Are you interested in building a Commander collection? There are a lot of great cards for the format that have seriously vexsome prices attached to them. It may feel that there is a gulf between your desire to play the format and your wallet. Well, don’t despair. There are a ton of great cards that you can rock from the Tarkir block. And because Magic Origins just hit the streets, and because people are looking forward to Battle for Zendikar rather than back to Dragons and Khans, there is a lot of opportunity to pick up some ideal cards for Commander on the cheap.
Today, I just want to delve into Tarkir block and unearth a few really good, cheap, options for your Commander collections. I use this as an opportunity to pick up deck stock for myself so that I can have it available anytime. That way, if prices rise, I already have grabbed what I need, and I can use the cards in the meantime for my decks!
Here are the cards that I am looking at picking up.
Abzan Ascendancy — The major thing that keeps this card down is the three colors. That’s hard to get in Commander. But any Abzan legendary creature wants this card badly. Ghave, Guru of Spores, with love of both +1/+1 counters and token creatures, adores the Ascendancy. Anyone from Daghatar the Adamant to Teneb, the Harvester can really use the space of this thing quite nicely.
Ainok Survivalist — This is a great creature to add to your deck stock as a way to fight against artifacts and enchantments. It’s 3 mana to play morphed, and you get all of the benefits of that. (People aren’t sure about the card, and more importantly, they don’t play around it—in this case, that’s a good thing, as they won’t shy away from dropping good enchantments or artifacts until you are ready to spring your trap.) Then, after you invest 2 mana to morph it, you have a 3/2 beater, and your opponent is down one permanent. It’s a great trick to pull off! (Plus, don’t forget to drop it on the second turn if you just need to beat down.)
Ashcloud Phoenix — This has always been a fun card since, if it dies while turned up, it comes back turned down. Just play it as a 4/1 flyer for 4 mana. When it invariably bites the bucket, you get a 2/2 back. Do you have 6 mana to morph it? Nope? It’s okay, you still get a 2/2 post-death, which is pretty good. And if you do have the mana, you can morph it and start generating morph triggers to lower folks’ life totals while keeping the creature out for another run. Even in the worst-case scenario, you have a 4/1 flyer now and then a 2/2 later. It’s a lot of value at the kitchen table.
Atarka, World Render — Ignore Atarka’s text for a moment. Forget it. You get a 6/4 flyer with trample and double strike. That’s a nasty combo—if you kill the defenders in the first-strike-damage step, you will deal damage to the defender in the normal-damage step. It’s a pretty good investment for 7 mana, right? Right! Now remember that Atarka will also give that double strike to any other attacking Dragon you may fling out there.
Bitter Revelation — I have found Bitter Revelation to be one of the ten cards from Tarkir block that I use the most (by far, it’s probably top three!). I adore it. Because you wind up putting two cards in your graveyard, you can choose to place cards in there with flashback or to reanimate later and such. You clear four cards off the top of your deck for cards that care (Sensei's Divining Top, Sylvan Library, Scroll Rack, and friends). You get to draw two cards so you don’t lose a card by playing it, and the net result is a card that I find so useful that it just fits black perfectly.
Break Through the Line — I don’t know whether you noticed, but there are a lot of smaller, saboteur-style legendary creatures out there in red. From the recent Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh back to Kaalia of the Vast, you can find some great creatures to give haste and unblockable to—a useful combo for one card. The card works wonders in any deck that has a number of smaller, utility creatures. You can tap Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker the turn it arrives or Nin, the Pain Artist. Meanwhile, you are swinging with saboteurs such as Prophetic Flamespeaker, Avenging Druid, and Jhessian Thief. You get a good yield of stuff.
Clever Impersonator — Despite the fact that this is a mythic rare with a lot of potential, it has dropped in value considerably after not doing that well outside of Casual Land. But in a format like Commander, it’s a must-play card. Because you can copy a Planeswalker, creature, artifact, or enchantment, you have a vast amount of flexibility built into the Clone effect. No copying effect that has even been printed has been as useful in virtually any situation. Need mana? Copy a Sol Ring. Need control of the game? Copy Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker. You can copy someone’s commander or his or her best enchantment. Whatever the best of that player’s deck is, now you get one, too!
Commune with Lava — Red never gets “card-draw” this good!
Cranial Archive — Ever since Feldon gave us his Cane, we’ve seen a lot of tools for restocking our graveyard into our library from the artifact side of life. Any color that has a deck that blows through cards should have a few of these colorless tools to dip into to reshuffle and keep on going. The Cranial Archive is very useful since it replaces itself. The card is more important than the extra cost since you usually only need it in the mid- to late game anyway, when you have the extra mana.
