I caught the EDH bug about two weeks ago when I got an email announcing that EDH was the new format for the NM Tech Invitational for this semester. A quick trip to the EDH homepage revealed that Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary was off the banned generals list. Knowing the tournament was to be 1v1 matches of 3 games with a 1h20m round duration, I quickly decided to commit to exploiting this explosive general.
Rofellos is a controversial general. Often compared to metalworker, another card with the potential to generate huge sums of mana very early, Rofellos was never banned as a member of your non-general 99, but only as your general. Metalworker, not being legendary, was never a candidate for general-hood, and was banned for general play the same time Rofellos was unbanned. It is not my intention to discuss the highly interesting debate regarding these two cards, but I want to mention from the get-go that EDH has interesting political dynamics, and simply revealing your general to be Rofellos can apparently earn you the scorn of some local playgroups, and you may not even be welcome!
So the first thing that struck me about EDH as I investigated existing Rofellos lists in my attempt to go “Spikes-Gone-Wild,” was that this format has a vibrant community behind it with passionate and deeply held beliefs being debated hotly, along with tons of resources to help newbies and make the format more accessible.
I made a quick draft deck and headed to Denny’s for some testing. These were my first EDH games, and I loved them! Immediately a key dynamic of EDH revealed itself: the tension between the variety inherent to highlander, and the extremely predictable consistency of your general. In EDH you have one card you can likely, if you wish, play on-curve in every single game. But opposite this immutable constant, you have 99 other cards, all of which aside from your basics are unique singletons. So the games end up allowing you to explore the interactions between that particular general, and a wide variety of scenarios presented by the seven random cards you receive from your 99-card pile.
Furthermore, the expansiveness of the format, with a cardpool somewhere between vintage and legacy, allows for all kinds of high-powered shenanigans, balanced largely by the singleton requirement of highlander. There’s a saying in Vintage that goes, “this is Vintage, broken things happen.” I think the same holds true for EDH. Broken things indeed do happen. And with amazing variety!
I kept tweaking my deck, learning a lot from those early games about where I wanted to take my deck. There’s a forum thread here where I detail my deck and card choices, so I won’t re-hash that here. But the process was a wild romp down memory lane for me, employing my knowledge of the game’s past, and expanding my thinking about card interactions. The starting life total of 40 quickly changes your card evaluations, and slows the format down enough that end game scenarios can be rife with Big Effects. I finally came to a decklist I was comfortable on the car ride to Socorro the morning of the tournament.
I plowed through the field and ended up splitting the finals, which was rewarding in its own right, but I saw another aspect of EDH I’d glimpsed on the forums: this isn’t a spike-dominated format. There’s a lot of Johnny’s and Timmy’s playing EDH! And their decks are distinctively quirky, but good! I had dirty dirty combos and a slew of powerful effects, and I was playing perhaps the most controversial general in the format (along with Braids, Arcum, Zur), and yet, while Rofellos is undeniably powerful, generals such as Isamaru, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, and Vorosh, all seemed to have game. None were auto-wins for me unless I drew into some ridiculous enabler of Rofellos. Only those few “God Draw” games were pushovers. This suggests further to me that this format is wide open to rogue innovation and Johnny-like attachment to “my favorite legend,” etc. This openness to multiple “psychological profiles,” as Mark Rosewater likes to call Spike, Johnny, and Timmy, is confirmed by the forum activity. If Spike dominated the format, you’d expect to see Zur, Rofellos, Arcum, and Braids threads with tons of posts, and heavy discussion… but you don’t, really. If anything, you see people complaining that these generals infected their playgroups in deleterious ways, and they were seeking help that didn’t involve local banning. By far the most forum activity seems to be related to people trying quirky and atypical generals and seeking help in finding appropriate cards.
And this brings me to my last point… EDH seems to be a “people’s format.” This is not a sanctioned format, and it was invented by players. Local groups are encouraged to simply ban cards that detract from that group’s fun, spawning local metagames and subcultures. The game is intended primarily for group play, which brings the many interesting diplomatic interactions and dynamics to the game, and furthers the atypical card choices. A lot of EDH staples are weird junk rares that cost you $0.30 to acquire, and go on to be among the best cards in your deck.
So, while many of these observations are random, and there’s not a lot of cohesion to this article… no thesis I’m trying to defend or advocate, I hope you have a chance to get bitten by this bug as I was. It’s a good format for renewing your enthusiasm for the game we love if you’re tired of endlessly testing the Fae matchup, or what have you. I expect EDH to be a standby format for me for the forseeable future. I’m stoked to the point that I felt compelled to write. Does anyone out there have anything else to add about this delightful format?