Commander is a format embraced by players as the ‘casual’ format where crazy vintage combos that would never be viable in tournament formats such as Legacy and Modern can run rampant. The appeal for many players is the high variance, ability to build around the commander, and the ‘cute’ combos. The term ‘competitive EDH’ is then an oxymoron, as the format is intended to be casual and many people think that running a high-powered deck ruins the fun of the format. Unlike many of these players, I saw high-powered decks doing the things I always wanted to do in Magic – whether it’s having infinite mana on turn four (and a virtual omniscience until a combo piece is lost), drawing over twenty cards in a single turn, or cheating a big creature in faster than any Standard reanimator deck is capable of (although it’s arguably at the same speed as Show and Tell). To me, these decks were exciting and I had a hard time imagining why players got so frustrated about building slow decks that played out more or less like refined Modern decks instead of utilizing the tools the Vintage format offers. In this post, I want to talk about the competitive EDH metagame, the typical flow of the game, and why any commander deck with any general can be high-powered without having to have a turn 4 win to be viable in a competitive format.

The basis for this post comes from a Marath list I have developed that has gotten me kicked out of several rooms for simply being too strong or doing things that the other players thought were ‘too powerful’. Note that my Marath list has no infinite combos that win the game instantly other than its primary wincon is Felidar Sovereign, a card that requires me to have 40 life on my upkeep to instantly win (there are no combos that instantly put me to 40 life or higher in the deck). I believe EDH players have several misconceptions that bring down the capacity of their decks and therefore build slow decks that, like mentioned before, play out like refined Modern decks instead of the vintage powerhouses they could be. (You can find my Marath list at the bottom of this post.)

Early Turns – Mana Acquisition (Strategy 1)

High powered decks in competitive EDH typically take 1-3 turns to set up and are in full force by turn 4 at minimum. For combo decks like Sydri and Prossh, turn 4 is the average point at which infinite mana has been achieved and a win is possible. Many people with slower decks will concede or refuse to play with a player with a high-powered deck because they believe such power is unfun. However, sit down at a table where everyone has a high-powered deck and you will see real politics and tight play start to happen, with players hesitant to try to win due to the real threat of the other high-powered decks stopping them and taking them out first as the ‘public enemy’. However, very rarely do you see high-powered decks try to disrupt each other in the early turns – this is because these decks must devote these turns to their own setup and cannot waste time trying to stop one other person and letting the others get ahead. Below, I will go over several combos that are typically used.

Infinite Colorless Mana

Because this combo utilizes artifacts, virtually any deck is capable of using it. Note that not every high-powered deck that runs artifacts will run all of this combos – there are other ways to get a lot of mana (sometimes you don’t need infinite mana), with the most common being elfball (playing and using lots of mana dorks).

  • Basalt Monolith + Rings of Brighthearth = Infinite Colorless (copy the untap ability, resolve the copy first, and before the original untap ability resolves, tap the Monolith again)

This is the only combo that is the basis of most high-powered lists that revolve around artifacts. Other infinite mana (often infinite colorless) combos will depend on specific color. For example, Sydri (esper colors) has all of the following artifact combos that go infinite:

  • Basalt Monolith/Grim Monolith + Power Artifact = Infinite Colorless
  • Grand Architect + Pili-Pala = Infinite Any Color
  • Basalt Monolith / Grim Monolith + Voltaic Construct + Sydri, Galvanic Genius = Infinite Colorless
  • Doubling Cube + Voltaic Construct + Sydri, Galvanic Genius = Infinite Mana Pool Doubling
  • Doubling Cube + Filigree Sages = Infinite Mana Pool Doubling
  • Aphetto Alchemist + Rings of Brighthearth + any artifact that taps for at least 3 mana and has an untap cost = Infinite Colorless
  • Umbral Mantle + Training Grounds + Sydri, Galvanic Genius + Any artifact that taps for mana = Infinite Colorless
  • Filigree Sages + Training Grounds + Gilded Lotus = Infinite mana of all colors
  • Voltaic Construct + Sydri, Galvanic Genius + Any artifact that taps for 3 = Infinite colorless, unless untapping Gilded Lotus

Again, I want to stress that infinite mana is often times not necessary, and that in many cases, lots of mana is sufficient enough. Each color combination has ways to assemble fast mana with the exception of some mono-colored decks (unfortunately, there is not much non-green mono-decks can do and they are probably better off in the more casual tables), and Google is often times the deckbuilder’s best friend in finding them.


