In the last eight months or so I've been presenting alternate variants of Commander for those who enjoy the format, but would like to spice it up a notch. Perhaps the same ol' has gotten a bit stale. And that's okay, because there are lots of variants of Commander out there for you to experiment with. Advance your curry to the next level of spice.
Today I want to talk about a wacky version of Commander that just might be something you will find interesting. It takes an old, old alternate format and melds it onto the Commander skeleton quite ably. Plus, the archaic format wasn't even that well known, so it's not like your group has likely played it a lot, so it should be nice and fresh too!
Allow me to introduce to you the New York Format. Here's how it worked. You had to play at least four cards from each expansion set of Magic (plus Alpha). It was seen in one of the earliest Magic Invitational Finals when two decks went head to head, Olle Rade with Snake Basket and Mike Long rocking Elemental Augury. Rade won, and we got Sylvan Safekeeper.
What I want to do is to massage this format a bit in order to make it fit Commander. So, how do we do that? Simple!
New York Format Commander
1. You must play at least one card that was printed in each expansion set of Magic, including Alpha/Beta. Non-expansion sets, such as Commander 2013, Unglued, Portal, Starter, or Magic 2013 are not required to be used.
2. In order to count, the card must have seen print in the set. It did not have to be initially published in that set. For example, you could have Desert Twister count as your card from Mercadian Masques instead of Arabian Nights.
3. You are not required to run that specific copy of a card for it to count. For example, you could run a Control Magic from Commander 2013 and have it meet your requirement for an Alpha/Beta card.
4. You should have a few extra spots at the end for you to run anything else, including cards released outside of the Expansion Set structure.
5. Basic lands cannot be used to meet these requirements.
And that's the format. Frankly, all of rules 2-5 just explain how to do rule 1. So just remember, every expansion set from Arabian Nights to Journey into Nyx must have at least one (non-basic land) card in your deck, as well as Alpha/Beta/Unlimited. That means you'll have 64 cards in your deck that count as these cards. With non-basic lands such as Sulfurous Springs, Evolving Wilds, Rupture Spire, and Tolaria West among your 64, you can drop that number back and give you some breathing room to flesh out your deck.
Does this seem like an impossible task? Not really! You don't have to run the best card from each set, and you have a lot of built-in flexibility.
Now this might feel like it's a hard format to build around, but I think that once you begin to explore the sets and options, you'll see that's it not insurmountable. So, as a thought experiment, let's do the U/W Control deck, an archetype that has existed in Magic all the way back through Alpha, and see what we could grab. I'll even skip past overly expensive stuff like Mana Drain, Force of Will, or Moat. In order, here we go:
Alpha - Sol Ring
Arabian Nights - City of Brass
Antiquities - Strip Mine
Legends - Land Tax
The Dark - Maze of Ith
Fallen Empires - Seasinger
Ice Age - Swords to Plowshares
Homelands - Merchant Scroll
Alliances - Thawing Glaciers
Mirage - Dissipate
Weatherlight - Ophidian
Tempest - Dismiss
Stronghold - Reins of Power
Exodus - Forbid
Urza's Saga - Catastrophe
Urza's Legacy - Raven Familiar
Urza's Destiny - Treachery
Mercadian Masques - Counterspell
Nemesis - Kor Haven
Invasion - Dismantling Blow
Planeshift - Voice of All
Odyssey - Shelter
Judgment - Commander Eesha
Legions - Akroma, Angel of Wrath
Scourge - Decree of Justice
Mirrodin - Lightning Greaves
Darksteel - Pristine Angel
Fifth Dawn - Acquire
Champions of Kamigawa - Keiga, the Tide Star
Betrayers of Kamigawa - Final Judgment
Saviors of Kamigawa - Twincast
Ravnica - Compulsive Research
Guildpact - Repeal
Shadowmoor - Mystic Gate
Eventide - Glen Elendra Archmage
Shards of Alara - Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Alara Reborn - Fieldmist Borderpost
Zendikar - Sejiri Refuge
Worldwake - Celestial Colonnade
Rise of the Eldrazi - Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
Mirrodin Besieged - Blue Sun's Zenith
New Phyrexia - Phyrexian Metamorph
Innistrad - Think Twice
Dark Ascension - Increasing Devotion
Avacyn Restored - Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Gatecrash - Luminate Primordial
Dragon's Maze - Aetherling
Theros - Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Born of the Gods - Temple of Enlightenment
Journey into Nyx - Sigiled Starfish
Anyway, this randomly selected group of stuff includes 67 cards. Among them are fourteen non-basic lands from City of Brass to Temple of Enlightenment. That means you have 53 non-land cards in your deck, and that gives you the flexibility to add a few cards to the deck as needed to flesh it out without being forced to dig into a particular set. Maybe you'll want another mana rock like Everflowing Chalice, a couple more creatures, and some more enchantment/artifact removal. You have plenty of space left over.
