Price be damned.
I currently have a black Commander deck that I’m trying to make all Beta cards. The problem is there aren’t enough Beta artifacts and black cards to make a competitive . . . er . . . even decent list, so I have included Legends, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities as well. Some dudes just can’t be played in Commander (sorry, Bog Wraith!). I’m thinking of changing it to a "pre-1997" list to get access to Ice Age and Alliances.
Here’s the list:
Commander – Sheoldred, Whispering One (But I’m not sold on it.)
Now, to play the deck at all, I had to include these cards, but I’d like to replace some of them with stuff that’s cool and old. The Antiquities cards are fine:
Sheoldred, The Abyss, and Fleshbag Marauder don’t make me any friends. I usually tutor up Meekstone early in casual games and Necropotence in more competitive environments.
I change the rest of the deck pretty regularly. I have all the Beta green cards, so I could make the deck B/G. I think B/W would be sweet, but sadly I don’t have Balance, Wrath of God, or Armageddon in Beta.
What I really want is to maximize cards from 1994 back and still have a competitive deck.
"Beta Forcefield" stopped me in my tracks this week. I’m a huge sucker for old-school flavor, and that’s about as cool as it gets. And you’re telling me you have all of this in Beta, Chris? Really?
I’m all over this. Fair warning though—starting any submission with "price be damned" is seriously toying with danger around these parts. Just saying.
The Old-School Flavor
What really gets me excited here more than anything is this:
"I’m thinking of changing it to a "pre-1997" list to get access to Ice Age and Alliances . . . What I really want is to maximize cards from 1994 back and still have a competitive deck."
As it turns out, this is a thing around here already. Let me explain the "1994" deckbuilding constraint first, and then we’ll see what we can do to get you back there.
1994 was the first year I played Magic. I tell this story a lot, so the short version is that I was introduced to the game by a friend of mine in a local game store early in the year. At that point, Revised was the current core set, and Antiquities was all but dried up, so I had a few months of getting used to the game with Force of Nature and Shivan Dragon as the rarest, most iconic creatures around.
In June, that all changed with the release of Legends. Well, it changed slowly; Legends was so in demand that packs were rationed strictly at most stores to one or two per customer, and we were paying roughly $30-$40 a pop. (Kinda makes the complaining about $12 packs of Modern Mastersa bit trivial in comparison, don’t you think?)
In any case, it didn’t take me long to open up a copy of Palladia Mors, and my view of the game was changed forever. I mean, Shivan Dragon is a big, flying beater, but it’s a faceless one; Palladia Mors is bigger, but more importantly it’s a legendary persona. At least from a flavor standpoint, there’s a thousand Shivans but only one Palladia.
(Yeah, yeah. Fast forward to 2013, and there’s a possibility there are actually two Palladias. Whether or not the rules change is a good thing or not, it sure would bum sixteen-year-old me right out from a flavor perspective.)
Fast forward a decade or so and the words "Summon Elder Dragon Legend" gave birth to the format we all know and love today.
I’m currently enthralling you with this not-at-all shoddy history lesson because it’s important to know your roots. Nostalgia is huge these days, which is why you can still buy Air Jordans ten years after Michael retired, why Ford Mustangs look like proper Ford Mustangs (more or less), and why I’m going to be first in line at the local theater to see Mad Max: Fury Road next year.
Back in the day, we built decks to play awesome cards. We enjoy Commander as a format because, well, we get to play awesome cards. And that gets us back to the 1994 deck.
Where It Began
There’s a small contingent of players out there that want to take the two things—nostalgia for the old school and Commander—and mash them together to come up with something that hopefully is awesome and dripping with memories. (Two of my close friends are proponents of the approach and keep trying to talk me into building something myself.) Some of these guys decided to adhere to the ultimate building constraint: creating entire Commander decks from the earliest possible set to support legendary creatures. The rules are simple; Legends was released in 1994, so you start there and work backward, building your deck with only cards from that era.
(Well, it’s kind of simple. For some reason, most of these guys also include The Dark since it was printed in the same year. Also, some purists require that everything down to basic lands be the ones printed back then, which means you may end up being forced to shell out for Revised Forests if you want to fit in with the cool kids. But other than that, it’s pretty simple and logical.)
