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By: Lythand, Aaron Duvall
Aug 18 2010 12:21am
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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.

 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.
 

Aaron Forsythe Scott Larabee Lee Sharpe


 
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.
 

Time Stretch     Armageddon

 
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.
 

 

Memnarch

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.

 

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund    Kresh The Bloodbraided    Lord of Tresserhorn/


 
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.
 

21 Comments

Very interesting interview. by Splendid Belt at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 06:52
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Very interesting interview. I've never tried Commander myself, but will read up on it - I like the idea of it being a casual format. Guess that makes me a Timmy.

Our plan is coming along nicely.. by laughinman at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 11:42
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All we need now, are sharks with fricken laser beams attached to their heads and the world will be OURS!
*looks around*
Oh,erm, and yes, EDH rules in a very literal way too.

Good stuff! Promoting the by Leviathan at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 12:08
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Good stuff! Promoting the format is always good.

my favorite format. I by this isnt the n... at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 16:00
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my favorite format. I seriously hope wotc doesnt start doing any commander events with prizes though. He was absolutely right, it will just bring out the sharks and ruin the format. Hard enough to get a commander game without someone playing a combo or armageddon deck already, make it a format with prizes and it becomes impossible.

WoTC Support by Lythand at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 16:32
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I am tossed on the idea honestly. Maybe WoTC shouldn't support it for reasons Sheldon describes, but if they did, there are ways to circumvent the Spike issues. One is to have a Merrit system. You get points for doing the right things, and you loose points for doing the wrong things. If you have read any of Sheldons articles, the place he plays at does a merrit system. It helps to balance out the shanannigans.

Great Article Aaron! by ColtonPower at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 17:09
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It's my favorite online format as well.
Oftentimes, just for pure fun, I'll setup a Commander table in multi-player room with 50 life & 10 cards. People usually like this alot. Plus, it helps those of use with slowly developing decks, like my Progenitus deck.

I have a question for you & Sheldon, and everyone else for that matter. One of the biggest point of discussion amongst us players during gameplay is the STRONG recommendation to ban certain horribly overpowered ELDRAZI cards such as "Emrakul,the Aeons Torn". Has the committee considered banning some of the annihilators? 9 out of 10 times, when Emrakul hits the table, its GG, and most everyone concedes. Hence, violating Rule #1 of "Promoting Social Interraction". I'm CLEARLY in favor of banning Emrakul.

Also, the next time someone casts an Armageddon or Obliterate to pi$$ off the rest of the table, I will link the article.... :-)

To address this in terms of by Paul Leicht at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 20:16
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To address this in terms of Commander:
Armageddon is one of my personal favorites as effects go. I don't see how it is even in the same league as the annihilators except when you are already winning. As a mix of the psychographics my pov may be a little different from many other commander players.

This may be one reason I don't play Commander often: I find many commander players to be fairly contentious about the unfairnesses they favor and the ones they dislike. And down right antisocial when confronted with their own hypocrisy. This isn't always the case of course, but it is enough of a problem that I prefer non-multiplayer games where the time involved in getting a game together is usually trivial by comparison and a quick block solves communications issues. (Hence I play TWC mostly.)

I can definitely see a case for banning Emrakul and some of the more difficult to kill annihilators but honestly is that any healthier than banning LD and counters? If a Gentleman's agreement about what is and isn't fair/fun can't be reached to everyone's satisfaction, what makes banning cards right and left any more effective? Also keep in mind the EDH committee while ruling on EDH does not actual rule on Commander. So rules changes to one may not filter up to the other immediately or at all.

The person in charge of the by Lythand at Thu, 08/19/2010 - 17:03
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The person who programmed Commander rules is Lee Sharpe. He programmed Commander into MTGO on his free time. Not sure if he get's reimbursement now or not, but if he doesn't, then there is no guarantee the rules will be updated when the rules committee makes bannings. He may not even be a programmer now and it could be left in limbo. So rules simply can not be programmed into the client like the rules for no generals with off color activations.

They keep up with the by Leviathan at Thu, 08/19/2010 - 20:20
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They keep up with the bannings. Academy and staff are both gone now.

Sweet. by Lythand at Fri, 08/20/2010 - 16:58
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I am glad. iw as beginning to think it wasn't going to happen.

No..... by Lythand at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 18:32
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Unfortunatly they felt that they did not want to ban the annihilator creatures. They did ban some of the cards that enabled to play these creatures really fast. Eladamri, Lord of Leaves has been banned as a general, staff of domination has been banned, as well as Tolarian Academy. Click on the link Sheldon has in the articles to go to the official EDH pages and in the forums are the updates on the rules, as well as those wanting the ban hammer on Emrakul as well.

Pretty sure you meant by Leviathan at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 20:33
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Pretty sure you meant Rofellos, not Eladamri.

Emrakul can be an issue if it comes out early and you're caught with your pants down. However, if you build your decks with specific answers in mind, you have a better shot of dealing with the flying jellyfish. I talked about a variety of answers in the Dakkon article two weeks ago. If you don't come prepared, you have to realize that there are going to be cards, including Emrakul, that you will just lose to. And even if you are prepared, you may lose to them anyway. Emrakul is annoying, but unless Sheldon and the other rules people find that there are no answers and the Eldrazi destroy the game play experience, my guess is that they will be here to stay.

Oh yeah, it's cool to see more people here in the comments that I've played against online!

Ive quit playing emrakul all by ShardFenix at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 21:11
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Ive quit playing emrakul all together. No one has fun when it comes down and normally i paid the whole 15 mana. People still quit. And i got sick of it being Bribery'ed by my opponent.

