Too-Specific Top 10 - PreDH Commanders

(Grand Arbiter Augustin IV | Art by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai)

A Long, Long Time Ago (And Also Today)

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Vaevictis Asmadi is the only Elder Dragon with three different activated abilities?)

In the everlasting struggle to reclaim the good old days of kitchen table Magic, the first salvo was the invention of EDH itself. Since then, there's been many more attempts to capture the nostalgic feeling of just sitting around a table with friends, worrying more about companionship than competition. You can decide for yourself whether that's an admirable (or even possible) goal, but the latest attempt to recapture the nostalgia of at least the early days of EDH, if not our youth, is "PreDH".

Top 10 PreDH Commanders

Put simply, PreDH is meant to recapture the "good old days" of Commander by only allowing cards printed before, well, Commander! For those not intimately familiar, the first Commander precons were released in June of 2011, immediately following New Phyrexia. This means the last commander printed into the format was Jor Kadeen, the Prevailerwith the first being Adun Oakenshield. All 426 legendary creatures in between form your commander options for the format, with three possible options for colorless, 59 for mono-white, 51 for mono-blue, 61 for mono-black, 53 for mono-red, and 49 for mono-green. That leaves 152 options total that make up the rest of your multicolor options, with 92 two-color options, 49 three-color options, 11 five-color options, and no four-color options whatsoever (unless your playgroup would like to rule zero the Nephilim, as has been fairly commonly done since the beginnings of EDH). Suffice it to say, there are a lot fewer options than what we're used to these days, but that in no way means there aren't still a lot.

More the intent of the format, beyond nostalgia, appears to be to return to a heyday before Wizards was designing around Commander. Maybe that's because folks really do prefer the cards that were designed around Standard rather than designed for an eternal format, or maybe it's because people don't like the icky feelings that Command Tower and Eminence referencing the command zone gives.

I would like to note, however, to the folks hoping this fixes power level issues: it doesn't. Just like in regular Commander, there is already a Competitive PreDH format forming, with stalwarts like Zur the Enchanter, Sharuum the Hegemon, and various five-color goodstuff builds (usually helmed by Scion of the Ur-Dragon). Popular two-card combos legal in the format include Rings of Brighthearth & Basalt Monolith, Mana Geyser & Reiterate, Staff of Domination & Priest of Titania/Elvish Archdruid/Bloom Tender, Bloodchief Ascension & Mindcrank, and Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind & Curiosity. Birthing Pod is legal, as are Kik-Jiki, Splinter Twin, Protean Hulk, Food Chain, Devoted Druid, Hermit Druid, and Ad Nauseam.

Essentially every piece of fast mana is legal in the format as well, meaning that there is absolutely nothing stopping someone from going off on turn two, and in fact it might even be easier given that many great answers that have been printed in the last decade are not available.

With all that said, no matter what your plans are for PreDH, make sure you're still having those rule zero conversations!

Since we're on the subject, what are the most popular commanders you can play in PreDH?

Criteria: Legendary creatures printed in New Phyrexia or prior, and therefore legal to be your commander in the PreDH format. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score, only in this case we'll be going by commander numbers only.

10. Doran, the Siege Tower

(Helms 2,723 Decks, Rank #232; 1,363 Inclusions, 1% of 233,286 Decks)

The original High Alert, Doran, the Siege Tower was the first creature with "assigns combat damage equal to its toughness rather than its power" on it. I would say, however, that most took advantage of this brand new text in the burgeoning EDH format to make Walls decks and Treefolk decks rather than getting a little bit more all-inclusive about it. Even with PreDH's limited card pool, however, there are still options across the creature spectrum with big butts to take advantage of:

Top 10 Abzan PreDH Creatures With Toughness Greater Than Their Mana Value and Their Power... Without Defender

  1. Ornithopter
  2. Wall of Omens
  3. Silent Arbiter
  4. Wall of Blossoms
  5. Phyrexian Walker
  6. Wall of Roots
  7. Overgrown Battlement
  8. Shield Sphere
  9. Sunscape Familiar
  10. Stalwart Shield-Bearers

All right, so never mind, they're all Walls. Just keep in mind that Doran doesn't come with Rolling Stones attached!

