Elder Dragon Highlander: There Can be Only One Hundred
By The Aardvark on June 21st, 2007 · Filed in Variant Formats · Comments not available just now
Elder Dragon Highlander: There Can be Only One Hundred
Elder Dragon Highlander, often called EDH, is a format that was created a few years ago by a couple of players in Alaska. It was brought to the masses by Judge Sheldon Menery (see this article), and since has grown to be a very popular side-game for judges at Pro Tours and the like. More recently the format was covered briefly in Chris Millar’s weekly MTG.com article (see this article), which brought quite a bit of attention to the format. My goal is to present an introduction to the format for those who are not familiar with it, while also bringing a bit more in-depth coverage than is normally seen with EDH. With that said, once more unto the breach. . . .
While the format itself is strictly casual, as it is primarily a multiplayer format (although you can play one-on-one easily), there are set rules that are essential. I’ll start by outlining the basics here. Please note that these are the “Official” rules, which can also be found here.
1. Players must select a legendary creature as the General for their deck. No two players may have the same General, nor can any other player in a specified playgroup have another player’s General in their deck.
2. A player may not play any cards with mana symbols that do not appear in their General’s mana cost. A player may not generate mana outside of their General’s colors; if any card would cause this to happen, the mana produced is colorless instead. Example: If you are using Teneb, the Harvester as your General, your deck can only contain black, green, white, and artifact cards; no card in the deck may contain red or blue mana symbols.
3. Each player’s deck must be exactly 100 cards, including your General.
4. Not including basic lands, no two cards in your deck can have the same name. In other words, everything but basic lands is restricted.
5. For card legality, cards from all sets except the Un-sets are legal. For new sets, the cards are legal as of the prerelease of that set.
6. At the beginning of each game, each player removes their General from the game. A player may play their General any time they could play a creature spell.
7. Each player starts at 40 life.
Those are the core rules. There are also other rules that may or may not be adopted by your playgroup. Let’s examine some of the optional (and card specific) rules:
1. The following cards are banned: Ancestral Recall, Balance, Beacon of Immortality, Biorhythm, Black Lotus, Coalition Victory, Crucible Of Worlds, Library Of Alexandria, Mox Emerald, Mox Jet, Mox Pearl, Mox Ruby, Mox Sapphire, Panoptic Mirror, Shahrazad, Sway of the Stars, Test of Endurance, Time Walk, Upheaval, Worldgorger Dragon, and Yawgmoth’s Bargain. Some of these are due to power level reasons, others due to annoyance factors, etc. Obviously, your group can change that however you like.
2. Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary is banned as a General. This is due to the overwhelming advantage you can get by casting him turn 2 every game in a mono-Green deck with tons of Forests.
3. If a single General deals 21 points of combat damage to a player, that player loses the game. This damage is not negated if a General is put into a graveyard or removed from the game.
4. If a General would be put into a graveyard, that General’s owner may remove it from the game instead so as to be replayed. For each time your General has been removed from the game in this way you must pay more when you replay it.
5. Wish cards (from Judgment and Future Sight) and Ring Of Ma’Ruf may only be used to retrieve cards that began the game in the controller’s deck OR that player’s General.
6. All Generals have protection from Karakas.
7. Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant flips when its controller’s life total is 60 or higher.
There are, of course, plenty of other “house rules” your playgroup can adopt, such as further bannings, tightening or loosening the restrictions on what cards can be played with your General, etc. Personally, I despise the “21 points of combat damage by a General rule,” and my group has agreed to eliminate that rule. Obviously every group has different philosophies with alternate rules/banning cards, so make sure to occasionally discuss these things.
