PreDH Deck Of The Week: Experiment Kraj

Bennie Smith switches up his Commander Deck of the Week with a PreDH list highlighting old-school favorite Experiment Kraj.

Experiment Kraj
Experiment Kraj, illustrated by Mark Tedin

The Commander variant format known as “PreDH” (pre-EDH) has been getting a bunch of buzz lately. The idea is to build Commander decks but constrict your card pool only to cards printed before Wizards of the Coast (WotC) released the very first Commander precon decks in 2011 and started designing cards with Commander in mind. This means New Phyrexia is the last set that’s PreDH-legal. 

I started playing EDH in 2007, so this format is definitely a nostalgic callback.  I used to have a deck built around Experiment Kraj that was a little clunky and certainly quickly got outclassed by Commander product-era cards, but it has always had a warm spot in my heart, and this seemed like the perfect time to build it again!

Retro Kraj

Experiment Kraj

If you weren’t playing EDH back then and don’t have the nostalgia appeal, it’s still fun to build decks with restrictions, and it will give you a sense of what the format was like back in its earliest days. Sheldon Menery wrote an article focused on PreDH a few weeks back and shared his PreDH decklist there, so be sure to check it out if you are interested in the format and haven’t already read it.  The Magic search engine Scryfall and the deckbuilding sites Archidekt and Moxfield also have added PreDH as a format for searching/deckbuilding to help figure out what’s legal and what’s not.

For Experiment Kraj, the goal is to assemble a weird Rube Goldberg machine of abilities that Kraj can copy via +1/+1 abilities to do something weird and wild. I’m including a bunch of creatures of my own that can help with that, but it’s a lot more fun to add something your opponents play to the mix to make the experience different each time.  Let’s go through the deck!


Instill Energy Vitalize Emerald Charm Seeker of Skybreak Pemmin's Aura Seedborn Muse Murkfiend Liege

I’ve included ways to untap Kraj with cards like Instill Energy and Seeker of Skybreak. This helps Kraj early on by spreading around +1/+1 counters, and later on by doubling up copied activations. Pemmin’s Aura takes this into overdrive by untapping Kraj for each blue mana you spend, and even protects Kraj from removal with another blue mana ability. Seedborn Muse and Murkfiend Liege take advantage of the multiplayer format by giving you multiple untap steps as the turns go to your opponents.

+1/+1 Counters

Ashnod's Transmogrant Titania's Boon Plaxcaster Frogling Spike Feeder Spike Weaver Spike Tiller

Beyond Kraj, I wanted other ways to throw +1/+1 counters around. The Spike creatures serve double duty since they enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters so that Kraj can copy their abilities, as well as being able to move their +1/+1 counters to other creatures with abilities that Kraj wants to copy. Spike Tiller is particularly exciting because it can move a +1/+1 counter to a land with a juicy ability, and since it turns it into a 2/2 creature, Kraj will be able to copy the land’s ability. This interaction is why I first fell in love with Experiment Kraj all those many years ago.

Creature Abilities to Copy

Morphling Thornling Devoted Druid Viridian Joiner Gilder Bairn Jagged-Scar Archers Argothian Elder Omnibian River Boa Silvos, Rogue Elemental

If my opponents don’t play creatures with cool activated abilities to copy, I want to make sure I’ve got a lot of targets of my own for Kraj shenanigans. Morphling is the stone-cold classic – and the inspiration for Pemmin’s Aura we talked about before – but the green descendant Thornling is the bee’s knees here. Kraj being able to gain haste is bonkers, and being able to gain indestructible is super-helpful in avoiding wracking up too much commander tax for our six-mana commander.

Putting a counter on Viridian Joiner means that Kraj can tap for four green mana, or more if Kraj’s power has been increased (potentially by its own ability). Devoted Druid with a +1/+1 counter offers the same thing, only it also gives Kraj the ability to untap itself by adding a -1/-1 counter; given Kraj’s six toughness, this means a potential flurry of activations for a big turn. Just keep in mind that +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters remove each other from creatures, which could accidentally turn off access to Devoted Druid if we’re not careful.

If you’ve got a +1/+1 counter on Devoted Druid or Viridian Joiner as well as Gilder Bairn, then Kraj can go off and generate an arbitrarily large amount of green mana; I don’t really have anything to win on the spot with that mana, but I’m sure the turn it all comes together will be quite spectacular!

