Here There Be Dragons
Choosing a General, Monochrome Edition.
While some Elder Dragon Highlander players prefer to develop a strategy that can function regardless of the head critter in charge and then find a legend to fit the strategy’s colors, for many players, the first task when creating a new deck is selecting a general. With the release of Magic’s first all multicolor set just a short time away, this edition of “Here There Be Dragons” will run upstream against the flood of multicolor hype about to rush our way by exploring the options available in the mono-colored realm.
Threat diversity is the name of Jaya Ballard, Task Mage’s game. She can easily hose an opponent in the “fun-sucker-outer” color (read: blue), pop troublesome critters by disposing of superfluous lands in hand, and clear the board when things start to get out of hand. Jaya literally embodies why the “play this while you’re discarding it” mechanic is called madness. She also plays well with Squee, Goblin Nabob, and her low mana cost means she comes back for more with ease once she’s set everything alight. It’s also worth noting that Jaya is one of just a few generals available in a promotional foiled version, which is enticing to those collecting-focused players that EDH has a way of attracting.
Godo, Bandit Warlord is also pretty awesome. Good equipment isn’t hard to find, and two attacks per turn means that the 21-general-damage win condition is pretty easy to crack. His comes into play ability also means that opponents have an incentive to expend their resources finding alternatives to outright destruction. There has been at least one time where I’ve let Riki’s Godo smack me upside the head a couple times while holding Swords to Plowshares so I can use Prison Term on him instead.
I like Kamahl, Fist of Krosa because his abilities are both game-changing and repeatable. Nothing quite says “victory” like, “Attack for lethal with my Forests!” Kamahl’s landscaping skills also make for a more politically interactive multiplayer game by making your allies’ extra lands tap to swing or make mana, making an enemy Volrath’s Stronghold susceptible to Wrath of God (or your own Unyaro Bee Sting, I guess), or forcing an opponent to use his just-played Strip Mine lest you turn it into a summoning-sick critter.
I don’t really like any other mono-green generals, though. Azusa, Lost but Seeking has some potential, perhaps, in a deck that abuses Life from the Loam with Fastbond, Urza’s Armor, and Storm Cauldron thrown in for good measure, but the gamestate-breaking qualities that I look for in a general just don’t come attached to many legendary mono-green critters.
Conversely, I have a strong dislike for generals like Dosan the Falling Leaf, AKA “City in a Bottle on a beatstick.” He severely limits interaction within the game to a point of being unfun. There’s a good reason the format is called Elder Dragon Highlander and not solitaire. Dosan allows combo players to go off with impunity and it almost completely eliminates the political aspects of multiplayer games. This is the same reason I really don’t like generals like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, either.
[The unbanning of Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary snuck up on Sean while he was researching this article. He’ll have more to say about this powerhouse once he’s tested the card fully. –Riki]
Jareth, Leonine Titan is tough to get past on the ground and practically immune to spot removal. Duplicant is about the only thing that can guarantee that Jareth takes a vacation. Note, though, that once the Cat Giant is played again, Duplicant’s imprint ability no longer functions and the artifact creature shrinks back to a measly 2/4.
With enough time and mana, the right control suite makes Jareth nigh unstoppable. One occasional member of our local playgroup, Fernando, defaults to his Jareth deck in most of the games we play. These games can be more accurately called “Kill Fernando, then play EDH” unless I’m running Rafiq, Riki is running Experiment Kraj-mas, or Gabe is running Zur. All these decks have never occupied the same game at once, but I suspect such a game’s gravity would have the potential to warp the space-time continuum.
Crovax, Ascendant Hero is my favorite mono-white general. White doesn’t do the “kill your guys but not mine” thing very often, but Crovax does it with flair. Goblin, Saproling, and Faerie tokens evaporate in his presence, and the bonus he grants to opposing white creatures can be instantly remedied by bouncing him to hand.
This ability makes him even harder to kill than Jareth. In fact, I can only remember seeing him removed against his owner’s wishes three times: once with Sudden Spoiling; another time by Decree of Annihilation; and finally by playing Word of Seizing on him, having him attack his owner, stacking damage, and Condemning him.
There are a lot of really annoying mono-blue generals that are also “good” in the sense that you’ll probably win more games with them than you’ll lose, but you may find it hard to find a game to play in if you run with them for too long. Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and Erayo, Soratami Ascendant are both more likely to shut the game down than make it more interesting, and likely to lead familiar opponents to either demand the ability to sideboard against them or simply ban them by house rule.
