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Changing Gears


I am proud of my work on the Brainstorm Brewery podcast, to the extent that I wear a Brainstorm Brewery hoodie or T-shirt in public occasionally because I go out in public occasionally. You don’t know my life—that could be true. You don’t know.

Black Knight
I am happy representing the brand, but wearing Brainstorm Brewery gear in public means that people are always asking me, “Where’s that brewery? I’ve never heard of it.” That’s a fair question. The name and the logo combine for a very confusing situation—I get it. Still, the average person on the street gives no damns about my podcast or about Magical card finance, so it doesn’t seem worth it to explain it to them. Various strategies have included telling them Brainstorm is a very obscure brewery and they’ve probably never heard of it, telling them we have only brewed one batch and are looking to scale up production soon (true story: Two friends of the podcast brewed a batch of black IPA for Grand Prix Montreal last year) or just pretending I only speak German. Occasionally, someone will notice that the logo contains the phrase “Top quality Magic finance podcast,” and one person in a trillion will say, “Like Magic: The Gathering?” Those situations make it all worth it.

No one ever really quits Magic, do they? That’s why someone discovering I write and podcast about Magic can be very exciting. A lot of people, especially people my age plus or minus five years play, used to play, or at least own cards. When I get into a conversation with someone who thinks he or she quit (I refer to these people as “dormant” or “future” players), that person becomes animated. The person wants to tell me all about his or her deck from back in the day and how it was so good his or her friend made him or her stop playing with Black Knight because he was sick of not being able to kill it with Wrath of God (face-palm) or how he or she won a tournament with a burn deck. Actual knowledge of the game and what it’s like now vary, but I am always happy to have these conversations. Reminding people of the good times they used to have playing Magic is rewarding, and sometimes, those people say something like, “Maybe I’ll go buy a few packs of the new stuff,” and pretty soon, those people are complaining that the local Booster Draft group is too durdly. No one ever really quits Magic, do they?

Eladamri, Lord of Leaves
I recently had a conversation with a local “dormant” player, and the topic turned to Magic, as it so often does. He told me all about his old Elf deck and how it was the only way he could beat his friend’s deck because his friend played ramp into big green creatures, and Elves needed to go fast enough to swarm him. He extolled the virtues of cards he knew the effects of but not the names of (a situation I hate because Brainstorm Brewery listeners will know I’m worthless at coming up with card names), but between my knowledge of the game and the Internet in my pocket in the form of a smart phone, we managed to name a lot of the cards he was excited about: Priest of Titania; Timberwatch Elf; Wellwisher; Krakilin; Eladamri, Lord of Leaves. He grew more and more excited the more we talked about how he used to ramp all day into more and more Elves. He also mentioned that he has a brother who lives in another town and who plays Commander, but that he had no experience with the format and didn’t know where to start, nor did he have a huge budget. He wants to get into Commander, but the financial side of Magic is holding him back? Could he have run into a better person? I mean, yes, probably. He could have run into Olivia Wilde on the rebound, getting super-drunk and threatening to revenge-smooch the first guy she encountered that night. That would have gone better than having a conversation with me. Still, maybe I’m the fourth- or fifth-best person for him to have run into. I can live with that.

I can also live with the list of assets he has in his collection. Here is a list of cards he’s pretty sure he has, based on his confirmation when I showed him the artwork of the cards.

Ambush Commander Darkwatch Elves
Defiant Elf Eladamri, Lord of Leaves
Elven Riders Elvish Aberration
Elvish Archers Elves of Deep Shadow
Elvish Berserker Elvish Farmer
Elvish Hunter Elvish Pathcutter
Elvish Ranger (the card we wish we could
all forget, unless we use the other art)
Fierce Empath
Fyndhorn Elder Fyndhorn Elves
Gamekeeper Heart Warden
Heedless One Kaysa
Llanowar Druid Marhault Elsdragon
Patron of the Wild Priest of Titania
Quiron Ranger Seeker of Skybreak
Skyshroud Troopers Symbiotic Elf
Timberwatch Elves Tribal Forcemage
Weatherseed Elf Wellwisher
Wirewood Channeler Yavimaya Granger

I am sure there are more, but there is a little bit to work with here. I suggested to him that if he bought the Commander (2014 Edition) preconstructed deck, Guided by Nature, he could have a serviceable Commander deck for under $50. I want to stick to that target if I can, even though half of that means buying the precon. Can we modify Guided by Nature to a decent deck that he won’t hate playing and that allows him to play his favorite old cards from his youth? Can we make the deck competitive? Can we make it 75%? Can we keep his total bill under $50? Is this starting to sound like the list of tune-in-next-week questions at the end of an old Batman episode in which Adam West is all tied up in a submarine that’s slowly filling with water? I think the answer to all of these questions is yes. First, let’s look at what our $25–$30 gets us. I’m going to call the precon $30 since that is MSRP, and saying he could buy it cheaper locally is cheating because I could just say, “You can get this deck on Craigslist for $10. I’m so good at budget decks!” So we basically have a $20 budget, his cards, and a precon, and we want to make it to a list he’ll like.

