Commander Sub-Format PreDH Is The New Magic Rage

PreDH is Commander’s popular new throwback sub-format. Sheldon Menery gets you up to speed and shares the fun from two recent games.

Phelddagrif, illustrated by Amy Weber

One of the roads that the Commander Rules Committee (RC) would like to drive down leads directly to supporting and formalizing sub-formats.  In late 2021, I talked about the concept of modular banned lists, which in some cases could effectively create said sub-formats (like Modern Commander or Innistrad Plane Constructed).  Enter the fertile mind of Brian David-Marshall and we have the hottest thing in Commander in quite some time:  PreDH.

PreDH is more correctly Pre-Commander, but that’s not nearly as catchy.  PreDH doesn’t change any of Commander’s rules; it simply bans all the cards created after the first Commander product hit the shelves.  The last legal set is New Phyrexia.  For now, the normal Commander banned list applies (sorry, Primeval Titan, you’re still out). 

Primeval Titan

As the sub-format rolls along, we might see spots for improvement.  The stakes are somewhat lower in a sub-format than they are in the main one, so we’re likely to feel more free to experiment.  For now, PreDH will be able capturing the nostalgia of a time nearly fifteen years gone by.  I won’t be upset if anyone calls it Boomer Commander, because I suspect that’s who it’s primarily going to appeal to.  There’s already a channel on the Commander RC Discord server dedicated to it, so come on over and offer up your thoughts. 

Phelddagrif Fun

The deck I’ll feature here is the one that I played on Shuffle Up and Play with Prof, BDM, and Cedric from the Mana Squad.  When I was going into the show, I thought long and hard about what might be good, what I might brew, and what might play well against the Momir Vig, Simic Visionary deck that I knew BDM was going to bring.  Then I realized that I was missing a very critical angle—the aforementioned nostalgia.  Phelddagrif, the first “real” EDH deck I built, was the only choice. 


What’s in PreDH, Anyway?

Before we get to the deck, let’s talk some more about the format.

Despite its nostalgia angle, there’s still quite a bit of regular Commander in PreDH. Of the 45 cards on the Banned List, only eight were printed in the post-EDH era:  Griselbrand (Avacyn Restored); Hullbreacher (Commander Legends); Golos, Tireless Pilgrim (Core Set 2020); Leovold, Emissary of Trest (Conspiracy: Take the Crown); Lutri, the Spellchaser (Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths); Paradox Engine (Kaladesh); Prophet of Kruphix (Theros); and Sylvan Primordial (Gatecrash).  The rest of the list and many of the cards folks really consider busted are still running around. 

Sol Ring

All the fast mana certainly is, which is why when people complain about it, I wonder why they weren’t bringing it up ten years ago (yes, I get that many of them weren’t actually playing the format yet).  cEDH decks are possible, although you’ll have to miss out on Thassa’s Oracle combos and all the free spells which mention commanders.  Nonetheless, like the main format, what we enjoy out of PreDH will change person to person and group to group.  We’ll need to have good conversations beforehand.  I imagine that they’ll be more on the “nostalgic v. competitive” angle instead of the casual one. 

A Scryfall Shout-Out

I do want to take a moment to shout out the good folks at Scryfall, who programmed in PreDH as a search criterion mere hours after I asked if it were possible (there are 11,509 legal cards, for those of you who like such numbers).  Their developers have been great and told me that it’s no problem if the PreDH Banned List were to deviate from the regular one (I don’t think so at this point, but you never know).  Kudos to them for being responsive to such a small request.  As I’m mentioning Scryfall, it occurs to me that more than one person has asked if they have to play the time-appropriate version of the card.  While that would be a cool choice, any version of a legal card is fine. 

PreDH Removal

As I mentioned, the free commander spells – Deadly Rollick, Deflecting Swat, Fierce Guardianship, Flawless Maneuver, and Obscuring Haze – are off the table, but we’ll still face the inexpensive removal like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile (first printed in Conflux, in 2009).  Force of Will, which I’ve rarely seen in casual games, could make an appearance. 

