I like to think of myself as an influential person of the EDH format. I have 3 different play groups not including some of the regular people I play with online. I often get asked why I would want to play EDH or Commander, the online variant. It seems that although EDH and Commander have gotten more popular over the last couple of years, there is still a larger audience that this format may appeal to. There aren’t as many articles dedicated to the format as competitive Magic, so I have decided to start a series of introduction articles on the format, in hopes to at least get one more person interested.
This article is the first of four and will start off with a little history of EDH. I decided to go to the person responsible for bringing EDH to the masses. Level 5 judge, Sheldon Menery.
AD: Let’s start off with some basics. For those who may not know who you are, can you tell us what your involvement is with Magic: The Gathering?
SM: I'm a Level 5 Judge, which means I'm one of the leaders of the Judge Program. The Level 5s have actually taken over responsibility of much of the program from the Judge Manager. The Program is broken into four pillars: Leadership, Infrastructure, Internal Communication, and External Communication. I'm responsible for the Leadership Pillar, which defines responsibilities of the program at all levels of play, and defines roles for judges to accomplish them. I'm in charge of judge level responsibilities and requirements, and I set and enforce program standards. Under Pillars are Spheres, each run by a Level 4 Judge, who accomplish more specific tasks. Under my Pillar, I have Spheres such as Testing and Promotion, Exam Content, and Investigations.
AD: How did you get started in magic?
SM: I was and am a gamer, and I was at GenCon in 1993. I picked up the game there and started playing it with my local gaming friends. In 1994, I moved to Belgium and played it with some of the other Air Force folks I was stationed with. In 1996, I attended the first Grand Prix Amsterdam, got certified as a Judge, and here we are.
AD: How did EDH come about?
SM: There's already coverage of this elsewhere, but I'll give you the brief version. The idea belongs to one of my insider group of gamers in Alaska, one Adam Staley. It was a very rough form of EDH, and we played no more than a dozen times. When I left Alaska in 2003, I took the idea with me to Virginia. I got together with a new group of kind of casual Magic players, and thought they might like it. They did and soon, I was working on getting the rules a little more well-defined. I wrote a Star City Games article about it, took it to the Pro Tour to show to the other judges, and things have since gotten crazy.
AD: How did you get introduced to EDH?
SM: When I was in Alaska, we would meet for gaming of some kind every Monday night at the apartment of our friend David Phifer. That's where Adam said "I have this crazy idea for a format." At first, I kind of shrugged, but then after watching, realized we might have something. Still, I didn't really grasp the power of the idea until I got to Virginia and introduced it to the guys there.
AD: Who are some of the key people that got EDH to where it is now?
SM: The other person mostly responsible is Canadian L3 Judge Gavin Duggan, who jumped into the format with both feet nearly right away. It was at his insistence that we have a web page and a Rules Committee. Without Gavin, I would have probably let things be really informal. Former L3 Duncan McGregor also had a guiding hand in the early days. DCI Tournament Manager Scott Larabee was the first WotC person to pick up the format, and was a great early evangel. And Lee Sharpe picked up the idea of coding it for Magic Online and ran with it.
L3 Judge Gavin Duggan
AD: Mark Rosewater once wrote an article on the psychographic profiles of magic. In the article he mentions that people usually fall under a prime psychographic and sometimes with some influences of the other psychographics. Those psychographics are, Timmy the person who just loves playing Magic. Johnny, the combo player who loves coming up crazy card interactions, and Spike who loves winning at all cost. When playing EDH, what demographic do you think you fall into?
SM: For EDH, I'm certainly a Timmy. When it comes to competitive, I'm more of (but not completely) a Spike. I think it's relatively easy to compartmentalize how you feel for different kinds of Magic.
AD: What psychographic do you think the average EDH player falls under?
SM: Definitely Timmy.
AD: There seems to be a lot of people from Wizards of The Coast (WoTC) that enjoy EDH. Some examples are, Aaron Forsythe, Scott Larabee, and Lee Sharp. From your perspective, how does this influence the game?
SM: It gives it a broader audience and appeal, a greater voice. It's certainly led it to be an online format and entered into the Comp Rules.
AD: Do you think the popularity of EDH has influenced WoTC in the card making choices?
SM: Beyond the shadow of doubt. Look for more and more EDH-influenced things in the future.
AD: I want to dig into specifics of the format and ask a few questions there. First, I have read from your past articles that there is a rules committee (RC). It almost seems secretive. Do you guys gather together in a secret underground cave like the Bat Cave? Who are the members of the committee?
SM: The Rules Committee is me, Gavin, L5 Judge Toby Elliott, Scott Larabee, French L4 Kevin Desprez, and a member who chooses to remain anonymous. Given the nature of our DCI positions, we see each other in person occasionally. Otherwise, we frequently meet online.