Damnable Pact — Have you ever killed someone with a Damnable Pact? You can kill the player by forcing him or her to draw too many cards or by hitting his or her life—two paths to victory. Oh, and don’t forget that, nine times out of ten, this is a black Braingeyser that’s really useful at keeping up the pressure. You don’t have to wait for your cards slowly with Phyrexian Arena (and unreliably as well—how long will that Arena be under your control before it’s taken down?). The Pact is a very strong card.
Destructor Dragon — A 4/4 flyer without any disadvantage in green is downright powerful for 6 mana compared to many previous cards. It’s a great blocker, too—people don’t want to attack into it and lose their best noncreature cards. You can swing into a defense, and it’ll go totally unblocked by that Sphinx of Uthuun because an opponent doesn’t want his or her Insert Great Card Here destroyed. (I’ve seen anything from Ajani Vengeant and Sylvan Library to just a simple Sol Ring preventing people from blocking.) And don’t forget you can turn the wrath of its death onto a nonbasic land, such as Volrath's Stronghold or Maze of Ith, that’s becoming problematic.
Disowned Ancestor — I’ve found the Ancestor to be a bit better than other early black creatures for defense. Because you can build it up and swing later on, it’s better than Walls or other options (Steel Wall, Wall of Tears). You can make it more of a battlefield threat than Typhoid Rats. It’s a solid card for multiple roles, and it really shows its value over time. Give it a try, and see what you think.
Hooded Hydra — Again, we have a mythic rare that’s dropped into a very cheap territory. If all you do is play Hooded Hydra later in the gate as a sink for mana in your green, mana-ramp deck, you gain strong value for the card. But you can also drop it early and morph it in the midgame into a 5/5 beater. It’s useful in different phases of the game. What really makes the Hydra work is that, barring odd tuck or exiling removal stuff, when the Hydra inevitably dies, it makes a ton of 1/1 tokens equal to its size. So if you invest 8 mana this turn, you gain a 6/6 beater now, and then after someone sweeps the board or you lose your creature in combat, your investment comes due, and you make six 1/1 Snakes. The combination of flexibility and durability make the Hooded Hydra a real force in Commander.
Ire Shaman — Another flexible card with value in different points of the mana curve is this thing. Drop it for 2 mana, and gain a 2/1 with menace. That’s perfectly good. Though, in Commander, you’ll probably want more, right? You can drop it with morph on the third turn instead. That’s fine. Then, when you want, spend just 1 red mana to megamorph it. You gain a 3/2 creature instead with menace. And you gain a morph trigger that’s basically a chance at a free card if you can play it immediately. Because you only spend 1 mana to megamorph it, you have most of your mana available to play what is exiled. The combination of that card advantage plus an adequate beater is a good choice for a lot of decks.
Jeering Instigator — Like the Ire Shaman, the Instigator is a great red creature with a strong morph trigger. This time, you Act of Treason when you morph it. (Act of Treason only works on your turn when you morph it—you have to use it aggressively and swing, not defensively to steal one creature to block another.) You can discover some solid value for the card by giving you a decent enough trigger on a creature, so you can bounce it or morph it back down or use a lot of tricks to generate multiple triggers.
Kheru Bloodsucker — This is the sort of card that slides into a smaller number of decks, but in those decks, its value rises considerably. Let me give you an example: Suppose you have a commander with at least 4 toughness in black. Every time that leader of your deck dies, you winnow opposing life totals and bump yours—and that’s a mana-free investment. It just sits here and works—you pay 3 mana for your 2/2 creature and don’t worry about it. And you can sacrifice the occasional creature to bump your Bloodsucker if the situation warrants. From Doran, the Siege Tower to Crosis, the Purger, there are a ton of commanders that work well with the Bloodsucker.
Living Lore — I’ve always found Living Lore to scale nicely based on when in the game you cast it. The later you go, the more likely you are to have an expensive spell in your graveyard and, hence, a bigger Avatar. And when you smash someone, there’s a bigger effect. I find cards like Inundate, Flow of Ideas, and Recurring Insight tend to lurk in my ’yard, waiting to infuse my Living Lore and change the board up.
Map the Wastes — This is a Rampant Growth that costs 1 more mana but that brings a +1/+1 counter to something small via bolster. It suits any deck that runs a +1/+1 counter theme in green—such as Simic decks built around Vorel of the Hull Clade or Experiment Kraj on one side and Abzan decks like Ghave, Guru of Spores and Anafenza, the Foremost on another. From proliferate to Doubling Season, there are several mechanics and concepts you can mine to increase the Map’s value.
Mindswipe — My favorite flavor text of any Counterspell variant ever is for Undermine: “Which would you like first, the insult or the injury?” I love saying it when I play some counters, and I find it works really well with a variety of counterspells. It’s ideal for Mindswipe. You are playing Mindswipe normally after you pass the turn, and you don’t mind tapping out since you can untap again soon enough (although later in the game, circumstances change). Imagine that your Izzet spell-based build drops 8 into the X. Now your foe has to pay 8 mana to resolve his or her spell—not likely to happen. That’s a major insult. And the player takes 8 damage to the dome, too. That’s a major injury. It’s one spell—with major effects. You can kill someone with a Mindswipe at the right time. And you can drop it for cheaper as a sort of Miscalculation or Force Spike on people who mostly or completely tap out to get in cheaper counters in the midgame.
