Fulfilling part of my New Year resolutions, I recently built three brand-spanking new Commander decks. Since one of my other resolutions was to finish upgrading my blinged-out Commander decks, I wanted to try and save some money and do budget decks.

As a general rule, budget decks are awful. If you build a good deck and then cut it apart until the deck becomes worth less in terms of dollars, it also becomes worthless tactically. As a result, I wanted to build some decks that weren’t simply budget versions of better decks – I wanted to build decks that used strategies that naturally lend themselves to being cheap.

 

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer – Metal Tokens

(Click here for the full list)

The basic strategy for Jor Kadeen is pretty simple – Play artifact dudes, play Jor Kadeen, and swing with stuff at players. Any role in the deck that can be filled by an artifact creature should be.

Aggro can be surprisingly effective when the minimum power of a creature settles around four. The deck uses artifact tokens when it can and tries to take advantage of having a lot of tiny creatures. As a primarily colorless deck, basic lands work just as well or better than most of the non-basics in the deck; land bases tend to raise the price of a deck, so being colorless helps Jor Kadeen easily avoid that expense. If the deck somehow can’t pull off a win through tiny creatures, the backup plan is a complicated Mindslaver lock that is accessible by continually recurring Codex Shredder or Myr Retriever.

The deck keeps itself in the game by using tokens and small artifacts as resources and then using a strong recursion package to bring them back again with Sun Titan, Auriok Salvagers, or Salvaging Station. With so many ways to recur Codex Shredder, any card in the deck can theoretically be brought back. The primary methods to draw more cards are Skullclamp and Mentor of the Meek. If the deck can’t draw cards, then the goal becomes getting the most value out of the cards in hand or in play. This can be achieved through copying artifacts with Mirrorworks, sacrificing creatures to Ashnod’s Altar, suiciding weenies to push through damage, or sacrificing artifacts to Kuldotha Forgemaster.

Sunforger serves as the secondary toolbox for the deck. Boros offers a great selection of cheap instants, so Sunforger fits in perfectly. My favorite cards to get are Shattering Pulse and Allay, since you can pay the buyback and continue to have removal throughout the game.

Of the three budget decks, though, this one has performed the worst. It is explosive, and when players don’t have removal at the right time, it finds ways to push through a ton of damage. However, the deck is just fragile to Shatterstorm effects; it doesn’t contain mass recursion or mass removal, so as a result it got wiped out and then was not able to recover in time for a victory in games so far.

I will be adding Second Sunrise, Scourglass, and one to two additional ways to find Sunforger and Skullclamp to this deck. The deck sits right on the edge of good enough. However, I would prefer a deck that doesn’t require this much luck to be able to win games.

 

Edric, Spymaster of Trest – Allies

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Edric quickly rose to be the shining star of these three budget decks. It cost the least and reigned in the best results.

The deck plays mainly allies, defenders, and clones. The primary plan is to throw a bunch of creatures on the table that make each other bigger, then draw cards, and then play some more creatures. The deck contains just enough Overrun effects to push through damage when required. Halimar Excavator also gives the deck an interesting backup plan of milling players to death, as long as they leave their Eldrazi out.

This probably won’t come as a shock, but the deck runs off Edric. Drift of Phantasms may surprise players as one of the most valuable cards in the deck. The deck contains about fifteen transmute targets, including Axebane Guardian and Beastmaster Ascension. Sea Gate Loremaster proved himself to be a champion at providing card draw when opponents don’t let Edric stick around. Deadeye Navigator flickering allies might be the fairest use of the card. Of course, having the ability to flicker Sylvan Primordial with Deadeye Navigator likely evens that out.

My experience with the deck has been nothing but positive. It won most of the games it was in, including ones where I let someone else borrow the deck. More than that, the deck has just been a blast to play. With “zero” tutors and a ton of card draw, each game has been different. The deck draws so many cards and they all cost so little that it allows a ton of cards to be played every game while still maintaining a decent hand size.

I’ve already made a few changes from the original list, by adding in Genesis Wave, Eternal Witness and Mnemonic Wall (not sure how I missed that in the first list). I will probably end up adding in some Simic staples like Trygon Predator, Craterhoof Behemoth, Bane of Progress and Mystic Snake; they all most likely deserve to be in the list and aren’t exactly out of my price range. I just need to test with the deck and see if I really want to remove anything for them. I’ve been fine playing with no counters and I like my cheap Overruns, so we will see. I don’t want to add any additional tutors to the deck, because it has been so much fun to play as is. Honestly, I am not sure the tutors have much value with so much redundancy in the deck anyway. We will see.

 

Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker

(Click here for the full list)

I am least experienced with Shirei so far. Shirei racked up the the most expensive tab because of cards that I thought were essential that I didn’t want to cut just for budget’s sake.

The deck basically tries to be a control deck, survives long enough to recur all the creatures from all graveyards under its control, Exsanguinates, or slowly drains and swing to take opponents down.

Four categories of cards make up the deck: ramp, removal, lifedrain, and recursion. The deck leans heavily on the last category. The deck relies on Shirei for the primary source of recursion, and it simply won’t work at all unless it can continue to bring things back from the graveyard. If you can start cycling through your cards, the deck controls the board and drains opponents while it sifts through everything for a finishing spell.

My experience with the deck has been surprisingly good. All of the non-Shirei recursion lets you play out the deck and use the creatures early in the game, knowing you can always get them back. The deck always had blockers open to be able to prevent damage long enough to get a decent board setup. Exanguinate and Rise of the Dark Realms give such a strong ability to just win out of nowhere that deck can take players off-guard. I was nervous about how the deck would work against more developed decks until I played a game where everyone else was using Mana Crypts, Beta Sol Rings, Grim Monoliths and other expensive staples. The deck held its own. It really pushed the point that an expensive pile of cards does not automatically equal a good deck.

I haven’t played enough games to really know what cards I am going to add or swap for in the deck, so I haven’t made any changes yet. The complicated nature of the deck makes it difficult to play, so it may be awhile before I can diagnose what needs to be done to improve it.

In Conclusion

These decks all did well in an environment where they were pitted against non-budget decks, and this exercise restored my hope in Commander being an affordable format. It also showed me that many players spend too much on their decks by going with big bombs and forcing in staples, rather than following a defined theme and strategy. Allies actually working makes me question my previous opinions on what tribes are really playable in Commander.
This has been an eye-opening exercise for me. I hope it has been entertaining or informative for all of you as well.

-STP
@SwordsToPlow