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75% – We All Make Sacrifices


When Adam Styborski and I first conceived of this series, I think we both assumed it would be a finance series. With my background, how could it not? I play Commander and spend a lot of my time trading and interacting with people in the Commander community, but my experience the last few years and the thrust of my career in writing, podcasting, and general punditry has been all about Magic finance. Write what you know, right?

It occurred to me today that I was a little surprised that I wasn’t including more finance in this series, but am I really not? Last week, I tuned up an Oloro, Ageless Ascetic precon with the stipulation that nearly the cards should be under about $5, and I think I succeeded. When the poster followed up with me, I even recommended trying to trade the Toxic Deluge that came with the deck for some of the cards that he wanted to save even more money. All of this got me thinking.

Is 75% a Budget Philosophy?

Toxic Deluge

As someone who routinely recommends that people run Bribery, a card that costs more than most commanders, I would say “no.” But are there certain aspects of the 75% philosophy that lend themselves toward affordability? I think there probably are. Although I don’t want to do a “budget Commander” series because other people are already doing that better and I don’t want to constrain myself, I think there are some things about this philosophy that can make a 75% deck affordable. Affordable means you can make the deck and not have to spend a ton of money, tear another deck apart, or reduce the overall number of decks you can build. I keep building new decks with no sign of slowing down, so this has been helpful to me, too.

Synergy over Raw Power

Crypt Ghast
Whispers of the Muse

If you take the example of the Oloro precon from last week, we could have made an Esper monstrosity that was just three-colored good stuff and benefitted from the life-creep you gain from Oloro each turn and the card advantage you gain when you summon him. That deck would have been good. However, when we decided to go with the extort theme, we were locked into having approximately twelve slots in the deck locked up with cards under $1 each because we wanted all the cards with extort we could have. These cards aren’t super-powerful in a vacuum, but when working together as part of an overall strategy, they can make the deck quite good. It wasn’t a deliberate choice to include “cheap” cards—if Crypt Ghast cost $11, I still would have told /u/UnpositiveComment to jam it in the deck. Still, building around a theme has saved some money. Whispers of the Muse does a better job of making Drake tokens in that Talrand, Sky Summoner deck we tuned up than does Temporal Manipulation. Sometimes, the best card for the job is cheap.

Fun over Oppressiveness

Avacyn, Angel of Hope
Akroma's Vengeance

I think winning is fun. Not only that, I think not winning is the opposite of fun. I conceded a game in which an Avacyn, Angel of Hope player played Armageddon, Wrath of God, and Akroma's Vengeance three turns, one after the other. I shuffled up, dug through my boxes for cards I was selling to someone, grabbed a drink, went to the bathroom, made a phone call, and played a few games of Star Realms on my phone while everyone else sat there miserable, drawing and discarding while Avacyn guy beat them to death 8 damage at a time and picked them off one by one. I didn’t concede out of anger, I was just eager to play another game, and I knew that one was over. The rest of the table, though, was miserable. They didn’t concede, but they spent each turn giving the cards they drew disinterested looks and passing the turn. This went on for ten minutes, and the fun was literally sucked out of the room.

It’s not difficult or particularly creative to pair Wrath effects with a card like Avacyn. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine strategy, and it’s not inherently unfair. But the look on everyone’s faces as they went through the motions in a game they couldn’t possibly win reinforced why I do this series. Don’t make the game no fun for someone unless the person deserves it. Don’t make the game no fun for your whole group. Luckily for everyone, Avacyn guy realized it wasn’t that kind of playgroup, and he spent the rest of the night battling with fun, durdly, pillow-fort decks. No one messed with each other’s mana the rest of the night, and we all let people do their thing and tried to deal with it rather than preventing them from doing anything at all. Going to a group like that without a 75% deck to lead with can wind up with a group of players feeling bad that they aren’t able to do anything. It’s no shock that a Swords to Plowshares or a Capsize to deal with a threat is cheaper than a Back to Basics to keep opponents from doing anything.

Swords to Plowshares
Back to Basics

Quantity over Quality

My approach to Commander finds me enjoying making new decks a lot. I have tinkered with a few of my decks and made a few of them closer to optimal builds, but for the most part, the ideas I am having are for how to make new decks rather than optimizing old ones. A 75% deck, if built correctly, will be good enough to be playable in a game with good decks so you don’t need to tweak it to make it perfect if you don’t want to. This leaves you free to spend your resources (money, time, etc.) on a new idea. If I only had one Commander deck, it would be all German foils with Unglued lands and cost $10,000 by the time I was done fiddling with it; I have, ironically, saved myself a lot of money by building entirely new decks.


I am on the fence. I am not deliberately building decks with a budget in mind, but occasionally, I accidentally make a deck inexpensively. As long as the deck can win 1 ÷ X games and not make anyone’s wife cry, I’m okay with that. If you feel I saved you too much money, either fix your mana base or send me some. I’ll put it to good use. (No I won’t.)

