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An Introduction to cEDH: Part 1

Many of you EDH aficionados have heard of Competitive EDH, also known as cEDH. But for those of you who haven’t and may be wondering what it is, or if you wish to up your game, read on. In this multi-part article series I will guide you through the differences and similarities between cEDH and traditional EDH, as well as review top strategies and philosophies. cEDH may seem daunting, but by the end of this series you’ll be the best at the table.

I am absolutely enamored by cEDH and play the format whenever I get the chance. Now I’m going to show you the magic of this unique format.

As a reminder, cEDH isn’t for everyone and I do not suggest that players make drastic modifications to the way they currently enjoy Commander.

First, let’s address the similarities between the two formats.

Multiplayer

cEDH is a multiplayer format. Naturally, you can play with 2-3 players, but it really is encouraged to have 4 at the table. If you only expect to have one other person to play against, I suggest building 1v1 Commander decks instead. cEDH differs immensely from traditional EDH in its philosophies, but when it comes down to being a game for many players at once, the two are the same.

Rules and Ban List

More common ground between the formats are the rules and ban list. Other formats like French EDH/Duel Commander and 1v1 Magic Online Commander have their own rules and ban lists. cEDH adheres strictly to the mainstream Commander rules laid out by the Rules Committee. There is no deviation whatsoever and this includes deck construction as well. Of course, there aren’t house rules either.

Well, I’ve reached the end of the similarities. It doesn’t seem like much, but cEDH actually has a lot in common with traditional, casual Commander. But, like most things in life, this format is defined by its differences, not similarities.

Philosophies

The philosophy for Magic as a whole is to have fun. The beautiful part about this game is that there are hundreds of avenues to reach that goal. If you aren’t having fun playing the game, you need to take a step back and find something that reignites your spark. Many formats in Magic aren’t for me, but that doesn’t mean that I dislike their existence or those who enjoy them. Always keep an open mind, and you will find yourself a happier person.

As far as traditional EDH is concerned, the main principles of the format include:

  • Having fun with friends to play powerful and fun spells
  • Create epic stories and sweet comebacks
  • Play your favorite cards as an extension of your personality
  • Enjoy the political side of Magic and live or die by your alliances and betrayals

The list is almost endless and everyone enjoys EDH for different reasons.

Where cEDH is concerned, the main principle of the format is to either:

  • Win the game, or
  • Prevent your opponents from winning the game so you can win the game yourself

That’s it. That’s the end of the list. Can there be cool plays? Yes! Can there be epic comebacks and interactions? Of course. But the focus and crux of the format is the competition and winning. Everything in the format is and should be viewed through the lens of winning the game.

Deck Inclusions

While you are bound by the same deck construction rules as traditional EDH, the cEDH deck list will often look much different. For starters, you will see curves that are much leaner and interaction is primarily at instant speed. This is a function of the format’s speed. Frankly, if you are playing 5-6 mana spells and your opponent is playing 1-2 mana spells that counter yours, you are at a competitive disadvantage. One of my favorite aspects about cEDH is the different vibe the format gives off. When you look at a deck list you immediately know what the deck’s intentions are and what they are expecting.

Metagame

Not to say that casual EDH doesn’t concern itself with metagames, but this aspect is far more crucial in Competitive Commander. Obviously, you will want to come prepared for the usual decks you will encounter no matter what format you play in Magic, but in casual the definition of preparation is a bit looser. In cEDH, you will want to stay up to date on what your friends and playgroups are playing and maintain proper deck configuration as well as optimized answers. Your opponents won’t give you an inch, so don’t give one to them.

Archetypes

All forms of Commander are incredibly diverse, but a large difference stems from the philosophy of cEDH. If the goal is to win, naturally there will “best” or “tier 1” strategies to sleeve up. Granted, the number of powerful generals and deck lists is vast, but the top performing archetypes are somewhat narrow. For cEDH you will mostly choose between:

  • Control
  • Stax
  • Fast combo
  • Slow combo
  • A mixture of these archetypes

Philosophy

The largest difference between… wait, did I already go over philosophy? Sure enough I did, I figured I would just reiterate here the importance of the distinction. Let’s go over some specific scenarios to help illustrate what I mean.

Four players are at the table.

Player A has placed Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker on the stack. They already have a Restoration Angel in play.

Player B is tapped out with 3 Islands in play and the only spell they can cast is a Pact of Negation in hand.

Player C is tapped out and has no responses to Kiki Jiki.

Player D is tapped out and has no responses to Kiki Jiki.

What does Player D do? What would you do?

Clearly this game is lost. Player A is attempting to resolve a lethal combo to win the game. If Player B casts Pact of Negation, they have prevented Player A from winning. But once player B untaps and goes to draw, they will lose the game because of not being able to pay for Pact. Either way you lose, but technically you have the power to determine if Player A will be the winner right there.

