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Updated: Oct 15, 2023

Urza's Fun House
Urza’s Fun House - Art by Dmitri Burmak. © Wizards of the Coast

8 by 8 EDH - Strategy Priority Principle

The 8 by 8 EDH System is a strategy first approach to EDH deck building that aims to build fun and reliable decks. The system is founded upon a few simple principles that help guide strategy decisions, making deck design and building much quicker and easier.

What To Expect

This guides focus is on the Strategy Priority Principle, which aims to achieve the following:

  • Explain what the principle is

  • Demonstrate how the principle relates to having fun

  • Reveal how strategies should be allocated the Golden Recipe

  • Winning is not the right metric to consider when determining if a deck is successful, instead we should consider if the strategies were fun to play

  • Strategies that contribute to deck reliability or offense, are considered Primary strategies

  • Strategies that contribute to deck synergy or defence, are considered Secondary strategies

What is the Strategy Priority Principle?

Strategy Priority refers to the importance we assign to any particular strategy in our recipe. Higher priority means we want that strategy to be more reliable, and thus we allocate more cards to it. Lower priority means we still want the strategy in the recipe, but its not as important for it to be reliable, so we allocate less cards to it. A high priority strategy would usually have 12 or more cards (12 Starting Hands Principle), and low would be just 4 cards (our Minimum Viable Strategy Principle).

Deciding priority is often subjective, so to make this simpler the 8 by 8 EDH System defines priority using the following two factors:

  • I want my deck strategies to be reliable

  • I want my deck to be fun to play

Reliability is probably the more obvious of the two when determining priority, however I would argue ensuring a deck is fun is actually more important. Reliability is still a cornerstone of a deck's success, and by following the 8 by 8 EDH Systems principles, it will be achieved. Fun on the other hand, is largely up to the player, so lets begin by looking at some examples of how players have fun.

Ways Players Have Fun

We need to establish the scope of what we mean by having fun. This is important to define upfront so its clear where our focus is. The fun we refer to in this article is in-game fun and not outside-the-game fun (eg. designing, building, trading or strategizing).

In-game fun happens when you:

  • you have enough mana to play your spells

  • have enough cards in hand so that you can make choices

  • have the right kinds (strategies) of cards at the right moments

  • are able to save the table from the biggest threat (maybe more relief than fun)

  • are able to leverage some amazing synergy to gain advantage on the battlefield

Also take a moment to think about these from the opposite perspective. Not being able to participate, is the actual biggest threat at the table. This is why people groan when a stax player drops another horrible tax or lockout permanent onto the battlefield. Its just not what people want to be doing, its not fun (except for maybe the stax player).

As there are a number of points to consider, and each corresponds to a particular strategy in your deck, it makes sense that these are balanced so that you are able to mitigate the randomness inherent in games of Magic the Gathering. Lets look quickly at what each correlates to strategy-wise:

  • mana - ramp

  • cards - draw

  • answers - interaction

  • dealing with the threat - resetting the board state

  • engine/synergy - advantage

The last point about gaining advantage, will not be possible if the first points are not already met, so its more a consequence of the first few strategies succeeding. I will talk more about this in "Reliability vs Synergy" section below. The key takeaways here are that some strategies contribute more to a deck being fun than others. These strategies are what the 8 by 8 EDH System classifies as Primary Strategies. The system expects that they are present in every deck in some measure. This now ties in with the Golden Recipe template, which defines strategy totals, the more important of which we will use for primary strategies, the remainder will be allocated to what we call Secondary Strategies.

I am fully aware of opinion that "Winning is all that matters" and you can't have fun unless you are winning. This, in my opinion, is a view taken mostly by inexperienced players who still cling to the hope that they can have that all important perfect run of victories and never lose. Don't hold this against them however, as enlightenment is a journey of ups and downs. Show them that winning isn't so easy, especially when they are at a table of battle hardened veterans. I'm sure that many of you know what I am referring to here. If not, I will hopefully help you skip your "Aetherflux Reservoir" into "Deflecting Swat" moment... I will in the next section contrast some scenario's in order to dispel this myth, and show why its still actually fun that determines success, even in highly competitive play groups.

Deck Success Metrics

Here I will contrast two scenarios. One in which you are always guaranteed to win due to unequal opportunity, the other you are not guaranteed to win, but all the players are able to stack their decks the same way to win try win immediately.

