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Varis and Zalto: dEDH


Cherubs from the Sistine Madonna by Raphael Sanzio (1512). Hover Myr by Dan Scott.

You may know that I've built and played decks at high, fringe cEDH and even cEDH levels of power, but you probably also know that my heart does not lie at the top end of our format. I love causal decks and love the variety you see when your games are long enough to be able to play janky, goofy, overcosted or just high mana cards. Today I'm not writing about cEDH and I'm not writing about battlecruiser EDH, which I'm tempted to call "bEDH".

I'm writing about going beyond cEDH.

What lies beyond cEDH, you ask?

Today I'm going to explore the idea of "dEDH".

No, not Duel Commander. I'm talking about building a version of EDH around a format inspired by the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms dungeon cards.

Tomb of Annihilation
Dungeon of the Mad Mage

These dungeons fit onto a Magic card and are like glorified Saga enchantments. You move into and through them using cards that have the new "venture" ability on them. They're cute, but I look at them and just see more tired old combo outlets with little to really get excited about.

If I want to add dungeons to my Magic games, I want to do it in a way that makes the game fresh and new. Dungeons are cool. I want to add a dungeon to my Commander games but I want to add it with something like this.

That, dear readers, is a dungeon, sized to be able to be printed onto a playmat.

You can see the full version here. You can download it and print it out in sections on paper at a size that works for your play space. I'm going to be going over to InkedGaming to get one printed so I can try it out.

If you're more interested in designing your own dungeon, or you just think you can do better than this first draft, you can get a blank version of the dungeon shown above at this link. I'd love to see what you can come up with, if you have the time and talent to really go crazy. I would love to have had time to put more art into the design. Spiderwebs, broken shields, skulls and other dungeon debris really should fill in the corners of any room with enough whitespace.

I'll be playing using this image in an upcoming Tabletop Simulator EDH night and I have ordered a playmat with this artwork from InkedGaming.com to see how well the text comes out. I'll comment below when I get that mat delivered because I'm not 100% sure how readable all that text will be, even on something as big as a fabric playmat. I think it'll be OK, but full disclosure - I REALLY don't want anyone but me to order this as a playmat and find out the text isn't readable. If you print it on paper, you'll be fine, but playmats are a different material entirely.

The basic idea behind dEDH is that you play EDH but you include a shared dungeon that you can all explore. You can win a game of dEDH either by murdering your opponents the old fashioned way OR by venturing to the heart of the dungeon.

As always, the devil is in the details. Read on to see how I think this new format might work.

How to Play dEDH

To start, you dEDH by playing EDH.

I think it would make sense to play with an understanding of how much you plan to actually use the dungeon. You can still attack each other, but if someone is planning to ignore the dungeon entirely or just dig for a combo, it might make more sense to just play a regular Commander game.

The shared dungeon can only be "ventured into" by a player once per turn cycle. That means if a player gets extra turns or has a creature with the "venture" ability from AFR, they can only use it on the shared dungeon once per turn cycle.

The "venture" ability from an AFR (Adventures in the Forgotten Realms) Magic card can be used for any room in the shared dungeon EXCEPT for the final room, as that will win you the game and it's way too easy to get some of these new venture cards to trigger.

In lieu of using a venture trigger from one of those new cards, a player can use their creatures to move into an adjacent room in the dungeon. You do this in combat. For the final room you'll have to use your creatures, as entering that last room will win you the game.

When a player declares attackers, they can choose to tap a number of creatures with equal or greater power to the power of the dungeon room they are going into.

During the damage phase of combat, if enough total power of creatures is still tapped and attacking a dungeon room, the player will move into the next room and all dungeon room triggers will be put on the stack. If damage is prevented or enough attackers are removed before damage, the attempt to move into that room will fail.

Dungeon rooms can have more than one player in them. The grey numbered circle in each room will tell you the power of the room. To win the game you'll need to assign 10 power to the final room. If a creature you have assigned to "attack" the room does not survive to the damage step of combat, it will not add to the power you are using to try to get into that room.