Elder Dragon Highlander is a format that thrives on interactive gameplay. Deckbuilding is the most important facet of the game (aside from fun, of course, but that goes without saying), and it definitely rewards those who excel at this task. Generally speaking, anyone can build a deck for the format and be competitive, but the fun and skill involved in the deckbuilding process cannot be overlooked. While your deckbuilding choices are limited by your choice of General, there are many, many different ways to build a deck with just about any General. With that in mind, there are five ways to approach the deckbuilding process itself, starting with your General:
1. Choose a General you really like with some ability (or abilities) and build the deck around that theme. Example: Karn, Silver Golem allows you to turn non-creature artifacts into artifact creatures, so you can build a deck with a lot of artifact mana and moderate-high mana cost artifacts with other abilities, eventually overwhelming your opponent with 4/4+ creatures.
2. Choose a General in colors you like and use the deck to play with a lot of “suboptimal” cards that could be good in such a slow format. Example: You choose Phelddagrif as your General because you like the combination of blue, green, and white. You now get to dust off that Library of Lat-Nam, or that Argivian Archaeologist, or even other Hippos like Pygmy Hippo or Questing Phelddagrif. [Note: Sheldon Menery does use Phelddagrif as his General, and does play with Pygmy Hippo in his deck, so don’t hate on the hippos. –Ed.]
3. Choose a General in colors you like and try to use as many good, or even broken cards as you can fit into the deck. Example: You choose Vorosh, the Hunter as your General, which allows you to play high-powered cards like Demonic/Vampiric/Mystical Tutor, Survival of the Fittest, Recurring Nightmare, Regrowth, Eternal Witness, Damnation, Genesis, Time Spiral, and so forth.
4. Choose a General in colors you like and build a theme within the deck that doesn’t necessarily relate to your General. Example: You choose Lady Caleria as your General, but since you’re in white and green, decide to go for a theme of creating an army of token creatures with the myriad token generators available in those colors.
5. Choose a General in colors you like and hybridize two (or more) of the previously listed strategies.
Now that you have chosen your General and decided which of the above deckbuilding strategies you will use, there is one more thing to consider when building your deck: will you be designing it for multiplayer play (the more common application) or 1-on-1 play? Your deck probably won’t differ by much either way, but it can help you make some decisions, such as playing Innocent Blood over Cruel Edict, or vice versa. Again, it’s likely not going to make a big difference, but it’s a subtle shift that you want to keep in mind when you start pulling out cards.
Generally speaking, EDH is a pretty slow format. Obviously, it’s possible for someone’s deck to get the nuts draw and do something silly early in the game, but it’s not an overly common occurrence. Depending on your General, you may want to play a lot of creatures, or perhaps rely more on spells; either way is fine. However, aside from mana acceleration, there aren’t too many creatures or spells played in the first couple of turns in the average game, so you can afford to lean heavily upon developing your deck to prepare for the late game, where you’ll be dropping powerful spells and creatures that are a bit high on the mana curve, which usually means 6cc or higher. In such a format, card advantage is actually more important than it is in a typical Constructed format, so you must build your deck with that in mind, making sure your spells will allow you to gain some sort of advantage when you play them.
Let’s face it: everyone loves dropping huge fatties and swinging with them, as it brings out the Timmy in all of us. This is one of EDH’s biggest positives, as the decks are slow enough to allow you to get up to 6+ mana and start dropping bombs like the Enola Gay. I know I love a format where Verdant Force often lives up to its “Best Fattie Ever Printed” moniker from years past, or where Kaervek, the Merciless can truly live up to his name. In addition, you have the opportunity to play expensive, game-breaking spells that have had either fringe or no success in Constructed decks. Desertion, for example, is a staple in EDH control decks, where in Constructed it was played only as a 1-of in mono blue decks nearly a decade ago. Another good example is Insurrection, which was a true bomb in Onslaught limited, but never really saw play in Constructed. The possibilities are nearly endless with pretty much any General you choose. Let’s get cracking!
Building The Deck
You have chosen Savra, Queen of the Golgari as your General, and decided to go with option #1 above: building your deck as an extension of your General’s abilities. There are a few different ways you can go with a deck like this, but we’ll try to stay focused on the theme as much as possible, so there are a few specific types of cards we want to look into initially:
1. Black and Green creatures that allow you to sacrifice one or more creatures repeatedly over the course of the game, or provide a benefit when sacrificed.
