Welcome to another edition of Playgroup Evolution. This week, I’m highlighting a new-player deck I’ve been tweaking since opening a box of Dragons of Tarkir. “My First EDH” decks are actually very difficult to build and even harder to get feedback on. People who are new to EDH have different needs from established players, so you have to think differently to build the deck right. Getting feedback is difficult since most of the friends you could ask to test the deck are probably more experienced players.

A few things are important in building a new player EDH deck:

  1. Must Make EDH Awesome
  2. Limit Decision Tree to Reasonable Level
  3. Lean Towards Power Over Consistency
  4. Follow Your Social Contract

Seem simple enough, so let’s get to the deck!

[Commander]Atarka, World Render[/Commander]
[Play Dragons]
Hellkite Hatchling
Thunderbreak Regent
Harbinger of the Hunt
Hoarding Dragon
Destructor Dragon
Dragon Broodmother
Hellkite Charger
Mana-Charged Dragon
Savage Ventmaw
Steel Hellkite
Stormwing Dragon
Dragon Mage
Dragonlord Atarka
Tyrant’s Familiar
Bogardan Hellkite
Utvara Dragon
Furnace Dragon
Dragon Tyrant
[/Play Dragons]
[Faster Dragons]
Dragon Tempest
Lightning Greaves
Swiftfoot Boots
Hammer of Purphoros
Fires of Yavimaya
[/Faster Dragons]
[Bigger Dragons]
Vines of Vastwood
Gaea’s Anthem
Crucible of Fire
Overwhelming Stampede
[/Bigger Dragons]
[Find the Dragons]
Cream of the Crop
Fierce Empath
Hunter’s Insight
Sarkhan’s Triumph
Hunter’s Prowess
Soul’s Majesty
[/Find the Dragons]
[Miscellaneous Cards]
Domri Rade
Frontier Siege
Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury
Brass Herald
Archetype of Endurance
[/Miscellaneous Cards]
[Artifact and Enchantment Hate]
Hull Breach
Krosan Grip
Return to Earth
Slice in Twain
Relic Crush
[/Artifact and Enchantment Hate]
[On Theme Ramp]
Dragonlord’s Servant
Atarka Monument
Urza’s Incubator
[/On Theme Ramp]
[Regular Ramp]
Sol Ring
Fire Diamond
Rampant Growth
Burnished Hart
Commander’s Sphere
Darksteel Ingot
Search for Tomorrow
Unstable Obelisk
Valley Rannet
Krosan Tusker
[/Regular Ramp]
Flamekin Village
Haven of the Spirit Dragon
Mosswort Bridge
Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
18 Forest
17 Mountain[/Lands][/cardlist]

Show Why EDH Is Awesome


The deck is fun. It’s pretty quick, powerful, and full of dragons. One of the great things is the split between a voltron style deck and an aggressive tribal deck. Atarka herself lends well to voltron, but having more dragons out lets you easily blow out multiple opponents in one combat.

I think this deck does a good job of showing off how fun EDH can be. Haymakers, answers, dragons, drawing a boatload of cards off a three-mana spell (Hunter’s Insight), themes, and playing a whole bunch of cards that are bulk level trash and winning! Most importantly, I always want the new player to feel in the game, and baring mass land destruction this deck does a good job of coming back. At the very least, re-casting Atarka puts a big threat on the table so the nooblet is frequently impacting everyone’s decisions.

Decision Trees Should Be Avoided


Decision trees are a nightmare. For many of us, they are fun or a challenge or an integral part of the game—but for a new player, these decision trees are an endless source of, “I don’t know what to do!” This leads to analysis paralysis, a good thing for new players to avoid. A lot of these additional decisions come from building decks with more way to interact with opponents. Burn decks can’t remove much aside from small critters and an opponent’s face. If big stuff shows up, you just burn more. This plan does not work in multiplayer. We need to be able to interact more with opponents. So we build decks that run like tanks, well protected and devastating to the enemy. We understand Magic tanks, we know which treads to use, what guns to mount, what size crew, and other logistics. A new player knows tanks are on treads and shoot big guns. Not very helpful when they need to build one or drive one.

