Defending the Commander Social Contract

Category: Budget

Dollar General – a #1DH Primer

Commander Where Each Card Must be a Buck or Less

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Hidden Gems

Hello and welcome back! I love “hidden gems,” and people have been asking me to share some of mine quite a while. These are cards I play regularly and am surprised not to see much across the table. Most of these cards are very cheap as well, more than likely because they haven’t caught on. My advice is that you might as well get in while the gettin is good!



A 2/4 for five mana
is hardly a steal of a deal in any format, but the utility of Blinding Angel is where it’s at. It has flying, which helps, but this text is what really sets it apart. “Whenever Blinding Angel deals combat damage to a player, that player skips his or her next combat phase.” In EDH, people often don’t have a flying blocker, and those that do won’t often risk you having a combat trick just to stop a two-power creature, even one that has a trigger ability.

But, wow can this ability change the game, and it is reasonably priced under $2.50. This is the 2/4 flyer that can. She has held back swarms of plant tokens in multiple games for me. With another gem I’ll mention shortly, it can stop any attack no matter how many defenders that player has. If you like not letting an opponent attack you, why would you not use Blinding Angel?


Sphinx of Magosi was reprinted in Commander 2014 and now in Conspiracy Take the Crown. Not only is it under $.50, but it is very easy to get a hold of. Six mana for a 6/6 flyer isn’t bad, although the three blue pips do take some consideration if you aren’t playing a heavy blue deck.

Sphinx plays several roles in a deck. First, it is a big beater that can get bigger throughout the game. Second, it’s an instant speed mana sink, you can hold your mana up and use it before your turn. Most importantly, it’s a card draw outlet. While three is a lot of mana for one card, don’t forget it puts a counter on Sphinx and can be used at instant speed. In a blue stratagem of “play a land pass the turn”, this is everything you could want.


Until recently, Night Soil was a bit harder to get as it is from a very early set, Fallen Empires. The reprint in Commander 2013 made it much more accessible and dirt cheap, under $.25. But even with a reprint this is a card that I don’t see across the table much. If you have ever read my articles, I constantly bring up the value of cards with multiple functions, and this card is great at that.

In EDH, graveyard control is very important, and although this card won’t remove everything in their graveyard, it can remove troublesome creatures. Not only do you get rid of their creatures (or yours if needed), but you get a chump blocker as well. Eating your creatures is handy if someone is trying to appropriate one for their nefarious plans. Let’s be honest there’s nothing worse than being beat down by your own creatures. And all for the low cost of one mana per activation!


EDH is the format of crazy sweet lands, but all the cool lands you can play that lead to players not playing many basics if any at all. There’s no reason not to punish them for being too greedy. Burning Earth is another card that can play dual roles, as it will tax your opponents from casting too many spells and it will attack their life points very aggressively.

Just make sure you aren’t running too many non-basics yourself or you will slow the game down to a snail’s pace. You will be surprised and how much work this card does. People will freely use their life at first, but it’s interesting how many people can’t do math end up being on the wrong side of the race after their cavalier starts. This card clocks in at a staggering $.20 so don’t let it break the bank!


There is nothing funnier in my opinion than saying counterspell when you aren’t playing blue, except maybe meaning it. Anytime the color pie gets stretched or, in this case, broken, there is a real opportunity for gain.

Withering Boon may only hit creatures, but sometimes that is all you need to turn the tide. At about $.40, this card is a steal and a great way to surprise your group and add a good laugh. Really want to throw someone off? If you are playing Blue/Black, tap all your blue mana and they will play right into this counter.


For a card that came out in a recent set I am surprised Crackling Doom doesn’t see more play. It is three colors, so it can’t fit into just any deck. However, with the four-color decks coming out I would think this should find a home. For three mana, each opponent sacs their biggest creature, which means it gets around indestructible and you’re hitting three to four creatures. This is a really efficient spell, but add a little life loss for your opponents and suddenly this spell is totally worth a slot. Having answers is key, and this is a very good answer to big bad creatures. At around $.40, this card is a no-brainer.


