Are your Commander games feeling a little stale recently? Have you seen the same Commanders day in and day out? Are you looking for a bit of spice? Then check out this variant of Commander, where you play only using cards printed through 1995!
After introducing it in an article back in November and getting some very positive feedback, I began playing it steadily. It needed a bit of tweaking, and that plus a metagame update was involved last time.
In both of those articles, I also addressed concerns that people have about the format. Is it deep enough to build real decks that feel like Commander? (Absolutely!) Is the format deep enough to be more than just a one-time change for a night or to keep away from feeling old? (Surprisingly, the answer is yes here as well!). It’s much deeper than I had anticipated, and almost all of my Commander gaming recently has been with this variant.
So today I want to look at the third obstacle I think some might have. All of these cards are old, right? I mean, if you just started playing in the last few years, how would you have a deep enough card collection to run a deck?
1452 cards are in Unlimited through Homelands, including the promo sets. Even if you remove the fourteen cards banned in Commander from this as well as the twelve cards banned in Vintage, that still leaves us with 1426 cards—quite a lot of depth for a variant of Commander.
Let’s suppose that you started playing Magic in the last two or three years and you really enjoy Commander. The idea of Commander ’95 seems like fun, but how would you even begin to pick up all of the cards you need to play the format?
That’s one of the great things about C95. Many of the best cards of the format have been reprinted quite recently. You can easily find cards like Sol Ring, Control Magic, Lightning Bolt, Fireball, and Swords to Plowshares. And many of the cards that are quite good are commons from long ago that should prove easy to find at a local card store or online here at StarCityGames.com.
Today I want to examine some of the cards to target when building your Commander ’95 card stock. We’ll examine the cards by type and look at essentials and cards that are good to have.
Sure, there are some nice cards, like Urborg and Hammerheim, but your deck isn’t going to suffer because you don’t have them. Several major lands for your deck can be quite pricey (dual lands, Diamond Valley, Maze of Ith, Island of Wak-Wak, Bazaar of Baghdad, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale). However, even a dual land doesn’t increase the play quality of your deck that much. These aren’t cards that you will need.
Many Commander players already have a lot of these cards in their deck stock, but if you don’t, there are a few essentials you want to target.
City of Brass, Rainbow Vale – City of Brass is the Command Tower of this format. It goes into any deck that has at least two colors. The pain is worth it even in a two-color deck. It was recently printed again in Modern Masters, and there is a variety available (it’s been heavily reprinted at times). At some tables Rainbow Vale is always tapped and passed around for someone else to use—it’s vital there too (otherwise, just skip it).
Pain Lands (Karplusan Forest et al.) – These five lands are also essential pickups for the format. They are like the shock duals of the format. You’ll often lean on them, and they have been heavily reprinted in the past (but it’s been a while, and they’ve gone up in value). They could get another reprint any time because they work quite well at smoothing your mana.
Mishra’s Factory, Strip Mine – These two colorless lands have gone into every Commander ’95 deck I’ve built. After them you might look at Desert or Arena or something, but these are the main attraction. Most players will have them in their collection, but if not, obtaining them for your Commander ’95 deck will also give you them for other decks too. Your card stock will be happy for the acquisition.
Sol Ring, Fellwar Stone – Sol Ring is still the essential it’s always been, and it’s been reprinted so much that any Commander aficionado likely is sitting on a pile. Fellwar Stone is essential in any three-color deck and useful in two-color ones. It’s the only mana rock worth running that can produce mana of a color. (Special deck tech: Barbed Sextant.)
Mana Vault, Mana Crypt, Basalt Monolith – These colorless mana accelerants are running around too. I haven’t wanted to run Mana Crypt yet so it’s not really an essential, but it could be nice to have for some decks. I like Basalt Monolith, which was just reprinted in the Commander 2013 product. Mana Vault can be tricky due to the life-loss thing, but some decks will adore it.
Clockwork Avian, Clockwork Beast – Both come down as powerful beaters for their cost. You can get a 4/4 flyer for any color with the Avian, but it starts winding down. The Beast can break through the ground. Both have value in the right decks. While neither has been printed recently, they have little financial cost.
Colossus of Sardia – The best of the big creatures in the format. Most big creatures suck: Polar Kraken, Leviathan, Lord of the Pit, etc. This one does not. Sure, it requires nine mana to untap each time, but you can drop it and smash-hammer someone for damage. The Colossus was reprinted in Tenth Edition; it’ll cost you very little to acquire.
Disrupting Scepter, Jayemdae Tome – The Book and the Stick are two essential cards from this era, and they’ve been reprinted bunches of times. If you don’t own them, trading is easy. I also really like Jalum Tome to filter cards, and I’ve even used Jandor’s Ring once or twice for the same effect. Wand of Ith might be a good backup Scepter in some decks.
Howling Mine – Still a fun card for multiplayer, and tons of copies are scattered about.
