Hey everybody! Dan here, bringing you another look at the competitive EDH meta, this time through a different lens, and with a different data source. While in previous posts I’ve worked with the Conglomerate, this time I decided to utilize AverageDragon’s excellent Decklist Database, which is a more inclusive resource. I figured this would give a broader perspective on the data I’m pulling for analysis.
So just what am I analyzing? Well, I went and dumped every one of the 53 decklists in the Primary Database. All 5300 cards (which actually ended up being 5301 cards, confusing the hell outta me). From there, I pruned out any cards with only the land type, as this post is going to focus on the nonlands in the format. If this is anything resembling well received, I’ll also cover lands at another point. After cutting the lands, I had a pile of around 3200 or so nonlands played across the 53 most prevalent cEDH decks. Here is where some analysis began. I talked to a few people, and decided on what I specifically will be using as my definition of staple in this post. A staple is a card that is playing in at least 25% of decks in which it is legally allowed to be played. So first, I had to determine the amount of decks in each color identity so that I could figure out what my threshold would be. As there are 53 decks, that means cards without a color identity had to meet or exceed 13 copies in my dataset. Table 1 shows the specifics for this exercise.
Table 1. The population threshold for a card to be considered a staple in this investigation.
Applying this baseline, I pruned my dataset even further, down to what I will be calling the staples of competitive EDH. If you’re interesting in the data itself, for your own analysis, I will link both the staple list and the staple list including population numbers.
So what does that leave us with? It leaves us with almost 2400 cards, among them exactly 107 unique nonland cards, and a Dryad Arbor, ruining everything since 2007. From here, we move on to the Meat and Eggs.
We have a pile of cards. Now what do we do with it? The first thing I was curious about was the relative amount of play each of these things we are calling staples gets. They’re all equally staple, but are some more equal than others? As it turns out, yes. Yes, some are. So get a nice handy metric for this, I decided to make a ‘prevalence’ column in Excel, which is merely the individual cards population in my dataset divided by the amount of decks it is playable in. Or, on other words, Column 3 divided by Column 2, from Table 1. To start, let’s look at Figure 1, which is a pie chart showing the color breakdown of all staples in cEDH.
Figure 1. A breakdown of the color of cEDH Staples
Primarily a figure of Blue, Black, and Green with some healthy attempts at plurality by both Colorless and Multicolored identity staples. While this is a BUG dominating format, staple presence at all is a metric that is inherently normalized by color presence. So if BUG cards still dominate the staple list, what does that imply? To me, it indicates a centralization of those three colors. Sure, there is some amount of variety in strategy, but the bulk cards themselves don’t significantly change in one way or another. This is most likely due to the relatively higher format power level that those colors allow (Green mana dorks, Black tutors, Blue counterspells and draw spells). So if the colors allow the best cards for the format, you’re going to be inclined to play that same core over and over, modifying the remaining 20% of the deck slots to accommodate the specifics of your gameplan.
So with this information in mind, let’s take a look at the cards with 100% occurrence in all decks they could be played in.
Table 2. cEDH Staples with 100% presence in decks they are legal in
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume no one reading this with reasonable format familiarity will be surprised by these cards. The Black Tutor SuiteTM is one of the most powerful packages allowed to be played. Mana Crypt is frequently called out in ban discussions, Noble Hierarch is the best mana dork ever printed, and the rest are so ubiquitous you’ve probably never played a game without seeing most of them. Of note, there are no Red cards in this list. Moving on to the next section, we may gain some more insight.
Table 3. cEDH Staples with 99% – 75% presence in decks they are legal in
Ah, Sol Ring. One of many instances of Animar messing up otherwise relatively consistent data. Otherwise, this is yet another pile of cards you can expect to see in all ‘normal’ decks. There will be slight amounts of deviation due to corner cases, such as Animar not having any real need for colorless mana ramp that costs them mana, or Edric not running Brainstorm for whatever reason Edric isn’t running Brainstorm. For completion, please find below Tables 3 and 4 containing the rest of these staples, broken down by prevalence. I’m skipping past discussing the rest because this is primarily aimed at the next section.
Table 4. cEDH Staples with 74% – 50% presence in decks they are legal in
Table 5. cEDH Staples with 49% – 24% presence in decks they are legal in*
*I said initially 25% was my cutoff, but due to some rounding shenanigans, a couple that met my criteria hit on 24% prevalence.
Figure 2. A breakdown of cEDH Staples by cost
Well damn. That’s not half bad, actually. 42 staples are under $3. And only 17 total more than $50. Obviously lands drop kick you on that front, but that’s another topic for another time. Lets start by looking at the top cost bracket to see if there’s anything that is really backbreaking to lose.
