A Call to Arms: The Rise of EDH in Japan
You can hear the horns echoing in the distance. Countless generals have gathered on the battlefield, bringing troops from across the land to do battle. The armies’ colorful banners flutter in the wind like dancing rainbows, their combinations seemingly countless. Some commanders are battle hardened from years of fighting, while others are fresh and looking to prove themselves on the battlefield. Blood, Glory, and countless life and death struggles await them. But who will be left standing in the end?
For those of you that have never played EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander), or “Commander”, the Magic the Gathering format is best described as a battle between 4 players at one time. Players choose a legendary creature as their “general” and then select 99 other cards as part of their deck with colors matching that of their leader. For example, if you choose Dragonlord Silumgar, which is a black and blue card, you can only use black and blue or a combination of in your deck (of course colorless cards such as Eldrazi and artifacts can be in any deck). There’s one catch: you can only have one copy of a card in the entire deck. No playing 4 copies of a card so you can draw it more easily.
Each player starts at 40 life and draws cards just like they would in any other match. The winner is decided by the last player standing. This can happen 1 of 2 ways. The first way is to reduce each other player to zero life from 40 through regular damage, and the other way is to deal 20 damage with your general/commander. There are other rules and intricacies of the format, but I won’t go into all of them here. If you want to read up on EDH some more, follow this link to the Wikipedia page about it.
EDH in Japan
Commander/EDH has never been that big in Japan. Some people have played it for years, but its growth had always been glacially slow. Here in Nagoya, there were always a few people that played but new blood rarely joined them. With little interest in the format, popular EDH generals and format staples could be picked up for relative pennies compared to how much they cost overseas. For the longest time, I was picking up dozens of Chromatic Lanterns for 50 yen ($.40), Akroma’s Memorials for 300 yen ($2.50), and Reliquary Towers for 30 yen ($.25). Heck, I even managed to get a Japanese foil Sheoldred, the Whispering One at a store last year for about 1000 yen. The going price for an English foil is about $30, but the Japanese ones routinely go for about $70.
You can kind of see where I’m going with this. There was never a time where I found it difficult to grab these cards at rock bottom prices, and over the last year or so I’ve made huge profits by trading them away on Puca Trade or at Grand Prix to get more high value cards that I can sell for even more money here in Japan.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
Over the past few weeks there has been an EDH boom here in Nagoya, and suddenly all of those deals are gone. How do I know this? Because I myself have finally decided to build an EDH deck of my own and having traded away most if not ALL of the EDH staples I’ve picked up over the last year or two I was in the market to get quite a few cards. Not only are the deals gone, but I’m finding it hard to even locate cards like Akroma’s Memorial and Platinum Angel anymore. Thankfully Wizards had the foresight to start releasing Commander products every year to deal with the slowly but surely growing trend of EDH, but will it be enough if the format really starts to take off here in Japan?
You might think that I’m just overreacting because I can’t find these EDH format cards anymore, but that’s not the only reason I believe the format is on the cusp of breaking out here in Japan. Simple observation has shown me that there has been a tripling of EDH players here in Nagoya in the month of December. First off, let me give you a little bit of background. Nagoya is a city of about 2.5 million people, and is at the heart of the Chubu area (which is made up of Gifu, Mie, and Aichi prefectures). Magic players from all over the city, as well as the outlying areas play in Nagoya.
Between all of the major formats (Legacy, Modern, Standard) I would say at any one time there are about 500+ active players. Since I’ve started playing MTG in Nagoya in 2011, I would say that there are probably about 50 hardcore EDH players, or about 10% of the competitive MTG population. This includes both the Japanese and foreign population of MTG players (the later being more predisposed to EDH due to having a lot of older cards and having played a long time). Now this number could be bigger, with even more people playing casually with friends on the weekends at their houses, but out of the competitive population let’s just say it’s 10%.
As my readers might know, I’m mostly a standard player. I have a few Modern decks, as well as a Legacy deck, but for the most part I go to standard events. As I said above, in the past I usually only saw the same group of people playing EDH that always did. They would play in between rounds of a standard or modern tournament, and nobody ever thought much about it. Fast forward to the Commander 2015 product that was just released, and suddenly there are sparks of interest. I don’t see it that much at first because of my busy work schedule and my inability to go to events on the weekends or at night, but suddenly in December I see a completely different situation.
The number of players went from 4-6 people playing at the same store tournament every weekend to 12 or 18. Suddenly there are 3-4 EDH games going on in between matches (and after tournaments end), and it’s not only at the same store’s tournaments, but all over the city. It’s hard to go to a tournament lately without seeing people playing with their friends for fun. It seems to me that the number of EDH players suddenly went from about 50 to 100 players over a period of a few months. That’s a 10% increase to 20% total, and in my opinion it’s not over yet.
But what caused this change and is it just a flash in the pot like Tiny Leaders was when it was trending earlier in the year? I decided to sit down and talk with some players I know during a 17 person standard tournament in Nagoya this last weekend (case in point, out of these 17 standard participants, 10 were playing EDH in between matches).
