EDH101: What Are Tutors and How to Use Them?
Commander is a singleton format with a 99-card deck led by a legendary "Commander." The format is casual by nature, however, sometimes some extra consistency is desired. In both casual and competitive settings there is a need for tutors in the format. But what is a tutor in EDH?
Today, let's look at tutors in Commander, and their place in the format.
What Is a Tutor in MTG?
A tutor is any card that allows you to search your library for another card and put it somewhere else. The name dates back to Alpha with Demonic Tutor. Plain and simple, for two mana search your library for any card and put it into your hand. Since then the 'tutor' name has stuck around thanks to cards like Vampiric Tutor, Cruel Tutor, and Grim Tutor. While these tutors search for any card there are more narrow tutors. Mystical Tutor searches for instants, while Worldly Tutor searches for creatures. Tutors can vary in their power level quite a bit.
There are three factors to consider when evaluating a tutor:
What can it search for?
How much does it cost to cast?
Where does the searched card end up?
A tutor that can search for any card is incredibly powerful. Demonic Tutor is essentially a copy of any card in your deck except it costs two mana more. A tutor is a spare copy of your combo piece, your board wipes, your ramp spell, and your land when you're starved. On the other hand, a tutor that can only search for a small subset of your deck is less versatile. Imperial Recruiter might get your combo piece but it might not be able to find a board wipe. But in the right deck, it can be just as powerful.
When looking at the cost of a tutor, consider your power level. While Demonic Tutor is the gold standard, your meta might be slow enough to warrant Diabolic Tutor instead. Some folks might want to play tutors at an alternative cost. Gamble is a great example of this. When tutors come with an extra cost try to spin it into an advantage. For example, search for a Past in Flames with Gamble to mitigate the downside. Intuition also has a pseudo extra cost. However, like with Gamble, this can be mitigated with some tactical deck building.
Where the card you tutor ends up is a huge point to consider too. Typically tutors will put a card into your hand or on top of your library. This is a huge distinction. Tutoring to the top of your deck means the tutor might not be very good when trying to stop your opponent's plans. This is most relevant when considering Vampiric versus Demonic Tutor.
Vampiric is instant-speed and costs one mana less, but puts the card on top of your library. At a high power level, you will probably play both. However, in lower power, you might only want to play one of them for budget, or power level concerns.
In this scenario consider whether you are trying to be proactive or reactive. Do you value the tutor to hand more, or do you value the instant speed value?
Besides the top of the deck, some cards put the tutored card in other places. Cards like Green Sun's Zenith can put a creature from your deck directly into play. This is also the case for many cards that search for lands too. Tutoring directly into play is powerful but usually does not come cheap. Usually, when searching for a creature into play you will be paying the mana cost of the creature, or sacrificing one creature for another. This effect can be seen in Birthing Pod.
Another popular place for tutored cards is the graveyard. In the right deck, this can be outstanding. Entomb, Unmarked Grave, and Buried Alive are EDH all-stars. It could be tutoring a card with flashback, getting a big reanimation target in the grave, or binning a creature with dredge to enable self-mill strategies.
EDH Tutors By Color
Tutoring can be done to varying degrees of effectiveness in each color. In general, each color can search for something different. Black can search for any card. A cute little advantage of this is you do not need to reveal what you searched with say Demonic Tutor. On the other hand, if you search for a card with Wordly Tutor you must reveal it even if the card does not explicitly say so. You must prove to your opponent that you searched for a creature. This gives black an additional edge when tutoring.
Blue tends to search for either instants or artifacts. This can be seen on cards like Reshape and Merchant's Scroll. This is a fairly wide domain of cards blue can search for. Artifact tutors in particular can be quite potent as it allows you to search for ramp artifacts such as Sol Ring to help get you ahead in the game.
Green has access to land and creature-based tutors. Many EDH staples such as Rampant Growth can be seen here. In the realm of creature tutors green can often put those creatures directly into play. This is a huge boon even if it usually costs extra mana in most cases.
Red is typically fairly weak in terms of tutors. Its premier tutor is Gamble, undoubtedly an amazing card. However, beyond that, it has a harder time than the other colors when it comes to searching. Outside Gamble, cards like Imperial Recruiter and Goblin Engineer are vital tutors in red in the right deck. These are powerful cards, however, they are the best of a very small bunch.
White has an okay time searching. Like Red, it can tutor low-cost creatures with Ranger Captain of Eos. Additionally white can search for enchantments and equipment thanks to Enlightened and Idyllic Tutor. These are admittedly narrow as enchantments are usually played in smaller numbers than other card types.
What EDH Decks Should Play Tutors?
Tutors can be played in virtually any deck. The main limitation is the power level, and consistency you desire. Tutors can make a deck consistent to the point where one might find it boring as it removes too much variance from your deck. On the other hand, consistency is expected especially at higher levels. Additionally, tutors allow you to more readily respond to your opponent's threats.
Combo decks naturally benefit the most from the added consistency tutors provide. It is easy to see why. Outside of combo decks, tutoring can provide consistency to otherwise janky strategies. Those who picked up the "Heads I Win Tails You Lose" Commander deck will be aware of how essential a card like Krark's Thumb is to the deck. In this case, many specific tutors are used to help find the Thumb as soon as possible.