My last new player deck was Riku, of the Two Reflections. It worked, but it had so many options every turn. Rather than dropping dragons and going big, Riku was about building constant advantage. But Riku gives options. Play a spell now or wait? Play two spells or copy a bigger one? Copy a small spell and cast something else or copy a good size spell or cast something huge and go nuts? I thought the choices were easy. New players don’t have the near-instinct level play. For new players you aren’t trying to stop choice, but simplify the number and types of choices. This allows them to still make decisions, but not be overwhelmed.

It’s like the challenge of getting someone who has only played video RPGs to join a campaign; they have never tried anything and the amount of choices is often overwhelming so they retreat to watch. This can be tackled in an RPG through the group and GM. But for Magic.. a retreating player is one who leaves. We don’t want this.

Lean Towards Power Over Consistency


The new player deck should have some heavy weapons in the arsenal. An experienced player can generate advantage using synergy and threat assessment. New players don’t understand these concepts; you can’t just hand someone ANT and expect them to wreck a tournament, and you can’t hand someone a complicated EDH deck and expect them to enjoy the game. To combat this, I like to lean towards power.

An additional note on consistency: many EDH players take many steps to minimize variance. I get it. We’re gamers, we want our skills to matter. But for newer players, the increased consistency comes at a high cost: tutors. I don’t have anything against tutors, but pure card draw is better for newer players. They can learn new cards as they get them, but a tutor effect requires a player to search through, and thus look at every card in the whole deck. The other loss is the randomness that comes from the 100 cards. A 60 card deck with full four-ofs and 24 lands only has nine distinct cards. Part of the excitement of EDH is seeing cards that don’t have a home outside the kitchen table. Utvara Dragon is bonkers here. If no one has a Wrath of God right now, you are running away with the game.

A more important point is about your group’s play. The consistent deck gets hate. If your Arcanis, the Omnipotent deck runs like Kakas… well your group has a right to try to crush it. Having a streamlined and consistent deck means everyone learns exactly why to fear the deck. Having a deck run a bit clunkier helps protect the newer players from some hate. Riku has this issue. It had a lot of effects, but it always felt the same – just an avalanche of stuff and advantage. Atarka has the same game plan, but sometimes it’s about general damage and others the pilot is praying for a land to recast Atarka so a Thunderbreak Regent can swing for lethal (this may have happened to me).

Now I do include two tutor effects, but they are on theme. Fetching a dragon or a six-mana creature is basically the same thing in this deck, and it’s rare that the tutors can set a combo . Rather, they there to help rebuild or to get out of a bad situation. And fortunately, in my group we usually give newbies hints when tutoring.

Follow Your Social Contract


This sounds more obvious than it is. Basically, build your newbie deck to be appropriate for your group. In the past, I’ve built decks that were too fast for new players to appreciate the game, or they got a nooblet killed before he or she got any enjoyment from EDH. I’ve also seen issues where a player lends a new player a deck like a Derevi-style tempo/lockdown deck that didn’t fit the group’s SocialCcontract and made nearly everyone react to the newbie’s general with hostility . This is DEFINITELY NOT GOOD! Save yourself and your new friend the trouble and build a deck your group will enjoy playing against.

This is actually a weakness of my Atarka deck, because the thing is damn fast when firing on all cylinders. However, I’ve recently used it to help teach someone both EDH and Magic (not my idea, but it was insisted) and he did a phenomenal job with Atarka. I am worried about how quickly Atarka can close out games all by herself, but I also like that it lets the deck make an impact in some really big ways. This is something for me to keep an eye on as a potential risk for using this build as a newbie deck, but that may be mostly due to my familiarity with the deck and a friend who loves the deck and is very skilled. We may be a bad sample.

One more thing about the social contract. Know when to bend it for a new player. Hellkite Charger is a sweet card, but give it an effect to untap lands and you’ve jumped straight into boredom-town, population: Your Table. I’ve got charger in here with Savage Ventmaw because both do serious work without the other. But together they make a new player squeal with delight as he or she crushes a table from nowhere. I wouldn’t run them together in a deck with the tutors I typically play, because I often can’t control my compulsion to try to win at all costs. But a new player, he or she may wade into deep water all alone with sharks circling and then find a surprise Mecca waiting. Let your new player have those moments. You can even let them win the game even when you are sitting on removal. Why? Because this is how you gain an opponent for a long time. Let them have their moment of glory, and the following week show them the firepower of your fully armed and operational battle station!

Peace Out!

Got a new player deck? Hit up the comments or tweet at me. Feel free to give some suggestions for this deck too.