Day 2 DanNation #3 – Building a Better EDH Deck

By “Day 2” Dan Green

Before we get into the bulk of the article, I’d like to make an apology. I’m sure after my last article on EDH, many readers thought I would be coming out with the sequel to it perhaps a bit sooner than four months later. Well, to those readers, you were wrong to trust me. But that’s okay, I’m sure you won’t make the same mistake twice.  Now it’s time to find out if your wait was worth it!

Let’s start with a hypothetical situation. You are putting together your first EDH deck. You already found a general with colors that you like to play, and an effect that you would like to build around a bit. Keep in mind that when picking a general, you have both these things to consider – your general’s colors define your deck’s colors, and at the same time it is the most consistently available spell to cast, so building the deck around the general is very popular and most often a good idea. We’ll use Rith, the Awakener as our general for this hypothetical situation. He is a cool dragon with three different colors, giving us lots of options for powerful cards in the deck. His ability to make saprolings is also a great ability to build around – it makes it a lot better to play spells that affect all your creatures or require sacrificing creatures.

Rith the AwakenerCurrent Decklist:
1. Rith, the Awakener

Well, that’s a start.  Now, here’s the big question, and conveniently the main topic of this article: How do you pick the other 99 cards? There are literally over 11,000 unique magic cards right now to pick from. We can count out roughly 2/5ths of those as we can’t play Blue or Black spells in this deck, but choosing from 7,000 cards rather than 11,000 isn’t a whole lot better.  So how do we pick out what’s good from what’s not? We have to start by considering a typical EDH game.  If you’ve never played EDH before, obviously this is difficult! Fortunately, that’s why you are reading this article and not sleeving up your Kelinore Bats and Giant Growths. A typical EDH game will have the following attributes:

1. Multiple Players. EDH games are usually from 3-6 players, with 4 or 5 being a pretty good number. Two player EDH is certainly possible and still very fun, but EDH is meant to be a game for a few players to just hop in and sling spells to spend time. As this is the case, cards that affect multiple players tend to be ramped up in power. Also, cards that rely on opponents having specific colors of cards are much more likely to be good.

2. Slow to start and slow to end. EDH games often start with several turns of draw-land-go or draw-land-signet-go, and they often end with one player getting taken out at a time, with the board restabilizing between deaths. Sometimes a single player will go off on a combo that finishes the game, but savvy EDH players will build decks or play in such a way that this becomes hard or impossible. What this all means for you, the deck builder, is that your typical creatures and spells that are aggressively costed and powerful for their mana costs simply don’t do much in this format, as they don’t really matter early on due to high life totals and high amount of removal, and they don’t matter later on because everyone else is casting better spells.

3. Every player has a General that threatens you. Many decks that are built to win off of the General damage mechanic (taking 21 combat damage from a single general is enough to off a player in this format), such as a Rafiq of the Many deck filled with equipment and auras to pump up Rafiq and get him through to a player will quickly find a way to do exactly that, as they can always cast Rafiq. Thus, cards that put creatures into the deck are more powerful in this format, as you cannot send your General back to the Command Zone to recast him if he is put into a deck – you can only do that when he put into the graveyard or exiled.

The take away message from looking at a typical EDH game is this – bigger is better. Tarmogoyf, while being a very efficient creature, is not going to get you anywhere. Multiple players have multiple ways to wipe the board or kill creatures that threaten them, plus the starting life total of 40 makes it a lot harder for the little Lhurgoyf to make a dent in your opponents’ plans. When building a standard deck, it is very important to keep in mind mana curve, threat density, land count, etc. In Elder Dragon Highlander, those things just tend to not matter a whole lot. The games are so random that you’ll rarely be able to curve out, and there isn’t really a defined “right” amount of land. Also, given that it’s typically a multiplayer game, the old adage, “The player that does the least wins the game,” tends to ring rather true. The more you sit around doing nothing in the beginning, the less threatening you look to your opponents. So it’s in your advantage to make every spell count – when you cast it, you want it to impact the game in a meaningful way. In other constructed formats, tempo is one of your best assets, but in EDH, one of the most meaningful resources you have is card slots in your deck. Make every one count and don’t worry too much about mana costs.

Before we look at a few cards we could put in, I want to make one thing perfectly clear – there is no “right” or “wrong” way to build the deck. Everyone plays to have fun, and if you like winning games off of Longbow Archers, have a special place in your heart for Trained Orgg, or wanted to build a pirate themed Ramirez DePietro deck, then by all means go for it! But if you are looking strictly to improve the card quality in your deck and enjoy back-and-forth style games with powerful spells and combos from all players, then you will want to keep some of this advice in mind. Many EDH players at Paradox build decks with power in mind because that’s how we have fun. It isn’t necessarily cutthroat, lock-you-out-of-the-game power, but many of us find the fun is in escaping a bad scenario, not just avoiding it all together through card banning or half-baked deckbuilding. And remember, even if you had a rough game, the great thing about Magic is that we can always shuffle up and play again.

