I’ve written about Old School 93/94 before. I’ve written about Elder Dragon Highlander (“EDH”)/Commander/Brawl before. But I’ve never written about this format: Old School Brawl. The article that precipitated my article here was none other than DFB’s article: Old School Brawl — a 93/94 Commander variant — The Sentinel. After some very light research, it looks like Magnus de Laval got to it much earlier, as early as last year on February 22, 2017: Old School Mtg: Old School Commander. Discussion got going in a local Facebook group, New England Old School MTG (93/94), and now here we are! I highly suggest that you read those two articles for the rules. Let’s meet our contestants!
I. The Card Pool.
The Gatherer link for all 985 cards printed from ’93 through ’94 can be found here. The pool is so limited that, if you want to play certain color combinations, you’re limited to a choice between as many as seven Commanders or as few as one!
I know that the Brawl format is meant for 1v1, but I’m going to assume that these decks are being used in a multiplayer setting for maximum fun. I checked to Google if any of the Commanders had be errata’d to relevant creature types (“Tribes”), but I accidentally ended up on Tribal Legacy‘s bandcamp listening to their track “93-94.” How about that. Fun fact: they’re certainly talented, just not for me.
(Edit: Thanks to Redditors /u/TeddyR3X and /u/jello1990 for pointing out that, regardless of whether I was mistaken or that the Join the Brawl article was edited, the article explicitly states that Brawl is meant for multiplayer!)
II. Monocolored Commanders.
Anyways, first up are the nine exceptions to the Legendary rule. The actors known for their star roles in the worst sitcom ever, “Eight Humans, an Ouphe, and a Pizza Place,” are: Abu Ja’far, King Suleiman, Sindbad (gotcha!), El-Hajjâj, Uncle Istvan, Ali Baba, Ali from Cairo, Aladdin, and Niall Silvain.
If you want to play Mono Green, Mono Blue, or Mono Black, your options are very limited. You’d probably be better off choosing a multicolored Commander and then just never casting them! Arguably, Uncle Istvan might be the only playable one unless you are counting on Sindbad to fill your graveyard. At least Uncle Istvan is a sweet blocker. El-Hajjaj was one of the many legendary creatures errata’d to be a Wizard, a creature type which recently got some love in Dominaria, but that doesn’t matter in Old School Brawl.
Uncle Istvan and Sindbad are also among the Fourth Edition, Chronicles, and Timeshifted-eligible Commanders. However, that’s only because they used the same art and borders. Don’t try to use Rubinia Soulsinger, Stangg, or Nicol Bolas’s new art reprints as your commanders!
On the contrary, Mono Red and Mono White each have their studs. King Suleimon singlehandly shoots down some of the best creatures in the format: Serendib Efreet, Ifh-Bíff Efreet, Junun Efreet, Ydwen Efreet, Mijae Djinn, Serendib Djinn, Mahamoti Djinn, Erhnam Djinn, and Juzam Djinn. Ali from Cairo at worst delays the inevitable but is best used as a combo piece rendering you unkillable.
III. Bicolored (the five allied “Clans” of Ravnica) Commanders.
Finally, we get to some of the good stuff! In June of ’94, an entire expansion set introduced both multicolored cards and legendary cards to the game: Legends. In Legends, we find the remaining 55 options for the Commander of our deck:
Black/Red (the Cult of “Rakdos”)
We kick things off with arguably the evilest Ravnican guild, “Rakdos,” which has several options for Black/Red allied commanders.
Barktooth Warbeard is painfully vanilla and used his deviousness and cunning to beat out Pavel Maliki and Axelrod Gunnerson for the title of boringest Black/Red Commander. Lady Orca is neither an Orc nor a Whale, but it does seem as though she managed to kill Angus Mackenzie. More on him later.
Rohgahh of Kher Keep is certainly the most… interesting… one of the bunch. The beginnings of your Kobold Deck should probably start here.
