EDH is a format that lets any number of players sit down and play a game of Magic. When you have a playgroup that doesn’t have an even number of players, there’s always someone sitting out, but never with EDH. Although this may be true, how many players is the right amount of players? Are players going to have more fun split into even pods, or maybe a group of six wants to be split into one pod of two and another of four? A lot of this boils down to what kind of deck you’re playing (Can group hug really survive 1v1? Will Vial-Smasher be drowned out in a 6 player pod?), but even if your deck isn’t in the most favorable position, it’s not that hard to have fun in EDH.
2 Player Pods
It’s not that hard to judge this one; things can get out of hand so fast that an entirely different ruleset was made for it! That second set of rules is called the Duel Commander format, but it is a different format than EDH. Casually, two players can take their commander decks and play a game, but there are some cards that are just too powerful for 1v1. It’s always polite to ask your opponent if it’s okay that you’re running some Duel Commander banned cards, because it can be quite frustrating to play against. Vial-Smasher is banned in that format for a reason (Commandeer, Soul Spike, and Fury of the Horde can pack quite the punch early game), even if its power level gets watered down the more players you add.
3 Player Pods
In my personal opinion, three player pods are when EDH is the hardest to play. Politics are at their worst here. If player A plays something scary, player B and player C have to deal with it. Once the threat is gone, those players have already teamed up, they’re more likely than not to stay teamed up. Having one coordinated goal brought them together, and so long as neither of them does something to break the bond, player A is as good as dead. This is the exact reason why I run Cruel Entertainment. Hopefully there’s something on the board tempting enough to mess with that the team will separate to let the game continue fairly for all three players.
4 Player Pods
This is where EDH starts to shine. Four players make a square at a table, so everyone is adjacent or kitty corner to someone, and everyone can see what the other is doing. There’s no issue with hearing what someone is saying either. I prefer four players over anything else because there’s enough players to be able to deal with threats, but not so many that the turn cycle takes forever to get back to you. The problem that arises here is that to make a four-player pod, you need four players. EDH is very casual, so it’s easy to pick up a game and drop it when it’s time to do something else, so it’s fun to grab a quick game between rounds at a more competitive event. If three of the four players finish early, they’ll have to wait for the fourth to wrap up before being able to start the game. This is why I love how flexible the pods can be. If two of the EDH players say they’ll need more time, then the two players that finished early can play a game without them. It’s just when the numbers start to rise, it feels like more time is spent waiting to set up than actually playing.
5 Player Pods
This is definitely when you can start to feel the slow pace creep into game play. One extra person really makes a difference, and while it’s not painful, the game definitely suffers from it. If you have a group of friends that are willing to go a little faster for it, then by all means, play with five players. Star is especially fun, even if it takes a little convincing to get everyone on board to play it. Again, it’s just the slower pace that keeps me away from five-player pods. This is the number of people where you can easily get up, get a snack or a drink, use the restroom, have a quick smoke, and still be back in time before something affects you. With games lasting upwards of three hours, I prefer to steer clear.
6 Player Pods
Honestly? I downright refuse to play six-player pods. I cannot stand how long these games take. This is the point where it never feels like it’s your turn. What happens when you get some bad draws and do nothing for a few turns? In four-player, that happens, you get over it, and things will pick up eventually. Here, not so much. This is the point where it takes almost twice as long for the turn to come back to you, so if you’re not doing well, it’s not going to pick up any time soon. I’ve seen some people solve this by passing chips around the table so that two people can take their turn at once, which I feel is a smart move, but causes a lot of issues. Even if the two players that are taking their turns move through the phases the same, if person A has a board wipe, they’ll wait for person B to finish. If person B knows person A has a board wipe, they’ll wait for it to hit. They’ll keep asking each other if they’re done in a game of chicken, and it can be really boring to watch. Not only that, but combats have to happen either simultaneously or staggered. What decides who attacks first if you’re staggering it? If it’s simultaneous, how do you make sure someone’s not changing their plans based off of what the other is doing? It’s just too complicated for a game that’s supposed to be casual, and for that reason, I despise anything more than a five-player pod.
EDH is a pretty fun format, and I try to convince everyone I know to at least own an EDH deck even if it’s not their preferred format. I think that the number of players in a pod can determine whether or not people like or hate EDH, and newer players may hate EDH because they fell into a bad pod their first game. It’s such a finicky format, but I still love it none the less. It lets people have their favorite cards, favorite styles, favorite themes, and still lets them play a real game of Magic. The little things matter to people, even if it’s just the number of people in a pod.