Since the release of the Time Spiral Remastered spoiler, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of building decks with only old-frame cards. The visual aspect of nostalgia is hard to overstate, and since much of the fun of Commander for me is reconnecting with the social aspect of those three-to-eight-player games of Magic from back in the day, these old frames hit me pretty hard. With that in mind, I started thinking about these decks with only cards using the pre-8th Edition frames – if you got my CFB Xtra Commanding Lead newsletter this past Tuesday, then you saw my Feather, the Redeemed deck (if not, you can subscribe right here!).
That process was so much fun that I decided to do it all again in a larger format. Today though, I’m challenging myself a little more – instead of opening up the card pool with a multicolor Commander, I’m going with a monocolor deck today. This restriction isn’t just fun for nostalgia reasons – it’s also for playing with cards you might not otherwise use and rediscovering gems from the past! Today’s commander, though, isn’t quite as old as some – I’m using Talrand, Sky Summoner.
Talrand’s pretty straightforward. Cast spells, make Drakes. The more spellslinger synergies you have, the more linear and powerful your deck can be. Many of those are from the modern era, so you’ll be missing out on some of the most popular options – but isn’t that the whole point of this exercise? It’s also important to defend Talrand, which can be done with counterspells, hexproof/shroud and the occasional blink effect. Really though, what’s more old-school than a mono-blue draw-go deck full of counters and cantrips?
Nevertheless, there’s some interesting options brought to us by Time Spiral Remastered – let’s take a look at cards which have been Timeshifted back into the past.
Low-cost draw spells – often cantrips – are the bread and butter of the Talrand engine, so it’s nice to have access to these all-stars of the genre.
Anything with a defensive aspect that cantrips is A+ in the Talrand grade book. Remand and Repeal may be mostly adept at putting things off for later, but when procrastination comes with a draw and a Drake, I’m inclined to delay, delay, delay.
Most good stuff in Commander costs four or more, including many commanders, so Disdainful Stroke fits right in.
I do want to talk a little bit about counterspells and fun – it’s sometimes possible to simply counter everything with a big impact and really bog the game down. In social games, this can be considered bad form. I try to use my counterspells to do two things – one, defend my own board position, and two, stop players from going over the edge from “actually getting to do their thing” into “becoming unstoppable.” Maybe I won’t stop you from making a token army, but I’ll definitely counter that Craterhoof Behemoth. This requires some knowledge of decks and frankly, overall expectations of how much people should be able to get done in the game should be discussed in advance, but in social games I think you should make sure to consider these factors. All this to say, counter with care.
With the amount of utility lands being much decreased by this restriction, Mystic Sanctuary will be among friendly Islands more often than not.
Let’s move on to talking about some of the actual old-timey cards. Now, this deck could just be a big pile of instants and sorceries, but that would be pretty boring. With that in mind, I’m throwing in a couple of subthemes that I think fit in with Talrand and mono-blue in general.
First up: creature exchange. Drakes are nice, but sometimes they can get outclassed, even in numbers. Removal isn’t blue’s strong suit, and while I’ve packed in some control effects, swaps are a good way to up the number of effects available while also avoiding vulnerability to disenchants. Cultural Exchange is a good way to make a big swap with someone else, but there’s a few other options as well.
Unfortunately, you don’t have too many ways to accomplish these swaps, but it’s fun to add a little spice to a list. Gilded Drake is a little expensive, but that’s one of the, uh, “features” of this restriction – anything that hasn’t been reprinted might be expensive, and anything that has might be more expensive in its old printing. Legerdemain can do a creature swap or trade one of your mana rocks for something nicer and finally, Chromeshell Crab is a great way to lead into the next subtheme: morphs!
Morph creatures are a fun way to create a little board presence as well as some mystery. Plus, they’re great to exchange away when you’re done with them. They’re also good for drawing removal away from Talrand! Willbender can do so forcibly, but sometimes opponents will throw removal at your morphs all by themselves, which is nice. Here’s the rest of the lineup:
With these seven, Willbender and Chromeshell Crab, that’s nine total morphs. Many of them are Wizards, which is nice for Voidmage Prodigy. In a pinch, you can also hurl Talrand at a spell, though be aware that doing so delays your primary win condition. Quicksilver Dragon isn’t a bad threat, though there are plenty of bigger battlers in the skies and those are likely to be in opposing deck lists.