Now that was simply the proof of concept, that New York Format can, in fact, work with EDH. And I built that in about an hour of research. You can easily dig deeper. You can run G/W enchantments, or U/B reanimation or R/W aggro-control. Whatever your heart desires, you can rock (within reason).
Another way to do might be to build this thang backwards.
So, for example, suppose that you want to construct that Krond the Dawn-Clad deck around enchantments. All right, what would be obvious choices?
All right, now you've done a quick look. Now grab some other cards like Rabid Wombat, Phantom Centaur, Fugitive Druid, and Argothian Enchantress if you can afford one. Now look into the great auras that would break Krond: Ancestral Mask, Snake Umbra, Unquestioned Authority, Armadillo Cloak (and/or Unflinching Courage), and Shield of the Oversoul.
Now that you have this small list to build around, check off all of those sets. Now you can dig into other sets to overturn stuff like Moldervine Cloak, Griffin Guide, and such. And there's your Krond deck, all done and ready for you without too much effort.
You can do the same thing with anything, really. For example, how about a U/B Discard/Megrim deck? Just grab stuff like Megrim, Cackling Fiend, Syphon Soul, and such from various places, and run it easily enough.
And that's the format!
It's simple, and all of the other rules simply clarify what it means to run "one card from each expansion set." Build decks, and have some fun!
Feel free to run it and let me know what you think. What works, what needs tweaking, and what is awesome? What mods do you expect to experiment with (such as requiring Portal cards)? Enjoy!
Super Secret Advanced Section!
If you have read the rules, you may realize that there is one tiny issue. One unfortunate caveat. It won't prevent most people from doing what they want, since a majority will naturally play multicolored decks.
This is an advanced section that is only for corner cases, like mono-colored decks and such.
The issue revolves around Alara Reborn. Because the concept of the set (everything is gold) clashes with the color identity rule of Commander, there are some side issues. For example, as it is written above, the NYF Commander variant would eliminate mono-colored decks, since you could not run a card from Alara Reborn, not even a humble non-basic land could substitute.
But there is another subtle issue. Virtually none of the gold cards from Alara Reborn that are just two colors include enemy pairs. So, for example, suppose you are playing Boros - red/white. Here are your options:
And that's it.
So the options are not there. Sure, there are some flexible cards you can use in lots of decks (Intimidation Bolt, Maelstrom Pulse, Double Negative), but this list lacks any depth at all. So not only is a mono-color deck impossible, but a two-color enemy deck has few options, especially on the budget, or if you don't own a large deck stock. For example, Pulse and Lord of Extinction are on the expensive side of life. If you can't afford one, that forces your hand even more.
How do you deal with it? These would be my recommendations:
Are you playing a mono-colored deck? If you are, good job. Just skip Alara Reborn, and move on. Instead of requiring a card from Alara Reborn, you are required to run a card from Portal (any of the three sets). That way you'll still have to have 64 slots to fill.
Are you rocking a two-color enemy color combination (U/R, B/G, U/G, R/W, B/W)? Great! You can certainly play one of the above cards from Alara Reborn. You may also run one of the handful of other two-color gold cards from the block (so you could run Swerve in your U/R deck). You can also run one of these lands from the block: Panorama (Bant, Esper, etc), Ancient Ziggurat, or Unstable Frontier.
So, my Izzet deck could pop in Spellbound Dragon, Grixis Panorama, Swerve, or Cloven Casting among its choices for Alara Reborn. My Orzhov deck might like Necromancer's Covenant, Ancient Ziggurat, Tidehollow Sculler, or Zealous Persecution. You get the idea.
Decks with wedge colors don't fit into the Alara Block scheme, but you can find enough to suss it out. For example, suppose you are Raka (R/U/W). You can run Double Negative or Intimidation Bolt and such. It's more doable, so no special restrictions seem necessary.
And that takes care of the Alara Reborn question.