First off, let me introduce you to 7 of the EDH players I talked with and when they started playing the Commander format:
- Sakurai-san – is a new player that started playing during Magic Origins,
- Daido-san – started during Dragon’s Maze
- Arai-san – is a more seasoned player that first played during Commander 2013
- Kimura-san – began playing during Return to Ravnica
- Matsumura-san – is one of the old guard. He started playing EDH about 7 years ago.
- Nishio-san – like Kimura, he started during RTR
- “Sho” – is the newest of the EDH players but no stranger to MTG. He started EDH during Battle for Zendikar, just 3 weeks ago.
The Japan Hobbyist: Why did you start playing EDH?
- S – I got into the format by reading Cardshop Serra’s online blog about it a few months ago.
- D – I got into EDH mostly because of my friends who often played it.
- A – I was the same. I got into it largely because of my friends, namely Asakura-san (who is long time player of Nagoya MTG scene).
- K – Yeah! Asakura! He’s the one who got me into EDH as well.
- M – I read some articles online about EDH way back in the day and decided I really wanted to try it.
- N – I always watched my friends play and because of that I finally decided to play myself.
- Sho – I never really wanted to play before because of how long it took to finish a game, but eventually I broke down and decided to give it a try because of my friends.
TJH: Who are your favorite generals/commanders?
- S – Xenagos, God of Revels
- D – Dragonlord Atarka
- A – Prossh, Skyraider of Kher
- K – Rafiq of the Many
- M – Kumano, Master Yamabushi
- N – Oona, Queen of the Fae
- Sho – Haven’t chosen yet, but currently using Dragonlord Silumgar
TJH: Tiny Leaders was really popular for a short time but then many players stopped playing. Do you think this new group of EDH players will stick around or is it just a fad?
- S – As a new player, I really enjoy it and want to play as much as I can. Playing EDH is very social and like a party for me. I hope to continue into the future.
- D – I think people enjoy watching others play EDH and then want to play themselves. I will continue to play and think others will as well.
- A – One of EDH’s strong points is the lack of restrictions. There are so many cards you can use and so many different ways to play. The more people play, the better it will get.
- K – As long as there are a group of players playing EDH it will continue. I don’t think it will die like Tiny Leaders did.
TJH: Do you think EDH has a lot of growth potential? How big would you say the market is now and how much bigger can it get?
- S – I think about 20% of the currently active MTG players play EDH now, and in the near future I could see that number rising 10% to about 30%
- A – I would also say about 20% of players in Nagoya play EDH, but I don’t think the format will grow that quickly in the near future. It’s always been slow and gradual and I think that trend will continue.
- K – I would say there is still a lot of growth potential. I think 30% of the current MTG players are playing EDH now, and by the middle of next year I could see an increase to about 35%.
- Sho – I agree with Arai, I think it’s 20% here in Nagoya and won’t rise that much too quickly.
TJH: Final question, what advice would you have for new players starting out in EDH? How should they go about building decks, choosing generals, buying cards, etc.?
- S – Buying a constructed EDH deck like one of the Commander 2015 products is a good starting point.
- A – I think so too. Buying the constructed EDH boxes saves you a lot of money as you’re learning the format and gives you a lot of good staples.
- K – I recommend playing your favorite cards cause the format is all about having fun with your friends.
Its seems like the players I talked to are rather split on whether EDH is going to become the next format to see a surge in players (like Legacy and Modern experienced in the last year or two here in Japan), but the consensus seems to be that it will be getting bigger no matter what. The argument is whether it will happen sooner rather than later. I for one am in the “sooner” camp. I believe that in Nagoya alone, a third of the MTG players will pick up the EDH format over the next few months. This is going to affect the price of EDH cards in Japan over the next year, and while I don’t think the prices will come into line with what they are over in North America, they’ll get closer to them and bridge the gap. If you’re currently living in Japan and have considered building an EDH deck but haven’t jump in yet, I would recommend doing so. Start picking up staples for cheap where you live if you can, and if you have lots of extra PucaTrade points laying around, grab what you can’t find in the stores so that you won’t have to scramble to build a deck when the format really takes off. I guarantee you’ll be able to play some EDH during GP Nagoya with your friends (both new and old).
Let me leave you with the EDH deck I’m currently building. I got the idea from Card Confidant’s Alex Newman and have since tweaked it to match what I want to play. I’m currently about 18 cards away from finishing it, with about 5-6 of those cards on their way through Puca Trade. I should be able to take it for a test ride before GP Nagoya and I can’t wait. Thanks for reading and I hope to see you again in the new year when we start getting some Oath of Gatewatch spoilers. You can be sure Kozilek will be in this new deck come January ^_^.
EDIT: Here’s an updated list with new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch in it. It’s been doing rather well lately, especially when it comes down to one on one.