(Editor’s Note-

Dave is a regular reader here at GDC, and recently spent six months in Singapore.  He wanted to try to get an EDH league up and running while he was there, and he picked my brain quite a bit before he left on the system Patrick and I have created for our local shop.  

He promised me a write-up at the end, and I thought it would be pretty interesting to see both the results of another ‘points’-style EDH metagame built from the ground up, and also to take a look at how the format is received in a different culture halfway around the world.

Enjoy!

—>Cass)

I just spent six months living in Singapore, and I enjoyed trying to get an EDH league off the ground while I was there. Magic is huge in Singapore, and it wasn’t hard to find a shop (Games Haven) interested in supporting an EDH league. My freshman effort was eye-opening, and a ton of fun. Getting the rules and incentives right so everyone has fun and has an actual “league” experience is tough.

At least, I certainly didn’t succeed this time.

–Aside about Singapore—

Think of an Asian version of New York, but super-clean and wealthy. And they love Magic; the city has about forty shops that sell Magic cards, and about eight or ten have space for players.

All this, yet it’s about one-third the geographical size of NYC.

Most players in Singapore are competitive spikes, even if they do focus on casual formats like EDH. The community fits perfectly with the EDH articles on SCG that say every deck should have at least one infinite combo. There are other players, but they hide in the woodwork to dodge getting wrecked with regular turn-five kills.

To be fair, they were all awesome people. I’ve never been around a group of players that had a higher percentage of great people who never pissed you off…they just tend to build decks like D-bags. Getting a casually-competitive league off the ground presented an interesting challenge in a context when nice dudes flip through your traditional Phelddagrif deck and just want to know, “How does it win?”

–End Aside–

We thought we would need to coax out casual players interested in a more friendly league. Early on, people expressed an understandable fear of getting “taken” by cutthroat players who would run the table and walk away with the packs without letting anyone play. We didn’t want that kind of environment.

The League

The primary tools were conversations in the shop to discuss how people built and played their decks, and the point system. Starting from a list Cassidy shared, the Games Haven owner and I wanted to devise a simple list that would make sense to people new to the league idea, while incentivizing a less-infinite style of play.

Here’s what we used:

+2 for eliminating a player

+1 for last man standing

+1 for getting a “favorite player” vote from someone else at the table

-1 for taking more than two turns in a row

-1 for causing any player to discard more than two cards in a turn

-1 for any mass land destruction, any untargeted LD, or any abusive, repeat LD

-2 for executing any unbounded (infinite) loop

-1 for any other repetitive, abusive play (like Mindslaver + Academy Ruins) if the rest of the table agrees on the penalty.

-2 for eliminating any player before their sixth turn.

The “buy-in” was two packs; one to keep, and one to give to the player who eliminated you or was your favorite player. Each table decided how to allocate packs before the game. At first, I was skeptical of trying to figure this out with a table of new people, but it worked because it encouraged people to be honest about what they’re up to.  It was easy to find the right table for your style.

The top few players would get a small prize at the end of the season, with the winner getting a custom piece of art created based on their general to be hung in the shop for future bragging rights.

Results-

About twenty-five people participated, with an average Thursday turnout of about eight. However, attendance dropped off after the first month, and only four players were anywhere near the top of the standings by the end. I ended up with second overall, and the guy I played with regularly won.  Interestingly, we “won” tables no more than 25% of the time.

For the most part, the points did their job just by being known. Negative point plays almost never happened, and fun-crushers were notably absent, so it was successful as far as making the environment more friendly. However, the idea of a league points tally caused confusion. Many thought points were distracting and less appealing than a normal casual game, or didn’t get “the point” of the league. Resulting conversations about the best/most fun way to play EDH made it clear that it takes great finesse to build a league that actually adds value to the awesomeness of the format. 

The best games revolved around the same big plays and swings we all know. They would have been almost exactly the same without the league. But getting to the point in the league where they could actually happen took a bunch of effort and required players to neuter their decks.

“Earning” points was nearly meaningless. You didn’t have to do anything different other than winning to get them. It turned out that just showing up each week to earn a point or two (and win occasionally) was enough to accumulate league points and end up at the top of the standings. Attendance should be important, but it would have been nice if the league was more about performing and making dynamic, interesting plays.

Conclusions

We crafted and explained the points to create a fun environment and encourage participation. There was no informal structure in place to create the trust that makes most playgroups work, so people were afraid of other players being jerks. We attempted to address this with points, and we may have gone overboard or oversimplified as a result.

Or maybe there just were too many other factors.

The buy-in/payout was confusing and may have turned some players off. It made the idea of league points subsidiary to each individual game, so it just felt like we were buying and colluding packs around each week. I didn’t mind spending $8 a game, but I wish we could have found a way to make buy-ins cheaper, individual game rewards lower, and put more weight on league performance and points there.

Everyone talks a lot about the social contract, especially when regarding any kind of prize support to EDH. The Singapore EDH league emphasized that communication and setting/meeting expectations are both really important if you want to toss in a bit more of a competitive incentive and still get people excited. You just can’t rely on a social contract with people you don’t already know, especially in a different country with its own social gaming expectations.

Finally, it’s pretty hard to make people do anything other than what they want to do anyway. A more interesting points system probably would have bred more interesting games, but using points to make people change how they build and play is difficult. Singaporean players still continued to bring really competitive decks that could just win if the blue player was tapped out.

All in all, the league was very challenging and a ton of fun. It has left me eager to try again, and get back into super fun casual EDH league play!

(I’m hoping to get more ideas from readers before I push for a similar “casual-friendly” league here in NYC at a great local shop, Twenty-Sided Store.  Please post in the “comments” section with ideas on what was good, what was bad, and what could be done differently.  Thanks!)

àDave