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MTG Commander: There Can Only Be One! – An EDH Guide

6 Minute Read
Aug 23 2023

Whether you want to sling some spells with friends or make them regret your friendship with a Thassa’s Oracle, EDH is a fun and exciting alternative to traditional Magic.

Greetings, Planeswalkers and Praetors! If you’ve been in the Magic scene for any amount of time, you’ve heard of the EDH format, more commonly called Commander. This semi-casual format is an alternative to the highly competitive scene of Modern and Standard Magic. However, if you HAVEN’T heard of this format or aren’t sure where to begin, EDH can be a little daunting. Well, worry not, young wizard! This guide will explain the basics of the format, walk you through a pre-built deck, and give you resources for making your own brews.

So Tell Me…What’s EDH?

Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH), or Commander as it is more commonly called, is a semi-casual format of Magic: the Gathering. Rather than the typical 60-card deck, Commander decks are 100 cards. The name comes from your Commander, a Legendary Creature outside your deck. This card’s “color identity”, defined by the colors in its cost, the colors in costs of abilities on the card, or sometimes card text, determine what color cards can be in your deck. For example, a Commander deck with Elesh Norn as the Commander could only include cards with a White color identity, whereas a deck with Sliver Queen as the Commander could use cards of any color.

In addition, unless stated otherwise on the card, you can only have one copy of any card, excluding basic lands. This leads to a greater variety of cards in your deck and promotes strategic deck-building and themes over simply overpowering your opponent with multiple copies of powerful cards. Some cards break this rule, like Rat Colony or Shadowborn Apostle, but in that case, it is expressly pointed out on the card.

There are also exceptions to the single Commander rule. Commanders with “Partner” or “Friends Forever” can be joined in the zone by a second Commander if they also have the same rule. In addition, some cards from the Baldur’s Gate expansion have the “Choose a Background” ability. This allows you to include one of the legendary Background enchantments as a secondary “Commander”. In such cases, the color identity of both cards determines what colors can be in your deck.

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So I Can Use Any Cards?

Not quite, no. Unlike Standard, the ban list is very short. However, it isn’t nonexistent, and a few cards have been determined by the Commander Advisory Group and Commander Rules Committee to be a little too powerful. The list is updated whenever a new card is added, but you can find a current ban list here.

How Many Lands Should I Have?

That is entirely up to you and depends on the following:

A) How many colors are in your deck?

B) Do you have any Landfall triggers?


C) How many cards with CMC four or more are in your deck?

For my money, 34-36 lands in more than sufficient, but I also like to have a few mana rocks or dorks, like the staple Sol Ring or Birds of Paradise. I have maybe one or two extra in my Landfall decks, but even then, most of my ability for Landfall comes from recursion. How many lands you have is based on how comfortable you want to feel that you can cast your spells. Remember: the more lands you have, the less likely you are to draw the answers you need.

Can You Show Me How to Build One?

Deckbuilding is one of the most rewarding parts of EDH, but it can also be the most intimidating. I know that when I was starting out, I would only play upgraded preconstructed decks or lists I found online. However, thanks to the online resource, I was able to blend my first deck from scratch. One of my favorites is a Dragon Typal deck I call “Fizzban’s Folio”.

From the first time I saw her, I knew I wanted to build a Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm deck. The idea of doubling all the dragons I play was very exciting, especially since Miirym removes “legendary” from the tokens. I decided to focus on dragons with ETB abilities or effects that stack the more I have. I also filled the deck with cost reducers and rocks, so I knew I wouldn’t need to bog my deck down with lands, even in a deck with an average CMC of around five.

After I loaded up on plenty of dragons and ways to get them out, I added a few extra spells to blink my dragons, search for lands, or buff my scaled army. As it stands, this is the most robust deck I’ve ever built and has the best win/loss ratio. You can check out the decklist here to see what I settled on.

That’s Awesome! How Do I Get Started?

The best way to start is to head to Edhrec and pick a Commander. The site is a fantastic resource. Commanders are organized by color/colors and theme, so you can find almost anything you want to build. Once you’ve picked a Commander, the site will show you all the cards players building decks for them are using. The site is constantly updated, so you’ll always know the best cards to include in your deck. Of course, far more than 100 cards are listed as suggestions. You’ll have to pick your favorites once you settle on a deck. Even so, having a wealth of suggestions makes the daunting task much less frightening.

This Seems Expensive. Anywhere I Can Try Before I Buy?

Building a deck of 100 cards certainly isn’t cheap, especially since cards back to Alpha are available to add. However, allows you to build your deck for free. Even better, you can run a test game to see how your deck will play in an actual game. If you like the deck you’ve built, you can buy all the included cards from one of Moxfield’s partners. Once you own a card, you can add it to your collection. That way, you’ll always know which cards you already have and how many are in your decks.


Can I Play Online?

If you’re willing to get a little creative, yes. Spelltable, a site run by Wizards of the Coast, allows you to play with other players through a webcam. However, if you want to run a test deck, you can use a program like Streamlabs or OBS. These programs have a “virtual webcam” feature that allows you to stream your browser as a cam. This way, you can open up the deck test window on Moxfield, then play with your friends through Spelltable. Just be sure to obscure your hand somehow.

Author: Clint Lienau
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