This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Guest Article

By MATT aka AUTHORMATT
You should read this Primer on MTG Salvation that I wrote for the French Variant before responding with any gut reactions.

And, tl;dring that, here is the essential info:

The Modified Rulings

  • This is a duel format (1v1).
  • Players start the game with 30 life.
  • The mulligan rule used is the Partial Paris mulligan, recognized by the official Rules Committee as well.
  • There is a replacement effect ruling for tuck effects (e.g., if your General is Hindered, you may choose to put it back in the Command Zone).
  • The Legend rule doesn’t apply to generals if you’re playing the same General as your opponent.
  • More details here.

The Full Ban List:

Ancestral Recall
Balance
Back to Basics
Biorhythm
Bitterblossom
Black Lotus
Coalition Victory
Channel
Crucible of Worlds
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Fastbond
Gifts Ungiven
Hermit Druid
Imperial Seal
Intuition
Karakas
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Library of Alexandria
Limited Resources
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Metalworker
Mind Twist
Mishra’s Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
Necropotence
Painter’s Servant
Panoptic Mirror
Protean Hulk
Recurring Nightmare
Sensei’s Divining Top (for tournament use)
Serra Ascendant
Shahrazad (for tournament use)
Sol Ring
Staff of Domination
Strip Mine
Sway of the Stars
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Time Vault
Time Walk
Tinker
Tolarian Academy
Upheaval
Vampiric Tutor
Yawgmoth’s Bargain

Banned as Generals

Braids, Cabal Minion
Erayo, Soratami Ascendant
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary

If someone asked you to play French EDH, what would you tell them? “Whoa, buddy, no tongue action until the third date”—you might say if you have a grade school sense of humor like me. You might also be inclined to simply say “hell no!” because you still disapprove of the way the French handled themselves in World War 2 and you’ve written off the entire country as being a laughably inept stereotype.

But whatever can be cavalierly said about the French to invalidate everything they’ve ever endeavored in, they’re the only ones who are sincerely interested in—and arguably very successful at—balancing EDH for high-level duel play, a sort of inevitable evolution for a game whose core purpose is to send your creatures at your opponent’s throat to bleed out all of his or her life points and emerge the sole survivor, regardless of how many “Group Hug” decks may emerge from the variant (Zedruu is a wolf in goat’s clothing).

Balancing a format where Vampiric Tutor and Sol Ring are not only allowed but considered perfectly non-degenerate by the official Rules Committee is a gargantuan undertaking, an effort that seems to invite criticism from anyone who’s ever cast a Primeval Titan on turn 2 and thought “but that’s EDH! Bitches.” Let’s just say, that if you’re not privy to the stigma surrounding the French meta, the majority of EDH players familiar with French EDH are offended at the very notion that many well-informed people (French people, no less!) have empirically proven their favorite degenerate cards to be unhealthy for singleton magic.

The social contract is a failure for experienced players and tournament-level play. Any well-intentioned Zombie tribal player or Azusa fanatic is in for one helluva surprise when their five dollar entry fee nets them all of 5 minutes of play time, as they’re dead on arrival against the Maralen combo deck or the Hermit Druid archetype. Your meta may be less degenerate than this, but that doesn’t change the universal fact: the otherwise Legacy-banned staples of EDH lend themselves to a broken, uninteractive, combo-centric format when applied to a competitive setting.

And that’s where the French variant comes in, a variant structured on the principle of making this fantastic, General-centric format balanced and interactive for high level players. This is the “turning off items in Super Smash Brothers Melee” of EDH; I understand that taking out Pokeballs seems like it would kill the format, but it doesn’t. I’d argue that any competitive game is enhanced substantially when the focus shifts to player skill rather than player luck, deck-building prowess instead of aggressively tutoring out (or derping your way into) Vintage staples.

When I say balanced, what I mean is that there is more than one viable archetype in the competitive French meta. Let’s take a look at a (by no means 100% accurate, but still highly representative at the time of this writing) French tier list to illustrate my point:

S Tier
Edric (Good Stuff)
Edric (Flying Men)

A Tier
Jenara (Good Stuff)
Geist (Aggro Control)
Grand Arbiter (Control)
Zur (Control)
Horde (Control)
Karador (Dredge Combo)
Nin (Control)
Wydwen (Control)
Iname (Combo)
Sisay (Aggro Control)

Upper B Tier
Doran (Aggro Control)
Rhys (Elf Ball)
Evil Sygg (Suicide Tempo)
Lyzolda (Aggro Burn)
Animar (Good Stuff Combo)
Teeg (Aggro Control)
Isamaru (Aggro)
Ezuri (Aggro)
Clique (Control)
Rafiq (Aggro Control)

