I'm going to assume that you know the basics of the format and are looking to improve your EDH/Commander deck or maybe even just get started building or planning your first one. That's where we're starting. This guide is far from comprehensive, but I'm hoping it's a good starting point for the new EDH deckbuilder or a good review for the more experienced one.
If you have any suggestions for things I should add or change, please post here about it and let me know. I've tried to keep this guide mostly as a list of points and tips pretty much agreed upon by the majority of experienced EDH players, but there will always be particular points of disagreement, and honestly, it's impossible to keep my own opinions and biases completely out of it.
Here We Go:
Table of Contents Still Under Construction -
Now before you do anything, realize that if your playing EDH as a casual format with friends instead of a competitive format that you will want to stay away from cards and strategies that make the game "unfun" (I know, not a word) for the other players. Playing cards like Knowledge Pool, Stasis or Winter Orb might be fun for you, but a lot of people despise playing against those cards, and they might not invite you to play again. Remember, unless it's competitive, keep it fun for everybody, not just yourself. If the deck is specifically for competitive play, then run what wins.
My personal guidelines that I try my best to adhere to with each deck I build are:
Be able to win.
Be mostly true to a flavor and a theme
Be very interactive
Be fun to pilot or to play against (without a lot of excessive effects to keep track of)
Have multiple paths to victory
Have lots of cool interactions and synergy
Play out differently every game to keep it fun over a long time
Integrate the Commanders abilities into the strategy at least a little, but...
Be able to win without ever playing the commander.
And keep in mind that EDH decks ARE NOT MATHEMATICAL EQUATIONS. There is almost never a "single best answer/card" or "best" way to approach something. EDH decks are more like living, breathing works of art that adapt and evolve over time. Chasing perfection is fine as long as you understand that not only can it never be achieved, but that it doesn't even exist in the first place. Never think for a second that you've assembled the "best possible decklist". Listen to others and learn what you can from their experiences, and always strive to improve what you've got.
. First - The Nine Prime Elements of EDH Deckbuilding:
Before you read these, don't forget, this advice is almost strictly aimed at multiplayer games. Dedicated 1v1 edh decks are a VERY different thing. . 1) Think Big - This is not Standard, or Extended, or Legacy - Get out of the mindset that if "x" card is good in every other format, that it will be good in EDH. You're not playing against one player with 20 life and a few mana sources, you're playing against one or many players with 40 life and huge amounts of mana at their disposal.
Some cards/types of cards that you should avoid and why (note there are exceptions to each).
Small Removal - EDH, at least in multiplayer, is a game for big, scary creatures and big spells. Lightning Bolt or Arc Trail may be great in Standard or Extended, and can even prove useful in 1v1 EDH, they don't kill much in a game full of Multiplayer EDH fatties. It has it's place in edh in certain situations, and will generally find a utility creature to kill, but if you're going to use a card slot for a kill spell, it needs to be able to kill something big that's threatening to kill you in the next 2 turns. Your Arc Trail may hit the Rafiq pumped Darksteel Colossus for 2 damage and take his controller from 40 life to 38, but you're about to get smacked in the face with 24 points of trampling death. You're not going to win this race. There are lots of cheap removal spells that are very effective in edh like Swords to Plowshares, Mortify, Putrefy, and Go for the Throat.
Small Non-Utility Creatures - A 2/2 First Striker like White Knight might be ok in standard, but it will get run over like roadkill in EDH. There are very effective decks out there that successfully run lots of small creatures like goblins, wizards, elves, tokens, but the point of those creatures is that when played together, their synergy gives them really big effects. Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental may be staples in Standard Aggro Decks, but in edh, you're not trying to kill one person with 20 life, you're trying to kill multiple opponents with 40 life. So using small aggro creatures like those in edh is usually a wasted card slot (unless they have particularly powerful synergy with the rest of the deck).
Unless they pay "x" cards - Forget about counterspells with "unless they pay x" like Daze, Mana Leak, or Mana Tithe. They very rarely belong in multiplayer edh. Huge manabases are common in edh, so much of the time, you're Mana Leak is a wasted card. If you're running countermagic, you need hard counters like Counterspell, Cancel, or better yet, Hinder, as it puts a countered commander on the bottom of the library instead of in the graveyard where your opponent can just exile him and play him again next turn. Mana Drain, Hinder, Counterspell, Force of Will, Pact of Negation, Desertion, Time Stop, and Cryptic Command are all counterspells that see lots of play in edh. You'll notice most of them are not only hard counters but have added value or flexibility.
