The Top 8 Ways to Win More at Competitive EDH

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Remember how I mentioned having fun and winning not mattering that much? All complete lies. Fabrications. These are things you say to yourself when you lose to ease the pain. No, in Commander, AKA cEDH, it's all about the W.

Of course, at a table, there are three other players who are also looking for that win. So how do you ensure victory? Well, there are a few tried-and-true tricks to winning games in cEDH, and today we'll review some of the best!

#1: Don't Look Like a Threat

Don't let your opponents know that you are a threat and have a serious deck. Never show other players what you are working with until it's too late. This is actually the primary reason so many people say their deck is a "seven" when it's actually their best competitive deck. It's all a mind game, really. Keep your strategies hidden.

At one event I can remember, the players at the table talked about the cEDH meta. While I did not necessarily believe them, they claimed to not run Thassa's Oracle. Turns out one of their win conditions was Underworld Breach, and no, they did not run Thoracle. At the next event, I knew I'd have to stop a storm/graveyard deck and did not need to tutor for answers versus Thoracle. If they were trying to "next level" me they failed, because I had the right answers during that game.

Furthermore, do not make your move until it is a neck-breaking finisher. Unless you are in top-deck mode or 1v1, you never want to show that the shields are down. In cEDH, if three players are tapped out, it's likely one player is about to win. Merely leaving up blue mana can be enough to buy yourself one turn.

#2: Ixnay on Six

You need both answers and threats lined up for turns three, four, and, five. Be extremely careful with how many "uncastable" cards you put into your cEDH decks. Keep in mind more one- and two-drops means you will be able to play two cards on the early turns of the game, which are the most important. Five- and six-drops may never happen. There are some notable exceptions, like decks playing Rograkh, Son of Rogahh with Culling the Weak, but overall, six-mana cards are more often liabilities than assets. Not every five-drop is game winning, like a resolved Ad Nauseam; be critical!

Aggressively cut cards that cost six or more. Even in decks that have ways to make big mana, the game might be over before you get your turn. Spending two turns ramping, but being tapped out, can cost you wins. It's definitely a mistake to have too many win conditions and too many value cards. You want answers, tutors, threats, and payoffs, in that order.

#3: Prepare to Answer

Even more important is having one- and two-mana answers available every single turn for the first few turns of the game.

The most common mistake I've seen in competitive builds is not a lack of answers per se, but an overemphasis on threats and win conditions. A hand with three answers, one tutor, and one threat is way better than a hand with one answer, two tutors, and two threats. In many situations, not having the answer right now can mean the game is over. There are many cards that are undervalued as answers for competitive games. Keep in mind that most cards boil down to effectively being Time Walk, and the best decks play lots of cards like that.

#4: The Four Cards of cEDH

While it's fairly commonplace to say "I effectively Time Walked them," what about Aven Fogbringer or Shadow of Doubt? These cards also describe the most common effects of the format. Paying one mana to stop combat, or two mana to stop a play and also draw a card, are scenarios you want to replicate over and over again. Chains of Vapor and Rapid Hybridization are effectively the same card, especially under the locus of a game being just a few turns long. But they are also very similar to Aven Fogbringer in that case. Cards that effectively read "pay one mana and the game doesn't end" are what many early turns boil down into.

After adding cheap interaction, it's time to add more The Cheese Stands Alone, AKA win conditions. Of course cards like Thassa's Oracle and Demonic Consultation are extremely attractive. There's nothing wrong with playing efficient win-cons but keep in mind that strong metas will focus on countering the most recognized cheeses. Looking at EDREC can give you some "wisdom of the crowd" on both what is good to play and what is overplayed and needs to be countered, but don't build for a meta that does not exist! It's better to throw together anything, learn your metagame with that, and then adapt to attack what you see.

#5: Recognize Standout Cards

Check your EDREC Top 100 lists for these cards. Did you find them yet? Of course not! While I believe Muddle the Mixture and Angel's Grace have seen top 100 before, most of these other cards will likely never make the list.

