Hello again, my friends – and welcome back! Today, I want to get into the nuts and bolts of building a balanced EDH deck – how to start the process by breaking down the different parts of the deck, and proper analysis of the numbers that drive it.
Now, I want to preface – these numbers are just a place to start, and not an end all be all. Instead, this is a guide to template your decks; that is, to make sure you have included all of the pieces you need to make a balanced and effective deck. Some pieces may fit into a couple of different categories…and that is a good thing. The more jobs a single card can do, the more important it is to your deck.
First and foremost, let’s break down the different parts of the deck. I personally look at a deck in eight different parts:
- Spot removal
- Mass removal
- Draw spells
Again, this is not an exhaustive list, but these are the groups I organize in a deck to ensure I create a deck that is balanced. Let’s hop into the first category and see if we can’t break this down.
Let’s talk about lands for a bit. First and foremost, anything under thirty-six lands is just a poor idea, as the odds of you hitting your fourth land by your fourth turn are close to 50% – and the odds only get worse from there. If you look at both Standard and Modern formats, 36% would be a minimum of 2% less than what even the fastest decks run. Now, it may not be quite as critical to hit lands in time in our little format, but it is still telling – competitive manabases are what they are because they work. I personally run between 37%-38% as the starting place, and then – depending on the mana rocks I use – I might go up from there.
Lands generally aren’t the “sexy” part of the deck, but they are the most important!
Two things I really focus on when building a manabase are tapped lands and utility lands. Lands that enter the battlefield tapped often have an added advantage to offset the drawback, and that is why some are worth playing; however, it is a bigger downside then many people think – and often the upside isn’t even that great anyway. Guildgates and other similar two color lands come into play tapped, and are often not strong enough in the greater scheme of things.
Now, they are a good budget option, but in many cases they just aren’t worth the effective lost turn; in a two-color deck, I wouldn’t even consider them, as you simply don’t need that much color fixing. Not until you get into three-color builds would I even begin to look towards them, and only if I don’t have any other affordable options. I try to make sure I don’t use too many tapped lands in a given deck, and if I do, I want them to have another solid function (like scry) or be check lands that will often be untapped anyway. Still, I try to keep these to a manageable 5% of the deck so I don’t hit them too often. With that in mind, fast lands for EDH probably aren’t worth it in my opinion.
Utility lands are the part of this equation that I see most people get wrong. There are so many great utility lands that people tend to load , but too many utility lands that produce only colorless or generic mana can make things a lot tougher for your deck. If many of your spells have only a single pip in their casting cost, having a few more can be great, but if you are playing cards like Phyrexian Obliterator, you need to minimize your colorless lands to ensure you can meet mana requirements of your cards in a timely fashion. I try to keep the utility lands to under 10% of the total deck; no more then ten, but I prefer to shoot for eight.
Spot Removal/Mass Removal
I have both categories of removal lumped together, even though they really are separate- and honestly, most people don’t run enough of them either way. I try to keep these around 5-8% per group and will adjust one way of the other if it fits the deck better; as an example, in a token themed deck I will run less mass removal and more spot removal. I don’t often want to reset the board, but there will be threats I can’t live with.
Both types of removal need to be as flexible as possible; for spot removal,Utter End comes to mind, since it does a couple of things that are very important. It hits at instant speed, so you can wait to use it until you absolutely have to, and it exiles – which is very important. Lastly, it hits all non-land permanents. Spot removal like this is worth the extra casting cost, and very much worth a spot.
For a sweeper, Austere Command is a solid mention – you can pinpoint the trouble areas and hit specific groups, minimizing unwanted collateral damage. As a good rule of thumb, be sure that you can remove enchantments as well as creatures and artifacts. I also try to keep a card like Strip Mine for troublesome lands that just need to go.
The Commander format revolves around a high density of powerful spells, which typically means that the more of them you have, the better you will tend to do. With that in mind, having draw spells in your deck is absolutely critical to being more successful. I run around 8%-10% of my total cards as draw of some sort; that gets tougher in decks like red/white, but it can – and needs – to be done.
