By Carlos

So the question of the day is who am I, and what am I doing here?  My name is Carlos, and I’ve been trying to get more involved in both CommanderCast and the online Commander community in general.  The one thing you need to know about me is that I’m a Johnny through and through.  I love the deck design aspect of this game, and building a commander deck is a challenge that’s as interesting and complex as you want it to be, and is really an experience that is unique from the rest of Magic.

What I’m hoping is that this will be the first in a series of deck design and deck help articles.  Each week I want to build or reconstruct a deck, either my own project or, preferably, one submitted by any readers, taking into consideration any specific restrictions, be they budgetary or thematic.  Hopefully, at the end of each article we’ll have a functional deck that can hold its own in a typical Commander game.

To start this off, I’ve got a project that was given to me by one of my friends from home.  He sold his collection several years ago, and got back into the game when he saw us playing Commander a few months ago.  Up until now, he’s been borrowing decks from other players, but has decided it’s time to build his own deck that fits his personality.  The problem is that he’s on a pretty strict budget, and can only allocate about $30 on his deck this time around.  So what is he looking for in a deck?  He’s got four things that he wants in this deck, along with some of my own comments on those requirements:

  • It must be mono-colored.  Decks with two or more colors have to invest heavily in their mana bases.  It’s more cost effective to spend that money on cards that are fun and interactive rather than mana fixing.
  • It must be aggressive.  There aren’t too many ways to effectively beat down in a format with 40 life, and the two that are most effective are token beatdown and voltron beatdown.  Tokens provide a little more utility, as they’re able to overwhelm blockers, or help protect your life total, and are more likely to kill multiple players in a single turn.  This comes at the expense of being significantly more vulnerable to wraths.
  • It must be able to gain life.  One of the biggest determinants of who wins the game is how capable they are of staying in the game, and most decks win through the combat phase.  Being able to consistently regenerate your life total is a good way to generate a long term advantage over other players.
  • It must be able to win big.  This is the reason we play EDH, right?  People swinging for hundreds of damage, generating absurdly large (but not infinite) amounts of mana, and other ridiculous kinds of plays like that. In my experience, voltron decks get boring VERY quickly, and don’t tend to produce very many memorable plays.  This starts to push me towards more of a token strategy than a voltron strategy.

Still, you have to think about how awesome it might be to be able to manage both a voltron and token beatdown theme.  If someone has a Maze of Ith, your token creatures can just overwhelm them; if they’ve got wraths, you don’t have to overextend your tokens into them if you don’t think it’s appropriate.  The general most appropriate for this, in my mind, is:

The interesting part of trying to build Kemba on a budget is that you don’t get access to all the staple artifacts such as Sword of Fire and Ice/Light and Shadow, or Mind’s Eye and the like.  You also can’t really run any Wrath of God or Armageddon effects, just because they’re more expensive.  The deck is going to need a little bit of a different direction to compensate for the lack of cards that are powerful on their own.  Basically, the deck is going to have to rely on engines instead of individual cards to generate an advantage over the course of a game.

The first and most important thing for the deck is going to be the equipment, so let’s talk equipment.  The first thing I’m concerned about is being able to play and equip Kemba with one or more equipment in a single turn.  This forces your opponents to have removal, or let you start to generate card advantage.  The other thing I’m looking for is equipment-based combos, and other mechanisms of generating card advantage in the long term.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

General Purpose Equipment:
Darksteel Axe (0.25)
Konda’s Banner (1.49)
Diviner’s Wand (0.25)
Explorer’s Scope (0.15)
Pennon Blade (0.25)
Strata Scythe (0.49)
Grafted Exoskeleton (0.25)

Removal Equipment:
Gorgon Flail (0.25)
Quietus Spike (0.89)
Thornbite Staff (0.25)
Sword of the Paruns (0.49)
Viridian Longbow (0.25)
Heartseeker (0.89)

Recursion Equipment:
Nim Deathmantle (0.75)
Runed Stalactite (0.15)
Oathkeeper, Takeno’s Daisho (0.59)

17 Cards, $8.63  ** Note: Prices are based on prices for cards that are in either NM or SP condition **

So the equipment is broken into three sections.  The first is just generic, vanilla equipment that’s just there to pump Kemba or provide a generic utility effect.  The second set is the first of two equipment-based engines.  These try to give Kemba deathtouch, a Prodigal Pyromancer effect, and a way to untap itself, so you can machine-gun down the other creatures to clear the way for your tokens.  That last group is a way to recur creatures; something the deck is sort of built around.  Runed Stalactite plus Oathkeeper seems like it could be STUPIDLY powerful with sacrifice outlets.  Similarly,  Nim Deathmantle has already proven itself to be absurdly good as a pseudo Recurring-Nightmare.

