Long-Term Plans – Building to Your Playgroup

Hey everyone!  Sorry for the hiatus. I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays.  I have been debating a lot of the future of this column and I’m writing a mini-article to bring the series up in the new year.

What’s changing, you ask?  I will be making the articles more poll-driven, with multiple per article to help shape the deck, as well as including some caveats for the inclusion of some cards in certain playgroups.   The goal is to have a deck built mostly by the community and I want to involve everyone as much as possible in the process!

How Competitive is Your Playgroup?

Today, I want to discuss the different ways to approach Commander from a playgroup perspective.  A lot of people have different views on how Commander should be played (French rules, don’t be a dick, etc.), but it’s important to match your deck’s competitiveness with those of the people you play with.  A lot of people play Commander as a more casual format for gunslinging fatties and generally just having a good, stress-free time.  Other people are coming just to win.  They are the kinds of guys that will play [card]Azusa, Lost but Seeking[/card] with [card]Crucible of Worlds[/card] and [card]Strip Mine[/card]. Some groups have a bunch of people playing Commander pre-cons straight out of the box.  You need to find the sweet spot to maximize the enjoyment of everyone at the table, because in the end, you can’t play Commander with a bunch of people that don’t have fun.

Figuring out how competitive your playgroup is is the key to having fun playing Commander.  There are a number of things you should consider when determining how people want to play the game.  The most obvious is the choice of Commander. Some Commanders are generally just much more abusive than others and consequently lead to much more competitive decks.  [card]Azusa, Lost but Seeking[/card], [card]Sharuum the Hegemon[/card], and [card]Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind[/card] are some of the more competitive Commanders.

Another thing to consider is what kind of spells they are playing.  Are the blue decks loaded with counterspells?  Is anyone playing Eldrazi? How synergistic are the spells that they are playing with their general?  Is the Sharuum player playing a [card]Mindslaver[/card]?

The last thing I look for is how much mana denial and acceleration they are playing.  Generally speaking, most players would rather play more acceleration and not much mana denial.  Only the highest tier of competitive players will end up playing cards like [card]Armageddon[/card] or recurring [card]Wasteland[/card]s and [card]Strip Mine[/card]s, and then you should be ready to fight to keep your mana.

I generally rate decks on a scale of 1 to 5 to determine how I should approach playing with that group.

1.  Precons:  They may not be homemade, but the power level of most of the cards is pretty low and the decks are pretty fair. Due to the fact that the decklists are readily available and you may know most of the cards in them, I think they are the lowest power level on the totem pole.

2. Rough Home Brews:  These are usually first-iteration decks that probably don’t have a mana curve and have a lot of pretty bad niche cards that haven’t been cut yet.  Many cards may be acting as filler while more expensive and powerful cards are purchased.

3. More Refined Brews:  These decks are usually third- or fourth-iteration decks that have fewer useless cards and better mana curves.  Most of the power cards are included unless they are very niche. These decks are a bit more competitive.

4. Final Version:  These decks are the last iteration of building and are when people usually start foiling them out.  They’ve committed to the card choices and have the most powerful versions of all spells to win.

5. Ultra Competitive: These decks are piloted in tournaments and personally I think ruin all the fun of Commander.  The only difference between Final Versions and Ultra Competitive is that Ultra Competitive decks include large amounts of mana denial.  I am a supporter of players being able to cast spells and having an interactive game.  Losing a game to a well-timed mana-denial spell is just the worst.

Matching your deck’s amount of “trying” is really important to get the most enjoyment out of playing Commander. Making sure you aren’t causing anyone to not have fun is imperative.

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About the Author
@Phrost_     -     Email     -     Articles Jim is a software developer and an avid blue planeswalker. He spellslings in Jacksonville, Florida, and you can feel free to contact him on Twitter at @phrost_.

6 comments on Long-Term Plans – Building to Your Playgroup

  1. Martin Coppersmith says:

    my vote for rough brews has a reason for it that I feel justifies giving it extra weight:


    Your description for rank 3 is “”Most of the power cards are included unless they are very niche.””

    So we should assume that certain so-called must run universal usability cards are included.

    Volrath’s stronghold costs 10 bucks. Every EDH deck running black mana and more than 5 creatures should have one. This is one example of dozens for each color.

    100 cards where 25+ are $7+ and another 10+ are $12+ is absolutley where we will end up each time you write an article on true Final brews.

    building a group requires new players . new players who you ahve to convince to spend $$$

    If you write a few articles targeting the rank 2.5 zone where cards are not just ‘filler’ but a functional identical card that might just cost more mana or require a sacrifice to use (than the ideal card) then it would be easier to include a discussion of which…. say… 12 cards to save up $ for to upgrade to a full rank 3.

    And arguing about which upgrade(s) to prioritize could be fuel for readers to yell at eachother and call one another names. In a friendly fashion of course

    1. Jim Casale says:

      There will be a budget version of one of the decks we’re building that will aim to include mostly cards that cost less than $5 other than the Commander itself. I understand your concern for the cost of EDH decks but the investment is often one of the best you can make because EDH is an eternal format. Although you may end up spending a few hundred dollars on the deck, it will always be good and it will never rotate, unlike standard.

