Commander, formally known as Elder Dragon Highlander, is known by many as one of the most casual formats. It allows immense freedom in deck building and card selection, and boasts the ability of hosting large-scale multiplayer games. It’s the perfect opportunity for many to sit down and just take a break from the stresses of day-to-day activities. In fact, we, too, immensely enjoy playing this casual format, and many of our best (and worse) experiences playing Magic have come from EDH. However, there is a community on the horizon that has been gaining traction for quite some time, slowly cultivating a different breed of commander: cEDH, or competitive EDH. Competitive Commander can be played in many ways, the most prominent being French EDH and normal multiplayer with very powerful, developed decks. French EDH is in some ways almost a completely different format, being solely 1v1 and having an extensively altered banned list to account for this, while multiplayer cEDH is very similar to regular Commander.
If you are not a cEDH player, you might ask, Why in the world would anyone want to play this format competitively? There are stories – someone sits down with their friends, hoping to play a nice, fun game, and then wham – somebody brings a Derevi Stax deck to the table. By turn four, everyone is moaning and groaning about another Winter Orb effect. Or someone else brings an insanely powerful combo deck that steals the game away so quickly that nobody has time to react. The choice of bringing these decks to the non-competitive table completely ruins the experience for everyone. People generally get a bad taste in their mouth when they think of cEDH. So today, we will be discussing the merits of cEDH vs. Casual Commander. We will mostly be focusing on cEDH in terms of multiplayer games, due to the vast difference between French EDH and the latter.
To quote one of the creators of Commander:
EDH was originally a casual format, more social than anything. I’ve been lucky to have a good group of friends for a long time now so it is just another thing for us to do while we hang out. However if someone else wants to take to a competitive level I don’t mind – as long as everyone at the table is ready for it. (Reddit)
The format was, indeed, originally created to be casual, and the very nature of the gameplay makes it perfectly acceptable for such a notion. In fact, we would go as far to say that Commander is the format most suited for casual players; however, that doesn’t mean competitive play styles can’t or shouldn’t be prevalent, as well.
You hear people talk about it all the time – Commander is supposed to be casual only, how can you ruin such a fun format? But in truth, it’s all based off of relative power levels and what your play group wants to do. EDH’s casual nature leaves it open to all sorts of play styles. The entire format is a blank slate, open to many different interpretations of how it “should” or “could” be played. Doesn’t it seem like it truly shouldn’t matter whether a play group wants to play EDH competitively or not? After all, it’s not some infectious disease that will corrupt every casual play group in existence – it’s just a different way to play.
So why is there a discussion in the first place?
In our experience, the problem occurs when there are players at the same table playing vastly different tiered decks. The issue isn’t so much that there are two ways to play, but rather that when the two ways combine, games become incredibly arduous. The competitive player feels like their need of a fast-paced, every-play-matters game is not being met; the casual player feels like they are being left in the dust. Everyone becomes frustrated, and the general feeling that it’s bad to play powerful decks in EDH is felt by all – not to mention that getting hosed by an incredibly powerful, meticulously planned deck is no fun at all.
Take my play group, for example; when we first began EDH, we had no idea that there was an entire community around Competitive. Our mindsets were essentially, “EDH is meant to be played for fun. It’s casual and should stay that way.” Over time, however, it became evident that this was not the case. As our decks evolved and became even more powerful, some of us passed the threshold of what you would call a casual deck, creating infinite combos that happened consistently on early turns and using oppressive strategies. Realizing this, I began researching making a new deck that could keep up with them. We were plunged into the world of cEDH and found a whole new style of play. It was completely, entirely refreshing to find that there were so many different ways to play such an amazing format. So I approached my group about the merits of jumping into cEDH, noting the fact that we were basically playing it already. I was quickly shot down and told, “No, that’s kind of silly. Why in the world would you play EDH competitively?” The very decks we had already played were at the power level of top tier decks.
The point we’re trying to make is that Competitive EDH has a terrible connotation to many in our community, mostly because of players playing in groups that have skewed power levels of decks. While this is definitely not a play style for everyone, it is by no means a format-ruining idea. Under the right play group, it can make EDH even more fun and enjoyable to play. While I do really enjoy Casual Commander, it can be quite fun to pick up the old Derevi Stax deck and play against a whole bunch of combo players or be swept away by a Narset Voltron control deck. Plus, it opens up the format to a vast network of players who hadn’t previously played, and in some cases, it even allows for new and interesting strategies to be created or further developed.
A few things everyone should keep in mind while sitting down to play EDH or selecting a deck choice are: do I want to play competitively or not? What are the decks my play group will use? Would they enjoy playing a faster-paced, high-stakes game, or would they rather play in a casual, laid-back manner? This way, nobody plays an over-powered, oppressive deck that ruins the game for everyone else, and you don’t end up playing a deck that is too weak to keep up with a competitive play group, either. Of course, if your play group has chosen to play in a way you don’t find particularly fun (i.e. they are either too competitive or not competitive enough), instead of complaining about it or playing your deck anyway, talk to them and explain why you don’t find it particularly fun. They will likely be more than willing to work something out. We play this game to have fun, after all.
Everyone has a different play style.
A lot of people argue that either casual or competitive are not fun. But in all honesty, there are so many different kinds of people and personalities that play Magic that different players find fun in many different things. Some people find it a complete bore to sit down with low-powered decks and just casually play; they enjoy the competitiveness of the game and seek to refine and create a deck that can efficiently and precisely attack from various angles to steal games. On the other hand, some players find that very same play style stressful and unenjoyable; they would rather sit down with their friends at home or even at a restaurant and play nicely-paced, more forgiving games, focusing more on the social aspect and crazy deck-building of EDH rather than playing seriously. Everyone likes to play in different ways, and it’s important to figure out the way you personally enjoy playing and try and find a place that suits you. Many play groups even meet in the middle: one night, they opt to play super competitively; the next, they dial it down a bit and play a more relaxing, casual game after a long day. This way, everyone from all walks of play styles are satisfied.
Competitive playing is definitely not for everyone, and both Casual and the latter have merits. EDH is a format to be left open to interpretation and played how you want to play it. There is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” way to play; just have fun, enjoy the adventure of building and piloting a deck, and be conscious of whether your deck choice is too powerful for your play group or not (which would make things unpleasant for everyone). Above all else, don’t forget to have a good time playing Magic.
We hope this article was helpful to you in some way! Feel free to leave a note below with any questions, comments, or concerns.
Happy EDH playing, everyone!
P.S. If you want to get started in Commander, the new 2016 Commander sealed decks are a pretty good place to start.