EDH Boxing League Lessons Learned

After becoming the hit of the summer, Sheldon Menery looks back on six weeks of EDH Boxing League action!

Illuna, Apex of Wishes, illustrated by Chris Rahn

EDH Boxing League is a Commander variant that has become the surprise hit of the summer, generating a great deal of interest from friends and fans alike.  I wrote a few weeks back about the setup.  Today, I’ll take you through the process of the past six weeks.  We’ll discuss decks I built, the packs I opened, and changes I made to it before shifting to a different deck a few weeks ago.  Then I’ll talk about some of the lessons learned for the league and how I might change things for future iterations. 

The Pool and Deck

The first legendary creature I saw was from the very first pack: Illuna, Apex of Wishes.  It immediately set my mind at ease, since I knew I’d have a playable commander.  It wasn’t necessarily the one I was hoping for (that would be Nethroi, Apex of Death), but since I’m pretty familiar with Temur, Illuna would be a fine choice. 

I eventually opened Nethroi, a second copy of Illuna, two copies of Gyruda, Doom of Depths, and Obosh, the Preypiercer, as potential commanders.  As you’ll see in my pool (although I won’t be listing all 540 cards), support for Nethroi was unfortunately weak (despite a few very attractive choices).  Here’s the list of my rares.


Drannith Magistrate Luminous Broodmoth Mythos of Snapdax Mythos of Snapdax


Mythos of Illuna Shark Typhoon


Dirge Bat Dirge Bat Extinction Event Hunted Nightmare


Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast Unpredictable Cyclone Unpredictable Cyclone Yidaro, Wandering Monster


Kogla, the Titan Ape Colossification


Death's Oasis Eerie Ultimatum Eerie Ultimatum Frondland Felidar Gyruda, Doom of Depths Gyruda, Doom of Depths Illuna, Apex of Wishes Illuna, Apex of Wishes Inspired Ultimatum Keruga, the Macrosage Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy Nethroi, Apex of Death Obosh, the Preypiercer Quartzwood Crasher Rielle, the Everwise Ruinous Ultimatum Skycat Sovereign Slitherwisp


Crystalline Giant The Ozolith


Indatha Triome Ketria Triome Zagoth Triome

Obviously, getting the appropriate (and somewhat busted) Ultimatum to go with Nethroi got my motor running, but other than a few saucy ones, like Death’s Oasis, Drannith Magistrate, Extinction Event, and Luminous Broodmoth, there wasn’t much to go on in Orzhov as opposed to Izzet.  That said, there are a few more solid cards in the Orzhov-colored uncommons and commons that led me to believe I might be able to shift gears down the road.


Blade Banish Pacifism Fight as One


Blitz Leech Blood Curdle Bushmeat Poacher Bastion of Remembrance Call of the Death-Dweller Chittering Harvester Heartless Act Insatiable Hemophage Unbreakable Bond Void Beckoner


Back for More Boneyard Lurker Skull Prophet


Dire Tactics General’s Enforcer Necropanther

The only Selesnya card is Alert Heedbonder, which doesn’t really seem playable. 

The draw to Abzan was a great temptation, it just seemed like the density of cards left quite something to be desired.  There are good bones and recursion in a limited league is really powerful, but my assessment was that the deck just needed something more to go that direction.  As it was, I’d need to stretch the playable cards in Temur to come up with something viable.  In the end, here’s what I built:

The primary theme of the deck is clearly mutate creatures, focusing on the commander.  In addition to Illuna, there are eight:

Archipelagore Auspicious Starrix Dreamtail Heron Lore Drakkis Migratory Greathorn Parcelbeast Pouncing Shoreshark Trumpeting Gnarr

Mutate is clearly stronger in this limited environment where targeted removal is at a premium and sweepers are the rarest of commodities. 

