This entry is part 8 of 17 in the series Accumulated Knowledge


A long time ago, in a Magic world far, far away, Commander was a budget format.  It was a game you and your friends played, using all those extra junk rares in your binder, and built from the bargain bin at the local gaming store.  I remember having a group of guys come over to my apartment in Wichita one night. Only a few of them had decks.  My friend Scott and I had to throw some decks together last minute, 4 extra decks in the span of 30 minutes before people arrived.  These decks were tribal themed and held up surprisingly well at the time.  That was a long time ago, and that world doesn’t exist anymore.  If you want to play Commander, you can’t just throw your junk in a deck and hope to come out on top.  Most Commander decks are worth more than standard decks, and some are worth more than many legacy decks.  The hive mind of the Internet and podcasts have bred a format that is no longer thought of anything close to budget.

Luckily, this is a perception and not a reality.  While Commander decks can rarely be just thrown together in an effective manner, they can be built for less than the price of a single Jace, the Mind Sculptor.  I don’t mean that you can go about building a pauper deck. I mean you can build a real, effective deck without taking out a second mortgage or selling vital organs.   I have built several very cheap decks, and today I will show you one of those decks.

$50 Azami, Lady of Scrolls

Of the 5 budget decks I created lists for, I purchased the cards for  3 of them.  Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Maga, Traitor to Mortals and Azami, Lady of Scrolls.  Of the 3 I purchased, I think Azami turned out the best.   When I play with the Azami deck, it doesn’t feel like I am playing with a budget deck.  The first few game trials, I would preface to people that I was playing a budget/tribal version of the deck.  As time went on, it became apparent that this disclaimer was a bit of a joke.  The deck had no problems standing toe to toe with the expensive decks in group games. It needed to be treated like any other Azami deck.  That is to say, if you see someone playing Azami, attack them.  The deck wins most of the games it plays.  It does this the same way most Azami decks win games, through pure card advantage.

The Commander
Azami, Lady of Scrolls is one of the most notorious Commanders in the game.  I chose her because I didn’t want to build a second Arcum deck and her price tag rings in at a very modest $0.75-$1.00.  Azami is a Commander that gives you an obvious direction in which to build.  When you are looking to build on a budget, you have to depend more on the synergy between cards that the sheer power of individual cards.  As long as you are not getting a foil Commander, there are a ton of options sitting in your stores dollar bin that make amazing Commanders.

Going for the Win
The plan for Azami is to draw into answers or draw into a win.  Since we are going to be playing with a bunch of tiny wizards that we need to tap to do various things, swinging in for damage is unlikely to be the way we accomplish victory.  I depend on combos heavily to win the game.

  • Psychosis Crawler + Mind Over Matter: The Crawler can win a game even without Azami’s favorite enchantment for backup.  The deck draws so many cards that the Crawler is a huge body that can easily finish players off once they have been drained for life.  Sadly, Mind Over Matter doesn’t exactly go infinite with Azami at this level.  That doesn’t matter, unless someone has already gained an infinite amount of life.  The last time I tried this way, one of my opponents decided to deck himself with Consecrated Sphinx rather than give me the pleasure of taking him out.  Just in case anyone is curious, I actually like it better if I can trick you to fall on your own blade than when I have to kill you myself.
  • Palinchron+ High Tide – This combo is about as well known as combos come.  Once you have the infinite mana, there are plenty of ways you can use the mana to either win the game or set up a situation that gives you an absurd advantage.  The most common spells I use are Capsize and Blue Sun’s Zenith .
  • Basalt Monolith + Rings of Brighthearth- If you have not seen this combo before, I am not sure where you have been playing Commander.  In a nutshell, you copy the untap effect from the Monolith with the Rings to generate an infinite amount of colorless mana.  With that mana you double all your draws from Azami, cast Gemstone Array, and finish off your opponents as you see fit.
  • PICKLES! – When you are building on a budget, you don’t always have the liberty of being the most creative guy out there. Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter work great together, when you want to leave a bad taste in your opponents mouths by locking them out of the game.  There are four morph creatures in this deck that are all great targets for the Shapeshifter if you can’t find the Elemental in time.
  • Doubling Cube + Filigree Sages – The sages are wizards that can untap themselves to draw cards.  Once you generate infinite mana with the combo, you can also draw infinite cards with Azami and the Sages.  This is probably my favorite mana combo in the deck, since it actually uses a wizard.  Mind Over Matter shines once again in conjunction with this combo, as it lets you untap lands and the cube until you reach the 10 mana required to go infinite.
  • Diviner’s Wand- Did I say this would rarely win by swinging for damage?  I might have been mistaken.  Diviner’s Wand lets Azami get big enough and gives her evasion so that she can lay into some jabronies with the people’s elbow.  You get the benefit of bragging rights for killing someone with Commander damage and doing it using a Commander with zero power.