Single use/opponent discard - Forget about ripping single cards from an opponents hand. Unless your edh deck is specifically for 1v1 matches, cards like Thoughtseize, Duress, and Inuqisition of Kozilek don't belong. Even cards like Blightning which is great in standard are completely underwhelming in multiplayer edh. You cannot effectively control, or even really affect in any meaningful way a table full of edh decks with single discard. The card slot is much better left to something else. If you really want to make someone discard, do it big with cards like Mind Twist, Mind Shatter, and Mind Sludge. A great multiplayer discard spell isSyphon Mind, as at a 4-player table you're getting to draw 3 cards for it, but don't forget that it could paint a target on your head. Identity Crisis is very good discard for edh as it not only takes out the entire hand, but also the graveyard which is a valuable resource in most edh decks (just make sure you're ready to finish the player off after you hit him with it).
Lifegain only - Cards that only gain you life in edh like Landbind Ritual, really have no place in edh, though there are exceptions. There's really not much that gaining a few life is going to do for you in edh, and even large life gains from cards like Beacon of Immortality may do nothing for you as an opposing commander still only has to hit you for 21 points to kill you. Even more often, you'll be killed by combos that don't care what your life total is. Exceptions to this are if your strategy is to win with life total using cards like Felidar Sovereign and Test of Endurance, which is a somewhat viable stratey. Cards that add a little lifegain as an added benefit and creatures with lifelink are great, but you should only view the lifegain as a small added benefit, not the main reason for including the card. With the rising popularity of Sorin Markov and Magister Sphinx knocking your life total down to 10 in a single shot, some lifelink/gain can be useful in battling your way back into the game, but the cards should ideally still have some other purpose than just gaining life.
Single use damage prevention - Damage prevention is good in edh, but single use cards like Fog and Holy Day are usually very sub-par. A card used for damage prevention in edh needs to do it repeatedly or add other useful things. Knight-Captain of Eos sees lots of play in edh for damage prevention as it gives you 3 bodies to use, multiple damage preventions, and can be recurred once dead or "blinked" to provide even more tokens to prevent damage with. Kor Haven finds it's way into nearly every white edh deck as it's first and foremost a land to use for mana, but then has the added benefit of being re-useable damage prevention, and Maze of Ith is nearly a staple of the format. Story Circle sees some play, but is most often inadequate as you can only prevent damage from one color. It has much more use in 1v1 than multiplayer.
** Very Important Point Here - While I love to say "EDH is for big, scary stuff", it does have limits. There has to be balance. You can't completely ignore the early or mid-games, and just because a card isn't "big", doesn't mean it isn't good. While Lightning Bolt may not be good in EDH, there are other low cmc removal spells that are great, like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile, or Terminate. These cards are great because they cheaply and quickly deal with a vast array of threats, bolt doesn't. All EDH decks need their smaller "utility" creatures and spells. Cards like Glen Elendra Archmage, Mistmeadow Witch, and Azorius Guildmage all see lots of play in EDH, and they are far from "huge", but they all do really useful things.
. 2) Versatility and Added Value is paramount - Cards that give you options are a staple in EDH. Cards like Profane Command, Austere Command, and Bant Charm. Cards that have "cycling" or "transmute" all give you much welcome options, as well as cards with "Kicker", and "Entwine" offer some added value when you've got the extra mana to spend.
A good example of this flexibility and added value would be - you could use a card like Naturalize to kill an artifact or enchantment, or instead, you could use Krosan Grip which gives you the added benefit of being "split-second" to get through counterspells and bust up some potentially lethal combos, or Return to Dust which gives you the option of killing 2 things at once if you play it main phase. You could also use Acidic Slime to kill it, and have the added option of killing a troublesome land, and have a body left to beat face, chump block, or trigger a sacrifice effect from something like Grave Pact. So go with the Grip and/or the Slime and leave the Naturalize at home.
Another prime example would be using Doom Blade to kill a creature. What if the creature you need to kill is black? What if the threat isn't a creature at all, but an enchantment? Upgrade your card choice to Mortify and deal with a lot more. Take it a step farther and have the flexibility to destroy any permanent with a card like Vindicate. You only have 100 card slots, they each need to count for as many different uses as possible.
Transmute cards are a good example of flexibility. Dimir House Guard serves as a blocker, sacrifice outlet, sacrifice target, and library search all in one.
Cards with "cycling" are also very useful in this regard as you can use them for card draw or getting additional mana sources if they aren't needed on the battlefield. Eternal Dragon is the perfect example of this flexibility. During the early game he fetches lands for you, then later in the game he comes back as a beater.
Along these lines you don't want to play many cards that are "situational". For instance, cards like Vexing Shusher. Shusher is fantastic against blue decks, but you might not be facing blue. Flashfreeze is a great counterspell against red or green, but useless against anything else. Unless you're specifically running a "toolbox" build you want all your spells to be good no matter what your facing. You never want a "dead" card taking up space in your hand.
3) Synergy - I'm sure you're probably familiar with this concept already, but just in case you're not, it needs to be mentioned as it's probably the single most important factor in building any deck in Magic.
