I love to dig into new challenges and new formats. From the homeland of 93/94, or as many know it, Old-School, a new Constructed format has emerged: Premodern!
Premodern is a format created by Martin Berlin, a local friend of mine, and the format has been played for a few years between us friends and in local tournaments. The card pool consists of all the sets between Fourth Edition/Ice Age to Seventh Edition/Scourge. That includes all the cards with the old base card frame from a set between 1995 and 2003, but no special sets such as Portal, Anthologies, or promo cards.
- 4th Edition
- Ice Age
- 5th Edition
- Urza’s Saga
- Urza’s Legacy
- 6th Edition
- Urza’s Destiny
- Mercadian Masques
- 7th Edition
The Ban List
The format also has a ban list—the main priority is to make the format distinct and different from other formats, and to encourage playing with cards that are distinct from the most heavily played. Instead of playing Brainstorm, which we have so many times before, we get to cast Accumulated Knowledge or Impulse!
Force of Will
Show and Tell
Tendrils of Agony
All Ante cards
So what’s the point of Premodern? To relive old cards and early card design, both when it comes to what the card does and how it looks. In that regard, the philosophy is similar to 93/94. Much like 93/94, Premodern is a static format, meaning there are no new cards entering the format which makes it, most likely, best suited for casual and local play rather than the competitive tournament scene. Note, however, that in comparison to 93/94, there’s no flavor rule about which version of a card you have to use.
Premodern is a home for older cards that aren’t powerful enough for Legacy or Vintage, but a lot of us feel nostalgia for. I can’t even count the number of good stories that involve casting Fact or Fiction or the shenanigans you can do with Recurring Nightmare. This is what first appealed to me when it comes to Commander, and 1v1 Commander in particular. The difference is that 1v1 Commander has been a bit too expensive for my taste when I want to play a new deck almost every time, alongside the starting cost of staples like dual lands. Since many of the better staple cards in Premodern are only played in casual formats as one-ofs in Cube or Commander, a positive side effect is the low cost of a deck! The only really expensive cards are some of the lands, like City of Traitors, Rishadan Port, Gaea’s Cradle, and Wasteland, but they aren’t necessary to have a tier 1 deck, mostly because having colorless lands in the format is a real cost. Since none of the cards rotate and the cost of a deck is low, especially if you already have some of the more expensive cards, it’s possible to build a number of decks, which can help you introduce the format to more players.
There’s no defined metagame, which is something that I love about Premodern. That also means there are no real stock decks I can show you, but there is some innovation that has been performing better in our games between friends, all of them quite competitive players, and the latest tournaments. If you don’t wish to see our metagame, and want to see where your playgroup lands on their own, skip to “Thoughts for the Future.”
5c Control is much like the name suggests—control the game with the power of all the colors at your disposal. It uses the powerful engines of Accumulated Knowledge and Fact or Fiction to win the card advantage war. It has Wall of Blossoms and Impulse to help you hit your land drops, and the best tools to deal with creatures in Swords to Plowshares, Wrath of God, Pernicious Deed, and Vindicate. With eight counterspells, it’s hard to come back once 5c Control is ahead, and the incidental life gain from Absorb makes burning it out almost impossible. So how does it win? There’s only one actual win condition in the deck in Decree of Justice, but the real win condition is Gaea’s Blessing that lets you keep looping your answers until you finally win the game, much like the old Sphinx’s Revelation Elixir of Immortality deck in Standard a few years back.
Black Aggro is an old archetype that sacrifices life and cards for tempo. It plays cheap, aggressive black creatures to put pressure on your opponent while picking their hand apart with discard spells like Duress or Unmask. This helps you land powerful cards that end the game quickly, like Phyrexian Negator or Hatred. One of the major strengths of Black Aggro is its powerful nutdraws with spells that cheat on mana to finish the game before your opponent gets to setup. But look out for red aggressive decks. Having a Lightning Bolt targeting your Phyrexian Negator or your face after casting Harted or Snuff Out isn’t the best feeling in the world. Trust me.
As old as Magic is, there’s always a fun police. Sligh is an extremely powerful deck because of its great burn spells in Lightning Bolt, Fireblast, and Price of Progress among other. But the creatures are worse than you’re used to. Grim Lavamancer is great of course, but Jackal Pup is no Goblin Guide and Ball Lightning is no Eidolon of the Great Revel. The real extra edge you can find with the deck is timing and getting as much value from your creatures as possible. If you can manage to do that, the burn spells of old are so powerful that finishing your opponent off won’t be too hard!
Pros Bloom is one of the oldest combo decks to date. The main goal is to play a big enough Drain Life to kill your opponent. To do so, you generate a huge amount of mana from Squandered Resources and Cadaverous Bloom. Squandered Resources works beautifully well with Natural Balance. You tap and sacrifice all of your lands for mana to then cast Natural Balance, getting 5 basic lands from your deck into play. Then tap those for mana and sacrifice them to do the same thing with any additional Natural Balance, making it into a powerful ritual for fast mana. Cadaverous Bloom combines perfectly with Meditate and Infernal Contract—both with no drawback since you’re planning to win on the same turn. With the mana you net from Cadaverous Bloom and Squandered Resources, you cast as big a Prosperity as you can, drawing Drain Life to then discard the rest of your cards to finish your opponent off.