Icy Manipulator – A virtual essential in many decks, it can be used for so many effects. It too has been reprinted all over the block and thus has many copies lurking hither and thither. Other cards that I like include Tawnos’s Coffin.
Juggernaut – One of the best aggressive beaters in the format.
Nevinyrral’s’ Disk – One of the true essentials in the format—every deck wants one. Plus it’s one of the pricier essentials for the format. As of the writing of this article, you can grab a Commander 2013 version for $3.99. Your decks will improve tremendously for that.
Triskelion – Another great creature from the format and gives decks options.
In the nice-to-have category, do note that there are a large number of artifact-based removal options, such as Aeolipile, Rod of Ruin, Aladdin’s Ring, and many more if you take a look. Colors light in removal might seriously consider them.
Ashes to Ashes, Terror, Dark Banishing, Broken Visage, Oubliette – Black has a lot of good pinpoint removal options for creatures. All of these are very powerful and quite valuable in the format. You run into them constantly.
Dance Of The Dead, Animate Dead, Soul Exchange – There are few ways to animate something, and black reanimation tech at the time did not include cards like Zombify. But they still have value. (If you really want reanimation badly, Soul Exchange might be an option too.)
Hypnotic Specter, Fallen Angel, Abyssal Specter, Sengir Vampire, Baron Sengir – Black has a good suite of flying creatures. The Angel, Hypnotic, and Vampire were printed recently and are easy to find, but the others you might have to look for.
Gate to Phyrexia – It’s your only artifact removal card in black.
Necropotence – Who has a broken card-drawing spell? You do! (See also: Greed).
Ihsan’s Shade – Good if you can afford the deep black commitment to play it.
Pestilence, Withering Wisps, Hellfire – You have some sweeping removal options. Pestilence and the Wisps are great, but Hellfire can be a bit pricey to pick up. If you can’t, don’t worry about it too much, but keep it in the back of your mind just in case.
Will-o’-the-Wisp – One of the best defensive creatures of the era and a vital card in a lot of decks.
Counterspell, Remove Soul, Memory Lapse, Spell Blast, Power Sink, Flash Counter – Countermagic is very sparse at this time, and most of these are very limited counters. But you can find enough. You’ll most likely have some in your deck stock already and can easily find the others.
Control Magic, Binding Grasp, Steal Artifact – If you want to steal stuff, these are your options. Frankly, Grasp and Magic are downright essential, and luckily we got a new printing of Control Magic with the Commander 2013 product.
Clone, Copy Artifact, Vesuvan Doppelganger – Commander players have always liked to copy stuff, and we have three real options here that are all very strong. Copy Artifact is a few bucks, and most people will have Clone. The Doppelganger can be very hard to find in trade binders. The cheapest version is $3.99 from Revised moderately played.
Braingeyser – Arguably the single best card-drawing spell in the format. It’s also a surprisingly cheap card to acquire.
Air Elemental, Mahamoti Djinn, Phantom Monster, Ghost Ship, Serendib Efreet – We have some solid vanilla flyers in blue along with some surprisingly weak ones. Perhaps you want to dig into Azure Drake or Wind Spirit, but I’m not a fan. Is Sibilant Spirit big enough to play despite handing cards to your opponents?
Amnesia – We can make you discard a lot of cards from out of nowhere.
Brainstorm, Portent – A few cheap cards are pretty useful. Brainstorm can be pricey to pick up because of its heavy use in Eternal formats. But if you can’t manage to grab one, it’s replaceable with other cards.
Merchant Scroll – One of the few tutors in the format. The Scroll just gets counters, bounce, burn (Psionic Blast), a few tricks, and minor card drawing like Brainstorm. It’s not a major threat with Ancestral Recall banned in Commander.
Ray of Command – One of the best combat tricks in the format.
Deflection – With such a small amount of counter spells around, this can prove quite useful in stopping someone’s plans from seeing fruition.
Recall – One of the few tools available to bring stuff back from the graveyard. This can retrieve multiple cards for you. Sure, you lose card advantage when you play it, but you make up for that in card quality.
Desert Twister, Crumble, Scavenger Folk – Green has little in the way of pinpoint removal for artifacts and enchantments, but these are useful options. Desert Twister is an essential for the format because it can take out a Maze of Ith or Serra Angel just as easily as a Moat or Jayemdae Tome.
Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Fyndhorn Elves, Wild Growth – If you’re playing at least two colors and one is green, Birds of Paradise is downright required. Luckily it’s been reprinted in tons of sets, and you can easily find one if you don’t have one already. While not every deck can benefit from the mono-green accelerants, most can, and I’ve seen them regularly.
Autumn Willow – She’s not that great, but she’s a lot of fun to play.
Nature’s Lore, Untamed Wilds, Renewal – None of these land fetchers have been printed recently. Renewal replaces itself or else I wouldn’t even run it—your deck is unlikely to miss it. You want these if you’re running green. The effect is worth the cost.
