multiplayer game at our local game shop on Sept 1st… and just to make it interesting, I’m making it Elder Dragon Highlander!

Yes, the barbarians are at the gate, and damn if one of us didn’t slip into the Magic Invitational! While Rizzo was my #1 choice for the Storyteller invite, Evan was a very close second, so I was incredibly pleased he got the vote. I found the discussions on the Wizards board regarding the vote disappointing but not surprising. Some people decried that there was a real hostility towards pros, and that it was sad that the battle lines seemed to have been drawn between pros and non-pros. I’d like to point out that, as far as I could tell going through the gigantic forum thread, not one single pro came down on the side of Evan or Rizzo getting the nod (though to be fair to the Prof, he came close by basically declaring “let’s wait and see what the voters say”). On the flip side, there did seem to be a good number of people — presumably at least some of them non-pros — who came down in support of Gerard or Prof or some of the others. What does that stark difference reveal? If the pro community wants to bitch about being unfairly villainized, perhaps they should look at their own attitudes and behaviors as contributors to that environment. Players in our vast Magic Community cover a vast continuum of play skill and dedication to the game, and not all of it can be demarked by whether you have pro points or not. Who are we to assume that Evan is going to get crushed just because he has no pro points? [He has one Pro Point. — Craig.] Part of the appeal of Magic is the fact that, with luck a heavy element of the game, even Joe Scrub can take a game or match from Smooth McPro if the cards go right (or wrong, depending on your perspective). Aaron Forsythe gave some rock-solid reasons for opening up the Invitational, and I appreciate his willingness to shake up the status quo.

I expect the inclusion of Evan will increase interest in the goings-on of this year’s Magic Invitational, and I can’t wait to see the Magic Shows inspired by his experience. I hope the success of Aaron’s experiment will embolden him to implement other changes to make it a true “Magic” Invitational, rather than just a “Pro Magic Invitational.”

Elder Dragon Highlander
If you regularly follow some of the columnists who are also DCI judges, or read the “behind the scenes” coverage of pro tours, you’ve probably heard about Elder Dragon Highlander, a format that is quite popular for judges to run casually after hours on the Pro Tour. Right now I have zero interest in Time Spiral Block Constructed, and little interest in Standard. Anticipation is high for Lorwyn, and I’m already pondering deck ideas for Champs this fall, a tournament I always love to play in. But since I can’t really playtest for Lorwyn Standard until we know all the new cards, I’m kinda at a loss at figuring out something to play outside of Limited. My itch to deck-build and tinker is strong, but I can’t find a format that interests me.

So I decided to set up a multiplayer game at our local game shop, Richmond Comix, on Sept 1st… and just to make it interesting, I’m making it Elder Dragon Highlander! For those unfamiliar with the format, here are the “official” rules as posted in the EDH forums (see the link below):

EDH Deck Construction Rules

1. Players must choose a legendary creature as the “General” for their deck, in advance, and check with the coordinator of the whichever group they will be playing with. No two players may have the same general in the same game, and no player may have anyone else’s general in their deck. Allocation of generals is first come, first serve. Rofellos is banned as a General.
2. The general’s mana cost dictates what mana symbols may appear on cards in the deck. A deck may not generate mana outside its colors; anything that would generate mana of an illegal color generates colorless mana instead.
Example: If you were play Phelddagrif (Casting cost 1UWG) as your General, your deck may not contain any Red or Black cards; no card in such a deck may contain Red or Black mana symbols or hybrid mana symbols (Talisman of Dominance, Life/Death, and Boros Guildmage are not allowed. Degavolver is doubly bad).
3. An EDH deck must contain exactly 100 cards, including the general.
4. With the exception of basic lands, no two cards in the deck may have the same English name.
5. EDH is played with vintage legal cards, with the exception that cards are legal as of their set’s prerelease. Additionally, the following are banned: Balance, Test of Endurance, Worldgorger Dragon, Biorhythm, Sway of the Stars, Upheaval, Shahrazad, Panoptic Mirror, Crucible of Worlds, Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, Moxen, Time Walk, Library of Alexandria, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Beacon of Immortality, and Coalition Victory.