Me in my younger days, painting alternate art on my dual lands... 🙃 Actually, in truth this is Congo the chimpanzee using the primitive grip (1957), © Desmond Morris

100% Guaranteed Victory

Lets look at the first hypothetical scenario, one in which winning is "guaranteed". For this to be possible we need the following:

  1. Your deck is stacked perfectly, win-con in hand, counter spells at the ready

  2. Your opponents are chimpanzee's, who were not taught to read, but trained to be able to perform basic turn actions

  3. Their decks are all lands

Every game plays out the same, you win every time on turn 1, and no opponents ever interact with you. Your metric of winning 100% of the time means your deck is successful right? Obviously not, as there is no challenge, and I would imagine its a very lonely and boring game.

100% Challenge

Onto the second hypothetical scenario, but now in a fair but competitive environment. To make this possible we need to do a few things:

  1. stack the cards so all the winning options are in our opening hand

  2. our hand must contain the most efficient combo (2 cards)

  3. our hand must contain precisely the right amount of 0 mana ramp spells needed to cast these spells

  4. our hand must contain precisely enough counter spells to counter our opponents attempts to stop us combo-ing off

Now, irrespective of who starts, we could assume that everyone at the table starts with this exact same setup. The perfect instant win combo hand, with free counterspells to deal with interference.

But there is a problem here. The player who tries to combo first, will likely end up using up his combo, and losing the counterspell battle. Why? Because all the players have the same amount of counterspells in their opening hands. So if there are 3 other players including yourself, you are basically fighting 3x copies of yourself at the table. You will lose simply because you are out numbered. You can't have enough cards in hand that early on to stop your combo getting countered. But, this is a hypothetical and serves just one purpose. It demonstrates that its not (even under perfect stacked circumstances) possible to know exactly who will win at that moment. In the real world, there is chaos, people have diverse decks, thought processes and combo's, and often what determines who wins comes down to who get lucky or those whose decks are more reliable and focused (to reduce randomness).

This same randomness is the primary reason why we can't use winning as the only measure of success, as you are essentially guaranteed to fall foul of randomness at some point, and you will lose a game. You are human, and will also make sequencing mistakes. Other players will gang up on you if you show up as the threat, so politics is inevitable. You can't easily control the table, or the order of cards in your deck. The only thing you can control, are the strategies you choose for the deck.

So, if winning isn't the only way to measure a deck's success, then what is? Here's my list (using practical examples):

  • When I needed removal, I had it (about to die to commander damage, you exile the enemy commander)

  • I was able to tutor up the win condition (opponent groans as you Teferi's protection away from his last Hurrah attack)

  • I got to play my insane commander (Titania, Gaea Incarnate)

  • Those were some sweet synergies (table impressed by mechanics on display)

  • Hey dude, that other player is clearly the threat, lets make a deal (diabolical sneaky laugh)

  • I wish I had more thingamabobbins... if I had that, then you were a goner...

There are a few more, but these are the ones that I've seen most commonly around the table. Each of these moments/experiences were memorable for good reason, and ultimately for the same reason. They were fun, even without necessarily winning that game. So what can we conclude is the best measure of a decks success? Simply...

Did you have fun!?

There will inevitably be things you want to adjust in your deck, and the goal of the 8 by 8 EDH System isn't simply to tell you how to win, its to guide you to a deck that is reliable and fun to play. Take time to feel how the deck performs at the table. Be mindful of what decisions were made by players. After the game, retrospect your recipe and then make reliable (MVS) adjustments when altering strategies or work on improving efficiency or versatility of the pre-existing strategies.

