After the year of Commander, I think it’s a really good time to reflect back on EDH as a game. Since 2020, EDH has grown to be Wizard of the Coast’s (affectionately known as WOTC) premier product. As it turns out, EDH players love to collect, foil out and purchase rare and exclusive cards which is great for WOTC’s bottom line. We have seen this in Secret Lairs, Collector Booster Packs and eternal gaming products like Commander Pre-cons. While EDH is bigger than ever, it still has flaws that aren’t discussed very much. So let’s start by outlining EDH and show how its little brother Competitive EDH (cEDH) is the better game.
What is EDH?
EDH is a casual, relaxed and low-stakes format that puts fun and “The Gathering” parts first above all other goals. It will always be the brewer’s paradise, where the Timmy’s and Tammy’s get to drop in giant creatures that don’t have a home in any other format. It is also the home for Johnny’s and Jenny’s to build bewildering engines and combo with any number of cards from Magic’s past. It’s where you can navigate big and complicated board states with any number of avenues to win. All of these things are its genius and why I have loved this game for the last 5 years. With all of this being said, it is still missing one key ingredient from Magic’s past.
Where’s the Spike?
For those who don’t know, the organized play was one of the keys to Magic’s early success. Competition was a pillar and tool to help grow the game. When you consider that EDH is one of WOTC’s main focuses today and the dissolution of the MPL (Magic Pro League) I’d argue a competitive version of EDH is a good thing. Competitive EDH allows WOTC to continue to focus on EDH while allowing more convoluted and complex stacks, hyper-optimization of decks, higher-level sequencing, tight play and even prizes.
Competitive Play and EDH
For those new to the game, there were events called GP’s before there were Magic Fests. GP’s often had a competitive focus of one constructed format (like Modern or Standard) but also had side events where EDH players could play for TIX and prizes. New to the game, I used to participate in competitive EDH without knowing it was competitive. By simply having TIX, players were naturally incentivized to bring their strongest decks and as a result, you’d see large disparities in power levels. For some this was their worst nightmare filled with player PubStomping (Running away with the game without contest) and the other players watching a game of solitaire. While politics could help alleviate some of these issues, most of the games were lopsided. EDH by its very nature is not designed to be a competitive format.
One of the greatest reasons cEDH is the better game comes down to balancing and power level. Until there is a universal scale to rate decks this will continue to be a thorn in the side of EDH. In EDH, decks can have explosive starts however, stronger decks just have more opportunity to win games. While winning games isn’t the main reason to play EDH, it generally is an important part of the game to players on one level or another. As soon as you realize that each player is meant to win on average 25% of games you may realize that there are some power discrepancies. CEDH avoids this issue and better yet doesn’t have any restrictions.
No Stax, No MLD, No Counterspells, No Restrictions
One of the unique things cEDH has is no restrictions on what decks you can bring to the table. In cEDH all deck strategies are viable as long as they are powerful. Want to lock out your opponents so you’re the only one playing: OK. Want to combo your opponents on turn 1 and 2: no problem. Want to counter all your opponent’s spells and grind everyone else down: go for it! cEDH is uniquely free from social restrictions and structures of EDH and that’s a great thing. EDH is meant to be a brewers paradise where you can play anything, however, the social rules prevent players from playing decks with Stax or Mass Land Destruction (MLD).
Shuffle Up and Play
Winning the game is part of the game. However, sometimes when you win a game of EDH too quickly and combo off you can leave your opponents feeling bad. While you may construct your deck to be light on tutors and at a power level 7-8 you can sometimes still win the game before your opponents have a chance to set up. This was an issue that I experienced early on in my EDH history that isn’t much fun from either side. EDH comes with the expectation that all decks should be able to do “their thing”. It is as I’ve said, like an interactive story that swings up and down and comes to a natural conclusion but winning too quickly cuts out the narrative. EDH can be seen as discouraging optimal gameplay and choices because it wins too quickly. This is part of the problem with power level and EDH however it is actually celebrated in cEDH. In cEDH if you win on Turn 2 with Godo and Helm of the Host then fantastic! Let’s shuffle up and play another game. Games tend to be shorter in cEDH and more interactive and if you win quickly, all that means is you get to play more games in a night. CEDH celebrates early wins because it is seen as a clever attack on the meta and good deck construction.
EDH and cEDH: Recap
While I do love EDH, it is clear it is far from a perfect game. It struggles with power level, spiking games, prizing and social rules. While you can avoid much strife by talking about expectations before games, it is sometimes also nice to come in knowing exactly where you stand. So if you want to experience some of the spikier forms of play and work on your gameplay I’d really recommend trying a proxied or budget cEDH deck at your local game store. You just may have a blast and stretch some new mental muscles!
Graeme is a Canada based Commander fanatic, and these days can be found jamming some MTG Arena, Deep Rock, Sea of Thieves or supporting his local game store.
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