Here is a card that I see a little bit, but honestly, when you start talking staples I’m not sure why Rogue’s Passage doesn’t make the list. You are always searching for evasion, and this gives any creature evasion, not to mention how much easier it makes general damage. Sometimes you just need that last bit of damage to win the game, and this gives it to you. I love telling an opponent they are dead only to have them respond with, “I have blockers.”

Me: “Yes yes you do”

Me: “I make my creature unblockable and swing for the win”

Opponent: “Oh”

Some might see this as a cheap shot. But if an opponent is running removal, either for lands or creatures, they can stop you, so I see no issue with it. It pairs perfectly with a card like Blinding Angel, as you can eliminate the threat of combat (at least from one opponent). I make sure to run cards like Strip Mine specifically for problems like Rogue’s Passage. With all the recent reprints of it, it’s now down to about $.10 and should be a serious consideration for a land slot.

Put a bow on it.

This game is very expensive, and you can drop a lot of money into a single deck, but there are a lot of cheaper options out there that can really add flexibility and power to an EDH deck. All but one of the cards I outlined today were under $.50, with the most expensive being under $2.50.

Hopefully you enjoyed this look into under-utilized cards. Please feel free to comment below if you disagree with any suggestions. Better yet, feel free to share your hidden gems, and brownie points if they are under $.50!

Until next time this is edh.ghost out!

Black Sheep – Budget Drana, Liberator of Malakir




As promised, I plan on covering a range of budget decks as the year goes on.  While there isn’t a hard limit on dollar values, the decks I feature on Black Sheep will usually end up costing about $50 each.  This is part of my effort this year to have Magic net $0 out of my pocket; the cheaper the decks I try to build, the easier it will be to trade for them or buylist cards to get what I need.

This week, I will be going over Drana, Liberator of Malakir EDH.  As part of my plan here, I really wanted to do something not just cheap, but also unique; at the crossroads of unique and cheap are a group of cards from Mirrodin that use the modular mechanic and all have names beginning with word ‘Arcbound’.  The central idea behind the deck is simple – just play the Arcbound creatures beside other artifact creatures and utilize the modular keyword ability to move counters around.

At the time of design, one of my friends bought the deck online and  it indeed came in just under $50.


Deck Construction

If you are planning to build this at home, it is a very flexible deck design.  There really aren’t many critical pieces, and you can have some fun swapping things in and out.  A deck like this is primarily theme-based, and works best in very casual environments.

The basic construction of this kind of deck works out as follows.

It might look something like this.

[Deck Title=Drana Arcbound]
Drana, Liberator of Malakir[/Commander]
Sol Ring
Everflowing Chalice
Ashnod’s Altar
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Astral Cornucopia
Krark-Clan Ironworks
Liliana’s Shade
Burnished Hart
Solemn Simulacrum
Sword of the Animist
Crypt Ghast
Expedition Map
Semblance Anvil[/Ramp]
[Card Advantage]
Etched Oracle
Mindless Automaton
Night Dealings
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Graveborn Muse
Trading Post
Disciple of Bolas[/Card Advantage]
Contagion Clasp
Contagion Engine
Spread the Sickness
Gorgon’s Head
Steel Hellkite
Spine of Ish Sah
Executioner’s Capsule
Nihil Spellbomb
Hythonia the Cruel
Argentum Armor[/Control]
Arcbound Bruiser
Arcbound Crusher
Arcbound Fiend
Arcbound Hybrid
Arcbound Lancer
Arcbound Slith
Arcbound Stinger
Arcbound Wanderer
Arcbound Worker[/Modular]
Arcbound Reclaimer
Phyrexian Reclamation
Nim Deathmantle
Cauldron of Souls
Skeleton Shard
Codex Shredder
Salvaging Station
Trading Post[/Recursion]
[Theme Cards]
Arcbound Overseer
Thopter Squadron
Throne of Geth
Blade of the Bloodchief
Mephidross Vampire
Strata Scythe
Pontiff of Blight[/Theme Cards]
Buried Ruin
Darksteel Citadel
Vault of Whispers
34 Swamp
Phyrexia’s Core[/Lands][/Deck]

Theme and Mechanics

The primary theme behind the deck is +1/+1 counters.  Drana puts them on creatures, and the deck includes creatures that use those counters in a variety of ways.  Drana makes some things a possibility that normally wouldn’t fit in a mono-black deck – [card]Etched Oracle is the best example of this.  Thanks to the elimination of Rule 4, there is a chance you can get more value out of the Oracle when Drana isn’t on board, but with her on the table it turns into a little bit of slow grinding card advantage.  For fans of synergy, incidental advantage from other creatures that use counters such as Triskelion and Festercreep are the most appealing aspect of playing this deck.

