It provides the most fun casual games, as it allows you to makes the most over-the-top plays. I remember when first looking into the format I was confused around how you could build any kind of consistency into a deck when everything is a one-of. That’s the beauty of the connection between your Commander choice and the cards that build and gravitate around them.
There is a great list of the some of the best cards in each colour for edh play as can be seen here. It is a few years old though, and so will not include any of the last 6 sets or so. The RTR block has some pretty spicy edh playable cards, what with the 20 legendary guild leaders for commander choices, and many other powerful multicoloured cards.
I have compiled a small list of tips and considerations to take when playing EDH, and will follow up the list with the best EDH playable card for each colour.
1. When to play your commander
Having your commander start the game in the commander zone provides a pseudo 8 card hand, and can make a big difference when analysing your opening hand. If you have a commander that draws you cards, then a 7 land hand might be keep-able! There is always a temptation to play your commander once you can, assuming you have no other plays that turn. But is this the right choice?
If they are not relevant for a few turns then you are really just opening yourself up to having the commander Wrathed away a couple of turns later, or even worse, Hallowed Burial‘d. In limited it is very important to ‘curve’ out, with a theory that the player who is more efficiently using their total mana to its maximal potential is gaining an edge on the game. This is known as the Stock Mana Theory by Aj Sacher, but there is a clear exploitation of it written by Travis Woo found here. I really recommend giving the theory a read, its pretty interesting!
The point I was making is that by the theory (and habit) you should play your 4cc Commander on turn 4 if you have no other possible plays. However, I believe it’s often best to only play your commander when they will be relevant.
2. Advancing Board Position
You are constantly trying to increase your board position. This is obvious, but the stages are different in EDH. For the first 6 turns or so you should be trying to increase your resources. Mana accelerants, mana fixers, slow enchantment based effects and contingencies should be put in place. Few decks want to do much attacking here (exceptions are Rafiq of the Many for example).
Once you have access to a sufficient amount of mana and grip of cards you will then start to build an offensive *swearing optional* board and start affecting the game.
3. Control in the hand, not the table
Tapping out with chunky creatures looks threatening, but having answers in your hand is invaluable. Unless you are going for the kill or in survival mode, you should NEVER empty your hand.
This ties in with the warning of over-extending. This is a politically poor move as it will draw attention from the whole table, and you will get yourself stabbed in the back Ceasar salad style.
This guy has a pretty powerful ability. Problem is though, that it isn’t symmetric. In fact, its like a giant ‘F*** you’ to your opponents. Playing this is like putting a target on your forehead and passing a loading gun around the table.
When choosing to attack there is often the situation in which the players on either side have a similar kind of defensive situation. Sometimes people flip a coin, or run on a whim. Your opponents, like elephants themselves, don’t forget when you play nasty cards against them. Unless you want to help encourage people into attacking you, you should avoid playing cards like this one.
Similarly, if you are unnecessarily horrible to a single player, expect wrath from them when the power mantle shifts hands.
Make friends! Be cool. Playing game winning cards like Insurrection">Insurrection should be done when they will indeed win you the game, and not make enemies for life. Annoying cards or plays get remembered, and help make your opponents minds up when they are looking for someone to target. For example, when my friend plays Rhystic Study">Rhystic Study, my mind is made up on who I want killed first! Also, keeping someone in the game can be a strategic advantage, and so is another factor to consider when laying out the beats.
This aspect crops up in many parts of the game, and so may be the most important element to the format. Overall, you are trying to be as big as possible, while appearing to be as small as possible.
5. Commander Reliance
Naturally you will include cards in your decklist that are specifically for interaction with your commander. The kind that are quite weak by themselves, but are the stone nuts when used with them. Your deck must be able to function without your commander. If they do get shuffled into your deck, you don’t want to have too many cards that do nothing without them.
Recursion is the key. The games go loooong, so having cards that replace themselves or can come back to your hand is a great advantage. The other factor to look for is versatility. This can be either versatility of options that it provides (like Charm spells) or versatility of effectiveness early/mid or late game (Fuse cards). Some of my favourite abilities to find written on cards in my hand are as follows;
Being able to use a card over and over again is insane. These cards are balanced for other formats by the extra 3mana you need to ensure you buyback, but is a negligible cost in edh. Capsize is undoubtedly the best, but if you do a quick search of the buyback cards you will find that they are all playable.
Cycling and Cantrips
Having the option to ‘cycle’ a card when it is a dead card is a powerful option, meaning that the card is always a live draw. A good example is Traumatic Visions">Traumatic Visions as it can fetch a land during the early game, or counter a spell if drawn later.
This kind of overlaps with cycling. For example Second Thoughts replaces itself with another card, and is referred to as a cantrip/cycling card. Five mana is a lot to ask for such a card, but you can pay those kind of bills in commander games, and you will actually find that you are happier to pay five and draw a card than pay 2 (for a Doom Blade e.g) and not draw.
Versatility is such a big game in magic, as it reduces ‘variance’ and the chance of having an unplayable card in your hand. Charms are the kings of versatility, though few have powerful enough options for edh.
