Over the last couple years I've enjoyed talking about PreDH - or Classic Commander, as I've called it - quite a bit. It's been a fantastic way to recapture a nostalgic period for myself as a player while appealing to the broader Commander format as a whole. After all, PreDH - basically New Phyrexia backwards - is fully compatible with modern day Commander, so you can either play it within its own contained setting or with your friends who just picked up Magic yesterday. That gives this sub-format a lot of interesting range and depth that makes it fun to explore.
Up until now, I've largely done deck techs focusing on specific cards. I intend to keep those up, but right now, PreDH is quite hot and gaining a decent amount of traction following some love from the Commander Rules Committee and their Discord server! As such, I wanted to focus less on one specific Commander and talk instead about a bunch of really great choices and what makes them so fun to play. We're going to be covering roughly ten options along the way, though a couple will include multiple legends simply because they fulfill similar roles to one another.
Ready? Let's dive on in!
Atogatog is pretty much the crystallization of a legend who is downright perfect for PreDH but struggles tremendously in a modern Commander setting. This might surprise some people, but there's actually only eleven atogs ever printed besides this one, with the last one being Megatog. This obviously excludes changelings, but in all frankness, adding some of those to the mix isn't exactly making Atogatog a total powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination. As a result, this odd legend originally intended for the unreleased Unglued 2 is at a really low power level but is also really fun. That makes it a perfect fit for this version of Commander where the average strength is much lower, allowing it to make for a really enjoyable romp at the kitchen table or LGS.
Borborygmos and Stonebrow, Krosan Hero
Do you like eschewing complex and intricate gameplay ideas in favor of just simple beating face? Borborygmos is going to be a card that works really well for you then! He's big and tough to get out, but really rewards you for attacking regularly by buffing up your entire board over time. Along a similar vein is Stonebrow, Krosan Hero. Whereas Borborygmos encourages you to ramp up and go wide, Stonebrow instead encourages you to focus on something a little more simple: creatures with trample. As it happens, that's a lot of creatures in Red and Green, and you can easily grant trample as well with the aid of cards like Brawn and Primal Rage. While both commanders are of a more simplistic style, that lends itself to a myriad of ways to play them, making them great and accessible options for players.
Chisei, Heart of Oceans
Chisei, Heart of Oceans is one of the more peculiar creatures on this list, but that's why I like it. There's an interesting deck-building puzzle with this one. A 4/4 flier is actually quite good stat-wise for PreDH power level, and while there's a lot of cards that you actually want to add counters to, removing them is also quite excellent. Consider something like cumulative upkeep effects. Normally this is a huge problem because the costs get too high to manage but with Chisei, you can remove the age counters to keep that upkeep requirement low. You can also remove -1/-1 counters from creatures, which is helpful with persist cards like Glen Elendra Archmage and Cauldron of Souls. These are just a couple examples, but it's a unique commander that requires you to think outside the box a little bit, making it a truly rewarding experience to build around.
Darigaaz, the Igniter
Darigaaz is another more combat focused creature, but he's a bit different than the likes of Borborygmos or Stonebrow. In both of those cases, it's clear you're trying to focus your efforts on filling your board and going for big attacks. Darigaaz is far more linear, focusing on getting the dragon down quick and attacking opponents. With any luck, you should deal not just some strong commander damage, but also get your opponents with small incremental damage from the triggered ability as well. Damage doublers, ramp spells, extra combat steps - there're plenty of ways to make this work, and just as many ways to make it a deck all your own.
Ghost Council of Orzhova and Teysa, Orzhov Scion
I contemplated wanting to utilize either Ghost Council or Teysa for this list, because they're both great. In the end, though, I felt they both covered very similar ground in using Orzhov-based sacrificing to do a variety of potent effects. Both cards were very strong during their time in Standard and that tenure continued well beyond with Commander. Since both are so similar, though, you can easily play them in the same deck and even utilize them as alternating commanders with ease. This provides a very fun take on sacrifice decks that's been tremendously popular for years, and it's a great way to check out what PreDH has to offer and still be able to hang with more modern crowds at the same time.
