$12 Commander: Is It the Cards… or You, the Player?

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The best part of playing Magic is the virtually limitless number of scenarios you can experience in every one of your games. Even so, Magic players tend to be a weird bunch. There are piles of websites dedicated to ranking cards, decks, and strategies, even though they don't know your local meta, power level, or group identity. The idea of "builds" and "staples" is contrary to the fundamental purpose of the Commander format, yet many Magic players subscribe to these ideas. Why?

My explanation: human nature. Competition is not only an aspect of humanity, but also the Earth. Through billions of years of evolution and natural selection, everything on this planet has become better, stronger, more efficient; humanity is the prime example. There's even a well-known trope for this idea.

When you win or lose, you evaluate what happened, and a lot of players' evaluation ends up being "My cards weren't good enough!" or "I lost to someone else's wallet!" Fewer players think "I played that wrong" or "What could I have done to win that?" In parallel, I've continued to ask the question: "How low can you go?" on budget and power while maintaining a functional deck.

Katilda, Budget Commander

Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr // Katilda's Rising Dawn was a Commander custom built deck I picked up off eBay for $12 shipped. The reason that I purchased this deck was not for play, but purely to pick up full-art lands and Commander staples on the cheap. However, that week, I did not have a new deck ready, so I decided to play Katilda. You know, for fun?

The power level of this deck hovers somewhere between a two and three. It's extremely close to what I would call "a pile of cards" and "a pile of somewhat synergistic cards." Here are the breakdowns of cards by type.

  • Spirits (Creatures) - 15
  • Enchantments - 22
  • Artifacts - 12
  • Sorceries - 6
  • Instants - 8
  • Lands - 37

An astute reader may spot an issue here. These add up to 100 cards plus Katilda as 101. Bonus card for me I guess! I cut a basic land to maintain the "integrity" of the original deck designer's "vision," and you will see what I mean by that (and the scare quotes). What does 12 cents a card get you?

Some Absolutely Terrible Choices

Yes, these cards were included in a mono-white deck. While I am a stickler about misusing the term "strictly," I'hat d still argue these are strictly worse for this deck than just basic Plains. There's really no reason to include five color, tapped, pay one mana or sacrifice lands. None at all. This is the worst part of the land base that I played with, but by no means is it the only wrongdoing.

Remember, I paid $12 for this deck, and the inclusion of these lands helped make it very decent in terms of price. But in terms of play? There's no reason for any of them. There's no artifact synergy with the rest of the deck for Ancient Den or Darksteel Citadel. No life gain synergy for Radiant Fountain, or mill protection with Drownyard Temple. Command Tower is absolutely worthless here and should just be a Plains. Finally, Thespian's Stage could at least copy something someone else has and could be decent in theory, but I wonder: in how many games it would really matter?

This is something I am working on; namely, a term that means "did this truly matter?" Since I have been tracking this idea, the difference between, for example, Contaminated Aquifer and Underground Sea has not mattered. I mean this. I've asked around tables if it mattered that this particular land came into play tapped this turn, and the universal answer was "No." That said, obviously it's better to have an untapped land than a tapped land in much the same way that it would obviously be better to have a basic Plains in a mono-white deck than a Stage. But I digress. That's the theory; I'd argue that in practice, in this deck, none of these choices mattered enough to warrant inclusion over basic lands.

What Does It Have?

These are the EDREC top 100 cards in this deck. Comically, not a single top 100 white card is present, even though there are several thematically strong and synergistic cards available that are within the "budget" of this deck like Selfless Spirit or Ethereal Armor. So what did this deck even do? Not much.

In game one I durdled while my opponents assembled value engines, removed threats, and eventually combo'd out the table. My 5/5 flying, protection from Vampires commander did nothing, my random 2/3 vanilla spirits did nothing, and my value enchantments, well, did nothing. I made sure the table knew all about it. So in game two, I decided I was going to do something. I took one mulligan because I wanted to ensure that I had at least a single piece of removal. With removal, I could affect the outcome of the game, or at least attempt to. That piece of removal was Angelic Purge.

The Purge Isn't Just a Movie

It turns out that this extreme budget deck still had some tricks up its sleeve. I decided to sacrifice my commander to Purge a Smothering Tithe that would heavily stall the game. My reasoning for losing my commander rather than another card? Since Katilda had bestow, I could suit up my Phantom Nomad, who would become effectively immune to damage. Way back in 2002, I had felt first hand the devastating power of Phantom Nomad and cards like it. By losing all +1/+1 counters but being enchanted, the creature became immune to damage and nigh-unkillable. When the table was hit with a Blasphemous Act, I just laughed.

Soon after, it was time for diplomacy. A united table ganged up on the Atraxa, Praetors' Voice deck, taking them out. Subsequently, the next player fell to my Nomad in one attack. Suddenly my absolute garbage-tier deck was in a 1v1 situation. How would it fare?

What a Game-Winning Card (Can) Look Like

After a few attacks in the air, my opponent produced some reach A-Thran Spiders courtesy of Lolth, Spider Queen. I tried to overwhelm them with an Inspired Charge but they had removal and enough blockers, barely surviving with critical HP. If I didn't do something soon, they would easily overtake Katilda.

I trusted in the heart of the cards and top-decked a Sigarda's Imprisonment, which locked down one blocker and allowed me to force through lethal. Personally, I was shocked. While I do come to every Commander table ready to play my best, I did not believe the pile of cards purchased off a random seller on eBay with so many build mistakes was capable of winning a single game.

Of course, that was my mistake. Turns out it's not about the deck or the cards in it, but about the player. From the opening decision to keep a hand with some interaction, to working diplomacy on the table, to leveraging an ancient card interaction, I had forgotten that the player is the single most important ingredient in executing a game plan. Far too often, players (including myself) forget that Magic is a game of both chance and skill, knowledge and best guesses. Even in a deck full of powerful Commander staples, you may simply not draw them. You then have to figure out how to win with what you have, not what you want!

Future Plans for Katilda?

I'm going to use part of this deck for my Hofri Ghostforge tribal Spirits deck that will not feature any overlapping Spirits from the Millicent, Restless Revenant deck I play against at home. The value of this purchase has paid massive dividends not just in terms of cash value but also fun factor, replay value, and creative inspiration... look no further than this very article!

Furthermore, it has driven home the point that even budget cards are playable and can put in work at most Commander tables. The vast majority of games are not played at the highest competitive tournament level, but in a social group dynamic; for fun. Lately, I've been playing a lot of the pre-made Commander decks, and they have proven to be both fun and powerful enough to take on my peers.

After my Katilda experiment, I've been trying to get even lower and more random in my budget deck search, but finding entire Commander decks for so little is difficult. Still, I'm someone who will try it! Just wait until the day I buy an entire deck for a penny (I'm counting on it).

What is your favorite budget deck? Budget card? In this era of cheap cards, does it really matter what you play? Let me know in the comments. And as always, have the most fun at your Commander table!

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Joe Mauri

Joe has been an avid MTG player and collector since the summer of 1994 when he started his collection with a booster box of Revised. Millions of cards later he still enjoys tapping lands and slinging spells at the kitchen table, LGS, or digital Arena. Commander followed by Draft are his favorite formats, but, he absolutely loves tournaments with unique build restrictions and alternate rules. A lover of all things feline, he currently resides with no less than five majestic creatures who are never allowed anywhere near his cards. When not Gathering the Magic, Joe loves streaming a variety of games on Twitch( both card and other.

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