Dungeon Room Effects

Entering a room can give you up to two triggers.

The first trigger is written on the map.

This dungeon room ability will happen every time you enter the room, and will always target or affect you. Some rooms will have you create a token of some sort. A room that reads "1/1 Goblin" would have you create a 1/1 Red Goblin creature token. Some rooms might have you scry, surveil, gain or lose life. These triggers are put on the stack just like any other trigger. Yes, you can use Disallow to counter the final "Win the Game" trigger.

The second trigger comes into play if you are playing dEDH with a "dungeon deck".

The dungeon deck is a deck of 60 cards that will represent effects that can happen alongside the first effect that's written on the map. Every room will have two or three symbols that look like little Magic cards with numbers on them. The first icon is brown like the back of a Magic card and tells you how many Dungeon cards to reveal. The white and black cards tell you how many effects you'll get and who will choose them out of the cards you revealed. The white card icons represent cards you will choose and the black card icons represent cards that an opponent of your choice will select. A few rooms have both you and your opponent choose cards, and these rooms will follow APNAP (active player, non-active player) order, with your choice(s) put on the stack first and then the opponent's choice(s).

All dungeon card effects picked from the cards you reveal will affect you or a creature you control, including the effects picked by an opponent.

You can assign any number of attackers to the task of exploring the dungeon, but they cannot also attack an opponent during that combat step and they do have to be tapped - even if they have vigilance. These creatures will be considered "attacking creatures" for the purposes of any spell that cares about such things - they just aren't attacking an opponent. They are essentially attacking the dungeon.

The Dungeon Deck

You can play dEDH with just the playmat, some friends and your Commander decks, but without a Dungeon deck. Just ignore the dungeon deck symbols and have at it. I think the real fun will begin when you're flopping cards off the top of that fateful little pile and picking - or watching your opponent pick - what is about to happen to you!

You can build your own 60 card dungeon deck out of your own commons and uncommons - or even rares and mythic rares! If you find enough players excited about the format, each of you could set up your own 15 card pile for you all to shuffle together and use. You'll want to use different colored sleeves or just use some of your cheaper Magic cards in case some don't end up coming home with you. You can probably build a great dungeon deck with a 25 cent cap on the price of each card, but that's really up to you.

My first thought is that dungeon decks are made up of instants, sorceries and creatures.

You can load your deck up with all good effects, all bad effects, or the kind of mix that will keep you on your toes and in suspense every time someone makes it to another room.

When you enter a room dungeon card spells are revealed, picked, and put on the stack (in APNAP order). They are cast by the dungeon, not by any player.

The resolution of a dungeon room's triggers when you move to the room by "attacking" it will occur after the damage step of the combat phase, before your second main phase. If you move into the room with a "venture" trigger, the rooms' triggers are put on the stack immediately upon resolution of the venture trigger.

If you wanted to include artifacts, enchantments, planeswalkers or lands into your dungeon deck, I'd probably have artifacts and lands go onto the active player's board as treasure, the enchantments stay on the field and act as global enchantments, affecting everyone, and planeswalkers hit the field, use their first ability and then go away. My first thought was that these don't add enough to warrant including them, but hey - players love treasure. I think at least artifacts and enchantments bear consideration for having a seat at the table when planning your dungeon deck.

Dungeon Deck Effects

The "active" player is always the player whose turn it currently is.

Effects that refer to "all opponents" or "all players" will affect all players including the active player.

Effects that refer to "target player" will target the active player.

Effects that create tokens under the control of the caster or target player will create those tokens under the control of the active player. The dungeon isn't really a player, doesn't have a battlefield, and doesn't have any use for clues, treasures or token creatures.

Effects that target one or more target opponents will target randomly chosen players from among the active player's opponents.