Sakashima the Imposter, though, is truly fun in the right multiplayer environment. Sure, chances are you won’t be able to use many of her shiny new activated abilities, but EDH decks usually run more legendary critters than just their generals. If your local metagame is lacking in legends to copy, Leyline of Singularity is a fun fix that also works well with Empress Galina. Sakashima can take on the qualities of the best legend on the board by bouncing and resetting, and, with proper timing, the same ability also allows her to avoid certain impending disasters like Nevinyrral’s Disk.
Arcum Dagsson fits the profile of a strong mono-blue general too. Blue loves to bend artifice to its will, and Arcum takes advantage of this like no other general, making it surprisingly easy to construct an efficient artifact-based combo kill with cards like Scarecrone, Junk Diver, and Myr Retriever providing fodder for Arcum to build the Stations cycle (Blasting Station, Grinding Station, Salvaging Station, Summoning Station, and a Chromatic Star) or any Rube Goldberg contraption your heart desires.
While Crovax is at the top of my list when it comes to mono-white generals, his black analogue, Ascendant Evincar, just doesn’t cut it. He can’t evade removal like Crovax and black just has better choices when it comes to removing critters of other colors.
Braids, Cabal Minion is another evil twin of a Planar Chaos legend with a completely different story. Her “Smokestack on a stick” ability causes all sorts of headaches for permanent-light control decks and intricate combo setups alike.
Kagemaro, First to Suffer is also a strong choice of general, as he’s suited well to exterminating armies for control-heavy decks and can avoid an untimely Hallowed Burial better than most other generals.
The first thing I think of when considering a mono-black deck, though, is Zombies. There are well over 150 different Zombies printed that can fill the slots of a mono-black EDH deck, but the general I’d choose to run such a deck is not himself a Zombie, he’s Lim Dul, the Necromancer. Lim Dul adds another dimension to the game such that the focus of your Zombie deck isn’t just playing your own zombies and winning with them, but playing with your opponents’ (now) Zombies and winning with them, too.
Also, I should take this opportunity to note that, excepting a house rule that changes where he starts the game, Haakon, Stromgald Scourge is a truly bad choice for general. Aside from hoping that your opponents decide to be extremely generous with an ill-advised Pull from Eternity, your only two ways to get Haakon out of his RFG dungeon are Ring of Ma’ruf and Death Wish, neither of which are all that attractive.
So, what do all these potential generals tell us collectively? What qualities make a general good? What does selecting a mono-color general do to your deckbuilding options?
A player new to EDH may be overwhelmed with the deckbuilding criteria. In fact, one of the first decks I’ve seen new players create repeatedly has Horde of Notions as its general not because they really like elementals as a tribe, but because they don’t want to worry about what they can and can’t play. Building an EDH like this is like taking an entire dessert menu and throwing everything on it in a blender. Sure, chocolate-berry-butterscotch-mango-vanilla-pie-a-la-mode -pudding might be sweet, but I probably wouldn’t order it. [I would. –Riki] A typical first attempt at a five-color EDH deck yields something neither cohesive nor synergistic, without direction or flavor. “Play good stuff and eventually win” does not a strategy make.
Magic’s 10,000-card catalog is difficult enough for a non-human database to effectively grasp, but new players can easily expand their mental card catalogs by developing decks around mono-colored generals that require digging deeper into a specific color to find a card to meet a specific need. Similarly, my friend Sean was unaware that Invoke Prejudice and Amnesia existed until he tried to build a deck around Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir and needed to add some range to the non-creature weapons at his disposal. Card-mining like this brings newer players in touch with a time in Magic’s history when the color pie was like a dessert tray on “Will it Blend?” and art guidelines were surprisingly lax.
Building around a mono-colored general forces you to understand a color’s strengths and weaknesses in depth and find creative ways to fill strategic holes. For instance, it’s no secret that black really can’t destroy artifacts and enchantments effectively. Nevinyrral’s Disk is a staple and prime tutor target in most mono-black decks for this reason, but what else can deal with enchantments without bleeding into white and green? Additions to my recent mono-black designs have included Culling Scales and Oblivion Stone to round out the colorless answers, but I’ve also added token generation to help run Greater Harvester and Phyrexian Tribute, cards I would rarely consider running when mixing black with another color.
Choosing a mono-colored general can be awkward with a limited card pool to choose from, but it can also be a good first step for newly introduced EDHers and those players whose collections tend to mirror their playing style and strongly favor one color over others. Though I’ve been steeped in EDH for a while now, I find building with a mono-color general refreshing in that it allows me to spend my resources on acquiring cards that win the game rather than a complex and costly mana base.
Until next time, this is Sean Catanese telling you to go call down some thunder.
Sean is a DCI-certified Level 1 Judge and confirmed Elder Dragon Highlander evangelist. He runs FNM and other events for Great Escape Games in Sacramento, CA. He’s on most major forums at planarguide and can be reached at seancatanese-at-gmail-dot-com.