2. Black and Green creatures with a beneficial trigger when they go to the graveyard from play.
3. Spells and noncreature permanents that allow you to sacrifice one or more creatures repeatedly over the course of the game.
4. Noncreature permanents with beneficial triggers when one of your creatures goes to the graveyard.
5. Anything in color that gives you recursive elements for your creatures.
6. Mana fixing/acceleration.
Since the creatures are the most important part of the deck, tackling that part first seems to be the wisest course of action. To do this, you can use Gatherer (or magiccards.info) and its filters to do a search for all black creatures with “sacrifice” (or some variation thereof) in the rules text. This gives you a lot of results, but once you get going, you can more easily weed them out. Let’s take a look at some of those that really stand out:
Abyssal Gatekeeper—It’s like a one-time Grave Pact, which is pretty good for two mana.
Apprentice Necromancer—Ah, recurring fatties or utility creatures at instant speed; good times.
Braids, Cabal Minion—A constant sacrifice outlet that inconveniences the opponent? I’m so there.
Cabal Patriarch—Big guy who like sending his minions to the graveyard to kill other creatures; quite the father figure.
Carrion Feeder—A 1cc guy that will sacrifice creatures as often as I like? Niiiiiice.
Crovax The Cursed—Another guy who can only sacrifice one creature per turn, but he can get large, and he can sprout wings; forget Red Bull, just chuck screaming creatures into the ‘yard.
Delraich—Sacrifice three Black creatures? Instead of paying the mana cost? For a 6/6? Yeah, I guess that’s good in here.
Doomed Necromancer—See Apprentice Necromancer.
Fallen Angel—Flying + sacrifice as much stuff as you want = possible MVP.
Greater Harvester—See Braids, Cabal Minion.
Hell’s Caretaker—Sacrificing stuff to bring back other stuff is good, I suppose.
Krovikan Horror—The gift that keeps on giving.
Nantuko Husk—See Carrion Feeder, minus the 1cc.
Necrosavant—Fat guy who sends creatures to the ‘yard to crawl out of his grave? Works for me.
Phyrexian Ghoul—See Nantuko Husk.
Phyrexian Plaguelord—See Cabal Patriarch.
Skeletal Vampire—Flying token-generators that sacrifice Bats to regenerate are a dime a dozen these days. Wait…they’re not?
Stronghold Assassin—The restriction is unfortunate, but killing stuff so easily and consistently is pretty decent, methinks.
Thrull Surgeon—Clears the way for your big spells and such, and amazing if you can get some recursion going.
Woebringer Demon—The Abyss is cute. The Abyss on a stick is cuter.
You can tell that Black likes to sacrifice creatures, no? All of these creatures have strong applications, although some are admittedly stronger than others. That’s what this part is for, however: recognizing which cards belong and which do not.
Now we’ll check Green for sacrificial lambs, so to speak:
Druid Lyrist—Enchantments are commonly played in EDH, so her willingness to die is a good thing.
Elvish Lyrist—See Druid Lyrist.
Ravenous Baloth—A beefy guy who will gain you additional life with Savra in play seems OK.
Sakura-Tribe Elder—Mana-fixing + 2 life for two mana? Not all snakes are bad. . . .
Scavenger Folk—See the Lyrists, just for artifacts.
Spore Frog—Recur him for extra special fun.
Viridian Zealot—See the Lyrists and Folk; he does it all!
Yavimaya Elder—Mana-fixing (well, kinda), deck-thinning, and card-drawing all in one 3cc package? No wonder we loved him so much back in the day. They don’t make them like this anymore.
A much smaller list, but all of these are serious contenders for slots, since they actually do something useful when sacrificed.
Now, there are a handful of gold creatures that also fall under this category, so let’s take a look at them now:
Drooling Groodion—Sacrificing a guy to make one of my guys bigger and maybe kill one of their guys? Spiffy.