Table 6. cEDH Staples with above $100 cost
First obvious one is Timetwister. At an order of magnitude more in price than anything else on this list, Timetwister really hurts. It is the backbone of ‘Twister loops’ which are the preeminent wincon in multiple cEDH decks. Fortunately, Memory’s Journey or Krosan Reclamation are capable of replacing it for around the entire cost less. So that one has budget replacements.
Lion’s Eye Diamond is another key element to a common cEDH combo in ‘Bomberman’ in which it is recurred by Auriok Salvagers to produce unbounded quantities of colored mana. This combo does not have any effective replacement pieces for Lions Eye Diamond, meaning that without significant financial investment, the Bomberman combo is off the table.
Finally, Grim Monolith still occasionally is enchanted with a Power Artifact to enable it to untap for less mana than it produces by tapping. For this combo, Basalt Monolith is capable of replicating the effect, allowing a slightly slower variant to take the place. The rest of this list is simply the most efficient ramp artifacts, tutors, and counterspells that are also fairly scarce in number. Nothing that isn’t replaceable with slightly subpar but significantly cheaper options. Moving on to Table 7, we will look at the $100-$50 bracket.
Table 7. cEDH Staples with $100-$50 cost
First up is Wheel of Fortune, a card with many solidly awkward replacements in color like, Wheel of Fate, Molten Psyche, and Reforge the Soul. Luckily, Wheel itself isn’t a crucial piece of any deck, simply serving as a powerful draw effect that has tangential benefits over another similar spell. This is something entirely replaceable, either in line or with the ‘101st card’ depending on the deck in question.
Next we have Survival of the Fittest. While cards like Fauna Shaman exist, they aren’t actually 1 to 1 replacements, due to the easily repeatable nature of Survival. Being able to ‘Survival Chain’ to fill a graveyard before using the final creature in the chain to win is a large part of why Survival sees play and Fauna Shaman sees none. In addition, summoning sickness rules the shaman out from any real consideration. Fortunately, Survival of the Fittest doesn’t fill a crucial role in any deck it is played in, simply acting as a powerful strategy accelerator. This is a card that we should not try to directly replace, and simply move on to the next best card we could include, within a different category.
Yawgmoth’s Will is the first card in this category that is similarly irreplaceable to Lion’s Eye Diamond, and often in similar ways. Doomsday, while continuing to fall out of favor, is still a very powerful Magic card, but without access to Lion’s Eye Diamond and Yawgmoth’s will, it is relegated to fringe combos with Reanimate piles or Worldgorger piles as the typically powerful Gush/LED/YawgWill piles are excluded. Mnemonic Betrayal is a card that one might draw parallels to with Yawgmoth’s Will, but I find that, while powerful, it is entirely different in practice. Being unable to set yourself up with Doomsday style effects, or chaining Black tutors from your yard into a win pushes Betrayal into a late game denial/draw effect instead of a pseudo combo piece. This is a card, that if priced out, will incline you away from gameplans like Doomsday in UBx as there isn’t a realistic way to recover the effect.
While painful to lose, cards like Mana Drain, Dark Confidant, Noble Hierarch, Gilded Drake, Vampiric Tutor, and Intuition serve supporting roles in every deck they exist in. They provide speed, consistency, and card quality more than most, but are not linchpins to any particular combos or interactions that a deck requires to be competitive. Mana Drain can be replaced with a Spell Pierce or a Negate or whichever counterspell you didn’t have room for before. Dark Confidant can either become a Night’s Whisper or some next-best card advantage creature, Hierarch can become another mana dork or rock or cantrip, and so on. Exactly how you replace each of these cards will change depending on your strategy, but they are all strictly replaceable.
Table 8. cEDH Staples with $49 to $10 cost
Bloom Tender jumps out at the top of the list as a combo piece that ought to be examined. Bloom Tender when used in conjunction with Freed From the Real allows you to produce unbounded non-Blue mana. This has become one of the mana options people will play in Tasigur or Thrasios decks, as Bloom Tender is an excellent mana dork on its own, so Freed From the Real is the only “bad” card you need to play to go off with it. Currently, the best replacement for it is likely the recently printed Incubation Druid, from RNA. This isn’t a great replacement, as it’s two mana to cast, but has to be activated, most likely by using the Adapt ability for a whopping 5 mana, to be able to combo with Freed From the Real and similar effects. But, it’s also around $34 cheaper than the $38 Tender, so that’s not too bad. Unlike most of the other cards mentioned thus far, Blood Tender is actually ripe for a reprint sometime soon, so don’t expect this price to stick around for toooooo much longer.