Let’s run down the rest of the creatures quickly.
It’s nice to have the option to return an instant of your choice, especially if that’s a counterspell. You can get into some nonsense with Mystic Confluence for sure, but I’ve made sure to limit the infinite recursion potential here.
This is such a classic blue control creature! A flyer that acts as a personal Howling Mine – how could I resist? In absence of cards like Docent of Perfection and Murmuring Mystic, you need some other ways to gain an advantage.
And yes, that is the rest of the creatures – this deck is pretty short on them, honestly. Let’s move on to some more spells!
Since your creature base is pretty dismal in the stat department, I’ve thrown in some control effects to go with the exchanges I showed you earlier. Treachery is obviously the cream of this crop, but it’s always fun to steal a creature with Dominate and get a Drake in the process. Desertion is a nice reward for leaving lots of mana up and Bribery can nab you the best creature at the table – an award this deck isn’t winning otherwise. While Persuasion didn’t survive cuts at the end, Control Magic stuck around due to low cost.
There’s not too much in the way of multi-card draw spells here, mostly because everything just cantrips (also, you saw Mystic Confluence and Treasure Cruise earlier). If you’re hunting for more in a list like this, try Inspiration, with a possible nod to Braingeyser.
Speaking of card draw, this is one of the best ways to turn a lead into a big resource advantage. If you’ve got Drakes, take them through the red zone and get some more fuel!
In the “everything cantrips” department, these cards don’t really do anything else. Well, I guess Peek and Sorcerous Sight let you look at someone’s hand, but that’s really not the point. Cast the spell, draw a card, make a Drake, repeat. That’s the point! Keep in mind that this list isn’t really shuffling its library, so Brainstorm doesn’t get into Legacy-style shenanigans (don’t be fooled by the erroneous wording on the original printing of Impulse – do NOT shuffle your library afterwards!). Don’t be afraid to fire off Whispers of the Muse sans buyback early on if you’re in danger of missing a land drop, but it’s a nice mana sink later if you can feed it more mana.
Everyone’s tired of paying (or not paying) the one, but nobody pays the one. Nobody. Plus, this one has some cool fish on it. Call it an upgrade!
These cantrips do a little more, from countering spells to bouncing threats. Confound is here to protect Talrand, and in a pinch, so is Repulse. Dismiss and Exclude are counterspells I wouldn’t be super embarrassed about playing in the modern era, though they’re somewhat outpowered by cards like Cryptic Command at this point.
Since this list isn’t full of removal, as mentioned earlier, a few bounce spells are necessary. Evacuation and Wash Out are wide-angle answers to large boards or token armies, while Boomerang and Unsummon are cheaper, targeted answers that can set up a counterspell later or save Talrand in a pinch. Snap is in the same camp, and it’s even free!
We’ve covered quite a few counterspells already, but in case those weren’t enough, here are some more. Dissipate is great for dealing with recursive threats or slowing down graveyard decks, and the other two are just solid players. You won’t be countering every spell, but you should be able to stop some opponents from taking the game over.
Without cards like Lightning Greaves, you’ll need to dig deeper for ways to protect Talrand. Bounce spells and Confound have already been mentioned, but these three add some more instant-speed dynamics to the palliative arsenal.
Before Perilous Vault and Oblivion Stone, we had the Disk. Sometimes you just need to hit the reset button on the board! It’s too bad Nevinyrral didn’t know about planeswalkers, but hopefully you can attack those down with Drakes.
The mana rock game was still pretty okay back in the day, so this is a remarkable arsenal despite our restriction.
Sometimes you need to delete a graveyard. I almost put in Thran Foundry instead, and indeed that might be the right call in case you run through your library, but that seems so unlikely. If it happens, find room for that knockoff Feldon’s Cane.
That’s it for spells – let’s talk about the small number of nonbasics to go with our 29 Islands and the aforementioned Mystic Sanctuary.
If something terrible’s about to happen to Talrand, sometimes sacrificing him is the best way out of it. Of course, bouncing him with Riptide Laboratory is better, and the Lab also helps take more advantage of the other Wizards in the deck.
Cycling lands can’t hurt, right?
Even though we’re constrained on nonbasics, other players may not be, so let’s be prepared.
That’s everything! I don’t know if I’ll be back to this particular restriction, but it was a fun way to try out some new things. Here’s the full list – see you next time!
Boomer Talrand by Eric Levine