9. Rhys the Redeemed

(Helms 2,804 Decks, Rank #228; 15,316 Inclusions, 3% of 457,981 Decks)

Still the preeminent tokens commander even today, Rhys the Redeemed has always been a paragon of efficiency. A one-mana commander that gives you access to two colors, which comes with some great ways to spend your excess mana as you ramp and lay down tokens. In a time where Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree was still in every Selesnya deck, Rhys puts the Tree to shame with its rate and then tacks on another six-mana ability that will double your army to boot. It might be considered a bit boring now, but there's no denying that no matter how you're playing the game, Rhys the Redeemed is a powerful commander.

8. Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker

(Helms 3,048 Decks, Rank #199; 1,732 Inclusions, 0% of 1,149,862 Decks)

Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker is an odd duck. Just its stat line of five mana for a 2/2 lets you know that it's from a different time. There is no doubt as to why R&D felt that they needed to restrict Shirei when it came to its power and toughness, however; Shirei's ability to return any creature with power one or less to the battlefield after it dies is patently ridiculous, and for those of you thinking that the limited card pool is stopping you from doing ridiculous things with Shirei during each and every player's turn, think again!

Top 10 Black PreDH Creatures With Power One or Less

  1. Viscera Seer
  2. Carrion Feeder
  3. Myr Retriever
  4. Reassembling Skeleton
  5. Ornithopter
  6. Silent Arbiter
  7. Disciple of the Vault
  8. Plague Myr
  9. Nightscape Familiar
  10. Leaden Myr

I didn't think I was gonna be here convincing people to brew a mono-black PreDH Shizei Artifacts deck today, but here we are!

7. Omnath, Locus of Mana

(Helms 3,245 Decks, Rank #189; 10,488 Inclusions, 1% of 1,029,842 Decks)

Elfball has been an established archetype since the beginning of Magic, and early EDH was no different. While there are a ton of various Elf commanders you could choose from, like Ezuri, Renegade Leader, Rhys the Exiled, or Eladamri, Lord of Leaves, it's hard to deny the sheer inertia of Omnath, Locus of Mana. Even better, you don't have to be Elf-centric to take advantage of the ludicrous amounts of mana that mono-green can provide, but let's be honest, you're going to be at least Elf-adjacent.

6. Sen Triplets

(Helms 3,247 Decks, Rank #188; 2,241 Inclusions, 1% of 286,121 Decks)

Let's not beat around the bush: Sen Triplets is on the salt list for a reason. People already don't like others handling their cards, taking their stuff, or having so much information out there that the entire board gets decision paralysis. Sen Triplets does all three. With that said, it's also an extremely good source of card advantage, and those that subscribe to the 75% strategy absolutely love beating people with their own stuff.

Just make sure you're giving those lands back at the end of the game, okay?

5. Reaper King

(Helms 3,697 Decks, Rank #157; 2,227 Inclusions, 1% of 153,286 Decks)

There are currently 38 Scarecrows that are legal in Commander. Of those, 25 can be played in PreDH. It's not what you'd call a prolific creature type. However, with an enter-the-battlefield ability as powerful as "destroy target permanent", that creature type could be 'Sponges' and people would still try to play it. It will come as no surprise, then, that almost half of Reaper King's 3,697 decks are not, in fact, Scarecrow decks in so much as they're Changeling decks. Still, even taking into account all of the PreDH Changelings, there's still only 51 creatures that trigger Reaper King's ETB, 21 of which cost more than three mana. Still, you're in five colors, so it's not like you can't find ways of blinking or reanimating "Scarecrows" till you're incidentally playing a land destruction deck.

4. Grand Arbiter Augustin IV

(Helms 3,764 Decks, Rank #152; 16,319 Inclusions, 3% of 493,470 Decks)

Good old fashioned Stax in its purest form. I think Grand Arbiter Augustin IV gets a bad rap, though. If you could play a less annoying Rhystic Study, why wouldn't you?

3. Sliver Overlord

(Helms 4,688 Decks, Rank #100; 5,132 Inclusions, 3% of 153,286 Decks)

If I could present one thing that probably directly led to the creation of the Commander format, it would be Slivers. Players have been obsessed with Slivers since the first day they were printed, and yet they've barely ever been playable in any 60-card format for longer than a few months at a time. How could you know that all of that Sliver goodness was out there and not at least be a little bit interested?