Golgari Guildmage—The abilities are expensive, but the additional recursion isn’t shabby.
Golgari Rotwurm—A nice body for a multi-sacrifice outlet? That could be useful.
Grave-Shell Scarab—Can you say auto-include? I can.
Again, not many, but those are playable, especially the Scarab, since he performs 3 functions when you sacrifice him with Savra in play.
Now, it’s time to search for in-color creatures that have beneficial triggers when they hit the graveyard. That’s a little more difficult to search for, so I’ll just list some of the better ones I know offhand:
Kokusho, the Evening Star—Talk about a target; this guy will have your opponents ganging up you immediately. So yeah, he’s pretty good.
Mindslicer—What a rude little pig. Did everyone order a Mind Twist? No? Well, that’s what you’re getting.
Deadwood Treefolk—Twice the recursion, twice the fun!
Penumbra Wurm—So, he leaves behind a copy of himself? That’s Black? I can see a couple uses there. . . .
Protean Hulk—Another auto-include. This card is so insane in this format that I can’t even begin to gush over it.
Symbiotic Wurm—Eight creatures for the price of one isn’t half-bad, methinks.
Doesn’t seem like many, but keep in mind that several of the creatures listed previously also have graveyard-based triggers, so we’re off to a solid start with our creatures.
Next up we need to find some noncreature sacrifice outlets. What we’re looking for are cards that have a benefit when you sacrifice a creature, as there will be times where you may not have Savra in play, and you want your deck to be able to function without her if necessary. Here are some of the better options:
Attrition—Killing is my business . . . and business is good.
Diabolic Intent—Demonic Tutor is pretty good, I hear.
Dread Return—Sacrificing 3 guys to bring back something massive or useful? Seems like a fair trade to me.
Innocent Blood—Yeah, everyone loves the equal opportunity removal spell, except when you have Savra in play.
Recurring Nightmare—Broken to ridiculous levels. Yikes.
Victimize—Do not overlook this card, as it can do everything Recurring Nightmare can.
Greater Good—So, I get to throw someone into the ‘yard and draw cards for it? Sweet.
Natural Order—The restriction is annoying, but bringing in Symbiotic Wurm or another fattie is pretty nice.
Altar of Dementia—This can produce really big turns, and can catch the opponent off-guard. Fun trick.
Blasting Station—Several cute tricks are possible with this card, and it can kill someone in a hurry.
Helm of Possession—So, you get to sacrifice one of your guys to gain control of their best guy? Seems fair.
Phyrexian Vault—Drawing cards is fun!
Diamond Valley—Gain life for free, pretty much. Too bad it doesn’t tap for mana.
High Market—Only one life, but still free, so it’s very playable.
Miren, the Moaning Well—The mana cost is higher than the others, but you can gain a lot of life from it. And it taps for mana!
Phyrexian Tower—Sometimes you need that extra mana; sometimes you don’t. Either way, it’s good to have the option.
That’s a nice array of cards, and several of them can really make for huge plays in a deck like this. These cards also offer flexibility, which is important.
Our next course is to find some in-color cards that have nice effects when one or more of your creatures hit the graveyard from play. Sometimes, Savra just isn’t enough and you need that extra bit of reach to get through everyone’s defenses. Here are a few cards that allow you to do so:
Grave Pact—Savra #2, just without paying life, and it works with creatures of ANY color.
Fecundity—The number of creatures hitting your graveyard is insane, so you’ll draw a lot of cards from this. Just make sure you can handle your opponent drawing cards too.
Skullclamp—There’s a reason this card is banned in almost every format. There is no reason NOT to play this if you are playing any significant number of creatures in your deck.
There are others, but these three cards are the cream of the crop. They all generate massive card advantage over time, allowing you to overwhelm everyone with your creatures.