Effects that target a creature will randomly target one of the creatures that are "attacking" the dungeon room. If a venture trigger caused the player to move to the room and there are no attacking creatures, the effect will target a random creature under the active player's control.

If the dungeon card is a creature card, that creature will enter the battlefield, will fight a random creature attacking that room, and then will get exiled immediately. If some ability like persist or undying would cause that creature to return to the battlefield, it would fight another randomly chosen creature.

Creatures that have enter the battlefield effects will have those effects follow the same basic rules. If a dungeon deck goblin enters the battlefield and would create a 1/1 goblin token, the goblin would fight one of your creatures and you would also create a 1/1 goblin token. The token would come under your control and it would not fight one of your creatures.

Nontoken creatures created by the dungeon are not controlled by any player and if the turn is ended they will immediately go to exile. Nontoken dungeon creatures can be targeted by spells and abilities. Players can respond to their fight triggers being put on the stack. If one or more of the creatures you assigned to venturing to this room gets killed by the dungeon deck creature, you still stay in the room - you are not knocked back to the previous room.

Magic is an incredibly complex game, and multiplayer Commander is a complicated format. If you run into a scenario that isn't covered by the guidelines I've outlined here, you should do what makes sense to you and your playgroup. Keep notes and just be consistent on how you run your dEDH games.

As to how you set up your dungeon decks, I think you'll want enough nasty surprises in the dungeon deck that an opponent could occasionally get to give you a real headache and enough great spells that you'll occasionally be elated with the cards you flopped. Beyond that, if you make it too hard players will resort to just swinging at each other in combat and then you might as well just be playing regular Commander.

My First Dungeon Deck

This first attempt at a dungeon deck feels a bit creature heavy, but there are some fun things in the mix as well. I tried to provide an interesting mix of creatures and non creatures spells for players to flop into as they move from dungeon room to dungeon room.

I'm unsure if having this many creatures will end up being overwhelming to someone trying to explore a dungeon. I didn't want to add too many cards that would just fill up players hands with card draw and pump up players' life totals, but this first draft might be too oppressive. I'll have to play it and see how it feels to everyone.

A good dungeon deck with interesting cards like Providence, Putrid Goblin, Magnetic Theft and Undergrowth Scavenger will really go a long way toward making the format work. Too much removal will make for a bad experience. A card like Acidic Slime will blow up a random artifact, enchantment or land under the active player's control and it will fight a random creature under their control. Even if it's just choosing from the creatures attacking the dungeon room, that's still a pretty brutal dungeon room effect.

A creature like Skittering Surveyor will fight but will also have the active player tutor up a land. A creature like Maelstrom Colossus will cascade in the dungeon deck, giving you a surprise extra card to have to deal with. Rishadan Footpad and Rishadan Cutpurse will affect everyone, as they are being played by the dungeon, so "each opponent" means all players. Murderous Redcap will enter as a 2/2, do damage to a random target, fight a random creature under the active player's control, and if it dies it will come back because of the persist trigger and will do it all again as a 1/1.

First drafts are rarely perfect, so this dungeon deck will likely change a lot in the weeks to come. I think they are a great place to put pet cards like Providence that I love but would never put into a Commander deck. You could really give your dungeon a strong theme by loading it up with the right cards. A goblin lair would have a different deck than a lich's catacombs and your deck should reflect that difference in its creatures and the instants and sorceries you include.

Duelling dEDH Decks

I'm not the biggest fan of those little dungeon cards, but if I'm going to be building decks to explore the shared dungeon, it makes sense to build in a way that will let me work through the shared dungeon and those dungeon cards as well.

You can read Mark Wischkaemper's column about Sefris of the Hidden Ways if you'd like another look at a Commander deck built to explore dungeons. I decided to throw together a couple of lists with unique ways to load up on "venture" triggers.

I know it's possible to combo off with a dungeon as your outlet, but that's not where I'm trying to go with either of these lists. The shared dungeon only permits one room transition per turn cycle per player so it's not meant to be the kind of game that rewards combo.

