Myths & Misconceptions of cEDH: An Interview With TJ and Xavier
Whether you’ve been playing Commander for a long time or are just learning about this fun and engaging format, you’ve probably come across references to Competitive EDH (or cEDH for short). Maybe you’ve tried it, or even shied away from it based on what you’ve heard.In this piece we’ll debunk some myths and misconceptions with a peek behind the curtain. I was fortunate enough to speak with some local cEDh aficionados from Chimera - TJ and Xavier. Throughout this article we’ll review some common myths and dive into why they’re more akin to misconceptions. At conclusion you should be well versed in what cEDH is, and hopefully, it will have piqued some interest for you to give it a try.
Myth #1 - cEDH is a turn two/turn three format.
Like Legacy, cEDH is often painted as a format that lends itself to fast paced games that end very quickly. While cEDH games are faster than the way most people play Commander, the notion that games are over in the first few turns is very inaccurate. Yes, it is possible for games to end early due to the high power and explosiveness of the cards that are played, but it’s very uncommon.
“Xavier: It happens. Part of that is because someone didn’t have an answer, and if no one has an answer, then they’re allowed to “go off”. I think this is what a lot of people think of when they think of cEDH, but it’s unrealistic because everyone has ways to counteract what one player is doing.”
“TJ: There’s going to be times where you don’t have the answer, but that’s why you have two other people. The chances of no one having an answer is going to happen a lot less than you would think.”
Myth #2 - The only viable strategies are combo and control.
Maybe you’ve stumbled across some recent coverage on Competitive Commander from Hareruya and read that combo decks are the best decks or maybe you’ve heard of dominant archetypes like Food Chain (from the combination of Food Chain and recyclable creatures from exile, like Squee, the Immortal / Misthollow Griffin) or Turbo Ad Naus (potentially winning with Thassa’s Oracle and Demonic Consultation). So is there room in cEDH for other strategies to compete?
“TJ: Combo and control are definitely two of them, stax is another one (cards that slow down the game like Root Maze, Sphere of Resistance, Null Rod and even Smothering Tithe). Stax decks use these tools to slow everyone down, which makes for interesting game choices.”
“Xavier: Decks like aggro or especially voltron don’t appear as often. It’s a lot harder to make them work in competitive play, since one board wipe or removal spell can set you back multiple turns. With other strategies you may get set back a turn or two, but you’ll be able to rebuild faster.”
Just like with casual Commander it’s possible to play the strategies you enjoy, it just may take some more work to do so. While voltron is extra challenging, Commanders with built in protection like Varolz, the Scar-Striped or Yahenni, Undying Partisan may be able to eek out a win. If combat is your thing, Najeela, the Blade-Blossom has a variety of builds that hold their own at cEDH tables. As with other competitive formats, one of the keys to playing well is playing a strategy you enjoy, and while nuanced, there are more viable strategies in cEDH beyond combo and control.
Myth #3 - People who play cEDH only play to win/play is serious, similar to tournament play.
The competitive part of cEDH acts as a distinction from how most people play Commander. Often, this is interpreted to mean that playing cEDH is similar to playing Commander at a tournament level (serious, with the primary focus of gameplay being winning). This actually isn’t the case, and most of the time the competitive description relates more to power level and speed of gameplay. People that play cEDH are doing the same thing as those that play non-competitively - they’re drawn to the social aspect, and they want to do crazy things you can’t do in other formats. There’s still a very strong emphasis on fun, focusing on a resonant experience that’s held together with a bit of communication around how that’s achieved. Whatever way you’re playing Commander, an important piece that will lead to more enjoyment is aligning on expectations (whether that’s using power level to start the discussion or just talking about what you like/dislike). Since cEDH is played with the most powerful cards in the format, there’s less variance in expectation, but that doesn’t mean that discussions around expectations don’t happen. In fact, just like with more casual play, having that Rule 0 discussion before playing can help mitigate unfun play experiences.
“Xavier: It depends on the play group. If you have a group of people playing that want to take it seriously, it’ll be serious, there won’t be a lot of talking or chattering. At least in my group, it’s a lot of fun, you’re there to hang out with friends.”
“TJ: Right. cEDH is the thing we’re doing while we’re hanging out. We’re chatting about life, or work, school, kids, whatever. We came to hang out. It’s definitely not like competitive play. For example, if I am playing Modern, I’m unlikely talking. I look pretty serious, borderline angry lol, maybe even stressed out. It’s nowhere near the same. I’m super relaxed, just there to hang out with my friends. It’s not about winning.”
Myth #4 - There’s no room for creativity/cEDH is solved/only certain decks are played.
Like with other competitive formats, there is a meta (which will likely vary by playgroup), with certain decks/Commanders being better than others (this tier list of Commanders by Power Level shows the current strongest with example decklists). However, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for creativity. There are many viable strategies and archetypes, and how one person builds a certain strategy will vary from others’ approaches based on playstyle. Like casual Commander, there’s still room to express yourself in deck building, it just may be through sets of cards or sub strategies within your deck. Usually there’s room in any given strategy to include play patterns you like, and individual card choices can still shine through (as an example you could vary the number of combo pieces you have, or maybe you want to include more stax effects). Further to this point, each new set that’s released opens up many new avenues to explore. Recently, the printing of Thassa’s Oracle completely shifted the meta of cEDH, and in part led to a Flash ban (it became too oppressive and led to turn 0 wins too often). Even fresh Commanders from Kaldheim like Koma, Cosmos Serpent and Tergrid, God of Fright are strong contenders with lots of potential in cEDH.