To go with the theme of +1/+1 counters, creatures with the modular mechanic can help the deck take greater advantage of Drana’s ability.  Think of them like storage batteries for those counters – the deck needs a creature like Suncrusher to have as many counters as possible to be effective.  However, since Suncrusher rarely swings, it is harder for it to take advantage of Drana’s ability.  By building up counters through attacking on an arcbound creature such as Arcbound Hybrid, you can then sacrifice the creature whenever you need more counters on your ‘Crusher.

To make modular work best, the deck will need to run a lot of artifact creatures.  After all, without artifact creatures on the table, the counters from the modular gang just go away.  By embracing the artifact creatures we can run the theme further and get some niche support from cards like Crystal Shard and Semblance Anvil.

By stacking synergies the hope is to overcome a budget by having a deck that is more than the sum of its parts.

In the same way embracing artifact creatures lets us build in more themed advantage, going all in on using counters means we can add cards with proliferate and get maximum value out of them.  The cards won’t just make your team bigger – with Everflowing Chalice and Astral Cornucopia, they will build up your mana base as well.

Critical Components

While the deck doesn’t actually have any absolutely critical pieces, it does have a few cards that I highly recommend having before giving it a shot.

[Deck Title=Highly Valued Components]
Contagion Engine
Arcbound Overseer
Nim Deathmantle
Cauldron of Souls[/Deck]

Contagion Engine is the best proliferation card available in a black deck.  There is a reasonable argument that it is even better than Inexorable Tide. In a deck where every creature could potentially have a counter on it, this card is like playing two Elvish Champion a turn.  When combined with the collection of utility cards that rely on counters, it become a card the deck is always happy to see.

Arcbound Overseer is the only lord specifically for Arcbound creatures.  If you have the budget for Steel Overseer, I highly recommend him as a second one, and Arcbound Ravager as a primary beater in the deck.  Overseer is so spot-on theme that I can’t imagine playing the deck without him

Nim Deathmantle is a card I have been shouting the name of from on top my tiny soap box for years.  It’s great in most decks; in this deck, it’s nearly mandatory.  Modular is so much better when you don’t actually lose your creatures.  It can turn any sacrifice outlet into a value engine, while providing amazing board wipe protection at the same time.

Cauldron of Souls‘ synergy with creatures that gain +1/+1 counters is simply too good to pass up.  I would say that in any Drana deck, this card should be an auto-include.  With Drana active and Cauldron out, your opponents will need two Wrath effects in a turn to be able to clear your board.  Even without Drana, all the creatures that enter with counters on them never get the -1/-1 persist counter, and can cause the same headaches to remove.

Detailed Strategy Guide

As with any budget or casual-themed deck, my biggest suggestion is to not hold back when you play.  You start off a step behind on individual card strength and speed; the way to make up for this is to stay aggressive and be willing to play for the win.  In my Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker deck, this means not being ashamed to play Winter Orb.  In Karametra, God of Harvests, I embrace fast ramp and Overrun effects.  In Drana, we need to be ok with playing – and even searching – for the combos that come as a result of all the synergies.

Nim Deathmantle is one of the best cards in the deck.  It is also one of the easiest cards to accidentally combo with.  If you combine any sacrifice outlet with Nim Deathmantle and Workhorse (Workhorse is awesome), you have as many triggers with that outlet as you can handle.  Krark-Clan Ironworks and Ashnod’s Altar are the only cards that pair with that combo in a truly infinite fashion, but any other sacrifice outlets are still great value.  The Altars and Deathmantle always seem to provide a way to combo off even with the most innocent-appearing of cards. Triskelavus, Thopter Squadron and Pentavus will create infinite triggers to exploit with Arcbound Crusher, Blade of the Bloodchief, or even the benign-looking Salvaging Station[/card.

