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Budget Commander Boot Camp: Johan


And welcome back!

Today we look at the fourth and final of the simplified Commander decks that Mark Wischkaemper and I have been working with. Now the goal is to have each of us build two cheap Commander decks that are stripped down for newer players to experience the format. Mark has brought to you a Temur SMASH theme led by Surrak Dragonclaw and then a fun Orhov blink and life gain theme led by Obzedat, Ghost Council. Meanwhile, my first deck was a cheap Zombie deck led by none other than Gisa and Geralf, but today I’m going outside of the expected themes with Naya.

Now Blue and Black Zombies is a common archetype in Magic, as are Black and White Blink, Black and White Lifegain and Temur Big Creatures. But this is a littledifferent, and heavily inspired by Amonkhet.

Before we head into that too deeply though, let’s not forget that the goal of this project is to teach (or remind) people how to play MTG. Take it slow. And then we will be making a 20 card optionboard you can swap into the deck so people can start out with just sorceries and creatures, and then add in a few other cards later. You can even play these decks against each other. Those 20 cards for each deck, plus the deck lists of these four decks, need to clock in under $250. That’s around 400 cards (other than basics) for this project.

Now let’s get back to this article thing, already in progress.

I know what some of you are thinking.

Johan? What the . . . ?”


Ah yes my friends, Johan!

The goal this week is to build a fun deck around Johan. Now Johan is extremely cheap. Since he was reprinted out in Chronicles, he is a bulk rare from that set. After all, Johan was never the best of his lot, and was a bit on the heavier casting cost side of life. But Johan does do something really cool for us.

He gives the team pseudo-vigilance when he doesn’t swing and he’s untapped.

Now as you may already have heard, there is this recently released set called Amonkhet. All of the cool kids are playing it. And it features a mechanic called exert. What does exert do? Well, when you swing with it, you can exert it to get a cool effect, but then it’s tired and it skips it’s next untap step. But if it never tapped to attack, with Johan, then it can still be used each turn, attacking, exerting, and keeping itself ready and refreshed. And, oddly enough, the exert mechanic shows up only in the three colors of Johan!

So the goal of today’s deck is to use Johan as a little bit of a vigilance lord with White, Green, and Red creatures that will benefit from their en-vigilanced nature.

Take a look below!

Johan?s Vigil ? Commander | Abe Sargent

Cost — $37.33

Much of this cost comes from the handful of good and pricey exert cards, such as Combat Celebrant.

Now, all of the (Commander playable) exert creatures from Amonkhet made it, save for the pricey Glorybringer. Many of these exert creatures just make themselves a bigger threat in the red zone, like Glory-Bound Initiate, a 4/4 lifelink threat for two mana when you have vigilance running around the block. But most of the exert creatures below have abilities that either help the whole team, or have a powerful effect on the game.

Check out:

Combat Celebrant
Devoted Crop-Mate
Champion of Rhonas

Combat Celebrant — Netting this deck another set of attacks is awesome! Note that if you don’t have Johan out, you can attack with everything, exert it, and it is the only thing that won’t untap, so you can have your other exert stuff ready for future turns, blocking, or using some tap abilities in the deck.

Devoted Crop-Mate — Swing and recur a small creature!

Champion of Rhonas — Swing, exert, and drop a free creature to the battlefield!

Watchful Naga
Trueheart Twins
Battlefield Scavenger

Watchful Naga — Swing, exert, and draw some juicy cards

Trueheart Twins — Swing, and for each exerted creature, your team grows considerably!

Battlefield Scavenger — Exert creatures to loot your deck for cards!

Ahn-Crop Champion

Ahn-Crop Champion — Much like Combat Celebrant, serves as a pseudo-Johan, and can untap your team for another set of hits! Note that unlike Combat Celebrant, it does not have the “If this hasn’t been exerted this turn,” language, so you can use Ahn-Crop Champion multiple times.

And then in addition to a few other exerters, we have cards that I think make a lot of sense in Johan. Let’s start with the single most broken Johan card ever, and then work down. Get ready!

Pristine Angel
Commander Eesha
Sunblast Angel

Pristine Angel — You are welcome. I’m sure you can see the heavy value here. I love the idea of creatures that can hold the fort, while they can swing and slip in some hits. Nothing gets through Pristine Angel, except for colorless Eldrazi or Karn Liberated style effects. Nothing blocks her either, so she can swing, block, and keep up defenses with massive power.

