Today we’re going to be taking a look at my favorite format: EDH. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Elder Dragon Highlander (or Commander) is played using a deck of 99 unique cards and one legendary creature as your commander. Rather than being shuffled into the deck, your commander sits in a special zone called the “Command Zone”. You may cast your commander at any time you would be allowed to cast that creature and if it dies or is exiled, you may return it to the Command Zone. Each time you re-cast your commander from the Command Zone, you must pay an additional 2 colorless mana for each time the commander has been cast. Players start at 40 life rather than 20 but you can also lose the game by taking 21 points of damage from a specific commander over the course of the game.

What makes EDH so special? For one, it is a singleton format which means you may only include a single copy of any card except for basic land cards. This forces you to dig deeper into Magic’s vast card pool when building your deck and also ensures that there is a greater deal of variance from one game to the next. You must also build your deck around your commander’s “color identity”, meaning that you cannot include cards with mana symbols that are absent from your commander. For example, Thassa, God of the Sea is mono-Blue which means that you may only include Blue or colorless cards in that deck. EDH rules also state that you may not produce mana outside of your commander’s color identity. If for some reason you control a creature or land that produces mana outside of your colors during the course of the game, it will only be able to produce colorless mana instead. Rather than be a hindrance, these rules encourage you to be more creative when assembling your 100. Because you can cast and re-cast your commander as many times as you are able through the course of the game, most EDH decks are centered around using and abusing the abilities of that commander. The interpretation of what exactly the commander’s strengths are is entirely up to you, the deck builder.

Before we get into our deck list for today, I would like to cover a few key concepts about EDH and building a 100 card singleton deck.

  1. Chocolate or strawberry but never vanilla. In Magic terminology, a “vanilla” creature is one with no abilities. Even though 100 cards might seem like a lot when compared to a 60 card deck, you will soon realize that it’s actually very little space to work with. Bearing that in mind, you should strive to never include cards which do not make a significant impact in your deck. Vanilla creatures are fine for Draft and may even be applicable to 60 card constructed decks but they have very little value in EDH.
  2. 40 is the new 24. In 60 card deck building, 24 lands is the ideal place to start when first assembling your list. You can then adjust that number depending on the needs of the deck. EDH decks should begin at 40 lands. This ensures that your initial tests won’t leave you wanting for mana. As a rule of thumb, you may remove one land for every two non-land mana sources in your deck. Personally, I would never play fewer than 35 lands as this leads to poor opening hands and a lot of grumbling about “shuffling better”.
  3. Be a marathon, not a sprint. Traditional aggro decks, full of 1 and 2-drop creatures, do not work out very well in EDH. When your opponent has twice their regular life total to start out with, low-curve aggro creatures don’t do you much good. Most people will pack a board-wipe or two and are perfectly content to let you hit them with your Rackdos Cackler until they play a Supreme Verdict or similar. Suddenly, all of your 1 drop aggro creatures are binned and you have no hand left. Likewise, the higher life total means the game will go on much longer. If your hand is prone to running out of gas and you are stranded in top-deck mode, the game will get away from you quickly. Make sure you give yourself ways to either restock your hand or re-use things you have already cast. Most cards are designed with a 20 point life total in mind; you are asking each and every thing you play to work double time.
  4. Go Big. In the same way that small aggro creatures don’t work out well in EDH, neither do small effects. Lightning Bolt, while insanely powerful in 60 card Constructed, does very little in a game of EDH. While people might consider spells that cost 5 or more completely unplayable in 60 card constructed, you are generally encouraged to play the big stuff in EDH. All those “too expensive for Standard” cards in your trade binder just got a lot more valuable.
  5. You should have fun. However your playgroup defines fun. Don’t be afraid to put together a deck which encourages weird gameplay or shenanigans of some sort. Politics play a big part in mutiplayer games of EDH and it is not uncommon for someone to save you from certain death with a Fog just so the whole table can have a laugh. While EDH can be just as intense and competitive as any other format, I feel it is important to put fun at the forefront of your games.

As this is something of a primer for EDH, I’d like to take a look at a deck which many newer players tend to gravitate towards: Kaalia of the Vast. Kaalia is generally everything people want out of their first EDH experience: playing big creatures “for free”. Here is my Kaalia of the Vast list:

Commander: Kaalia of the Vast

Lands: 35

 

Command Tower

 

Opal Palace

 

Rupture Spire

 

Transguild Promenade

 

Temple of the False God

 

Cavern of Souls

 

Ancient Tomb

 

Blood Crypt

 

Godless Shrine

 

Sacred Foundry

 

Temple of Triumph

 

Temple of Silence

 

Boros Guildgate

 

Orzhov Guildgate

 

Rakdos Guildgate

 

Rakdos Carnarium

 

Boros Garrison

 

Orzhov Basilica

 

Clifftop Retreat

 

Sulfurous Springs

 

Urborg Volcano

 

Akoum Refuge

 

Caves of Koilos

 

Scabland

 

Battlefield Forge

 

Graven Cairns

 

Thespian’s Stage

 

Vault of the Archangel

 

Bojuka Bog

 

Rogue’s Passage

 

Slayers’ Stronghold

 

Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion

 

Mountain

 

Swamp

 

Plains

 

Creatures: 26

Bloodgift Demon

 

Reaper from the Abyss

 

Hellkite Tyrant

 

Ryusei, the Falling Star

 

Iona, Shield of Emeria

 

Avacyn, Angel of Hope

 