The next thing that I want to worry about is the creatures that you’re going to be recurring with the two engines that I’m including.  Here I’m really looking for some creatures with good “Enters the battlefield” effects, or ones that include sacrifices as a cost.  The idea here is that, since the best cards won’t fit in the budget, you can use a few engine cards to make the rest of your cards a lot more powerful.

Ranger of Eos Package:
Ranger of Eos (2.99)
Martyr of Sands (0.19)
Soul Warden (0.25)
Soul’s Attendant (0.25)
Benevolent Bodyguard (0.15)
Kami of False Hope (0.25)
Salvage Scout (0.15)

Artifact Recursion:
Sanctum Gargoyle (0.15)
Razor Hippogriff (0.25)
Leonin Squire (0.25)

Equipment Fetchers:
Stonehewer Giant (0.99)
Taj-Nar Swordsmith (0.39)

Misc. Creatures:
Emeria Angel (0.99)
World Queller (0.39)

31 cards, $16.27

So there’s four kinds of creatures here, and the first is the one I’m the most excited about.  That’s the Ranger of Eos package; Ranger is one of my favorite cards to be printed, and it’s the most expensive card in the deck.  It also does a lot of cool things for this deck – first and foremost, it puts together the lifegain theme.  Soul’s Attendant and Soul Warden are awesome with Kemba.   Martyr of Sands is ridiculously powerful, can easily put the game out of reach with Takeno/Stalactite or Nim Deathmantle.   Bodyguard, Kami, and Salvage scout all interact positively with those two engines also, providing protection for Kemba, infi-fog, and artifact recursion respectively.

The second set is just artifact recursion that can be re-used by recurring the creatures.  Leonine Squire plays especially well with the next set of cards that I want to talk about.  Stonehewer Giant and Taj-Nar Swordsmith are the only ways that you have to tutor up equipment on a reasonable budget.  Emeria Angel is another way to generate tokens, since the deck is going to have lots of ways to abuse the token generation.  Worldqueller is the only way you can remove some kinds of permanents, and it’s a sort of taxing effect to keep people honest with their artifact ramp and whatnot.  It shouldn’t affect you too much since, ideally, you’ll be pumping out tokens as quickly as possible, but it should help you pull ahead in a close game.

This next set of cards showcases one of my new favorite cards for budget decks, and one that interacts really well with all of the creatures that sacrifice themselves, especially when you get one of your recursion engines going.

Salvaging Station Package:
Salvaging Station (0.49)
Wayfarer’s Bauble (0.25)
Expedition Map (0.25)
Sunbeam Spellbomb (0.15)
Origin Spellbomb (0.15)
Scrabbling Claws (0.25)
Phyrexian Furnace (0.39)
Dispeller’s Capsule (0.25)

39 cards, $18.39

Salvaging Station is a card that doesn’t see a whole lot of play, and I don’t really understand it.  There are a lot of really good 1cc artifacts that generate incremental card advantage, and creatures get destroyed or wrathed all the time, which lets you get additional value out of the Station.

So this package gives you a little bit of everything.  Artifact/Enchantment removal, graveyard hate, creatures, lifegain, card draw, mana ramp – these 1cc artifacts accomplish an awful lot, and a lot of them do it while cantripping.  This helps an underpowered deck filter through its cards until you find the pieces that you need to start closing out the game.  As I mentioned before, the Station is especially absurd if you’ve got some of your 1cc creatures with a sacrifice effect, and starts becoming broken when you’ve got a way to repeatedly recur those creatures.  If you’re building a deck on a budget, I’d strongly suggest looking at what Salvaging Station can do for you.  It’s a really good way to make your deck a little more cohesive and powerful for just a couple dollars.

The next thing I want to talk about are the generic utility cards. Every deck needs some answers to artifacts, enchantments, and other problematic permanents, as well as ways to protect your stuff.  Most of these are pretty uninspired and generic, but there are one or two gems I found for this.

Utility Cards:
Brave the Elements (0.75)
Shelter (0.25)
Gilded Light (0.49)
Disenchant (0.19)
Faith’s Fetters (0.19)
Afterlife (0.25)
Return to Dust (0.49)
Harsh Mercy (0.49)
Saltblast (0.25)
Hand of Justice (0.49)
Diversionary Tactics (0.25)

51 cards, $22.54

So here you’ve got a couple of open-ended answers to problematic permanents, and then you’ve got a few gems that people seem to miss.  There is no better feeling than “countering” a cryptic command or some such with a Shelter, or using Shelter to force through lethal damage.  Brave the Elements is obviously better at forcing through damage, but the cantrip is just so good.

Looking past these generic utility cards, the real gems here are Hand of Justice and Diversionary Tactics.  Hand of justice is hilarious with Sword of the Paruns or Thornbite Staff, and provides repeatable spot removal in a color that doesn’t typically get that kind of effect.  Diversionary Tactics is awesome.  Opposition and Glare of Subdual see a lot of play, and Diversionary Tactics is a narrower, but similar kind of effect in the color that is the best at producing creature tokens.  Considering that a good number of the decks I see that are white-based or mono-white are based on creature tokens, I’m surprised that this doesn’t see much play.