First up, some good news: He really likes Ezuri, Renegade Leader. Oh, also, he has a Gaea's Cradle—because of course he does. That’s not going in the deck because it would cost more than the rest of the deck, and I want this article to appeal more broadly than to just one guy with a bag of Elves and a Cradle. Never mind that he could sell the Cradle and build two $50 decks. Let’s look at the precon!

Guided by Nature ? Commander | Wizards of the Coast

There is some real sauce, here! Ezuri is a fun choice for commander, and a foil is only $15. That leaves us $5 to build the rest of the deck—okay, not really. Ezuri is in the deck already, so we don’t need to worry about buying a commander. He can always upgrade to a foil commander with the money he gains from selling me his Cradle. (I can dream, can’t I?) Basically, what I think I will do is take out some nonthematic cards and add his cards to maximize the number of cards from his youth. If he wants to cut them later, it’s his deck. I also want to maximize how good Ezuri is, and I don’t feel too bad running a tutor or two to find us a Copperhorn Scout to really make sure we have a dynamic attack phase. He wants to make like Stallone and go over the top, so who am I to argue? What would my list look like?

Jason?s $50 Elf Pile ? Commander | Jason Alt

We managed to get off cheap here and add some real gas for our budget. Nothing he already had was expensive, but $2.50 for a Kaysa here, $1.50 for a Heedless One there, and you start to accumulate cost quickly. Luckily, the really expensive stuff wasn’t too bad. Let’s look at the damage.

Skyshroud Poacher

That gives us a grand total of $19.75, which leaves us room to buy a gumball and contemplate our thriftiness.

I added quite a few of his cards since they were free, familiar, and underrated. Elvish Hunter keeping a powerful creature tapped down is a real asset, and he already knows how the card works, lessening the culture shock a bit. Heedless One should already be in the deck. Kaysa could be a commander in her own right, but I prefer her in the deck rather than the command zone since we want to get there with Ezuri ball. Kaysa is a real gem that goes overlooked a lot, but she is even flavorful given that she is errata’d to be a legendary Elf. How great is that? Elven Riders seem acceptable to me given their fun ability and the number of pump effects we have. A few cards I excluded include Eladamri, who is a nonbo with cards like Timberwatch Elf. Not every card he had that was an Elf made it, but I tried to build with stuff he was familiar with to an extent.

Are we done? For no extra money, we can tune the deck up even more. We took out valuable cards like Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury and Titania, Protector of Argoth. Those could be traded for any number of sweet cards. Want a Nullmage Shepherd? A Craterhoof Behemoth? A Voice of the Woods? Leverage the cards in the deck we don’t plan to use, and build your dream deck.

Pattern of Rebirth
I think it could use a Trading Post, but I’m a broken record that loves Trading Post. However, I think we can all agree on a card like Pattern of Rebirth. We came in just under budget, but someone who’s like I am with a big pile of Commander staples and who is looking for value would happily trade for a Planeswalker like Freyalise or a Hydra like Lifeblood Hydra and ship along some Elf finishers. We could add that Cradle if we had one, and we could spend a few more bucks over the coming weeks on cards like Glimpse of Nature, Green Sun's Zenith, Genesis Wave, or, my favorite, Helix Pinnacle.

We could go the other way and save some money and not buy a Fauna Shaman and Gilt-Leaf Archdruid, instead buying a pack of Dragon Shield card sleeves and a play mat and just jamming all of our old Elves. It’s wide open to what the deck-builder wants, but I said I could bring that old sixty-card Elfstrosity into Commander fighting shape for under $50, and I accomplished my goal. It feels good.

What do we think? How far can we take this and still have a 75% deck? Did this confuse people who keep hearing me saying, “75% is not a budget philosophy,” over and over? Did I forget an obvious saucy Elf card, or saucy non-Elf like Wirewood Symbiote? Leave me your comments, criticisms, suggestions, fashion tips, and well-wishes below. Until next week, thanks for reading, sharing, retweeting, commenting and supporting this series. You all da best.

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