The fifth category I mentioned was cards that give your deck recursive elements, and we’re in the correct colors for that, let me tell you. We’ve already mentioned Grave-Shell Scarab and Recurring Nightmare, so let’s see what else we can find:
Coffin Queen—Deceptively strong, never forget that she can grab stuff from an opponent’s graveyard as well.
Oath of Ghouls—You’re going to have more creatures in your graveyard than anyone else 90% of the time, so this is a great engine for you.
Oversold Cemetery—See Oath of Ghouls.
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker—Restrictive with what he can return, you can still get a lot of mileage out of him with several creatures.
Eternal Witness—Another auto-include.
Regrowth—Worse than Witness due to not being a creature, it’s still almost always worthy of a spot in the deck.
Volrath’s Stronghold—Gamebreaking, and often hard to get rid of for some people, this land will win you many wars of attrition.
All of those cards are strong contenders for the deck we’re making, as they allow for redundancy and long-term card advantage. I can’t stress card advantage enough in this format: it’s probably the most important thing to remember when trying to build your deck.
The final category mentioned above is for mana fixing/acceleration. Mana fixing is terribly important in a predominantly multicolor format like EDH, and luckily there are a lot of cards to help you along the way. Let’s take a look at the better ones:
Birds of Paradise—Acceleration and fixing all in one; how efficient.
Elves of Deep Shadow—See Birds of Paradise.
Llanowar Elves—Classic acceleration.
Sylvan Scrying—Searches up ANY land, which is sometimes very useful.
Wall of Roots—Blocker + acceleration. What’s not to like?
Coldsteel Heart—Only fixes one color for you, but that’s usually enough.
Fellwar Stone—Often just taps for colorless; very deck dependent.
Golgari Signet—A no-brainer.
Mind Stone—A very underrated card; it’s not useless late game, either.
Sol Ring—Obvious, but not fit for every deck.
Bloodstained Mire—Yeah, fetching lands is good.
Thawing Glaciers—If you play a good amount of basics (12+), it’s worth a land slot.
Windswept Heath—See Bloodstained Mire.
There are a lot of other options, but those are generally the best for most decks that contain black and green. We’ll have to see which of these survive the cut once we build the deck. Almost there. . . .
There is one last category I didn’t mention above, as it can be used with any deck type: cards you should ALWAYS consider when you play these colors. This is true for any color combination; the cards simply differ by color. Without further ado:
Avatar of Woe— for a 6/5 with fear that indiscriminately kills anything that moves? Yeah, not bad.
Bone Shredder—While decent on its own, we have a lot of tricks to really get a lot of use out of him.
Damnation—Always good to have a reset button.
Demonic Tutor—Auto-include in ANY deck with Black. Ever.
Diabolic Tutor—Slower than the other Tutors, it’s still a fine card in a slow format.
Mind Twist—It’s really mean, but often very effective. It’s your call.
Phyrexian Arena—Another auto-include if you’re playing a lot of Black.
Vampiric Tutor—See Demonic Tutor.
Chord of Calling—Wow, this card seems to just be cute, but it is an amazing card in any creature-based deck.
Defense of the Heart—Almost an auto-include in any Green deck with creatures; it depends on how you build your deck, but it is a great card.
Deranged Hermit—An auto-include in our deck; its synergy with so many cards cannot be ignored.
Harmonize—Remember what I said about card advantage?
Krosan Grip—Destroys any artifact or enchantment with no ifs, ands, or buts.
Naturalize—Ditto, but it can be countered.
Spike Weaver—A good creature that gets better with recursion. Hmmm…
Survival of the Fittest—If you have quite a few creatures (think 25+), it should be in the deck.
Sylvan Library—Yeah, that card advantage thing again.
Verdant Force—A force to be reckoned with. Yeah, I know. But it’s a great creature for just about any deck.
Pernicious Deed—The super reset button of choice. Always play it.
Putrefy—One of the best removal spells ever printed; play it.