AD: How does one become a member of the committee?
SM: One is invited by the rest of the committee, but don't look for there to be openings any time soon. We're quite happy with where we are right now with the format. We have a good cross-section of philosophies and perspectives.
AD: WoTC has taken an open door approach to the community and has taken in consideration of what the community speaks about Magic in general. Does the Rules committee have a similar open door policy? If so what is the best way for someone to voice their opinion and not have to worry about their concerns falling on deaf ears?
SM: All of the RC pays a great deal of attention to what gets said about the format. The primary place is the official forums (http://forum.dragonhighlander.net/EDH_Forum/). The other is the mIRC channel #edh on EFNet.
AD: Let’s dive into the rules a little. Rules number one:
EDH is designed to promote social interaction.
It is founded (and dependent) on a social contract, otherwise known as a gentleman's agreement. Unsporting conduct (whether extreme or simply "being a jerk") should not be tolerated by players. Refusing to play with antisocial persons is the fastest way to better EDH community.
However, because players have varied opinions of what constitutes fair and/or fun play, a recommended banned list is maintained to help guide players towards a good social experience. House rules or "fair play" exceptions are always encouraged if they result in more fun for the local community.
Can you explain this in its simplicity? Please provide us with some examples.
SM: If your local group doesn't like the official rules/banned list, do whatever you want. I've heard of groups banning additional cards (Time Stretch seems to be a popular target), mass land destruction Armageddon, and limiting the number of iterations infinite combos are allowed.
AD: Rule number ten: If a player has been dealt 21 points of combat damage by a particular General during the game, that player loses a game. How did this rule come about?
SM: The five original Generals, the Elder Dragons, all have 7 power. It was three hits. Back in the day, it was any damage, but we changed that after Kaervek the Merciless and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind came out.
AD: Rule number thirteen: Players begin the game with 40 life. Why 40. Why not simply 50 or 75?
SM: Forty is twice 20.
AD: A rule that comes to mind and one a lot of people seem to ask about, why is it that the rules do not allow for certain legends that have an off mana colors in their abilities? Example: Bosh, Iron Golem. Can you explain in depth as to why that rule is the way it is?
SM: Because the rule for colors is simple. You can't have mana symbols anywhere in your deck that don't appear in your General's mana cost (mana cost having a specific Magic definition). Yes, that precludes some creatures like Bosh and Memnarch from being Generals.
AD: Some have referred to you as the Godfather of EDH. What do you think of that title?
SM: Godfather is a term that has been used by friends--one of affection, one of respect.
AD: Is the EDH format of today the way you expected or has it skewed from the away from your vision?
SM: I can't say that in the earliest days I had a grand vision for the format. Once we became popular, I started developing a bigger picture desire. The main thing is that I'd always like EDH to remain the haven of casual players. I understand the nature of people, and of Magic players in wanting to 'win,' but winning in EDH is defined differently. There are enough competitive formats out there. Let's keep this one for the Timmies.
AD: I am sure you are aware there is an online variant called Commander. With this variant there are some slight variations. For one the Banned list is a little different, and it does allow for generals with off color activation cost. Do you think Commander will eventually evolve to become a whole totally different format?
SM: No, the two will always remain half-brothers. Most of the variations in the online version are due to programming limitations, not tastes.
AD: Do you play Commander online?
SM: I haven't, but I do have an online account, and I'm collecting the cards I need. Eventually, I will be playing lots of it.
AD: Who are some of your favorite generals?
SM: Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund is currently my favorite because I've built a Karrthus/Beast deck that I really enjoy playing. I also really love Kresh The Bloodbraided and my Lord of Tresserhorn/Zombie deck.
AD: Was there a moment that you can remember where you said to yourself, “Wow this format has gotten big.”?
SM: Yes, when a Wizards of the Coast Vice President called me and asked "How do you get the casual players playing the format in their local shops without it ever becoming a competitive format?'
AD: Did you ever think EDH would get this big?
SM: Again, not initially, but it was easy to see the momentum we were developing. And if the amount of interest I saw at GenCon was any indication, we still have room to grow.
AD: Would you like to see WoTC support organized EDH events?
SM: Of course, so long as they can do it without undercutting the casual nature. Giving away prizes for winning as classically defined will ruin the format, because the Spikes will take over.
AD: Where do you see EDH in the next ten years?
SM: Ruling the world.
I want to thank Sheldon for taking the time out to answer my questions. I also want to thank all the people who have supported EDH and Commander. Let’s keep the ball rolling and hopefully in ten years we will have helped Sheldon’s dream of EDH taking over the world.
Until Next time, Be kind to your fellow players, and remember to have fun.