Boris Devilboon was errata’d to a Zombie for that sweet Zombie Master synergy. However, you won’t be able to use Drowned with him as your Commander! Drowned can only be played in Dimir, Grixis, or Esper.
I think the clear winner here is Tor Wauki. At five mana, Tor is tied with Boris Devilboon for being the cheapest two of the seven Rakdos Commanders. However, Boris’s ability to amass an army of Minor Demons will probably put a target on your head, while Tor kicks back and protects you or polices attacks on your allies only when necessary. Already bigger than the 2/2 Boris Devilboon, Tor is essentially a 5/3 when blocking because Old School uses contemporary rules!
White/Blue (the “Azorius” Senate)
Next, we get political with White/Blue. Much like politics, a handful of these old guys have no business being here in the first place.
Kasimir of the Lone Wolf and Tobias Andrion are once again painfully vanilla. The only background we have here on Hunding Gjornersen is that he was a swell guy, but the quote is uncredited so I’d take that with a grain of salt solely based on his looks. Jedit Ojanen was errata’d to a Cat, which is relevant in regular EDH I suppose, but not in Old School. Jedit also doesn’t have a beard like the other four (is a mane a type of beard?), so we can count him out. Gosta Dirk at least gives us something for that mana cost, but I fear it’s not enough to be relevant.
The two more interesting Azorius Commanders are Ayesha Tanaka and Rasputin Dreamweaver. Ayesha is the cheapest of the seven and can essentially cast Rust every turn. And Rasputin… well… he has a wall of interesting text that I’m sure you can do something with. Having been errata’d to have “dream counters,” take note that he doesn’t die if he wakes up. Technically, he accelerates your mana because he costs six but can create seven colorless mana. Combine him with Farrelite Priest and you can end up with seven white mana! He commands over one hundred decks on EDHREC, so that might be a good place to start.
Green/White (the “Selesnya” Conclave)
A personal favorite color combination of mine, Green/White, gives us some wonderful options for Commanders to lead a deck of fatties and removal to victory!
Are you noticing a pattern? Legends gave us another rouund of sweet vanilla legends in Jasmine Boreal, Sir Shandlar of Eberyn, and Torsten Von Ursus. Lady Caleria, much like Tor Wauki, knows how to kick back and relax until somebody starts to be a dick.
If you somehow end up with Torsten, be aware that he was errata’d to a Soldier, so he combos with Icatian Lieutenant!
Gabriel Angelfire is interesting insofar as they are very flexible. You always choose whichever ability you need most. Although I fear they end up being an overpriced Serra Angel most of the time.
Kei Takahashi‘s claim to fame is being the cheapest Selesnyan commander.
Lord Magnus de Laval himself somehow managed to end up as the best Selesnyan commander. If he doesn’t have a Lord Magnus Deck I will be very disappointed. And that deck better revolve around removing the drawback of Erhnam Djinn. It’s just a damn shame that a usually six to eight mana investment dies to Lightning Bolt.
Green/Red (the “Gruul” Clans)
We are almost done with bicolored! Leaving behind cults, politics, and order, we adventure into the tribes and anarchy of the Gruul clans.
The Lady of the Mountain is boring af. Jerrard of the Closed Fist is not to be confused with the beloved and prophesized Gerrard Capeshen, Captain of The Weatherlight. Marhault Elsdragon from the sounds of it shares at least one thing in common with me: a stoic face filled with a burning rage. He’s been errata’d to be an Elf, but I’m pretty sure that’s irrelevant in this format. Finally, Sunastian Falconer is just an overpriced Mana Dork.
Tuknir Deathlock actually isn’t terrible as the cheapest Gruul commander and something between Crimson Manticore and Roc of Kher Ridges.
Livonya Silone comes up just short of being the best Gruul commander. They have First Strike, but that’s irrelevant because they are essentially a 4/4 unblockable for six.
The best Gruul commander is definitely Stangg, because it’s hard to pass up two 3/4s for six. There’s even a token now.
Blue/Black (House “Dimir”)
The last allied pair is Blue/Black.