Swords to Plowshares Path to Exile Force of Will

I’m not down to predicting metagames just yet, but I would wager that there will be creature-heavy environments, despite creatures being not quite as good as they are today.  All those creatures probably mean more mass battlefield sweepers, like Wrath of God and the classic Nevinyrral’s Disk, instead of today’s hot spot removal, like Abrupt Decay (Return to Ravnica, 2012) and Abrade (Hour of Devastation, 2017).  We certainly won’t see many folks’ top bugbears, Cyclonic Rift (also Return to Ravnica) and Craterhoof Behemoth (Avacyn Restored, 2012).  I suspect we might see an uptick in use of Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast, and maybe a tiny bit of their blue counterparts Blue Elemental Blast and Hydroblast, in place of the free spells, since they’re flexible and nearly free.  

PreDH Commanders

It’s the raw number of commanders that will be most impacted when we move from regular Commander to PreDH.  There are 1,609 legal commanders in the big format.  There are 443 legal in PreDH.  The highest-ranking PreDH-legal commander on EDHRec is Zur the Enchanter (number 49).  We don’t see the next until number 66, the unexpected Marrow-Gnawer (Champions of Kamigawa, 2004). There’s plenty of choice, but there might not be something to exactly suit every taste.  There are only eleven five-color commanders available, and something I think lots of newer players won’t realize: there are no four-color commanders (and no, we won’t be errata’ing the Nephilim). 

Of course, the excitement is going to be about some of the old jank that for various reasons we don’t play anymore.  I asked BDM what his rediscovered favorites are and he told me Simic Sky Swallower (which was in Commander 2011, but first printed in Dissension, 2006) and Stampeding Wildebeests (originally in Visions, 1997, and saw functional reprint as Stampeding Serow in Saviors of Kamigawa, 2005).  I’m excited about some Hidden Gems from my list making it into other folks’ decks.  In fact, some of them are in my Phelddagrif deck, so it seems like an opportune time to talk about it. 

Phelddagrif PreDH

First off, here’s the list (and it’s part of my Archidekt profile as well):

The deck borrows themes from my dear friend Rachel Weeks and her Phelddagrif deck.  While it can create value and swing with some big creatures, its win condition is generating infinite mana, then using it to create a bunch of Hippo tokens.  From there, there are a few ways to win off the backs of those Hippos. 

Suture Priest

First there’s Suture Priest.  It triggers for each creature they get, costing them a life. 

Suture Priest

Angel’s Trumpet

Second, there’s Angel’s Trumpet. This can only kill the player whose turn it is, but it’s repeatable.  It’s taking advantage of the card’s admittedly out-of-date wording.  Being a mostly unplayed card from a 25-year-old set, it hasn’t been worth doing any kind of errata on (which is probably the case for a number of cards). 

Angel's Trumpet

Angel’s Trumpet doesn’t care that creatures couldn’t attack, whether because they had summoning sickness or they showed up after combat was already over.  It just cares that they’re there at end of turn.  In their postcombat main phase, we just give them Hippos equal to their life total (or maybe a few more, if we expect lifegain shenanigans), then let Angel’s Trumpet do the rest.  Just make sure they don’t have a sacrifice outlet, like Ashnod’s Altar (which actually happened to me once when I was playing Rachel’s deck at a CommandFest). 

Reins of Power

Finally, there’s the one we have to be really careful with, Reins of Power.  We do this on our own turn and make sure that Palinchron is safely in hand.  We give each of two players just one Hippo, then the third as many as we want—I try to do about three times what would kill them, just to be safe.  Then cast Reins of Power, targeting the person with the swarm, swing in, and kill everyone. 

Reins of Power

Hidden Gem #1

I’m going to tell you about one of the deck’s Hidden Gems momentarily.  I’ll tell you about the other right here.  It’s from Tempest, and it’s Interdict.