Got it? Good. Let’s talk about the downsides of all of this.
I’ll be right upfront about this, Chris. You kind of were suspecting this anyway, but I’ll put it in no uncertain terms:
1994 decks are bad.
This isn’t Run-D.M.C. "not bad meaning bad, but bad meaning good!" either; it’s more Fresh Prince "Mom, please put back the bell-bottom Brady Bunch trousers." I really mean that too. These decks tend to look pretty ugly, and there are a few solid reasons why.
Power creep is no surprise to anyone anymore, but looking back at the way things were back in ’94, it’s almost laughable. Force of Nature is an 8/8 trampler for six mana with a drawback; these days six mana gets you Terra Stomper, which is the same size, also tramples, and can’t be countered. Back then tapping a creature to draw a card cost three mana (Xira Arien); we’ve been able to tap Arcanis the Omnipotent for free to draw three cards for ten years.
These days we get to make tokens with Avenger of Zendikar; back in 1994 it was Boris Devilboon.
The net result of all of this is that you have to accept that your overall creature quality is going to be a bit lower than the norm these days. There isn’t much of a way around that.
Things have come a long way here too. Back in the day, if you wanted to draw cards, you could play blue. If you wanted mass removal, you played white for Wrath of God. In 2013, you can find a way to remove an entire board in any color and even green can draw cards (hello, Harmonize!). There’s a proliferation (well, really more of a color bleed) that allows any color to get the job done no matter what the job actually is. It wasn’t like that back then.
And this is the big reason these decks tend to be awful in comparison to current Commander builds.
Is it twenty years ago? Do you want to find a basic land of any type and put it into play?
Good. Play Untamed Wilds.
That’s it. Really.
There are no fetch lands. No Terramorphic Expanse. No Sakura-Tribe Elder, no Kodama’s Reach, Evolving Wilds, Rampant Growth, Harrow, Wood Elves, Solemn Simulacrum, Explosive Vegetation . . . the list goes on and on. 99% of the cards that allow you to play multiple colors these days didn’t exist.
Here’s how messed up it was. White had Land Tax, which was the best color fixer going. Green? No clue what it did well.
These days there are approximately 37 different flavors of dual lands, a bunch of tri lands, and a good handful of multi lands. Back then there was City of Brass and the dual lands.
We’ve got it really good these days, folks. Trust me.
Okay, Smart Guy . . . Why The Heck Do I Want To Subject Myself To This?
Simply put, the main reason to build a deck like this is to understand where the game has come from and where it’s at now to be able to appreciate the foundation of Magic as a whole. Look at it this way:
All major role players in Commander. All printed in the past few years. Add up years in print for this group and you barely make it back to the original Mirrodin block. Commander is defined by cards that are by and large current printings.
Going with a 1994 constraint lets you take this stuff out of the equation to see what the game was like in its infancy. You don’t need to fear someone tucking your commander. You don’t worry about a blowout Tooth and Nail or Insurrection. You get to really experience what the core colors used to look like and how they fit into the color pie.
It’s really pretty eye opening and refreshing to get completely away from the norm. If you feel like Commander is a little stale for you these days, taking a trip back to the beginning like this can really freshen things up.
Still Had . . . All These?
Chris, we’re going with stuff that’s cool and old in a big way here. You’re absolutely right that black alone can’t float a deck with this limited card pool. What I’m not crazy about is splashing a bunch of new stuff just to get there. If you’re dedicated to going old school, we’re taking it all the way back.
That means multiple colors since there were no single-color legendary creatures printed in Legends. (My guess is that R&D would love to go back to Arabian Nights and errata a bunch of those creatures to be legendary. Ali from Cairo Commander deck? Sign me up!) To make matters worse, your splash color (green) doesn’t help either, as enemy-color legendary creatures weren’t represented back then either.
Now, in order to go 1994, we’re going to go with Adun Oakenshield. He gives you both of your first choice colors and splashes a third color in red that will allow you to gain some card draw, decent creatures, and removal. Sheoldred gets the unceremonious boot for being too new.
