EDH is pretty great, though I think we’d be hard-pressed to find consensus among the community about exactly what it is that makes it great. Some like to play competitive EDH, a concept I myself find very difficult to grok. Some like to play preconstructed decks or Pauper EDH with only commons in their decks. Then there’s the entire spectrum between those two positions, where I’d wager most of us are. One thing, though, that I think many of us will sign off on, is that the format seems to be best when played with four people. At three, it tends to boil down to a two-on-one game too often, at two it’s a pretty busted singleton format. At five or more players, the games tend to grind on for too long; the sheer amount of sweepers and other answers flying around prevent people from establishing board positions that eventually lead to a game-ending state, and each lap around the table gets longer and longer with every player added, not only because of sheer amount of turns taken but also because the board gets more and more complex.
So, what do you do when five people show up for game night? Or six? Well, at six you could split into two tables of three, but that’s not optimal, for reasons stated above. At five there’s no such option at all. In my own playgroup, we tend to play one of the many EDH variants when we are more than four players. In this article series, I intend to present to you, the reader, these variants and discuss what makes them different from regular EDH. I will use EDHREC’s data to provide an example to discuss how popular commanders might adapt to the format.
Who am I, you ask? Beyond your trustworthy guide destined to lead you on this foray through the EDH outlands, my name is Robin, and I’ve been playing EDH since the dawn of the first preconstructed decks. Before that, my playgroup was mostly invested into Legacy; I’ve spent the better half of my life playing non-rotating formats of Magic, starting with Vintage when it was known as Type 1. Back then you could play a deck featuring eight blue dual lands, a full set of Force of Will and a full set of Wasteland and still be within a reasonable budget. However, with the advent of adult responsibilities such as work, a home, and a family, going away for entire days to play Legacy tournaments isn’t often possible anymore – and thus my preferred cup of Magic tea these days is casual and social formats, primarily, of course, EDH.
My EDH group is pretty solid, all consisting of friends I’ve known for over fifteen years, and we play almost every week – and as such we’re often on the lookout for ways to change up the games’ pace. I wish to share my experiences with you on this matter, and thus here we are: welcome to Uncompetitive Spirit!
In this article, I’ve elected to begin with my favorite of all EDH variants: Kingdoms. I will detail the rules differences of this variant compared to regular EDH, followed by some discussions on the inherent tactics of the variant. I will then finish off by pulling a deck from EDHREC’s deck generating feature and discuss how that deck would fare in the variant.
Kingdoms is a variant best played with six players, but it can be played with five. It involves hidden roles for all but one player, and each role has a unique win condition. These hidden roles add a lot of tension to the game. Each role also inherently comes with a different sort of play style, at least if you wish to be successful in the game.
To distribute these roles, randomly shuffle 1 Plains, 1 Island, 1 Swamp, 2 Mountains and 1 Forest for a total of six basic lands, and give each player a card face-down. This is, with a few exceptions, secret information until the game ends, a player isn’t allowed to reveal his role even if he is eliminated.
|Plains – The Monarch: The Monarch is the only role that is open. This player immediately reveals him or herself as soon as everyone has looked at their cards. He or she begins the game with 50 life instead of the regular 40, and always plays first. The Monarch wins when all players are eliminated, with one exception: the Monarch also wins if that player is the last one in the game together with the Knight. If the Knight is left with the Monarch he or she may reveal the Knight card and both players win the game together. Note: this role has nothing to do with the monarch keyword, and it is often called “the King” or “the Queen”.|
|Forest – The Knight: The Knight is the Monarch’s right-hand person and wins the game by being the last player left alive along with the Monarch. When all other players are eliminated, the Knight reveals the Forest card and the game immediately ends with the two players declared as winners.|
|Mountain – The Bandit: The Bandits win immediately if the Monarch is eliminated. When the Monarch is eliminated, both Bandits reveal their cards, and both are declared winners. Viva la révolution!|
|Swamp – The Assassin: The Assassin wins the game when all other players are eliminated.|
|Island – The Usurper: The Usurper is quite different from the rest. This player’s objective is to deal the finishing blow to the Monarch. When the Monarch is eliminated either by being dealt combat damage by the Usurper or by some other direct means, the Usurper becomes the new Monarch. The Usurper’s life total becomes 50, and the Monarch is left alive at 1 life point. The two switch roles and the new Monarch will get the same victory condition as the old Monarch, including the Knight. The game continues on as normal after this. Kingdoms can be played with five players as well, and if then, this role is omitted.|
Kingdoms always kicks off with the Monarch revealing to the rest of the table that that player got the Plains. Usually everyone else immediately declares that they are the Knight. At my own club, this is often done in jest with comments like “Remind me again what the Forest was?”, and laughs are had by all. The fact that everyone claims to be Knight is simple to understand: the Knight is the only role that doesn’t eventually want to see the Monarch dead.
