Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Magic - Varolz as EDH Commander

Despite playing tons of Magic over the last few years, I have never gotten into EDH.  EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander, so-named after a set of "Elder Dragon" cards printed way back when; also known as Commander) is primarily a multiplayer game format where each player's deck revolves around a single legendary creature (their "commander").  The basic gameplay is the same as a normal constructed free-for-all, with the one exception being the commander.

Instead of shuffling your commander into your deck, you keep it separate in what's called the "command zone."   You can cast your commander from the command zone as normal, and whenever it is killed or exiled, you can opt to throw it back into the command zone (if it goes into your hand or library, you don't get the choice).  From there, you can recast your commander, except that it costs an additional two colorless mana for each time it's died.

Other than that, the gameplay proceeds as normal.

The only other difference from standard constructed is that your deck must be built around your commander.    To enforce this restriction, you can only use cards that contain mana symbols corresponding to one of your commander's colors; no other mana symbols can appear anywhere in your deck, even in the text box.  For further craziness, your deck must be exactly 100 cards (including your commander), and you're only allowed to run one copy of each card that's not a basic land.

This format gets pretty insane, with super-powerful commanders granting nasty combos.  It's also a pretty slow format, as most commanders are rather expensive, so it gives players a chance to play those big brutal mythics that wouldn't ordinarily get a chance to hit the board.

It's a totally different Magic experience, and it makes use of parts of your collection that probably won't get much play otherwise, so it can be a ton of fun.

Anyway, in the last week I built my first-ever EDH deck.  My collection is rather lacking in epic legendary creatures with absurd abilities, so Varolz, the Scar-Striped stood out as the most appealing choice.  The deck evolved pretty naturally from there, including all the big green and black beasts I could find, as well as some board wipes and a little mana ramping.

Here's my Varolz deck:

Varolz, the Scar-Striped

Birds of Paradise
Boneyard Wurm
Chancellor of the Dross
Chancellor of the Tangle
Corpsejack Menace
Deathrite Shaman
Desecration Demon
Dungrove Elder
Engulfing Slagwurm
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Elves
Lotleth Troll
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Myojin of Night's Reach
Pontiff of Blight
Predator Ooze
Reaper from the Abyss
Reassembling Skeleton
Renegade Krasis
Sepulchral Primordial
Skarrg Goliath
Sylvan Primordial
Thought Gorger
Vengeful Pharaoh
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
Wight of Precinct Six
Wurmcoil Engine

Dark Banishing
Dark Ritual
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Grisly Salvage
Ultimate Price

Diabolic Tutor
Gaze of Granite
Grim Flowering
Increasing Ambition
Life's Finale
Nature's Lore
Rampant Growth
Untamed Wilds
Virtue's Ruin

Elbrus, the Binding Blade
Golgari Cluestone
Golgari Signet
Nevinyrral's Disk
Strata Scythe

Deadbridge Chant
Sadistic Glee
Wild Growth

17 Forest
Golgari Guildgate
Grim Backwoods
19 Swamp

The basic strategy is to play some of these big creatures, sacrifice them to regenerate Varolz when needed, and then scavenge them back onto Varolz to make him even scarier.  Varolz can always survive my board wipes (Gaze of Granite and Life's Finale), as long as I can sacrifice a creature before the wipe resolves, making him a very resilient commander.  Give him Rancor and some allies that can defend against flying creatures, and he can be a really brutal presence on the board.

As for building the deck, I tried to focus primarily on choosing sexy creatures that generally had power equal to or greater than their converted mana cost for maximal Scavenging potential.  There are a few exceptions to that rule, but only in the case of some really powerful effect.  Following that, I included a number of spells that affect "each opponent," as those effects will be amplified in big multiplayer games.

I got a chance to play with a slightly different version yesterday.  In three full five-player games, Varolz only died on me twice, even though he was among the cheapest commanders being used (and thus would've been a valid target for more aggression).  I was also able to remain rather stable, winning one of the games, and coming in second and third in the others, so I'd say this deck archetype works pretty well.

The biggest problem I noticed was a little bit of mana flooding - despite having a third of the deck be creatures, I had only drawn four creatures after about ten turns, but I had twelve lands in play (which led to my third place finish).  In an attempt to remedy that problem, I took out a couple lands (both Swamps) and included Mulch and Grisly Salvage.  I figure Mulch works as mana acceleration if needed, but can also give me additional Scavenge targets, and Grisly Salvage could be used to grab a land if needed, but gives other options, too.

I have another idea for an EDH deck, if I ever get around to constructing it.  Either way, I hope to play some more EDH soon.  It really is a ton of fun, assuming you have the collection necessary to build a decent deck. I highly recommend it.

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