I realize that’s a pretty serious departure from where your list started, but I’m with you all the way on this one. Some of these choices may not be the best functionally (I’ll beat commenters to the punch—Force of Nature is nearly unplayable in a three-color deck of this era), but I’ll be damned if it isn’t exactly what I’d want to put together if Commander had existed two decades ago.
Don’t worry; the Lich / Mirror Universe instant-kill combo stays. I’m not typically good with this, but you’ve got one tutor to find two parts and still end up with the Lich in play as a big liability, so it seems fine. Besides, if you pull this off with this card pool, props to you. (Combo was really cool back in the day anyway.)
What follows is pure old-school awesome. Let’s get to work.
You only handed me two lands in your list, so I have a lot of space to work with here. Of the two, Strip Mine is still a gold standard, so it gets to stick around. Cabal Coffers, however, misses by several years, so while I do see how it helps power your current list, it’s gotta go.
We’re adding in a package of 32 basic lands consisting of ten Swamps, ten Mountains, and twelve Forests. Complementing them are the three on-color dual lands in Bayou, Badlands, and Taiga. City of Brass rounds out the color-fixing real estate.
Four utility lands round out the list. Fortunately, Maze of Ith sneaks in at the deadline, so that goes right in. Finally, the cycle of utility lands from Legends is added; Urborg is going to be stripping first strike more often than not, I suppose Hammerheim might be usable at some point, and you never know when you might need to swing or block with Royal Assassin, so Pendelhaven makes the cut.
41 lands is high, but again, without fixing you need to be able to draw naturally into the correct colors, so erring on the high side is a good call.
Card Draw &Tutoring
Tutoring is easy; you have Demonic Tutor already (Beta Tutor looks fantastic) and . . . well, that’s it. There’s nothing else.
The draw gets better. Sylvan Library is the first and most important include, and coincidentally it will likely be the card you fin with Demonic Tutor 99% of the time. Red adds Wheel of Fortune, which is more than welcome.
Black does have Greed, which is probably the best draw in color. This wouldn’t be the case if Ice Age were legal, but it isn’t; Necropotence sadly gets the axe.
From there, you get a host of artifact draw: Jayemdae Tome, Jalum Tome, Howling Mine, and Book of Rass.
(Yeah, I know. It hurts the pride. I’m with you.)
This is where we cut most of the newer stuff you have slotted for violating policy; on the chopping block are Grave Titan, Crucible of Worlds, Platinum Emperion, Silent Arbiter, Vampiric Tutor, and Diabolic Revelation.
Mana Fixing & Acceleration
Getting out of mono-black means cutting Dark Ritual, which is a lot less impressive in a three-color list. We mentioned Untamed Wilds earlier, and that takes Ritual’s place. The rest of your acceleration—Sol Ring, Mana Vault, and Basalt Monolith—are as good as it gets, so they all make the cut.
Since we’re not able to be afraid of using communal effects (see Howling Mine, Wheel of Fortune above), Mana Flare seems like a solid addition. It will be important when you get to some of the bigger creatures we’ll add later on. The deck can also run Fellwar Stone, and in lieu of any other solid options, Red Mana Battery, Green Mana Battery, and Black Mana Battery round things out.
We can pick up some solid odds and ends in this area. Nevinyrral’s Disk probably remains the gold standard, and The Abyss is still incredibly strong; Pestilence will undoubtedly do a ton of heavy lifting. Adding to that, red shines with the addition of Fireball and Disintegrate for some solid creature kill and direct damage. (I told you Mana Flare would be worth it!)
While we’re at it on X spells, both Hurricane and Earthquake seem like solid additions. An oft-overlooked sweeper from The Darkis Inferno, which in this card pool answers nearly everything and provides a little damage to the face too. (Hopefully Ivory Tower will help to staunch the flow of damage a bit because this stuff all hurts.)
Finally, the only definitive non-damage creature sweeper available is Hellfire. It’s going to hurt, but it does get the entire job done. And since I’m sure we’ll eventually want to get rid of an artifact, Detonate seems like just the thing.
