June 20, 2014

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The Spirit Of EDH by Pierre Dupont

In my many forays across the untamed wilds of the Internet commenting and reading about EDH, the most striking divide so far has been the split between casual and competitive players. The first side has an almost zealous attachment to "The Spirit of EDH" , but what exactly is this spirit? Let's examine things a bit further on that topic.

The Spirit of EDH:

One of the most frustrating items being brought forth whenever competitive players discuss their EDH metas is that the other side constantly brings up the nebulous "Spirit of EDH" as if that were the guideline. A perusal of the front page of mtgcommander.net, however, shows us deck construction, rules and under Philosophy, the following statement:

"Commander is designed to promote social games of Magic"

It is played in a variety of ways, depending on player preference, but a global vision ties together the global community to help them enjoy a different kind of magic. This vision is predicated on a social contract: a gentleman's agreement which goes beyond these rules to include a degree of interactivity between players.
Players should aim to interact both during the game and before it begins, discussing with other players what they expect/want from the game.

"House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they create more fun within the community."

Right. So the gist is that each group needs to decide what works for them and to try to make the game have some back and forth. This has been the case in nearly all games I've played in Ottawa since I have started the format. Even the competitive players (and they are many) rarely just vomit out a combo win before turn three to four. You have a chance to deal with their threat or combo as it comes down. Of course, there are always corner cases like Ad Nauseam and Shane Shuster's Memnarch deck, but even those can be somewhat disrupted.

Now, for a variety of reasons the Ottawa EDH scene is fairly competitive. Whether it's people migrating from Legacy or Vintage that want to use all their "brokens" and dual lands, or just others (such as myself) that fine-tune their decks each week to shore up matchups or just to close gaps, for whatever reason Ottawa has a thriving EDH tournament scene, with events in multiple stores drawing anywhere from 8-32 people. On top of that, we all have a variety of more casual decks to field if newer players enter our groups. These players are never pushed aside and help (including cards but also deckbuilding advice) is always provided to anyone that asks.

Now, the thorny issue that arises is this: how can one pinpoint the Spirit of EDH when players, groups and even card pools wildly diverge? The starting point is, of course, the banned list. That gives us a pretty good idea of what the Rules Committee (RC) doesn't want played. Super fast mana like the moxen, expensive cards like Library of Alexandria and other problem cards like Protean Hulk, Recurring Nightmare, Griselbrand and Yawgmoth's Bargain are all evident in their ability to warp games quickly and repetitively, ending the game more abruptly than a group might like. Of course, the same can be said for Tooth and Nail and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, among other issues. So what's wrong and right when it comes to the format? Let's find out...

"Doing it wrong never felt so good."

If we apply a somewhat reductionist approach to EDH, it's a game. A game has a winner or loser, and some games allow for draws as well, Magic being one such game. If you're going to win you'll want to do it efficiently. If you're going to do it efficiently you'll need a commander that suits your needs. I personally just love smashing face with a side order of griefing, so Krenko, Mob Boss, Thrun, The Last Troll, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Turbo-fog Edric, Spymaster of Trest and Mogis, God of Slaughter are what I'm bringing to the table. I could make my Thalia deck Soldier or Human themed, but that would make it less of a threat. So in come staples like Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Sensei's Divining Top and so on. Eventually the deck hits a nice curve when you're winning on turn four to six pretty consistently. Consistency is good as it stems from good deck-building and rewards you with wins. Wins mean store credit and respect from your peers. The former means better decks and the latter means people ask you questions about the format. And no, Fungusaur shouldn't be in your Ghave deck. Ever.

So what's "wrong" with any of this? Well, here's where our schools of thought diverge. The RC wants us to be playing "battlecruiser magic" , where we throw large bombs out at later stages of the game. A portion of us here in Ottawa want to be playing drone magic or stealth bomber magic, where a target is acquired and analyzed then the proper tools are used to mercilessly obliterate said target, before moving to the next target.
Here's the bottom line: by playing with suboptimal cards and throttling your deck's ability, you're hurting yourself.
A big part of Magic is improving as a player. I'm not gonna point fingers or name names or be that guy, but I know a dude that showed up to a Magic tournament at Carleton with a deck full of bats, rats, terrors and a Lord of the Pit. Dude got told by Ms. Serra Angelou and her friend Winter Orbius. Yeah, bad times. Thankfully he had friends and became a bad Commander player instead of a bad Extended and Standard player.

The long and short of it? For a game to grow it needs competition and it needs opponents. No one says you can't have your funky Tetsuo Umezawa deck but it's good to have a higher level deck that can compete and take on the best your metagame has to offer. Don't hold back because of some abstract or arbitrary moral or gaming code. Your opponent wants to win, you want to win. So win.

Unless you're Dan Lanthier. Stop being a steamroller for once? Just once? Geez.

In closing, here's some Issac Hayes. Just substitute "loving you" with "my EDH" and you'll get the idea.

If Loving You is Wrong, I Don't Wanna Be Right

EDH In The Ottawa-area this week:

Gamebreakers 780 Baseline Road, 613-228-9554. 1 v 1 Thursday, 19 June $5 entry, 6:00 p.m. Start time.

Wizard's Tower 3350 Fallowfield Road, 613-843-0705 1 v 1 Saturday, 21 June $5 entry, 4:00 p.m. start time.

Carta Magica 1179 St. Laurent Blvd. 613-746-9099 2HG Saturday, 21 June $5 entry, 7:30 start time.