In general, synergy may be defined as two or more agents working together to produce a result not obtainable by any of the agents independently. To simplify that a little, it's two or more cards that, because of their abilities/attributes, make each other much better than they could be by themselves, or the "whole" is greater than the sum of the parts. Whenever possible, the cards in your deck need to "synergize", or work together with all the other cards in your deck.
For an example, let's look at two cards. Emeria Angel, and Indomitable Archangel. Both are flying angels with the same mana cost, But they both have abilities that make them each very suitable to very different decks. If you're commander is Teysa, Orzhov Scion, who likes lots of tokens to sacrifice, you want to choose Emeria Angel for the deck because of it's synergy with this strategy/commander. If your commander is Sharuum the Hegemon and your deck runs lots of artifacts and artifact creatures, you'll want to choose Indomitable Archangel from the two for it's synergy with your commander and your strategy.
When building your deck, and choosing the cards to go into it, ALWAYS ask yourself "does this card have good synergy with the rest of my deck".
4) Multiple cards serving the same function/"Functional Density" - The chance of drawing a single card by turn 6 in an EDH deck is only 13%. That's not good. So if you need a type of card, say a sacrifice outlet, by turn 6 at the latest, you need to find several cards that will serve that function. Upping the count of cards serving a particular function to 4, increases your odds to 44% that you'll see one by turn 6. Further increasing the count to 8 cards gives you a 69% chance. Now we're in business.
I've created a post with tables showing the different % probabilities based on # of copies of drawing certain cards or combos in your EDH deck, and it's followed up by some mathematic calculations by other members that are frankly over my head, but if you're very mathematically inclined it may interest you. You can find that thread here.
6) Re-useability - Why settle for using a card once, when you can use it multiple times. There are a lot of possbilities for graveyard recursion and buyback or flashback in EDH. Use them. Again, why use a card like Naturalize to destroy an artifact, when you can use a card like Indrik Stomphowler, and then recur him from the graveyard later to kill another artifact. Cards like Eternal Witness, Regrowth, and Yawgmoth's Will, and any card that recurs other cards from the graveyard are great in EDH. Cards with the keyword "Flashback" like Dread Return have some built-in re-useability.
A Great Example - I used the example of Mulldrifter earlier for card draw. He's great because of re-useability. You can blink him or bounce him to be played again, or recur him from the graveyard over and over to give you two cards every time. And what will you use to blink him? Turn to Mist? Why not upgrade to Momentary Blink, as it lets you use it again later from the graveyard. Better still how about Erratic Portal to do it every turn!
A few other cards worth mentioning are Dark Confidant, Ad Nauseam, and Dark Tutelage. The usefulness of these cards is a hotly debated topic. They can be fantastic in the right deck, but if you're running a lot of high cmc cards, you will want to avoid them.
It should also be noted that a few cards, while technically not card advantage, can be used to "smooth out" your draws very effectively and are considered by many to be EDH staples. Cards like Sensei's Divining Top, and it's very budget little brother Crystal Ball are both very good at this as well as giving you something constructive to do with leftover mana at the end of your opponents turn. It should also be noted that "the top" is on one of the banned lists for duels.
Card advantage can also be viewed as using one card to cost your opponent multiple cards. Like removing several of his cards with an Austere Command, or making him discard 5 cards by using a single Mind Sludge.
8) Removal - You're going to need a lot of removal in EDH, and you're going to need to be able to kill anything on the board. Creatures, Artifacts, Enchantments, Lands.... they all need killin'. You'll need to be able to kill creatures with shroud, creatures with indestructiblility, and anything else you can think of. And remember FLEXIBILITY. A card that can remove several, or even "any" type of permanent like Vindicate, is extremely valuable in EDH. Very often you'll need to kill things that are already dead and in the graveyard. So be sure to pack some graveyard hate like Nezumi Graverobber, Necrogenesis, Beckon Apparition, Bojuka Bog, Cemetery Reaper, Identity Crisis, Necromancer's Covenant, or Tormod's Crypt (again, remembering that the more possible uses a card has, the more valuable it is).
It's important to have both spot removal like Path to Exile or Rend Flesh as well as mass removal, or "sweepers" like Wrath of God or Mutilate in your deck.
Unless your deck relies on having creatures in the graveyard, it's also almost always better to exile creatures rather than destroy them. This is because some creatures are "indestructible" but may still be exiled and many decks run lots of recursion spells that bring creatures back from the grave but not from exile.
Some mention should be made here about removal spells that can bury your opponents commander into their library rather than sending it to the graveyard where they just exile it and get it back. This is often referred to as "tucking" the commander. Examples would be Spin into Myth, Hallowed Burial, Bant Charm, Spell Crumple, Hinder, Oblation, and Condemn.
Sweepers or Spot Removal?:
Though it's a good idea to have some of each, opinions vary greatly on which is better in edh. Sweepers seem to win the popularity contest a majority of the time, but personally, I like to pack mostly spot removal. My reasoning being that most of the time, I only need to kill one creature that's threatening to cause me problems, and I don't want to lose the creatures I have to a sweeper. My personal favorite "Mass Removal" spell is Austere Command, as it's flexible enough to usually kill what I need to kill and leave my board mostly intact.