Green decks will naturally play land-based tutors. It is a unique selling point for green. While tutoring lands to play is more a form of ramp than tutoring to most folks, it can be an intrinsic part of land strategies. Decks like Lord Windgrace will take advantage of land tutors to search for non-basic lands. This can be used to enable powerful strategies around cards like Cabal Coffers. Expedition Map and Crop Rotation are some stellar examples in this camp.
Commanders That Can Tutor
A commander that can tutor is an incredibly powerful thing. The tutor does not need to be especially powerful for a commander to see play. Godo, Bandit Warlord is a stellar cEDH commander. Godo is used to search for Helm of the Host, which in turn can combo with Godo for infinite damage.
Oswald Fiddlebender also has a home at high power tables thanks to their ability to repeatedly tutor. Oswald can be used to search for the right tool at the right time. Besides that, they can spiral out of control allowing you to cheat bigger and bigger artifacts into play!
Maralen of the Mornsong is a real all-or-nothing tutor commander. Maralen is a dangerous card as it does allow your opponents a chance to tutor too and potentially foil your plans. Most commonly they are used in conjunction with cards like Opposition Agent to deny your opponents the tutor.
In general, commanders that can tutor have the potential to be very powerful. Take care when building these decks, and ensure you know your meta, and how these decks could fit in your meta.
Throughout this article, I have been talking about well-known, and powerful, tutors. Unfortunately, many of the tutors will also search your wallet for $20 or more. With that said here are some of my favorite tutors that won't break the bank.
First off we have a whole mechanic, Transmute! This mechanic debuted back in Ravnica. By paying the transmute cost and discarding the card with transmute you can search your deck for a card with equal mana value to the discarded card. This ability is incredibly potent if you have a decent number of cards in the right slot. Most cards with Transmute cost two, three, or four mana. This gives you a great opportunity to search for removal spells, board wipes, or combo pieces. Another great bonus is that Transmute is an activated ability. This makes it very hard to interact with. Very few effects can counter it, the effect gets around Rule of Law, and it is unaffected by cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The only caveat is this mechanic is exclusive to blue and black cards.
Two tutors that I adore in EDH are Scheming Symmetry and Wishclaw Talisman. Both of these cards are tutors that also allow your opponent to tutor. I like the intrigue in these cards. In both scenarios you can use it as a simple "you help me I help you" politics tool. Alternatively, if you have access to cards that deny tutoring you could make these undercosted, one-sided tutors.
One more shout-out, this one is for Search for Glory. This is a bit of a personal choice. I run this in a Superfriends deck. This card works wonders for me as it allows me to search for my lands if I am struggling, although most times I use it to grab a powerful planeswalker. The likes of Demonic Tutor are better than this. However, I like it as a budget pick.
How to Stop Tutors in EDH
Searching your library is powerful. The natural question now is "what can you do about it?" Popular counterplay options exist mostly in white and black. Leonin Arbiter stops players from searching their decks unless they pay two mana. Aven Mindcensor restricts searching to the top four cards of the opponent's library. Meanwhile, Opposition Agent allows you to control your opponent while they search, and lets you steal their cards. Unfortunately, these cards are few and far between, making these effects are powerful and sought after.
If your opponent is frequently tutoring to the top of their deck then you may be able to deny them that card. Simple mill effects can do this, or you could steal the card if your deck allows it with commanders like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, or Etali, Primar Storm. Lastly, a card tutored to the top of the deck is a very telegraphed play. Use the time between the tutor to prepare yourself. Hold up a counterspell, or search for your own if you can. Get ready for what is about to come.
If your opponent is tutoring to their hand, consider effects that limit their ability to cast multiple spells in a turn. Silence is an excellent response to a Demonic Tutor as it gives you an extra turn to plan around their tutor. Besides, static effects like Rule of Law or Arcane Laboratory can be great disruptors.
Lastly, counterspells are great cards to have in hand when an opponent is looking to tutor. The general rule of thumb is to not counter the tutor, instead, counter the card they tutored for. In this situation, they cast their tutor, and they cast the card they tutored. The opponent has used two cards, you are only using one. In this situation, you come out on top. There are exceptions to this rule of course however, these will become apparent as you play. In general though, counter the searched card, not the tutor itself.
EDH Tutoring Tricks
Suppose it's late in the game. You have all your lands in play. You crack an Evolving Wilds, you search your deck but you realize there are no basic lands left. In this situation, you "fail to find." Here you are informing your opponent that when you searched your deck the thing you were looking for was not there. Even if your deck has basic lands left in it you can still declare that you "fail to find" the card you were looking for. This can be especially relevant for decks like Titania, Protector of Argoth who may want to sacrifice Evolving Wilds just for sake of creating a token. You cannot fail to find with a card like Demonic Tutor because that card searches for any card so unless your library is empty you cannot fail to find.
Another good use for a tutor is with Bolas' Citadel or Sensei's Divining Top in play. You look at the top card of your deck, you don't like it. You can cast a tutor just for the sake of shuffling your deck in the hopes of getting a better card on top of the deck!
Today we ran through tutors in EDH. These cards have the potential to be incredibly powerful in this format. They offer a great degree of consistency to an otherwise inconsistent format. I hope you take them into careful consideration in your next deck. If you enjoyed this "EDH101" style article let us know what topics you would like us to cover in the future!
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