The problem with the strategy is that it can be a one-trick pony.  While all the mutate creatures do a thing when they mutate, Illuna is certainly going to be on the top most of the time; Archipelagore might be the exception, since it’s a 7/7.  It feels like I won’t be getting too many kills that don’t involve either commander damage or being in the right place at the right time.  There’s not much of a go-wide plan or any other secondary strategy, which is a cause for concern for the deck in the long term. 

I’m fond a few of the bomby rares, like Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy (which might be the sole card that keeps me from running Keruga, the Macrosage as a companion).  Kinnan only has one thing right now to buff on mana production in Ketria Crystal.  The strength of the card, however, is using the activated ability.  Perhaps down the road, things might be different, but I suspect I’ll need some pretty lucky pulls from packs to make it otherwise.  I wouldn’t call it great, but Colossification is fun and funny.  It’ll lead to some silly situations, but I also suspect that it will eventually go out somewhere down the road.

The deck’s secondary strategy is cycling.  There are seventeen cards with cycling on them:

Avian Oddity Barrier Breach Boon of the Wish-Giver Greater Sandwurm Ketria Triome Lava Serpent Migration Path Neutralize Ominous Seas Raking Claws Reconnaissance Mission Shark Typhoon Shredded Sails Titanoth Rex Unpredictable Cyclone Wilt Yidaro, Wandering Monster

There’s an additional card, Rielle, the Everwise, which plays very nicely with the mechanic in drawing an additional card (with the slight condition that it’s only the first time in a turn).  It obviously also protects from a bit of hand production. 

Cycling is good enough on its own in the environment, but the wheel around which the sub-theme rotates is Unpredictable Cyclone.  It’s a little chaotic, but casting things for free is always a bonus.  Cycling Yidaro into Titanoth Rex or Greater Sandwurm will be just fine by me.  The downside is that occasionally, I’m going to cycle into the Neutralize when I don’t really want or need it.  When the deck gets tighter, I suspect that Unpredictable Cyclone will be one of the cuts, but it’s just fine for the early days.  The box was also generous with the other card draw, so getting to the business cards in the deck shouldn’t be a problem. 

Choosing Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths gave me plenty of mana fixing, so I’m happy with that.  Like everyone else, I got all of the two-color lands in my colors plus Evolving Wilds and Farfinder, as well as Migration Path.  There’s no ramp besides that; Ketria Crystal and Humble Naturalist are the only accelerants so far. 

All in all, I was relatively happy with the starting point.  Again, it’s not the Nethroi that I had wanted and still hope to build toward but it played reasonably well.  In the first game we played on the RC stream, Crystalline Giant was a superstar, getting hexproof, which allowed me to put on a clinic of silliness with Illuna and mutate.  I killed each of Toby, Scott, and Gavin with commander damage, ending at 113 life.  I was justifiably the first one out when we played games that Sunday, one of them in spite of having Illuna enchanted with Colossification for three turns.

Week 2

My choice was between War of the Spark and Throne of Eldrane.  It was a choice mostly borne of laziness, since I didn’t act far enough in advance to acquire anything else.  As I mention above, the possibility of getting a Fling got me salivating, which is why I chose Throne of Eldrane.  Here’s the packs, which I recorded and made notes on as I opened them:

Pack 1:

Ardenvale Paladin Mistford River Turtle Weaselback Redcap Tempting Witch Wolf’s Quarry Corridor Monitor Garenbrig Paladin Dwarven Mine Weapon Rack Brimstone Trebuchet Giant Opportunity Inspiring Veteran Trail of Crumbs Blacklance Paragon

A very Food-driven, Knight-dominated pack, without much exciting for me.  Having the Turtle to make Illuna unblockable seems like going too far for too little.

