An Introduction to Competitive 1v1 EDH: Ready, Set, Grind!

*Flick, flick, flick* Tasigur cast,
*Flick, flick, flick* Resolved at last,
*Flick, flick, flick* End your turn, pass,
*Flick, flick, flick* What goodies will I get back?

Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Rachel Agnes and I am obsessed with Magic. My favorite formats are Cube, Legacy, Vintage, and of course, EDH. EDH, or Commander as it is officially known, is such a wonderful format because it is so diverse. Starting today, I will be covering Commander here on ChannelFireball.com—with a competitive slant. I’ll provide in-depth strategy to take your EDH game to the next level, particularly for the Magic Online format.

Commander is played by more players than any other format, and it’s not hard to see why. There are almost endless flavors of EDH and a variation available for any type of player. EDH was created as a casual format to be enjoyed by friends, to pick up and play whenever. Over the years, the allure of Commander drew in competitive crowds as well, and there’s even a Reddit page dedicated specifically to competitive multiplayer EDH.

EDH has always been a lightning rod for controversy. A line has been drawn in the sand between two camps. One side believes that EDH was created as a casual format, and a casual format it should remain. They see the EDH community and the tournament scene as oil and water, unmixable. The other side believes that there is enough room at the table for both casual and competitive EDH to be played and enjoyed by all.

Personally, I am a very competitive player. When it comes to Commander, I enjoy playing tuned control decks and combo decks, most of which end up being cutthroat and powerful. Even when I play multiplayer, my favorite generals are Narset, Grand Arbiter, and Atraxa. And that’s okay. More Magic is better Magic. There are millions of people who play this game, so there are millions of ways to enjoy it. Magic is all about being inviting and welcoming to all different play styles and degrees of competition. If someone is enjoying a certain type of Magic, more power to them.

Wizards of the Coast has noticed that people are playing more EDH. The ever-growing format has exploded in popularity ever since WotC developed supplemental Commander products back in 2011. After all, why not monetize your largest format and cater to additional groups of players? It was only natural that they would find a way to bring a tournament format for Commander to Magic Online.

MTGO offers events for Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Standard, Pauper, Momir Vig, and various Limited formats at all times. These are pay-to-play events that offer prizes for top finishers. The only format they were missing was Commander. Now, however, we have on-demand 2-player queues as well as competitive 1v1 Commander Leagues on MTGO. There is even a larger, monthly Commander Format Challenge event that boasts larger prizes. What a time to be alive!

So what is the difference between the typical EDH most of us are familiar with and this new competitive format? Well, for starters, this format is strictly 1v1, meaning you will always have just one opponent as opposed to multiples. Gone are the negotiations and politics involved with playing with 3+ players at the table. Casual EDH aficionados would posit that you should build and pilot your deck at ~75% of its potential power level. If you pushed any harder, the table would “hate you out” and team up to take you down a notch (or eliminate you completely). The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

So what can we expect from a 1v1 EDH format? Well… you get Magic: The Gathering at its purest—deadly combat between two fierce wizards, dueling it out in a mental battle for superiority and dominance. And also this…


Yep, that’s a lot of blue. Do you like blue? If you do, this is the format for you!

When diving into a new format, it helps to draw parallels from existing formats. Competitive 1v1 EDH has about as much in common with casual EDH as Pauper does with Vintage. However, we do have a format to compare this one to: Duel Commander.

Duel Commander, or as some call it, French EDH, is also a 1v1 designed format that revolves around building decks and piloting them with maximum skill and efficiency. Played primarily in Europe, there are already serious tournaments with large turnouts and real prizes. The players with the largest advantage out of the gate will be followers and disciples of this format. The goal of my articles is to bring people who have not played much competitive EDH up to speed and get people ready for this new, for-prizes Magic Online format. After all, it may only be a few short years until we see sanctioned Commander events in paper Magic as well. Get acclimated now!


Duel Commander has always been a primarily blue format. Historically, the best spells in Magic have been blue due to the versatility it provides to combo, control, and tempo archetypes. In future articles, I will go over the most powerful generals and strategies as well as discuss format staples and ideal deck construction. Note that I won’t be giving attention to prices or budget alternatives, since that varies based on your own individual means and desires.

So how is 1v1 Commander different than Duel Commander? First, Magic Online plays with 30 life as opposed to the 20 life currently issued in Duel Commander. Secondly, the ban list provided by Wizards has many similarities to the Duel Commander ban list, but is different.

check uncheck

With regard to the ban list, many cards that are far too strong in multiplayer like Prophet of Kruphix and Sylvan Primordial are meager and even unplayable in 1v1. On the other side of the coin, cards that lead to insurmountable advantages that are more easily mitigated by politics and group efforts are not allowed here. Cards like Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, and Mana Vault will lead to a higher win percentage for whomever draws them when the other player does not. For this reason, they are justly banned.

So how do games of 1v1 EDH play out? What can you expect from a typical game? For the most part, 1v1 games play out like a slug-fest between counterspells and attrition. Both players engage in a tug-of-war of resources, land drops, and value. You will encounter many end-of-turn Fact or Fictions, so get ready to polish your skills on those splits.

Typical control games aside, you can also encounter fast combo decks. Usually, these combo decks will also employ counterspells and removal to back up their combos and engines, so be prepared. You will rarely see many glass cannon combo, and more of a combo/control fusion.

Midrange and aggro are also players in the format, but in general, are slightly worse than traditional combo and control. The change from 40 to 30 life allows for some aggro to be viable, but it’s not a strategy I would recommend right off the bat to new players. Midrange decks have a tough time picking their exact role. The 100-card nature of the format can sometimes lead to a midrange deck drawing the wrong cards for a situation. You may think that with a plethora of counterspells running around, cards like Thrun, the Last Troll and Vexing Shusher would be all-stars. But if your opponent just shrugs those off and Merchant Scrolls for a High Tide, you will be feeling sheepish as you twiddle your thumbs.

Your general is a huge part of how your games will play out. You want to pick a general that does one of two things (preferably both).

A) Play a general for the colors it provides you.
B) Play a general for the power it provides to your deck.

Each deck is different and these guidelines will vary as you dabble into different generals, but these tips will be useful as a starting point to your competitive adventures.

1. Play enough lands (with few lands that enter the battlefield tapped). Approximately 39 is ideal.

2. Have your spells be efficient and powerful, or dig you into spells that are efficient and powerful.

3. Play spells that can provide you value (either 2-for-1 when resolved or with recursion if countered).

4. Have a back-up plan if your commander becomes invalidated.

5. Don’t play too many spells that cost 5 or more mana.

6. Do not get tilted, and have fun.

I will be covering these topics in-depth in future articles, but these are some general guidelines to take your EDH game to the next level. So what are your thoughts? Does this new format excite you? What experiences have you had with 1v1 Commander formats and do you like the direction of this variation? Please leave a comment and let me know, I will read and respond to everyone!

Thank you so much for reading and until next time, may they never have the Daze!


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