In a casual game of EDH you can do whatever you want. Perhaps Player C was someone you had formed a truce with and Player A had previously Strip Mined your crucial land earlier. You, as player B, are mad with Player A and decide to spitefully cast the Pact of Negation to rob them the victory and potentially pass it on to someone else. This is acceptable, and maybe even common in a casual game of Commander.

But let’s say that you are playing cEDH. Does casting Pact of Negation here win you the game? No. Does casting Pact of Negation prevent your opponents from winning the game? No. So should you counter the Kiki Jiki? No. This is what I would call a spite play. Spite plays have no place in cEDH and for good reason. But why not?

The Goal

In cEDH, the goal of the format is to play correctly. Correct technical play is a hallmark of Competitive EDH. If you made the right play, other players shouldn’t fault you. If you lost, you shouldn’t fault them for going for the kill. If somebody doesn’t save you from losing, even if it would cost them nothing to do so, you should not expect them to save you. If you are attacked, you shouldn’t take it personally. Chances are that it was the right play. Let’s look at another example.

Player A has a Tasigur, the Golden Fang and is deciding who to attack.

Player B has no creatures in play and is at 38 life.

Player C has no creatures in play and is at 37 life.

Player D has no creatures in play and is at 18 life.

Who should Player A attack?

In a casual setting, Player D might be upset that they have been attacked. They already have the lowest life total—surely, another player should suffer the 4 damage instead. They make a good point… in that format.

From a purely competitive standpoint, Player A should attack Player D. Games of cEDH seldom come down to combat damage determining a victor, but in the off chance that Player D can be finished by such damage, it is correct to go for it. Not only that, but if other players player creatures, they should attack Player D for the same reason. This stems back to the governing principle of Competitive Commander: “Win the game.”

Politics

Because the goal is to play optimally, your decisions should be motivated by “correctness” not deterred by retaliation.

Let’s say later in that same game Player D has three 5/5 Wurms with trample on an otherwise empty board. Who should they attack? Most likely, they should attack the player with the lowest life total in an attempt to eliminate them. Should they attack Player A just because they swung at them with Tasigur earlier? Retaliation shouldn’t be a consideration. If Player A has the lowest life total, then they should be attacked. Otherwise, Player D should go for someone else.

Of course, there are always other factors at play. If one player is dangerously close to comboing off or is otherwise the largest threat at the table, that would be a excellent reason to attack them, ignoring life totals. If a player is relying on cards like Necropotence or Ad Nauseam that require their life total to be relatively high, that may also warrant an attack. My example above was simply to illustrate the motives behind attacking. Casually speaking, attack whoever you want, whenever you want. If you want to play competitively, access the threat and attack that player.

I will give one last example to illustrate how politics plays a role in casual Commander but doesn’t necessarily play out the same way competitively.

Picture you are playing a casual game of EDH.

You (Player A) have a Krosan Cloudscraper and you are deciding who to attack.

Player B is at 20 life with 1 white mana open.

Player C is at 20 life with 1 white mana open.

Player D is at 15 life with 1 white mana open.

Player D sees you surveying the board and flashes a Path to Exile from their hand right to you. “If you attack me, I will Path to Exile your Krosan Cloudscraper. Better not attack me.”

Player C notices that you are now shifting your focus to him. “Hey, don’t forget I drove you here! You shouldn’t attack me.”

Player B *internal shivering* “Um, well I too have a removal spell and I’ll wipe the whole board if you don’t attack player C!”

Player A decides simply to not attack with his 13/13.

Now, it’s not to say there is anything wrong with this type of dynamic. Great stories and memories are made behind clogged down games and friendly bickering can be hilarious. But there is a stark contrast to how cEDH is played.

Picture you are playing a game of cEDH:

You (Player A) have a Krosan Cloudscraper and you are deciding who to attack.

Player B is at 20 life with 1 white mana open.

Player C is at 20 life with 1 white mana open.

Player D is at 15 life with 1 white mana open.

Silence from the table. You attack Player D, they cast Path to Exile on your Krosan Cloudscraper.

You have no regrets for attacking Player D—they were the best target for the attack.

Player D understands why you attacked them—they were the best target for the attack. They do not lament the fact that they lost their removal spell when they could have saved it if you had attacked a different player.

That just about wraps up my introduction to the world of cEDH. The differences between the formats have created a divide in the player base. Some believe EDH should be a format to be played casually. If you do not enjoy cEDH, fear not—there are plenty of EDH games and styles to be played.

What experiences have you had with cEDH? Do you have any additional insights regarding the format and its governing philosophies? Let me know in the comments! Over the course of this series, I will be discussing threat assessment, cEDH deck building, and flushing out archetypes more. Thanks so much for reading and until next time, remember—it’s nothing personal.

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