An Interview With Sickrobot and Cinestra, cEDH Database Managers

Jake FitzSimons • March 28, 2022

Thassa's Oracle | Illustrated by Jesper Esjing

Run by a small, growing, and dedicated team, the cEDH Decklist Database has been a nexus of competitive information since December of 2017. It stands tall in the cEDH community as a repository and reference point, a collection of decks vetted for viability at a competitive level. It also stands alone - there are no other sites like it.

In 2022, at over 125 decks and with more unique visitors than ever before, the database is at an all-time high. Part of that success, I'd wager, comes from the warmth and passion at the core of the database, front-facing managers Sickrobot, 23, and Cinestra, 25.

They've held down the fort through thick and thin to see the database flourish and gain not just mainstream recognition, but praise from a member of the CAG. This week I had the chance to talk with them.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jake: Where did the idea of the database come from? Most Commander websites aren't a curated selection of decks.

Cinestra: I definitely remember it starting as a Google spreadsheet.

Sickrobot: Yeah, it was started by Average Dragon, who's now our resident developer, as just a collection of whatever cEDH lists he could find, because at the time, four years ago or so, the cEDH community was a lot more decentralized. That was December of 2017, I think. To find a deck back then, you'd be trawling through the subreddit and MTG Salvation and random Tappedout profiles, and it was a nightmare. 

It began with the goal of helping out that issue, and then Average brought on Maynard as another administrator and it sort of grew bigger than a Google sheet could handle. So Average Dragon went ahead and put together an entire fancy website and then he brought on a bunch of new moderators, which is when I joined the team, along with Sugandaraja, asm, and Wedge. 

An earlier iteration of the cEDH decklist database, circa 2019

Jake: Who are you trying to reach with the database? What does the ideal consumer look like?

Sickrobot: Well, we have two really. 

One is someone who's been watching cEDH content and wants to get to know the decks they're seeing played, or maybe they want to build their own deck.  Even if they just have a look around or whatever, see what cEDH is. We want to provide a curated resource for them.

The other person we're trying to reach is the established cEDH player who wants to brew their own deck, and the database is a place to see what the meta is like, somewhere they can draw inspiration from. It's a lot easier having a central repository instead of digging through a bunch of discords to find a deck.

Cinestra: The two sections that we have on the database kind of reflect what Sick is talking about there, because we have the main database and then we have the brewers corner. The main database is for people just looking to get into the format so they can see the well-established decks, but people who are already very interested in cEDH can go to the brewers corner and see what new updates are coming up or some of the potential decks coming out.

Jake: So if you're not scraping the internet for lists these days, where do they come from? How does a deck get added to the database?

Cinestra: User submissions, mostly; people who've built decks they consider cEDH can submit them to us and we review them.

Jake: Who's doing the reviewing for those lists? You can't be going through it all by yourselves.

Cinestra: We had about five months of doing it solo when Maynard became inactive, just me and Sick. But the database started looking for reviewers to help, and we brought them on in October 2020 because we just couldn't keep doing it by ourselves.

Sickrobot: We used to get, like, 25 submissions every two months, somewhere around that range. In the most recent review cycle, we had 300 submissions.

Cinestra: Now we have managers and reviewers, with the managers sort of overseeing everything. Whenever we have submissions for a decklist, they get added to a spreadsheet and our reviewers go over it before giving us a thumbs up or thumbs down and commentary on the deck. The managers make the final decision. 

Jake: How many reviewers do you have at the moment?

Cinestra: I think at this point it's about fifteen. We really need people from a lot of different backgrounds because they all have different perspectives and can speak to what they're noticing in their different metas and playgroups.

The cEDH Decklist Database today

Jake: How do you pick reviewers, what's the process? Could I become one?

Cinestra: We have a whole review process that's open to anyone really. We want to know what the reviewers' motivations are for wanting to help out and what direction they think the database should be heading towards. We give them some mock decklists to review and make a decision based on their responses. We think it's really important to have that sort of a skill check because not every space in the Magic community does.

Jake: And what are you and the reviewers looking for in a deck?

Sickrobot: Really, what we want to see in a new submission - new commander or not - is a deck with a relatively unique strength. So if there's some new Grixis legendary that doesn't really have a whole lot of upside compared to Kess, Dissident Mage and you're just copying a Kess 99 with a couple of card swaps, that's not the direction to go. There's not a lot of value add for the database if your list is almost identical to an existing one.

Sickrobot, 23

We also want the deck to be in good order, meaning if there are any obvious staples missing, that's something we're gonna pick up on, and if you didn't include one on purpose, maybe write up a little justification for our reviewers on why you made that choice.

We're looking for lists that are focused, so you should have a gameplan in mind and it should all be pushing along the same axis. So for example we don't want to see someone submitting a deck with a bunch of Rule of Laws and then also Underworld Breach combos. A deck has to be aligned in the same direction.

Jake: So that explains how a deck gets onto the database, but can a deck get removed? What would make one fall off?

Sickrobot: So the most obvious thing is if a commander gets banned, which is rare, but happened recently with Golos. Sometimes if a key card gets banned, like when all the flash hulk lists were removed, we had a big shakeup when that happened. We also expect decklists to be kept up-to-date, because if a deck hasn't been touched in two years that's not really helpful to anyone. So we have a cap of six months for any given deck, and if it hasn't been updated in half a year we'll take it off. If they start updating it again, they can resubmit for consideration.

Jake: What if a deck is starting to fall behind the rest of the format and can't keep up anymore, or if it proves weaker than it first looked? I'm thinking of something like Prosh or Teferi that was top tier about five years ago but outclassed today.

