Interest to Participation: Joining and Building the cEDH Community

Sigi PlayEDH • January 11, 2023

Rule of Law by Scott M. Fischer

Hey, everyone, Sigi here. You may remember me from the Lab Maniacs YouTube channel. As a former r/competitiveedh moderator, a PlayEDH Admin, and now a member of the Conquest balancing team, I've seen many people come and go from competitive Commander. But what is it that draws people in, and what's the difference between them playing a couple of games and calling it quits, or developing a lifelong devotion to cEDH? Today, I'm going to take a look at what it is that makes people interested in competitive multiplayer Magic, as well as propose a psychological model of participation - simpler than it sounds! - which explains the secret herbs and spices needed for both individuals and communities to sustain the format. Let's start with the basics.

1. Access To Powerful Cards

Taking a game to the absolute maximum power level is a lot of fun. Speedrunning might not be the way a game was meant to be played, but it's so much fun that entire communities have spawned from it. Finding the most optimal paths, using the most broken tools, exploiting interactions that weren't meant to be: cEDH is no different. Besides Vintage, EDH offers the largest card pool in the entire game. The format may have been explicitly casual in its earlier years, but it also offers fertile ground for people that want to explore some of the most powerful interactions Magic has to offer with cards they just can't use anywhere else. That's enticing. 

2. The Multiplayer Arena

The two-player setting creates a tension where the tiniest decision can be the difference between a win and a loss, but the dynamic of four-player Magic goes even further. Small decisions still matter, but navigating through a field where three other players are competing opens up a new dimension further removed from small individual plays and instead focused on how a player navigates through the game across turn cycles, how they position at the table, when they choose to interact, and how they maneuver politically.

3. No Power Level Mismatches

This is one of the reasons that pushed me personally not just towards cEDH, but online Magic in general. Playing EDH with unfamiliar people at an LGS is hard to get right. It can take a lot of talking and a lot of time to find the right balance. That dissatisfaction is one of many reasons the PlayEDH Discord exists. It's also one of the things that draws me, and the community at large, towards cEDH. In a game of casual EDH, decks can vary wildly in power level. Playing against powerful decks when looking for a casual experience is as miserable as playing against weak ones when looking for a competitive experience. There are more problems with random pickup games than the chance of an accidental pubstomp. Unequal power levels lead to unhealthy pod dynamics, and that leads to negative play experiences. But in cEDH, where everyone is playing to win by default? 

There is no such thing as a deck that's too strong for any given pod, thereby eliminating one potential source of power level mismatches. The lower threshold for what qualifies as cEDH has been debated hotly ever since its conception as a concept. For some, a deck is cEDH if it can keep up with whatever the best decks in the format are. For others, cEDH is a mindset that can be used to approach playing EDH and building decks at any power level. No matter the stance, for a format that contains everything from 99-Land Ashling the Pilgrim to Rograkh/Silas Turbo Naus, cEDH is the most easily understood pre-defined social contract.

4. Self-Improvement As A Player

This point is intimately connected with the notion of cEDH being a mindset more than a format in and of itself. One thing that made me gravitate towards cEDH was the eternal challenge of finding better players with stronger decks and figuring out how to beat them. The maxim in cEDH is to always play to win, which naturally extends from the deckbuilding process to the gameplay experience. Learning how to build a deck is as important as knowing how to put it into practice, how to evaluate the board state and examine the various lines of play. The more a player learns about the game, the more options they'll have and the quicker they'll find them. I've been playing a lot of Legacy lately, and it shares many similarities with cEDH, particularly that sense of risk and reward that pervades so many decision points. That might not appeal to most Commander players, but for people wanting a competitive experience, that's a good thing!

The particular interaction or sequence of plays that lead up to that point is something that a player will always be aware of from now on. However, this way of learning is only possible in a setting where opponents want to punish mistakes. In a more casual EDH setting, there are many extraneous factors that influence whether misplays will be punished or not, but when playing cEDH against competent players, nobody should expect to get away with anything. Misplays will be punished across the board. That's enticing for competitive players who enjoy tight play.