Aside maybe the Usurper, the Bandit is the hardest role to play, in my opinion. This is despite the fact that there are two of you: you don’t know which other player has drawn the Mountain card, and you likely won’t find out until much later than you’d prefer. However, any intentional aggression towards the Monarch is likely to result in violent backlashes from all other players around the table, because no matter what role you have other than Bandit, you want to see the Monarch dead late in the game. A dead Monarch, aside from at the hands of a Usurper, will immediately end in a Bandit victory, and because of this, it is in the interest of the Assassin, the Knight, and the Usurper to have the Monarch stay alive as long as possible.
Attacking other players than the Monarch rarely sparks any vitriol from the table, however, meaning that at least two of the other three roles will be focused on trying to identify and take out the Bandits. The Usurper can benefit from one or two strong Bandits since they can help whittle down the life points of the Monarch for the Usurper’s coup de grace. Meanwhile, the Assassin wants to be the last person in the game with the Monarch, since that’s the way the Assassin wins without any other victory condition being triggered – meaning the Assassin is likely to go after the other players first. The Knight, finally, can only win together with the Monarch, and so will be eager to preserve the majesty’s life total.
This creates a fun and dynamic game, where small actions can lead to big tells for other players. This means that Kingdoms isn’t inherently quicker than regular EDH.
I chose an old favorite of mine for this article to represent our commander with a decklist generated by EDHREC’s average decklist function. I chose Meren because she’s a mainstay on the site’s top commander lists, she’s included in the Commander Anthology box so she’s been recently reprinted, and I’m quite familiar with an average build – since my own take on her was pretty average.
To start off, Meren has all the tools she needs to make it in a six-player game of Kingdom. She likes to play long games and grind value from repeatedly sacrificing and reanimating her own creatures, which in turn, creates value through the other engines in the deck. She comes featured with some good spot removal in the form of Putrefy, Shriekmaw, Acidic Slime, Reclamation Sage and Viridian Zealot to name a few, as well as wider answers which affect the whole board in Fleshbag Marauder, Merciless Executioner, Grave Pact, and Dictate of Erebos. Spore Frog is a favorite of mine which can effectively control the game’s pace, and it can be played in order to protect Meren if she’s the Monarch, or the Monarch in case its beneficiary for her. It can even be used to fog a lethal attack on the Monarch and allow Meren to usurp the Monarch if she’s in that role. Meren also has the ability to deal quite a bit of damage in combat with heavy hitters like Grave Titan, and she can combo win through repeatedly sacrificing Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Lastly, Meren comes stocked with enough tutors to find these pieces when she wants to, meaning her decklist is almost perfect for Kingdoms as-is.
However, since some of the answers in the deck are quite wide – Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder come to mind, and some like Grave Pact or Dictate of Erebos tend to provoke hate from other players, she must be cautious not to make enemies of the wrong players, especially the Monarch. Personally, I’ve found these cards make for interesting political situations in Kingdoms, though they do tend to be tough to play, even more so than in regular EDH.
Kingdoms isn’t a format for any deck. The more non-linear a deck is, the more flexible it is, the more likely you’ll have success with it in this format. Decks like Nekusar, the Mindrazer, Purphoros, God of the Forge, and other linear combo decks that try to explode on the entire table at once will find it difficult to thrive in a game where diplomacy rules. Fast aggro decks can be exciting to play, like Prossh, Skyraider of Kher, or Omnath, Locus of Rage, but must be played with caution in order to not attract too much attention.
Kingdoms isn’t inherently a very fast format, but it is very fun. The variant sometimes misses out on one of the most important aspects of a six-player game: speeding it up. This is very much made up for by the fact that the inherent political aspects of the hidden roles and varying victory conditions make for a more interactive game, often when it’s not even your turn. If you decide to try it, you’ll soon realize part of the fun comes from trying to either convince the Monarch you are indeed the Knight, or successfully feigning being the Knight for long enough, trying to guess who is who among the other roles, and openly debating whether or not that Wrath of God was, in fact, a selfish act that was an insult to our rightful Monarch or not.
I highly recommend it to everyone with large enough playgroups.
Until next time, stay awesome and stay casual!