Lots of cool stuff stays; Royal Assassin gets to keep Icy Manipulator, and the super old-school Forcefield and Word of Command stay as well. (Side note: Word of Command = the most phoned-in artwork of all time? You decide!)
I Like Animate Dead here too, and Meekstone clearly sees some mileage, so that should stick around despite the nonbo it represents with most of the creatures we’re adding in a bit.
I’m also happy to leave Sinkhole and Mind Twist for some extra protection. Sinkhole doubles up the Strip Mine effect and seems fair, while Mind Twist usually proves to be a fun-killer; still, this deck could use a little extra juice, so it stays for the time being.
Going back in:
Haste didn’t really become a thing until later down the Magic timeline, but we’ll take what we can get with Concordant Crossroads and Instill Energy. Regrowth is the only real no-strings recursion out there and a welcome addition.
Rounding out the additions here is a pair of artifacts. Tormod’s Crypt is an easy include (since graveyard hate is important even dating back twenty years), and Feldon’s Cane allows this deck to keep recycling important answers and beaters. It’s no Elixir of Immortality, but everyone who played in 1994 knows this card goes in every deck.
I agree with you on Bog Wraith; it’s not worth the slot. With the move to a three-color deck, it’s going to be really hard to support Frozen Shade and Nightmare as well. Wurmcoil Engine and Fleshbag Marauder go for being too young.
When Revised was out, there was an unholy triumvirate in black that included Royal Assassin, Nettling Imp, and Sorceress Queen. Nettling Imp forced your opponent’s best creature to attack, Sorceress Queen made it a 0/2 non-threat, and Royal Assassin cleaned up by dispatching it permanently. (Yeah, I realize that Sorceress Queen doesn’t need to be here at all, but that’s how it was. I’m sure we all assumed that Royal Assassin couldn’t target an attacking creature until it was done with the attack step or something. No idea.)
We clearly want all three in here. And if Sorceress Queen makes the cut, we can also safely add The Wretched, which will both combine to become a serious creature-stealing machine. (Man, did this thing seem cool back in the day. At least until it was reprinted in Chronicles. And until people figured out that removal was in fact good. Shocking, I know.)
If we’re pulling something as iconic as Nightmare, it only makes sense to add something equally iconic. In comes that Shivan Dragon I was talking about earlier; while we’re at it, Dragon Whelp is also along for the ride for those times when Meekstone hits the table as well.
Speaking of giant green monstrosities, Craw Giant and Force of Nature are put in the mix too. Yeah, I know they’ll be hard to cast, but they’re both very fond memories of mine. In the case of Force of Nature, there’s nearly nothing that can go toe-to-toe with it . . .
Except for Colossus of Sardia. Remember that Instill Energy we added up above? Yeah, this is the reason. Don’t laugh; it wins tournaments. Or at least it did at one point for me. I swear it did.
I wanted to sprinkle in a little extra legendary flavor, so Livonya Silone and Bartel Runeaxe are going in. Livonya is admittedly a personal fave of mine, but legendary landwalk is certainly relevant in Commander, so she may provide some value. Likewise, we’re living in the time of a new "enchantments matter" block, and no one is chaining him to the rocks. Plus, he’s vigilant, and in all honesty getting six power for six mana was pretty good value when Bartel was printed.
Since we’re talking legends (and Legends), we’re adding the cool factor that comes with Willow Satyr. This is fun Commander tech that is often overlooked due to age, but it’s a fair and balanced blast to play; you’re guaranteed to enjoy the opportunity to stop a game in its tracks while the rest of the table pauses to read it.
Plus, Theros! It’s a Satyr! That’s exciting, right?
So with that, we have 98 cards. Saving the best for last is easily the most iconic creature of all time. It used to be the face of the game, and at one point it was the best power-to-cost ratio of any creature printed to date. More exciting still, it has since been far-eclipsed in power and is pretty darn terrible in comparison to creatures that get printed these days, but it still costs a miniature fortune due to extreme rarity. How can you go wrong?
Chris, please welcome Juzam Djinn.