Pack 2: 

Opt Thrill of Possibility Bartered Cow So Tiny Rosethorn Halberd Foreboding Fruit Sporecap Spider Forever Young Gingerbread Cabin Steelgaze Griffin Maraleaf Pixie Spinning Wheel Savvy Hunter Opportunistic Dragon

Certainly better than the previous one, but still nothing bomby.  Maraleaf Pixie and Spinning Wheel will go in for some acceleration.  Opt will probably find a home as well.  Opportunistic Dragon is simply better than any number of creatures that I already have in that it’s a 4/3 flyer; the triggered ability to take away something from someone else for a while is probably really important, especially in being able to get Illuna damage through.  Nothing so far in two packs has fed my Nethroi fantasy.

Pack 3:

Lonesome Unicorn Witching Well Tuinvale Treefolk Forever Young Silverflame Ritual Searing Barrage Eye Collector Charmed Sleep Locthwain Gargoyle Trapped in the Tower Oakhame Ranger Ferocity of the Wilds Rampart Smasher Folio of Fancies

Ugh. Still not getting much help.  Maybe Rampart Smasher, again as just a creature that’s better than what I have, but not much more.  I’m certainly not running the recursion required to make Folio of Fancies worth playing.  Searing Barrage is removal, but it’s a little spendy.  Trapped in the Tower might be a play if I do go the Nethroi route and I’m going to Sharpie ARYEL onto it.

Pack 4:

Fortifying Provisions Tome Raider Crystal Slipper Bartered Cow Fell the Pheasant Memory Theft Signpost Scarecrow Redcap Raiders Merfolk Secretkeeper Outmuscle Syr Carah, the Bold Frogify Grumgully, the Generous Stormfist Crusader

I was going to call it worse than Pack 1 until we got to the uncommons.  While the rare doesn’t do me any good, the three of them are going straight into the deck.  The problem with Syr Carah is that I’m not really set up to take advantage of the bottling effect.  Most of the time, I’m going to have to use it on my own turn so that I can decide whether or not I want to play the card unless I can somehow steal Ben’s Leyline of Anticipation

Pack 5:

Mantle of Tides Raging Redcap Lonesome Unicorn Didn’t Say Please Giant’s Skewer Curious Pair Gingerbread Cabin Steelgaze Griffin Wildwood Tracker Scorching Dragonfire Sorcerer’s Broom Mysterious Pathlighter Arcanist’s Owl Clackbridge Troll

Oof.  Clackbridge Troll (which I know that Scott also got for his deck) is saucy once I go black.  Wildwood Tracker might be good just to have a one-drop.  Scorching Dragonfire might find its way in, just for the exile part. 

Pack 6:

Fortifying Provisions Moonlit Scavengers Merchant of the Vale Youthful Knight Malevolent Noble Rosethorn Halberd Bake into a Pie Signpost Scarecrow Unexplained Vision Knight of the Keep Animating Faerie Into the Story Witch’s Oven Witch’s Vengeance

Well, if I’m going to make the switch, Witch’s Vengeance might be the catalyst.  Add it to the Extinction Event that I have in my pool, and I might be onto something.  I think I’d still be weaker than I am.  I  lose too many good multicolored cards by getting out of blue, to include Kinnan and Keruga, as well as a few of the mutates.  At this point, it’s not worth it.  I’m a little salty that I got zero playable rares for my current deck and didn’t get the one common I hoped for, but I knew going it that there was a chance I’d get wrecked.  I’ll move forward, swap in the few that make sense, and try to make a long-range plan. 

I ended up swapping in more than I expected. 


Drannith Stinger Porcuparrot Almighty Brushwagg Grumgully, the Generous Scorching Dragonfire Into the Story Animating Faerie Syr Carah, the Bold Frogify


Pyroceratops Momentum Rumbler Hornbash Mentor Channeled Force Boon of the Wish-Giver Frost Lynx Lava Serpent Unpredictable Cyclone

In Week 2 games, Illuna continued to be a bit of a one-trick pony.  The deck did reasonably well in drawing cards and mutating, but that was about its only path to victory.  Once Illuna got killed a few times, it was hard to come back and I still didn’t live the dream of killing someone with a Colossified commander.  Week 2 MVP card was Ram Through, which did result in player deaths due to Illuna’s trample.  It’s a card people might be sleeping on in normal Commander, which I think they should revisist.

