Last updated on August 16, 2023
Recurring Nightmare | Illustration by Jeff Laubenstein
Lately, a lot of players have found themselves a bit frustrated with the state of Magic’s official formats. With more products being designed strictly for eternal formats, we’re starting to realize that Modern and Commander are no longer fulfilling their initial promises of allowing us to continue playing with the same decks that we enjoy indefinitely. But if you’re looking for a truly eternal format that doesn’t have to worry about rotations or new meta-warping cards being printed specifically for it, Premodern is the format for you.
Premodern, as the name suggests, focuses on cards printed before the modern Magic card frame was introduced in 2003. The format also ignores some of the game’s earlier sets, meaning it’s more accessible than formats that include true dual lands or the Power 9. Premodern is a great in-between format for players who want more stability in their metas while also having a large enough card pool to play around in and get creative.
If the idea of playing a format that isn’t constantly changing sounds appealing, Premodern may be right for you. I’ll go through exactly how the format works and which cards you can and can’t play, then preview a few deck archetypes to give you an idea of what you might see in the Premodern.
Bearscape | Illustration by Heather Hudson
Premodern is a Magic format created by Martin Berlin with the hopes of recapturing the feeling of old-school Magic. The format uses cards printed into Standard between 1995 and 2003 so long as they have the old card frame. Although Eighth Edition and Mirrodin were both printed in 2003, they aren’t legal in Premodern because they have the modern card frame.
Mindstab Thrull | Illustration by Mark Tedin
Premodern is for players looking to play with some of the older Magic cards that have either fallen out of favor due to power creep or that have been banned in eternal formats due to interactions with newer cards. This might be players who are looking to relive the earlier days of the game or players who simply want to try out a new meta that’s very different from other existing formats.
Because the format uses cards that might not necessarily see play in other formats, it’s also possible for Premodern decks to be competitive while not being overly expensive. In fact, some top-tier decks even come in under $200. Players looking for a nice mid-budget format that doesn’t rotate can also enjoy Premodern.
Frozen Shade | Illustration by DiTerlizzi
The sets that are legal in Premodern start with Fourth Edition and end with Scourge. Only sets that were Standard-legal during that time frame are legal in Premodern, meaning promo cards aren’t included.
The full list of legal sets is:
- Classic Sixth Edition
- Fourth Edition
- Fifth Edition
- Ice Age
- Mercadian Masques
- Seventh Edition
- Urza’s Destiny
- Urza’s Legacy
- Urza’s Saga
Nefarious Lich | Illustration by Jerry Tiritilli
Premodern is a 60-card Constructed deck format. The format uses the same rules as most Constructed formats, the only difference being the pool of cards used to create decks. The format has its own ban list that players must follow. Players are allowed to use reprints of cards from these sets even if they’re printed in a modern frame.
There’s no official policy about gold-bordered cards from the MTG Pro Tour or World Championship Decks in Premodern. Instead, whether these cards are legal at a tournament is up to the individual organizers who put the events together. If you’re going to participate in a Premodern event, make sure to check with the planners ahead of time so you know what you can and can’t use.
Demonic Consultation | Illustration by Rob Alexander
Premodern has a moderately sized ban list for a format covering a smaller slice of Magic’s history. The currently banned cards are:
- Amulet of Quoz
- Bronze Tablet
- Demonic Consultation
- Force of Will
- Goblin Recruiter
- Grim Monolith
- Jeweled Bird
- Land Tax
- Mana Vault
- Memory Jar
- Mind Twist
- Mind's Desire
- Mystical Tutor
- Strip Mine
- Tempest Efreet
- Tendrils of Agony
- Time Spiral
- Timmerian Fiends
- Tolarian Academy
- Vampiric Tutor
- Worldgorger Dragon
- Yawgmoth's Bargain
- Yawgmoth's Will
It’s worth noting that Premodern’s ban list was updated as recently as July 15, 2023. It’s a good idea to keep checking in on the format’s official site to make sure you’re up to date with which cards are allowed to be played.
Naturalize | Illustration by Tim Hildebrandt
If you’re looking to play Premodern, you have a few options. The easiest way to find places to play is probably through the Premodern Discord server, or the Premodern Online Play Facebook group. The Premodern Magic Twitter account also frequently retweets announcements of in-person tournaments.
Some Premodern is played online via MTGO or free clients like Xmage or Cockatrice. Other Premodern events take place in person, like the North American Premodern Championship that took place at Lobstercon this year.
It’s also worth checking if any of your local stores have anything set up for Premodern. While a lot of stores stick to officially sanctioned Wizards formats, it isn’t totally unheard of for an LGS to have a Premodern event. If you live in an area with multiple stores, it’s possible one might want to set itself apart by offering unique formats like this one. Premodern’s official website provides a list of location-based Facebook Premodern groups that will make it easier to find events in your home country.
