Bringing Magic to Life — Creating an EDH League

Hey everyone, Kya here!

As promised, today's article focuses on starting up your very own EDH League! EDH Leagues are a great way for fellow EDH players within the area to unify under one goal, destroying one another until there can only be one! The true Highlander of EDH can only be decided by climbing up the ladder through defeating foe after foe! What's also great about creating an EDH League is that you can help shape the local Hive Mind on what you believe is truly the meaning behind EDH. Is EDH designed to be a casual or competitive setting? Maybe both, but perhaps you need two separate leagues to satisfy both parties. Through leagues you can help craft your groups vision on what you believe is the best environment for your fellow players. So how do you start one?

League Commissioner

The most important part of creating a league is to have an appointed league commissioner, or a team of people who take it upon themselves to run the league. Although many shop owners are helpful, creating a truly functional league is a very involved process. I've seen many leagues come and go due to a lack of the required dedication. One of the most successful EDH league commissioners within the country from my experience would be Luan Pham, an individual who has spent countless hours crafting one of the largest leagues in Orlando. He has also successfully hosted many other EDH events within the area, always with surprisingly large turnouts. How does he do it? Tons of research, a powerful work ethic, and most importantly listening to feedback from fellow players! Here is a quick breakdown of his version of the league, crafted from years of trial and error.

Orlando's EDH League, directly from Luan Pham

"This system was originally derived from Mike Fields and Frank Hood and popularized by The Professor, a YouTube content creator specializing in Magic related topics. Our league took the fundamental concepts of this system and built upon it to create a framework for a league that has served our community for about the past two years (all the while being improved and refined by the community to become more robust and efficient.) Before we delve into the technical details of how it works; it may be helpful to understand a few key concepts behind the motivation;

  1. Cut and paste achievement sheets do not work. We've discovered that throwing a bunch of standard achievements onto a sheet of paper, printing a bunch of copies and handing them to pods does not make for a very exciting or strong league. The biggest argument against this is tendency of players to min-max; creating lists exclusively for farming points rather than engaging in social, political, and skillful conduct in the context of their games. Depending on how a given point sheet is designed; lists that leaned toward one specific play style had an overwhelming advantage against all other lists. In our case, we noticed that ramp and stompy decks including green did fathoms better than other decks. There were plenty of achievements that suited other play styles such as control or voltron; but the reward for playing a proactive and aggressive ramp style build was easier to achieve and more beneficial.
  2. We wanted to create a shared narrative experience. To ensure a constantly growing and developing community for EDH, we wanted to give our players as many good reasons to come back as possible. The nature of this system gives incentive to story lines within a given weekly pod, to the extension of an entire league season. Using a system in which the achievements constantly change and improve promotes deck diversity, player diversity, and rewards creative thinking and play. This culminates into games which have great story lines, the tales of which are shared between players from different pods and discussed across the coming weeks; we are able to create memorable experiences and provide a unique sense of gameplay.
  3. A high value is placed on constant improvement from testing and feedback. This can be said for just about any system worth its weight in long term investment, but one thing I feel this system has that others may not is its flexibility towards adjustment and how simple it is to take criticism from the community and incorporate it into our league. Different stores run their league different ways, which can be impacted by circumstances relating to its patrons, its operating logistics and certainly the local culture. It's important to mention that the “right” way to go about creating a working structure for any EDH league environment will involve a compromise between the players and the ruling authority. We've brought this idea to different stores and we've seen it adapted it many different ways; what may be discussed here is only one instance that has found success.

The original system consisted of different types of achievements. Green achievements serve to form the core of the content, being presentable as achievements that can only be scored during the game or as a result of actions that occurred in the game. White achievements act as “global” achievements that may have an impact over an entire pod or the entire league on a particular day. Blue achievements can impact the mode of play a pod might choose to engage in (Emperor, Star, Archenemy, Planeschase) or can reward players for a playing a deck restricted by certain specifications (playing a Pauper deck, peasant deck, a block constructed deck, etc). Black achievements reward points for taking adverse effects that may hinder oneself or benefit ones opponents, and red achievements penalize players for doing certain things.

