The Arena/EDH Symbiosis

John Humphreys • December 29, 2018

I know many Magic the Gathering content creators had their hot take articles out about Arena many weeks ago and I saw no need to comment on Arena as an EDH columnist here at This was my natural inclination since there’s not projected support for EDH on the Arena platform. Of course, when everyone else started raving about the open beta I decided to install it to at least see what it was like. Now I’m an Arena junkie. Mind you, I’m not grinding out games for competitive standard.

My goal on Arena is to see if I can get continued value out of the game play without spending any money. So far, the results have been favorable. Daily goals yield about 1000 gold which gets me at least 1 draft per week. 15 wins in a week playing casually to get 3 boosters is very doable. Game play is evenly matched making games fun yet challenging. I’m quite happy with the program from a casual stand point. However, the greatest value for me has been the opportunity to play standard cards that have high potential in EDH before I actually buy them.

Prior to playing Arena the value of this opportunity wasn't obvious to me. Now Arena has turned into one of my greatest EDH playtesting tools for some of the latest cards available to EDH. Now I am making this case from the perspective of a casual Arena player who isn’t spending money in the digital game. Even then, it’s still a worthwhile investment of time for EDH players looking to try out some standard cards before buying into them.

This likely unintended perk isn’t a one-way street either. I have found a kind of symbiotic relationship between casual play on Arena and Paper EDH. EDH is a format of limitations. We only get one copy of any card to build our strategies with. This often leads to seeking out different cards with similar effects for consistency. When playing Arena with a budget of little to $0 you’re often faced with similar limitations. Very often you are having to make do with less than a play set of any given card. This leads to similar creative needs in deck building which is probably why I’ve enjoyed the casual play on Arena as much as I have. Things change up dramatically when I switch over to Ranked matches though. That is usually where I see the need for more tuned decks which I don’t really have at this point.

Now when it comes to casual Arena players transitioning into paper magic, I feel they are likely faced with a conundrum. In my experience with standard at local game stores casual play exists, but often in the presence of players testing for FNM. There are many pressures to work your way into a competitive standard build for the purposes of playing tournament level magic. For the casual Arena player getting into standard paper magic this can come with a bit of sticker shock. To have a fighting chance at an FNM tournament level magic you will likely need to be piloting one of the top 8 standard decks in the format. The fact that 7 of those 8 decks are currently going for over $200 may be more than a casual Arena player wants to spend on deck with an expiration date. Fortunately for those players there is a solution in EDH/Commander.

Getting Started

While EDH may seem a bit overwhelming to brand-new magic players stepping outside of Arena, I can assure you there's no reason to fear. For the purposes of this primer I will be taking into consideration what a player would have to spend on a competitive standard deck and keep my recommendations within that budget or lower. At the time of this article $250 is about what you need to pick up a tier 1 Standard deck, so I think this task is very manageable. I will also be sharing some of my favorite cards from Arena and pairing them with older cards that will compliment them quite nicely.

The very first thing I recommend to casual Arena players thinking about playing EDH is to pick up any of the preconstructed Commander Decks that Wizards of the Coast puts out annually. Doesn’t matter which one. Any deck from this product line is a great starting points for the format. Many of the Commander 2018 decks are going for as little as $30 online with older decks going for subsequently more depending on demand and supply available. Even then you are still able to get many of these older decks for well under $100. This being the case it is very easy to pick up multiple preconstructed Commander decks from throughout the history of the Commander deck series for under $250. You can also hone in on preconstructed Commander decks that share colors and strategies.

For instance, you can pick up the Commander 2013: Power Hungry and the Commander 2018: Nature’s Vengeance for less than $100 online and have a basic Jund EDH starter kit. Or you could do the same with the Commander 2014: Built from Scratch and Commander 2018: Exquisite Invention for an EDH trinkets tool kit of artificer shenanigans for under $90. This gives you both the ease of a ready to go preconstructed deck with options for fine tuning right out of the box.

This is great for a quick start. Should you go this route you can be playing EDH as quickly as you can open the decks and sleeve them up... or not. Sleeves are technically optional, but you may notice some other players wincing just a bit as you riffle shuffle your cards like it’s 1995. Which brings me to a slight tangent. Magic in real life does call for some care and consideration of your cards. Prices and accessories will vary, but protective sleeves and deck boxes are well worth the investment for the life of your paper magic cards. Be sure to consult with your new EDH friends, Local Game Store, and Tolarian Community College when exploring your options.