Grim Lavamancer | Illustration by Michael Sutfin
A Premodern deck that immediately caught my eye was the Stiflenought deck. These decks revolve around casting Phyrexian Dreadnought then avoiding its ETB trigger. This can be done by casting Stifle to counter the ability or Vision Charm to simply phase Phyrexian Dreadnought out, allowing the trigger to resolve without it affecting the creature.
The deck also includes Fling, so if you have 3 mana open you can simply fling the dreadnought at your opponent for a massive amount of damage.
Blastoderm | Illustration by Nils Hamm
There have been a few different decks from a variety of formats called The Rock over the years. The Premodern version itself has a couple of different iterations. The one I prefer utilizes Recurring Nightmare along with cards like Deranged Hermit and Blastoderm which would usually be weaker due to their limited time on the field. Recurring Nightmare helps you get more value out of these creatures.
Cards like Duress and Cabal Therapy give you options for disruption, and Pernicious Deed is a solid form of removal. These cards allow you to keep your opponent at bay long enough to take them out with your decently-sized attackers.
Duress | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Starting a new format can be intimidating, especially if you’re a newer player looking to get into a format full of older cards from before you started playing. Luckily, Premodern doesn’t have as massive a barrier of entry as some other formats.
If you’re looking for a good starter deck, The Rock deck that I’ve discussed is a pretty good place to start. It does pretty well against multiple types of decks, and on average only costs around $140-$180. It also utilizes cards like Duress and Naturalize which have been reprinted so often that you may already have a few lying around.
Premodernmagic.com also lists a 4-color control deck as an example of a deck you could play. This deck includes cards like Swords to Plowshares, [cards]Wrath of God[/card], and Counterspell that see play in other formats like Commander. A deck like this would mean you weren’t investing fully in cards that you might end up having no use for; you can repurpose them if you don’t end up playing Premodern all that often or just want to try it out.
For a comprehensive guide on how best to get started in the format from a financial aspect, check out this article by Felix Kämmler posted on the official Premodern blog.
When it comes to how to get started actually playing the format, I’d suggest using a free client like Xmage or Cockatrice. This allows you to test out the format and some of its popular decks without having to invest money. It’s also going to be easier for you to find people to play with than it might be trying to find an in-person event.
As an unofficial format, there are no products made by Wizards of the Coast that are made explicitly to support Premodern.
Auramancer | Illustration by Rebecca Guay
The Premodern site was kind enough to do the legwork for players looking to find a community for the format. They have links to several online groups, the Discord server, and the Premodern subreddit. Any community you may need for Premodern can be found there.
An additional Premodern-focused place to check out is Czech Premodern, a group that holds tournaments and frequently tweets deck lists, deckbuilding ideas, or updates about the format. They also have a YouTube channel where you can watch games between notable players who are into Premodern.
A few professional players who have been promoting the format are Sam Black and Petr Sochůrek. Petr can be seen playing on the Czech Premodern YouTube Channel, and Sam writes for Hipsters of the Coast about the format and other Magic related topics.
And of course, Draftsim’s Discord is a great place to find fellow Magic players and discuss the formats that interest you!
Hydroblast | Illustration by Kaja Foglio
Your best bet for finding a place to play Premodern online is through one of the communities linked above or by keeping an eye on the Premodern Twitter account. The unfortunate truth for paper players is that it’s likely easier to find a place to play this format digitally since many local stores prioritize formats that Wizards supports officially.
That said, if you have a dedicated playgroup and a local store that does open play, you can always try and get a local scene started. There are a lot of selling points for Premodern, whether it’s the lack of rotation or the lower price tag. It probably wouldn’t be too hard to get your friends or some local players on board with playing some casual games.
Yavimaya Elder | Illustration by Matt Cavotta
Premodern is a great way to experience some old-school Magic without having to invest too much money. It’s also a relatively stable format, so players who don’t want to keep building new decks or buying new cards can be relatively secure just building a deck they like and sticking with it for a while.
It’s certainly not a format for everyone, and a lot of players enjoy the challenge of adapting to new metas or incorporating new cards into their decks. Even if you want a mixture, Premodern is relatively easy to pick up just for some casual games without needing to invest too much time or money into keeping up with it. This makes it a good format to play on the side if you just need a break from the regular fare.
Are you interested in checking out Premodern? What other unofficial formats do you enjoy? Would Premodern get recognized by Wizards be good or bad for the format? Let me know in the comments or over on Draftsim’s Twitter.
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