Design Class – Lonely Legends

Eh, close enough.
Eh, close enough.

If I’m such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, legends are all very well if you’ve got somebody around who loves you.
– Judy Garland

One of the largest growing formats in Magic is the much loved (Especially by me) Elder Dragon Highlander. If you haven’t played this format, I would highly suggest it. Not only does it reward deck building skills and creativity, I have met very few people who dislike it (and most of them are Spikes who play the usual 40/60 card decks).

If you’ve only heard about EDH and want to know how to build a deck, read this article here from the creator of the format, Sheldon Menery. He talks about some of the things you should look for when creating your deck. My advice? Well, sometime we’ll get around to that. Today, instead let’s look at the most important piece in EDH, your General.

If you don’t know, you start with a Legendary creature (General) in the Command Zone (a zone created in Planechase just for this) that you can play at any time you normally could. Your 100 card deck (including General) can only have one copy of a card (excluding basic land); hence Highlander (There can be only one!). The cards in your deck can only be the same color as your General, you lands can only produce mana of your general and text boxes can’t have off-color mana symbols as well (A deck with Rafiq of the Many as the General cannot have Ethersworn Adjudicator because of the Black mana symbol).

All of this is very flavorful and makes perfect sense; if you have a legendary creature (One who is named and supposedly powerful) leading your army (hence the General), they would only want to have their support be by cards with the same philosophies in the Color Pie. It’s a very flavorful format and with all of the things you can do with it, very customizable as well.

Back to the Legendary creatures themselves. If you didn’t notice recently, Wizards has officially adopted EDH as a format, but let the Banned list still be effected by the “Elder Dragons.” In the most recent developer’s chat I even asked the question if Wizards designs Legendary creatures with EDH in mind. Guess what, they do (At least Ken Nagle (@norrYtt) does). But that doesn’t always seem to have been the case.

When Legends first appeared in Legends (huh, imagine that), the DCI  regulated to one per a deck since it was a flavor choice; they were really powerful. Really? Barktooth Warbeard (Best name ever) was 6/5 vanilla creature for 4BRR. Yeah, my Craw Wurm is really scared of you. Back then Legendary creatures were seen as “super”-humans (or creatures) from D&D campaigns while normal humans (like you and me) are 1/1’s, maybe. But that doesn’t explain why most of the Legends “sucked.”

doran_the_siege_tower_art_by_mark_zugWell, like anytime a new card type is released it gets brought down a little bit so it doesn’t overrun the environment (Sure, sets were designed way differently back then, but the same principle remains). After a while the design gets pushed until a right power level is reached. But Legends are different, most of the time they’re a top-down design (take a concept and design the card around it) that relies on the storyline that runs through Magic now. If you have a character in the story, you design the card around it.

Over time, and as EDH started and slowly became more popular, there were more and more Legends printed. Slowly, the Legends got better as the Weatherlight Saga continued. Wizards were designing Legends more powerful to make them favorites or players Finally by the end of the multi-block saga, a breakthrough happened: Tri-color Legends.

The first three color Legends since Legends, they opened doors for all new EDH players who couldn’t find or afford the original Elder Dragons. As a nod to the old dragons, they were a major hit. These dragons had something to do besides firebreathing (Nicol Bolas aside). A new type of Legend was born. Over the next several blocks Legends started becoming more powerful, but were still not enough to build an EDH deck around (Sure, Braids is banned as a General, and Green Kamahl can be enough to power a deck) if you wanted variety.

Wait a minute, why am I getting all excited over Kamahl? I mean, sure his abilities are interesting, but nothing to get really hot and bothered over. That’s exactly the point. Most EDH decks (through a survey on Twitter and from what I’ve seen players play) are based around the General (Except 5-color Generals which are mostly there to play any of the colors except for Slivers and Dragons). People want to play a General that has awesome, game changing abilities not just play a creature that allows players to have certain colors. A General is no good if it doesn’t have an ability that does something that players can abuse and have fun with. Very few Generals up to this point were really exciting.

