(Before we get started today, I wanted to weigh in with a few disclaimers.

First off – In the interest of full disclosure (and for those who do not know), I am a compensated writer of StarCityGames.com.  I don’t want to catch anyone by surprise with the content here. 

Second – Patrick (aka “Mr. P”) is my close friend, fellow EDH enthusiast, and is as close to being officially onboard here at GDC as you can get without having your name on the letterhead.  On a personal level, he and I share incredibly similar opinions on EDH/Commander, and have worked together to build a local play environment based on rules and guidelines that we both fully agree are healthy and enjoyable, and the results – a budding EDH community that has spread to multiple stores in the Amherst, Mass area and enjoys dozens of regular players – speak for themselves.

In so many words, our voices differ and our stated opinions are each our own, but we agree on the concepts he discussed here nearly completely. 
Patrick and I have discussed this content at length, and while he is the main author and creator of the concept, I’ve also included some of my own thoughts at the bottom of the article with his blessing.

Finally, thanks for tuning in.  We’ll get back to the Xiahou Dun deck build shortly, but GDC was founded on a concept of “No Holds Barred, No Punches Pulled” EDH/Commander discussion, and I feel that this is an important piece to get out to the public eye right now.

Without further ado…)

       

Despite what you may have heard, you don’t need to play staples in your deck.

I know that there have been some articles recently on prominent websites which have said otherwise, including one article which said the following:

“A staple is a card that, if you can, you should play the vast majority of the time. Specifically, its absence from any deck should be noteworthy and not without explanation. There will be staples that wind up on the cutting room floor from time to time, but by and large there should be no reasonable strategic ground for excluding the card from your list.”
(The article in question is “Commander Staples And The Hall Of Fame”, written by Glenn Jones for StarCityGames.com.  It can be found here.  ->DJ)

This is pure rubbish.  I will freely concede that this statement is 100% true when applied to any competitive format, however (at least theoretically), EDH is not a competitive format.

More on that idea later.

The thing about playing staples is that it will make your deck better. The other thing about playing staples is that will make your deck boring.

Okay, so maybe “boring” is the wrong word; maybe the correct way to say it is that playing staples takes away from your deck’s identity in favor adding of raw power and sheer efficiency.  When you only run “the best cards,” you lose individuality and creativity, which are two of the joys of building EDH decks.

Now, I understand that this is a fine line; nobody really believes that it is noble to play Index over Ponder.  At the same time, you can jam Primeval Titan in every green deck, but at what cost?
Should you run Primeval Titan in your treefolks tribal deck, despite the fact that it is not a treefolk? 
Should your run Primeval Titan in your almost-creatureless Enchantress deck just because it finds Serra’s Sanctum? 
At what point is playing a staple just making your deck a little bit more uniform and predictable?

As with many questions like this, the answer lies largely in what you hope to get out of the format.  If your entire goal is to grind wins as quickly and efficiently as possible, the answers to these questions are probably “Who cares?”, “Of course!”, “Of course!!”, and “Who cares?” in roughly that order, and that’s fine. (sort of.)  
However, if you actually care about the “spirit of the format” (whatever the hell that is), then it may behoove you to actually spend some time thinking about this issue.

Let’s go back to the quote that I mentioned a few paragraphs ago. When the author of this quote says that these cards should be played in every deck that can support them, what he is really saying is that all decks should functionally be the same; they should all be focused on getting the win as efficiently and quickly as possible, and these cards are the most effective and efficient tools for the job.  The difference between, say, a blue-black deck and an blue-green deck is that the first can run tutors and the second can run ramp, and the blue component should be pretty much the same in both.

I suppose this is theoretically true, as there are certain blue effects such as card draw that are pretty appealing across the board.  However, beyond that, it seems like blue can fill many roles; it can steal things, copy things, counter things, redirect things, and a variety of other things.  The presumption that every blue deck should run Time Stretch, Desertion, Rhystic Study and Brainstorm suggests that, at heart, all decks that run blue want exactly the same effects out of them.

This is completely wrong.

Look, run whatever the hell you want to, OK?  If you can get past the belief that you need to run staples at all costs, then you can open up a new world of creative and interesting deck building.

Let me give you a quick example.

I built a Hannah, Ship’s Navagator deck.  It was the middle of winter in Massachusetts, and I decided I wanted to make a blue-white “blizzard” theme deck.  Since there were no “icy” generals, I chose Hannah because she had favorable interactions with the various “frozen” auras (Frozen Solid, Ice Cage, etc.) in going through my binder of blue cards, I found a copy of In The Eye Of Chaos.  (Go ahead…you can look it up.)  I decided to make a deck that was primarily focused around enchantments, with In the Eye as a particular focal point.

You know how many counters the deck runs?
Zero.
àMr. P
.   .   .   .   .

I respect Glenn Jones as a co-author and fan of the game, and he’s a great asset to the Magic community by and large.  However, in this case I believe he’s aiming for an audience that may not completely line up with the true spirit of the EDH format.  In my work in the “Dear Azami” series, I’ve tried to impress upon people that “staples” (defined as “cards you should play in every deck”) don’t need to exist at all. 
Here’s the critical distinction:
-There are good cards out there, cards that provide powerful or unique effects whenever they are played.
-There are decks the need a certain effect or ability for a given slot. 
The two can be mutually exclusive if the need requires it.
Patrick makes an important distinction about EDH as a format; it’s not a sanctioned one.  Local metagames and playgroups may vary, and as they do, the concept of “competition” does as well.  This is the exact reason that we can sit back in good faith and attack the concept of “staples” to begin with.  If you’re not trying to win at all costs, there is no single card that is required to show up in your deck.
Again – No single card is a must-include in any given deck.
It’s possible that your specific metagame is exactly the one that Glenn is speaking to.  It’s not a secret that EDH is easy to break if that’s what you want to do.  I’ve personally seen tuned combo decks that aim to win on turn three through disruption, and decks that take the concept of “prison” and “resource denial” to new heights.
If you enjoy this sort of thing, or if you’re coming into the format and think you might, Glenn’s list is a great place to start.  I’ll happily concede that point.
But not everyone is like that, and there’s easy empirical evidence to back this up.  
Recently, M13 was in the process of being spoiled, and Worldfire came into the public eye.  The uproar was tremendous in the EDH community, and threads popped up on every major website forum, filling quickly with people on both sides of the fence.  
The main argument against the card? 
It takes the fun out of the game.
That statement gives me all the evidence I need that people don’t want cookie-cutter decks filled to the brim with optimized card choices they looked up on a popular website.  After all, no-one was screaming for Jace or Stoneforge Mystic to get the axe in standard because they weren’t fun.  They screamed because those cards were too good.
I’ll echo Patrick’s sentiment in closing.  Play what you want.  Play the card that fits your deck the best, or the one that you enjoy the most when it hits the table.  Play the pet card that you have sentimental attachment to because you opened a foil copy years ago.  Play the card that your favorite artist signed at a Prerelease.  
Maybe that card is Bribery or Tooth and Nail.  Maybe that card is Norrit or Hunted Wumpus.  
In any case, the true spirit of EDH is that it’s a format that lets you be creative and enjoy games in whatever manner you like.  In Standard or Legacy, there may be a “best deck”, but in EDH, the “best deck” is the one that makes you the happiest, not necessarily the one that wins every game.
So play the card that you want to play for the reasons you want to play it.  Don’t let anyone else convince you to do otherwise.

—>DJ