“Understanding The EDH Metagame: Deck Construction and Archetypes” by Jeremy Blair

Jeremy BlairSaturday, February 27th – In this weekly edition of his EDH column for The Game Academy, Jeremy goes in depth about different EDH archetypes and also shares his top 5 creature choices for each color. Jeremy has been a pioneer of the EDH format since it’s creation, and has more experience with the EDH format than just about anyone. Check his amazing EDH coverage on YouTube by clicking HERE.

*Editor’s Note* – The Game Academy hosts an EDH league every Sunday; tournament signups begin @ 2 PM and tournament entry is $7. All entry will be given back to top finishers in store credit to use towards anything in the store. Jeremy is always in attendance to play EDH in our league, offer deck advice, and record matches for his popular YouTube channel. If you don’t have an EDH deck, don’t worry, we normally have a few extras if you want to play. See you here!

“Understanding The EDH Metagame: Deck Construction and Archetypes”


Most gamers are familiar with the term archetypes. However, few have ever generalized the concept to everyday life. I might argue that archetypes can be found in all facets of nature. In particular, every instance of competition lends itself to the development of archetypes.

Archetypes are simply an overarching strategy under which a competitor or participant organizes subsequent decisions. Archetypes typically grow in popularity for Darwinian reasons. The most effective or efficient organization of strategies and associated decisions survive the test of time. People copy them and employ them in new settings hoping to capture and a piece of the proverbial pie like others who have found success using them in prior situations.

Rather than stay at this philosophical and largely theoretical level (read as trying not to bore you to death), we will pick some specific examples that demonstrate the generation and reliance on archetypes. Let’s talk about sex. I know…an EDH article that talks about sex? Pretty awesome!

When humans are seeking a mate, they tend to employ various strategies. Let’s explore a couple of strategies that folks have used throughout the course of history. Our first example finds us swinging large clubs, smacking down rival males, and dragging the lady folk away at the end of a fistful of primitive hair. It is so easy that even a caveman can do it.

Physical dominance and the employment of strength, speed, and bodily prowess has become an archetype used by dudes to land chicks for centuries. In High School, we had the “Jocks.” As we get a little older we find the gym rats, professional athletes and dudes that wear “wife beater t-shirts” and try to hold women hostage in their mom’s basements. The range is wide. Some folks run a couple of miles every day around their neighborhood while others go all-in on the body sculpting strategy in hopes of wrestling a desirable mate away from other potential candidates.

Have you ever been in a fight over a girl? Have you swung into action in hopes of defending a maiden’s honor? Do you wear tight fitting Ed Hardy shirts with sequins while flexing at your local drinking establishment? If so, you might just be employing the “physical dominance” approach to landing a date.

However, for each archetype, there is typically an alternate or eerily opposite approach for achieving the exact same end. As the dominant male is pushing boulders up the hill and whomping his women about the head and shoulders with pine logs, there has always been another faction storing up food for the winter, growing crops and pimping out the cave with all the newest, cosmopolitan animal skins. There is always some dude in history trying to assemble his harem in a lush gold palace or a Wall Street geek stockpiling Microsoft stock. Basically, this archetype aims to entice a mate through the shrewd accumulation of wealth and, many times, the allure of material goods.

Back in the day, there was always some geek trying to turn lead into gold, inventing electricity, or pioneering some new technology that would launch them from stone nerd to most eligible bachelor. These guys were studying math, polishing their glasses and adjusting their pocket protectors in order to achieve a future shrouded in hot young wives riding around in that year’s baddest, red sports car.

If you can’t employ the physical dominance route to getting a mate, then you might have to buy your way into “sexy.” There are certainly other archetypes. You have the comedian that aims to charm and seduce a mate through humor. We have the entertainer/musician that intends to take center stage in the eye of one or more young lasses, and occasionally you still run into the international playboy that seeks to employ every strategy at once.

Archetypes applied to EDH

In card games, we find a couple of strategies that have endured the test of time. These Darwinian survivors proved fit to succeed. We have beat down, control, and combo. Beat down decks tend to jump into the game with guns blazing. They look to compile a great deal of damage and deliver pain and destruction through severe beatings as they rush toward victory. Control decks look to sweep the leg, keep a player off-balance, and win the war of attrition as they march late into a game with counters and superior card advantage. Combo decks tend to park themselves somewhere in the midst and look to bring together incredible, undeniable synergies to close the game in a single, terrific finale.

White weenie and red deck wins are two variants of beat down decks. Blue is synonymous and typically serves as a cornerstone of great control decks. While combo decks like Time Sieve, Elves!, or the Valakut anchored Scapeshift combos exemplify the honed synergies and complex interactions that folks abuse to achieve alternate win conditions.

These three archetypes seem ever-present in the game of Magic. However, the viability of certain strategies tends to corrode when you alter enough variables in a game of Magic. For example, when life totals are doubled and the relative power of early drops are minimized; the rush archetype tends to struggle. One- and two-drop beaters become less effective as they face down an onslaught of giant elder dragons and some of the most epic removal spells ever played in standard. Board wipe is commonplace and the expected value of a 3/1 creature diminishes over the course of a game in which you are likely going to battle 6/6 fliers and 11/11 indestructible creatures with trample.

