How do I get in to EDH?

You’ve heard stories about crazy play interactions primarily based on cards you had to look up. You see the players at the side tables playing games with 4 or more people all at once, each with an over-sized deck, and it looks like they’re having a blast. Now you want to try it out, and join in the fun! The time has come to build your very own Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH) deck. Are you wondering how to tackle a format which includes almost all of Magic’s card pool, and has it’s own “social contract”? Well, let’s break it down a bit.

EDH  is a casual format which has gained huge traction in the Magic community since WotC began printing annual supplemental products (Commander) for it. In EDH, you run a 99-card deck with no duplicate cards other than basic lands. You also have a legendary creature as the poster child for the deck, called a General. There is a unique ban list for EDH, which is managed by an independent Rules Committee. In addition to the ban list, the Rules Committee put out a social contract, which is meant to be the overarching philosophy of the format, one of social interaction and good sportsmanship. But what does all this mean for getting into the format? As you’ll see, it can impact the different stages of deckbuilding.

When choosing a general to lead your deck, consider that this card will be the first impression your playmates have of your deck, before you even play a single land. When you’re playing with others who have been in the format for some time, this means they will have strong ideas of the decks behind certain generals. Creatures such as Narset, Enlightened Master and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV have well-developed competitive decks many players will expect you to be playing if they are your general. For a first deck, it’s usually better to go with something less defined. Maybe you really enjoyed the stories behind Theros block and want to run one of the gods. Maybe you think green is the best color and enjoy Overrun on a stick; sounds like Kamahl, Fist of Krosa may be up your alley.


When building a deck, multiplayer EDH is a format much more forgiving to involved set ups for plays. For an example, one of my favorite casual EDH decks I’ve played was a Mogis, God of Slaughter deck based around putting the whole table on a clock with cards such as Forsaken Wastes and Underworld Dreams. You can easily find room to try out pet cards such as these if your meta is of a casual bent, which in my experience most are. Another major consideration to take into deck building is the singleton design of the format. Any spell in your deck may not come up in a given game, as it is only slightly more than 1% of your entire deck list. I’ve had cards in several EDH decks which I won’t see for as many as 6 consecutive games. Therefore, if there is a specific effect you want to see regularly in a deck, be sure to have multiple spells which overlap. For example, if you want to be able to spot remove artifacts and enchantments, Naturalize is the classic, but you’ll probably also want cards such as Reclamation Sage, Krosan Grip, and Nature’s Claim.

A major consideration to keep in mind when building your first deck is to build something you’re going to have fun playing for hours on end. Many EDH games can last multiple hours filled with fluid alliances, flashy plays, and confusing card interactions. This will be a deck you are likely to find interactions within your own cards you never thought of or saw before it comes up mid game. Make it something you can have fun with no matter if you’re winning or not. You can easily make a deck out of the cards you currently have and fine-tune it, upgrade it, or outright change it as you feel like picking up other cards for the deck.

My favorite strength of the EDH format is the exact reason I have been playing it for years and see no end in sight for myself; you can make it into whatever you want. As long as you have a playgroup willing to try things out, you can do duel or multiplayer, casual or competitive. This is a format which lends itself very strongly to self-expression in your play style and deck design. Make it what you want it to be and remember to always keep having fun doing it.

James Chavey learned to play Magic on Ice Age block, and got into the game strongly in Tempest. He’s been playing off and on since then, returning to it over the last few years. James spends most of his gaming hours playing EDH, with side games of Tiny Leaders and is beginning to dabble in Legacy. He writes primarily on minimalism and theology at Simple Faith.


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