Getting Creative

But Johnny, I’ve been bit by the brewing bug playing Arena. What if I want to build my own EDH deck for under $250?

I’m glad you asked. That is actually incredibly easy to do. Go to to view a huge variety of EDH Deck lists with a wide variety of prices and strategies, then pick one that works best for you. There are other websites that will have deck lists as well but for the purpose of ease I’m advising you start with and explore from there. Now if you have only ever played magic on Arena this is where the process may get daunting. Many lists will contain cards that you have likely never seen before with mechanics that aren’t familiar or even intuitive. The point is you are diving into a format that taps into the whole of Magic the Gathering history and some player guidance is advised. For this reason, I will be sharing some of my EDH favorites from Arena and how I’d use them in EDH.


Shalai, Voice of Plenty has been one of my favorite angels to run in Arena. The 3W casting cost makes it a very splashable card whether I’m running Naya blitz or GBx Saprolings. I love the control and utility it offers in Arena and I love even more its potential to force an EDH table to play out all of its Wrath of God cards just to keep my board state in check. In terms of EDH, Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a commander recreating a powerful effect in the game giving you, your planeswalkers and your creatures Hexproof. For the purposes of redundancy, you can also pair Shalai with Privileged Position and Asceticism making your team of buffed up creatures very annoying to deal with. You will want to have extra protections in place specifically for Shalai with cards like Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots and Whispersilk Cloak. Throw in a Cryptolith Rite to turn all your critters into mana dorks and you have the basics of a Green/White token stompy deck.


Experimental Frenzy brings the love as a red card that turns top decking into its own draw machine. Even in a vacuum by itself in Arena, Experimental Frenzy has been such a power house in my burn strategies. In an EDH environment it only gets stronger. Cards like Oracle of Mul Daya, Exploration and Azusa, Lost but Seeking are all great with Experimental Frenzy because they enable playing out the extra lands you encounter as you dig further into your deck. Though, if you’re not looking spend $100 on just three cards then I would advise turning to budget options like Darksteel Pendant, Crystal Ball and Seer’s Lantern which be had for under a dollar and will still help you churn through the extra lands as you work through your top deck. Also, you can put cards to use like Seismic Assault and Pyromancy to benefit from a hand from which you can’t cast cards.


The Loops: In EDH you always stand to run into a combo. As an Arena player you may have run into an infinite combo much like I have which I was pleasantly surprised to see. For this scenario I’ll be showcasing two Arena burn staples in Guttersnipe and Electrostatic Field. The combo is easy to understand and pretty easy on the wallet too. It calls for an Isochron Scepter imprinted with Dramatic Reversal, a Sol Ring and any copies of Guttersnipe, Electrostatic Field, Firebrand Archer or Thermo-Alchemist in play. You activate the Isochron Scepter with Sol Ring to cast a copy of Dramatic Reversal, trigger your Guttersnipe effect, untap all your nonland permanents, rinse and repeat. It’s a great combo that's easy enough to interact with for opponents, but can still be protected and punishes any table that doesn’t deal with it. It’s an instant win when it connects.


Doom Whisperer: We close out my EDH starter suggestions with one of the beastliest demons to hit print in my humble opinion. Doom Whisperer is amazing even for its vanilla stats as a 6/6 with flying and trample for 5 mana. Adding value to that, the ability to Surveil for 2 by paying 2 life is bananas in EDH. Now I know this is the brewing section of the article but I’m going to bring the idea of Doom Whisperer back to a preconstructed deck. First you’ll want pick up a copy of Commander 2013: Eternal Bargain going for around $85 as of the printing of this article. You’ll also want to pick up copies of Laboratory Maniac and Sword of the Meek. The idea is to take advantage of the life gain in the Eternal Bargain deck with Doom Whisperer in order to better abuse the win condition of Laboratory Maniac. As for Sword of the Meek, I just like the value train you get when you pair it up with Thopter Foundry. Life gain and flying idiots for days. This deck was already a power house out of the box. This just ramps it up.

There it is my newly aspiring EDH friend. I know you may be casually playing standard on Arena, but I hope I’ve convinced you that the EDH life is what’s right for you in paper form.

Until next time, may your top decks be epic.