This entry is part 9 of 14 in the series Peasant Rebellion

Posted by Maxwellian2000
My contribution to the theme this week is to share my alleged pearls of wisdom on the fundamentals of EDH deck construction.  My premise is that even if some of you are new to building EDH decks, most of you have built 60-card constructed decks in the past.  If you’re old like me, casual 60s was where it was at if you were looking for multiplayer games a decade ago.  With those experiences in mind, I have found that using the same ratios of effects that worked for me in my 60 card decks in the past to provide a manageable framework and increase the efficiency of the 99 singleton format.

The first step in the process is to take a deep breath, especially if you’ve never built an EDH deck before.  It can seem daunting, and might cause a dash to the intertrons to see what everyone else has cooked up.  But let’s get those creative juices flowing, shall we?

The first issue is to determine how much land is appropriate.  Seeing as traditional aggro had never been viable (for me, at least) in my previous multiplayer experiences, I looked to my then-recent competitive midrange and control decks, which usually had either 24 or 25 land.  If 24 of 60 cards are land, than a 99 card deck might have 39 or 40 lands.  I settled on a default of 39, and generally start my construction with the idea that I will need 60 spells.  Those 60 spell slots which would include land that doesn’t tap for mana like Maze of Ith or exhausts other resources like Lake of the Dead.  While I wouldn’t myself ever go below 37 land, you could really push the limits depending on how low your mana curve is and how many mana rocks you run.  Likewise, there are instances where a land-heavy deck makes sense, too.  But for starters, we’re just looking for a land-to-spell ratio that works.

Even after settling on how much land you want, I remember being blown away at the perceived difficulty of finding the right 60 or so singleton spells, when my prior casual and tournament experience was all based on the four-of rule.  Throughout Magic’s history, players from pros to casual have benefited from the consistency the four-of rule allows.  A singleton format would seem to defeat that tried and true deck construction principle, and no doubt presents one of the real challenges to EDH deckbuilding.  Fortunately, a slight change in perspective streamlines the process considerably.

That concept is called the “7×9” principle, because nine 4-ofs in a 60 card deck with 36 spells is roughly the same as nine “7-ofs” in a 99 card deck with 63 spells (see: 8th grade Algebra on ratios; no lie, I actually got out the calculator within the first week of building EDH decks to solve equations.  Yes, I am a nerd.  And I know there are eloquent 7×9 articles on the intertrons, and may have been when I started I suppose, but I was too much of an EDH noob to even know what to look for at that point.  End digression.).

Anyway, the idea is to fill each 7-of category with cards that are functionally redundant, and ideally with similar mana costs.  So in a landfall deck you might play Burgeoning, Exploration, Explore, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, Oracle of Mul Daya, Crucible of Worlds and Rite of Flourishing.  These would do the work of the four Explorations you might play in your casual 60s landfall deck.  Application of the 7×9 principle results in deck efficiency more akin to what you’re used to.

At that point, you have to figure out which categories you’re going to assign to your “7-ofs.”  Again, just think to the most recent 60-card deck you built; how much creature removal did it have?  Maybe something like four Swords to Plowshares and four Wrath of God.  That means you probably need to be filling 13 or 14 slots with removal if you want have the same access as you would have had in your 60 card deck.  And while the issue of the effectiveness of spot removal vs. mass removal in EDH isn’t going to get any run here, suffice to say it helps to have both options.

Similarly, if your deck ran four Bird of Paradise but just two Llanowar Elf, maybe your EDH deck only needs 10 acceleration spells.  The beauty of ratios is their flexibility, and understanding what those ratios should be based on more inherently consistent 60 card decks is extremely valuable in EDH deckbuilding.

So now that we have our framework in place, we need to start filling it in with actual card choices.  As fun as it is to run all the big, fun stuff you can in this format, and even though you’re not going to have an answer for every situation, you have no chance to answer if the possibility doesn’t exist in your deck.  So make sure you have a way to exile creatures, because no one wants to see your opponent’s Primeval Titan reanimated.  Duplicant is always at least one way to do that.  Another thing to think about is incapacitating or removing threats, rather than killing them, when they are often just as deadly in the yard.  Lignify or Brutalizer Exarch may not be inherently strong in the format, but can accomplish such tasks.

Along these same lines, you simply must be able to answer troublesome artifacts, enchantments and lands.  At some point, the mono black player’s Cabal Coffers needs the axe, whether he’s directing his firepower at you at the moment or not.  And there’s nothing worse than getting shut down by something silly like Deathgrip or something commonly played like Aura Shards.  Don’t leave yourself without a chance to topdeck that answer.

The other fundamental issue to consider before you start laying out cards in your carefully stacked 7-of piles is the essence of EDH: who will lead your army?  Building the deck around the general’s abilities is the real fun of it.  Plus, I believe it was an article recently on this site pummelling the concept of “good stuff.”  I completely concur.  The times I’ve tried to go for “good stuff” has resulted in unfocused messes of decks that win only if a “crutch” card was drawn at the right time (yay, Consecrated Sphinx!  Not).  Figure out what the general wants to do and cater to him or her.

Just for one simple example, let’s look at a card lots of us have worked with, Savra, Queen of the Golgari.  Clearly, sacrifice effects such as Greater Good, Viscera Seer and Dimir House Guard are automatically under consideration.  There seems little doubt at least seven slots will need to be devoted to such effects.  For example, with Grave Pact and Butcher of Malakir crushing my opponents creatures with all those sacrifice outlets, can I include them as mass removal cards instead of something like Decree of Pain?  Even if the answer might be “run all three,” options become more narrow when it comes to filling out the rest of what the deck does.

The last step is how to find the specific cards to fit the slots.  The most satisfying for me has always been to use search terms on Gatherer or some other site (I actually prefer essentialmagic.com) that fit your general’s abilities.  For instance, in our Savra example earlier, searching variants of “sacrifice” such as “sacrifice a creature:”, “sacrifice” and “creature” and “sacrifice a creature” in green, black and artifacts will generate some fun lists.

Now, you could always just build a “net-deck.”  And it’s usually a good idea to check some lists at some point, usually searching by general, to make sure you haven’t missed any obvious choices.  But the foregoing principles provide a framework to get started without relying on the creativity of others.  I’m pretty sure the creative rush I get from running searches and filling 7-of slots is really why I play this game.

Hope that helps more than hurts.  See you next time.

Maxwellian2000 is a former competitive Magic player who now plays mostly Commander formats, along with Palladium Books’ Rifts RPG and Legos. He also works as a lawyer in Kansas and produces music at panoramicrecords.net.

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