This entry is part 10 of 37 in the series Generally Speaking

By Imshan AKA Sinis

I have the good fortune to live in the most populous city in Canada.  Our citizens are diverse and so are the groups with which we play EDH.  When you play with more than a couple of groups for EDH, whether they be in local game stores, your friend’s dining room table, or a place like Andy’s floor, your experiences begin to run a wide range of players and decks.

You’ll encounter people who have two decks, untuned and terrifically weak, and you’ll find people who have between ten and twenty decks, all of which are very strong.  More than that, you’ll encounter different viewpoints on what the point of the format is, and what the best sorts of policies there are to make that happen.  A lot of writers focused on this format discuss how they envision it, sometimes in the form of the ‘ban list post’, where they discuss how they see no significant difference between Jokulhaups and Upheaval (or perhaps they do).  I probably wont ever make a ‘ban list post’ (okay maybe I will, but not right now) and you can probably tell what kind of ‘vision’ I have by the decklists I’ve posted in my articles.  Rather, this article is about how different groups can be, and why, perhaps, a stricter or looser ban list may not be as useful as a lot of players think.

At one end of the spectrum, I’ve played against very competitive groups who believe that the most fun can be gained by winning, regardless of how the other players fare.  I like to think of these players as Vintage Dropouts; since Vintage has largely died in many locales, eternal players who still want to bust out their crazy cards banned in Legacy sometimes turn to EDH.  Before Erayo, Soratami Ascendant was banned, I played it fairly regularly against that group, and, to be sure, it lost its fair share of games.  These players rarely stray from the top tier generals, and usually have complete lists to back them.  Five colour control is fairly common and their pilots will very likely have the requisite ten Revised duals, ten Ravnica shock lands, and ten fetches between Onslaught and Zendikar.  This is definitely not everyone’s scene; games would often grind to a standstill with no clear winner until a combo appeared.  When Erayo was banned, we did not play as though she wasn’t.  The ban list for this group was sacrosanct; it was the bounds in which the competitive game was played.  Any manner of modification to the rules or ban list made it arbitrary.

It should be recognized that these groups are still having fun.  Their fun is derived from complex decision making, deck construction, and how well they play against people of relatively equal skill and cardboard strength.  If this sort of group doesn’t appeal to you, or you think that it “isn’t EDH”, read on; there are plenty of other groups to play with.

The most common kind of group I’ve played with are the people I like to think of as the middle of the road.  These groups often have seasoned players who shun the top tier generals and decks like Zur the Enchanter or Hermit Druid combo.  If they do play these generals, they take them off the beaten path and do something different than lists for the general you might see on the internet.  These are the players you’ll see with tribal or theme decks, or decks based around a particular mechanic, like Proliferate, or an ability their general has, like Savra, Queen of the Golgari.  In these groups you’ll also find the ‘good stuff’ decks, but are clearly not trying too hard because they’re not playing blue.

Groups from the middle of the road are not pushovers.  They are not unlike the Vintage Dropouts in that they like to win, and that they often want their decks to be the best they can be.  The chief difference between Middle Roaders and Vintage Dropouts is that these players are not so much interested in what’s ‘best’, but what is most interesting, or what they might consider ‘stylish’.  Zur, or Hermit Druid decks simply fail to hold their interest; decks that unfold in the exact same way every game are not interesting, even if the decks they do play unfold in very similar ways every game.  Another notable difference between the Middle Roaders and Vintage Dropouts is the willingness to bend the mulligan rules, the ban list or starting life totals.  While the Vintage Dropouts view the rules of Commander as the immutable arena in which they fight, Middle Roaders view it more as a variable playground, where whatever is fun goes as long as no one is being boring or engaging in unfun combos with it.

Still more casual than the Middle Roaders is the extremely casual crowd.  Groups of this kind crowd often play for purely thematic reasons or the sheer enjoyment of the presence of other players and the use of Magic cards.  The decks of players in this group almost run the gamut; decks centered around tribal, theme, artists and kinds of art all find their way in this kind of group.  The only restriction that this sort of group seems to place on itself is that no one should be competitive, at all.  The restriction went rather without saying; no one bothered to play Terminate because it wasn’t something they wanted to play with.  In one such group I found that players disliked creature destruction and counterspells, such as Terminate and especially Hinder.  They found these cards unnecessarily heavy handed and unfun for the victim of these spells.

For players new and old this attitude might be baffling; we are playing a game here, where there are several mechanics for winning and losing.  The players in the extremely casual group I played with did not necessarily have an interest in winning or losing.  The group I played with had little interest in Magic qua Magic, but was definitely more interested in playing whatever they wanted.  Players of this group had the most flexibility in terms of rules and ban lists.  The official ban list was hardly on this group’s mind, and many were unaware that there were cards banned at all.  Colour identity rules and needing a legendary creature as a general were highly optional.  If it was fun, and it fit, it wasn’t a problem.  I suspect that the players in the group I played with had a great deal more fun building decks, or collecting all the Richard Kane Ferguson art they could find, and played games more to showcase what a cool pile of cards they had assembled, rather than reducing another player’s life total to zero.

The final kind of group is the mixed bag.  This kind of group contains players that would likely be at home in any of the other groups, but are instead bound together by friendships and geography.  Often, the players adapt to each other’s kind of enjoyment in strange ways.  In one group I played with, the first game I sat down to had Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Jhoira of the Ghitu, Captain Sisay, Glissa, the Traitor and Sheoldred, Whispering One.  I wasn’t sure what to think initially.  Before we finished shuffling, a planechase deck appeared.  Just before we drew, the Captain Sisay player mentioned “uh, by the way, I’m playing some un-cards.”  I’m usually cool with pretty much anything at least once, so I nodded and we played.  As the game progressed, the usual table talk and chatter took hold.  The Azami player did not have any table-flipping combos that he was aware of (though we discovered one later) but simply liked to draw cards and control the table, the Jhoira player did not play the usual board wipes like Decree of Annihilation, the Glissa player was running proxies, and the Sheoldred deck was borrowed from the Azami player.  I was nervous about the Captain Sisay player until he played Elvish Impersonators, and rolled two fives.  He had Timmy, Power Gamer and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and intended to use Captain Sisay to find them, but it didn’t seem to be a priority for him.

Generalizing about this kind group is hard.  Each of the players obviously played for different reasons, but mostly they were just there to have fun, each in their own way and spend time with people they had known for a while.

There are a wide variety of groups out there lurking in the towns and cities, especially near established game stores and universities or colleges.  If you’re frustrated with your group, you can probably find one that better suits your play-style and your reasons for playing.  If you’re playing with established friends, don’t be afraid to build new decks to suit every player’s enjoyment.  Finally, the ban list and rules are completely arbitrary.  Often, you will find that players who actually bend those rules are not doing so to squeeze more advantage out of their chosen colours, but have thematic considerations and really want to play Marisi’s Twinclaws in their G/W cat tribal deck.  More than anything, it’s just a game and players are just trying to have fun.

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