Split cards often have two specific and separate abilities, like Odds // Ends">Odds // Ends. This is better than the fuse cards in the sense that it is less likely that both sides will be useless.
However, fuse cards have the advantage of being live draws for the entire game. You can cast Blood as soon as you have a creature on the board. Flesh can come in from turn 5 onwards once you have a good target, and the fused spell is going to be huge in edh.
You can’t just fill a deck with 7 mana+ spells, but you can’t afford to waste card slots with spells that are only good early. Fuse cards fix both sides of that problem!
I love this card, but have never been able to fit it into a deck. This makes me sad (give me a hug next time you see me!).
When I say Kicker, I am also including Overload, Replicate, Alara’s “if x is 5 or greater” spells, any card that can be cast early but has rewards for once you have more mana available. It keeps the card relevant for more periods of the game.
The battlemages are the kings of kicker, having two! Why is it even important to be able to cast a 3mana 2/2 during the early game? In case you need to block Rafiq of the Many attacking for 14 commander damage, that’s why! You may have just a couple of turns you need to survive to get enough mana to wrath the table, and cards like this can be thrown under the bus.
X-spells similarly are going to be as good as what you’ve got all game round, withRed Sun’s Zenith">Red Sun’s Zenith being a bit of an all star (because of the recursion). Genesis Wave">Genesis Wave is the best X-spell, but is really a 9mana+ spell, so it’s not really an X-spell in the same way that other kicker spells are.
They provide you with options even when your hand gets wiped out. They play like buyback spells, in the sense that they are over-costed but can be used over and over again.
The Innistrad block cycle of spell lands are the best because they don’t enter tapped, and they tap for mana too (yay!).
This one especially is effective at ditching unwanted lands/dead cards for better cards. Decent.
The Best Card for each Colour in EDH
It’s what we’ve all been waiting for!
The premise here is that if you were to make an EDH deck blindly and only knew the colours it included, what would be your auto-includes? As usual, cost is taken into account to an extent, so you will not see Sylvan Library or Jace the mind sculptor making any appearances!
Disclaimer: These are my favourite auto-includes for each colour, and is opinion based and debatable. I will not be responsible for poor performances from these cards in EDH play. Terms & Conditions apply.
Green: Praetor’s Counsel
This allows you to play aggressively with your creatures AND spells, knowing can do it all over again. The hand size clause is useful too, as it is quite common to go over in EDH. Especially when you return a graveyard of 10 cards or so to your hand. Other considerations for this spot were Eternal Witness and Krosan Tusker. Both cards are snap playables for green, but I felt the powerlevel on Praetor’s Counsel gave it the number 1 seat.
White: Akroma’s Vengeance
The previous card was a no-brainer, but I really struggled for white. In the end I decided that a board wipe with the option to cycle goes a long way. I heard a pretty good argument for good ol’ simple Oblivion Ring. Though with Aura Shards, Nevinyrral’s Disk‘s and scourglass‘s kicking around, it is sure to get blown up in no time.
Red: Wild Ricochet
This may look strange, but if you’ve ever cast this card you will know what I’m talking about. It comes out of nowhere as a counter spell in a pinch (i.e can be cast while not leaving up any blue mana). Use it to join the party of a neighbouring Genesis Waves, Sphinx’s Revelation or Praetor’s Counsel.
If redirecting a removal spell you straight up 3 for 1 them.
Just be ready to defend yourself. Physically.
Close second for this spot is Insurrection because it ends most games it resolves in. Chaos Warp deserves a mention too, as being able to deal with any permanent (shuffling hurts commanders too) is a big game. It suffers vs big creature decks, though it does double duty when played by those decks as they can always shuffle a land for a chance at a monster!
Blue: Draining Whelk
I can’t imagine having a deck with blue mana that wouldn’t want this!
Spells are big in Edh, meaning that so is this guy! Oh whats that, want to soulbound with Deadeye Navigator">Deadeye Navigator? Yeesh, that’s pack up time. Other than that flangey lock-win, its as solid a card as they come, and provides a large flying body for blue.
I debated long and hard over this one, and I feel Brainstorm is possibly more of an auto-include, but I kept Draining Whelk at this spot because I would prefer to top deck it. Runners up include Rhystic Study (it generates a bit too much hate towards yourself) and Consecrated Sphinx (it doesn’t quite always make the cut).
Black: Diabolic Revelation
Black was a little tricky as well. I should have mentioned earlier that tutoring is very powerful in EDH as it allows you to fetch up the perfect tool for the job, or the missing combo piece. And so, the revelation!
Pumping 5 mana into this is not unheard of, and provides insane card quality and card advantage.
Another auto would be Runescarred Demon, because tutoring on a 6/6 flyer is awesome.
These are essentially the cards that I wouldn’t dream of not playing if my commander is in their colours. Regardless of how the deck is orientated. Don’t leave the house without them!
If you disagree with any of them then I would love to hear your view (so that I can try to argue my case!).
Till next time nerds!