Premodern is a community-created eternal format that uses all but the oldest cards, but none of the cards that debuted after the card frame update from Mirrodin. Why should you play Premodern? Here are the top ten reasons!
10. Not just any border: the old border
There’s a reason why new cards keep getting the old border treatment. It’s a timeless aesthetic for Magic, emphasizing the color of each card that it frames. Black is a bubbling mire, blue elicits waves of the ocean, red feels reminiscent of sandstone walls in a canyon. Premodern decks bring a certain visual uniformity that can be lost in the more experimental looks of today.
It’s worth recognizing that sometimes it’s not feasible to run the old border version of a card. If you have a playset of Polluted Deltas from Khans of Tarkir, no one expects you to shell out $375 for a playset of Onslaught ones.
9. Small but thoughtful ban list
Banning cards is an unfortunate but common topic in contemporary Magic. Premodern has a relatively small banlist, which mainly comprises the most powerful combo cards, like Channel, Mind’s Desire, Memory Jar, and Flash.
However there are a couple of key includes that are worth mentioning. Brainstorm and Force of Will are banned as well, in the interest of fostering an identity apart from Legacy. This contributes to format diversity as well, since players are less likely to be funneled into blue soup decks. Countermagic is still a powerful safety valve on the format, though. Format founder Martin Berlin administers the ban list, with the help of community input.
8. No FIRE design
The recent era of Magic design has left a lasting footprint on every format. FIRE design is responsible for things like Oko, Thief of Crowns, Lurrus of the Dream-Den, Arcum’s Astrolabe, and the Companion mechanic. These kinds of cards have overran formats, resulting in multiple bans and instability.
Premodern doesn’t have these issues, since the card pool is fixed from 1995-2003. Cards might do one or two things, but they don’t get bogged down in the complexity of FIRE design rares like Urza, Lord High Artificer or the Strixhaven deans. Less walls of text, more flavor text.
7. Brewing Potential
There is a lot of brewing that happens in Premodern. Players have refined decks from 20 years ago, and some have created brand new strategies in the present day. A recent opponent of mine was tinkering with an Izzet combo deck that used Frenetic Efreet and Chance Encounter, which they referred to as “Premodern Splinter Twin.” Other people have done things like add Survival of the Fittest to Elves decks, or splashing green in Goblins decks to run Caller of the Claw. Premodern is by no means a solved format, so it enjoys a lot of creativity.
6. Thriving webcam community
Premodern experienced a sizable bump in players during the earlier parts of the pandemic. They had been running MTGO and webcam-based tournaments for years prior. The Premodern Online Play Facebook group is the central hub for tournament play, with monthly events that can bring in over a hundred players from around the world. There are numerous smaller online events, and a growing scene of in-person tournaments. If you can’t travel at the moment, then Premodern gameplay is as easy to reach as your computer.
5. Gold border cards are legal
In most Premodern events, you can play with cards from the World Championship deck series. This allows for significant savings on deck prices, especially from Reserved List cards that got reprinted in the gold border. At time of printing, Survival of the Fittest from Exodus is $264, but the gold border version is just $36. Outside of the financial savings, the gold border adds a particular flair for things like basic lands.
One of the most important aspects of a Magic format is that it’s fun to play. When it comes to Magic gameplay, Premodern is an absolute blast. Matches are a lot of back and forth action, with a variety of answers in your sideboard for decks you come across. An important distinction is the lack of threats that snowball over the course of a game, like Dragon’s Rage Channeler or Omnath, Locus of Creation. An absence of planeswalkers means that players have to rethink how they tune decks and play their spells. When things are more fragile, decisions can feel heavier.
3. Format diversity
Premodern is one of the most diverse Magic formats you could be playing now. In the June monthly tournament, there were 101 total players with 13 different archetypes in the top 16. Players change decks frequently, so you can expect varied play experiences when you lock in for an event. Premodern lacks the numbers of the Arena ladder, so you don’t have a large swathe of players solving the format within a few weeks of a release. Players want to perform well, but they also want to explore new spaces, so that contributes to the rich diversity of the format.
Remember those favorites you know and love? Chances are they have a home in Premodern. In any event, you’ll find people happily sharing stories of their heyday casting Fact or Fiction, Phyrexian Dreadnought, Lightning Angel, Pernicious Deed, and more.
A lot of these cards have been lost to time, being phased out in favor of newer things. That’s not necessarily a failure of Magic, in my opinion, rather a consequence of evolution and progression. If you like the idea of drawing eight cards in the Accumulated Knowledge mirror, then you’ve found your place.
1. Lack of rotation
Recently, I got back from a 15-month road trip around the US. I played my last monthly in the Spring of 2021, and picked it back up in September of 2022. Thankfully, the format was right where I left it. The makeup of each deck shifted a bit as players tried new things, but I didn’t need to buy any new cards. I made some tweaks, shuffled up, and was back in it.
This is unlike Modern, where I’m looking at about $200-worth of cards to get updated into 2022. Eternal formats were long sold as the place to pick your deck and play it for years on end. But the rate of new power coming down the pipe has sadly made that notion obsolete. You could be at the top of the meta playing Humans or Storm in Modern, and then be completely off the tier list a few years later. If your deck is playable in Premodern now, it’ll be playable five years from now. Wherever you go, whatever you do, your old favorites will always be living in Premodern.
Travis is a writer and photographer from the wooded foothills of New York, currently living in South Carolina. He plays nearly every Magic format, but has a special love for Legacy, Premodern, and Canadian Highlander. He has loved Magic since Starter 1999, but he champions having a healthy mental and financial relationship with the game. When not playing games, he enjoys cycling, tea, and dog parks. You can follow his exploits here on Twitter and Instagram.