Stepping back in time, we end up here:
- 1 Hypnotic Specter
- 1 Shivan Dragon
- 1 Royal Assassin
- 1 Demonic Hordes
- 1 Force of Nature
- 1 Dragon Whelp
- 1 Sorceress Queen
- 1 Colossus of Sardia
- 1 Willow Satyr
- 1 The Wretched
- 1 Livonya Silone
- 1 Craw Giant
- 1 Bartel Runeaxe
- 1 Adun Oakenshield
- 1 Nettling Imp
- 1 Juzam Djinn
- 1 Strip Mine
- 1 Pendelhaven
- 12 Forest
- 1 City of Brass
- 10 Swamp
- 10 Mountain
- 1 Taiga
- 1 Bayou
- 1 Urborg
- 1 Hammerheim
- 1 Badlands
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Fireball
- 1 Nevinyrral's Disk
- 1 Icy Manipulator
- 1 Howling Mine
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Mana Vault
- 1 Mana Flare
- 1 Ivory Tower
- 1 Animate Dead
- 1 Wheel of Fortune
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Regrowth
- 1 Mind Twist
- 1 Demonic Tutor
- 1 Word of Command
- 1 Lich
- 1 Forcefield
- 1 Earthquake
- 1 Disintegrate
- 1 Terror
- 1 Untamed Wilds
- 1 Red Mana Battery
- 1 Meekstone
- 1 Jayemdae Tome
- 1 Instill Energy
- 1 Inferno
- 1 Hurricane
- 1 Green Mana Battery
- 1 Greed
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Detonate
- 1 Black Mana Battery
- 1 Pestilence
- 1 The Abyss
- 1 Mirror Universe
- 1 Hellfire
- 1 Concordant Crossroads
- 1 Jalum Tome
- 1 Sinkhole
- 1 Basalt Monolith
- 1 Feldon's Cane
- 1 Book of Rass
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
That’s kind of how it’s done, Chris. It really feels strange since the options are so extremely underpowered by current standards, but you’re legitimately looking at a throwback deck that is Commander legal on all fronts and dates entirely back to the beginning of the game itself. There are a good amount of players out there that weren’t born yet when this deck could have come together. That’s rarified air.
Now, again, it’s not the strongest thing out there. Unfortunately, for all the reasons I listed above, decks that adhere to these strict guidelines simply won’t stand up to what’s out there these days. The tradeoff is truly the ability to see the game through new eyes and appreciate the roots of Magic through the scope of Commander, the format that easily defines and embraces this core the best.
That said, do yourself a favor; recruit some other people from your playgroup to also build 1994 decks or start a league or something. You’ll thank me.
Here’s the card-by-card breakdown:
|Book of Rass||$0.25|
|Force of Nature||$0.75|
|Red Mana Battery||$0.99|
|Green Mana Battery||$0.99|
|Black Mana Battery||$0.99|
|Colossus of Sardia||$4.99|
|Wheel of Fortune||$19.99|
|Maze of Ith||$29.99|
|City of Brass||$79.99|
$820. I told you "price be damned" was a bad idea, Chris! (To be fair, this is sticking with cards printed in 1994 and moving back, but it also uses the cheapest printing in that era. That means your dual lands are Revised and cost $80 instead of $600 Beta versions, and your Shivan Dragon costs $1.99 instead of $250. Figure that last one out.)
You did mention that you have a lot of these cards already and in Beta, so I’m going to assume that you have access to things like Sylvan Library and Maze of Ith too. You will be receiving a $20 store credit to StarCityGames.com for being the chosen participant in today’s Dear Azami, which is pretty awesome (even if it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface here).
In all reality, this is on me more than it is on you. Everyone accesses Magic differently, and given the list here, I don’t realistically expect you’re going to head out to drop two bills on a Juzam Djinn. This article was more of a way to connect with a fellow old-school fan and to talk about one of the cooler Commander deckbuilding constraints out there. Thanks for taking the trip down memory lane with me, Chris.
And no, these days I wouldn’t realistically suggest Juzam Djinn. Although I actually might pick one up. That thing was such a beating back in the day.
I’ll see you all in two . . .
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Jether’s Kozilek, Butcher of Truth deck or Rob’s Forge[/author]“]Purphoros, God of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
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