9) Evasion - That 6/6 beater that you loved in your type 2 deck may have been good at Friday Night Magic, but the chances he'll get through for much damage in EDH is very low. Beaters in EDH NEED some type of evasion. Trample or flying at a minimum, both is more like it though. Shroud, unblockable, protection, indestructibility, and the various landwalks all see a lot of play in EDH.
Second - Choosing a play style
How do you want to play? How would you like to win? Do you want to play an agressive beatdown game that puts pressure on from the start, or do you want to control the early game and then lay down big threats. Maybe you would like to win with a large army of tokens, or with graveyard tricks. Maybe by a defensive game with lots of lifegain.This section will lay out some popular deck styles that you can choose from and that will help you choose your commander and make your card choices. It also lays out some general weakness for each archetype.
Keep in mind that these deck "archetypes" are flexible. Most decks don't actually fit completely into one category but use elements of two or more, and a lot of them "overlap" into others.
The 3 Major Archetypes - Aggro, Control, and Combo are the 3 basic archetypes that pretty much every deck fits into to some degree although they do overlap a lot in edh. All other playstyles are more like "sub-themes".
Control - Control decks focus on controlling the early game and slowing the board development of the opponent while building up their own board, then dropping big threats that can't be dealt with. "Controlling" the early game can be done in several ways including countermagic, heavy removal, hand disruption, and land destruction. Blue is the "go to" color for most control decks, and Black is best at the "disruptive" style of control. A few of the popular control commanders are Dralnu, Lich Lord, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Arcum Dagsson, Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.
Combo - Combo decks focus on holding off the opponent while getting combo pieces assembled in hand or on the board to "combo out" and win all of a sudden. You'll see a lot of tutors (search cards) in these decks. Combos weaknesses are against decks that put on lots of early pressure, never letting them assemble combo pieces, or heavy countermagic that disrupts their combo. It should be noted that most every deck packs a couple of possible game winning combos among their 100 cards that they don't necessarily actively seek to pull off, but will use if it happens to conveniently pop-up. Some of the popular Combo Commanders are Sharuum the Hegemon, Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Azami, Lady of Scrolls, Arcum Dagsson.
Dredge - While dredge decks are very popular and effective in Legacy, it's a bit trickier in edh. With a low density of dredge cards available for your deck, and lots of graveyard hate in the format, pure dredge isn't so viable. But it's completely viable as an enhancement to your deck, especially if the focus is graveyard heavy like sac & recur or reanimator. Commonly seen cards for a "Dredge Enhancement" are Life from the Loam, Golgari Grave-Troll, Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, Karador, Ghost Chieftain, and Stinkweed Imp.
Toolbox - Toolbox isn't really a deck type as much as it is a feature that a lot of decks use to some degree. It focuses on having an answer in the deck to every situation/problem and then retrieving that solution and/or having special threats in the deck that cause problems for certain other styles/colors of decks. For example, fetching and using Sword of Light and Shadow against a white or black deck or Relic of Progenitus against a deck that utilizes it's graveyard. Using a toolbox can be and extremely effective strategy, but also note that a lot of toolbox cards in your deck comes with the weakness that you can't always get to the required "tool" in time to save you, and because it trades card slots that could be used for "always good" cards for situational cards. Blue and White are both very useful colors in most toolboxes. Commonly seen "toolbox" cards are any that can search out the needed tool including Sunforger, Fauna Shaman, Stonehewer Giant, Godo, Bandit Warlord, Artificer's Intuition, Survival of the Fittest . Some popular Toolbox Commanders are Momir Vig, Simic Visionary, Arcum Dagsson,Zur the Enchanter, Captain Sisay.
An additional land destruction strategy that a lot of decks use is gaining board control, then blowing up all the lands with something like Armageddon, Ravages of War, Desolation Angel, or Catastrophe and finishing you off. While a perfectly viable play style, it generally won't win you any friends, and is much better used in duels than in multiplayer.
Mill - Filling your deck with cards like Traumatize and Tome Scour in order to slowly mill an opponent over the course of a game can work, but is generally NOT an effective strategy in EDH. This is because, not only is it tougher to mill a 99 card deck than a 60, not to mention having to mill multiple 99 card decks, but there are also lots of Eldrazi creatures and other spells commonly played in edh that instantly stops your mill strategy. There are, however, LOTS of combos used in EDH that instantly mill one or more opponents, and a couple of commanders that can easily mill an opponent if they have enough mana available. So, if you want to win by milling your opponent, it's best to do it in one or two shots rather than a few cards at a time over the whole game. A combo that does this would be Spin into Myth or Hinder coupled with Tunnel Vision. Another would be Karmic Guide and Reveillark with Altar of Dementia. The commanders that can mill are Oona, Queen of the Fae, and Geth, Lord of the Vault. Big or Infinite mana combos with either of these commanders can mill out an opponent very quickly. Milling some cards from your own library or an opponents in order to stock the graveyards with cards you can use or to make creatures like Lord of Extinction more powerful can be useful at times too.