From that system we did away with the white achievements and red achievements. Stores typically have their own house rules as far as penalties go and many prefer to have those penalties apply across the board without having to implement a similar structure using red achievements. We could not find a use for white achievements as we found that players new and returning were typically overwhelmed processing green, black and blue achievements.

Blue achievements stayed as they were available to players upon request. We expanded on the green and black achievements by creating sets of new cards for each of our seasons, denoted by the current set release. Black achievements are dealt to each pod in sets of three randomly. This is done prior to game start but but after players had selected their decks (this helps prevent players who have access to more decks from having an advantage over other players).

Green achievements are randomly sorted into different binders ahead of time; each pod would receive a binder and from that binder choose their achievements and form a dynamic and unique set of of achievements for that given day. Green achievements that are not picked are moved further back in the binder behind numbered tabs, denoting that they are worth more points as they are picked less. Achievements that are picked remain towards the front of the binder, but are worth their base point value as stated on the card. This way, commonly picked achievements may be desirable for any given reason, but are typically worth much less than achievements that are harder to do or picked less.

Furthermore, we introduced bartering points into games. Each player has 3 points (in a four person pod, for 3 person pods we allowed 5 bartering points) to use as they wish, so long as the bartering points are handed out before or during the conclusion of a league match (in other words, you can not keep your own bartering points for yourself, only the ones that are rewarded to you be other opponents in the match). The inspiration for this idea came from a youtube video Pogobat Gaming did a few years back on his experience at one of the GP's we went to, where players were given packs or points to barter and negotiate with during the game.

This system has been through many iterations, and to this day we are continually presented with new challenges to overcome and new ideas to experiment with. An example of this is the growth of our community experiences both gradually over time as well as spontaneously due to circumstances (return to school, summer vacation, post GP networking events, etc). Adjusting the system to an increasing (and sometimes decrease) in recurring players can present common challenges. We had to increase the volume of available achievements to accommodate the increase of players at any given moment, and additionally had to manage how those cards would be organized and sorted between league days. The most important thing to keep in mind is that flexibility and compromise is key to finding something that all parties involved are happy with."

Wow I wish I could write like this...

I know that can be a bit of a read, but it's very important to take the time to review this information. As you can see, a lot of time and resources are needed to create a functional league. However, to point out again, it was adapting to player feedback that really helped the league flourish. For those who are a bit confused on the above, lets quickly break down the key elements. This will not be the breath and depth of the full league, but point you in the right direction on crafting your own.

House Rules - Enforcing the Casual Spirit!

The most important aspect of your new league is that there is a consistent and easy to understand rule set that makes up the core of your league structure. This law book should make up the ground rules of what is encouraged and discouraged in your league's mentality. Of course, at the end of the day EDH is designed to have a winner after the pod launches. So we need to provide basic points for those who win. Here is a quick example:

+3-5 Points for winning the Pod
+1 Point for killing a Player

Easy right? How many points for winning the pod depends upon how many points are gathered through other means, such as achievements.

However if you want to make a casual league, things are going to be a bit trickier! The biggest issue you'll find is that everyone's definition of casual is different. We've all played against that Zur cultist who insists his deck's casual because he/she doesn't own all the Esper dual lands. You CANNOT leave the players to their own devices on how they define casual, especially when you're getting 20+ people joining your league. So here are some examples of what we found to assist in slowing the game down from rapid wins. I've edited them slightly to just provide an idea, as you'll need to find what works best for your player base:

  • -1 point for a turn 1 mana rock
  • - all points for infinite combos, or combinations beyond 3-4 interactions between multiple cards at once.
  • -1 point for taking beyond 5 minutes between your turn (even if taking multiple turns)
  • -1 point for eliminating a player before their 4th-5th turn
  • -1-2 points for any/mass land destruction

That's not too hard to follow. It's easy enough to add to the top or back of a score sheet for your members. These are static rules regardless of the achievement and barter systems down below. Remember you know your local players better then me! Please adjust as needed depending on how strong or friendly your local meta is. It's important to also note that although the negative points discourages certain play styles, it does not ban them outright. This is an important distinction that changes the players viewpoint on the league itself. Bans quickly lead to people being annoyed or upset that they're being "controlled" by the league creators.

