A few weeks ago I did a piece on a budget Balthor deck that was pretty well received. A ton of people are looking for ways to get into Commander on the cheap. Even if you're not one of the players making their first foray into Commander, it's important to remember that everyone had to start somewhere.
I look at the decks I have together now, and each one is easily worth $200-- it's not reasonable to assume people will invest that much into a format they may or may not enjoy. Wizards did a great job of providing an entry point into the format with the preconstructed Commander decks, but there have been a number of problems with that recently. Two of the decks feature cards that are Legacy and Vintage staples (Scavenging Ooze and Flusterstorm) and demand for those cards has significantly impacted the availability of the precons.
For these reasons I decided to write a series of articles on budget options for different colors and archetypes. Hopefully it will serve as a resource for people who are new to the format.
I've already covered mono-black, and I plan to finish the mono-colored cycle first, but be sure to let me know of any particular Commanders you'd like to see budgetized!
My Kingdom for a Commander
The deck for this week is exactly the kind of deck I love to play, and one that I've built in the past, though not with a budget restriction. Darien, King of Kjeldor is the deck that taught me to love mono-white attrition decks, eventually evolving into my Kemba list.
For a number of reasons, he's an awesome place for new players to start.
First, he deters people from attacking you, which is important for a player's first few games.
I've seen plenty of people who sat down for their first game with Sharuum the Hegemon or something similar. It doesn't matter what cards they're actually playing, people have been trained to hate on that kind of deck, and they got smashed before they could accomplish anything. That's one more player turned off of the format forever. A general that discourages people from attacking you and generates chump blockers means, if nothing else, you'll have longevity.
Second, there are a ton of directions to take with a deck like this, and the budget build can touch on all of them. We get a token theme with anthems and Skullclamp. We get a tribal theme, since Darien gives you plenty of soldiers to play with. We get the sweet attrition engines that win you the long game. We also get the basis of an equipment deck, though the best equipment and enablers are well outside of our budget.
The point is that anyone who picks up this deck will have a ton of room to customize it however they want. There's also plenty of space for people to upgrade the deck with stuff they have lying around in their collection. Any number of $1-2 artifacts and white cards could be used to upgrade something in this list.
So we have a budget deck that's reasonably competitive, infinitely customizeable and easy to upgrade. Let's dive in!
The deck we're building is largely based on making soldier tokens and converting them into other resources like cards, removal and direct damage.
There are two things we want to be aware of to begin. The first is that sometimes people won't deal damage to us. For these cases we want to build some mechanisms into the deck to deal ourselves damage when we need to generate soldier tokens.
The second issue is Darien's cost of six mana. Six is a ton, and unlike [card Bruna, Light of Alabaster]Bruna[/card] this deck can't afford to run temporary mana sources like Remote Farm as acceleration.
As per usual, the mana base determines our ability to execute the deck's plan. Let's start with that before covering the token shenanigans.
The Mana Base
Unfortunately, lands like Ancient Tomb and [card Urza's Tower]Urza Lands[/card] are well outside of the budget of this deck. This means that we have to make a slow, stable mana base rather than a more explosive one. This means a high land count backed by mana rocks that jump us from three or four mana to six on the following turn.
This is the part of the deck that could use the most work. It's shocking how expensive some of the lands this deck wants are.
City of Brass and Tarnished Citadel are actually insane, and would make great inclusions if they weren't $3-5 a piece. Just imagine tapping Tarnished Citadel for white, untapping with with Deserted Temple and then tapping it again! There's probably also a way to go infinite with some combination of these cards and Rings of Brighthearth, if you were the kind of person who wanted to.
The deck would also benefit from a [card Snow-Covered Plains]snow[/card] mana base with Mouth of Ronom and Scrying Sheets to increase the land count while making sure you find enough spells. Similarly, you could add colorless lands that double as acceleration. Something like Temple of the False God would go an awfully long way towards improving this deck.
Because we can't run the more powerful lands in this deck, we have to focus a little more on the artifact mana than I'd normally prefer. While some of the classics like Sol Ring and Worn Powerstone aren't within our budget, there are a decent number of options that we can look to.
- Marble Diamond ($0.25)
- Tooth of Ramos ($0.75)
- Pristine Talisman ($0.25)
- Paradise Plume ($0.25)
- Kor Cartographer ($0.15)
- Honor-Worn Shaku ($0.25)
- Ur-Golem's Eye ($0.15)
- Expedition Map ($0.50)
- Wayfarer's Bauble ($0.50)
While we may not be able to consistently cast Darien on turn three or turn four, we should be able to cast him on turn five. Tooth of Ramos is the best accelerent here since it lets you cast a turn four Darien on its own, which none of these others can boast.
This is another area of the deck that can be easily supercharged with staples like Mind Stone and Everflowing Chalice. Even Mana Vault is insane for this deck, casting Darien as early as turn three on its own and doubling as a build-you-own-Bitterblossom!
Darien has to have some generals to take charge of the soldiers he's generating, right? While we may not be able to squeeze gems like Daru Warchief and Field Marshal into our budget, there are still some stellar budget options that are more than serviceable.
- Knight-Captain of Eos ($0.75)
- Veteran Armorsmith ($0.25)
- Veteran Armorer ($0.25)
- Catapult Master ($0.50)
- Catapult Squad ($0.50)
- Gempalm Avenger ($0.15)
- Brass Herald ($0.50)
- Ballyrush Banneret ($0.50)
- Mentor of the Meek ($1.00)
- Goldnight Commander ($0.25)
- Angel of Glory's Rise ($1.00)
- Hand of Justice ($0.75)
- Marble Titan ($0.50)
The first group of cards here interact favorably with Darien and tokens. Of these, the most exciting ones are Catapult Master and Knight-Captain of Eos. These cards give "real decks" fits, because they either can't kill you or you can exile at will key pieces of their recursion engine or combo. I'm not sure how difficult it is to get five soldiers without access to Tarnished Citadel, but I imagine it isn't too hard.
