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Divide and Conquer with Meaningful Multiples

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

Tower of Fortunes
Tower of Fortunes - Art by Matt Cavotta, © Wizards of the Coast

8 by 8 EDH - Minimum Viable Strategy 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 Minimum Viable Strategy principle, which aims to achieve the following:

  • Explain what the principle is

  • Demonstrate how it can be used to create subsets of strategies

  • Reveal how the principle helps you make meaningful adjustments to your deck


  • The primary commander should not be considered part of any MVS or strategy, only the secondary commander (when you are using partners) will

  • The overall recipe isn't important here, instead we focus on the strategies themselves and how they can be broken into subsets

  • The minimum viable strategy (MVS) refers to the minimum total a strategy can be

  • All strategies in the deck recipe must be a multiple of the MVS

  • The MVS can be used to group strategies into subset categories (by type or mana value)

  • When making strategy adjustments, make a meaningful adjustment using the MVS total

  • Any strategy, including land strategies can leverage the MVS principle

What is the Minimum Viable Strategy Principle?

The Minimum Viable Strategy aka MVS refers to the smallest number of cards we allow a strategy to contain, to be considered viable. In the 8 by 8 EDH System this total is 4 cards and the main requirement is that every strategy total shown in the recipe is a multiple of the MVS. The primary reason why a total of 4 is used as the MVS in the 8 by 8 system is that it is a factor of both what we consider an effective strategy (12 cards, see the 12 Starting Hands Principle for more details) as well as the 64 spells recommended by the 8 by 8 EDH System for our deck's recipe.

In a Parallel Universe:

To better understand this principle we can also consider the heretical 7 by 9 EDH System. Here the formula for the deck is a bit different:

1 Commander + 63 Spells + 36 Lands = 100 Cards

Here the recipe consists of 7 strategies of on average 9 cards each. In this system, the MVS is just 3. The 12 starting hands principle still applies here, and you will notice that 3 divides very temptingly into all of these totals.

The problem with this system however, is that an MVS of 3 is just slightly too small to be effective when making strategy adjustments. Consider this a rounding down instead of a rounding up of probabilities (which makes me trust the system less). The 8 by 8 System effectively rounds up and gives you that one extra card, just for good measure.

Back to the Real World:

Training ourselves to think in multiple's of 4 comes with a number of benefits:

  1. Grouping cards by their mana value's, and following a consistent mana value increment in each subset leads to automatic mana curve management (this really makes a difference!)

  2. We can divide up strategies into subsets of 4, which leads to more diverse strategies (think of diversity as hedging your bets)

  3. It encourages us to always make more meaningful adjustments to our decks

Evaluating the Mana Curve

Consider a Ramp strategy of 12 cards as an example:

Bar chart showing strategy subcategories broken up into 4 cards each, and the average mana value of each subcategory incrementing linearly.
Grouping cards by their mana value ranges, and ensuring they conform to a neat mana curve.

If we assign some actual cards to the strategy we get the following:

  1. Subset 0-1 Mana Value

    1. Mana Crypt

    2. Sol Ring

    3. Utopia Sprawl

    4. Bird of Paradise

  2. Subset 2 Mana Value

    1. Arcane Signet

    2. Fellwar Stone

    3. Far Seek

    4. Natures Lore

  3. Subset 3 Mana Value

    1. Cultivate

    2. Kodama's Reach

    3. Commander Sphere

    4. Chromatic Lantern

There is a reasonable mana curve within this strategy (as shown in the graph above). This form of MVS based analysis helps you see if the strategy will run into problems where spells are maybe too expensive or the curve is too steep.

Evaluating Spell Diversity

Lets also look at this a different way. Often board wipes or removal tend to focus on a particular permanent type eg. "Destroy all Creatures". If you were to make all the cards in your strategy to be just one type, eg. creatures. Then you are at risk of a complete blowout if someone casts Wrath of God.

Bar chart showing much higher total of creatures versus other spell types.
This strategy distribution of types faces a much higher risk!

Mitigating this risk means we need a more even distribution of spell types. To do this, we can easily switch out cards of one type for another. This improves the type diversity within the strategy and helps balance the risks.

Bar chart showing even distribution of card types where each category contains 4 cards
Here we see an even distribution of spell types using the MVS

Keep in mind, these are just examples. Its possible you will use more than just 3 spell types in your strategy and that's okay. When you begin to work in much more effective synergies within your decks, these types will start to matter more. Consider if you have cards that provide protection to artifacts only, then enchantments are less desirable. Or conversely if you play enchantress style decks (casting enchantment spells result in you getting to draw a card) then you maybe want to avoid creature spells in favour of enchantment spells.

When first starting to build a deck you typically add cards to fill the strategies, but over time, you will refine the strategies further and improve synergy between cards and game mechanics to get more out of the deck.

More Meaningful Adjustments

Lets now look at what more meaningful adjustments looks like. To demonstrate this I will save you some time and show you two examples.

In the first example, if we change just one card, when we draw 12 starting hands to test, that card may never even appear! (remember there are up to 3 extra cards that don't appear in any starting hand)

Changing one card in 99 is an almost in significant change.

In the second example, if we change 4 cards, when we draw 12 starting hands to test, we are guaranteed that at least 1 of those 12 starting hands will contain a changed card!

Changing 4 cards out of 99 is a much more meaningful change.

This gives you a clear indication of why making changes should be done in multiples of the MVS (4 cards). If the change is like for like (same strategy for same strategy) then this is less important to follow. However when changing strategy totals (moving cards from one to another) then this is much more important.

Lands Too

Even though in the 8 by 8 EDH System lands typically only fill 35 slots in your deck, this doesn't mean you can't still use the MVS to allocate subsets. The 12 Starting Hands principle also still applies, and so its easy to determine a strategy subset that looks similar to:

  • 12 Basic Lands

  • 12 Fixing Lands

  • 8 Utility Lands

  • 2 Ramp Lands (there are very few of these anyways)

  • 1 Command Tower

Under Utility you may break down the lands as follows:

  • 4 Cycling lands

  • 4 Creature Lands

When analysing lands you can group them by the colors of mana they produce to see how effective that mana generation is. As land strategies are quite important, I will discuss these strategy breakdowns separately.

The basic concept I want you to gain from this is the MVS act's like a ruler that you use to compare various totals with during analysis. What you measure is up to you, just try stick within the measurements.

Final Remarks

For strategies to be improved, we needed to define the smallest meaningful change that can be made. Changing just 1 card barely impacts your deck probabilities, and so a larger adjustment is required. To make these adjustments more consistent, it makes sense that strategies are incremented or decremented in multiples of the MVS. As we already learnt from the 12 Starting Hands Principle, effective strategies have 12 cards which is a multiple of 4. We can also divide up a strategy into subsets using the MVS to evaluate if we face any risks with the spell diversity or mana curve.

In the next article we will be looking into Diversity vs Quantity Principle and how you can achieve enlightenment with the Golden Recipe!

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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