Play rules

6. If a player suffers 21 points of combat damage from a single general, they lose. This is an additional state based effect, similar to poison counters, but separate and specific to each general. This damage cannot be healed or undone, even if the creature is removed from play temporarily. Damage done by a creature under someone else’s control is still counted towards the 21-point limit for that creature and defender.
7. All generals are removed from the game before shuffling at the start of the game.
8. While a general is removed from the game, it may be played. As an additional cost to play your general this way, you must pay {2} for each previous time you have played it this way.
9. If a general would be put into the graveyard by an effect, its owner may remove it from the game instead. (This is a replacement effect… the creature never goes to the graveyard and will not trigger abilities on going to the graveyard)
10. Players begin the game with 40 life.

Card specific rules

11. The Judgment Wishes can only be used to wish for cards that began the game in the controller’s deck, or the controller’s general. No sideboard/wishboard is allowed.
12. Karakas’s ability does not return a General to its owner’s hand.
13. Rune Tail, Kitsune attendant flips when his controller’s life total is 60 or higher.
14. Riftsweeper’s ability does NOT affect Generals in the RFG zone.

(Credit goes to Sheldon Menery for bringing the format into the public eye and building the pro tour community, with props by proxy to David Phifer and Adam Stanley (of Anchorage residence) for its genesis. Cari Foreman gets credit for carrying the early rules torch and Duncan McGregor’s work on the modern rules is much appreciated by all.)

Some other resources:
First, try the EDH Forum. Other online sources of EDH Information can be found here, here, and here. There’s also the EFNet IRC Channel: #edh

Frank at Richmond Comix will be posting the rules and details of the event at his website, so I hope to see some of you there!

Two questions come to mind when pondering the format, and I’m tossing these out there in the hopes that someone who plays the format frequently may provide answers in the forum. First, I assume no one would play Phage because playing her from the removed from game zone would make you lose the game, right? Second, why isn’t Tsabo Tavoc on the banned list? Protection from Legends and the ability to mow down Legends seems to be overly powerful in the format. For that matter, Willow Satyr sounds like a beating!

Anyway, when I first decided to run this format, the first thought to leap to mind was playing Rith, the Awakener; not only is it a beating of a card, but I have tons of old, fun cards that I’d love to play in a Green/Red/White Highlander deck. Something like this:

The idea here, other than just playing with fun cards (whoo-hoo, Kaldra pieces!!), is to get your Rith out there, protect him (with Mother of Runes, Benevolent Bodyguard, Absolute Grace), and give him trample so you can make sure you get to activate his special ability and make Saprolings. Scanning various cards, it occurred to me that Untaidake, the Cloud Keeper is quite a bit of tech, helping to get your Rith out early, but it’s entirely possible everyone else will be playing it too, making its legendary status a liability. Still, I can go ahead and run Life from the Loam to retrieve it from an untimely demise. Looks like a blast to play, don’t it?

Another idea I had was building a deck around Kiyomaro, First to Stand — and I even have a shiny prerelease copy to use! If you can keep your hand filled, he’s an absolute beating, gaining you life and being able to both attack and defend.

I’ve used a lot of different cards here to try and keep your hand full – raw card drawing artifacts, cantrips, forecast cards, buyback, even a recover and sweep card. I’m hoping that I can keep my hand full enough so that when I play Mr. Kiyo on turn 5, I’ll have at least four cards in my hand, and with a little luck I’ll have seven (keeping my fingers crossed for an early Gift of Estates or Land Tax). Of course, if somebody is playing heavy discard spells, I could be in big, big trouble, so if that’s the case – shame on you, metagaming against me! *shakes fist*

Hmm, maybe I need to scare up a copy of Mangara’s Blessing

So anyway, if you’re interested in EDH or have some experience in the format, I’m very curious to hear from you in the forums. In particular, I’m curious whether my focus on equipment — which seems solid in theory, seeing as you’re practically guaranteed to always have a creature to play — is actually as good as it strikes me to be. Do people’s generals get nailed all the time and become non-factors after the third and fourth death makes them difficult to cast?

Before I go I wanted to end this on a personal note. Recently I got to experience bowling through the eyes of 5 year olds. Our youngest Aaron turned five the end of July, and we’d been trying to schedule a party for him and his friends, and all the available venues were either booked or way too expensive. Our house it too small to host a decent party without spending hours afterwards cleaning up… so we ended up booking a lunchparty at Sunset Bowl.

