EDH Has A Problem
EDH is a fanmade format for Magic: the Gathering and is the most popular way to play this 30 year old card game. Four players choose a legendary creature to build a deck around and then duke it out in a free for all. Magic is an old game with some cards being more powerful than others. EDH allows almost any card that exists to be played which is great until your casual deck gets paired up against someone that is playing all the best cards in Magic’s history.
Good communication of what kind of power level you are seeking at the start of the game is usually the best way to solve this issue. But Magic players are notorious for not being able to communicate. Various attempts have been made to define power level but none have been successful. When everyone thinks their deck is a 7 out of 10 there can be issues with creating a balanced game. This is an important issue to solve since most people want to play a fair game of EDH where all the decks are on a level playing field. Whether it is Competitive EDH where everybody is playing the most powerful cards or if you just want to play your Ladies Looking Left deck and stand a decent chance at winning.
How Competitive Pokemon Solved The Problem
Pokemon players may have already found the solution to our problem. Smogon is a fanmade community of competitive Pokemon players. Pokemon is an old series with some Pokemon being more powerful than others. It’s not easy to use a Butterfree when your opponent has a Mewtwo. Smogon users while competitive by nature also wanted a place where the bad Pokemon had a chance to shine. This is what led to the creation of Smogon’s tier system in which Pokemon are placed according to how much usage they receive.
There are several tiers in which a Pokemon can be placed. Over Used abbreviated to OU is what is considered to be the standard for competitive play. Pokemon found within this tier are usually considered to be the strongest available and are used the most frequently because battlers are using them with the intention to win. Under Used aka UU is the tier below OU and features Pokemon that are still good but aren’t used enough to make the cut for OU. Pokemon in the UU tier are allowed to be used in OU battles but OU Pokemon are not allowed in UU battles. This goes all the way down to Rarey Used (RU) and Never Used (NU). There is also a tier above OU called Ubers which serves as a banlist for Over Used but still gives you a chance to play with all the broken toys.
Now how would a system like this translate to Magic: the Gathering? While there are only 1017 Pokemon at the time of writing this article there are over 25,000 Magic cards. Instead of 6 slots being chosen for a team there are 99 potential cards that can be added to any deck. How is it possible to narrow this down into tiers from which decks can be crafted? Fortunately for us, a website called EDHRec has already done the hardest part of the project and has catalogued how many times each card has appeared in decks. By creating cutoffs for all the different tiers based on the percentage of decks they appear in we can create tiers of play that looks something like this.
In this system commanders are not affected by usage. Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice is the most played commander in Magic but I think that there are interesting deckbuilding restrictions that can be found with a Never Used Atraxa deck. Legendary creatures that are part of the 99 are still subject to usage rules such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite being ranked in Under Used.
Hopefully breaking down EDH into tiers like this can lead to a more productive conversation regarding power level. Telling your opponent uses Over Used cards communicates a lot more information than saying your deck is a 7 out of 10.
This is Great, but…
While this system has it’s merits it is not without faults. Competitive Pokemon is played with the intention of winning whereas EDH is played in a much more casual setting. This can lead to some quirks in the way cards are tiered. Cultivate is the 4th most played card in Commander putting it firmly in Over Used but it’s not the kind of card people would think of when talking about the most powerful cards in Magic’s history. Some cards may be incredibly powerful but don’t have a lot of people playing them because they can be considered not fun to play against.
However, the biggest obstacle standing in the way of this potential format is that determining what cards are allowed in each tier would require a dedicated team of individuals who would vote on banning problematic cards. This team of volunteers would need to understand their specific format’s needs and then have the authority to ban cards and also have players adhere to their decisions. Outside of the official Commander rules committee taking on this mantle I don’t think anyone in this community has that kind of authority. In the meantime it’ll be up to you and your friends to decide what is and isn’t allowed in each tier of play.
The only way this idea works is if your playgroup even knows what you’re talking about. So if you liked this idea consider sharing this article with your friends and ask them if they are interested in playing Under Used this week instead. The more people that know about this kind of system the more likely it is that telling a stranger your deck uses Rarely Used cards will actually mean something. So go have some fun and brew up that Atraxa Never Used deck for your Tuesday night game of EDH.