Infect/Poison - Since the release of the Scars of Mirrodin block, winning by putting a quick 10 poison counters on your opponent has become a viable strategy. Perhaps more for 1v1 than multiplayer, but still a viable option in either. These decks try to make any unblocked creature with Infect or Poison a potential death dealer at any time with cards like Hatred or Might of Oaks. Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon is a very effective commander for this strategy and a lot of people like Glissa, the Traitor for her color access. Blightsteel Colossus is an auto-include.
Group Hug - A very unconventional and highly political style of play that actually helps out opposing players while setting them up for the eventual kill. Commonly seen cards are Howling Mine, Upwelling, Tempting Wurm, Hunted Wumpus. Pheddagrif is the quintessential commander for group hug. This style of deck really shouldn't be played by edh newcomers, as it creates a lot of chaos at the table and tends to be heavily disliked by a lot of players. It may be novel and fun for a little while, but usually gets old very quickly. Save your group hug deck for special occasions.
Pillow Fort - A very defensive style of play, a good pillow fort deck dissuades others from attacking you by building up strong defenses and/or "rattlesnakes" and making other players look like more tempting targets. Wincons in pillow fort are usually game finishing combos or big spells to finish off players that have been weakened by slugging it out with each other while ignoring you. White and Blue, and particularly the combination of the two, are the "go to" colors for pillow fort. Hanna, Ship's Navigator, Lady Evangela, and Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer are popular and effective pillow commanders. Other commonly seen cards are Kor Haven, Wall of Denial, Martyr's Bond, Gomazoa, Propaganda, Norn's Annex, Maze of Ith, Ghostly Prison, Academy Rector, and Blazing Archon. Be careful to avoid defensive cards that annoy or tax people that are not targeting you, they will have the opposite effect of what you're going for.
Third- Choosing your Colors
You may decide on choosing your Commander and/or Playstyle and allowing that to dictate your colors, but then you may want to choose at least one or two colors first as some are much stronger for certain playstyles.
Here are some of the strong points and playstyles for each color:
Black - Using the graveyard and your life total as resources.
Tutoring for anything
Big Mana (in mono black)
Pre-emptive "gutting" of decks (ex. Sadistic Sacrament)
Zombies & Vampires
Blue - Control Strategies
Big Evasive Creatures
Stealing other peoples creatures
Wizards, Merfolk, and Faeries
White - Defense
Creature and Enchantment Recursion
Removal of just about anything
Tutoring for enchantments and equipments
Green - Mana Ramp
Creature and Non-Creature Recursion/Graveyard Shenanigans
Elves and Big Trampling Creatures
Red - Aggro Builds
Goblins and Big Flying Dragons
Fourth - Choosing a Commander (If you haven't already)
Obviously, the most important decision about your new deck is who the commander will be. It needs to "fit" or "enhance" your chosen playstyle for the deck. You can design your deck to focus specifically on enhancing your commander like making lots of black mana for Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief, or putting lots of enchantment and equipment on Uril, the Miststalker, OR, you can just make your commander part of a larger strategy like using Ghost Council of Orzhova as a reliable sacrifice engine.
A lot of people choose a commander solely based on the colors it gives them access to, and that's ok, but you've got easy/reliable access to the commander card in the command zone, you might as well use it to your advantage.
Your first commander should probably be two or three colors. My opinion is that two-color is the best for newer edh players as they are versatile and easy to make a stable, inexpensive manabase for. Mono-colored decks are viable in EDH, but there is plenty of mana-fixing available for multi-colored decks and the added flexibility is very welcome. I personally love the simplicity, reliability, and flexibility of two-color decks and almost never go higher than that, but that's just personal preference and certainly not for everyone.
For the CMC (converted mana cost) of your commander, keep this in mind; Even though your commander is replayable after being killed, it costs more and more every time, so if you choose one that starts out at 7 or 8 mana, there's a good chance you may only get to play them once or twice (if that). It seems that most players like to keep their commanders at 5cmc or below but consider up to 7cmc to be acceptable as long as that commander does something "big". Thraximundar is a very popular and effective 7cmc commander.
Here is a list of popular commanders and what type of deck they play well with ***** Though style of play is possible with nearly every commander.
Fourth part B - A Note About Going Tribaland sub-themes
Tribal decks are very popular in magic and a lot of people want to continue that into EDH. That's completely fine if that's what you want to do, and it can also be very competitive if you know when to "step out of" the tribal zone and keep it to kind of a "sub-theme" or a "semi-tribal" deck. After all, EDH is mostly about having fun, so if you like it, go with it.
