CottonRhetoric's picture
By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Jul 25 2023 11:48am

Are you old? Do you love playing old cards? Since you're reading a site for MtGO and not Arena I assume yes.

Have I got a format for you! It's called Premodern and it's by far my favorite constructed format, covering the era of Magic I know and love best. I am here to spread the gospel to y'all.


Lightning Angel  Priest of Titania  Cursed Scroll



Included are the sets from 1995's 4th Edition through 2003's Scourge—all the old-bordered cards after the first few sets. A mere 32 cards are banned.

Omitting the first few sets may seem odd, but it's for balance reasons. Old sets are marked by absurdly broken cards, the kind that irreparably warp formats. It's either cut those sets or have a very long banlist.

As for the non-broken cards we're missing from those sets—we're not missing much. The ones that aren't broken are either unplayably bad (think Aisling Leprechaun) or reprinted in a Premodern-legal set (ArmageddonCity of Brass, et al.—4th Edition and Chronicles do the heavy lifting here). Surprisingly few medium-level cards are blocked out. OK, we're missing Transmute Artifact... but we do have the real Tinker, and unrestricted at that! (If you're thinking Tinker is itself a broken card... not in this format it isn't. There's nothing broken to fetch with it.)

The format has 5,374 legal cards—over double standard's cardpool of 2,208, and over five times Old School's 975 cards. (Online Old School has even less, as many of those 975 aren't on MtGO.) Premodern is a brewer's paradise. And if you don't like brewing, the internet has you covered there too.


Flooded Strand  Ancient Tomb  Mox Diamond



Price list for a typical premodern deck.

"Aren't those old cards expensive?" Frankly no. Not online at least. Since this is a casual format, and since most of its best cards aren't powerful in any sanctioned formats, nearly all are in the 3–20 cents range. Cards that used to dominate the Pro Tour—now 3–20 cents each.

Nearly all of this format's cost comes from its mana. Mox Diamond, Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, the fetchlands, Wasteland, Lotus Petal, and so on. If a deck costs $80, usually $76 of it is from the mana.


#1, You may already have the mana from other formats, meaning you'll only have to spend a few bucks buying the rest of the deck.

#2, If you do buy these lands/artifacts, they get reused in a lot of other premodern decks. (And non-premodern ones. There's a reason they're so expensive.)

#3, Many decks don't need them at all. Premodern has tons of budget decks that are fully competitive, and even budget versions of expensive decks. Not to mention... it's a casual format, so there is less drive to be fully competitive.


Oath of Druids  Psychatog  Phyrexian Dreadnought



Surprisingly diverse. Aggro, midrange, control, combo—they're all viable and in many different forms.

What decks are best depends on who you ask, and there is understandably not a lot of tournament data, but popular answers include Oath of Druids, Goblins, Hermit Druid, Burn, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Stasis, Psychatog, and Elves.

After that are Terravore, GB midrange, UW control, WB value, Enchantress, Standstill, U storm, madness, artifact control, B discard, reanimator, Replenish, Astral Slide, Threshold, Altar of Dementia combo, Fires of Yavimaya, G stompy, Merfolk, R control, land destruction, Survival of the Fittest, BW value, zoo, and dozens more. You even have oddball decks like "Draco Blast," a BR midrange deck that can also close things out with Insidious Dreams into Erratic Explosion and Draco. Come on, where else can you see things like that!

Even within each item on that list are tons of options. I wrote "Terravore)" as a deck type, but that itself covers GR Raze Terravore, GR value Threshold Terravore, GW Armageddon Terravore, Oath of Druids and Sphere of Resistance Terravore... you get the idea.

And those are only the good decks! This is also a format surprisingly welcoming of casual decks and wonky brews. Why just this morning I played a deck based on pingers, Curiosity, and Death Pits of Rath; yesterday I ran a Merieke Ri Berit / Sands of Time combo. Really, the sky is the limit. Take whatever pet cards you want and start jamming. Speaking of which...


Terravore  Devastating Dreams  Argothian Enchantress



There are two types of brewing, and premodern enables both.

One is tinkering with existing decks. For instance, I mentioned BW value (AKA "Deadguy Ale") is a popular archetype. It's been long established to run 4 Hypnotic Specter and 4 Dark Ritual. Obviously. Like what are you doing if not running black's best cards? But after years of this, people started wondering if the deck wouldn't be better without the Dark Rituals. Your opportunity to get a turn one Hypnotic Specter is gone... but you're also lowering your odds of getting 2-for-1'd, increasing your threat density, and setting up a better long game—all of which align with a value deck's goals.

The other is just making up brand new brews. This format has so many buried gems from bygone years with high potential but little success or attention. Tradewind Rider had its day in standard... first I made a deck around that, & then I noticed a remarkably similar card in Keeper of the Nine Gales and built a bird tribal control deck around it. It wasn't "good" exactly but it was fun and certainly went off in some games. And since there are no sanctioned tournaments, it's OK to play decks that aren't tournament viable!

Maybe you notice Hunting Grounds and are allured by its potential. OK it may not be as good as Oath of Druids, but why not experiment with it a little? Try building a control deck around it, then try building a turbo deck. Or maybe you want to see how viable Magnivore is without Eye of Nowhere, or how far Orcish Lumberjack can be pushed, or if Pattern of Rebirth has any legs. Is Turbo Fog possible? What about just Constant Mists prison? Try it out!


Hunting Grounds  Keeper of the Nine Gales  Orcish Lumberjack



If we're playing with old sets, it means we're confined to the design philosophies of the time. Some implications of that:

1, Mana fixing is not easy; we have Flooded Strand but no Tundra or Hallowed Fountain to get with it. It's fetching only basics. And there are no enemy color fetchlands at all! Sliver Queen might be in the cardpool, but you probably aren't casting it without a Crystal Quarry. The only way to make a five-color deck work is if it's one base color with four splashes (growatog being the most competitive example). I'll put it this way: the mana fixing is so light that some two-color decks run City of Brass.

2, The color pie was different then. Counterspells and removal were better, but drawing and lifegain were worse. Red doesn't yet have the rummaging or "cast this turn" cards we're now used to. White doesn't have universal exiling, green doesn't have haste or indestructible, and so on.

3, High-end cards were much tamer. We have access to Natural Order, Oath of Druids, Reanimate, and Tinker, but no Craterhoof Behemoth, Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Griselbrand, or Blightsteel Colossus to go with them. In premodern, high-end creatures look like Phantom Nishoba and Spirit of the Night.

4, Tron lands are available, but no Expedition Map or Sylvan Scrying to assemble them and no bomb 7-drops to ramp into. We have Impulse to assemble, and upper end like Decree of Justice and Masticore.

These restrictions aren't good or bad—just things to remember while brewing.


Phantom Nishoba  Decree of Justice  Masticore



One thing I appreciate about the format is the people who play it. They're surprisingly friendly and supportive. Nearly all the MtGO chat interactions are positive. Multiple times I asked someone if I could see their decklist after the match, and they've always said yes. Not to mention, the premodern Discord is quite active and just as supportive. So many people there are eager to review whatever brew you came up with and offer feedback. (As someone who's stayed mostly to limited leagues, this all came as quite a shock.)

Spikes: you'll be happy to hear there is a competitve scene too. Fan-operated leagues run once a month pitting you against the other spikes, including even a few big names.


So! Give it a try. You might even face me and one of my wonky brews and get an easy win.