Running with the Wolves

First, I'll dive into Mono-Green with Varis, Silverymoon Ranger. Varis just begs to have a casual Rangers and Wolves build, so that's where I decided to go with this Human Elf Ranger.

Varis, Silverymoon Ranger
Turntimber Ranger
Wren's Run Packmaster

I've thrown in a bunch of Elves and Rangers, along with Turntimber Ranger and Maskwood Nexus, which work together in delightful ways. Rather than run wolves, I'm running a bunch of wolf token generators. I don't know how powerful this deck will end up being, but I'm loving the flavor so far. There are a few Green staples in here. It's not strictly Rangers and Wolves, but I'm hesitant to drop out cards like Acidic Slime, Terastodon, and Beast Whisperer in favor of more wolves.

Running with the Wolves | Commander | Stephen Johnson

The Turntimber Ranger / Maskwood Nexus combo begs to have some tutors thrown in to try to hit it more reliably, but I'm choosing to resist that temptation. I don't think this list will fly through dungeons at an incredible pace, but it should be able to get the job done and I think it will have a good shot at making it through the shared Dungeon.

Ping Me Baby One More Time

While pingers might not do quite as well in a format like Commander, this next deck is built around a legendary creature who loves being hit for one or two damage at a time.

Zalto, Fire Giant Duke
Goblin Sharpshooter
Darksteel Plate

I'm pretty sure there are combos you can run with Zalto to just loop through a mini dungeon as many times as you like, but this deck isn't built to do that. It is capable of wiping the board with equipment like Basilisk Collar equipped to a pinger like Goblin Sharpshooter, but the main goal is to control the board and use pingers with Zalto to move through dungeons.

Zalto Pingers | Commander | Stephen Johnson

This list is another relatively casual affair. The dEDH limitation of each player only being able to move through the main, shared dungeon once per turn cycle should keep both of these lists from "breaking" this new format. The final room cannot be entered using a "venture" trigger, so even if you're able to move through the big dungeon and survive what the dungeon deck spits out, you'll still need to attack that final room with at least 10 power worth of creatures.

Final Thoughts

This might be the next big thing to happen to Commander.

Then again, it might not. This column might get lost to the sands of time in a day or two, but I'm hopeful that dEDH could be a fun new way to add some spice to your next Commander night.

It's very easy to load artwork into InkedGaming.com and order a playmat. If you want to customize your own, you can load the blank version into pixlr.com or into your image editor of choice and make whatever dungeon you like. It's a bit of work, but if you've got great ideas and the time to devote to this project, it might be worth it.

Will CoolStuffInc.com ever make these available on their website? Will Wizards release new, creative dEDH playmats and dungeon decks every year? Can you build a better dungeon map for you and your friends to use when you play dEDH?

I can't see into the future, but I run an EDH league and write every week about Commander above and beyond my 9-5 day job, so I'm unlikely to be able to devote a ton more time to this experiment if it doesn't catch on.

I'm also capable of putting crazy amounts of time and effort into things when they really catch my attention, so please comment if you think this is as exciting as I think it might be. Share this column. Reach out to CSI and tell them you want to buy dEDH playmats! With your feedback and support, anything is possible. I will comment with a note on how the playmat comes out and how my initial play-testing on Tabletop Simulator goes, though it might take me a week or two.

I could see a dedicated website set up to handle dEDH format rulings along with a discord, a subreddit and a community where we could work through all the weird questions that will inevitably come up. We'll want this to be something you can figure out on your own, but there will always be interactions that require a closer look and a ruling by whoever will control the format. For now, that would be you and your playgroup, but if this takes off, I think a dEDH rules committee would make sense. We're a long, long way from having to do that.

This was a lot of fun to throw together and I promise I will comment below when I have results from actual play-testing. This is still very early in the design process. I think it will be fun, but there is no substitute for actually shuffling up cards and playing.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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