Of course, this is all meta-dependent. Most of these cards are circumstantially powerful. But here's the thing: it is up to YOU to figure out if they are meta-breakers or not. EDREC cannot tell you if there are a lot of Isolate and Arclight Phoenix targets in your pods. In mine, Angel's Grace is sometimes an uncounterable win condition for one white mana when opponents "go off" and draw their entire decks but cannot beat split second.

Also, Muddle the Mixture is probably the best card in a lot of decks. It's close enough to Counterspell and tutors for 44 of the top 100 cards, including Demonic Tutor if you need even more options. Always be aware of trends within your local meta, which drastically alter what cards are broken versus merely good. Many of these cards are effectively one mana, stop someone from winning, and draw a card. That's crazy levels of power when it happens!

#6: Zig When They Zag

Netdecks can make Top 8, but rogue decks win tournaments. There's always so much resistance to change and innovation that most players fall back on the echo chamber of what was previously good is still good. Don't fall into that trap! Be ready to take some risks and play a few potentially questionable cards based on the local meta. In a statistically perfect world, you only win 25% of your game on average. That means your losing percentage is 75% at the deck shuffling screen. Do not be afraid of taking some risks!

#7: Practice, Practice, Practice

Once upon a time, a player said, "Why not tap all my lands during main phase?" even though they could have done their play on another player's turn. Well, that other player cast Chain Stasis. Practicing creates solid play habits.

Additionally, practice allows you to be familiar with tricky interaction that might be tough to decipher in the middle of a close game. It's better that you are defaulting to "autopilot" and "muscle memory" and have experienced many different game states, so you are not learning as you go during an event. Conversely, if you have an opportunity to introduce some difficult-to-navigate cards into a pod that has never seen them, you can capitalize on their lack of familiarity.

#8: Don't Hate the Meta, Hate the Player

Diplomacy is a fickle beast in competitive. If you are known to be a good player or are favored to win, you will oftentimes have an uphill battle on your hands. The entire table might be against you from the very beginning. There are ways around this common issue, too.

Rather than building a somewhat balanced deck with both threats and answers, you might pile into either a degenerate deck or a stax monstrosity. If you know it will be three-on-one with balanced decks, try to play faster; if it's a more controlling meta, you can turn to a prison strategy, which inherently stops everyone. If that fails, try and ally with the next weakest player, because they may also be behind.

In any case, you need to utilize the habits and attitudes of the other players to your advantage. Aclazotz, Deepest Betrayal // Aclazotz, Deepest Betrayal was a commonly played card because it gave great card advantage for only one mana, and you knew you were being attacked anyways. Alternatively, you can let the table know you've given up on winning but are going to ensure that one player in particular is not going to win. That can sometimes remove pressure from yourself and give you a chance to make a comeback while the second and third player strengthen their own game. Game moves at the expense of the player in first place are the easiest to rally behind.

Winning Isn't Everything... Until It Is

A brilliant philosopher once said, "If you're not first, you're last!" In winner-takes-all events, this is very true. You can improve your chances of winning significantly with effort and practice.

A final point should be made regarding time management. There is only so much time. Playtesting is vastly more important than anything else. Seeing interactions in real time beats any amount of simulated practice and speculative analysis.

Furthermore, if you've been curious about playing competitively but are waiting on something, like acquiring cards for example, don't wait! Play with what you have, now! If The Chain Veil Teferi, Temporal Archmage can win a Black Lotus, anything can happen.

Have you practiced for a competitive event recently? What was your most important realization? Did you go with or against the local meta? Let me know in the comments!

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Joe Mauri

Joe has been an avid MTG player and collector since the summer of 1994 when he started his collection with a booster box of Revised. Millions of cards later he still enjoys tapping lands and slinging spells at the kitchen table, LGS, or digital Arena. Commander followed by Draft are his favorite formats, but, he absolutely loves tournaments with unique build restrictions and alternate rules. A lover of all things feline, he currently resides with no less than five majestic creatures who are never allowed anywhere near his cards. When not Gathering the Magic, Joe loves streaming a variety of games on Twitch( both card and other.

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