Strixhaven Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Budget Commander with The Princess and Her Riven


What do Typhoid Rats, Faith's Fetters, and Dissipate have in common? All are probably cheaper than you think, and each is very potent in Commander specifically, and multiplayer generally.

Typhoid Rats
What do you do when you go to build your next Commander deck but your expensive deck stock is already in other decks? Where do you go if you own little deck stock and you want to build a Commander deck on the cheap? How do you go about finding some cheap cards for your Commander deck without trading your high-value cards?

There have been a few budget Commander articles here and there to spice up the Internet. But few have a budget that I consider to be real. Instead, they have had budgets of $75 or $100 per deck. While that’s not too bad, that’s a bit excessive for a deck I’d call budget. As someone unemployed for sixteen to seventeen months, I’m very sensitive to the cost of cards. Some cards cost a lot more than others. But not every card is worth its cost if you have to pick it up.

This is the fifth article in an ongoing Budget Commander series. Each deck seeks to come in under the budget of the previous one. The last one, a budget featuring Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius clocked it at $36.37 as of the writing of the article. It’s important to note that changes in prices can occur after writing an article—and even after the publication of one. So, while the prices may end up being a little fuzzy, the basic idea is there. I look for the cheapest copy of a card, near mint, on CoolStuffInc.com.

Many of my recent budget Commanders were recently printed (Talrand, Sky Summoner, Niv-Mizzet) or printed a few years before that (Ghave, Guru of Spores, Brion Stoutarm). So, I want to dig into Magic’s past and unearth a different sort of legendary creature. Let’s scrounge up an old-school Commander that offers fun and sun—and death from a water-based tower-castle thing!

Budget Build

Our total cost comes in at a lovely $35.68—which is a lot lower than the previous record of $36.37.

Princess Lucrezia
One of the goals of this deck was to incorporate some lesser-known old cards that fit the theme of Princess Lucrezia and Riven Turnbull. So, we have cards such as Nebuchadnezzar, Skeleton Ship, Ramirez DiPietro, and Sivitri Scarzam. They may not be the hottest tech on the Commander block, but they are cool, old-school legends that scream out flavor and fun.

I didn’t let the budget or these fools keep away power in my creature base, though. We have guys such as Rune-Scarred Demon, Sphinx of Magosi, Bloodgift Demon, and Sphinx of Uthuun for beats and cards. All give you cards of some sort or another along with a decent-sized threat for the red zone.

A nice blend of utility creatures leaped into the deck. Burnished Hart is great at bringing lands to the board to smooth the deck. (See also Armillary Sphere.) Thassa's Emissary seems like a nice choice for a deck like this. You can bestow it onto a slippery creature and then hit for extra damage plus a card. Then, post-removal, it remains in play. Or you can drop it early and get some hits in through weak opening defenses. (Or you can poke holes in defenses with your removal.)

I love creatures with enters-the-battlefield (ETB) triggers for a U/B deck. Not only is that true for this color pair in general, but the casual options for it are strong, too. I can easily fit in some of the greats, such as Mulldrifter and Shriekmaw. I liked creatures that slayed others enough to also include Nekrataal, Dark Hatchling, and Bone Shredder.

My ETB love also moved into the realm of discard. When facing multiple opponents, typical discard can be weak since you leave so many people’s hands undisturbed. That’s why I enjoy discard that scales with the number of opponents you have—such as Cackling Fiend and Liliana's Specter. You could also run mega-multiplayer hits such as Syphon Mind.

I wanted to ensure I had enough money in the budget for mana, so before I moved to other needs, I hit up my lands and mana rocks. Picking up Dimir’s colored lands is not too bad, and neither are a few rocks from recent sets. I also like Guardian Idol because it pulls double-duty as a mana accelerant and as a creature that can be made and rocked post-mass-removal.

The next card I added was Dire Undercurrents. It made even my awkward legendary creatures amazing. Since the deck was already emphasizing creatures by running creature-based card-draw or removal, this became a key tool to success. Blue creatures all draw a card, and black ones all force a discard—sign me up! (Even Sivitri Scarzam is nasty with this in place.)

I moved back into creatures and pushed even more. Let’s have bounce creatures (Mist Raven, Aether Adept)! Thieving Magpie! Evil Twin! Defense, such as Tidehollow Strix, Deathgaze Cockatrice, and Darksteel Sentinel!