Week 3

I stole the idea from Shivam to go back a bit and pick up some Magic 2012 packs.  There’s fixing, there’s utility, and importantly, there’s Fling at common.  In the interest of space, I won’t go through all six packs.  The short version is that I didn’t get the Fling and really didn’t get much.  I got one that was bomby and the rest was disappointing.  I got nothing that would move me into Abzan, although I got Oblivion Ring, Devouring Swarm, Grand Abolisher, Angelic Destiny, and Aegis Angel


Dungrove Elder Jade Mage Turn to Frog Rampant Growth


Glimmerbell Honey Mammoth Shredded Sails Primal Empathy

Dungrove Elder is obviously a powerful thing to mutate onto because it natively has hexproof.  In a league where spot removal is precious and there are very few board sweepers, it’s extremely strong. 

In Week 3 action, I did finally get to live the dream and hit Gavin for exactsies with Illuna plus Colossification.  I didn’t win that game because Toby’s Abandoned Sarcophagus and 19 cycling cards kept him alive long enough to kill me and Scott. 

In another game, I ran into a line of play that hadn’t occurred to me.  In that game Toby got ganged up on because his board state got way out in front of everyone.  I finished him off by sacrificing a create to Weaponize the Monsters.  Then came the line of play.  I killed Rachel with Commander damage by double-striking Illuna.  After combat, I put Colossification on it.  Scott kept it tapped down for a turn and looked like he might be able to do it on his own turn perpetually.  Then I realized I had an outside-the-box play with Tentative Connection.  I effectively used it as a Twiddle to untap Illuna and swing in for lethal.  It’s probably only a Boxing League combo, but especially if you have a creature with menace, making Tentative Connection super cheap, you can cast Colossification and untap the creature for just 5RGG. 

Week 4

When I picked up the Magic 2012 packs, I had also grabbed some Dominaria, one of the sets I had considered starting with.  I was really hunting for Tatyova, Benthic Druid at this point.  The packs were slightly more disappointing than the prior week. 


Squee, the Immortal Llanowar Scout Siege-Gang Commander


Trumpeting Gnarr Essence Symbiote Syr Carah, the Bold

The future for Nethroi started looking brighter, as I picked up Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy, Aryel, Knight of Windgrace, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, and Urgoros, the Empty one. 

My week 4 action was curtailed by not being able to play Thursday night due to chemo side effects, but I was back on for Sunday and the deck fired on all cylindars.  In a game with Scott, Anthony Alongi, and BDM, I got to kill Anthony with a final damage from Drannith Stinger after Scott had set him up.  The big play was Brian attacking and threatening to draw a dozen cards or more—until I cast Thwart the Enemy.  It was a one-sided massacre and I killed him on the crack-back.  In the second game, with Gavin Verhey, Chase from Mana Curves, and Shivam, the first two were already out and Shivam was about to swarm me.  He had hit me for a bunch on a relatively empty board state, but he was in single digits.  I drew what we later realized was my only out:  Yidaro, Wandering Monster.  I almost reflexively cycled it for a “real” answer, then realized it has haste.  Shivam was at nine, had no blockers or action, and I had Weaponize the Monsters again.  GGs. 

Week 5

I opened Zendikar Rising, because they had shown up at my door.  Pulling Lotus Cobra, Nighthawk Scavenger, Angel of Destiny, Inscription of Abundance, and Dreadwurm, it was finally time to make the move into Nethroi.  Here’s the list I built: 

Most of the green made it over, and those black and white cards that I longed to play were finally there, to include Drannith Magistrate and Grand Abolisher.  I’d moved from being an aggressive deck with some protection elements to being the control deck. 

