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The Post-Spike World of Commander '95

Hello folks!

I hope you are having a good day today.

Today I want to talk a little bit about a topic that is uncomfortable for many of you out there — the Reserve List spikes and, particularly, how it has hit one of my pet Commander formats, Commander ’95.

A few years ago, I created a sub-format of Commander called Commander ’95 that only used cards that were initially printed up through 1995 — All of the sets through, and including, Homelands, as well as the promo cards. (Retaining the current Commander Banned list)

The goal of this format was to allow people to embrace the early days of the format. Unlike formats such as Old School, this one encouraged you to play with cheap modern printings in order to save money. You don’t need an Arabian Nights Rukh Egg, you can just run the bulk rare from Eighth Edition. Many of the cards from this era were reprinted in cheap forms, and only cards on the Reserve list were unprinted. Many of the best casual cards that were legal hadn’t spiked and were still very cheap. Want to run Sedge Troll? At the time, a Revised Sedge Troll was still at bulk rare prices. Even an expensive Preacher would have been ten bucks.

Well, that time has come and gone.

We are now living in a Post Reserve List Spike World. And that means that cards that never should have spiked have, in fact, spiked. Given the small number of cards in Commander ’95, doesn’t that mean that the format has gotten a whole lot more pricey?

A little, sure!

But many of the most onerous prices among cards from this era aren’t with cards that are often twinned with Commander (like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale) or were always so pricey that they were never a budget option (such as Diamond Valley). Some of them are even banned.

That leaves a number of solid cards that are eminently replaceable as options.

One thing that Commander ’95 had in droves was a surprising amount of depth. In fact, I penned five or six articles for Commander ’95 in its debut year because of how interesting everything was. If you can’t afford the cost of Preacher anymore, that’s fine, it’s replaceable. The same is true of many other cards.

But the great news is that the clear majority of quality stuff is still super-cheap somewhere, and we’ll take a look at that in a bit.

I also want to show you two of my current builds that I keep to play against each other and to show off the format. One is Chromium goodstuff, and the other is Mono-Red controlled by Eron the Relentless.



Magic is about swinging into the red zone, right? Right!

And what’s great is that most of the dorks that you want to play are not reserved and have been reprinted again and again.

Shivan Dragon

Take the first set. All of its heavy hitters are things like Shivan Dragon, Serra Angel, Hypnotic Specter, Juggernaut, Sengir Vampire, Cockatrice, Birds of Paradise, Llanowar Elves, Clone, Royal Assassin, and more. Very few major creatures are reserved and cannot be reprinted.

Kird Ape

Even Arabian Nights has cheap options like Erhnam Djinn, Serendib Efreet, Kird Ape, and Sorceress Queen that are strong, against a handful of useful Juzam and similar stuff.

You have creatures like Fallen Angel, Triskelion, Atog, the Chronicles reprinted legendary creatures, all of the good commons/uncommons from later sets and more.

Sol'kanar the Swamp King

Plus, the Reserve List stuff from Ice Age, Fallen Empires and Homelands hasn’t spiked. So, the vast majority of creatures are either cheap reserved list stuff, like Baron Sengir, or unreserved, like Ihsan's Shade.

Autumn Willow

In fact, I’d say of the top 50 creatures that are in Commander ‘95, only about 7 have spiked appreciably. (Preacher, Vesuvan Doppelganger, Juzam Djinn, Ifh-Biff Efreet, Adun Oakenshield, Angus Mackenzie, and Argivian Archaeologist). The rest have cheap versions (Serendib Efreet), aren’t that powerful (like King Suleiman), or are cheap despite reservations (Autumn Willow). That’s good news for you!


Another thing this format is all about is stopping folks. What is available?

For counters, we have a limited number available. Most are weak, like Spell Blast, Memory Lapse, or Power Sink. Only Counterspell and Mana Drain are good. And Mana Drain has always been pricey, there is nothing new there. So, I guess, welcome to the club, right?

Mana Drain

For pinpoint removal, we have the expected answers like Red’s ton of burn, and effects like Swords to Plowshares, Dark Banishing, Disenchant, or Detonate. The best pinpoint removal spell, by far, is Desert Twister. The vast majority of pinpoint removal isn’t rare, and when it is, it’s still not reserved, such as Broken Visage.

Desert Twister
Swords to Plowshares

Don’t sleep on mass removal either. Everything from Shatterstorm to Tranquility is on the table. There is more mass removal that you may realize, the vast majority of which is not reserved.

You get the idea. The best spells here are Disk, Inferno and Wrath of God.

Don’t forget Inferno!


Only Hellfire is reserved, and the rest of these cards are available for seriously cheap buck-age.

Powerhouses of the Casual Format

There are a good number of non-creature powerhouses in the format, and it’s important to know what they are so you can prepare to use or stop them, and many of them are freely available without concern of cash.

One of the key things to understand is that enchantments are much more powerful here. They are the most powerful permanents in the format, they were poorly dialed back, and they are hard to answer. For example, want to destroy an enchantment? Then you have very few options. Disenchant. Tranquility and Essence Flare. Arenson's Aura. Desert Twister . . .  And that’s it. Not even mass removal hits enchantments, save for Nevinyrral's Disk. Even Jokulhaups leaves them behind. Key enchantments, such as Sylvan Library, Land Tax, Necropotence, and many more are very powerful.