5. The Community

Belonging and self-actualisation are two important psychological needs we all have, and if you're reading this article, there's a good chance that you've found or you're looking for those things in the cEDH community. It's no different for me. Thanks to cEDH, I've made many wonderful friends over the years. I have fond memories of obsessing for hours and hours, making minute changes in decklists together with my fellow players, doing everything I could to find the tiniest edge. I've spent so many hours playing on webcam over the years, but I remember one game best of all during the Baral Winter of 2017. The pod consisted of one Rashmi, Eternities Crafter and three Barals. They didn't call it Baral Winter for nothing. The cheapest win condition at the table, believe it or not, was Enter the Infinite in Rashmi. The Baral decks were all on Emrakul, the Promised End. That's a great setup for a memorable ending, but I honestly can't remember who won. We were all winners, because we were having fun. Even in a competitive format, having fun with a community is what matters, and it's what so many have sought and found in cEDH.

Community Participation

Out of the five factors I've mentioned, this last aspect is the most important one: community. Without a community, there would be no cEDH. While these other factors may be enough to make someone be interested in cEDH, when it comes to active participation in the community, it's a much more complicated process. What does it take to build and maintain a community that people want to become and remain a part of? To answer this question in the context of the cEDH community, I'll take an example from the field of Community Psychology. Bert Klandermans developed a model that showcases the required steps for both individuals and organisations/communities to achieve participation in a social movement in his 1997 work The social psychology of protest1. This model consists of four steps that are required to achieve participation:

Step 1 is about agreeing with and adopting the perspectives of any given community. In the case of cEDH, the five factors I mentioned earlier in this article all pertain to this stage of the participation process. In this step, the community presents its perspectives on public platforms and makes people aware that it exists. The cEDH community does this in a variety of ways, from community members having a strong presence on social media (twitter, reddit, and Discord, first and foremost) to producing content that's dedicated to cEDH (Look: you're reading some of that right now!). Note that these measures are, for the most part, somewhat passive. 

Step 2 is more targeted and active. The people that were made aware of the cEDH community and maybe already adopted some of its perspectives now need to know when opportunities for active participation are available. There are two parts to this. One part ties neatly into Step 1: if there's a cEDH event happening anywhere, community members should advertise it via social media. The other part is actually hosting events. These can either be things like the regular virtual LGS events on the r/competitiveedh Discord or dedicated tournaments like the PlayMAX event series we've been hosting on PlayEDH. To the people who became interested in Step 1, these events will signal that the community is active and thriving. 

Step 3 deals with the question of "will joining the community be worth it?". In other words, will a person that joins the community and invests time into becoming an active member be rewarded by getting what they were looking for? Ultimately, this is a personal question, and one that can only be answered by being in touch with the needs of the cEDH community. This is also where that sense of a desire for belonging comes in. The best way to create this sense of community is to develop a group identity that individual members can adopt. 

On the individual side, if someone has gotten to this point, if cEDH looks interesting to them and they've already talked with a few members of the cEDH community, actually committing to joining the community may still seem daunting. What people at this step need the most is reassurance. 

Step 4 is concerned with material and logistical barriers to participation. The fewer barriers there are, the easier it is for people to start participating. This can be as simple as offering to give someone a ride to your LGS. For communities at large, this means that accessibility is a factor that should always be considered. 

One of the biggest hurdles for eternal formats is cost of entry. Thankfully, the cEDH community widely accepts proxies. "I want to play against you, not your wallet" is a common and commendable refrain. That said, anyone who's ever checked the bling channel on a competitive Discord will know that, proxies or not, cEDH players love stacking their decks with rare and expensive card variants. 

Deciding to participate in the cEDH community is a complex task. It starts with generating interest, but that initial interest needs to be captured and acted upon. We identified a variety of factors that generate interest, looked at a psychological model that guides us through the steps from initial interest to active participation, investigated the challenges that come with each step, and highlighted some examples of how the cEDH community overcomes these challenges. 

I look back on my time in the cEDH community with fondness, and I hope that what I laid out in this article will help the community continue to grow and thrive. We've already achieved so much: we got Flash banned, and professional Magic players have started to take an active interest in our format. And there's much more to come. The sky's the limit. 

  1. Klandermans, P. G. (1997). The social psychology of protest. Blackwell.

Sigi has been hooked on Magic since Mirrodin. He's the founder of PlayEDH, a member of the Lab Maniacs, a former r/competitiveedh Mod, and a student of psychology. Nowadays, he spends his time drinking tea and playing Conquest and Legacy.