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Cultivating the cEDH Garden


CEDH has reared its head again, only this time the controversy doesn't seem to be going away.

For those of you who are unaware, cEDH, pronounced by most as "seedy-H", or Competitive Elder Dragon Highlander is a variant of Commander where the players simply use the best decks they can put together under the Commander rules, to win games.

In the past, cEDH players have kept a low profile, and for good reason. It seemed like the only time you would hear about cEDH players was during a TO's attempt to run a Commander tournament. Someone with a cEDH deck would show up, blow out everyone else and win the prize. Then they would be vilified for doing what the TO incentivized them to do.

With Commander growing in popularity by orders of magnitude, the number of cEDH players is also climbing. We are hearing less about these players surprising opponents with their super-powered decks and more about cEDH players finding their own play groups where everyone is running the most powerful deck they can manage following the Commander rules.

Every few months, when Wizards announces updates to their banned lists, the Rules Committee also announces updates to their banned list. For the last couple of times, cEDH players have wanted the card Flash banned. A significant number of cEDH decks are running Flash as part of a combo. This has become prevalent enough that the cEDH format is becoming stagnant, as it shows up in more and more decklists.

Their requests have been turned down by the Rules Committee. I would have said that they were ignored but that wouldn't be fair. The Rules Committee haa definitely heard what the cEDH community is saying. They are simply choosing not to ban Flash.

Okay, so now you are caught up.

Why Not Ban Flash?

From the cEDH perspective, this is easy. Very few casual Commander players are running Flash.If you ban it, virtually no one, other than cEDH players will be affected. Banning Flash will improve the cEDH meta and make their games more fun. So just ban Flash.

From the Rules Committee perspective, banning Flash doesn't make sense. For the Rules Committee, the ban list exists to ensure games are fun, not to regulate competitive play.

So, wouldn't banning Flash make games more fun for cEDH players? If it wouldn't hurt the fun level for everyone else, then there doesn't appear to be a downside for banning the card. The difficulty with this is the long-term issue of banning cards. Simply put, banning Flash isn't one card getting banned; it is the first card getting banned to help the cEDH meta. If Flash is banned, then the meta will shift and change and games will be interesting until the meta settles on what the new best way to win is. This will then require another banning. The new cards coming out will not do too much to shift the meta of a format that includes every Magic card made. Unfortunately for cEDH, as the format becomes more popular, and more players continue to get involved, the meta will be solved faster and faster, and the best decks will be more homogenous and demand more frequent bans.

At some point, these bans will limit the cards casual players can use. Part of the allure of Commander lies with the idea that there are so few cards you can't use. While Flash needs to be banned when it is used in a cEDH deck, a casual Commander deck may be able to use it without creating a broken environment. Banning more and more cards is not a solution that works for the greater good of Commander. Commander relies on the social contract to keep games fair. CEDH keeps games fair by knowing everyone is playing the best deck they can.

Why Not Have a Separate Banned List?

Why can't the Rules Committee run two separate lists? This way cEDH players can follow the banned list for their variant, while casual players can continue to enjoy the openness of the current banned list. Both groups of players would be happy! The difficulty is that the Rules Committee, and even the Commander Advisory Group, don't play cEDH. At least they don't play it enough to be able to make smart choices when it comes to which cards should be banned.

On top of that, I suspect the Rules Committee doesn't want the headache that would go with curating a banned list for cEDH when they don't even play that variant. What about a banned list for Pauper EDH, or Unmander? I would love to see a variant where many silver-bordered cards were legal, but going through and banning the cards that need to be banned is not what the Rules Committee wants to do with their time.

Why Not Have a cEDH Rules Committee?

Lazav, Dimir Mastermind
Why not? If four or five well-respected members of the cEDH community created their own Rules Committee simply to keep the format from getting stale, what would be wrong with that?

One issue I've heard is that it splinters Commander and that will destroy the format. That is simply not the case. There is already a group that has curated a banned list for 1v1 games of Commander. Their list of banned cards is extensive and they have been around for years. It has caused no issue whatsoever for Commander as a whole.

A second issue is that it will make cEDH appear to be something different from Commander. CEDH wants to be seen as the same as Commander. They use all the same rules, their decks are just the optimal decks of the format. If this is the concern, then it must be let go. CEDH is different from Commander. Commander games rely on the social contract to regulate them. While I have concerns about how well the social contract can continue to work with the popularity of Commander exploding, it does still control the way most Commander players play games of Magic. CEDH doesn't use the social contract to regulate the strength of the decks or whether particular cards are played. When Lazav, Dimir Mastermind copies a creature it looks just like that creature, with some changes. CEDH is Lazav.

It is precisely because of the differences between the formats that cEDH should have a separate Rules Committee. Staying under the Commander umbrella guarantees that CEDH players will be left with a format that will not be curated the way it needs to be. CEDH players should be allowed to enjoy their games to the fullest and that is not going to happen until there is a separate cEDH Rules Committee.

I can understand the desire of cEDH players who want to stay under the Commander umbrella. Stepping outside that means putting your faith in an untested Rules Committee. Stepping outside that means selling yourself as something that isn't quite Commander, and given the popularity of Commander that can be a nerve-wracking thing.

However, shifting away from the Commander Rules Committee and Commander itself is an opportunity. It gives cEDH a chance to stand on its own merits. While I am not nearly talented enough to play cEDH, this is a format that can thrive without being considered Commander. In fact, the baggage that goes with Commander is something cEDH should be happy to cast off. Commander players are generally seen as casual players who are playing for the social aspects of a the game. Most Commander players are viewed as not being particularly good at Magic generally (something I would dispute as a characteristic of Commander players generally, but the image is there). Being able to set that aside would allow cEDH players to more accurately brand themselves and bring like-minded people aboard.

It would make it even more apparent that the dirt bags who troll casual Commander games with their overpowered decks are not, in fact, cEDH players, but trolls who enjoy wasting other players' time. This would also be helpful for Commander gatherings, as those who are looking for opponents of that caliber with that level of deck would be able to more easily find them.

A Rules Committee dedicated to making cEDH a vibrant format is a good thing for everyone involved. I can understand some trepidation when dealing with new people. Will they do the right thing? Will they be good representatives of the format? I'm no seer; I certainly can't say if any of those things will happen. What I can say is that the Commander Rules Committee is not going to give the format what it needs to thrive. They can't risk the entire Commander format and start banning cards every three months to keep to the cEDH community thriving. CEDH is an overgrown plant that isn't getting the attention it needs. A cEDH Rules Committee can trim it and give it the attention it needs to make it something beautiful and thriving. A cEDH Rules Committee will make efforts to grow the format. Stay as part of Commander and die or go on your own for a chance.

Isn't it better to at least try?

Bruce Richard


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