*Rule Notes: Most are in favor of simply -1 point for every combination of card interactions beyond 3-4. However Luan's league found that there are some combinations that can get around this over others, at least to the level of still coming out on top in points. The removal of all points from that person removes that issue. Another uncommon change from most leagues is the -1 point for taking an extended period of time on a turn, opposed to just -1 point for going beyond 2-3 turns in a row. By setting a time limit, it hits two birds with one stone. It removes too many turns happening as well as rushes those who take far too long in general on their turn.

The Barter System

This is one of the best aspects of a point league in my opinion! Barter points are points that players have at the beginning of a game and cannot keep for themselves! They must be given out to another player or spread among multiple players before or when the game ends. This is to encourage fun EDH politics as well as give the kinder spirits of the league a chance to shine! Not only that, but admittedly it causes a bit of friendly blackmail as well! We've seen a lot of the younger players go crazy for this aspect of our league. Nothing's more cute then watching a 11 year old blackmail you by threatening to counter your commander unless you give her a point! It's up to you on what you want your barter count to be, but we definitely recommend adding it!

Fun Achievements

So as previously mentioned, some green achievements are designed to provide players various goals to work towards within the game, outside of just winning. These achievements are meant to be the positive reward system for encouraging a more casual play style. Now how many achievements you should make and how many points they're worth, is up to you and your group. There is a fair balance to find among your UNIQUE community between simply trying to win and playing for fun. Here are some examples of our Green Achievements:

These are some of the easier achievements. We also have some insanely difficult ones to achieve as well, use your creativity and have fun with it! Don't forget some achievements for your friendlier group hug players!

One thing I strongly advise is that you be very careful with making your achievements abusable. Achievements that can be "farmed" multiple times within a game can cause issues for your league. The safe rule is to make them achievable only once a game.

Challenging Achievements

Now that we got the Green Achievements out of the way, it's time for the Black Achievements! These achievements are optional static effects placed on yourself to give you a harder time within the game. These self imposed chains are often worth the difficulty, guaranteeing you points regardless of the outcome! Below are a few examples:

What's really fun is if everyone chooses Exposed! Alas I seem to find 3 people will often choose it, but one will not. Hilariously they're usually the mono blue player for some reason...

Wrapping It Together

So those are some decent basics on how to start up a decent league. Of course you need to find a time to host these events when most people are available! Once you have a time or two throughout the week for league, preparing the material is a snap. Once everyone gathers, hand out your score sheets with the basic law book and quickly explain the rules.

Then it's up to you on how you want to pass the Green and Black achievements out. As recommended in Luan's letter, he's found far more success having binders of achievement cards to pass out then just using a sheet. Of course it's up to you. How we do it in particular:

Pass out the binders full of Green Achievements as well as a Binder Sheet (3x3) with 3 random Black Achievements across the bottom row. The Pod will then search through the binders for the remaining 6 slots for Green Achievements of their choice. We usually high roll to have one person choose 3 while everyone else picks 1. You put the chosen Green Achievements in the Binder Sheet. They become an easy and fun reference throughout the game. Players will note which Black achievements they decided to take before the game begins. Our general rule for Black Achievements is that you may choose 2 out of the 3 that were randomly provided. That might sound like a lot of work, but I promise it isn't. So as a quick recap:

  1. Start the League by explaining the basic rules and passing out the score sheets (that have the basic rules on them).
  2. Pass out the Card Binder and a Binder Sheet with 3 random Black Achievements in the bottom of the sheet for each pod.
  3. Players pick the Green Achievements they want from the binder and add it to their pod's Binder Sheet until it's full.
  4. Players choose up to 2 Black Achievements if they want, being bound to those effects until end of game.
  5. Pod begins!