Now, I never really got into bowling much; we did it a little bit in high school, and used to go and drink adult beverages a few times as adults, but it’s probably been 15 years or more since I’d stepped foot in a bowling alley. I was impressed at the computerization (back in my day, we used overhead projectors to display the score), and they had some jamming good music videos playing — though I’m not sure if that was for the party or whether that’s something they just regularly have up.

For the kids, they had bumpers up so that a gutter ball was impossible, and they could just launch the ball with youthful exuberance and it would bounce back and forth down the lane and crash into the pins. They also had a ramp kids could launch their ball down to give it a decent velocity – though one skinny friend insisted on rolling the ball himself, and since he didn’t have enough meat on his bones to give the roll much mustard, it would creep down the lane with agonizing slowness. I’ll give the kid an A+ on gumption, though.

So, if you haven’t been bowling with small children, I highly recommend it. It is one of life’s cutest events, and I’ve the evidence below. The dark-haired boy in the yellow shirt is my son Aaron, five; and the dark-haired girl in the blue outfit is my daughter Anna Marie, six-and-a-half.

(Right before this column went to press, I managed to catch up with Elder Dragon Highlander aficionado Sheldon Menery to ask him a few questions about the format!)

You Lika The Juice: Phage doesn’t seem to be a good choice as a general given the rules, does she?
Sheldon Menery: Very bad choice, unless you want to lose quickly.

YLTJ: Isn’t Tsabo Tavoc rather overpowered in this format?
SM: You’re not the first person to think that. I’ve seen two players (one, Pro Tour scorekeeper Federico Calo of Italy) use Tsabo as a General. Federico’s deck is good, but Tsabo is not nearly as broken as it might seem at first blush.
YLTJ: Hmmmm…

YLTJ: Do you have one deck you play all the time or do you have a couple different ones you break out depending on your mood? What is the general or generals?
SM: Mood is everything for me. Most EDH players, me included have a “main” general, and then a bunch of other decks. My main one is Phelddagrif. I also have Lord of Tresserhorn (which was the result of a Star City contest I ran), Darigaaz, Merieke Ri Berit, Marrow-Gnawer, Vorosh (which I’m trying to put together in all Italian cards), and Garza Zol. I’ve started slightly handicapping myself in deck-building because I want all the cards in all my EDH to be foil… so there are some great cards, like Mana Drain, that I’ve stopped using. Tenth Edition has helped a great deal.

YLTJ: When was the last game of EDH you played? Who won/what deck? Any cool stories from the game?
SM: We played several at U.S. Nationals in Baltimore and at Pro Tour: San Diego, which were less than a month apart. I don’t actually remember too many details. I do remember John Carter playing my Merieke deck and it wrecking house, and then it underperforming when I played it. One of my favorite EDH memories was Rancoring up Serra Avatar and attacking for 53 or somesuch, then playing guy with Bloodthirst X, Petrified Wood-kin. Seemed good for me until someone across the table targeted me with Twisted Justice, and those were my only two creatures. It seemed better for me that I had Twincast in my hand…and the first card I drew off the top was Spellbook.

No one actually cares too much about who wins, it’s about what happens. One best EDH moment of all time nominee is Duncan McGregor’s response to someone playing Stroke of Genius for 10: “I’d like to respond by playing Chains of Mephistopheles as an Instant.”

YLTJ: I know the format is popular amongst the pro tour judges, are there any other Magic folk who join in your games?
SM: Indeed. Anyone is welcome to join our games at the Pro Tour, and there are EDH groups springing up all around the world. Just check out the official website!

YLTJ: What advice do you have to someone who’s giving the format a try for the very first time?
SM: The crazier the better. The best EDH decks are the ones that do the wackiest stuff.
Think big. 5/5 is a small EDH creature. The format is REALLY mana intensive. Avoid combo. We will hate you. And we will kill you. Don’t wait to do things like Top and fetchlands until the EOT of the guy to your right. It wastes time. Do it as soon as you’re done with your own turn. Best advice of all: remember that it’s a fun format, not a competitive one. Think about having everyone a good time and let that guide you!

YLTJ: Thanks, Sheldon! I’m looking forward to giving the format a whirl!