Bident of Thassa
With a lot of creatures in the deck, Bident of Thassa looked to be a great card. We have a lot of flyers or sneakers, so this proved a strong addition to draw a lot of cards. Coastal Piracy joined the gang, too. Tortured Existence is among my favorite common cards of all time. It is cheap to play, use, and purchase. And it has incredible flexibility. Any creature you draw can be turned into the best creatures in your graveyard. It abuses some creatures outright.

I felt this deck needed a bit more play. While Bident and Coastal Piracy are great, and the Undercurrents certainly is rough, I still wanted some more toys that pushed the deck—cheaply. In went Conjurer's Closet to Flicker a creature in order to use its ETB trigger again. In order to help with the sneaky/card-draw theme, Mask of Riddles seemed to be a good option. A deck this reliant on creatures would benefit from some resistance to removal. So, instead of Cauldron of Souls or perhaps a fun Eldrazi Monument, we rolled with the cheap, but awesome, Nim Deathmantle.

Then, I headed to the spells. I began with countermagic. I really like cards such as Dissolve and Dissipate. But true budget-conscious decks really enjoy a card like Traumatic Visions. It had the requisite (and rare) land-fetching to smooth your mana base. Or you can use it as what I’ll admit is an expensive, but useful, counterspell. Either way, you have something you can use. I was able to find space for Psychic Strike, Rewind, and Faerie Trickery. Your counter suite can sometimes be among the most expensive section of your deck. It often features quality cards that can be a buck or three (or more, in cases of cards such as Desertion).

After ensuring my counters would be adequate, I fleshed out the deck with a few fun cards. In went some bounce (Capsize, Recoil, Cyclonic Rift, Aetherize), which can be used in a variety of ways. We also needed some creature removal of our own outside of the creature base (Murder, Spite // Malice, Expunge).

All that was left was to add a few cards here and there. We had some graveyard hate (Nihil Spellbomb, Suffer the Past), card-draw (Mind Spring, Staff of Nin, Recurring Insight), reanimation (Crypt Angel, Rescue from the Underworld), protection (Horn of Deafening), and tutor effects (Diabolic Tutor, Diabolic Revelation).

As I looked over the deck and the budget, I was close to the end—I had few cards or dollars left. I thought about another nonbasic land or two because I am $0.69 below the previous budget. I had room for a card that clocked in at fifty cents (that tends to be the price of an amazing common, a bad rare, or a good uncommon) and stretch my budget. But I liked trimming my budget down again. (I’d like the next one to come in under $35). So, I called it on account of time and money (and space).

If I had a bigger budget, I would have looked at cards such as Draining Whelk, Sword of Fire and Ice (or other options if you prefer), and Sol Ring.

The most powerful budget issue is mana—not being able to easily afford a Sol Ring, good mana lands, and such is the major weakness of this challenge. But there are cheap methods to fight this trend—look at cards such as Armillary Sphere, Pilgrim's Eye, and Harrow. You don’t need great cards such as Cultivate or Kodama's Reach—what you have will work fine.

So, build your deck around your own card collection. You don’t need to spend a hundred dollars to construct a decent Commander deck. There are decks out there that easily clock in at over a thousand dollars. I have a five-colored planeswalker control deck that features all ten original dual lands and all ten shock duals. (Check it out here.) Even though that deck is more of a casual fun deck (with cards such as the Sanctuary and Honden cycles included), it clocks in at $1,580. (I hit the Buy It Now option to check out the deck at CSI.com—plus, their card prices did not include foils and such for my cards.)

While some decks are cheaper than others, ultimately, the cheapest deck to build is the one with cards you already own. Who cares if it’s a $0.40, $4 or $40 card? As long as you already own it, it works! Just toss it in. Feel encouraged to add in Gods, planeswalkers, and such to fit your needs.

One of the reasons I enjoy this Budget Commander series is that I have a chance to remind people about how good some really cheap cards are. Take a look at super-cheap commons such as Expunge and Sedge Scorpion. One is a powerful old card that can cycle away when not needed (or when your best kill options are unable to be targeted) while the other is a brand new card that rocks in multiplayer. This heavy budget article series allows me to champion amazingly cheap cards!

I hope you found some ideas that triggered deck ideas or card additions of your own. Or perhaps you’ll grab your own old-school legendary creature. What would be some fun ideas for future budget entries?

See you next week,

Abe Sargent

P.S. I’ve really been in a budget Commander mood recently. Perhaps I’ll try out a budget version of one of the new legendary creatures from Commander (2013 Edition) soon. That would be an interesting project.

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