The Bulk 

Azami decks are about as linear as they come.  You play some wizards with control or draw abilities, a few control magic enchantments, a few extra draw spells, and mana rocks.  Blue can be really expensive if you spend your money on expensive counter spells and artifacts.  However, Blue creatures are generally pretty cheap if they aren’t named Snapcaster Mage.

If you really mostly on wizards to do the heavy lifting for the deck, you will save a lot of money and stay on theme. This goes the same for most colors.  If you play to the strengths of a color but use the less popular card types, you can save quite a bit of money.  For colors that are not green, this means that playing a heavier creature count will give you a lower costing deck.  Creatures are cheaper because they are easier to kill.  The more money you spend, the less vulnerable your strategy will be.   Being vulnerable to removal doesn’t mean you aren’t playing a powerful deck, it just means you need to learn to play around Wrath of God effects.

There are a few card that are key to being able to play an effective Azami deck:

  • Patron Wizard – Patron Wizard is an absolute must-have in Azami.  Aside from Azami herself, Patron Wizard gives you the best use of tapping wizards in the deck.  With a great lack of counter spells, el Patron fills a crucial role, while tasting pretty good with some salt and lime.
  • Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir – Teferi is one of the few black wizards in the deck, and helps us with our affirmative action paperwork.  Teferi and the Echo mage show us that being a wizard is for all races.  He also lets a creature-based blue deck play like a traditional blue control deck.   Being able to play wizards at instant speeds lets you interact with other players in a meaningful way on their turn.  In addition, since most Wizards have tap abilities, this gives opponents less time to deal with them.
  • Archmage Ascension – Go ahead and take a second to read this card.  You know what, take your time and read it again.  For the slow kids in class I will break down what this says, “Tap a wizard: search your deck for any card and put it in your hand.”  Yeah, “holy shit”, is right!  If it wasn’t for Mind Over Matter, this would be Azami’s favorite partner in the world.  That girl in the art is actually Azami with her face paint washed off, getting all freaky with the ascension.  It’s a good thing Ascension is so cheap or Azami would be penniless.
  • Fallowsage – This is another auto-include in Azami.  This card is what lets you draw your deck with Mind Over Matter, instead of just cycling through it.

Put it all together
Just in case you are wondering how full of it I might be on the price of this deck.  I actually bought this deck a week before worlds on TCGplayer using the cart optimizer for under $40+shipping.  I provided my own Islands, Sol Ring and Mind Over Matter.  I figured you get this deck for $50+shipping with little problems, even if you owned none of the cards below.  Here is the link to the deck on TCGplayer –

1 Azami, Lady of Scrolls
1 Merrow Levitator
1 Brine Elemental
1 Cytoplast Manipulator
1 Fallowsage
1 Echo Mage
1 Enclave Cryptologist
1 Filigree Sages
1 Graceful Adept
1 Grand Architect
1 Information Dealer
1 Inspired Sprite
1 Jushi Apprentice
1 Magus of the Future
1 Palinchron
1 Patron Wizard
1 Riptide Director
1 Riptide Chronologist
1 Sage of Fables
1 Sigil Tracer
1 Silver Myr
1 Steel Hellkite
1 Stonybrook Banneret
1 Supreme Inquisitor
1 Surgespanner
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Treasure Mage
1 Trinket Mage
1 Vedalken Aethermage
1 Vesuvan Shapeshifter
1 Voidmage Apprentice
1 Voidmage Husher
1 Voidmage Prodigy
1 Willbender
1 Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
1 Credit Voucher
1 Mana Vault
1 Sol Ring
1 Mind Over Matter
1 Archmage Ascension
1 Basalt Monolith
1 Blue Sun’s Zenith
1 Caged Sun
1 Capsize
1 Coldsteel Heart
1 Corrupted Conscience
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Diviner’s Wand
1 Doubling Cube
1 Elixir of Immortality
1 Gemstone Array
1 High Tide
1 Manalith
1 Mind Control
1 Mind Stone
1 Rhystic Study
1 Rings of Brighthearth
1 Sky Diamond
1 Soothsaying
1 Spellbook
1 Take Possession
1 Volition Reins
1 Voltaic Key
36 Island
1 Tolaria West

Commander has become notorious for being an expensive format.  I hope this example can show you how it doesn’t have to be.  Commander is a casual format and should only require a casual level of investment for people to have fun.

I have been getting more propositions for advice lately, and I love it.  If anyone needs help with a deck (at any price level) or wants to see a topic discussed, do not hesitate to email me at

Twitter: @swordstoplow

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