The Commander variant format known as “PreDH” (pre-EDH) has been getting recent attention. Sheldon Menery wrote an article focused on PreDH a few weeks back and shared his PreDH decklist there. Last week, I shared my PreDH decklist for Experiment Kraj, so be sure to check that out if you haven’t already read it.
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.
The deckbuilding sites Archidekt and Moxfield have added PreDH as a format for deckbuilding to help figure out what’s legal and what’s not in a decklist. The Magic search engine Scryfall also includes PreDH as a format, so you can use it to see if individual cards are PreDH legal. For example, I put “Experiment legal:predh” in the Scryfall search bar and got back all PreDH legal cards with “Experiment” in the card name.
It Starts With One Thing…
The reason I chose this word as an example was that I was surprised and a little sad that Experiment One is not PreDH legal since it was first printed in Gatecrash, so I could not include it in my PreDH Experiment Kraj deck.
When I initially pulled cards for the deck, I was surprised how many cards I thought would be legal but weren’t so Scryfall offers an invaluable tool to help build a legal deck.
To further help people out, I did the research and present to you some of the best cards you can include in your PreDH decks. I did my best to not include old cards that are super-expensive, so you won’t see cards like the original dual lands, Timetwister, or Gaea’s Cradle. Some of these might be a little pricey, but I think you can find good stuff within your budget to get you started on your own PreDH deck.
Let’s dig in!
These days of Commander power creep, a six-mana creature that doesn’t launch you towards imminent victory is easy to overlook, but Sun Titan still provides a lot of value for the mana. Back in the PreDH days? You had to work hard to come up with a reason not to run Sun Titan. One of my favorite things to do if my EDH deck had access to white and green was to run Dauntless Escort alongside Novablast Wurm to make all my creatures indestructible and then attack with Novablast Wurm to destroy all other creatures. Sun Titan could bring Dauntless Escort to do it over and over until my opponents were dead or Novablast Wurm ate a Swords to Plowshares.
In blue, Consecrated Sphinx was a great curve-topper, often replacing itself with two cards drawn on your next opponent’s turn before someone could deal with it. If it made it around the entire table, drawing you six extra cards? You were in the catbird seat. In black, Kokusho, the Evening Star was banned for a lot of the early days, so having it available in PreDH even as your commander is a pretty big deal, especially since there are still all sorts of ways to bring it back from the graveyard even in this format.
I’m a bit torn on my favorite red creature in the format, but I think I’m leaning towards Urabrask the Hidden. Giving all your creatures haste while your opponents’ creatures enter the battlefield tapped is a huge tempo swing that’s even more powerful in the slower format of PreDH. For green, the best creature by far is Seedborn Muse. The mana advantage alone you get is massive, and if you include a handful of permanents that tap for some effect it gets even more bonkers. Seedborn Muse was so powerful in the early days I even wrote that the card should be banned in EDH (The Case Against Seedborn Muse). I think it’s still underplayed relative to its power even today.
For artifact creatures, nothing comes close to Solemn Simulacrum. The colorless mana ramp attached to a body that draws you a card when it dies was the glue that held just about all EDH decks together back in the day, especially ones that didn’t have access to green mana ramp spells. I still slam Solemn Simulacrum in nongreen decks to this day, even though a lot of people have left it behind.
A lot of new design space for Commander over the years has brought more removal options for more decks, but PreDH limits the choices. While Wrath of God and even Damnation were available, there was no Blasphemous Act yet for red; Chain Reaction was the best you could do. Nevinyrral’s Disk was always an option, but it was always a nail-biter to see if it would make it around the table intact before you could untap with it and finally use it.
Return to Dust was premium pinpoint removal, since if you cast it on your own turn, you could exile two enchantments or artifacts. Krosan Grip’s split second ability was quite valuable in breaking up combos that might otherwise be futile to try to interact with.
Beast Within slides right under the wire for PreDH, since it saw print in New Phyrexia, and makes for a great catch-all removal spell for green decks.
White card draw is incredibly hard to find in this format, so if you’re playing white with no blue or black, you might have to resort to Land Tax in conjunction with Scroll Rack. Blue and black have always had plenty of great options like Rhystic Study and Phyrexian Arena, and even green got in on the action with Harmonize and Greater Good.
Back in the day, red decks used Wheel of Fortune, but the cost of it these days makes it tough to acquire. Skullclamp appears in any deck that runs creatures, whether it’s regular ol’ Commander or PreDH. I used to run Mikokoro, Center of the Sea in a lot of my EDH decks back in the day that were light in card draw, and thanks to several reprints, the card is quite cheap these days.
If you had access to the colors, cards like Windborn Muse and Propaganda were in all the decks back in the day. Forcing players to choose between using their mana in a turn or attacking is quite disruptive. Counterspells that also drew cards, like Arcane Denial, have always been clutch to have to stop a big spell from blowing up your plans; Cryptic Command can do the same thing, but also has many flexible modes—don’t underestimate the power of tapping all creatures your opponents control at instant speed!
Sudden Spoiling, yet another split second card, makes the list. I have many memories of this card being incredible under a wide variety of circumstances, breaking combos or ambushing an alpha strike.
I’d like to give a shout-out to Reiterate, one of the big reasons to play red in the PreDH format. This buyback spell lets red copy the much better spells that other colors are playing, and adjusts quite well depending on the pod you’re playing in. Reiterate was also part of a combo with Mana Geyser to potentially make an arbitrarily large amount of mana, depending on how many tapped lands your opponents control.
Green is still the master of ramp, and many of the best spells you can play in Commander are still available in PreDH, like Kodama’s Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and even Lotus Cobra. The mana rocks like Azorius Signet and Talisman of Dominance are also available, and there’s a lot less commonly played mass removal for artifacts—for instance, Vandalblast isn’t legal.
Cabal Coffers alongside Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth can still crank out big mana, but don’t overlook Black Market, which saw a ton of play back in the day when games lasted longer and lots of creatures died.
Some of the best Equipment ever printed are legal in PreDH and are great ways to round out your decklists if you’re running a fair amount of creatures. Sunforger is an incredible utility card that lends Boros some much-needed power in the format. Bonehoard is much better in the format, again because games go on longer and lots of creatures die, so the power and toughness boost can make any small creature into a huge threat.
Other Cool Cards
In this section, I wanted to just highlight a few more cards that can spice up lots of PreDH deck strategies. Intruder Alarm isn’t something I’ve seen at a Commander table in years, but back in the day it could set up a combo engine very similar to Paradox Engine. Eldrazi Monument is another potent effect that’s a lot more resilient in PreDH than it is these days. Any format where True Conviction can shine has got to be worth trying out, no?
Have you been brewing up any PreDH decks? What spice from back in the day did I overlook here?
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