Well, if you are interested, Sliver Overlord was the go-to Sliver leader. With the ability to tutor up just the right effect or keyword for your horde at any time, it can be either a value machine, a combo machine, or both. Although if you are looking to go a strictly combo route, you might peek over at Sliver Queen. It is the original, after all.

2. Marrow-Gnawer

(Helms 6,021 Decks, Rank #67; 3,821 Inclusions, 0% of 1,1149,862 Decks)

A type that people were enthusiastic about before Slivers were even an apple in their spawner's eye, Rats have been looking to swarm since Plague Rats was printed in Alpha. Of course, at that point there was no way to foresee the four-of restriction, much less the later highlander restriction that would come with Commander, which meant that people got an early appetite for playing 20 Swamps and 40 Plague Rats early, and then had the rug swept out from under them. Wizards then printed Pestilence Rats to throw a bone to the Rat enthusiasts, but even a full suite of four Plague Rats, four Bog Rats, and four Pestilence Rats still had you topping out at 12 Rats in your deck, a third of which only worked with each other.

Still, Wizards pressed on, just printing more cheap Rats in an attempt to assuage the Rat fans and make Pestilence Rats worth it. With the now-rotating formats, however, and the Vintage meta being more turn-one combos rather than turn-one Zodiac Rat, something eventually had to give.

Enter Relentless Rats, printed immediately prior to Marrow-Gnawer itself. Now you could return to the good old days of 40 Plague Rats and 20 Swamps, although you might spare a slot for your deck's "commander".

As for PreDH? Well, Rat Colony didn't make the cut, but that's no reason not to go with the old standby of turn-one Dark Ritual into a Relentless Rats.

1. Zur the Enchanter

(Helms 6,921 Decks, Rank #49; 11,466 Inclusions, 4% of 286,121 Decks)

What's better than paying three mana to tutor for a Sliver? Paying no mana to go get any cheap enchantment you want directly onto the battlefield. Whether your bag is Voltron, Stax, Enchantress, or combo, Zur the Enchanter can pull it off. What he might not be able to pull off, however, is not getting you and himself killed the second people see what's in your command zone.

Honorable Mentions

We only managed to sneak three top ten lists into our Top Ten List, so I'd be remiss to not continue on down the line, don't you think?

(The Rest of the) Top 25 PreDH Commanders

11. Child of Alara: 2598 Decks
12. Rafiq of the Many: 2353
13. Wort, the Raidmother: 2325
14. Jhoira of the Ghitu: 2324
15. Uril, the Miststalker: 2244
16. Mayael the Anima: 2223
17. Darien, King of Kjeldor: 2175
18. Ezuri, Renegade Leader: 2140
19. Scion of the Ur-Dragon: 2062
20. Azami, Lady of Scrolls: 2028
21. Glissa, the Traitor: 1939
22. Braids, Conjurer Adept: 1923
23. Phelddagrif: 1856
24. Karona, False God: 1841
25. Oona, Queen of the Fae: 1822

All in all, there's still a ton of options to play in PreDH, and there's some real appeal in making a Commander deck you don't ever have to update. I don't think the format will necessarily catch on among newer Commander players, though. For old heads like me, there's a lot of comfort in being able to get through a list like the one above without really having to look many (or any) of the cards up. That's the comfort that came with slower releases with barely any legends in them. The people who just picked up the format are already comfortable in the wide uncertain world of being completely unaware of what Stenn, Paranoid Partisan does. Go ahead, look him up. He's kinda cool.

What Do You Think?

Let's not overthink this week's poll! There's a lot of excitement about the idea of PreDH, but I honestly wonder how much of it is like the Tiny Leaders waves we saw, where a lot of people talked and not that many played.

Finally, what is your favorite old school commander? If you have played PreDH, what decks did you build? If you're planning on it, which ones intrigue you? While we're at it, should we bring back original EDH and only allow Elder Dragons? The list is getting pretty extensive!

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the replica antique table. It's really old and expensive, we promise.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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