Mentor of the Meek is also worth mentioning, since he lets you turn damage into cards. Generally I try to hold this guy until I can draw one or two cards immediately after he resolves, so you get some value out of him before he's invariably [card Swords to Plowshares]sent farming[/card] or some such.
The second set of cards make every token net you life. People will feel ridiculous wasting removal on these guys, but if they don't you can grind them out without too much trouble.
Ranger of Eos would make this suite of cards much better because you could tutor up both soul sisters and hold one back until the first dies. As it stands the second one we draw is a blank unless our first one is dead.
So we have a bunch of soldiers laying around. What exactly do we do with them? We've can already turn soldiers into more tangible resources, but what else can we put them to work doing?
We have a few things to make the soldiers into a more cohesive and formidable squadron. The first thing to note is that equipment are very powerful. If you want to take a small guy and turn him into a legitmate threat, the easiest way is to slap a ton of equipment onto him. Unfortunately, most of the sweet equipment like the Swords cycle are outside our budget, but there are still some strong options available:
- Nim Deathmantle ($0.50)
- Heavy Arbalest ($0.25)
- Gorgon Flail ($0.25)
- Mortarpod ($0.75)
- Darksteel Plate ($1.50)
- Leonin Bola ($0.15)
- Skullclamp ($2.00)
For the most part these equipment all serve the same role. They give you ways to band together your small soldiers and take on the bigger creatures on the table. Whether you assemble a deathtouch-Mortarpod or merely pass around the Heavy Arbalest, you should be able to use some combination of these to contain most scary creatures.
The biggest issue is the lack of consistent ways to find the equipment you need. The good enablers, like Stoneforge Mystic and Steelshaper's Gift, are relatively pricey and out of reach of this particular endeavor. That said, I don't think they're essential. Each of the equipment we've included is okay on its own, if not stellar. The deck could certainly use a little more tutoring power, but we'll do fine without.
One other set of cards helps your soldiers interact profitably with the table. At this point, most of the following are just redundant copies of effects we've already seen, like Diversionary Tactics as a second Leonin Bola and Martyr's Cause as another Knight-Captain of Eos. There are a number of interesting choices here though:
- Bullwhip ($0.25)
- Slate of Ancestry ($0.75)
- Martyr's Cause ($0.25)
- Divine Sacrament ($1.50)
- Jinxed Idol ($0.65)
- Torture Chamber ($0.50)
- Jade Monolith ($0.50)
- Diversionary Tactics ($0.25)
- Carnage Altar ($0.25)
There are a few ideas here that I'm trying out. First of all there are some additional ways to generate tokens. Bullwhip, Jade Monolith and Torture Chamber all generate soldier tokens while having marginal utility effects that, while not insane, will have an effect on the way a game plays out.
The best of these is undoubtedly Slate of Ancestry. This card is incredibly swingy, but it's your most mana-efficient source of card draw, something that white decks (and budget decks in general) are sorely in need of. Similary, though this is probably the worst card in this deck, Carnage Altar pulls its weight as a pseudo-Skullclamp that doesn't care about anthems.
The find that excites me most is the aforementioned Torture Chamber. This card does everything. I wish that it dealt the damage to your opponents as well, but that may be asking for too much. It acts as a removal spell for a deck sorely lacking for ways to interact with creatures besides chumping; it generate soldier tokens; and its an efficient effect.
What more could you want? This card is a real gem and it fits perfectly in a Darien deck.
Utility Effects and Card Advantage
Every deck needs some pieces to tie everything together. The effects this deck needs most are recursion for key pieces and answers to artifacts, enchantments and the graveyard. I think we can do a good job of supplying some of those.
- Razor Hippogriff ($0.25)
- Treasure Hunter ($0.25)
- Stonecloaker ($1.00)
- Stormfront Riders ($0.25)
- Kor Sanctifiers ($0.15)
- Dust Elemental ($0.50)
- Scout's Warning ($0.50)
- Austere Command ($3.00)
- Mass Calcify ($1.00)
- Solemn Offering ($0.15)
- Disenchant ($0.15)
- Saltblast ($0.25)
- Gaze of Justice ($0.15)
- Coordinated Barrage ($0.15)
- Unified Strike ($0.15)
Not a ton of shocking choices here. The most interesting are the creatures with "Enters the Battlefield" effects that you can abuse with the "gating" creatures that return a creature to your hand. Using these you have a resilient recursion engine to make use of well into the late game.
The cost for all this is about $34, which is pretty reasonable as far as Commander decks go. That leaves you a few dollars to upgrade where you see fit.
Here's the finalized list:
Knight-Captain of Eos
Mentor of the Meek
Angel of Glorys Rise
Hand of Justice
Gaze of Justice
Death or Glory
Tooth of Ramos
Slate of Ancestry
Quest for the Holy Relic
This is the deck that got me to love mono-white, allegedly the single worst color in Commander. I definitely won games on the back of swarms of soldiers teaming up to break people's expectations, and I'm sure you can too.
The deck is a ton of fun to play because of the number of angles you can attack from. You can decide early on whether you'd be better served playing a more aggressive or controlling role, and plan your game around that. Better yet, you can change roles quickly and easily.
Like I said, I'm hoping to do a full series of mono-colored budget decks of different flavors. Then maybe we'll move on to two-color combinations. Be sure to let me know what you'd like to see from the Blue, Green, and Red decks!
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