The rest of the cards help find these combo pieces and disrupt your opponent. With a bit a of luck, the deck can win as early as turn 3!
Trix is one of my favorite decks. It draws an absurd number of cards, counters your opponent’s spells, and wins in a very unfair way. While doing so, it has cost reduction in the form of Sapphire Medallion.
The game plan of the deck is to play Illusions of Grandeur and Donate it to your opponent. When Illusions of Grandeur enters the battlefield, you gain 20 life. The downside of the card is that you have to pay the cumulative upkeep. But if you Donate it to your opponent, you get to keep your 20 life and then they have to keep paying the cumulative upkeep. When they can’t, they lose 20 life and (most of the time) lose the game.
What’s great about Trix is that, like High Tide in Legacy, it is incredible at drawing cards and finding what you need, as well as rebuilding your hand if your opponent tries to interact with you. As if that wasn’t enough, it also has a toolbox sideboard with Cunning Wish that can deal with pretty much any situation or find your combo pieces. With the counterspells to boot, Trix can be really hard to stop when Sapphire Medallion resolves and it gets going.
Since many of my friends, like myself, love drawing cards and were longing to cast their first, second, and third Fact or Fiction in the same game for ages, most of the first decks did just that. In the beginning, which is also before I bought into the format myself, the metagame consisted of mostly blue control decks and other blue decks like Trix or Oath of Druids, but there weren’t many creature-based decks. Standstill became one of the better decks in the absence of decks that actually put pressure on you early, and being the Spike I am, I set out to find some good creature decks. Finally, I built my first deck, and won the our latest tournament with it. Look at this beauty!
The deck is inspired by the old Extended Goblin Bidding. The game plan is to use the synergy between Goblins to quickly pressure your opponent to tap out so you can then cast a deadly Patriarch’s Bidding. You use sacrifice outlets like Clickslither, Skirk Prospector, or Goblin Sledder to put all of your creatures in the graveyard. Along the way, you get an untap trigger from Goblin Sharpshooter to deal tons of damage. Once Patriarch’s Bidding returns all of them, Goblin Warchief gives all your creatures haste, which can be quite a lot of them with a few Siege-Gang Commanders in the mix. Sometimes, attacking isn’t even necessary if you have Goblin Sharpshooter.
The big difference is that Premodern lets you play Goblin Lackey. Goblin Lackey creates some of the most busted starts in the format. If you put a Siege-Gang Commander into play with the first trigger from Goblin Lackey, following it up with a Goblin Piledriver turn 2 and a Goblin Warchief turn 3—that’s 22 total damage and a turn-3 kill! Another turn-3 win includes putting Goblin Warchief into play with Goblin Lackey, following that up with two Goblin Piledrivers on turn 2, discounted by the Goblin Warchief. Playing any additional Goblin on turn 3 deals a total of over 20 damage combined! The explosive starts, the sweet synergy between the Goblins, the longevity that Goblin Ringleader and Patriarch’s Bidding give you makes the deck not only powerful on many fronts, but also very fun to play!
Elves is another newcomer to the format, much like Goblins, and did well in the last tournament, making it into the Top 4. Priest of Titania and Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary are pretty busted cards, and if you combine them with the untap ability from Quirion Ranger and a ton of other Elves, you can churn out a massive amount of mana. This build in particular sinks that mana into Tangle Wire and tapping your opponents lands in their upkeep with Mishra’s Helix. Once you are in this territory, it doesn’t take much to actually win the game.
Another way to do it is to perhaps go a more combo heavy route with Wirewood Symbiote and Recycle, finishing them off with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. Maybe you can even find it with Natural Order, and while you’re at it, put a Verdant Force in there for when you’re low on resources. The core of Elves is strong and there are a ton of different game plans you can go with.
Thoughts for the Future
There’s so much more to explore in Premodern, which makes it extra exciting for myself. Maybe you can find something with Recurring Nightmare? Dream Halls? Cabal Therapy? Psychatog? Lin-Sivvi, Defiant Hero? Wild Mongrel? What about Reanimate? The possibilities are endless!
To add to this, many of the decks we’ve tried have been well-rounded and most of them have stayed competitive, meaning there have been tons of different decks and archetypes available, much like Modern. The games are all different and there are so many different cards being played, much like Commander. Sure, there are staples, but nothing that resembles Brainstorm or The Scarab God. If you add the nostalgic feel and beauty of the old cards in combination with the low price of investing in a deck, I firmly believe that Premodern has a bright future. If you wish to follow the format with rule changes and ban list updates, this is the official website.
What kind of decks would you build?