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
I actually wrote about Isamaru last year and people clearly loved it! It was CoolStuffInc's most read Commander article of February 2022 at a time when other big new commanders were dropping from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, making it clear people can't get enough of the little pooch! The beauty of Isamaru is that it's simple and elegant. A one-mana 2/2 is what you make of it. Do you want to focus on pumping it up? Maybe using it as part of a greater White Weenies strategy? Perhaps just some Mono-White good stuff? It's about as blank of a slate as you can get and is one you can just as easily build up out of a pile of bulk rares as you can the cream of the crop. It also happens to be another great option for holding up against modern Commander lists too, making it an excellent option no matter your level of skill with the format or the game as a whole.
Isperia the Inscrutable
Isperia is super unique because she plays in a space we don't often see in Commander: flying matters. The bulk of the time, you're not going to do a whole ton with Isperia. It takes several turns to get her out, attack, and oftentimes to start figuring out what's in your opponents' hands. You can use some cards like the traditionally bad Telepathy and Sunglasses of Urza to help you out, but otherwise you'll be playing a guessing game until you hit just right and dig up whatever flier you need for a given situation. This puts a lot of emphasis on a keyword that doesn't always get a ton of love, providing you with a cool way to craft your list and to play something a little different. You can also build it in a number of ways too, either focusing all-in on the fliers aspect or play a control game until you're able to dig out your big game ending cards like, say, Akroma, Angel of Wrath.
Jolrael, Empress of Beasts
Everyone loves playing lands, and no one loves doing so more than Jolrael. Play a bunch of lands, make a bunch of creatures, what's not to love? Combine her with ramp spells out the wazoo and make use of cards like Life from the Loam and Crucible of Worlds to get back whatever you toss away. Best of all, she's quite easy to build on a budget as your typical ramp effects are quite cheap and you don't need much in the way of fancy nonbasic lands, meaning anyone can play her. With some healthy overrun pump effects, occasional recursion, and additional redundancy for animating your lands, Jolrael is an extremely accessible option that's guaranteed to be a great time!
Wort, the Raidmother
As I worked on this list I couldn't help but feel like Gruul was maybe a touch overrepresented, but don't let Wort's colors fool you! Red and Green together often feel like a heavily aggressive strategy, but Wort has a little more nuance behind her. At the end of the day, yes, you're still going to be playing a lot of creatures and still going to be going for a bunch of ramp spells, pump spells, and burn spells. After all, that's a big limitation of those colors. However, Wort rewards you for balancing your spells and your creatures by allowing you to copy spells by using your extra creatures. Casting a Rampant Growth? Double it. How about a Chord of Calling? Get another one. Comet Storm? Absolutely no brakes on the value train where we're heading! Wort, the Raidmother takes the traditional way Gruul decks often play and turns them on their heads, providing a cheap and innovative way to pilot these colors and in turn making for a really interesting Commander experience.
Wrexial, the Risen Deep
What makes Wrexial so much fun is that, once again, it's just got so many ways you can build around it! It basically just rewards you for playing Magic because your opponents are almost assuredly going to be playing instants and sorceries, meaning there's always going to be fuel for you to dig from. You can always add in some mill if you want to get it going even more, but it's far from essential. You can then build it in a ton of different ways. You can focus on that aforementioned mill angle, or you can build it as a control deck, or perhaps a thievery kind of list. Even just a generic Dimir creature good stuff build is fine enough. It's a very easy to build and simple to play Commander that's almost assuredly going to give you a fresh experience every single game, and in my opinion that's always critical for a satisfying time.
That wraps things up for this week, and I hope you were able to discover some cool and interesting commanders to build around. In truth, I genuinely had a hard time narrowing down the choices. There's a number of so-so options when it comes to the PreDH days of the format, but there's also a lot of cool and interesting choices as well - so much I could barely contain this to a single article! As such, I'll be back next week with another batch of awesome build-around PreDH commanders for you to work with. Which ones are you hoping make the cut?