[card]Salvaging Station may not be as innocent as it looks, however.  It turns out when you combine it with Executioner’s Capsule, you get all the removal your heart could desire.

Blade of the Bloodchief is an incredibly powerful card in this deck.  Aside from the Gorgon’s Head+Triskelion combo with the blade, it also allows you to use Triskelavus[card], [card]Thopter Squadron and Pentavus as much as you want.  If you have out Mephidross Vampire, you end up making those cards bigger and bigger as you use their abilities.  Much like the Deathmantle above, the Blade will also end up taking these card combinations into infinite loops when combined with either of the Altars.  Suncrusher also loves the Blade for keeping himself up and running.

Aside from being a vampire who puts counters on creatures (which is why he’s in here) and making Blade of the Bloodchief even better for all creatures involved, Mephidross Vampire and Triskelion also amount to infinite damage to creatures.

Without delving even further down this rabbit hole of combos, it’s important to note I don’t specifically recommend any particular card because of the ability to go infinite.  They are all perfectly on theme and in budget.  I mention them as an example of plays you should look for when playing a deck with this much synergy.  Pay attention to the combinations that form and exploit them whenever you can.  From basic control and advantage (like sacrificing Spine of Ish Sah to Trading Post) to game ending combos like the ones listed above, this deck style relies on understanding and practicing the various interactions to be able to keep up with non-budget decks.  If you avoid those synergies because they may be too powerful, the deck falls apart.

Break-Even Year Update

My goal of a break-even year started really well, and then took a pretty sharp turn for the worst in January.  I went to GP Oakland; when I tallied up what I made selling cards, selling what I drafted, and my winnings from events, and I was able to walk out breaking even and having enough packs of prize support to run a chaos draft (48 packs from various sets, between my friend and I).  So far, so good!

Then, Oath of the Gatewatch came out. I had a moment of weakness at the local Target, and I picked up three Fat Packs. This put me -$130 behind my cash goal.  I wanted to keep all the basics, so I got no monetary help from the land packs. I opened some decent stuff, but when someone showed me a foil Polluted Delta for trade, I jumped on getting the Delta instead of converting the rest to cash.  The trades and what I opened this month have left me with an Expedition Overgrown Tomb, foil Polluted Delta, Expedition Kor Haven, about 1,000 BFZ basics (but only 50 Wastes), and a handful of foil BFZ basics.  This month was great for collecting, but terrible for recovering my money.

I’ve yet to run the chaos draft, which will have my friend and I each recover $36 further.  That will still leave me nearly $100 behind my goal; luckily, friends have stepped up to test and build the budget decks I create for this column.  You can thank my friend Sean (different Sean – not me referring to myself in the 3rd person…) for building and testing this week’s deck.  Hopefully, February will bring some opportunities to get back to even money.


Black Sheep – Pinups, Pornstars and Promos

Last night in the car driving home from playing Commander, the song “Rockstar” by Nickleback started playing on the radio. My head quickly filled with thoughts as the song played through the stock sound system of my subcompact beater. If memory serves, I think that we, as a people, had already all joined together and agreed that “Rockstar” received enough radio plays and we could retire it permanently.

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Black Sheep – Battle Box

seanblacksheepFun in Commander comes from the community where we play. Even though in each individual game we should be trying to win, we serve our community best by being team players. More experienced players we have an obligation to help make sure everyone understands what is going on in a game and has a way to participate. Giving advice helps, but usually it is a delayed kind of help. A player with a weak deck will have to wait until a week or two after getting advice to really be able to implement the suggestions. There is a way to get around this delay.

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Black Sheep – April Budget Deck


Back in January I explored three budget decks that anyone could build on the cheap. Thanks to price inflation, those decks have gone up a bit in value. They are still affordable, but are not nearly as wallet-friendly as the $150 I paid for all three decks combined.

While the GDC crew was discussing MTGfinance frustrations, we came to the realization that for budget content to be relevant and useful, it needs to be put out regularly and in a timely fashion. With that in mind, I present to you a new, inherently budget minded Commander Deck. [Editor’s Note – This should have gone up last night, on Wednesday, and thus still been part of April. Alas, the siren song of actual Magic delayed things. Apologies.]

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Black Sheep – The Budget Deck Roundup

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.

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