Five cEDH Staples Worth Reconsidering

Harvey McGuinness • January 3, 2024

Happy New Year, everybody! Welcome to 2024: new year, new Magic. As we get ready to start off fresh, it's an excellent time to sit back, think of all the games we've played in 2023, and take stock of which cards we should take with us into the new year and which cards we might want to cut from our lists. For cEDH players, this often means tinkering with our flex slots, the cards we've never quite settled on, one way or another. But what about the rest? Those cards we know are fantastic in any deck that can play them, regardless of strategy. Well, let's take a look at some of these staples and ask ourselves if we should really be playing them everywhere and anywhere.

Mana Drain

First up, let's start off with what is arguably the least controversial card on our list: Mana Drain. For two blue mana, Mana Drain offers an unconditional counterspell with the upside of potentially providing a significant amount of colorless mana on your next main phase. Counterspells are among the most valuable pieces of interaction in Magic overall, and the mana output from Mana Drain can swing games, so the overall effect here is certainly valuable. The problem, however, is Mana Drain's mana cost. Two blue mana is a lot to ask, especially for a reactive spell. Couple that with the increasing speed of cEDH games, and the mana production of Mana Drain has begun to diminish. Many of the key spells being countered by Mana Drain have such low mana values that the resultant mana production from Mana Drain is frequently no longer substantial enough to warrant the two-mana investment, much less swing a game. The result? Mana Drain is moving further and further from the staple it once was and closer towards the realm of value pick for a flex slot. 

Infernal Plunge

Alright, on to our next pick, a red ritual courtesy of Infernal Plunge. Like its cousin, Culling the Weak, Infernal Plunge also asks that you sacrifice a creature in addition to paying the mana cost of one red. Unlike Culling the Weak, however, Infernal Plunge only adds three mana, as opposed to Culling the Weak's four. Now, don't misunderstand me here: a one-mana difference in mana production isn't so significant as to make Infernal Plunge unplayable; the card is phenomenal. What it comes down to, however, is creature density. In order to run a lot of cards that require sacrificing creatures as an additional cost, you have to have a reliable source of creatures to feed into them. Decks like RogSi (Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh partnered with Silas Renn, Seeker Adept) are able to get past this hurdle by having sacrifice fodder in the command zone, while the majority of green decks have mana dorks that they can pitch if they ever need to.

This density requirement is the compounding factor which tips the scales for Infernal Plunge. I mentioned earlier how a one-mana production difference isn't terrible, but what it does do is provide a firm hierarchy between the two spells, putting Culling the Weak firmly on top. The problem is, for many decks, there just isn't a second slot anymore. Culling the Weak and one other mana are enough to cast Ad Nauseam, and you just can't say the same about Infernal Plunge. If you've only got one creature to sacrifice, which ritual would you rather cast? Infernal Plunge certainly still has its place, but it's not the auto-include for red decks which you might think it is.

Wheel of Fortune

Wheel of Fortune, along with essentially all other wheel effects, have been at the center of debate for a long time in cEDH, with most players running them as what can best be described as an "unappealing-but-neccessary" staple. You're rarely happy to be casting a wheel, unless you're comboing it with something like Orcish Bowmasters, because it usually means you're trying to pick up steam from behind. Then there's the problem of symmetry: while you can try and get tricky with the timing of your wheel, there's no way to get away from the fact that you're drawing your opponents more cards than you are yourself, three to one. At the same time, seven cards for three mana is a lot of value, which is why Wheel of Fortune and friends have stuck around so long. So, what's new in cEDH that's worth considering over Wheel of Fortune? Value engines, like The One Ring.

It may seem weird at first to consider something like The One Ring as a competitor for Wheel of Fortune, but the truth of the matter is that cEDH is brimming with midrange lists that can gain far more from value engines than they ever could from the burst draw of a wheel. Wheel of Fortune is certainly a card that will stick around in 2024 and beyond, but don't assume your lists need to be on it anymore.

Fierce Guardianship // Deflecting Swat

Time for our two-for-one! These are the two strongest contenders for enduring staple status on our list, but, just like every other card here, they are not without counterargument. So, in a format where free interaction is always in demand and the only requirement to pay nothing for these spells is that you control your commander - the namesake card of EDH - let's ask the big question: why wouldn't you want to run Fierce Guardianship, Deflecting Swat, or both?

Despite these being truly amazing and omnipresent cards, the answer lies in their alternative cost requirement; that is, controlling your commander. This may sound a bit nonsensical, given that (barring a Drannith Magistrate or the like) you'll always have the potential of casting your commander over the course of the game, but not all decks will have their commanders in play consistently. Think of behemoths like Niv-Mizzet, Parun or Tivit, Seller of Secrets, commanders like these don't come down until much later in the game, meaning that, for most of the game, Fierce Guardianship and friends aren't the free spells we assume they are. If you're playing your commander in the early turns, then, by all means, these cards are fantastic, but if you aren't playing your commander until the turn you win, then maybe you should give these spells another thought.

Mox Amber

Finally, our last pick of the list, Mox Amber. Just like every other Mox, Mox Amber brings with it the promises of one mana courtesy of a free artifact. The issue is, however, that Mox Amber has a very similar problem as Fierce Guardianship: it might not have the word "commander" on it anywhere, but you'll often find the card useless unless you control your commander. 

Outside of decks like Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, there aren't actually that many low-cost legendary creatures running around in the 99s of lists. The closest we have are low-cost partner combos like Thrasios, Triton Hero and Yoshimaru, Ever Faithful, or the aforementioned Rograkh, Son of Rohgahh from RogSi. The result is that very few lists can gain the full value that Mox Amber purports to offer. So, if you're still on Mox Amber and you're not playing one of these low-cost commanders (or a deck otherwise chock-full of legendaries), ask yourself this question: how badly do I want to draw a mana rock after I've cast my commander? Therein is your answer for Mox Amber.

Wrap Up

I hope this list has given you some cards to think about as you head into a new year of deckbuilding. cEDH is a constantly evolving format; some commanders may last at the top longer than others, but don't be fooled: lists are always changing. Staples turn to flex slots, flex slots turn to cuts. Good luck in all things Magic, and Happy New Year!

Harvey McGuinness is a student at Johns Hopkins University who has been playing Magic since the release of Return to Ravnica. After spending a few years in the Legacy arena bouncing between Miracles and other blue-white control shells, he now spends his time enjoying Magic through cEDH games and understanding the finance perspective.