Regrowth – Powerful and another card that might surprise you with its cheap price tag.
Hurricane – It’s been killing flyers since 1993. The tales this card has to tell . . .
Night Soil – We have little in the way of token making or graveyard removal. A card that does both has a lot of advantages.
Lightning Bolt, Chain Lightning, Incinerate, Pyrotechnics, Fireball, Meteor Shower, Disintegrate, Lava Burst – Red has a ton of burn, and it includes some of the best burn spells of all time. Most have been reprinted recently and are easy to find.
Fissure – This is the second-best pinpoint creature removal spell in the format (after Swords to Plowshares) because it’s an instant that has no targeting restrictions. You can really benefit from owning one.
Shivan Dragon, Dragon Whelp, Nalathni Dragon, Firestorm Phoenix, Granite Gargoyle, Roc of Kher Ridges – Red has a surprisingly good amount of flyers (it’s tied with blue for most flyers in the first set). The Phoenix is weak in casting cost, but a recursive flyer has some value. It’s cheap to purchase if you ignore condition.
Earthquake, Inferno, Pyroclasm – Inferno is arguably the best sweeping removal spell in the format. It’s an instant that kills almost every creature on the battlefield (most of the creatures that would survive suck). Earthquake is a great mass removal spell too.
Fork – Oh the tricks you’ll know, but it’s a bit expensive to acquire one. If you can’t find one, don’t make it a top priority.
Wrath of God – We can mass remove stuff! (Plus, if you’re wondering how to pick up some, it was just printed again in Commander 2013.)
Swords to Plowshares – This single best pinpoint creature removal spell ever printed in Magic is an essential in Commander ’95, but it’s been printed very heavily. You probably already have some!
Serra Angel, Seraph, Abbey Gargoyles – Again, flyers are vital in Commander, and no less so than right now. The Gargoyles can hold their own against the flying draconic horde of the red players. White has a ton of smaller flyers to consider, like Mesa Falcon and Kjeldoran Skycaptain.
White Knight, Order of the White Shield, Savannah Lions, Order of Leitbur – White has a very good aggro element to it that you can enhance with cards like Crusade and Angelic Voices. If this is your style, these sorts of cards are downright required. Otherwise, skip them.
Divine Transformation – I’ve found the card-disadvantage potential of this Aura to be worth the risk—it’s the best Aura in the field by far. It opens up games and cracks defenses. It’s become a valued card in a lot of decks
Preacher – While hard to find in trade binders, a beat up copy will set you back just $3.99 on SCG, and that’s not bad considering the age and quality of this card. Witch Hunter is a useful pickup if you prefer a grindier sort of game.
Elves of Deep Shadow – Another quick mana accelerant for your B/G decks!
Arenson’s Aura – If you’re running the Azorius colors, then you have one more option for pinpoint enchantment removal with the Aura.
Tri Legends – There are a lot of valuable tri-color legendary creatures, like Sol’kanar the Swamp King and the Elder Dragon legendary creatures. You’ll see many of them as commanders. Some of the best are quite expensive (Tetsuo Umezawa, Adun Oakenshield, and Angus Mackenzie for example). Chronicles reprinted some of the best with white-bordered versions that dropped their price considerably. You can find some (such as Palladia-Mors) for under a buck.
Diabolic Vision, Altar of Bone, Hymn of Rebirth, Fire Covenant, Fumarole – These are all solid utility cards for their colors, and picking them up is easy enough to do. You will almost always play them if you’re playing the colors.
Some expensive essentials or useful cards I didn’t include in these lists are Mana Drain, Transmute Artifact, Sylvan Library, Wheel of Fortune, and Land Tax. But there are not many. Most cards are quite cheap. When you go to pick them up, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by the low cost. (For example, Inferno and Shivan Dragon are 50 cent cards, while Earthquake clocks in at 75 cents.)
The format is a lot of fun, and the entry is very low. The best cards have been reprinted quite recently (Sol Ring, Control Magic, Lightning Bolt), while others are available for loan or trade because of how many copies are in print (Howling Mine, Birds of Paradise). Yet others are very cheap to acquire, and cost very little despite their power (Broken Visage, Inferno). Most of the rest are commons or uncommons that haven’t seen print in a while but still are easy to pickup from a store (Fissure, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust). Very few cards have a high price tag that is prohibitive to the format.
Raiding your own deck stock, making a few trades, borrowing a handful of cards, and spending less than $20 can get you most of the essential deck stock required to play Commander ’95. Then just salt to your taste!
Commander ’95 is quickly becoming one of my favorite variants for Commander and a love affair that just won’t end. This clocks the third article I’ve written on it in a couple months, so I’ll put it on the side burner for a bit to look at some other variants and such. Next week I’ll return with a new variant of Commander that plays with bad cards. But I suspect I’ll return to C95 soon. I’ll see you then!