Power balance and the Format

Hi there everyone, Unmistakable back here to share some musings on the EDH format;

One of my favourite things about this format is its modularity. The emphasis, as stated by the rules committee, isn’t completely about efficiency > all – in fact, at a lot of tables it’s frowned upon. As such, it is upon us as the Commander Community to adapt to the table’s level in keeping with the ‘Social Contract’. As stated by the creators of this format, EDH is a social format. As the big man Sheldon himself says, it is summarised by ‘This is how we agree to play EDH’ – and the contract is what separates an EDH table from a table of, say, Standard or Legacy. In legacy, if you sit down playing jank and you’re matched up with somebody playing Miracles, you can try to win – throwing them off their game by playing out-of-meta might be able to score a game or two – but if you lose, there’s no backlash; This is legacy, people want strategic games with a high power level. Sometimes this is frowned upon in EDH – not to say that power is bad, however. My favourite decks run powerhouses like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Survival of the Fittest.. Rather, EDH requires us as players to regulate the level of game we want to play.

Regulation and the Format

Regulation is what gives the format the variety that we have today. The aim isn’t winning, it’s the the playing. You’re not looking for prizes (Unless it’s the sanctioned format at FNM, a huge contradiction if ever I saw one), you’re playing to make friends – If you sit down at a table Contractof Nylea, God of the Hunt and Daxos the Returned, Zur the Enchanter means you’ll most likely win the game, but not make any friends, defeating the purpose of the format. And, in my opinion, that’s just it – EDH is cornerstoned by the fact that it is a FRIENDLY format. The players want sprawling, epic confrontations – and above all, a good laugh. My group has seen it all, from The Game that Played Itself to the Turn 3 game lockout via Back to Basics. These two games were at complete opposite ends of the power spectrum, but they were both good games. This property of the format binds together the idea of the Social contract.

Power Balance

So, where’s my point with this? Well, I’m looking to discuss ‘Power Balance’ as a concept. Too often I see competitive EDH as ‘Against the format’ and resulting in short games; the idea of competitive EDH blurring the line between EDH singleton vintage (I say vintage because at least vintage gets Dig Through Time) is seen as a bad thing. As somebody who has seen both sides of the no man’s land between the two camps, I can say for sure this is false. Some of the longest high powered games I’ve had have spanned hours, 4 equal decks striving for the top spot (the long games as a result of Grand Arbiter Augustin IV, no surprises there). Instead, short games occur when there is a great imbalance of power involved. BalanceFor example, the first player drops a Boros Guildgate and passes.The second guy shocks in a Watery Grave, plays a Sol Ring, and passes. Then the third guy drops Bayou, Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox, and goes infinite on turn 1. The result of this being two (perhaps three, depending on the state of the third guys conscience) players being unsatisfied with their EDH experience, and an intense dislike of the third guy until he plays something else. If that is his only deck (after dropping so much money on it, this may well be the case) then he is out of luck. Hence, power balance. There are different flavours from the EDH ice cream truck, and some just LOVE Spikeberry; I am no exception. I believe our responsibilities as a community involve striking the balance, and tailoring our power levels to the table; from a power-level sideboard to just multiple decks as compensation, there are a myriad of strategies that could satisfy this criteria.

For Example..

Here, Meet Karador. This deck is my baby, creating a budget version of Cobblepott’s Boonweaver Karador list (though the list gets a little less budget every month). I’ve done everything I can to make sure he wins quickly and brutally – moxen, off colour fetches, a hatebear suite – in Magical Christmas Land this deck kills turn 1, before some decks even get an untapped land. I only ever break it out with people I know, because when I’m against Marath, Will of the Wild tokens and Isperia the Inscrutable fliers at a local shop, I would probably lose the good favour of EVERYBODY at the store. The guys at the table, the guys doing tabletop RPGs the other side of the room, the owner would give me the stink eye; EVERYONE. So, you might ask, how do I solve this?

Well, Meet Erebos. Erebos is my design for the commander decks the rules committee intended; no infinite combos, just a handful of splashy effects with ramp and card draw to compliment it. It has its bombs – Sorin Markov and Sheoldred, Whispering One might get funny looks at a casual table, but they’re not as backbreaking as Iona, Shield of Emeria or Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur. On the contrary, this deck looks to win through the trademark epic black win conditions; Big Mana, or die trying. This leads to long games controlling mana production, keeping others off of their win cons and resetting the board when necessary. This deck would be the go-to when I’m unsure what the power level of the table is, as no matter how powerful it is, it will likely fold to a black removal suite. It doesn’t get me in trouble, it allows me to make political alliances, it is a ‘fair’ deck for the format.

These two decks form the opposite ends of what I like to call my ‘Gauntlet’, a spectrum of (currently) six decks that I break in and out of to test the power level of a table, to do my bit togauntlet make the games the satisfying, epic slugfests the community expect them to be. Did they roll Erebos right out the door? How hard? How highly tuned do the other decks look? And I pick and choose my player in this fantastic format of EDH. Whether it be stax, combo, stompy or control, I can provide an impactful and different experience with each deck I play, and can adapt to the fluctuating power levels that result from other people swapping out decks.

To bring this to a close, the EDH community is fantastic. We have our black sheep, but ultimately the amount of creativity shown by the players in this format is unrivalled compared to the wider aspects of Magic. I present the gauntlet idea in order to address power balance and keep us awesome. Some of you might continue to drop Sidisi, Undead Vizier ANT at casual tables, and that’s not my business to judge. But, next time you sit at a table, think of your opponents. If you were them, how would you like to play?

Thats it for me this week guys, feel free to leave feedback as you like (if you like the wordier ones especially) and I’ll catch you next time!


One thought on “Power balance and the Format

  1. I feel this is such a misunderstood aspect of EDH, if 5 people are playing the game then you want 5 people to enjoy the experience. Not just 1.

    I’ve moved from a Cut throat group that accepted T2/3 Kills, MLD etc to a more casual one with far less tuned decks. For me it’s been a challenge to down power my decks, however it’s a fun building challenge. Turning Karador into a Karador Good Stuffs deck and actually having fun playing more relaxed games.

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