Aurelia, the Warleader

 

Platinum Angel

 

Lord of the Void

 

Blinding Angel

 

Angelic Arbiter

 

Balefire Dragon

 

Master of Cruelties

 

Utvara Hellkite

 

Steel Hellkite

 

Rakdos, Lord of Riots

 

Tariel, Reckoner of Souls

 

Kokusho, the Evening Star

 

Reya Dawnbringer

 

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis

 

Adarkar Valkyrie

 

Gisela, Blade of Goldnight

 

Rakdos the Defiler

 

Angel of Serenity

 

Erebos, God of the Dead

 

Demon of Death’s Gate

 

Instants/Sorceries: 25

 

Increasing Ambition

 

Rescue From the Underworld

 

Beacon of Unrest

 

Sudden Spoiling

 

Wrath of God

 

Terminate

 

Unmake

 

Condemn

 

Path to Exile

 

Planar Cleansing

 

Boros Charm

 

Tempt with Immortality

 

Sever the Bloodline

 

Unburial Rites

 

Oblation

 

Swords to Plowshares

 

Mortify

 

Merciless Eviction

 

Decree of Pain

 

Diabolic Revelation

 

Armageddon

 

Obzedat’s Aid

 

Aurelia’s Fury

 

Hero’s Downfall

 

Life’s Finale

 

Artifacts: 5

 

Lightning Greaves

 

Sol Ring

 

Hammer of Purphoros

 

Whispersilk Cloak

 

Enchantments: 8

 

Whip of Erebos

 

Debtors’ Knell

 

Fervent Charge

 

Gift of Immortality

 

Reconnaissance

 

Greed

 

Phyrexian Reclamation

 

Phyrexian Arena

 

The Good:

Kaalia lets us play huge creatures without tying up our resources. A turn 5 Iona can mean the end of the game for some players and while some of the Demons don’t offer that kind of insta-win such as Demon of Death’s Gate, they still hit hard and usually out-class the creatures everyone else is able to play in such a short time. Kaalia’s colors also give us access to tutors (imperative in EDH) and a wide range of both sweeper and spot removal. White and Black give us access to Reanimator spells so even if someone has an answer to the creature you just dumped onto the field, recurring them isn’t generally an issue. This also means that allowing Kaalia to go the the graveyard rather than the Command Zone can be useful so that we do not have to keep paying an increasing casting cost to bring her back. Because Kaalia places a creature onto the field already attacking, we are forced to skip some of those creature’s abilities. In the case of cards like Rakdos the Defiler this means we do not have to sacrifice half of our non-Demon permanents when we play him off of Kaalia and send him into the red zone. We may also put Master of Cruelties into play and force him to attack with Kaalia off of her trigger which can result in an instant-win if left unchecked. Master of Cruelties’ first strike ability means he hits the opponent first, lowers their life total to 1 and then Kaalia deals her 2 damage which destroys our opponent on the spot. We also get to ignore Rakdos, Lord of Riots’ pesky clause about requiring our opponent to lose life in order to cast him.

The Bad:

The number 1 reason not to play Kaalia is simply the hate she draws from other players. Nobody has any illusions about the cards you are going to play when you sit down at the table with Kaalia on your side. Because she is such a lynch-pin in the deck, most people will simply destroy her as soon as she is cast. Cards like Oblation and Condemn are pretty much the Kaalia player’s worst nightmare as they put her into the library and suddenly the hand full of expensive Angels and Demons becomes difficult if not impossible to use. Kaalia also generally runs out of steam quickly as the hand gets dumped onto the field and without some form of card draw, a board wipe sets Kaalia back considerably. As I mentioned before about Kaalia’s ability to skip the attack triggers of creatures she summons, this means that Aurelia’s ability won’t work when brought into play off of Kaalia. Utvara Hellkite is likewise hampered. Against Control players with lots of “steal your creature” effects, Kaalia can have a hard time as she is potentially feeding them amazing targets each turn.

Key Cards:

Protecting Kaalia is our top priority. Whispersilk Cloak and Lightning Greaves are decent choices since they give her enough protection to trigger a few times before someone draws an answer. Reconnaissance is perhaps the best $1 we can ever hope to spend on a Kaalia deck since it allows us to attack into something potentially leather for her, trigger her ability and then remove her from combat before damage is dealt. It also helps us dodge Condemn. Card draw, as in every EDH deck, is crucial for Kaalia and no one should go without Phyrexian Arena, Greed, Underworld Connections or some way to restock their hand consistently. Cards like Wheel of Fortune are also fine options and including Dragon Mage in your 99 is never a bad option either. While generally considered a mean play, Armageddon can lock everyone else out of the game while we continue to drop huge creatures. Back-up plans aren’t a bad idea and while my deck doesn’t run it, Quicksilver Amulet is a nice alternative to Kaalia. Cavern of Souls naming “Cleric” or “Human” is pretty crucial against the counter-magic happy opponent, particularly those who run Hinder or Spell Crumple.

Philosophy:

Rather than worry overmuch about drawing tons of hate and giving up the idea of Kaalia, I like to approach her with the attitude that I am the biggest threat on the table and it is everyone else’s responsibility to try and stop me. In the immortal words of Walter White: “I am the danger”. Playing Kaalia timidly will make for a bad time but throwing huge creatures around every turn with reckless abandon invites a sense of urgency and chaos to everyone at the table.

In closing, I would like to thank Nu Games for hosting this article and I hope to see all of you on Thursday nights at 6 pm for EDH!