A typical Elfball will often run a low number of lands, keep a low-land opening hand as long as it has dorks, and rely on creatures for ramp. The upside here is that such ramp is often faster than casting Cultivate or Kodama’s Reach on turn 3, faster than Skyshroud Claim and Rangers Path on turn 4, and vs. decks with Turn 2 Farseek, the Elfball deck will generally have more mana due to heavy dork usage and escalating amount of ramp/dorks being cast in each of the first three turns. A typical elfball also includes a Craterhoof Behemoth and/or Fierce Empath because the heavy creature count lends the deck to wins through a massive overrun swing.

  • Arbor Elf
  • Avacyn’s Pilgrim (if also playing white)
  • Birds of Paradise
  • Bloom Tender
  • Boreal Druid
  • Deathrite Shaman (very solid considering the number of fetchlands played in commander; be sure to run a high fetchland count yourself for better usage)
  • Elves of Deep Shadow (if also playing black)
  • Elvish Archdruid
  • Elvish Mystic
  • Elvish Spirit Guide (trading cards for faster acceleration is a common occurrence in high-powered lists such as Prossh and Derevi)
  • Fyndhorn Elves
  • Llanowar Elves
  • Priest of Titania
  • Simian Spirit Guide (if also playing red)
  • Wall of Roots

Elfball decks typically run even more dorks depending on deck colors. For example, Druid of the Anima is a great color fixer for Naya and a very acceptable elf to run.

Note that using creatures as a fast manabase is volatile to sweepers, so Elfball decks typically use Chord of Calling, Green Sun’s Zenith, Eladamri’s Call, and other ways to find either Gaddock Teeg or Dauntless Escort. Elfball decks are also very resilient to land destruction because of their reliance on dorks, and high-powered elfball decks will typically run Armageddon or Ravages of War (although the latter is extremely expensive and not many have it) because blowing up lands is a good thing for them.

Common Staples

Seeing several lists in competitive multiplayer EDH has made me realize that many decks that do not have insane mana combos are still able to acquire a lot of mana if they run certain artifact cards. These cards are listed below, and some of them can be quite expensive:

  • Sol Ring
  • Mana Crypt
  • Mana Vault
  • Grim Monolith (often used with Voltaic Key)
  • Basalt Monolith (often used with Voltaic Key)
  • Signets
  • Talismans
  • Lotus Petal (same reason why decks run the Spirit Guides – getting a lot in play in the early turns is often more important than card advantage)
  • Chrome Mox
  • Mox Diamond
  • Exploration
  • Burgeoning
  • Jeweled Amulet
  • Coldsteel Heart
  • Fellwar Stone

Protecting the Mana (Or Having Resiliency)

After the deck has established a solid mana income and has strong access to lots of mana, protecting this mana becomes key. Players are willing to risk getting blown out by a board wipe in exchange for putting all their mana ramp into elves because of the speed of basing your ramp on a single source (creatures), but this also means that such players are effectively out of the game if such mana sources are lost. As mentioned in the Elfball section, decks typically run a number of tutors designed to protect them from losing their mana sources, such as finding and casting Gaddock Teeg. Resiliency can even come in the form of numerous combo enablers, as in the case of Sydri – she has so many infinite mana combos that she doesn’t need to run a protection suite and can still play after her artifacts are destroyed (although politics becomes key here since Sydri is quite behind without access to artifact mana).

Often times when a high-powered deck takes on several lower-powered decks, the high-powered deck has access to massively more mana than the other players (sometimes more than all the opponents combined) and doesn’t need to invest in protecting its mana – it can simply combo off and win. In a game where several high-powered decks are in play, however, games become more swingy and players will often invest in protection rather than trying to go for a win outright (especially if opponents have infinite mana assembled). I’d like to point out here that more casual EDH players have a strange hatred for fast mana access when in reality, lots of mana (even infinite mana) does not accomplish much by itself. It is only when a player tries to make a drastic play that forces other players to take action and shut that player down. A lot of high-powered EDH ironically becomes a somewhat fair grindfest, especially when lots of heavy Stax effects are in play. Patience is often rewarded in high-level play, especially in decks like Sharuum that do not have as many combos as Sydri and often times will wait for an opportune moment before combo’ing off.