Some groups, like my own, build tribal edh decks as their own format. The guidelines we use are:
Minimum 25 creatures (including commanders and changelings) that match a single tribe of the commander.
Maximum 5 creatures not in tribe.
Regular EDH banned list plus Engineered Plague, Extinction, Circle of Solace, Peer Pressure, and Coat of Arms. But again, that's just my group, do whatever your group feels.
A lot of tribal decks shatter the "go big" rule in EDH, as their incredible synergy gives them tremendous power.
Also, don't forget that creatures with "changeling" like Chameleon Colossus can be used to fill your tribal slots, and for tribes without a lot of support, other universal cards like Adaptive Automaton and Brass Herald can possibly help out.
Listed here are some popular tribal themes/sub-themes, and some commanders that work well with them.
Whether you'll be playing mostly duels or multiplayer will have an influence on your card choices.
For multiplayer most people want more sweeping removal like Damnation and Wrath of God, where in duels, you'll want more spot removal like Swords to Plowshares, and Rend Flesh. It's best to have the flexibility of both mass and spot removal in your deck no matter what your focus is, but you can lean heavier one way or the other based on whether your primary opposition will be multiplayer or single. And against popular opinion, I tend to go a little heavier toward spot removal in most of my multiplayer builds. I find that much of the time, I only need to kill one troublesome creature and don't want to destroy my own board position with a sweeper.
Some cards like Exsanguinate and Syphon Mind are particularly effective with a table full of opponents while being only marginal against a single opponent (for obvious reasons).
A card like Luminarch Ascension can be fantastic in a duel, and it seems like it would be great in multiplayer as well, but if you lay down a card like this in a multiplayer game, you've just made yourself the prime target for everyone. Politics plays a huge role in multiplayer. You want to go about setting up your board position or assembling your combo pieces without drawing fire from everyone at the table, but in a 1 vs 1 duel, your only opponent is directing all his energy at killing you anyway, so politics is unneeded.
Some strategies, like hand disruption/discard, while perfectly viable in a duel or any other format in Magic, are near suicidal in Multiplayer EDH. Remember, you're not playing against one player with 20 life. You're playing against multiple opponents at 40 life, and each of them probably has adequate card drawing built into their decks. You will not be able to adequately control all of them with discard.
Aggro decks are also more suited to duels than multiplayer. You can do ok with them in a big game, but the amount of sweeper spells that hit the board in multiplayer and the fact you have multiple opponents to take down, make aggro in multiplayer an uphill battle. A lot of people have adopted a "30 instead of 40" life total starting point for 1v1 dueling. This also works in favor of fast aggro decks as you stand a lot better chance of taking down your one opponent before he gets an advantageous board established.
Sixth - Mana, the foundation of every deck
Fixing your mana is relatively easy in EDH due to the wide variety of lands and mana-producing artifacts available as well as mana ramp creatures and spells.
Most decks run 38 to 40 lands and a few artifact mana sources/ramp spells.
If you want a direct comparison of how many lands in a 60-card deck = How many in a 99-card EDH deck:
23 = 38
24 = 40
25 = 42
26 = 44
Excellent Link Here! I highly recommend the following website by Clanmackay that lets you plug in the colors of your commander and find all possible fixing and utility lands for your deck. http://manabasecrafter.com/
Some lands for fixing mana:
Hands down, the best way to fix mana is with a combination of Original Dual Lands and/or Shocklands along with Fetchlands to go get them, but that can get kinda "$expensive". Besides those the best color-fixing land in edh is:
Command Tower - Comes into play untapped and gives you any color you can use.
Invasion Duals - Only come in allied colors, but their very good, and very budget.
Urborg Volcano .
Lorwyn Tribals -Good budget fixers for any deck, Great if you happen to be running heavy tribal, but this isn't a requirement. Ancient Ampitheater - R/W. Giants Auntie's Hovel- R/B Goblins. Gilt-Leaf Palace - B/G Elves Murmuring Bosk - G/B/W Treefolk. Also is "Forest" type so it's "fetchable". Great 3-way fixing. Primal Beyond - 5-color, but it's colored mana an only be used for Elemental spells and abilities. Secluded Glen - U/B Faeries Wanderwine Hub - U/W Merfolk
There are other manafixing lands, but the best options have already been listed.
Non-Land Mana-Fixing and Acceleration:
There are lots of Non-land options for mana fixing that also serve as mana-ramp. Artifact mana sources like Orzhov Signet, Sol Ring, and Coalition Relic are staples of edh. They provide ramp, color-fixing, and they give you a slight buffer against mass land destruction or effects like Blood Moon or Winter Orb.
Utility lands are lands that do things other than or on top of providing mana fixing. They commonly provide sacrifice outlets, creature recursion, protection, land destruction and lots of other purposes. This list will be far from comprehensive, but it will touch on some of the most popular utility lands that you'll see in EDH.
