EDH Deckbuilding Fundamentals: Charity

The infamous purple dress that started it all.

When I first started playing EDH, I was like most Spikes new to the format: pure, unadulterated evil.  My decks read like “top 100 most hated EDH cards” lists: Sundering Titan, Myojin of Night’s Reach, Identity Crisis, Desolation Angel, Magister Sphinx, Sorin Markov, it goes on and on.  Even worse, in my Spikish naiveté, I thought that I was actually a “good guy,” since I oh-so-nobly refrained from using any infinite or instant-win combos.  Which basically meant you got to watch for turns and turns as my decks annihilated your lands, dumped your hand, and bled you dry.

Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since then.  It’s taken a combination of pressure from my friends and opponents, a bit of maturity, and more than a little of my own medicine thrown back in my face, but I’ve finally embraced the concept of EDH as a social format, and not just another venue where I can let my competitive instincts run wild.  While I still build powerful decks that can dominate a table, I’ve been very careful as of late to make sure they don’t try to lock down my opponents, destroy their manabases, or prevent them from casting spells.  While it seems like a simple rule, the complex interactions that a deck is capable of can make the line between acceptable and unfun much harder to define than you may think.

Take Terastodon, for instance.  It’s a staple of most green decks, allowing a player to deal with multiple problem permanents at once while laying down one of the biggest creatures in the game.  Very few players would consider it unfair.  But when it gets played in a deck with access to multiple flicker outlets or a strong sacrifice/recursion engine, all of a sudden that strong one-time effect becomes a three-, six-, or nine-permanent-a-turn meatgrinder that leaves its opponents with very few options (and a lot of elephants).  Neither Terastodon nor the various blink/recursion outlets is particularly broken, but together they make for a particularly nasty soft lockdown.

It presents a charitably-minded Spike with something of a dilemma.  Do you remove the Terastodon, and thus the temptation to blink it ad nauseum, or do you tone down your blink engine?  Just removing the elephant is probably simplest, as recursion engines are notoriously finicky things to tune, and altering your card choices isn’t necessarily going to tone down its power so much as just make it less consistent.  But Terastodon is an EDH card writ large.  It is the kind of card that makes for dramatic turnarounds, deep political choices, and crazy board states.  Somehow, if feels deeply wrong to me to leave it out of a deck playing green.  I could substitute something like Woodfall Primus, but whenever I drew the treefolk I couldn’t help but wonder – what if this was a Terastodon?\

As it turns out, I think the middle path is best.  Build your deck big, mean, and nasty, but play nice.  Put that Terastodon in there alongside that blink engine.  But restrain yourself.  Get what value you can out of the big elephant, and then just let him sit there.  It takes a little practice, honestly, and more than a little self control, but the result is longer, more satisfying games for everyone involved.  And on the off chance that someone shows up at your table looking to close out the game with some obnoxious combo deck, then pull out the stops and grind them into oblivion.  Trust me, there’s very little in this world that is more satisfying.

In the end, I think that the most underappreciated aspect of EDH, both in gameplay and deckbuilding, is charity.  That is to say, leaving room in your gameplan for other people to do their own thing. Giving your opponents a chance to pull some shenanigans of their own, and being flexible enough to survive, adapt, and respond in kind. Really, its the magic that comes out of that back-and-forth give-and-take that we’re all chasing.  We should build and play with that end in mind, and remember that in the end, a victory is nowhere near as meaningful as what you had to do to earn it.

6 comments to EDH Deckbuilding Fundamentals: Charity

  • Devin

    Hi! I just came across your site and was reading through your entries and was dumbfounded by that image of Merieke! Did you make that yourself, or do you know where to find an alter like it? I’ve always wanted to build an EDH deck around her, but I can’t get over her awful Ice Age art… Thanks!

    • Coda

      One of the guys from the local EDH group made it for me. You can see a whole host of his full-art designs on Facebook if you search for Portland EDH.

      • Devin

        Awesome! I will do just that. I actually got a cool (depending on how dorky you are, which is “very” in my case) idea for a Merieke alter after seeing yours yesterday…it may involve replacing Merieke with Motoko Kusanagi (if you’re familiar with the anime Ghost in the Shell), since I thought Merieke’s ability was very similar to “hacking” someone, you know? Hrm, well, anyway, thanks, I’ll definitely look into that.

        Very cool website, by the way! You have been bookmarked and added to those I frequent. I found you via CommanderCast, in case you were wondering. Take care!

        • Coda

          Thanks, Devin. Merieke can be a pretty fun general to build around, or even just to have as a silver bullet in an esper goodstuff deck. Out of curiosity, where or in which episode of CommanderCast did you find us?

  • Devin

    Hm, you know, now that I think of it and try to retrace my steps, I’m not entirely positive it was from CommanderCast. Once a week I usually end up opening a ton of EDH/MtG blogs and looking through them, and I must have followed some trail to get to yours. Sorry I couldn’t be more help. The others I frequent, and which seem pretty popular (in case you’re interested in getting listed on them, as they all list other blogs/sites) are:

    http://musevessel.wordpress.com/
    http://commandercast.blogspot.com/
    http://wooberg.weebly.com/index.html
    http://thecommandzone.blogspot.com/
    http://www.gatheringmagic.com/

  • Alex

    Hi Coda,
    I love your articles, Spikiness, and your decks (I have started playing your Jenara list close to verbatim occasionally in my Cockatrice playgroup). I am very competitive in Magic, and it seems you are too. In my playgroup, we have no rules apart from the banlist, and games are very cutthroat. I was wondering though, do you ever have a problem reconciling a loss with being charitable? I would agree that the best games tend to be the ones that go long and have gratuitous amounts of absurdity and tom-foolery, but I also don’t enjoy games where I could have done something to win, but didn’t because it was mean or “unfun”, and then lost. Has this happened to you? What do you think?

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