How Do EDH Deckbuilding Strategies Change Over Time?

Cooper Gottfried • July 7, 2024

If you own a Commander deck, chances are you've made some changes to it over time. This could be as simple as upgrading your basic lands to all be your favorite full art variant, or as complex as tearing down the whole deck and starting from scratch. If you've ever tinkered with your decks, whether that's aesthetic tinkering or functional tinkering, I'd like to invite you to take a look at one of my EDH decks and read about how and why I changed it.

Untap, Upkeep, Draw

My journey began where most Magic players' journeys do nowadays: with a preconstructed Commander deck. In my case, it was the Witherbloom Witchcraft precon from Commander 2021. This deck broadly focused on life gain and life loss as themes, with its face commander, Willowdusk, Essence Seer, giving benefits for having gained or lost large amounts of life in a single turn. The precon right out of the box didn't feel great to play, with some genuinely bad cards like Sun Droplet propping up the deck's life gain theme. The deck was both using a relatively weak strategy and not focusing well on that strategy.

First Main Phase

My first goal was to make the deck more consistent, and I started by swapping to the "backup" commander for this precon. I was running Dina, Soul Steeper in the command zone to get a more easily accessible life-gain-related win condition. As I did more research and learned about the existence of more and more Magic cards, I realized that Dina had a surprisingly easy infinite combo with Exquisite Blood. With a vital part of that combo living in the command zone, I had an easy way to win the game at my fingertips.

 

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With a new A + B combo, the first cards I added to this deck were tutors. A few of the budget tutor options went in, including Dig Up and Diabolic Tutor. The deck began to feel much more powerful, consistently winning by giving myself infinite life and taking away infinite life from my opponents. I added in other infinite combos, too, like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Shard of the Nightbringer

 

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This felt fun for a good while... until it didn't. The deck had the same gameplay loop every single time: tutor for and play one of several overlapping combos, then win the game shortly thereafter. It felt boring; I had unintentionally removed the enjoyable play patterns from the deck in pursuit of winning games.

Combat Step

To revive the fun parts of the deck, I began changing it again. I wanted to keep its original gain-and-drain strategy while maintaining the capability to win games. Aristocrats is a tried-and-true strategy, so I began cutting the recently added combo cards to make room for some new additions. These included great cards like Blood Artist, Beledros Witherbloom, and Skullclamp, all of which contributed to the deck's new plan of life drain through death triggers.

In theory, this version of the deck was great. With Dina, Soul Steeper as an easily accessible sacrifice outlet and an ensemble of life-draining aristocrat creatures in the 99, the deck had a more powerful way to win that wasn't from an out-of-nowhere combo. However, after several more games I realized that making my opponents lose life in increments of one was not the best strategy when each of them starts a game with 40 life. The deck couldn't consistently string together that many life drain triggers in a game, so it struggled to close out games.

Second Main Phase

I was having more fun with the aristocrats theme, but I noticed that there were other commanders who would be much better suited to lead the deck in its newest form. I tried out Beledros Witherbloom and a few others before settling on Meren of Clan Nel Toth. The ability to Regrow or Reanimate a creature every turn felt really strong, and I had the deck in a state that I was happy with.

After a few more months of tinkering, I had about 45 creatures in the deck. Nearly all of the best cards in the deck were creatures, from drain ramp pieces, like Steve, to card advantage pieces, like Braids, Arisen Nightmare, so I took the next logical step and made the deck ALL creatures and added a companion to ensure I stuck to that restriction. With 65 creatures, 35 lands, and now Umori, the Collector in the companion zone, the former precon was in a much-improved state.

The only problem was that, in my pursuit of making the deck as powerful as possible, I had added some pretty oppressive creatures in. Every variant of Fleshbag Marauder, nearly 25 pieces of removal, and cards like Butcher of Malakir that just annoyed my opponents into conceding, had all found their ways into the 99. I had made a fun, strong, and unique deck, but it wasn't fulfilling what's most important to me about Commander: having fun with my friends.

After taking those creatures out and replacing them with fun graveyard synergy pieces, like Splinterfright, I arrived at the deck's current iteration. It has some really cool interactions, and it's much more enjoyable for both myself and my opponents than it was in the past.

End Step

This deck has seen many themes, commanders, and cards. It was an underwhelming precon and a boring combo deck before finally becoming a deck I enjoyed playing. It changed for the first time because I wanted to win more games. I liked the way that winning games of Magic felt, but didn't quite understand that I enjoyed "earning" those victories over time. When I played this as a combo list, focused on winning through a one-card instant win with my commander, the joy of the game was gone. This, I think, is one of the most important lessons I learned from this list's many iterations: every Magic player finds joy in something different.

All that said, here's the current decklist:

Oops! All Creatures!

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Commander (1)
Creatures (66)
Lands (32)
Planeswalkers (1)

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View this decklist on Archidekt

Cleanup Step

Using Archidekt's deck comparison tool, I was able to see that only 17% of the cards from the original Witherbloom Witchcraft precon remain in the current list, and they're all lands. This deck is unrecognizable when compared to its precon predecessor, and I like it that way. I think the changes I made are good ones, and I think it's fitting that the first EDH deck I ever played is also the one I've modified the most.

As I build decks now, I take all of these lessons into consideration. I typically want to build decks that I'd term an 8 out of 10 on the power scale, which is where I think a lot of EDH players want their decks to fall too, but, having learned all these lessons, I ensure that I'm building decks that are fun for me and my opponents alike. The definition of "fun" of course varies from player to player and playgroup to playgroup, and I think tinkering with your decklists as often as possible can help you discover your personal definition of a fun game of Commander.

Do you have any precons you've changed this much? Any decks that you've poured similar amounts of time and thought into? I'd love to hear, let me know in the comments!



Cooper is a student at Brandeis University, where he’s Editor in Chief of its community newspaper, The Brandeis Hoot. He’s played Magic for a few years, starting in earnest when he was gifted a precon during the summer of 2022. His favorite Magic card is Denry Klin, Editor in Chief, and he bets you can't guess why.