There are a few cards available to you that are welcome additions to nearly any EDH deck. Nothings ever 100%, but here is a short list of cards that are as close to 100% as it gets. No matter what your colors, strategy, or commander, these cards could very likely improve your deck, and you will see them a lot. There's no such thing as a universal "auto-include", but these cards are definitely worth at least a consideration when building just about any deck.
Sol Ring - The undisputed king of early acceleration. Darksteel Ingot - Indestructible artifact mana accel and fixing. Coalition Relic - Artifact mana accel and fixing. Mimic Vat - Very few decks couldn't improve by running a copy of this powerhouse. Expedition Map - Fetches ANY land for you. Not just manafix lands, but powerful utility lands. Wasteland and/or Strip Mine - For killing problematic lands. Skullclamp - Slight pump, great card draw. Great for decks that make a lot of tokens or have a lot of creatures dying all the time. Reliquary Tower - No max hand size in a land. Pretty great unless, for some reason, you don't want large hands. Homeward Path - Great for protecting against creature theft. High Market - Also protects from creature theft as well as exile and tucking effects. Maze of Ith - Top notch protection for any deck.
There are other cards likely suited to this list, but these are the ones you're going to see most often.
*** Important Note - When you're looking at sections 9 & 10, pay close attention to how the card recommendations/choices specifically work with your chosen commander and the overall strategy of your deck, and make your card selections based on those interactions (remember... synergy, flexibility, and re-useablility).
Tenth - Now take a look HERE. This is a database of decks for every general/commander. Look over the deckllists for your commander and see if they give you any ideas. Keep in mind that anyone can post a decklist here, so some of the decklists are pretty bad, but there are also a lot of good ones and you can often find very good interactions/synergies/combos in them.
In the breakdown of your deck concerning number of Lands/Creatures/Other Spells, there is no one correct answer, but a good place to start is roughly 40/25/35 and then adjust things from there depending on the rest of your deck/gameplan. Most of my decks end up with 38 lands and about 4 or 5 artifact mana sources.
There are a lot more topics you can explore when it comes to building a good EDH deck, but this will certainly get you headed down the right path.
Remember, there is no single best way to build any particular EDH deck. In the end it comes down to how you want to play, and what you find fun. Not every card in the deck has to be a game winner. I often choose cards that could be improved on from a competitive standpoint, but I just find fun to play with.
Now build the deck, and have fun!
Now for a few extra/more advanced topics - Just in case all that wasn't enough for you and you want to dive a little farther into the EDH abyss.
Special section on not being a jerk for casual play:
This section applies mostly to casual play. If you're playing competitively, then play whatever wins you games, but a lot of EDH is played in casual groups and there are some cards and tactics that a lot of groups will frown upon. I mentioned this at the top of the page, and thought that it deserved a section of it's own.
Keep in mind that all groups are different and there won't be many "universally" hated cards, but there are some pretty universally hated players because of how they use certain cards. Don't be a GRIEFER! Intentionally ruining other peoples fun is childish and deplorable.
1) Don't try to "lockdown" the table - Some defensive/taxing effects like Ghostly Prison are fine, but when you cross into the realm of Stasis, Winter Orb, or a Strip Mine and Crucible of Worlds lock, nobody is going to enjoy the game.
The other players at the table want to actually play the game, not just sit around passing their turn as you slowly grind away at their life totals.
2) Don't randomly "reset" the game just because you can - Wrath effects are not only useful in edh, they are necessary and a valid tactic, but some people get the idea that it's funny to try and completely reset the game every time they get the chance with cards like Worldpurge, Sunder or Armageddon. Lot's of people get really upset about Land Destruction in general, and mass land destruction especially. LD cards have an important place in competitive edh, and is a hotly debated topic in a lot of casual groups. Get a feel of the group before using it extensively.
3) Shaharazad - One of the most controversial cards in magic. My own personal feeling is Do Not Run This Card... Ever! Some people are ok with it, but a lot aren't. At a minimum, ask your playgroup how they feel about it. I'll personally leave the table if someone plays this card.
4) If you're going to search your library or an opponents library for cards, do it quickly - Tutors and theft cards are fine, and tutors especially are crucial to a good edh deck, but don't make everyone wait for several minutes while you make up your mind on what card to choose. If you're not familiar enough with the cards to make a quick decision, then you have no business having the card in your deck.
6) Pay attention to the Game! - If you're busy texting or making trades during everyone elses turn, then you have to "catch-up" and re-evaluate the board every time it's your turn and it wastes everyone elses time. If you're not interested in the game, then don't play.
Avoiding Excessive Upkeep (do you really want to work that hard at a game?)
