Gavin’s Format-of-the-Month – February 2020: Junior Dragon Highlander

I’m going to start this series with an easy one that I know works well… “JDH”. A common way to mix up Commander games is to restrict the cardpool to provide fewer “obviously correct” choices and more room for interesting deckbuilding. Brawl is one popular version of this, but tries to serve too many masters, and the rotating nature isn’t for everyone… to build in just 4-6 sets, it was necessary to loosen the restrictions drastically.

Whether you’re trying to keep yourself in check (vs a playgroup that maybe isn’t on your level, yet), or inviting an entire playgroup to build with the same rules, the easiest way to restrict your cardpool is based on the year a card was printed. Most cards list their year of printing at the bottom, and most deck building sites can filter by set easily.

Choosing a year is up to you, but three versions which work well are:

Mercadian Masques and later: Taking away Urza’s Block and earlier removes a lot of the most broken, degenerate cards in the format. There’s lots of goodies in later sets, but they’re usually not as obvious as [Sol Ring], [Demonic Tutor] and [Swords to Plowshares]. The year 2000 was arguably the point at which R&D really started to figure out how to balance magic card design.

Mirrodin or later: This cutoff is easy to identify because of the change in card frame, and rules out another four years with a lot of Commander staples which you sometimes feel you “have to” include.

Modern or Pioneer Commander: One downside to setting your “cutoff” somewhere in the recent past is that other constructed formats often have more impact on card availability. That said, if you’re more familiar with the more recent sets, there’s lots of goodies in the last 5-10 years of magic and building within those constraints can feel really good.

Finally, if you really want to be hardcore, you can take it even further and play Block-Commander. Think of it as Brawl-with-a-Tardis: you can build a commander deck with ANY legendary creature, but all the other cards have to come from a single 24-month period in Magic’s history.

Have you ever built a deck with a year-based restriction? What was it, and how did it work out?

10 thoughts on “Gavin’s Format-of-the-Month – February 2020: Junior Dragon Highlander”

  1. I did have an Angus Mackenzie Old-guy deck, where all my cards had to be from The Dark or before, not so much to nerf power level, but because it was a fun theme. Ramping that long ago is REALLY hard, You get Sol ring, Mana Vault, Basalt Monolith and BOP and a ton of jank…Llanower Elves i guess.

    It was kinda fun challenge and throwback to only play old stuff

  2. My playgroup is testing out a format we’re tentatively calling “Ravnican Brawl”.

    1 – You have to pick a two-color commander from one of the Ravnican guild color combinations.
    2 – All cards must be in the RTR, RAV, or GRN block.
    3 – Since it’s Brawl, 60 card deck size.
    4 – No one guild may be selected by more than one player.

    1. I love League formats like this, it sounds really cool. Let me know how it works out for you!

  3. I really like and support this idea. I particularly like the cutoff from Mercadian Masques onward because that’s the set where cards stopped being added to the Reserve List. Another cutoff to consider is the new frame added when M15 first came to print, also easily identifiable.

    My question to you is, do you only consider first printings? What about reprints in Commander sets, for example? Could I use e.g. Demonic Tutor in Junior Dragon Highlander, since it was reprinted in Eternal Masters?

    1. New frame Commander is a great idea.. don’t know why I didn’t think of that.

      Generally I think the vintage of a card should be based on the date of its first printing. For X-and-later formats that’s easy (for block specific, obviously anything in that block is allowed). Otherwise, reprint sets like you mentioned would really mess things up.

  4. When I build my Commander decks, I typically limit myself only to cards that have been printed in a Modern card frame.

    That includes all Modern sets, and cards like Force of Will or Black Market that have received supplemental set reprints in a modern frame.

    I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve found it’s a decent way to keep my decks fair. There is still plenty of boring degeneracy that I try to avoid, even inside these parameters (Niv+Curiosity, etc), but it cuts down on both degenerate silliness and reduces overspending. I’m no longer tempted to buy Revised duals or reserved list rares.

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