Sivitri Scarzam has sweet art, but she doesn’t do anything other than that (and we never meet any of her dragons!!!). Princess Lucrezia and Riven Turnbull are just overcosted mana dorks. Ramirez DePietro‘s flavor text is hilarious and he was errata’d to be a Pirate (for regular EDH purposes), but that’s about all he’s good for, although I’d take him over Ur-Drago.
Dimir really starts cooking with Ramses Overdark. Considering that Ramirez has the same power/toughness for the same price, I consider Ramses’ ability to slightly edge out Ramirez’s First Strikeing capabilities. Combo him with Skull of Orm for an overpriced and oversized Royal Assassin!
Dimir commanders are expensive. Nebuchadnezzar comes in at the cheapest at five mana, but he also has the best ability that synergizes with Blue/Black’s playstyle. All of the other Dimir Commanders are fat attackers, but that’s not how Dimir rolls. Dimir is best known for destroying, countering, and discarding all of your opponents’ threats until they are left with neither a board state nor hand. And Nebuchadnezzar does just that. Check out all 74 Nebuchadnezzar EDH decks here for some ideas!
IV. The Elder Dragon Legends and other Tricolored (the five allied “Shards” of Alara) Commanders.
Every Shard is associated with an Elder Dragon Legend. When it comes to the primarily Red-aligned Jund, Vaevictis Asmadi is top dragon. This bewildered-looking fish head typically ends up being nothing more than a bigger, overpriced Shivan Dragon with an upkeep cost. I’m not too impressed by Jundbreathing.
Bartel Runeaxe is far more interesting. He also costs a shit ton of mana, but at least he has Vigilance and Shroud from Auras. More on this ability later.
The winner for Jund is a tie between Xira Arien and Adun Oakenshield, who are both consistent with Jund’s typical gameplan of grind and trade until coming out on top. Again, they also happen to be the cheapest commanders for this particular color combination. Both legends have a substantial amount of decks on EDHREC: Xira and Adun.
It’s important to note that fan-favorite Mana Dork Elves of Deep Shadow can only be played in Jund, because there is no Golgari commander. Fun fact: the model used by Jesper Myrfors to draw the elf is a friend of his who is the singer for the metal band Varnish!
Bant is half good, half bad. Starting with the bad, we have Ragnar. Ragnar is ripped out of his goddamn mind and has a giant bird, but he is relegated to mediocrity unless you really need a cheap Bant commander. Bant also bestows upon us another underwhelming Elder Dragon Legend: Arcades Sabboth. His name may sound like a Dave & Busters that plays exclusively hair metal, but I can assure you that this guy’s mana cost and upkeep cost are not worth a quasi Team Holy Armor.
The best Bant commander has to be either Angus Mackenzie or Rubinia Soulsinger. Both of these commanders have hundreds of decks on EDHREC: Angus and Rubinia. If you are building a Control shell around protecting Angus, there are going to be very few ways to defeat you in Old School Brawl. The best part is that Angus looks like Tim the Enchanter.
Rubinia is so good that she was reprinted in Commander 2013. She’s just mean. Why settle for one Commander when you can have two? Yoink. Willow Satyr and Seasinger are both in her colors, too. Augh!!!
Almost all of the Esper commanders are playable in my opinion.
Lady Evangela is the worst of the bunch, but is also the cheapest, so she’s got that going for her. The art is fucking dope, too.
I know I’m going to catch some flak for this, but Dakkon Blackblade‘s is just a difficult-to-cast Molimo, Maro Sorceror, but without Trample and all of Green’s “ramping” capabilities like Fastbond. At least he shares a color with Land Tax. He’s a popular commander on EDHREC, but the other twenty-three years of Land tutoring and “Lands Matter” keywords such as Landfall are probably why. Fun fact: if you help him find his sword, I’m sure he would be very appreciative.
Ol’ Chrome Dome Chromium is definitely playable, but I wish it had Trample. It can Rampage and Rampage all ite wants, but an army of The Hive Insects can keep it at bay.