Over-reliance (or under-reliance) on your Commander:
A very important but often overlooked concept in EDH, is Over/Under reliance on it's commander. This is a tricky balancing act. You've probably built your deck around the strong points of its commander (which is good), but what you have to keep in mind and ultimately prepare for is "can my deck do it's job and win without the commander". Life expectancy of most commanders on the battlefield is extremely short, and thanks to spells like Condemn, Spin Into Myth, Hinder, and Bant Charm, he may get tucked into the library never to be seen again 'til the next game He may get rendered useless by a Faith's Fetters, he may get stolen by Gather Specimens, or he may just get killed every time he hits the board. Now while you can use tutors to go get him back from the library, it's best to have your deck built in a way that can support your battle plan without the commander at all. If your deck needs creature recursion to be effective, and your commander is your main source of recursion, that's great, but have some extra recursion in the deck for when the commander isn't around.
A more subtle point is the flipside - that while your commander isn't always around, it's usually around, and thus you don't need as many cards that are redundant in function with your commander as you might think. The most common example is that if your general is a big flying beater like an angel or a dragon, you don't need twenty other angels or dragons in your deck. (It's reasonable as a thematic choice, of course.) Creature counts can be lower than you might expect in say, an equipment-based deck, because you normally have at least one guy to put stuff on - your commander.
5 star post.
The only thing that I notice that MIGHT be missing would be Land Destruction under playstyle, but that's an arguable point, as it could very well be categorized under "control" or "disruptive" as well.
Also, Mods: if you've got your eyes open, this needs stickied.
Thanks, Heroes of The Planes! You guys are great!
"You heard it here folks:
Anyone who disagrees with "Jack from NC" is an idiot."-The Dead Weatherman
It's ok for a first-timer. I won't get into tiny details like card choice, but there are lots of small stuff I found lacking, though.
-limited resources is banned anyway, no need to mention it.
-your commandments start as demands (which is what a commandment is), but eventually they're just words or fragments and not really commmandments, per se.
-a lot of your later tenants seem more like types of cards and not really commandments at all. Your removal section doesn't really say much of anything except that removal is important. There's no mention of mass vs targeted, instant vs sorcery, or even how powerful tuck is vs straight destruction.
-I would hardly call evasion as important as removal. The whole commandments section seems like you just kept going until you ran out of ideas.
-voltron and general damage are basically the same thing. It's not as though people make an entire deck around general damage and then don't have any way to increase its power.
-putting "choosing your colors" ahead of your general section seems to indicate that you're suggesting people pick their colors before they pick their general, which I think is a bad choice. Personally I'd put general selection first, or at least mention that choosing your colors/playstyle/general can be done in any order. Also, the commandments don't seem to apply until you get to card selection so it didn't need to be first.
-you drop "politics" on the table and then run away and never explain it or mention it again.
-in mana, you seem to be focusing on the different types of duals/tris, which is all well and good, but then you bring in one 5-color land (rupture spire) and ignore all the better ones, like forbidden orchard (best land in the format? I vote yes), city of brass, vivids, exotic orchard, etc. if you don't want to cover 5-colors, leave them all out.
-you don't have any utility lands except possibly urborg listed. I guess that might be your own decision.
-the top 50 list sucks for making focused decks and a lot of the decklists are pretty bad. But I guess that's just my opinion.
darcanegel, I will incorporate a lot of that. I'll try to get some of it done before I fall asleep. Some of the things though, I feel are best left to later discussions, and not really crucial for the first-time builder. I want to keep the guide fairly short, hitting the main points and not going into extreme detail.
Added a subsection about Tribal.
Jack from NC... added a tidbit about LD under Stax and Control.
Artifact Mana-Fixing and signet section deserve a separate (new) section under the title "ramp" as many of the strong EDH decks I've seen run between 10-16 of these guys. In both multiplayer and 1v1, fast ramp into explosive plays/big stuff make or break games. Most of the strategies listed in your guide would attest to this.
I noticed your section under Tribal archetypes left out Slivers. Did a Sliver run over your dog, or something?
Artifact Mana-Fixing and signet section deserve a separate (new) section under the title "ramp" as many of the strong EDH decks I've seen run between 10-16 of these guys. In both multiplayer and 1v1, fast ramp into explosive plays/big stuff make or break games. Most of the strategies listed in your guide would attest to this.
This is a great suggestion. Mana rocks are great for when your strategy just takes too long to get off the ground. The Marble/Sky/Charcoal/Fire/Moss Diamond cycle is great for monocolored generals, as are the various parts and appendages of Ramos(Tooth, Eye, Skull, Heart, and Horn). The Signets are great dual-fixing as are the Cameos, and to a degree, the Talismans from Mirrodin. The Shards' Obelisks are amazing for 3-5 color decks as well.
I noticed your section under Tribal archetypes left out Slivers. Did a Sliver run over your dog, or something?
That's not funny, brah. My friend's dog was devoured by the hive as they escaped from Otaria. Not cool, not cool.
Anyway I really enjoyed reading through this. You touched on all the things I usually touch on when introducing the format to someone. Well done Blackjack. Just keep editing and soon you'll have a most sticky-worthy thread.