Commander Eesha — You have to give Eesha props here as well for a similar, but less powerful, synergy with Johan.

Sunblast Angel — Swing, and then play it after combat to kill the tapped stuff. (Or before combat if you want, it’s not like you’ll kill any of your stuff either way, usually people play it pre-combat and then swing, but you don’t have to project it anymore in this shell!).

Adriana, Captain of the Guard
Firemane Avenger
Frontline Medic

Adriana, Captain of the Guard — The best way to use this deck is to swing a lot. Adriana rewards you with massive melee pumps for your team. If you attack three players, then every creature that swung out gets +3/+3. That’s a game-winning amount of pumpage.

Firemane Avenger — With this deck attacking a lot, I felt battalion seemed like a good fit as well, and Firemane Avenger is a useful early flying drop that can Lightning Helix creatures or players when you swing with her and a couple of her friends.

Frontline Medic — You want to attack and not worry about your stuff dying, so you can maximize your smashery, yes? That’s where Frontline Medic comes in! Attack with battalion, and you are not losing any of your creatures. And you are getting all of those sexy attack triggers as well!

Gahiji, Honored One
Flameblast Dragon

Gahiji, Honored One — This strong addition to the team is a 4/4 Beast that can cause all of the creatures you swing with to get +2/+0 as well as encouraging people to hit each other for more damage as well. With all of your vigilance tricks, you will be hard to swing through, so Gahiji encourages folks to keep on swinging.

Flameblast Dragon — Swing, and get the attack trigger of this thing to Blaze a cool target!

Speaking of attack triggers, I’m sure you noticed cards like Hero of Oxid Ridge, Pyreheart Wolf, and Soltari Champion in here as well, right? Right!

This deck has a few mechanical synergies. Among them are double strike (or first strike) and deathtouch. Deathtouch helps if you are swinging into a defense, and first or double strike will assist in pushing aside a potential block that might have otherwise have been a trade.

Take a look at cards like Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder, Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, and Nightshade Peddler as cool ways to push these themes.

Now I did add a cheap and fun almost-combo to the deck. There is a virtual infinite combo:

Savage Ventmaw and Hellkite Charger

  1. Attack with the Ventmaw and make 6 mana, savagely
  2. Attack with the Charger. Spend 7 mana to trigger Hellkite Charger and untap your stuff and get another attack phase this turn.

Savage Ventmaw
Hellkite Charger

So you only spend a single mana to trigger Hellkite Charger, given the Savage Ventmaw’s mana producing ability. So keep on untapping and swinging for one mana each iteration!

This deck wants to keep on swinging, so I included a few effects like Relentless Assault in here to mess with people. More attacks and wins!

For my other sorceries, I dipped into cool ways to tap your stuff. Take a look at Collective Effort. Or even better yet, imagine swinging with a team of 5 or 6 creatures, and then post-combat playing Devout Invocation, tapping those creatures and making 5 or 6 4/4 Angels!

The next place I looked were fun cards that pumped the whole team, like Titanic Ultimatum or Engineered Might or Marshaling Cry. And then finally some utility in the form of cards like Desert Twister, Creeping Mold, as well as welding the mana fetching of Peregrination and Seek the Horizon with Restock and a few similarly fun spells to finish fleshing out my sorceries.

And that is a deck!

Now if you had the cash, you could toss in the obviously missing Glorybringer for another exert-trigger to add to our attack machine.

Make sure you let your foes uncover the tricks and synergies of the cards in this deck on their own. If they aren’t noticing or asking about something, don’t correct them. Don’t break your deck trying to win. It’s not about winning, it’s about invoking the best Magic spirits to give their blessing for your fun game night. There are a lot of ways you can do that without pushing the decks into a “Winn, grrrrr . . . !” place.

For example, don’t activate Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion or Slayers' Stronghold as a surprise instantly the first time you use them. Use them on your main phase to exhibit them to people. The good thing about this deck is that is rewards you for swinging, and wants you to attack as much as possible, so the various synergies play out nicely as you just work together to smash faster, better, and stronger. So it plays into how a new player wants to play the game anyway, attack in the red zone. Don’t punish them for swinging for a while. Let them learn the game.

I don’t teach someone the en passant move in chess in their first game. Shoot, I try not to Castle in the first game. Similarly, let them play at their own speed!

Are you ready to get your fun on, and play to have fun? I hope so!

Cheap. Fun. Simple. Smash. And JOHAN!

Get your Johan on!

Hour of Devastation is now available for preorder at!