Ah, summer. A wasteland of gaming. Maybe an occasional oasis to provide some respite. Sadly nothing new to be found for me lately, so I decided to share a Magic variant format that has become very popular among all types of players and that I enjoy working in during downtimes: Elder Dragon Highlander (or EDH for short).
The rules for EDH are fairly straightforward. You select a Legendary creature to be your general (originally, only the “Elder Dragons” could be generals, hence the format name) and the colors in the casting cost of the general determine what colors you are allowed to have in your deck. For example, selecting Rafiq of the Many as your general would mean you could only use cards that have blue, white or green mana costs. Once you pick your general, you then build a 99 card deck that can only use one copy of each card (“There can be only one!” aka “Highlander”) except for basic lands. There are some generals and cards that are banned in the “official” rules, which can be found here, but individual groups are encouraged to modify the list to suit their own needs. In this regard, EDH is a format that is very adaptable to many groups and playstyles.
There is, however, one other aspect of the format that has it’s own share of pros and cons: the “social contract”. At it’s heart, EDH is meant to be a fun, casual format played among friends. However, there are occasional tournaments and more competitive groups forming up as the format expands in popularity. While I feel like the social contract aspect of the format encouraging fun play is a noble intent, I think it’s a little utopian and misguided at times. At the end of the day, what is fun for one player may not be fun for another. This tends to cause some grumbling between players and facilitates arguments about what is and isn’t acceptable in the format. I doubt there will ever be a player-wide consensus on that issue. However, as I mentioned before, EDH is very adaptable to specific groups and I think it’s possible for each one to adapt as necessary. Unfortunately, if a new player decides to play with a group of people they never played before, it’s difficult if not impossible to gauge what kind of unwritten rules have been set. This can set up some frustrating situations for both new and old players.
That being said, EDH is a great format and especially fun to play in large multiplayer groups. Because of the Highlander rule, people are forced to think outside of the box and use cards that rarely or never get seen in competitive play. This allows a deck builder to be creative, but it also means you have to be very adaptable to a variety of situations that are far from typical in other sanctioned formats. On the other hand, since you only have one copy of a card allowable, it’s difficult to make cuts when you start hitting the deck size limit. As someone who enjoys deckbuilding and thinking about various card interactions, combos, and deck synergy it’s quite a lot of fun. For those who haven’t had a lot of experience in this area and are used to building standard archetypes in other formats, it can be a little daunting at first. In the end, it’s a good learning experience and the lessons can even improve your game and deckbuilding skills in other formats too.
One last thing I love about EDH is how I can easily add a personal touch to my decks in a more tangible, physical way: foils, foils, foils! Since you only need one copy of a card for a deck, it’s much easier to find a foil, foreign, or alternate art version to make your deck “pimp”. I always shoot for Japanese foils, followed by English foils, followed by alternate art or rare promos. This way, even if the game isn’t going well for me, I can enjoy staring at my pretty, shiny cards. Since I use a lot of Japanese foils, not many people can borrow my decks if they don’t have one. For me, this is both good and bad. I like getting feedback from other pilots, but I generally don’t want to go up against my own deck that often either!
For those of you who don’t already play the format, I highly encourage you give it a try. I also encourage you to build your own deck if possible, as I feel that investing the time into thinking about deckbuilding in the format greatly increases the enjoyment. That said, don’t be afraid to look around and see what other people have done too. I can guarantee that every legendary creature has been made a general for a deck at some point and there’s probably a list out there to get you started thinking about cards you might not have known about or realized were actually useful in a Highlander format. If you’ve been playing a long time like I have, you may even be able to dig out some old junk cards that have a use all of a sudden!
As always, if you have any questions or comments about today’s article or gaming in general, don’t hesitate to ask me here or on Twitter. I’d also love to hear any suggestions or requests you might have for future articles!
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