Jagged-Scar Archers helps defend me against flyers and is awesome to copy with a higher-power creature like Kraj. Argothian Elder is a bit of mana ramp, and Omnibian is mostly there for comedic relief—Frog you!  River Boa and Silvos, Rogue Elemental are solid creatures that can scoop up a +1/+1 counter and lend their regenerate ability to Kraj.


Pongify Naturalize Trygon Predator Krosan Grip Beast Within Nevinyrral's Disk Nullmage Shepherd Glissa Sunseeker Acidic Slime Steel Hellkite Woodfall Primus

Simic removal options were quite limited in PreDH days, but I’ve snagged what I could.  I even dipped into the venerable Nevinyrral’s Disk, counting on indestructible or regeneration to break the symmetry a bit. It does feel totally nostalgic to slot in Trygon Predator, Acidic Slime, and Woodfall Primus; the Primus in particular is going to be amazing here since Kraj can add a +1/+1 counter to it to knock off the -1/-1 counter it gets from persist so that it can persist again!

Steel Hellkite is one way to sink all that green mana that Kraj could potentially generate, and if combined with copying Thornling’s trample ability, it’s possible to make Kraj big enough to trample over for commander damage.


Arcane Denial Reality Ripple Night Soil Dream Fracture Mystic Snake Glen Elendra Archmage Cauldron of Souls

I’m playing blue so I’ve got some counterspells in the deck to keep people honest, with Arcane Denial and Dream Fracture offering up consolation prize of cards to soothe the feel bad of countering that spell. Mystic Snake doesn’t offer any consolation prize other than being a throwback nostalgic creature you can cast and say “Snake says Nope!”

Glen Elendra Archmage works like Woodfall Primus, with Kraj potentially knocking off the -1/-1 counter to let it persist again, keeping a Negate effect at the ready for noncreature shenanigans. And on a similar vein there’s Cauldron of Souls saving my creatures – and maybe some other player’s creatures – from a battlefield sweeper and Kraj eventually knocking off the -1/-1 counters.

Interestingly, Reality Ripple is an old-school card with a mechanic that’s gotten new life in Commander these days. Phasing has shown to be quite good at protecting your creature or permanent that’s been enhanced or modified without totally resetting it like a blink effect would. For nostalgia’s sake, I can recall a fringe tournament deck some friends of mine called “Ripple Disk” that would activate Nevinyrral’s Disk, and then in response cast Reality Ripple to phase it out.  The Disk doesn’t sacrifice when it’s activated, but it usually dies because it destroys artifacts in addition to the other permanent types, so phasing it out means you’ll have it around to use again.  If I pull that off in this deck sometime, it’ll make me giggle.

Card Draw

Impulse Wall of Blossoms Cold-Eyed Selkie Harmonize Deadwood Treefolk Tranquil Thicket Lonely Sandbar

Not much card draw here, and looking at this list has me thinking I should probably find room for Stroke of Genius.  What do you think?  I’m probably leaning a little too hard on Cold-Eyed Selkie with a couple of +1/+1 counters islandwalking on somebody to keep my hand full of gas.  I also love slotting in Deadwood Treefolk for some creature recursion. It’s a card I played with a bunch way back in the day.

Old-School Spice

Maze of Ith Basilisk Collar Regrowth Nim Deathmantle Desert Twister

A few cards, I’ve added just for old-school spice.  Maze of Ith, not taking a land slot, is a must. Basilisk Collar offers needed lifegain, and depending on what abilities I copy with Kraj, the deathtouch might come in handy.  I’ve got a white-bordered Revised Regrowth for nostalgia’s sake. Nim Deathmantle used to be in all the EDH decks back in the day and is another good mana sink. 

I still have the Desert Twister I cracked from a pack of Arabian Nights way back in 1994. It hasn’t been in a deck for years and years. This seems a perfect place to run it, especially since PreDH Simic is so light on removal spells.

Mana Ramp

Sol Ring Birds of Paradise Wild Growth Coiling Oracle Wall of Roots Sakura-Tribe Elder Cultivate Kodama's Reach Skyshroud Claim

To round out the deck, I’ve got a fair amount of mana ramp beyond the mana creatures I mentioned above. I’m especially happy with Cultivate, Kodama’s Reach and Skyshroud Claim since they each provide two lands to help ramp and make land drops, which is important with a commander as expensive as Kraj.

The Deck

Okay, here is the full decklist:

Here are the deck stats from our friends at Archidekt:

What must-have cards might I have missed including in this deck?  Are you thinking about building a PreDH deck?

Talk to Me

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And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

Visit my Decklist Database to see my decklists and the articles where they appeared!