Copy Artifact is the next card on this list that sticks out to me as crucial. Being able to Copy Artifact an Isochron Scepter gives you a win outlet with cards like Swan Song in a similar way to Paradox Engine. This is the most efficient card for the purpose, and is typically played alongside cards like Paradox Engine that enable you to go off without a command zone outlet. There are cards like Sculpting Steel and Mizzium Transreliquat that provide similar effects for higher mana costs, so if you want redundancy at a budget level, you can still get it here.
Sensei’s Divining Top is next, as another card that loves Isochron Scepter and Paradox Engine. Being able to stack Top activations to draw your deck is an effect that is sort of replicated by anything from a Jayemdae Tome to a Temple Bell, but unfortunately they all kind of suck. Top is good because it’s 1 cmc, and it lets you filter draws, and it can win with good cards. Losing this effect due to budget wouldn’t incline me to moving to an in line replacement, so this is another card to just replace with something different.
Paradox Engine is more than $5??? When does this all happen. I blink and every price I had in my head is irrelevant. This one is functionally irreplaceable as well. If you can’t get Paradox Engine, you can’t do a pile of shenanigans with Scepter, meaning you need to have a command zone outlet, or a Copy Artifact replacement, to be able to really win without meaningful setup. If you need to slot out Paradox Engine, you need to take a close look at your win lines and make sure they’re tight enough to be effective. Losing it does help your Ad Naus though…
None of the rest of this section is really all that important. They’re excellent cards to have, but they are replaceable with similar effects or cantrips without too much loss, individually. At some point you obviously downgrade a deck enough that it no longer becomes competitive, but we’re working on a budget, which often drives a deck closer to High Power than Competitive, despite being functional in both power levels. As before, for completeness I’ll display the cards between $9 and $3 and the cards less than $3 in Tables 9 and 10, respectively.
Table 9. cEDH Staples with $9 to $4 cost
Table 10. cEDH Staples with less than $3 cost
Down here we start running into quite a few irreplaceable spells as well, like Isochron Scepter, Protean Hulk, Notion Thief, Leonin Relic-Warder, and Demonic Consulation. Luckily, even the cheapest builds can afford to be running cards in this price range, so we don’t really need to concern ourselves with replacing them.
So what has been the point of all of this? That’s a great question. All I’ve really done so far is showed you what I call staples, and thrown some tables and graphs up on a reddit post. Well, I did all of this as background work for what is going to be my next post. I just got enough interesting information out of it that I figured it warranted some discussion of it’s own. There is a major perception of cEDH being a format where you’re priced out if you can’t drop $2000+ on a deck, and that’s just not true. Yes, decreasing budget and using weaker and cheaper substitutes for expensive cards will decrease your decks power level. But for many of these decks, the majority of the cost is in just a few cards that can be replaced. Let’s look at Chain Veil Teferi. Right now, Sigi’s list is averaging $7300. $7300 is a fucking huge amount of money for a game piece. What if we cut just two cards? Timetwister and The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. Neither is required to be able to win, though Stroke of Genius also realistically has to turn into Blue Sun’s Zenith with this swap. Removing those two from the deck and replacing them with cantrips or whatever turns the deck price tag from $7300 into $1860. So by replacing the two most expensive cards, we have removed 75% of the cost of the deck. Obviously not every deck is going to have this kind of cost density, but between Timetwister and Underground Sea and Gaea’s Cradle, many decks will have similar quickswaps that get us down a significant portion of the cost without giving up more than a grossly speculative 5-10% win rate.
This kind of replacement has been something I’ve done quite a bit of with my prior budget deck posts, and it has been well received. But now, I want to try moving in a different direction. I want to start making more tools that will allow people to make their own budget decks with ease. To that end, I have started analyzing the staples of the format, and will be building budget packages similar to the budget deck Cores and the [archetype] Cores from some of my previous posts. I’ll be doing something similar for manabases as well, so eventually you should be able to take pieces from a variety of posts and just shuffle them up, slot in 10-15 more cards, and have a budget cEDH all for yourself without significant effort.
This is a fantastic format, but buyouts and general reprint fear from WotC has been increasingly pricing people out of it. Proxies are not always an option for players, for any number of reasons, so the best way we can help grow it is by providing as many tools as possible for people to make decks that can compete as best as possible within much more achievable means. Thanks for reading, please let me know if you think this is worth doing, and I’ll see you next time with my first post working on budget card packages for cEDH.