Now, some of these are powerful and expensive. Moat. The Abyss. But these are not the norm. They are very much the exception. And you can destroy an Enchant World by playing another. I use good enchant worlds to kill these nastier ones. You’ll see stuff like Koskun Falls or Concordant Crossroads get played all of the time to kill something nasty. Go away Nether Void!

Lands are also among the most powerful lands ever printed, as any follower of this game would know. And they have spiked more than anything. Lands from this era are too powerful (Mishra's Workshop, Library of Alexandria), too hard to answer (The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale) and more. Despite these heavy costs and powers, some cards here are already banned in Commander, and others aren’t nearly as good in Commander then they are in 60 card duel decks. For example, Bazaar of Baghdad is a whole lot weaker since it’s a source of card disadvantage. And other cards are weakened by only having one of 100, such as Strip Mine.

Strip Mine

That means there are still lands, and you should include answers if your colors permit, but they are not the end of the conversation. I like to run cards like Strip Mine, Fissure, and Conquer, in order deal with lands.

Artifacts are all over, but there are a lot of misses. Still, four of the five fastest mana rocks legal in Commander are also available in Commander ’95, which increases your speed and consistency. (Sol Ring, Mana Vault, Basalt Monolith, Mana Crypt — Only Grim Monolith isn’t legal).

Sol Ring

It’s still Sol Ring! You are going to want them!

You have key cards like Fellwar Stone, Jayemdae Tome, Jalum Tome, that are useful, as well as graveyard fighting of Tormod's Crypt, the life-gaining of Zuran Orb or Ivory Tower, as well as everything from Jester's Cap to Skull of Orm and many cards in between there are lots of artifact options to help your decks work.

So many cheap reprints available for these things!

Jalum Tome
Fellwar Stone

The good thing is that Blue doesn’t have many hard counters, and Black/White don’t have a lot of creature sweepers, so you can rely on getting your stuff to hit the board pretty regularly, so you want answers badly. And they tend to be pinpoint.

Also, one quick note. We found that the difference in quality between the consensus “good stuff” of the era and the “next stuff” of the era is actually not that deep, especially when playing. In any format with limited card selection, that’s will be a natural and key distinction. Modern Commander “good stuff” is the best few hundred cards out of almost 15,000 pieces. That’s true quality! Here the top few hundred cards of the roughly 1451 cards out there isn’t as distinct.

That means this format is a whole lot deeper than you’d think, and there are tons of powerful and strong cards available beyond the big stars and powerful reserved stuff.

You have utility cards like Conch Horn, tutors like Altar of Bone and Demonic Tutor, creatures of considerable interest such as Nightmare and Tetravus or Paralyze to shut them down. We have Scaled Wurm and Wall of Ice. We have burn in Blue (Psionic Blast) and discard in Green (Stunted Growth) and Fogs in Red (which I will abuse later in my Mono-Red deck . . . ) and more.

Conch Horn

Want to beat with The Wretched or toss Thrull Retainer on something to keep it alive from your Inferno? Want to have an artifact themed deck with cards like Argivian Archaeologist or Transmute Artifact? You can use stuff like Barbed Sextant or the aforementioned Conch Horn. Want to tap Demonic Hordes?

Thrull Retainer
The Wretched

Want to swing with a giant Dakkon Blackblade? Want to make a bunch of mana with Rasputin Dreamweaver? Want to force someone to discard their hand with a hit from His Majesty, Nicol Bolas himself? Then this format has a lot of fun stuff to proffer.

And luckily, the reserve List Spike hasn’t hurt as bad as you might initially have feared.

Okay time for decks!

This deck is not designed for the Commander ’95 metagame. It’s meant to be ashowpiece to bring new players in. If we were running it, then I’d have swapped in Sibilant Spirit, Arenson's Aura, Dancing Scimitar, and perhaps Glacial Wall.

In addition to pure good stuff, this deck also has a little “Steal N Sac” theme going on. It wants to steal stuff, and then sacrifice them to a few effects and then keep on sacrificing.

The key stealing effects are Preacher, Seasinger, and Old Man of the Sea. Tap and steal something, then sacrifice it and untap and steal something else! We do have other stealing effects such as Ray of Command, Control Magic, and Binding Grasp to bring that creature right on over to your side. Feel encouraged to Steal Artifact and bring that artifact dork on over to your side as well.

Some of the sacrifice effects are City of Shadows, Fallen Angel, and Diamond Valley.

Eron the Relentless

If you wanted to push this theme you could look at stuff like Krovikan Vampire or The Wretched. Want to add in Sword of the Ages, Gate to Phyrexia, Hell's Caretaker, Life Chisel, or Skull Catapult?


Again, this is not teched up for the Commander ’95 metagame, or else I’d slide in stuff like Walking Wall and Word of Blasting. The good thing about Mono-Red is that you can put in every burn spell that’s good. Also, see the cool combo of Snow-Covered Mountains with Sunstone and Glacial Crevasses as Fog effects to stall people when they swing hard at you. This deck also features multiple answers to multiple issues in Commander ’95 (and elsewhere). Lands! Stone Rain, Conquer, Fissure, Orcish Squatters, and more are answers to lands, and I didn’t have any extra copies of Strip Mine or else it would have been tossed in as well.

I don’t own an extra copy of Fork or Wheel of Fortune, hence their absence here. The same is true of Strip Mine.

Here are a couple of quick pics of my decks sort of splayed out for you on my couch. Enjoy!

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