Now, let’s get to looking at a few candidate cards for our Rith, the Awakener deck (“Finally!” I’m sure a few of you are saying). First, several mana artifacts are a great place to start when building the deck. They fix your colors, speed you up, help you live through Sundering Titans and Violent Ultimatums, and much more. While there are tons to consider, the 5 ones that I feel instantly make the cut are:

2. Sol Ring
3. Boros Signet
4. Gruul Signet
5. Selesnya Signet
6. Everflowing Chalice

Sol RingSol Ring goes in every EDH deck as it is just insane. It always makes more mana than it costs, and speeds you up by several turns. It turns a rough Obliterate into a just-in-time Oblivion Ring on their Darksteel Colossus. The signets are a given – fixing colors is very important in a three color deck. And the relatively new Everflowing Chalice is good early in the game and better later, making it perfect for this format.

Six cards down, 94 to go. Off to a good start! Now for a few white removal spells that experience tells me are good to play:

7. Oblation
8. Wrath of God
9. Hallowed Burial
10. Oblivion Ring

OblationWrath of God is a fairly easy inclusion – wiping the board can save you and other players from certain doom. While I tend to favor board sweepers for being very helpful in those challenging scenarios that I had mentioned previously, keep in mind that they also have a way of slowing the game down. It’s part personal preference, and part game expectation, and entirely your call. My call is to play them and expect no less from my opponents. Oblation and Hallowed Burial may look like odd choices to those unfamiliar with EDH games, but as I mentioned before, putting creatures into the deck is the best way to get rid of a threatening General. Oblivion Ring is a good catch-almost-all answer to threatening cards, from almost any creature to Lightning Greaves to other Oblivion Rings!

Now, we have green in here, so let’s add a few green mana ramp spells to keep us going in the early game and get us casting our powerful spells sooner.

11. Kodama’s Reach
12. Cultivate
13. Sakura Tribe-Elder
14. Skyshroud Claim

Kodama’s Reach is a staple in many green EDH decks as it ramps you a land plus it gets you another for this turn or next. Cultivate functions as another copy of Kodama’s Reach. Notice that I went for a redundant copy of another spell rather than putting in Rampant Growth or something simply less powerful – I want to get all I can from my card slots, and if Kodama’s Reach is good enough to make it in once, it should be good enough to get in again! Sakura Tribe-Elder is a great Rampant Growth that you can get back with one of Green or White’s many creature recursion abilities, or he can provide you with a clutch block plus a fetch later on. Skyshroud Claim is a very powerful ramp spell, but it does require us to play more forests to get the most out of it, so we’ll keep that in mind when building the mana base.

Now, let’s add in a few powerful red creatures so we have something to cast with all this mana!

15. Scourge of Kher Ridges
16. Flametongue Kavu
17. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Scourge of Kher Ridges is a big dragon that I am a big fan of. He can wipe nearly any board with enough mana, and helps keep obnoxious tokens or other flying fatties off the board so you can get in yourself.  Flametongue Kavu is removal on a creature, and there are enough ways to get creatures back that will make him even better. Even the next card – Kiki-Jiki – works great with Flametongue Kavu, turning your one-shot flametongue into a killer machine tongue!

Finally, 3 cards that work well with the General and other cards we’ve picked so far:

18. Mirari’s Wake
19. Decimate
20. Rhys the Redeemed

DecimateMirari’s Wake acts as mana ramp and creature pump for your potential token army, so I feel it’s a shoe-in for the final list. Decimate is a fantastic card that can fit into many Red-Green lists, because with so many players you will often have all four required targets. And if you have to hit one of your saprolings just to fire it off and hit a Maze of Ith, Oblivion Ring, and Umezawa’s Jitte, then I think you are still doing something right. Finally, Rhys the Redeemed is a great creature in here who threatens to make your token army massive. Remember that it is OK to put other legendary creatures into your deck!

So, after picking 20 cards, here’s our current list:

Rith, the Awakener EDH

Rith, the Awakener

Rhys the Redeemed
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Flametongue Kavu
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Scourge of Kher Ridges

Kodama’s Reach
Skyshroud Claim
Wrath of God
Hallowed Burial


Oblivion Ring
Mirari’s Wake

Sol Ring
Boros Signet
Gruul Signet
Selesnya Signet
Everflowing Chalice

Looks like a good start to a powerful EDH deck! Now, I’d like to see if we can get some talk about other card choices for this deck in the comments. Have a card that you think should totally go in the deck? Let’s talk about it! Next article, which I promise will come out sooner than four months from now, we will fill in more of the decklist with your suggestions and talk more about everyone’s favorite subject – the EDH Metagame! Until then, may your spells be swingy and your decks no less and no more than 100 cards!

Thanks for reading!

Day 2 Dan