Far more simple when I lay it out like this correct? Of course feel free to pick what you like from this template and discard what you might not agree with. It might be worth bringing up this article in it's entirety though with your fellow pod mates to get a general consensus though!

Also if it's up your local meta's ally, don't forget to encourage creativity! An extra point for Planechase or other variants are great ways to spice up the stale weekly games we grind out over the years!

The Bolas Cup

Now it's time to demonstrate why this is a Bringing Magic to Life segment! Of course you'll need a reward of some kind at the end of your league. This prize support of course is to be discussed with your Local Game Shop owners to decide on what it should be. However lets add a little creativity as a small bonus!

I mentioned in my previous article making a fun Mox league, in which you can provide Mox Jewelery for the winners. However I hinted that we'd kick it up a notch, so let's add the ultimate prize for the Mox competitors! The Bolas Cup!

So creating a EDH Trophy wasn't the easiest thing on earth. I inquired from Sheldon himself if he had an EDH Symbol that I could use as a starting point. Unfortunately, I was told we do not, at least not yet, so I had to make up a design myself. I chose to use Bolas as he is an Elder Dragon as well as my top fanfic husband. As for the Highlander portion of EDH, I was debating back and forth of adding an MTG sword at the top. That or using a floating magnet as Bolas' egg on the top. Both were scrapped to add a candle flame on the top instead.

Now that I had a rough idea of what I wanted, it's time to turn on my 3d software!

Remember those mana symbols from the article before? Well I'm a fan of recycling! Let's add each symbol at the base of the trophy. I got this idea from an MTG inspired trophy in which they put symbol gems at the base. However we should all know by now I have an insane desire to take it a step further, so let's throw the symbols themselves at the base!

After that's all done, it's printing time! I got some new filament which I'm very happy with! Look how beautiful it is so far!

Isn't she beautiful? And it's not even painted yet! I apologize for being unable to see the mana symbols with it being unpainted, but I promise they came out amazing! Now it's time for the paint job. We all know I hate painting, so my new favorite store owner is going to help me out!!!

Voila, it's complete! Still up for debate if we want to add resin gems over the mana symbols for an even fancier look. Great part about Trophies is that once someone wins it I can always make more!

Download Bolas Trophy: Bolas Trophy

Closing Thoughts

I hope everyone enjoyed today's segment! When creating my trophy I fielded a lot of questions from players online on how our local league was or how to start one. Since I'm just a humble country EDH player, I need to give a big thanks to Luan for sharing his magic touch! Just so everyone knows, Luan is also one of the best deck builders I've ever met.

If you're interested in seeing some of his decks, he goes by Gwent on Tapped Out. You can find his decks Here

Please remember that this segment was meant more as a guide and to demonstrate what a successful league looks like. It's up to your local player base to decide what works best for your group! Start simple and build from there! You'll find that you'll often have to adjust after several league seasons based off your own personal experiences. Don't be frustrated or too demanding on your league as it begins in its infant stages. You'll run into those players who will find ways to abuse whatever system you make. That's fine, as you'll learn from it and develop new rules to help stop that. Soon you'll have an ironclad league of your own!

So what did everyone think? Do you like how our league is set up, or do you have a different structure? I'd love to hear your thoughts! I would also like some ideas on what sort of article you'd like to see next! If not I'm most likely going to go back to making articles about my silly and horrifying decks! I had a slight idea of making Sword of Fire and Ice toothpicks for Popsicle, but that seemed a little too Mana Stewart. Throw some ideas my way!

Lots of Love,


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