For one more mana than Lady Evangela, you can put Halfdane in some sort of Esper Fatties deck where he just copies Colossus of Sardia‘s p/t while you just leave the colossus tapped.
I don’t think there is a clear winner in Esper unless you are a Combo Deck fanatic. If you are receptive to those types of decks, then Esper might be for you!
Naya’s commanders are each simple, brutal, and efficient.
Palladia-Mors is similar to Chromium and Force of Nature: a big, cost-effective booty. Johan is another solid choice for Team Vigilance, but keep him away from the Scooby Snacks because he seems to be pretty obsessed with his hand. “Dude, my hand. Look at my hand.”
Hazezon Tamar‘s egregious wall of text is essentially summarized as the go-wide version of Dakkon Blackblade. He enters the battlefield with an army of 1/1 Sand Warriors equal to the number of lands you control instead of having a fluctuating p/t equal to the number of lands you control. There are hundreds of Hazezon decks on EDHREC.
I like Jacques le Vert. He’s cheap, simple, and efficient. Commander/Brawl games tend to involve mass damage spells like Inferno and Pestilence, so putting your guys just out of reach can win you the game! However, don’t take everything that he says as truth. He’s a bit of a liar. If he abandoned his sword, then what the Hell is that on his back? Must be an old photo from college…
Yes, I know. I kept you waiting. Finally, the best for last. Grixis is busted in Old School Brawl. You get access to all the best card draw in Blue. You get access to all the best removal in Black and Red. And guess what? Every commander is playable!
I know I’m going to catch a lot of flak for this one as well, but Sol’Kanar the Swamp King is definitely the worst of the four. He’s just a big vanilla 5/5 for five. Sure, if your opponent has a Swamp he’s a 5/5 unblockable, which makes him a +1/+1 version of Livonya Silone. But Livonya isn’t even the best Gruul commander, so why would you want Sol’Kanar to be your Grixis commander?
Gwendlyn Di Corci is far more interesting and the second most popular of the four Old School Grixis commanders on EDHREC. She is a sweet half-Hymn to Tourach, but then she can’t block. Still, very good.
Obviously, Nicol Bolas is the most popular Grixis commander. However, in my opinion, he isn’t the best Old School commander or even the best Grixis commander. I mean, yeah, if he hits you, you are fucked. But how is he going to hit you while…
…Tetsuo Umezawa is on a murderous rampage just Royal Assassin-stabbing freakin’ everybody in the neck with an ability that is way better than Ramses Overdark, but he’s also the cheapest Grixis commander’s. He’s also a cost-effective blocker at 3/3 for three and has Bartel Runeaxe’s Shroud from Auras. Shroud from Auras is huge in Old School. He can’t be targeted by troublesome removal spells like Paralyze or Demonic Torment.
So there you have it. The answer is A, Tetsuo Umezawa. Final answer. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed the article, consider joining our Discord and tell me I was too harsh on Dakkon Blackblade and/or Sol’Kanar the Swamp King!
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Fantastic article! And yeah, I sure do have a Lord Magnus Oldschool EDH 😀 I would certainly be game to cut 40 cards from that when challenged for a Brawl game. Just makes it even easier for me to assemble the Thicket Basilisk + Lure + Regeneration combo.
Keep it up!
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Those are especially kind words coming from you. Thanks a lot and keep doing what you are doing as well!
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If you extend the card pool to include ice ages and alliances, then Esper can be commanded by Merieke, one of the most interesting early legends cards.
I’d also like to note that Rubinia is obviously the best commander and she has old man of the sea AN preacher in her colors in addition to the two body-snatchers you mentioned.
Finally, Old Man of the Sea was errata’d to be a Djinn, so he also dies to King Suleiman
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And Scarwood Bandits! You can check out my Rubinia deck here: https://readytorole.com/2018/11/14/old-school-brawl-rubinia-soulsinger-brewing-a-creature-theft-sacrifice-combo-deck/
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