“TJ: In any competitive format there’s going to be a deck that’s the best deck. A lot of times, I’ve not fit into the playstyle of whatever that best deck is. I’ve always played a deck that’s tier two, or tier three depending who you’re asking. But that’s how I enjoy playing magic. Just because the top deck is not something you don’t want to play, doesn’t mean you need to play the top deck. I really just looked at decks, I pulled up a bunch of different versions, and I was like ooo I like this version. This looks really cool. My favourite deck by far has been Blood Pod. It’s got everything I want in the colors I enjoy playing in, it’s a midrange combo stax deck.”
“Xavier: With some of these archetypes, there are some cards you should play, and there are ones that are kind of worse, but it’s usually fine to just play them. So in my Grand Arbiter Augustin IV deck you’re supposed to play Humility, but I don’t own a Humility. But I like playing with Moat, so I put my Moat in.”
Myth #5 - You can only play cEDH if you own the expensive cards.
Yes, you do need to use some of the most powerful cards printed in Magic, which often means a higher price tag. This isn’t necessarily a barrier to playing though. Some playgroups are perfectly fine with proxies, as long as you discuss before playing. Of course, if you really enjoy cEDH you should strive to own these cards if you can, but circumstances shouldn’t prevent you from playing. Since fast mana is key for cEDH, you’ll likely want to get your hands on a Mana Crypt, Mana Vault and other low mana value mana rocks before other pieces. You may not win as many games without access to some reserve list cards, but running budget alternatives will be fine in most cases.
“Xavier: And just like with casual EDH, it’s important to have that Rule 0 discussion and talk with your playgroup. Some playgroups are fine with proxies, some aren’t. My playgroup is perfectly fine with it. Two of my friends aren’t working during the pandemic, and I’m just happy to be able to play with them. There are some groups that are really about playing with cards you own, and not being okay with proxies and that’s okay too.”
“TJ: I at least have expectations of good proxies, no garbage proxies. If I can’t see and recognize what the card is, I feel like I’m not playing a real game. I might as well go play by myself. One person in our playgroup will proxy things out if he doesn’t have them, most likely he couldn’t find them. I always joke that his cards are worse, Dovin’s Veto is an example, ‘that’s counterable’, there’s no reason you shouldn’t own that card. He went on his phone, and went to Chimera Gaming and bought it. ‘Is this acceptable?’ ‘Yes, your Dovin’s Veto works now.’ We definitely made a little bit of a joke about it. Again, the idea is that we’re all trying to build the decks, and sometimes you’re not going to have the ability to get some of the cards. If they are key for your deck you should at least be trying to own them or work towards getting them at some point.”
Digging Deeper - What are some things or lines of play that are unique to cEDH?
Card selection in deck building will be quite different, with low mana value or free spells seeing a lot of play. Naturally, the average mana value of your deck and curve will be a lot lower than a deck tuned for more casual play. You’ll also see more highly specific cards like both Pyroblast and Hydroblast. Since most players at a cEDH table will be working towards going off quickly, having cheap interaction is critical, since the alternative is often the game ending. Most decks will have a high level of consistency through redundancy in effects, especially in the case of combo decks (there will likely be substitutable pieces for the combo). Since fast mana is a namesake of the format, average land counts will be lower as well, around 26-28, but total mana sources (including rocks) will float around the 35-36 mark.
“TJ: You’ll have multiple different ways to do a thing (like sacrifice a creature), and you just need to get one of them out, On the more competitive side, the idea of a competitive deck is that you’re trying to do one thing. You may have different ways of getting there, or not losing the game in the mean-time.”
“Xavier: The stack is a very important part of cEDH. In a lot of more casual games of Commander you’ll see battlefields get bigger, in cEDH the stack is where a lot of those conflicts happen. Part of it is just if you prefer the stack or the battlefield. I’ve had stacks of 20-25 cards.”
I’m in! What next?
If you’re curious to learn more or try your hand at cEDH there are some great resources available online. Some commendable ones include gameplay from Playing With Power or The Spike Feeders, and Moxfield for deck building and inspiration (it includes some handy shortcuts to add cEDH staples and different land types like shocks).Of course, you can look to the classics like MTGGoldfish, TappedOut and EDHREC, but they require a bit more dedicated searching. If you’re convinced and want to get straight to building, the best place to start is with your mana. Focus on picking up staple lands in your preferred color identity that enter untapped (sorry but Rimewood Falls likely won’t cut it unless you’re jamming stax with Archelos, Lagoon Mystic). This includes any duals that can tap for any color, think Forbidden Orchard, City of Brass, Reflecting Pool, Mana Confluence, and Gemstone Caverns. Your next highest picks should be mana rocks, specifically: Mox Opal, Chrome Mox, Mana Vault, and Mana Crypt. Some good budget rock options while you’re working towards the more expensive ones include Arcane Signet, the Talismans, Fellwar Stone, and Lotus Petal. Once you’ve got your mana sorted, you should then focus on your key cards for your strategy, strong interaction options and other cards that help you towards your goal or prevent others from achieving theirs.
Prior to writing this article, I would have never considered cEDH, but I’m going to wet my toes and try it out! If you’ve read any of my other articles you’ll know exactly where I’m playing, but if you haven’t heard yet, Chimera hosts Commander night every Tuesday via Discord (with games happening on SpellTable). If you join the Discord you’ll find me chatting all things Commander in the dedicated #commander channel, or you can find me on Twitter. Hoping to see you out at the next Commander night and happy shuffling!