EDH Deck Building: Understanding Power Level
Hi there! This article is part of a series on Deck Building in Commander! This post is Part One!
A fundamental part of understanding both the vast format of EDH and how to properly attack it is coming to terms with the concept of Deck Power Level. You can find competitive tournaments with no-budget deck lists, or just play on your kitchen table with the cards you picked up a few years ago for fun - both are Commander, but each definitely requires a different deck and mentality. We are here today to break down the concept of Power Level, and to understand how to adjust your deck brewing accordingly.
What is Power Level?
Power level is a term that we use to evaluate the effectiveness of a particular deck in Commander. “Effectiveness” here means how consistently it is successful in activating and completing its game plan, especially under attack from disruption from opponents. Is that a mouthful? Perhaps the easier way to look at it is by keeping track of how often a deck wins, and notably whenever you defeat opponents who gang up on you. If you beat the other players in your group weekly, even when it is three vs one Archenemy style, you probably have a higher power level deck.
That isn’t to say that a Power Level 3 deck can’t beat one at 5, but it would still be unlikely. Be careful though. Just because you beat your friends doesn’t mean you have a high level deck, just one higher than theirs - don’t get cocky and assume your 50$ brew is at an 8 or 9.
Also it is very important to note that Power Level does not necessarily equate to Deck Building Skill, as purposely building low level decks is a true test of talent.
Before we dive into Power Levels, I need to outline the entire premise of this article, and a soon to be reoccurring theme of EDH Deck Building: Specificity. Basically the more specific and detailed your deck idea, cards, and plays are - the more powerful the deck will be, and in the cases where you are purposefully building a low power deck, specificity will create a more Satisfying experience (as a Black Mana player at heart, this is the most important feature).
For this article the main tool we will be using is the deck idea and goal. The question asked here, is “What is your deck, what does it do?”. The answer given, and the concept used for the deck will locate its power level. With this in mind, let's get to examining!
Power Level 1-4
“I want to play Commander!”
Objectively, the simplest to place - and frankly - the rarest of its kind. Power Level 1 decks are created when a player finds a legendary creature in their collection, picks lands and spells in its colours, and refuses to read any of these cards. If you are reading this, you can no longer create a level 1 deck. Sorry to take that option away from you, but it is for the best.
“I want to play Karametra!”
At our second stage we have decks that understand their commander, and derive all of their strength from it. There is no real thought put into the 99 beyond that, and the deck’s main goal is to summon their commander. That is the most satisfying moment of a Level 2 deck. After which the house of cards usually crumbles.
“I want to play Big Creatures!”
You can replace the above theme with any other simple idea, such as Lifegain, Tribal, or Artifacts. The key here is that Level 3 decks don’t tend to have strict connections between their commander and their deck - sometimes, anyone in the right colours will do. However this strategy is already better than the previous level as, frankly, games of EDH tend to be won or lost on the back of your deck, not your commander. After all, your library has your lands right?
“I want to play Big Creatures using Karametra!”
My goodness we’ve made it! A full idea, albeit shallow, for a deck! Honestly this is more often than not the lowest power level you can have for a deck in order for it to be functional. Now it doesn’t specify how exactly Karametra will be used in this strategy, but the deck is aware of her and wants to work in unison.
If you or your friend’s deck is at this level, this is not a bad thing! It is actually great! It means there is interest in the format and, luckily, there is nowhere to go but up!
Power Level 5-7
We are now at the average Power Levels for decks. I would argue that the majority of players play between 4-7 with their decks. When planning a deck for your group, this range is a perfect place to start. (Note: I’m just switching commanders to keep things fresh, there’s nothing stopping Karametra from being a higher power level commander.)
“I want to take advantage of Rakdos’ mana reduction to summon Big Creatures!”
A shift in commander, but not an extreme shift in plans. Our new deck idea understands the relationship between its leader and the 99. Understanding this interaction allows to play both halves better.
“I want to advantage of Rakdos’ mana reduction to summon Eldrazi to win!”
Decks at this level know what kinds of cards they are looking for, and what roles they will fill. You aren’t looking for any big creature, you're looking for the right creature. It also understands the phases in the game plan of the deck, i.e.: Summon Rakdos -> Reduce Mana Cost -> Eldrazi. Mulligans are easier to parse, and as a whole the deck is simpler to lend out.
“Using a Punisher style deck, I want to use Rakdos’ mana reduction to summon Eldrazi as a finisher.”
At Level 7 your game plan is set to use multiple strategies, account for other players in the game, and have a win-condition in mind. The majority of finely tuned casual decks will peak out at this level. The only things that will hold this deck back from gaining power are budget, playgroup house rules, and most importantly Consistency.
Power Level 8-10
Not to blow it out of proportion, but the majority of decks will never need to be this good. Everything below will be an increase of specificity in our deck idea. EDH is a singleton format, so it is uncommon to expect to get the same cards in hand through regular means, which stops most people from brewing this far. From this point on, you're entering competitive territory, which guarantees your wallet is going to take a hit and casual players will frown at you as you demolish them. Builder beware!
Our last two “real” power levels involve deck ideas that include specific cards in the game plan. With one strict winning plan, the rest of the deck can be tuned to support and enable the named cards. Redundancy can be added by using mirroring combo pieces, such as Zealous Conscripts for Restoration Angel in the above example. Consistency is added by using mass card draw or tutors to pick up the needed cards. Game groups that want to ban tutor effects are often the result of a Level 8 deck entering the ring.
The only real difference between decks at Levels 8, 9, and 10 is reliability. At this power level you have access to enough tutors, combo pieces, and (frankly) money to play almost the same game every match. Your friends are starting to hate you and you should probably shelf this deck soon.
“Turn one I will… Turn two I will… etc.”
Mythical and probably impossible, Power Level 10 decks play the exact same game of Magic each match, regardless of luck and opponent intervention. Much like Level 1, these decks aren’t real and exist mostly in the daydreams of brewers. If anyone has any example of a deck like this I would love to hear it.
That is my breakdown of Power Level in Commander. Once you’ve decided on the strength of what you want to build, your next job is to build it to be effective and satisfying! Next time I will cover Format Staples! See you then!