Lower B Tier
Zozu (Aggro Burn)
Hoard (Zoo)
Ruhan (Voltron Control)
Godo (Voltron Control)
Azusa (Ramp)

Developing Competitive
Olivia (Control)
Merieke (Reanimator)
Momir Vig (Combo)
Riku (Combo)
Damia (Control)
Rafiq (Infect)
Glissa (Dredge)
Kaalia (Combo)
Radha (Aggro)
Azusa (Ramp)
Teysa (Combo)
Kiku (Control)
Azami (Combo)
Teferi (Control)

The viable archetypes in this variant are as follows: Aggro, Aggro-Burn, Aggro-Control, Combo, Control, Dredge, Dredge Combo, Elf Ball, Good Stuff, Good Stuff Combo, Infect, Ramp, Reanimator, Suicide Tempo, Voltron Control, and Zoo. That’s a total of 16 competitive archetypes, inarguably much more than default Commander. These various archetypes are made possible by a lower starting life total (so that cards scale better to the format, particularly red cards) and by the banning of degenerate auto-includes.

You must think that I spend a good chunk of time traveling to France to have put all of this meta information together. Nope, I’m poor as Hell—which explains perfectly why I’ve spent so much time on certain online magic clients that shall not be named. The point I’m trying to make is that this format is immensely popular online as well as in France and other European (and even, evidently, South American) countries. Because of the many time zone differences, you’re likely to find a French game to either spectate or participate in at any time of day. In other words, you won’t have to wrangle your playgroup into changing their deck-building mentality. That’s a lot of irritating effort, anyway. Trust me. The online meta is alive and thriving.

I’d like to preempt the criticisms that Edric appears to be breaking the format as the only S-Tier General, a topic that has been hotly contested on French forums, especially given tournament results in which Edric usually dominates. The truth behind Edric is that paper magic evolves very slowly, something that’s completely understandable when you consider that this format costs between 700-1000 dollars to build a truly optimized deck for (did I mention I play a lot of online Magic?), but he can completely crumble to just a single spot removal spell.

Default Commander has had many players shy away from using red, and even French players are a bit wary, but Edric’s presence (not to mention Animar’s and the recent surge of Elf Ball decks) has brought red into the spotlight. Nothing wrecks most tier 1 decks quicker than just a couple of well-timed removal cards, something that most players are loathe to include, regardless of their available colors. In other words, when you’re “building to beat Edric,” you’re building to beat all of the other high-tier decks, too. Don’t believe the hype.

But I don’t want to overwhelm you with the minutiae of deckbuilding for this meta in what is most likely an introductory article for you. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, the thread on MTG Salvation linked to in the first sentence of this article (and here) will tell you most everything you need to know, from the most up-to-date banlist to tournament results threads to deck Primers (including my Super Sexy Sisay primer, which has tons of great discussion regarding meta choices).

I will mention, however, that the Magic the Gathering Salvation boards have recently adopted the French ban list for their tournaments, and to great success. Previously, they had been using their own ban list, but have since trusted in the experiences of the French, who routinely host tournaments that see gatherings of over 50 players.

As with anything ever, you owe it to yourself to give this variant a try or at least observe a few games. In my playgroup, I’ve managed to convince a few players to have French decks ready (in addition to their other decks) if they want a fun and balanced duel game on our Magic nights together. Who knows, you might be the one who makes Rosheen Meanderer top tier in a scarcely recognized duel variant of a variant of a little known card game that passersby will always mistake for being Yu-Gi-oh!

I need a drink.

Matt used to be CommanderCast’s editing guy back in the day and also wrote the excellent but controversial article series True Conviction. But then he ended up going to grad school/selling out and abandoning us. Thankfully, he’s decided to swoop in and provide the CommanderCast audience with a new article. If you’d like to get ahold of Matt, you can find his Twitter feed at @AuthorMatt, or you can check his website.

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  • Anonymous

    Nice article Matt! It was nice to see one of your articles on here again.

    • http://authormatt.tumblr.com Matt Albrecht

      Thanks, Brionne! Always feels good to contribute to such a wonderful site. =)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joel-Cannon/100000939437739 Joel Cannon

    I really enjoyed this article. I do know a few people who prefer to play Commander 1v1, and adopting this approach would go a long way to fixing the broken nature of doing so. I am going to see if I can get this idea to gain some traction among my local group. I think I will still prefer a 4 player game, but it can’t hurt to try this.

    • http://authormatt.tumblr.com Matt Albrecht

      That’s great! I’m glad you’re interested.

