What are cEDH Players Really Competing For? The Right to Hold the Conch

Paul Perjuns-Tart • October 6, 2022

Competitive EDH is where optimization and efficiency are put to the test. The format's singular goal is push the limits of what a 100-card singleton deck can do in conjunction with a commander. This can lead to quick and decisive victories. The competitive nature of the format has no overarching goal: no pro-tour cup, no Hall of Fame hopefuls. All that could change however. One company has decided to test if cEDH players would be willing to compete in a ranked ladder environment for the right to hold the conch.

"Why shouldn't we have a trophy?" asked Lukas Nolas, founder of The Conch Project. "cEDH is one of the most popular variants of Commander. Even though it's competitive, players don't actually compete for anything other than bragging rights in their respective pods. We set out to change that with state-of-the-art game tracking. We rank players using hundreds of data points filtered through custom AI. At the top of those rankings is the player who holds the conch."

Nolos expanded on the conch's significance and why it was chosen to represent of the world's best cEDH player.

"Lord of the Flies is one of my favorite books. I've always romanticized the idea of being stuck on a deserted island with my best dudes. One year we rented a small island via AirBnB and threw a Lord of the Flies themed party. We wore loin cloths, painted our faces, and made spears. We barbequed and called the guy we hate 'Piggy.' The works. I took a walk on the beach with my best bro and I saw a massive conch. It was immaculate, sturdy, and smooth. I put it up to my lips to blow it, though I couldn't make it work. My best bro demonstrated how do it properly. This was perfect for our Lord of the Flies party.

"We took the conch back to the group. Everyone was awestruck by the size of it. My best bro showed everyone the correct way to blow it. Everyone was taking turns blowing my conch the rest of the night but only a few were as talented as my best bro. I began to notice the effect my conch had on the group. Like the story, whoever was in possession of it was revered by the others. That's when the idea hit me. What if I applied this to my favorite hobby, competitive EDH?"

Nolas and his team got to work creating the infrastructure needed for such a monumental task.

"All I remember about the early days were endless meeting with investors, developers, and cEDH talking heads. This was only going to work if we gained the support of the cEDH community which meant we needed at least one of the seven people who appear on every single piece of commander-related content. Further, we had to ensure our technology was intuitive enough so that players could easily upload their match data, while simultaneously ensuring players didn't abuse the system to gain ranks erroneously. Three years later, after a marketing campaign where we sent out a ton of unsolicited conch pics, we were ready to launch."

"Those videos made it seem like blowing this big conch would be easy."

What Nolas and his team didn't know is that a rival start-up had received some of their conch pics and decided to start their own version of a global cEDH ranking system.

"Our idea was copied by other companies with more resources and connections. Most them were able to find a bigger conch, for instance. And before you ask, yes it was disheartening. I never expected someone else's conch would be able to make mine look small by comparison. Everyone said it's size didn't matter, but let's be honest, why would you put in so much work for an inferior conch?

"In the end we decided to scrap the idea. We couldn't keep stride with our competition's level of funding. In the end I'm glad we did because as soon as everyone launched, the market became saturated with 'official rankings' sites for cEDH players. As a result, with so many claiming to be the official ranking site, none could be. The idea imploded. Who knows, maybe the Rules Committee could create or support a ranking system which would legitimize it, but the more I think about it, the more I've realized it was a bad idea to begin with.

"It might make sense for a format with 'competitive' in its name to use a ladder system to provide a ranking of players. But commander--even competitive commander--has always been about friends doing something they love together in a way that suits them. The spirit of politics and community goes by the wayside if players were to put on blinders and begin grinding for rank. Yes, I put in a lot of hard work and failed. And even though I didn't succeed in my goal, part of me is glad I didn't. I think we can all agree that cEDH is better off not turning into a conch measuring contest.

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Paul Perjuns-Tart is often told he’s small for his age despite being 41, earning him the nickname “Lil’ P.P.” on the count of his size and initials. Recently trapped under an upside down glass, he was forced to write for pauperjumpstart.com where he’s rewarded with tortillas and spoonfuls of peanut butter so long as he doesn’t try to escape. When he’s not running across a keyboard like that scene in the movie Big, he’s printing out mean internet comments for his scrapbook. Magic: The Gathering.