This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Guest Article

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
Back to Basics
Black Lotus
Coalition Victory
Crucible of Worlds
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Gifts Ungiven
Hermit Druid
Imperial Seal
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Library of Alexandria
Limited Resources
Mana Crypt
Mana Drain
Mana Vault
Mind Twist
Mishra’s Workshop
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Ruby
Mox Sapphire
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
Tolarian Academy
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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