      Plus if you’re reading articles on this site you should be able to afford an EDH deck in no time!

      1. Martin Coppersmith says:

        If we presume EDH = Casual then there are other casual build-formats available. The driving social forces towards an EDH community are regularly presented in person and on the internet as:

        Legacy = $$ and hyper competetition
        Modern = $ requires constant attention to keep up with
        Standard = competetive and ‘forces’ you to change your deck all the time

        This leads people to play non-tourney formats where they can just play whatever they have lying around.

        The problem is that people who ran the treadmill of standard have tier 1 decks that rotated and want to play them “casually”. All players who dodged Legacy/Modern/Standard for various reasons will enocunter these decks/people and get obliterated. That ‘retired’ tier 1 deck was the peak of the the arms-race of it’s heyday. And an AK-47 or lay rocket still owns face all over a pocket knife.

        EDH originated as a build style designed to force the ‘retired tier 1 deck’ owner onto a comparitively level playing field with all the other non-tourney-players. As a community sustained format it has operated as something of a gentleman’s agreement, allowing people to play cards and interactions they enjoy without always resulting in a blowout in favor of either the player with deep card pools or deep pockets.

        But as the player base grows cards that saw print runs in the early years become rapidly more scarce. It is undeniable that as a mana source Volrath’s Stronghold is drasticly more functional than Skeleton Shard. Versatility and pure game impact define the ‘must have’ cards of any format. They are must have because they allow you greater chances of winning. ANY GAME WITH WINNERS AND LOSERS IS LESS FUN IF YOU LOSE THE MAJORITY OF THE TIME. I capslocked that because it is a psychological fact and I refuse to deal with anyone who trys to argue the point.

        Even your terminology of ‘rough home brew’ and of ‘placeholder cards’ proves this point. the community has been at work ‘solving’ the format and a concensus has been built as to which cards ‘should’ be run.

        The problem here is that because of the EDH Council and the internet community, the DEFAULT EDH environment is gradually becoming more and more akin to legacy. EDH as a format no longer guarantees a relative even playing field for all entrants. Pay to play or you are simply fodder, filling a chair for the player with the $ or card pool to devour.

        And then everybody says it’s your fault you lost. Because you have crappy cards. If you just showed some dedication you could have the tools to win too. Besides you should enjoy the game even if you lose. Without formal tourneys it isn’t like this is a competition. You’re just sitting at a table with 3-5 other people and deciding who’s going to WIN.

        None of us are helping build the community when we tell people how reasonable it is to dump 200 dollars or more into a single pile of cardstock. When we tell them the problem is them as an individual and not with the format. If we truly want to have an agreement between gentlemen then we can no longer blindy tout EDH as a defacto solution to balancing casual play for all comers. The structure needs to become more complex. We all play a game with tens of thousands if nterchangeable parts and have the internet to communicate. It is not beyond us – unless we each continue to preach the dogma of the initiated.

  2. I am a huge fan of your rank 4 level. I end up hating games where everyone durdles around for hours without winning. I do however personally like the players on levels 1-3. I carry an extra deck that is more in the 2 range for those games. How do you build something interactive and fun to play that you can use with ranks 1-4? Or is the answer just to have different decks for different groups?

    1. Jim Casale says:

      I have 3 different EDH decks that have a certain level of refinement and ability to fight certain types of decks. My most powerful and most fair deck is Primespeaker Zegana. It’s abundance of early drops and powerful but fair top end allows it to compete with most strategies. The deck’s ability to deal with all types of permanents and have counterspell backup allows it to go toe to toe with almost any deck. I also have Melek, Izzet Paragon, and Wrexial, the Risen Deep but those decks generally don’t have nearly as good of a matchup as Primespeaker in all of the same situations. Wrexial is the slowest and newest of my decks and doesn’t quiet pack the punch it needs to win games. It probably can’t lose to rank 1 decks but it’s record isn’t flattering. Melek is a combo deck that doesn’t generally kill people insanely fast but will often take one very long turn to kill everyone (which I find fun, but not everyone does so I dont’ play it often).

    2. Martin Coppersmith says:

      I’ve seen people play their top end decks and plan ahead what combos to avoid or what cards to just not cast. A self imposed handicapping. But in even the best of circumstance, that can come across as arrogant or condescending. The worst is when the self-handicapper loses and then salves their pride by putting the handicap on display.

      You will need multiple decks if you want to be accomodating to multiple resource/skill levels.

      this modifies:
      because EDH is [open to all skill and income levels as] an eternal format. Although you may end up spending a few hundred dollars on [each of ] the deck[s], it will always be good [for the effectivness/competitive tier it is designed for] and it will never rotate, [so be sure to make 2-4 decks or build a single one with 50 cards to sideboard it into different tiered versions]

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