The last couple of cards are just some artifact ramp and miscellaneous cards that didn’t really fit anywhere else.  These will round out the deck and provide some additional ways to win the game, and a few bombs that have to be dealt with.

Mana Ramp:
Mind Stone (0.89)
Prismatic Lens (0.25)
Marble Diamond (0.25)
Tooth of Ramos (0.50)
Star Compass (0.25)

56 cards, $24.68

So the artifact ramp should be pretty self-explanatory.  There’s not quite as much artifact ramp as I would like, but a lot of the good, staple mana rocks like Coalition Relic and Everflowing Chalice are out of budget, but will be easy ways to upgrade the deck in the future.  This deck really wants another 2 or 3 spells instead of running 38 lands, but there aren’t too many other spells that are in the budget that I’m excited about playing.  Besides, both of the equipment based recursion engines are mana intensive, but will win the game if you can get them running, so having some extra mana around won’t hurt too much.

Misc. Other:
Mine Excavation (0.15)
Carnage Altar (0.25)
Rings of Brighthearth (0.75)
Steelshaper’s Gift (0.59)
Sacred Mesa (0.89)
True Conviction (0.75)
Cleansing (0.99)

62 cards, $29.05

There’s only two cards I want to talk about regarding the miscellaneous other cards.  The first is Sacred Mesa.  This has really been seeing a bit of a falling out, and I can’t understand why.  This card is really, really good, and just wins a lot of games on its own.  I mean, you’re making tokens, so you’re resilient to spot removal, you can just make more tokens if they wrath you.  It pretty much requires enchantment removal, but that’s fine since it means there’s one less removal spell for your equipment.

Cleansing is another gem I found while building this deck.  For comparison, Searing Winds costs 10, and only hits one player, and doesn’t have a chance of being an Armageddon.   Let’s say late game most players are going to have 10 or so lands.  You’re either cutting their life total by a significant margin, making it easier to alpha strike them, or getting rid of the resources they can use to answer your spells.  It’s a little bit of an interesting political question, and you could definitely make some friends by paying some life to protect their lands.

The Final Card:
Emeria, the Sky Ruin (1.99)

63 cards, $31.04

The last card I want to add is the only non-basic land in the deck, and is going to put the deck a little bit over budget, but I think it’s definitely worth it.  Emeria, the Sky Ruin is THE reason to play white in this format.  The card is an uncounterable Debtors’ Knell, and gives you an absurd amount of inevitability.  Because land destruction is frowned upon in most groups, Emeria can let you just run away with a game.  I am more than willing to warp the mana base and the mana fixing of a deck in order to make sure that I can consistently get an active Emeria, and I’ve never once regretted it.  If you’re playing a multicolored deck that has white in it, see what you can do to fit this in.

So in the end, I think this deck has a strong token creature and lifegain component, has a few powerful engines that are capable of eking out a pretty significant amount of card advantage over the course of a game.  The last thing I want to talk about is what I’d add to the deck given a little more of a budget, some things that’ll make the deck just a little more cohesive and powerful:

  1. Stoneforge Mystic (9.99)
  2. Weathered Wayferer (1.99)
  3. Mistveil Plains (0.50)
  4. Vesuva (4.99)
  5. Proclamation of Rebirth (1.99)
  6. Raksha Golden Cub (.75)
  7. Elspeth Tirel (14.99)
  8. Gauntlet of Power (3.99)
  9. Elspeth, Knight Errant (11.99)
  10. Basilisk Collar (4.99)

I think use of most of these is pretty evident, but the Mistveil Plains might need a little explanation.  It lets you recycle your utility lands or 1 drops so that you can tutor them up with Expedition Map or Ranger of Eos again.  It just gives you another uncounterable method of recurring the cards you need, and really helps to stick Emeria against groups that do play land destruction.  It’d be a little better if there were some more shuffle effects, but it’s still a fine inclusion, and enables another recursion engine.

That pretty much wraps up my first article, hopefully it’s a helpful take on building a reasonably powerful Commander deck on a budget.  This is my first time doing this, and a consequence of that is that I don’t really know what I’m doing. If you’ve got any comments or constructive criticism, or just liked what I’m doing, let me know.  I’m also looking for community contribution of ideas or decklists that I can work with, so if you’ve got an interesting idea, a deck you want me to look at, or even just a quick question, I’d be glad to hear from you.  I’m also really looking for a better name.  I’m terrible at naming things, and this is really all I’ve got off the top of my head.  For the time being, I’ll be taking all the responses, comments, and contributions to these articles at  Thanks for reading!