Orc Sureshot — I’ve already used the Sureshot in multiple Commander builds around things like blink, tokens, and mass reanimation (such as Living Death). Because you can shrink an opposing creature for free, you can easily winnow out a few utility creatures or early drops.
Qarsi High Priest — There aren’t that many 1-drops in a lot of builds, so you can play this easily enough. It has solid value in any deck with a sacrifice theme because manifesting a card always gives you a 2/2 creature, but it usually gives you the threat of more. People are antsy to block a manifested creature, unsure of what it could morph into. Because it plays better than a mere 2/2 token creature would, don’t sleep on its value.
Reality Shift — In the same vein as cards like Pongify, blue has shown the ability to polymorph one creature into another. Reality Shift is a similar concept, and you exile one creature and turn it into a manifested one. That’s almost always a strong win for you. Blue has emergency exiling removal, so you can hit that Blightsteel Colossus, Akroma, Angel of Fury, or Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.
Sagu Mauler — This is one of the classic beat sticks of recent memory—it’s cheap to play, it gives you a strong hexproof and trample body, and it’s easy on the wallet, too. What’s not to love? Get your Timmy on!
Savage Ventmaw — Because of the death of mana burn, a card like this one can really push you. You like to attack with creatures, right? Swing with the Ventmaw and make 6 mana to do sick things with. Don’t forget that you are in red. Why is that important? It’s important because you have haste-givers like Hammer of Purphoros. Play your Ventmaw, swing with haste to smash someone immediately, and you have all of your mana to use again post-combat. It’s a free creature that gives back every turn. What’s not to love?
Scroll of the Masters — All right, I want you to jot down this super-secret tech. Do you have a spell-heavy, creature-light Commander deck? Maybe it’s a Talrand, Sky Summoner deck. Maybe it’s a Melek, Izzet Paragon deck. Is it Narset, Enlightened Master? Now toss this in. As you play all of those noncreatures, you will place counters on this almost surreptitiously. Now tap the Scroll to make your commander bigger. You could easily tap it to make Narset or Talrand +5/+5 bigger or more. That turns a fun, spell-based deck into a creature that can slay with commander damage in just a few turns. Meanwhile, an untapped Scroll with a few counters on it turns any random defensive creature you may have into a major threat. Does your foe want to attack into your Wall of Blossoms if you can block and make it a 4/8? The Scroll is the subtle sort of card that is rarely bothered by others until it becomes overly powerful and you dominate with it.
Tasigur's Cruelty — You would normally need to pay 4 mana to make everyone discard two cards (other than yourself). You can delve this down to a low cost very easily. Meanwhile, it’s a passel of card advantage, particularly at a multiplayer table. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of mass-discard spells that work on all of your foes, and I’ve played Unnerve a lot since it was printed. The Cruelty plays just as nicely.
Torrent Elemental — Much like other three-color cards from the block, the usage of this card is limited to either five-color decks or Sultai. Because it taps and locks down all defenders, it guarantees an alpha strike turn after turn. Barring defensive cards like Safeguard or Maze of Ith, you’ll slip past the most determined defenses. Even if your foes think they have handled the Elemental by exiling it, you can just replay it. It’s a nice counter to the many exiling removal spells people are rocking these days, from Dissipate and Path to Exile to Silence the Believers and Utter End . . .
Utter End — Speaking of which, how is Utter End this cheap? I don’t even get that. It’s just way too good. I’d recommend picking up several to use as perfect removal for a lot of decks. It’s arguably better than Vindicate in most situations in Commander (instant trumps sorcery, exiling trumps destroy; Vindicate is 1 mana cheaper and can take out a land—Utter End is usually better, and it is massively cheaper). Pick up some now.
Whisk Away — Despite the fact that putting a creature in someone’s library doesn’t work as an answer to problematic commanders, it still has a lot of value against other stuff. Blue has had a Time Ebb–style effect for almost its entire existence—and that’s played quite nicely. You can bounce something, and your opponent loses a draw, so it’s sort of like a discard effect. It has a lovely bit of tempo. Whisk Away is a cheap instant, with the restriction that it only works on something that has entered the red zone—so you can use it defensively quite easily and cheaply. It’s another lovely trick for keeping things from hurting you too badly.
And that’s the conclusion of a slate of cards from Tarkir block that are cheap and easy to find and that will give your Commander decks a nice injection of fun, power, and utility. And there’re a lot more if you delve into things. With prices from Tarkir cards dropping in many places, there’s a great reason to pick up someone of this stuff now for your decks. Happy hunting!