Insider: Evaluating EDH Cards

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Welcome back readers and speculators! Today's article is on a subject near and dear to me. As a diehard EDH (or Commander) enthusiast, the second thing (after Legacy playability) that pops into my head when skimming over spoilers is "does this card belong in EDH?"

I often here the competitive Standard players discussing cards and just assuming any card with a high converted mana cost is clearly an "EDH" card. Every time I hear this, I know...this person is not an EDH player.

While we are usually not the cutthroat players who feel that winning is the reason to play the game, we casuals love a nice long game of back and forth, hay-makers thrown and bombs defused. The best game doesn't require me standing triumphant on top of my vanquished foes, it involves one where everyone had a good time and nobody left sulking (sure these games happen, but they usually involve mana screw/flood).

That being the case there are certain factors that are good indicators of EDH playability. So here's a nice list of said factors, along with the reasons behind them.

1) Does this card tutor?

Tutors are rampant in EDH. Whether they get lands or spells, it's almost impossible to play a game in which someone doesn't tutor something up. The reason is simple; players build their decks knowing that with only one legal copy of a card (other than basic lands) they either need to play lots of similar cards or have ways to find the specific card they need.

The more powerful EDH decks tend to do both, which is why tutors tend to be the backbone of a lot of EDH decks, especially combo-oriented ones. That being said, just because a card can tutor something up doesn't guarantee it has a home in EDH (see Gamble or Signal the Clans)...yet.

However, it does usually mean there is a higher probability that this card will make it into EDH. After all, there's a reason that Worldly Tutor is worth five bucks...

...and Sylvan Tutor is worth 21 (hint--it's not Legacy).

2) Does this card provide card advantage?

This one is huge because EDH decks vary so greatly and because it's a multiplayer format, card advantage is critical. It's difficult to win one-for-oneing multiple players. Eventually you run out of answers.

I break card advantage in EDH into a few categories:

a) Wrath effects - named for good ol' Wrath of God, these effects destroy multiple permanents in one fell swoop. They allow you to trade one card for one card (and usually many more) from each opponent. They are usually in white or black (though red has mass damage spells which often act the same way).

b) Card Draw - the most obvious form of card advantage is the one that lets you draw more cards than your opponents. These are your Blue Sun's Zeniths, Consecrated Sphinxs, or any other spell that allows you to draw extra cards while your opponent isn't. This can also be tacked onto a creature (for example Azumi, Lady of Scrolls or Archivist) or in the form of an enchantment (á là Phyrexian Arena)

c) "187" Creatures - or creatures with an enters the battlefield ability (187 was originally used to describe Nekrataal and is the police code for homicide...that's your fun fact of the day). These creatures give you a "spell" that leaves behind a creature and allow for abuse when they re-enter the battlefield (via blink, reanimation, bounce, etc).

d) Recursion abilities - These are abilities slapped onto creatures, enchantments, artifacts that allow you to reuse stuff you already have, whether they are reanimation (Kardor, Ghost Chieften), flashback (Snapcaster Mage), rebound (Cast Through Time), or something else. These abilities allow you to use your graveyard as a resource, which has shown in multiple formats to be a solid strategy.

e) Scalability - These cards are ones that scale with the number of players. The primordial cycle from Gatecrash is a prime example. They are barely okay at their existing mana cost in a one-vs-one game, but the fact that they scale with the number of players means that big 5-8 player games they can be absolutely devastating.

The recently banned Sylvan Primordial is a prime example. If it destroyed one permanent it would be just another Woodfall Primus, but the fact that it can destroy lots of permanents and fetch multiple lands made the caster just way ahead of everyone else. The fact that it was slapped on as an ETB trigger meant blinking/bouncing/recurring them was just that much more ridiculous.

f) Planeswalkers - These guys are their own form of card advantage. As long as they are alive they allow the owner to activate one of several spell-like abilities for no mana. Most planeswalkers can find a home in EDH due to this fact. It helps that because of EDH's higher average converted mana costs, the "overcosted" Standard planeswalkers tend to be the preferred ones in EDH.

g) Extra Turns - While not as obvious at first, extra turn spells are often favored by combo players, much to the disdain of many of us casual players. They not only replace themselves, but give the caster the rest of the turn to play another land, attack, untap, etc. The decks that play these effects tend to play multiples (it's rarely just in there), so any new cards that provide extra turns (and are blue) are likely to find a home in these combo-style EDH decks.

3) Does this card win the game?

I actually don't mean can this win the game, but I'm referring to cards that specifically have "win the game" clauses, such as Felidar Sovereign, Epic Struggle, Helix Pinnacle, etc. The abnormal requirement on these cards can more easily be obtained in a slower format and in decks built with them in mind. They are rarely the actual focus on the deck though tend to have synergy with the deck's other cards (Felidar Sovereign for example is played in a lot of mono-white life gain decks).

4) Does this card form an infinite combo with another card?

While this factor may or may not prove a card's viability for Legacy or Modern as well, there are many competitive EDH players and these guys love their infinite combos. Though the more cards required the less likely the card is to see play, hence why two-card combos are far more likely to show up. When you have a 100 card deck and only one of each card the difficulty to assemble more complex combos scales exponentially.

So hopefully you can use these factors when speculating on potential EDH cards in the future as opposed to defaulting to "high converted mana cost" or "big creature". Just because a card doesn't look to have any hope in Standard or other eternal formats doesn't make it an EDH card.

5 thoughts on “Insider: Evaluating EDH Cards

  1. Actually all 3 creatures in Visions that introduced comes into play abilities to the Magic world could make a creature disappear (Man-o’-War, Nekrataal & Uktabi Orangutan).

    I think you may also want to consider ramp, any Legend and perhaps a few other categories. I agree with those you have described though. EDH is much more than high casting costs and big creatures, in fact, I personally have a tendency towards cheaper cards compared to most EDH players, relying on synergy to carry my strategy.

    1. I actually put “ramp” under tutors, but I did neglect artifact “ramp” (your darksteel ingots, sol rings, etc) which should also be considered.

  2. The color pie also has a role in this. If the commander you play is mono color, obviously you will have to find cards to fill the roles you listed even if they are not as good as the alternatives of other colors. This also has an effect on the value of colorless card like All is Dust or Oblivion Stone. I mostly play mono black or grixis and enchantment removal is quite scarce. Still using black as an example, I sometimes play Withering Boon or Gate to Phyrexia just to deal with specific cards. These cards are very narrow for general magic but in the context of EDH they are perfect fillers for color pie weaknesses.

  3. I find it so odd that EDH as a format has not been as harsh with certain card types as I would like.

    Its seems a bit out of wack to ban cards like :


    ◾Kokusho, the Evening Star (as a commander)

    ◾Gifts Ungiven

    But keep

    ◾Magister Sphinx

    ◾Repay in Kind

    ◾Sorin Markov

    People say land destruction is cruel, but that usually requires some grand build up of

    loyalty counters, mana or combo cards.

    I cant tell you how often on turn 8, there is board build up on all sides of a 4v4 and one guy plays Magister Sphinx, flickers it and kills the table with one guy each of us cant block.

    Yet the format seems only concerned with Sway the Stars and Sylvan Primordial…

    The only argument to ban cards that makes sense to me, but isn’t enough in my opinion is when a card becomes such a staple that broken enough to be in every EDH deck and of set the balance of the format.

    Too broken is not a valid argument when there are so many more– much more broken cards left legal.

    Not much a fan of infinite combos either for a predominately casual format.

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