Many people might argue that this is simply too few, and it could be…but I have found this is a consistent number that is attainable for most decks – make changes as you see fit. For example, if you are playing a deck full of cantrips, this number will be quite a lot higher. Try to find cards like Soul of the Harvest that can net you cards as well as serving another role (big beater!), or Sword of Fire and Ice (buff, protection, damage and draw in one neat package).
I also like Blue Sun’s Zenith as it gets shuffled back in your deck for reuse, and it also often can be a huge benefit to shuffle the deck up.
These two also often get lumped together a lot, but really are two very different things. Ramp means reducing the lands in your deck (card advantage) while speeding up how fast you can generate mana. Fixing insures you have the right colors; cards like Signets or Chromatic Lantern are perfect examples. Now, if you are only playing a single color, you probably can get away less fixing (as opposed to a five color deck) and often some of your fixing can come from lands as well – hello, fetchlands! (As a side note, yeah – fetchlands do reduce land draws later in the game, but by a very negligible amount in a 99-card deck – so calm the hell down!)
I like to run between 8-10% of the deck as ramp and 5-10% as fixing, again a bit more if playing more colors. Pay attention to bonuses; cards like Krosan Verge do both, so if you’re in those colors…why not include it?
Here is where the rubber meets the road, and in my opinion this where the biggest part of your deck should be committed – the function or theme of it. What is your deck trying to do and why? Plain and simple, if it’s tribal zombies, you should probably have a bunch of zombies (right?) as well as cards that support the little cuddly beasts. If you are building a Talrand, Sky Summoner because you just love drakes, then all the instants and sorceries with be a part of that theme, since they effectively directly make them.
So yes – all those counters fit in the ‘spot removal’ section, and they are also a part of the theme. Also, everyone will hate you.
I tend to commit about 30-35% of my decks to theme, and wherever cards can have dual purposes, I want to make sure they support the theme fully. I have heard the argument that this number can be as low as 18%, but I find those types of deck concentrations weak on theme – they tend to drift to ‘Goodstuff.dec’ territory, and while there is nothing wrong with that specifically, they tend to lack some of the fun of a strongly-themed deck.
People, people – I am sure you have never seen anyone use their graveyard in a game of EDH, right? Right?
I mean, with the lack of graveyard removal I have seen in peoples’ decks, I would certainly think this is the case. Seriously – you need to run graveyard removal or control; in every game I have every played, there have been some sort of graveyard shenanigans to occur.
Every. Single. Game.
So why the relative lack of graveyard control? No really – I am asking because that is one thing I just can’t understand. At the very least, you should have 3-5% of your deck address the graveyard. The colors that do this best are black and green, but there are artifacts that can make their way in any deck – the most popular are Tormod’s Crypt and Relic of Progenitus, but don’t forget effects like Reito Lantern, or Rest in Piece (if you’re in white.)
Now, I hate to say a card should go in all decks (I’m looking at you Sol Ring[\card]!), but Crypt and Relic can both be put in any deck that doesn’t have enough graveyard hate available because of it’s colors. Do the math.
Wrap it up Yo!
If you add up all the numbers, you will find the high end equals more than 100% – and that is okay; some cards will have dual purposes, and hopefully you are finding cards that do serve multiple roles, as that will only make your deck more flexible and resilient. The more you can craft a deck that can pivot and react to the different threats it faces, the more the deck will be fun – and stronger overall. Now, I know some will argue the numbers I have presented, and that is also fine – because they are wrong. (Kidding of course!) No, this article is intended to give you a baseline to work from, and not an exact template.
What I do personally is after I reach my 99, I filter all the cards and see how close I am in percentages in each of the areas I mentioned here. If I have deviated a long way, I try to come up with a reason as to why; if I can’t answer that, then it simply isn’t ready.
But really, that is the fun of a new build – heading back to the drawing board to give it that one last tweak that makes it all click.
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Happy deck building, and I hope to see you at the tables! Until next time, this is edh.ghost out!