This card has so much value across the play spectrum.  It’s not just that it counters an activation; it’s that the activated abilities of the permanent can’t be used for the rest of the turn.  If untapping that thing in order to use the thing that tapped it again is in the loop, then Interdict throws a wrench into the plans.  In a high-powered game, I saved everyone by targeting Krenko, Mob Boss (they needed the mana from Mana Echoes to untap him).  I still lost that game, but the card did its job.  On top of it all, it draws a card—and all for just two mana.  You won’t be sorry you played it. 

The deck does something powerful, but it takes a while to get there.  Yes, it goes infinite, but I don’t think anyone can accuse it of being high-powered.  It has other ways to win, which you’ll see when I tell you about the two games I played with it over the weekend at MagicCon Philly.

Party of Five

The first was with BDM and his Momir Vig deck, and three other folks named Chandler (Intet, the Dreamer), Max (Savra, Queen of the Golgari), and Greg (Sapling of Colfenor Treefolk).  I’m not normally down for a five-player game (that’s not in the star format), but since everyone had a PreDH deck and we played plenty of fives back in the day, I was all for running it.  Plus, Chandler, Max, and Greg were cool.  It was a super durdle-fest, with everyone doing stuff.  The game was swingy, and when one person got out of hand, someone would bring them back.  Brian kept me from doing some dirty stuff with a little well-timed enchantment removal on Greater Good

Showing off the Commanders before we swing into it.

The thing they didn’t have removal for was my Super Secret Hidden Gem, Now Secret No More: Insight.  It helps when there are four other green decks at the table, but that’s a fairly good calculated risk in any version of Commander. 


Once I got Psychosis Crawler online, life totals started to dwindle.  My favorite part of that game, however, was when it was down to just me and Greg.  With life totals both in the single digits, I got to finish him off by simply attacking with Treetop Village and Faerie Conclave.  It was like 1997 all over again.

Another Game

The other game I played with the deck was with fellow RC member Scott Larabee, design superstar Mike Turian, and old friend Rashad Miller.  We kind of had a deck mismatch as Rashad’s mono-green Druid deck can kill people on Turn 3 and Turian was playing a precon.  Scott was playing my Maarika Most Brutal deck (alternately known as “stuff I want to Saw in Half”), which is pretty mid-tier.  I’m pretty sure Rashad held back a Turn 3 Craterhoof Behemoth in order to make it a more fun game. 

We nonetheless faced him as a threat for a few turns while developing our battlefield states.  When he finally did Craterhoof to kill two of us, I had Reins of Power ready to use as an emergency Fog (although I didn’t have the dream card in that scenario, Greater Good).  It left him in a position to get killed on the crack back.  It left me in a position to go full ham. 

Palinchron Bribery Nyxbloom Ancient

I had Palinchron, but only eight lands.  Then I topdecked the winner, but it was really only because I knew the contents of Scott’s (my) deck.  Even blind, he’s probably the target, since the Jund deck is more likely to have the scariest monsters, but this did feel a little dirty.  I cast Bribery, targeting Scott, and pulled out Nyxbloom Ancient (told you it was stuff to Saw in Half).  When your lands tap for three each, it’s easy to go infinite with Palinchron.  Phelddagrif was already on the battlefield, as was Suture Priest.  I checked that no one could stop the combo, then gave everyone a bunch of Hippo tokens for the win. 

The Future of the Past

PreDH is a sub-format that really has some legs.  I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the support and excitement everyone has thrown behind it, and I highly encourage you to check out the channel on the RC Discord server. I’m eventually going to build a suite of four decks so that folks can try it out together.  I’ll definitely be bringing this deck to SCG CON Charlotte (to which I’ll be traveling about the time you’re reading this), but I doubt I have the time to build them all for this show.  Hopefully I’ll get to see some of you there.  I’ve reached out to one of the other just-announced Special Guests, ManaCurves, to see if they have time to put a deck together between now and then.  I suspect Prof will bring his.  Should be some epic times. 

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