Bribing Cthulu! by Scartore at Thu, 08/19/2010 - 08:30
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That happened in the last commander game I played. People were definitely more pissed at the guy who had brought Emmy than at the guy who bribed him.

Oops yea by Lythand at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 23:04
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Yes I meant Rofellos

Who needs 15 Mana by laughinman at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 23:30
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Time Stretch only costs 10
Mind Slaver+ activation too.
(randomly chosen examples)

if you can't beat those (or other 8+ mana cards) you shouldnt whine about them jelliefishes.

Excellent interview. by tempesteye at Wed, 08/18/2010 - 23:50
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Eldrazi are actually not that terrible, with the exception of Erakul. And it's really the timewalk that makes him so powerful. All the other 'drazi can be dealt with pretty easily. But don't expect any bannings on them. While powerful, they don't really warp the format without the fast mana enablers like Channel or RoFo.

Commander by Katastrophe at Fri, 08/20/2010 - 01:06
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For what it's worth, there are two things keeping me from playing more Commander online:

1) The slow pace of play. Sure, there are 4 players and lots of new-card reading going on. But passing priority 4 times takes a toll. And with 4 players, people get bored, don't pay attention, they multi-task. Ugh. I can't blame them. In paper this isn't a problem. But online just watching these games is excruciating.

2) The players are self-righteous and rude. So they're allowed to play Animate Dead + Iona, but I'm not allowed to play Stuffy + Guilty Conscience? My combo only affects one player. Now I've been yelled at and blocked. That's not fun for me! Thoughtseize is bad. Blood Moon is bad. Armageddon is a new taboo to me. But the problem isn't playing taboo cards. I can avoid the obvious ones, but I bet I'll still get yelled at for Hymn to Tourach. There's a problem with playing Magic with Timmy. Timmy will flip the table if he gets mad. Timmy is not a fun person to be around. And the thing is, if I Thoughtseize Timmy, I might be thinking to myself "Oh man, I'm glad I saw that hand, because I am screwed. Man what a good draw!" But Timmy will just get mad that I binned his Elvish Archdruid, yell at me, and concede. Yeah, yeah, thicker skin and all that. But it sure isn't fun. At least when you Armageddon a Spike, Spike takes it to the chin like a champ. He may concede if he's beat, but he won't lash out at you. Spike will also play with you again.

As a side point to number two, someone please point out to Mr. Menery that he seems to be endorsing this attitude. "Refusing to play with antisocial persons..." is telling Timmy to conquer the world with his idea of fun. This is why we have one consistent banned list. Allowing people to make personal exceptions is what gives Timmy his false sense of entitlement. Mr. Menery should be saying "Make sure that all players agree to the rules before the game starts, and always act with good sportsmanship." Huge difference.

Not that Magic Online correctly implements your banned list anyway. :|

Dude you are so right on so by Paul Leicht at Fri, 08/20/2010 - 01:47
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Dude you are so right on so many levels. The one thing I think you might be wrong about is that I don't think Mr Menery wants Timmys to act immaturely just to get their way. I suspect what he means by that is that a group decides what is cool and what isn't in their own kitchens. Unfortunately for commander it isn't in a situation that is small enough to handle kitchen politics.

As for refusing to play with Antisocial players I do so myself. But my definition is "those who refuse to chat or otherwise interact", not "those who play cards I hate to face." I also recognize, not everyone shares the same values, so I am very leery as a spike/johnny/timmy to join groups where their values are vastly different from mine.

As for the time differences in passing priorities, This CAN be solved by responsible keyboarding. (F6/F4 is very common practice.) I, myself tend to hit F2 repeatedly (much faster than clicking OK 10 times) until I see something that needs a response.

Commander not EDH by Lythand at Fri, 08/20/2010 - 17:14
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Katastrophe: There seems to be one main difference in EDH and Commander. Commander is played online. You have no idea who these people are. They are very much more anti social then in real life. Guaranteed that half of the people who whine and complain about certain cards don't do so as much in real life. I can say from experience that playing EDH is a bit more enjoyable then Commander just for the social aspects alone. Commander online is a little bit more spikier, but I still enjoy playing it. You are not going to have the perfect game or opponents, but that's just life and people online. It goes to what you said yourself. Have a tough skin. If it bothers you, then don't play it. I would however like to see more and more people play and take into consideration they are humans and to treat others with respect. One of the things Sheldon has in his play group is a Merrit system. People get points for doing the right things, and loose points for doing the wrong things. This tones down the shenannigans, but it still isn't the perfect system. Spike players still try to play thier infinit combos, but it is more enjoyable. If MTGO had this same system online, it would be ore enjoyable.

As Paul has stated, Sheldon doesn't want Timmies to act mature. It's actually the opposite. What he is saying is that in EDH specifically, you can make your own banned restricted list if need be. So groups of players are spikes, and they want to play edh. Maybe they want to use the full power nine. It's thier choice. Sheldon and the rest of the RC are ok with that. Thier personal beliefe is they would rather see the format grow and to be played by mature Timmies, but they realize that's only in a perfect world.

I still like the format online even though the games can be more degenerate, but you don't always go up against spikes. I have been having good luck as of late.

One small correction by Paul Leicht at Fri, 08/20/2010 - 18:24
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One small correction regarding the psychographics. Johnnys tend to be the ones with the infinite combos. Look ma, No hands! Where as the spikes tend to bring the heavy guns in counters, ld, removal, sweepers, and anything else that just flat out wins. Infinite combos are definitely more likely in edh/commander due to the more time you get normally but chances are if it isn't 40 points to the dome it's not a spike play.