Every now and then, when sounding the call (”who wants to play some EDH?”), someone asks “What’s E-D-H?”; that question throws it back to before the summer of 2011, when Elder Dragon Highlander was taking its first few steps towards becoming the format we all love-or hate.
No Command Tower. No Opal Palace. No Kaalia of the Vast. No Oloro. In the beginning, there was no product, no guidance, no meta. And the creators said, “Play anything; Play everything”. And so it was, and it was good.
Elder Dragon Highlander was born out of a desire for a more casual, social/multiplayer way to play Magic: the Gathering, likely whilst using cards you would never otherwise use. A haven for the Timmy’s of the world, playing cards such as Greater Gargadon and other cards that had a high converted mana cost (CMC) was encouraged due to the high life total and typical length of games.
The Onset of Commander
Eventually the format started appearing at tournaments, with players like Sheldon Menery bringing it to Pro Tours, and Wizards of the Coast saw the potential, and in June of 2011 the first product, called Commander, was released. Five different preconstructed decks slammed onto tables across the globe, with brand-new cards and generals nobody had ever seen before included. Fairly well tuned and incredible in raw power, these decks swept through kitchen tables, upping the challenge the format posed. Now, rather than simply throwing cards that matched the color identity of the general you happened to have lying around, the edge of your metaphorical stick began to get sharpened-the format taking its first major steps towards a meta, as well as seeing more product in the future.
Four and a half years, and two (soon to be three) products later, Commander is as easy to find players for as any of the other WotC-supported formats; The Rules Committee silently lurks, watching the online meta to bring relative balance to the format, and Wizards now takes into account how cards will be utilized in our beloved format when creating sets. We see many cards now hitting each opponent rather than just a single target opponent. But is that a good thing?
For those who play/have played Tiny Leaders, they know that it may never get the support that EDH did due to lack of traction and popularity. Had EDH never gotten a product out, it may not have evolved into what we all enjoy (or despise), and we may not even be playing it at all. While it’s uncertain if WotC took a calculated risk when creating and releasing the first Commander decks, their entrance into the stage of the game certainly upped the ante on how it would be played.
Similarly, releasing new pre-con decks gets players new and old interested in the format. Rather than having to go home and build a deck, they can buy a “starter deck” for the format, and morph it to something more desirable. New cards come with each release, prompting collectors and players alike to buy decks, only to devour it for a few cards they could use to level up their current decks.
EDH/Commander is an eternal format-there’s no rotation, and very rarely does the mighty Rules Committee come out and ban/un-ban cards. Even if they do, house rules are mightier around the kitchen table; though if someone wants to run Griselbrand as a commander, watch out!
While still considered a casual format, nobody can deny the power creep that has come into the game-something that was unavoidable with the support WotC provided. The format has become far more competitive; what started out as a six-shooter turned into an Uzi, then a cannon, and now a submarine carrying nuclear payloads. Prices of common “staple” cards used in the format have gone up, making it more difficult to get into. Net decking, while not necessarily a bad thing, has become more prevalent in searching for how to make a deck/commander more efficient. Just as the wild west evolved into part of the United States, so has EDH evolved into Commander.
WotC swings hard for the format; sometimes it’s a home run, while other times it’s striking out. Cards such as Griselbrand, Worldfire, and Sylvan Primordial were experiments likely designed to give Commander players even more support; the Primordials were meant to replace the Titans, especially Prime Time, who had recently gotten ban-hammered. Looking at all these names on the ban list, you can tell they didn’t work out. What they did do, however (in addition to the first Commander product) was show Wizards where how far they could go before they break the wheel.
How the format has changed over the years has been in no small part due to players doing what they do best-playing. Uncountable hours spent testing, searching and building has resulted in a greater understanding of the game and how incredible it really is. Just as life is, the nature of the format is to change, grow and expand over time, otherwise the same decks would exist with the same meta, creating a boring format which would eventually fall out of interest. The continuing product support and cards in sets allow Commander to constantly shift, keeping players on their feet for new opportunities to improve and play.
So, if you ever sound the call and someone asks “What’s E-D-H?”, don’t be afraid to tell them of the times before support, when the cards that would land on the table could be anything and every game was completely different-like today, but far more wild.