Loxodon Warhammer—With a significant number of creatures, this should be played. It can break a stalemate and send your life total into the stratosphere.
Nevinyrral’s Disk—Another reset button, it’s indiscriminate about what it blows up. Be wary.
Sensei’s Divining Top—Play this in any deck. Ever. Period.
Sword of Fire & Ice—With creatures, I hear this is decent.
Sword of Light & Shadow—Ditto.
Umezawa’s Jitte—Ditto. Also, it kills your opponent’s Jitte.
Dust Bowl—You need to stop opposing Strongholds, Mazes, etc.
Ghost Quarter—See Dust Bowl.
Maze of Ith—It doesn’t produce mana; it only stops your opponent’s biggest threat every turn.
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers—Probably the worst of the cycle, it’s still worthy of playing because it can help you win fights.
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse—Fear is the mindkiller. It’s also an opponent-killer.
Wasteland—See Dust Bowl.
Of course, some of these aren’t very useful if you are playing a deck with very few creatures, but aside from that, these cards should never be dismissed out of hand, as they will almost always help you, no matter the deck you’re playing.
So, now that we’ve categorized and pulled out cards, let’s build the deck! Looking over the cards that we have chosen throughout this process, we definitely need to cut cards, since we have WAY too many to accommodate within a 100 card deck when combined with mana sources. With our deck’s theme, we definitely want to have a nice number of creatures, so we’ll begin there.
Savra, Queen of the Golgari
Avatar of Woe
Braids, Cabal Minion
Crovax the Cursed
Kokusho, the Evening Star
Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker
Birds of Paradise
Elves of Deep Shadow
Wall of Roots
38 creatures looks like a good amount, even though some of the cuts were a little difficult to make. Some of the creatures didn’t have enough effect for the cost, or their abilities were too hard to use, etc.
Next up are the noncreature spells.
Chord of Calling
Basically, these are utility slots, allowing you to answer threats/problems or search up a threat.
More utility, although Victimize can be a game-winning spell, especially in conjunction with Eternal Witness.
Oath of Ghouls
Defense of the Heart
Survival of the Fittest
A wide range of cards here, the majority of them fall under card advantage or card quality. All of these cards are incredibly good in the deck, and a couple of them can pretty much wipe out your opponents (Grave Pact much?).
Altar of Dementia
Sensei’s Divining Top
A little mana acceleration along with some card advantage/card quality, and a potential alternate win condition. Pretty standard.
Maze of Ith
Miren, the Moaning Well
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
I like to play a lot of basics in two color decks, and this is no exception. There are a lot of lands out there that you could consider instead, but I really like the basics because they’re pain free and not usually hosed by specific cards. In addition, they allow you to play Thawing Glaciers, which I like an awful lot, especially combined with all of the card-drawing/card filtering in the deck. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try.
So, there you have it: your first (or perhaps not?) EDH deck. Obviously, there are going to be different factors affecting your card choices, such as card availability, what types of decks your friends play in multiplayer, etc. This was meant to be used as a guide, not to carbon copy, although you will find this build to be a solid contender in your group’s EDH games if you choose to do so. I have a very similar Savra deck (perhaps eight cards different) that I have been playing for a while, and it has worked very well for me in our playgroup. The synergies you'll find within the deck are often too much for your opponents to overcome, and your ability to wipe the board will also crush their dreams. Good times, no?
I want to end by asking if you, the readers, would have built the deck differently. If so, how? Did I miss cards that would be great in the deck? If you built and played this deck, how did it work in your EDH games? Please let me know in the forums.
Lastly, I would like to suggest a little . . . well, not a contest, but a game. I would like to see how you guys would build a deck using Momir Vig, Simic Visionary as your General. You can either post your builds in the forums, whether it be in the thread for this article or in the Variant Formats forum, or you can PM them to me. There’s nothing to win, really; I just want to see what you guys would do differently than I did.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!
By The Aardvark on June 21st, 2007 · Filed in Variant Formats · Comments not available just now