      I think that the more decks you have for the various ways of playing, the more you get out of your Magic experience; you meet more people at your meetups, you learn new ways of playing, and you get a fresh dose of novelty whenever you delve into a new meta. Even when I was really deeply invested in multiplayer Commander, I encouraged players to have a decidedly “top tier” deck as well as a fun conceptual/tribal/whatever build so they could be prepared for whatever EDH setting. Never a bad idea to be able to shift gears.

      Then again, it’s awfully difficult to shed your reputation as the, erm, “asshole Sisay combo player,” no matter how many janky decks you bring to the board afterwards…

  • GHoooSTS

    This is a great article and the content is on-point but there’s a few statements in here I take issue with. The biggest one is:

    “The social contract is a failure for experienced players and tournament-level play.”

    This is a totally unfair. At best it’s a misplaced idea. The social contract regulates most groups fine, and a vocal minority of players think it doesn’t work well (many of whom are newer EDH players coming from sanctioned formats). It’s easy to get into the idea that everything is fucked and the player base is hugely divided if you spend a lot of time online, but people who talk about EDH on message boards and record podcasts about it are so far removed from the average player it’s impossible to think that somebody like me or you can represent the majority of Commander players with any accuracy. For tons of casual players, social regulation is adequate and this isn’t even a new, EDH-centric thing; for the majority if casual groups, the only thing that makes their games work is a social contract. This is true for experienced players and neophytes alike in a casual setting in most instances.

    The social contract isn’t what’s failing for tournament-level play. The players who choose a casual format based on weird rules, an inconsistent banned list, multiplayer, and structured around the expectation that players will ‘play nice’ with each other are what is failing. They’re failing to choose an appropriate medium for tournament play and failing to accept the core tenent of the format. How is it fair to say the social contract has failed in that context? It’s like saying my Yaris failed me on my trip to the moon.

    Thankfully, there’s a hugely positive ending in that the group responsible for 1v1 French play have decided to utilize the social contract in a different way and take the rules of EDH, change them, and mold them to accomodate their needs. That’s awesome, and was totally the appropriate thing to do instead of lobbying endlessly to have the broader format changed to accomodate their needs.

    • http://authormatt.tumblr.com Matt Albrecht

      Hey, Andrew! Thank you so much for publishing this. And for getting the conversation started.

      I must admit that my EDH experience has been atypical in that I see hardcore competitive/degenerate decks in every setting I frequent, online and off. To be fair, I see dangling participles in the same way that most people see a giant whale moored on a beach, so my perception of the acceptability of a thing is admittedly overblown when it comes to spotting faults. I’ve thrown out many apples in my day.

      Yours is a very fair criticism of the intent behind my language, and something that rightly needs to be clarified. Again, filtering this through my rather dramatic perception of the shortcomings of playing EDH competitively: I frequently see players who are, at any given time, attempting to break the format (inadvertently, perhaps sometimes) for the most efficient wins, whether that’s in a game of no consequence or in a 4-way tournament setting. I certainly don’t condemn the idea of making optimal builds and playing with your full power, but to hearken back to the argument in an older article of mine that EDH (a form of Magic, a game in which there are winners and losers) is inherently–due to its origins, rules inconsistencies, and the embracing of uninteractive Vintage staples–destined to evolve into a high level meta game. In my very very biased opinion, the “social contract” and those who try to adhere to the “spirit” of the format are full of pretense, a quality that I’m ever-critical of.

      (I understand that not every EDH player is a lying liar and admit that I’ve encountered more earnest/experimental deckbuilders than I can count on four hands, but for the sake of argument.)

      Competitive EDH may sound like an oxymoron to most, but I’d argue that it’s inevitable and that the RC has inadvertently sanctioned it. In that inevitable setting, the pretense of the social contract dissolves, at which point we’re left only with the stark reality of the failure of the current rules and ban list for competitive play.

      I think we agree that EDH is not what anyone would consider a “balanced” format, but we disagree on the key matter of faith and its role in maintaining balance. I don’t use the word “faith” in the pejorative; I have faith every day that when I cross the street, cross-traffic will see the red light in front of them and not turn me into road-kill. But when it comes to delving deep into competitive gaming, I have almost no faith in any sort of vaguely defined concept of honorable playing to balance the game. I’m mainly going off of my experience with competitive Smash Brothers Melee here, but I’ve got plenty of anecdotes in support of this argument as they relate to other games in which we rely on faith to balance our matches.