Powerhouses of Yesteryear

Sickrobot: We have a public forum that anybody can contribute to if they have concerns about the power level of a deck on the database, or if they feel it's too similar to an existing strategy without adding anything new. We go over that as well as private feedback we receive and we review the list again and try to address concerns.

Jake: Can you think of a deck that's fallen off the database that you've been sad to see go? 

Sickrobot: I would say it's sad to see Curious Control [A Thrasios & Vial Smasher deck] leave the database, except it's my list and I'm not actually that sad about seeing it go. [Laughs] Okay, I just have no interest in maintaining it anymore, I'm ready for a new guard to takeover that deck. Curious Control players, come out of the woodwork!

I think it's also sad whenever we see low colour spice go, like especially the low-colour classics. It was rough for Grenzo to fall off because it's been a staple of cEDH for, like, five years now. It's just the classic Rakdos deck, but it fell out of relevance and nobody was working on it. We have great Grenzo lists now, but he was absent for a while.

Jake: I hesitate to ask, but can a deck still be cEDH if it isn't on the database?

[Both laugh]

Sickrobot: Yes, absolutely! There are certainly decks not on the database that I'd consider cEDH by any measure. The database is a resource, it isn't the end all, be all. It's just part of the overall sphere of information in the cEDH community. 

Jake: So you'd say it's descriptive rather than prescriptive?

Cinestra, 25

Sickrobot: Yeah, I think I've used those exact terms before, and it's great that you hit on it independently because that's a core misunderstanding, or maybe the core misunderstanding about the database a lot of the time.

Jake: What's the shortest period of time between a spoiler and a deck submission you've ever had?

Cinestra: [Laughs] We had an Ukkima Food Chain list submitted an hour after the card went up on reddit. We also saw a lot of Conspicuous Snoop brews right after that was spoiled.

Jake: Do you think people take database "recognition" too seriously?

Sickrobot: Right, I'd put a disclaimer on everything I've said and say that if you're submitting a deck to the database with the intention of getting recognition for it, your motivation is a bit misaligned with our goals. If you're submitting to the database, don't be disappointed if your list isn't accepted. It's not about that, it's about helping new players. 

Cinestra: Yeah, I'm not gonna lie, a lot of the time when we get feedback on the database it's negative, not positive. There aren't a ton of people who are like "wow, thank you guys for running this". We get a lot more "dude, why didn't my list make the database?!". It's been hard dealing with the new popularity of the website. 

Jake: What motivates you to keep at it? It strikes me as a lot of hard work for precious little thanks.

Cinestra: I remember the days where I would just show up on the cEDH discord and have so many different questions about a ton of different stuff. I'm still thankful to the people that were able to help me out and make me the player I am today. It's weird recently watching a bunch of new players getting into the format and seeing them pull up Into the North stuff and Playing with Power videos and using the Decklist Database. I'm very motivated to see that it's helping out local communities.

Sickrobot: We were both mentors on the cEDH subreddit when that was still a thing, so I've always had a passion for helping players get into the format. But honestly it's sort of routine and then the occasional spikes of passion, or when we get a kick in the butt from the rest of the community. I think we could be doing better, and a lot of the time we should be doing better.

Jake: The database received praise from Shivam Bhatt of the CAG a little while ago, was that surprising? 

Cinestra: When I saw Shivam tweet talking about us and the reaction to it, it was like, "Oh man, do these people actually want to learn more about cEDH!?" It felt like such a good thing because Sick and I have worked really hard at maintaining it. 

Sickrobot: Handling the database and keeping the lights on has always felt like a direct-to-cEDH sort of thing, with no expectation that anyone other than people who wanted to learn or play it would ever look at it. So having my nose ripped out of the book that I was working on to see a bunch of casual players appreciating the resource was a pretty huge shock.

Jake: CEDH is a lot bigger today than it was two years ago; why do you think that is? Why such an explosion in popularity?

Sickrobot: I think EDH players having their local playgroups and LGSs broken up over the course of the pandemic forced them to find games online, which inherently leads to arms races, which inadvertently introduces people to cEDH. 

Cinestra: Yeah, even before the pandemic, cEDH players were already catering to a lot of online play, so the format was sort of ready. Players who were already Modern or Legacy grinders couldn't play in paper, and cEDH was there as a competitive alternative. 

Jake: What does the future of the database look like? Where do you see it five years from now?

Sickrobot: Well, short term, we want an even wider range of experiences and viewpoints on our review team, just so we can be even more objective with our reviews. In terms of long term goals, I think we really are sort of bottlenecked right now by not having a full-time web developer, of even having anybody on staff that can really consistently make changes to the website. Average Dragon is a very, very busy person, orders of magnitude more busy than he was when he started the database.

So we're working on getting a bunch of the stuff off his play and onto the communal plate, and trying to bring on more people. So I think the five-year plan of the database is to be even more comprehensive and more curated and definitely to have the website do a lot more. 

Cinestra: I hope it's sooner than five years, but yeah...

Sickrobot: I think five years isn't like, "oh we just got a developer", in five years we'll want to have overhauled the website to a pretty significant degree to make it way more user-friendly. But right now we're very focused on what's in front of us and ensuring our process goes more smoothly. But I think that we need some more space to think about what we really want to be doing for the future.

Jake: Beyond the database, where can we find you online? 

Sickrobot: If you want to hear more from me, you can listen to my podcast, Into The North, that I cohost with Noobzaurs, Null and Spleenface. I'm also on twitter @Sickrobot and Moxfield.

Cinestra: I'm @CinestraMTG on twitter and Cinestra on Moxfield. Also, you can always reach out to either of us through the Make A Request tab on the database itself.

Jake: Thanks so much for your time fellas, and good luck at Marchesa, Sick!

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.