I only played two games during the week.  In one, I was the last one standing, mostly because Blackblade Reforged from Scott and Hobbes killed Toby and got Hobbes low enough to where Scott could take him out with In Bolas’s Clutches.  It wasn’t really a case of me winning as much as me just mopping up. 

In the follow-up with the other three RC members, I was out first (justifiably) as Gavin and Scott teamed up to make sure I didn’t get to do any mutate shenanigans.  Scott’s Sentinel of the Eternal Watch had risen to its place as one of the league MVPs. 

Week 6

I finally got around to opening that box of War of the Spark.  I got two bombs:  Massacre Girl and Single Combat.  The latter is thrilling for a mutate deck—although the problem is that there are other mutate decks. 


Massacre Girl Single Combat Prison Realm


Majestic Auricorn Witch’s Vengeance Nahiri’s Binding

We decided to take a week off of Boxing League on the Thursday night stream.  We played one on Sunday that was an epic, three-hour marathon with Scott, Toby, and Anthony.  Poor Scott had to face double Brokkos, Apex of Forever and Nethroi.  Toby and Anthony were Brokkos Bros for a while, but Anthony was clearly driving the action.  He took out Toby first, then after a few more turns was too much for both me and Scott.  Players are justifiably scared of Nethroi shenanigans.  And irritated when you Turn 2 Drannith Magistrate and Turn 3 Grand Abolisher.

What I’ve learned is that the right line of Nethroi might be to play it first, then mutate other things onto it.  It has lifelink and deathtouch, so it can just get into combat.  You generally don’t have too much in the early game to regrow anyway. 

I also believe the Illuna deck is stronger. Nethroi can run some shenanigans, but the interaction and card draw elements with Illuna are quite compelling. We’ll see if I feel the same after more reps.

Lessons Learned

We’re winding down on the league.  I’m sure we’ll play a few more games, but we’ll also lay the foundation for playing again once Commander Legends comes out.  We’ve learned a few things that we’ll carry forward.

First is that Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is kind of busted as a starting set.  Mutate is simply very strong in a limited environment.  It’s also really good with fixing in order to play some of the three-color monstrosities.  If I were to do a league in the future, I’d say that either everyone starts with Ikoria or no one does.  Having it available for boosters is fine. 

I’m sensitive to the fact that the project can get expensive.  Most of us in this league are content creators who have a fair amount of product laying around.  One of the ways for a local group to mitigate cost is to share buying boxes for the booster packs.  Still, older product can get pricey. 

My preference would be to slow down opening boosters to every other week.  If your deck is weak there can be some feel-bads, but it seems better to get more reps in with the deck.  Constantly changing has some of that adrenaline rush, but there were times when people couldn’t play during a week.  They didn’t have any hands-on with a deck in the next iteration. 

This one was open-ended, with a suggested end date about two weeks before Commander Legends was due to come out.  With that shifted some, we might get a few more games in.  I’ll suggest having a hard number of iterations you’re going to go.  Six seems about right in order to keep costs in check and not have a burnout factor.  If you’re going every other week for updates, that means three months, which might be more of a commitment than folks want.

I’d also suggest afterward turning your card pool into a cube, effectively recouping some of the value.  Cube doesn’t interest me as much because I’m ambivalent about drafting, but I realize I’m in the minority.

EDH Boxing League was a “what if?” idea that BDM expressed to me kind of randomly during a chat about other things.  It’s grown into having a life of its own.  There’s every reason to believe it can exist outside a league structure.  One of the choices you have when you sit down with someone is now pulling out your EBL deck, telling everyone where you started and how many updates it’s had.  It’s a great way of balancing power levels, easily putting more players on the same page.

We (and I’m not quite sure who’s included there) are going to do another one of these with Commander Legends.  Everyone will start from a single point.  How we manage opening boosters will be up for some discussion. As soon as we have full rules, I’ll let you know.