Cards for protecting mana:

  • Counterspells, particularly ‘free’ ones like Force of Will and Pact of Negation
  • Indestructible effects like Dauntless Escort (for elfball)
  • Permission cards like Gaddock Teeg
  • Stax Lockdown/Denial such as Hokori, Dust Drinker, Rising Waters, and Stasis

Fast Permission (Strategy 2)

For decks where fast mana ramp is either difficult or not possible, the game plan changes from one of fast mana to fast denial. The idea is that if you slow down the other decks that can theoretically ramp fast, you will have the time to get into the game before they combo you out. The following cards are all universally utilized in decks that try to use this method:

  • Gaddock Teeg
  • Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
  • Linvala, Keeper of Silence
  • Null Rod
  • Stony Silence
  • Sphere of Resistance (sure, it makes your own spells cost 1 more, but this is often worth it if your start is slow)
  • Static Orb
  • Stasis
  • Tangle Wire
  • Thorn of Amethyst
  • Winter Orb
  • Hokori, Dust Drinker
  • Glowrider
  • Kataki, War’s Wage
  • Lodestone Golem
  • Aura of Silence
  • Rising Waters
  • Root Maze
  • Blood Moon / Magus of the Moon (only applicable for decks that are mono-red or two color with lots of basics or dorks)

Many of these permission cards can be accelerated into using mana dorks and played as early as turn 2, preventing players from setting up their fast mana combos. While some decks such as Hermit Druid do get lucky from time to time and win on the second turn, the high variance of the format often means you get at least 2-3 turns to employ your deck’s early strategy of either fast mana or fast permission.

Permission cards create a number of complaints among more casual players because they see fast permission as ‘fast unfun’, when in reality it is a safety wedge against the decks that use fast mana and these decks often play permission because of their slow starts. The outcries, of course, continue to come from players of more casual decks that are not designed to handle or fight through permission. Indeed, some casual decks are “defeated” by masses of permission, but it is important to note that this permission is played in competitive in order to force fast combo decks to play more fairly. With proper deck construction (namely mana sources being spread out and packing some amount of removal), the more casual decks should be able to play a fair game of EDH against fast permission because, as mentioned before, the lockdown is more intended towards fast combo decks – locking everyone else out of the game is just an extension of that plan. A player with an EDH deck with no removal of any kind probably shouldn’t be playing Magic in the first place, because the game really is about interaction instead of four players sitting down and playing 100% slow goldfish decks.

Marath’s Command

I built the Marath list for two main reasons – one, I have an altered art Marath, and two, no one thinks of Marath as a competitive commander by any means. The list I present below is not intended to be on the same power level as god-tier competitive multiplayer commanders like Sydri or Derevi, but it is built with the idea that such opponents may be sitting at the table. As such, it utilizes a fast permission strategy that allows it to slow down opponents until it can get its token/midrange strategy going. There is nothing fundamentally broken or wrong with fast permission (and this deck doesn’t pack as much permission as it could), but I am often kicked from online rooms due to poor opponents who believe casual EDH is meant to be non-interactive EDH where everyone gets to do what they want until someone goldfishes a win. There is a commander theory that 25% of your deck should be dedicated to interactive cards – a theory I greatly approve of, and as long as there is sufficient interaction in your deck, you can beat fast permission decks (many of whom are running permission just to make everyone play fair and punish bad deckbuilders who have little to no interaction).

Artifact (9)

Creature (36)

Enchantment (6)

Sorcery (8)

Instant (5)

Planeswalker (2)

Land (33)

This list combines a fast elfball with fast permission in the same vein as current Derevi lists (note that Derevi is arguably the best competitive multiplayer deck at the moment because it can combine fast elfball with fast permission and still have access to the most ridiculously powerful blue spells in the format). It is not intended to take on a full table of high-powered lists (Marath is not capable of fighting through a full field of stronger and faster opponents), but can reasonably slow down one or two of them in a four-player game. However, the use of heavy permission often leads me to getting kicked from rooms for being “unfun.”

This long post is an initial observation based on my recent foray into high-powered competitive multiplayer EDH, a format that doesn’t actually exist but does have a tightknit small following of players who swear by powerful vintage cards and EDH games that don’t take hours but instead last as long as most sanctioned rounds (50 minutes max). Some of the information may be subject to change as new cards are introduced or certain cards are banned. I am also still a relative newcomer to the format so there may be information that needs to be added here – Hermit Druid, for example, utilizes neither of the two methods I described above and is instead just a fast graveyard combo deck that tries to go off as soon as it can. While I cannot guarantee that I will make another post of this length in the near future, EDH is a format I enjoy and I have learned lots of things about multiplayer deck construction in a format where power levels greatly vary.