Commander, also known as Elder Dragon Highlander or “EDH” is unique among MTG formats. EDH was created by the player base and is still managed by a rules committee of fans who are not employed by Wizards of the Coast. In fact, Wizards of the Coast did not release any products for the format until 2011 when they brought out a set of five preconstructed decks. Since then, Wizards of the Coast have released an increasing number of Commander focussed products. Every standard legal set is now accompanied by a few new preconstructed decks, and there have been several Commander focussed supplemental sets.
Commander has now become the most popular way of experiencing Magic: the Gathering. The influx of support from Wizards of the Coast has, broadly, made it a more powerful and fast-paced format than it was before. Cards like Dockside Extortortionist, Arcane Signet and Thassa’s Oracle, amongst many others, all greatly increase the pace of gameplay. There are some players who are nostalgic for Commander’s early days when the format was defined by high-cost cards which have since become too expensive and impractical to use. Cards like the original cycle of Elder Dragons, Insurrection, and Blazing Archon. A new way of playing Commander, known as “PreDH”, is developing, harkening back to these older days.
What is PreDH?
PreDH was designed by Brian David-Marshall. The idea is that it captures Commander as it was prior to Wizards of the Coast beginning to support the format. PreDH decks cannot contain any cards printed after New Phyrexia, the final Magic set which was released before the first Commander product came out in June of 2011. PreDH has the same ban list that regular Commander has, although naturally any banned cards released after New Phyrexia are already excluded from the format. This means no casting Coalition Victory, Biorhythm or Shahrazad. Getting rid of such a huge chunk of cards makes the format pretty radically different from Commander as we know it.
Changes To Each Color
Many staple cards are longer available under the restrictions of PreDH. Every Color loses access to some of its best tools.
White players can no longer accelerate their mana as effectively without Smothering Tithe or draw cards as reliably without Esper Sentinel. There will still be ramp tools available though in the form of cards like Kor Cartographer and Knight of the White Orchid. Draw options will also still be out there for Enchantment-based decks thanks to Mesa Enchantress and Kor Spiritdancer, as well as for Equipment-based decks thanks to Puresteel Paladin.Cyclonic Rift was first printed in the 2012 set Return to Ravnica, meaning that Blue players looking to bounce a lot of creatures will need to use Evacuation instead, which also hits their own board.
Black decks can no longer finish opponents off using Torment of Hailfire, or drain their life away with a Grey Merchant of Asphodel. Exsanguinate is still around though to fulfill a similar function.
Red loses what is probably its best board wipe in Blasphemous Act and, arguably, its best card draw spell in Faithless Looting. Both of these cards debuted in Innistrad block which narrowly misses out on being PreDH legal. Red players will have to make use of weaker alternative board wipes like Inferno. Red’s card draw suite is severely impacted, as cards like Cathartic Reunion, Tormenting Voice and Thrill of Possibility simply did not exist yet.
Green players will no longer have access to Craterhoof Behemoth and will instead need to rely on cards like Overrun and Beastmaster Ascension to close out the game.
PreDH also features a significantly lower number of Commanders to brew decks around. There are fewer than 500 legal Commanders in the format, with no four-color options available at all. PreDH tables will feature Commanders like Sedris, the Traitor King, and Zur the Enchanter rather than the likes of Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice and The Ur Dragon.
In addition, the Commanders that are in the format will have fewer options available to support the strategies they enable. Rhys the Redeemed decks will have to get by without Anointed Procession to double the tokens they generate and Sliver Legion has a smaller pool of Slivers to draw from.
Some lesser known Commanders may also rise to take the place of big names that are absent from the format. Without Krenko, Mob Boss around, PreDH Goblin tribal decks may be led by Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician, or Wort, Boggart Auntie
Whilst all of these cuts may seem daunting, it’s important to remember the mantra of Magic’s lead designer Mark Rosewater: “Restrictions Breed Creativity“. PreDH decks will certainly not be as synergistic, or powerful as contemporary Commander decks, but this will open up new avenues for unknown or forgotten cards to see play. Will the slower pace of PreDH games make Plauge Wind viable? Will Serra Avatar return to the spotlight as one of the pre-eminent threats of the format? Is it Godsire’s time to shine? Who can say?
The meta of PreDH is still forming. In an article published for Star City Games Sheldon Menery, the head of the Commander Rules Committee, said that he: “would wager that there will be creature-heavy environments”. Whether this prediction will come true and PreDh will resemble Commander as it was in 2011, or whether players will design innovative new strategies using this pool of cards and the meta will evolve in new and unexpected directions remains to be seen.
In the same article, Menery writes that he intends for PreDH to evolve as an officially recognized sub-format with its own distinct ban list developing over time. There have been many Commander variants and other singleton 100-card formats over the years like Oathbreaker and Tiny Leaders. PreDH has received more support and recognition from the Rules Committee than these other formats. PreDH is designed to bring Commander back to its roots and that is certainly an appealing prospect to some MTG players.
If you’re looking to build a PreDH deck of your own, a list of all the cards legal in the format can be found here.