Wrecks my EDH decks every time
Wrecks my EDH decks every time

Even in Kamagawa, a block where every rare creature was Legendary (and, if you’ve been paying attention, apt to be used as a General), very few of them see EDH play. Ben-Ben tickle your fancy? Hisoka seems great to play. Ishi-Ishi is a metagame breaker, right?. Any of the Myojins are amazing as Generals. See my point? Kamagawa is a great block if taken as a whole and left alone (Arcane, I’m looking at you), but if you mix it with other cards, it doesn’t play all that nice. Take a look at the State of Design by MaRo before Ravnica came out and read what they say about inter-block design. But something funny happened on the way to Ravnica.

Take a look at the Ravnica Legendary creatures. Aside from Circu (who really can’t benefit from a singleton environment), most of the Legends are good at being Generals. They’re all multicolored (A real bonus for the format), but each of them effects the game in a huge way, like you thought Legends used to do. If you pay extra mana when you cast your creature, you get +1/+1 counters on them? Every time you draw you ping? How awesome is that?

Coldsnap released, and except for one (Hakkon), all of them are viable EDH Generals. Remember, EDH is a casual format, not Spike filled so your inner Timmy and Johnny can come out to play. You want to build a Red warrior theme deck, you got it. How about a BRG deck that rewards you for killing creatures, sure. All of these Generals have the “Build around me” vibe that so many EDH players long for.

Look at Time Spiral’s Generals. Most of them (Save Futureshifted and most Timeshifted) are EDH friendly.

Then Lorwyn/Shadowmoor.


And finally we get to Zendikar.

The reason EDH is getting more popular is not because word has been spread around and people are finally getting to know the format (I heard about it way back in 2001 with Mirrodin) though that is a portion of it. The format has grown mostly because we have gotten better Generals. The quality of Legends has increased tenfold. For the past several years designing Legends have been something of a boom rather then bust. Players I know are playing newer Legendary creatures as Generals not because they can get their hands on them easier, but their more fun to play with. Wizards has routinely made cards that get better in multiplayer games, a demographic section of players they care about. They have also done the same thing with EDH by making Generals better (better meaning not just sitting there looking pretty but doing something). The Legendary creatures are flavorful (both as a card and fit with the storyline) and powerful enough to support one format (EDH) while not warping the rest of Magic.

What draws players into this format is that no matter what type of player profile you are (Please MaRo, update your Timmy/Johnny/Spike article, it’s been 3 1/2 years) you can play people and have fun. You can play against different people’s decks who all have the same General and see different ideas of what they do with it. How many of you started playing EDH since Ravinca (If you have played Magic before then)? You looked at the Generals that were being printed and were now in your hand and you said, “I know I can build a deck around this. These cards would be great in that deck.” Then how many of you built another EDH deck with another General in different colors? How many EDH decks do you have now, and what’s your ratio of pre-Invasion/Pre-Ravnica/Post-Ravnica Generals?

Today’s lesson (because every Design Class needs one): when you’re creating cards as something as flavorful as a Legendary creature, you have to think of different formats. If your hero, who’s not a Planeswalker, does something awesome in the story, make sure it does something awesome as a card. Powerful and Spike-like (A Legendary creature that reads: Name – GW, Shroud, First Strike, 3/2) is not always a good choice for Legendary creatures. Rafiq of the Many is Legendary while Empyrial Archangel isn’t. They’re both powerful Bant Mythic creatures, but which one fits as a creature you want leading your army to victory? It has to fit both flavorfully and mechanically.

If you haven’t built an EDH deck yet, take your time and take a look at Legendary creatures. You’ll see how Magic has grown up as you wonder how some of these creatures even got to be Legendary in the first place. Once you pick out a General that’s interested you, start building your deck. Show your opponents that you’ve got a great General. Fight that good fight. Show them you’re a prince of the universe.

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