Elder Dragon Highlander also introduces a compounding variable beyond the altered, 40 starting life points. Many folks choose to play EDH in groups. Multiplayer games enjoy new complexities of politics, slower pacing, and the propensity to punish the player that jumps out in front with an early threat or overwhelming board presence. Therefore, the beat down player is susceptible to the group’s wrath and often end up on the wrong end of the beat stick.

Control decks flourish in the format. The player who has answers, generates the most card advantage, and dictates the happenings of the game through counters and removal is often the last person standing. The control player has a natural advantage in the slower, multiplayer format due to the sluggish start and oft-cumbersome requirements of complex mana costs. It might be hard to pay for a cruel ultimatum on turn 7 in standard, but the same task is child’s play on turn 20 of an EDH game. The mana is typically available and few folks blink at paying 7 or more mana for a single spell. The game tends to reward doing “big things.”

The variant format also proves a breeding ground for combo players. While some players aim to deal 21 points of general damage to each opposing player, and control players bide their time and counter the most harmful effects and disrupt the most troubling spells, the combo player sneaks into position and springs a trap. I have watched players watching other players. Like clockwork, the combo players begin to dig for pieces of their wicked puzzles. They seek. As time marches, they assemble the makings of their win condition and then wait for the blue players to tap the last of their mana. They wait out the counters and pray for a chance to pounce when the shields go down.

If you are new to the format, it may be worth considering the implications of the most effective archetypes. If you rush to build your red burn deck or assemble your 99-card army of mini-beaters, you may be disappointed during your first games. It happens more often than not that opponents easily neutralize the beat down threat, handicap the rush player, and leave them as a wounded spectator as the rest of the table rolls out 10-cost spells and build the loyalty counters on their planes walkers.

The best advice for the newly initiated to EDH is this: GO BIG OR GO HOME. Elder Dragon Highlander was formed to offer players a chance to have fun. Playing giant dragons and popping off a continuous stream of epic spells is a blast. You should join the movement. If you are looking for outstanding cards for your deck, bench those 2 and 3 drops in lieu of 6 and 7-mana creatures. Play giant legends and the very best creatures to ever grace the mid and later part of Magic games. In many cases, you only use cheap creatures for mana fixing, as slaves to a game plan, or to distract others while you prepare to unleash the true onslaught.

We will close this week with top 5 lists of the best EDH creatures for each color. Check out this assortment of great EDH cards and consider some of your favorites. In the forums, take some time to nominate great cards that I may have missed. Notice that I am purposely excluding weaker creatures like the rather small Tarmogoyf and standard beat sticks like Vampire Nighthawk. Those guys just don’t cut it in a world of Elder Dragons and 4-for-1 netting mythics. You have to expect more from your creatures. Note that many of the picks will net card advantage, serve dual roles (big body, card draw, cycling, removal, etc), and serve as a significant threat. EDH decks can be populated entirely by outstanding creatures that secure a 2-for-1 during game play. The best do a bit more. Check out these top performers:


Yosei, the Morning Star
Stonehewer Giant
Eternal Dragon
Akroma, Angel of Wrath


Honorable mention: Baneslayer Angel, Mirror Entity, Exalted Angel


Woodfall Primus
Verdant Force
Eternal Witness
Acidic Slime


Honorable mention: Sakura Tribe Elder, Multani, Maro-Sorcerer


Glen Elendra, Archmage
Draining Welk
Venser, Shaper Savant
Keiga, the Tide Star
Trinket Mage


Honorable mention: Teferi, Mage of Zhalfer, Vendillion Clique


Avatar of Woe
Reiver Demon
Myojin of Night’s Reach
Puppeteer Clique
Ink Eyes, Servant of Oni


Honorable mention: Shriek Maw, Dread


Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Magus of the Moon
Imperial Recruiter
Bogarden Hellkite


Honorable mention: Flameblast Dragon, Other Red Dragons


Djinn Illuminatus
Angel of Despair
Simic Sky Swallower
Trygon Predator
Knight of the Reliquary


Honorable mention: tons of great gold cards, Divinity of Pride, Hellkite Overlord

Artifact Creatures

Darksteel Colossus
Solemn Simulacrum
Sundering Titan


Honorable mention: Sharuum

Overall, Elder Dragon Highlander players have a great deal of creative space when designing decks and creating creature line-ups. If you attempt to build a traditional style beat down deck, you might be very frustrated. The format calls for bigger creatures providing card advantage and amazing impact. Give some of these cards a try in your next build and come visit us on Sundays for EDH.

As a special note: Those interested in the upcoming EDH league will want to attend the EDH tournament on Sunday, March 7th at approximately 2pm. We will be embarking on our first major series with some unbelievable prize support. See you next week when we cover an archetype that might only exist in Elder Dragon Highlander: Group Hug. We will cover the politics and various builds of the catalyst or helper archetype and will highlight the strategy’s ins and outs.

Leave some comments in the section below about your Top 5 list for various colors. What did I miss? What did I nail? Can you assemble a better 5?