Reliability vs Synergy

Quite simply, Reliability leads to successful synergy. To be reliable, a deck also needs its primary (most important) strategies to be balanced. Synergy is either found in a sub-theme or in a secondary strategy in your recipe. This is because synergy won't matter if you lack any of the following:

  • have enough mana advantage to play all your spells (ramp)

  • have enough card advantage to maintain battlefield momentum (draw)

  • have enough interaction to deal with the threat (removal)

To demonstrate this a bit better I use the following Logical Progressions (logical statements arranged in a precise order, where each builds upon a previous statement to make more sense):

  1. Mana Advantage aka Ramp: before drawing more cards, I must first ramp (up mana potential)

    1. To have fun, I need to be able to play my spells

    2. If I draw too many cards, but don't have the mana to play them, I can't play all my spells

    3. To have enough mana, I need enough ramp spells!

  2. Card Advantage aka Draw: when I have less cards in hand, I need to draw more

    1. To have fun, I need to have enough spells to play

    2. I have enough mana, but not enough spells, so I need to draw more spells to play

    3. To be able to draw more cards, I need enough card draw spells!

  3. Interaction aka Removal: when an opponent becomes a threat, I need to have a way to respond

    1. To have fun, I need enough interaction spells

    2. I have enough mana, and spells in hand, of which a reasonable amount must be interaction

    3. To be able to respond, I need enough interaction spells!

Interaction actually consists of a variety of strategy types:

  • Removal

  • Counters (counterspelling, hexproofing, target redirecting etc.)

  • Resets

  • Bounce

I typically prefer to treat removal as the primary kind of interaction, as it is more aggressive. Resets or Wraths are just wider reaching forms of removal, and hence find themselves prioritized as Primary Strategies.

If you remember back to the Golden Recipe, the biggest strategy slot is actually 16 cards, but I broke it into two parts, a 12 card and 4 card slot. This is because Removal and Wraths fit perfectly into this. I believe you will find the balance to be fair; 4 wraths in a deck means you are unlikely to end up constantly with a handful of wraths, and instead, will get mostly targeted removal and a wrath only occasionally. Wraths aren't really helpful if players are constantly casting them, and thus can be considered less fun. Games get drawn out too long, and its hard to keep any kind of momentum. So it makes sense to limit wraths, and have more targeted removal.

What the Golden Recipe looks like after prioritizing fun and reliability:

  • Primary Strategies

    • 12 Ramp

    • 12 Draw

    • 12 Removal

    • 4 Wraths

  • Secondary Strategies (these all depend on the commander and what mechanics you want to play)

    • 8 ???

    • 8 ???

    • 4 ???

    • 4 ???

In the previous article I asked you to write down a recipe containing strategies you thought would work with a commander you had on hand. How did it measure up to the recipe above? Did you prioritize the same primary strategies I did?

Not everything needs to be the same

I need to make sure we don't end up with a misunderstanding here. The Golden Recipe doesn't exist to force everyone to build their decks the same way. It simply provides a common template from which you start building, and then you work your way to a deck that makes you happy. The 8 by 8 EDH System provides a framework within which you build, and helps you understand why some things work better than others. It aims to get you thinking about strategies first, before building, and gives Commanders an opportunity to be synergistic instead of just placeholders in a deck full of "good stuff" cards. If you never cast your commander, then you are probably not making the most of what you have in your collection. Don't limit yourself to just trying to win, go for what is fun and sustainable. Good stuff cards are expensive, and you won't feel better playing them and not winning. So, take a step back, and re-think how you approach your deck building. Fun isn't only jank that never wins, fun decks win also.

Final Remarks

We have determined some baselines around what it takes for gameplay to be fun. Players that are able to play their spells, interact and see their machinations unfold on the battlefield have more fun while playing than players who prioritize only winning as the metric for fun. Strategy "fun-ness" provides a more meaningful measure to deck success than winning and should determine how a recipe is adjusted rather than trying to throw more money at more powerful cards. The Golden Recipe provides a balanced approach to fun strategies, improving reliability and allowing your synergistic strategies to playout more effectively. It isn't important that we follow the Golden Recipe religiously, instead consider it a starting template that starts us on the path of enlightenment and happiness.

In the next article we will be using the Golden Recipe to help build a Zombie Tribal deck under the commander "Yawgmoth, Physician of the Damned" Check it out here!

If you haven't already, you may want to checkout some of the previous articles in this series:

You may now be wondering a bit more about other ways the 8 by 8 EDH System can help you build better decks, and I hope to explain more in some upcoming guides, so make sure you subscribe/follow @intothe99podcast on YouTube and Instagram to keep up-to-date!

Thank you for taking the time to read this guide, and I hope that you found it helpful! You can find me on Instagram as well as a bunch of my decks and 8 by 8 EDH Recipes (in the Primers) on Moxfield if you do have any questions @thunder.emperors.command

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