If you are reading this article, hopefully you’ve checked outpart 1 here.
In that article, I talked about competitive EDH, or cEDH, and how it differs from casual Commander. Today’s article will review the successful archetypes that make up cEDH. Needless to say, there are endless possibilities of decks to play in such a large format, but when it comes to winning, there are some strategies that outshine others.
Let’s start by breaking down the colors of cEDH. The order for colors from best to worst overall is:
- Blue – A color full of disruption, permission, combo pieces, and even stax pieces.
- Black – A color full of tutors, reanimation effects, and stax pieces.
- Green – A color full of ramp, tutors, and hatebears.
- White – A color full of hatebears.
- Red – A color full of disruption.
When playing cEDH, your aim is to win. Popular casual generals may seem fun and flashy, but chances are good that they aren’t going to be strong enough. If you see a General Tazri deck at a cEDH table, I promise you, they aren’t playing Ally Tribal.
We are all familiar with what certain colors bring to the table in Commander, and that remains relatively similar for cEDH as well. But what really differs are archetypes. In cEDH, I classify the best archetypes as follows (in no particular order):
- Fast combo
- Slow combo
- A mixture of these archetypes
Are the Games Over on Turn 1?
A common misconception about cEDH is similar to one I see about Vintage—that the games are one-sided and often over quickly. One player attempts to go out in a blaze of glory, and if unsuccessful, an opponent will just one-shot them back. While there is some truth to that claim, I have found it to be overstated. Most games are a tough battle between worthy opponents and it is rare, especially at a 4-player table, for someone to go off consistently on the first few turns. If everyone is playing fast combo, sure, it is more likely, but even then, there are always various interactive spells to throw a wrench in the plan.
cEDH games can last as little as 1 or 2 turns or can last as long as an hour or so. It all depends on what decks are at the table. For my archetypal breakdown below, I will be assuming that all players are on the same footing, battling intensely with the goal to win in a 4-man cEDH pod.
Surprise! Blue is far and away the best color in cEDH. Blue has the ability to remove problematic permanents of any card type, as well as counter them before they even hit the field. As such, control has an excellent role in cEDH. Often, control decks will employ the help of the table in answering other problematic cards. Naturally, if there is a game-ending combo being deployed, the control player will do their best to thwart it.
But let’s not forget that cEDH isn’t necessarily like other formats. A Legacy Ad Nauseum Tendrils deck may not be able to pack room for Flusterstorm or Swan Song in their combo deck, but a cEDH Storm deck will absolutely be packing counterspells and interaction as well. This can make things extra dicey and tense for the table. You don’t want to be a control player sitting there with a Mana Drain in hand only to have the combo player start their turn off with Silence.
Ultimately, control is kept in check merely by the multiplayer nature of the format. Cards like Counterspell and Negate will only ever be so good in a format when you are facing 3 opponents. Luckily, the 1v1v1v1 nature of cEDH means that everyone should be using proper threat assessment to keep things in check. The control deck shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting.
Popular control generals include:
Popular control cards include:
Stax is a term that comes from Smokestack, a card that was used to lock people out of the game. While the card Smokestack doesn’t see much play anymore, the goal of locking down the game or slowly whittling the opponents down is as alive as ever.
Stax decks enjoy playing a long game, however, and if they have their way they’ll be the only ones playing. If there are multiple stax decks at a table, fast combo decks may have a hard time combo’ing off quickly. The old mulligan rule allowed players to partial mulligan, and while this hurt many archetypes, I’d argue that it hurt stax decks the most. This archetype seriously suffers if it doesn’t have an early game lock piece to slow games down. There is some instant-speed interaction in most stax decks, but usually the locks are permanent-based. Having a critical number of such pieces so that you can ensure that you draw multiple copies each game is crucial.
Stax decks are notorious for being able to break out of their own locks. Breaking parity can be something as simple as playing mana rocks when you play your Winter Orb, or something as complex as using Teferi, Temporal Archmage with Stasis. Stax decks will want their lock pieces to tax all of their opponents rather than single one individual player out. Stax is the archetype I see least in casual EDH due to the high number of griefer cards the decks tend to play. If you haven’t played against Winter Orb, Stasis, or Nether Void before, I assure you—it isn’t very fun.
Popular stax generals include:
Popular stax cards include:
All right, now we’re talking. This is what many players jump into cEDH for—the fast combo decks. Fast combo cEDH decks are the ones most casual players dread, seeing as they usually win around turn 3-4 consistently and often before the opponent can get much going. Casual EDH doesn’t place an emphasis on cheap interaction or explosive mana starts, which is music to a fast combo player’s ears.
The combos that litter cEDH are vast and range in complexity. There are creature-based combos, graveyard-based combos, engine-based combos, and 2- and 3-card combos as well.
When fast combo decks sit down with each other, the goal is to win quickly. Very quickly. Since these decks only have one speed, they want to end the game before anything else happens. Fast combo decks may find an uphill battle awaits them if the rest of the table is on control or stax decks. Fast combo decks tend to be more vulnerable to hate, and though they can assemble backup wins, they should always focus on plan A.
Popular fast combo generals include:
Popular fast combo cards include:
Slow combo is the last archetype I will discuss. As the name implies, slow combo decks aim to win the game through combo’ing, but usually not as fast as fast combo decks. They trade off some of their speed or consistency for resiliency. While a super fast Sidisi, Undead Vizier deck may lose to a resolved Rest in Peace, a Gitrog Monster deck may have more removal and interaction to clear the way before combo’ing with Dakmor Salvage.
Slow combo decks cut some combo-centric pieces not just for ways to push through their combos, but also for ways to disrupt opposing combos. It doesn’t matter if you lose quickly or lose slowly—the point is that you’ve lost. Slow combo decks aim at picking their opportunities and executing a combo when the opportunity arises. Sure, a slow combo deck can still win on the second or third turn of the game but that often isn’t typical because it is rare to be able to back up such combos so early.
Popular slow combo generals include:
Popular slow combo cards include:
One of the beautiful things about 100-card formats is the fusion of archetypes and strategies you often find. Teferi, Temporal Archmage makes for an excellent stax deck, but also employs some of the formats most powerful combos. This makes it a blend of both stax and fast combo, which is something you won’t see in 60-card formats. Likewise, decks like Captain Sisay can be toolbox decks that go for Mox Opal into Paradox Engine combos if the coast is clear, or Hokori, Dust Drinker and Gaddock Teeg if the need arises. This makes it a blend of both stax and slow combo.
Often, the opening hands will dictate how your deck will function that game. This may seem obvious, but when your normally turn 4-5 deck instead plans on winning on turn 10-12, that is a drastic role reversal. Flexibility can be a strength in cEDH, but the beautiful part of the format is that it isn’t necessary. You can feel free to streamline your deck as much as you see fit.
Unlike in Constructed formats, cEDH decks don’t typically have an easy time beating another archetype in particular. Because of the 4-player nature of the format, there isn’t really the rock/paper/scissors aspect of other formats. But the player who is playing the oddball deck will usually be at a disadvantage. For example, if there are 3 fast combo decks at a table and 1 stax player, the stax player will most likely get crushed right out of the gates. Similarly, if there are 3 stax players at the table and 1 fast combo player, the combo player will suffer. A benefit to having popular, mainstream archetypes is that you will always know what to prepare against regarding deck types, but the specific matchups are always a surprise.
What are your favorite archetypes in cEDH? Are there any particular generals you would like to see more in-depth? My next cEDH article will examine the format’s top tier generals as well as go over particular skills you will want to pick up to become a top cEDH player. Thanks so much for reading and until next time, may your stax be fat.