      Given my cynical stance, it probably surprises no one that I no longer participate in default EDH. I applaud the French for being extremely humble in their promotion (if we can even call it that) of their variant. Emether in particular (a frequent MTGSalvation poster) has been saint-like in his tactful patience dealing with dissenters while sharing his metagame/tournament experiences. That’s a quality I certainly ought to hone better, as I won’t win many supporters for the French variant by being obviously disdainful of the game that brought us all here in the first place.

      “Hey, y’all! Here’s this variant you might like, but probably not, because default EDH is broken and you’re all wrong to enjoy it.” <3

  • MRP

    I love this banned list. How do players in this format feel about FoW?

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  • Codyjjwbrown

    The french ban list is also really good for multiplayer. With 40 lifet hat is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Aaron-Kravetz/1460946911 Aaron Kravetz

    Why do they still ban Kokusho in a one on one format. I’ve always wanted to play that card in EDH but it is understandably broken in multiplayer but this seems like the perfect format to play him in. Not a big deal or anything but It is something to consider.

    • http://authormatt.tumblr.com Matt Albrecht

      You’re absolutely right, but I’ve got great news for you. As of last week, the ban list on here is outdated; in fact, Kukusho is now unbanned along with other cards that had just been ported over from the official list but aren’t overly degenerate in French duels, which includes Emrakul, Limited Resources, Upheavel, Coalition Victory, and a handful of others. For the most up-to-date information regarding the variant, keep up with this thread on MTG Salvation:

      http://forums.mtgsalvation.com/showthread.php?t=389492

  • Seth

    Edric needs to go. Packing heaps of spot removal is not reasonable solution as it narrows the field even further. I not even sure if it’s a viable strategy against Edric as most players in my meta are backing him up with 25+ counter spells. Swinging with Edric and a bear or Flying Man just once starts a snowball of card advantage and counter spells that is unbeatable.

    • http://authormatt.tumblr.com Matt Albrecht

      Seth, although this scenario is still reflected in the French tournament results, I can say with absolute authority that Edric is nearly unplayable on certain online clients due to the surge in R/X decks and “murder all creatures” builds that have cropped up to balance out the aggro-control meta. Decks like Damia, Horde Control, Ruhan, Olivia, Arbiter control, Thrax, and the best Iname build are tuned to utterly obliterate Edric and boast positive win percentages against every form of Edric. These same builds are also fantastic at stopping Maverick, Zoo, Mono-White, Aggro, Elves, Goblins, and all of the other aggro-to-aggro-control decks that are seen in French top 8 lists. But these “murder all creatures” builds aside, the other best aggro-control decks are well prepared to hose Edric with their increase in spot removal cards (proportionately, these decks usually run as much creature hate as, say, a RUG Delver deck in Legacy or as few as Maverick but with better creatures than Edric) and boast 40-60% win records.

      The thing you have to remember about the French meta is that real cards are extremely expensive, and building a truly competitive French EDH deck can range from 700 to 1000 US dollars (as most of the best cards are Legacy staples). So, unlike on certain Magic clients where the card pool isn’t quite so restrictive, paper deckbuilders aren’t always able to adapt and create new decks that attack the meta for cost and time reasons. As Edric isn’t particularly as expensive and even a budget Edric can get there in a meta where red is still stigmatized in EDH, Edric continues to skew the actual tier list if French tournament data alone is considered (which is the least biased way to form a tier list, really).

      Ultimately, I routinely spectate games with every possible competitive way to build Edric, and he’s significantly more vulnerable than other decks because his creatures just aren’t all that impressive or synergistic without him. That more decks have started adding in cards like Volcanic Fallout and Path to Exile and Go for the Throat has only made all decks better at dealing with all of their problematic matchups. A good aggro deck can win consistently on turns 4-5, sometimes even without the general. A good Edric deck requires Edric to be in play and is still completely screwed against a few spot removals and any resolved board sweeps and ALSO any other top-dawg deck that resolves literally anything in the early turns, as you have to hoard your limited counter magic to try your darndest to make sure Edric survives and can’t otherwise stop most resolved permanents from blowing you out.

      There was a time where Clique was often seen in top 8s, and then the best players started playing EDH differently; they stopped just trying to port over their multiplayer lists and started building like Legacy players. This resulted in decks that were just too threat dense for Clique to handle, and she’s been out of favor for over a year now (even though, like Edric, she’s particularly more adept at stomping the living crap out of most bad decks, more so than a lot of the other top tier decks). As the meta evolves further, Edric too will fall from favor as frustrated players find it impossible to carry out their gameplan against superior decks. Edric absolutely should not be banned.

    • Matt Albrecht

      I stand corrected. =)

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