I’d like to write some more on this topic, but I don’t want to harp on it too much. Oh well. We all make sacrifices. Speaking of which . . . 

That Was a Clumsy and Artless Segue Attempt

Sue me. I still have a deck I want to take a swing at!

/u/GeneralNixon this week asked the community how he can tune up his Shattergang Brothers deck without spending a crazy amount of money. By that, he means he doesn’t want to spend $500 or more. If you were worried that this was going to turn into a budget deck series, watch what happens when I spend every penny of a projected $500 budget.

Kidding. I’m kidding. Still, if there is no restriction on individual cards, I can jam some of my favorite Shattergang cards, such as Grave Pact and Food Chain. This is going to be fun.

Shattergang Brothers ? Commander | GeneralNixon

  • Commander (0)

This bears a lot of similarities to the Power Hungry preconstructed deck, which is good for me because I did the same thing he did—only I built with Prossh, Skyraider of Kher. Still, the principle is the same.

Grave Pact
Right away, it’s obvious that the deck wants Grave Pact. Getting two for one with a sacrificed creature is going to go a long way toward taking you to value town. I also want to run a Food Chain, not because it’s expensive and I want to prove that I’m not a budget article, but because Food Chain is a great sac outlet, especially for tokens. Greater Good, Phyrexian Altar, and Ashnod's Altar are all on my radar here as well. Watch as I end up not finding room for Greater Good or Phyrexian Altar but find a spot on the mana curve for Ashnod's Altar. That’ll help me sell the whole line, “not a budget article, I swear.” I really like Mycoloth and Dragon Broodmother in my deck as well. Awakening Zone makes tokens with a built-in sacrifice outlet, which may be relevant and may not be. I like making a ton of tokens, so I run Doubling Season and Primal Vigor with my Parallel Lives, and I run Beastmaster Ascension. This is turning into my Prossh deck, and I am going to resist the urge to do that.

I like a bit of double-duty. Not only is Solemn Simulacrum a card I put in every Commander deck, he is better here because you can choose whether you sacrifice him to Shattergang Brothers’s artifact or creature mode. He’ll trigger Grave Pact when he becomes sacrificed, which means you can pay 2r and get rid of him to destroy opposing mana rocks and make opponents sac a dude on top of it. Seems saucy. As long as we’re doing double-duty, playing Spine of Ish Sah and then saccing it to blow up an artifact seems fun. Triple-duty? Hammer of Purphoros makes a token that is an artifact, a creature, and an enchantment, which will come in handy as a way to make sure land drops aren’t dead and you have something for each of Shattergang Brothers’s modes. Let’s see where this takes us.

Shattergang ? Commander | Jason Alt

  • Commander (0)

Deathbringer Thoctar
Here is a list I think is a nice 75% list. I cut some of the durdly stuff that came in the precon to make room for better creatures, such as Sheoldred, Whispering One, Skullmulcher, and Ulasht, the Hate Seed. Since we’re sticking with the token theme, I thought adding the Primal Vigor back in would be good. I like the idea of Deathbringer Thoctar and Goblin Sharpshooter in the deck and added a Quietus Spike to make them even better. Spike is never dead on any creature and can either end the game or be sacrificed to the Brothers for value. Just kidding; don’t do that. That’s crazy.

I added some more sacrifice outlets (Attrition and Mind Slash are both no-brainers here), and since I added so many, I doubled the number of ways to steal opposing permanents. I would rather sacrifice opponents’ creatures to make them sacrifice their also creatures. I added Signets, Chromatic Lantern, and Viridian Emissary for mana issues and took out some fixing that wasn’t working. I like Sakura-Tribe Elder in the deck, but I like Viridian Emissary way more.

Somewhat controversial is cutting Fecundity. I think it’s too symmetrical in this deck. I like it in Prossh and would never, ever cut it from there, but I think you’re going let opponents draw replacements for the stuff you blow up if you run it in here.

I reduced the number of instants and sorceries to give you more situations in which you can play a permanent that can interact with the commander. Insurrection is also a no-brainer, and I think it’s a very good 75% card, as it can end a game very quickly and let everyone shuffle up for the next one. You’re running Mass Mutiny already, so it’s not as though we have a moral aversion to the concept. Insurrection usually wraps things up.

Torpor Orb
I think Torpor Orb was a nonbo with a lot of the cards in the deck, and some of the token producers were too mana-intensive. I cut most of them, and I cut Krenko, Mob Boss because, most of the time, he’s tapping for one Goblin, and I would rather run a card like Sheoldred in that spot. We have plenty of ways to make tokens, and we have one more way to double them. Want to add Doubling Season, too? It could work.

As we discovered last week, a deck is never done. I think what I did here is focus it a bit more and add some cards that fit our 75% principles. I also think I might want to take a break from deck-garage stuff for a while, so next week, I will be identifying cards that I think fit the 75% philosophy well and will be helping you construct a “build box” of staples to have around the next time a deck idea strikes you. I’ll give you one hint: I think Trading Post goes in every Commander deck, leaving you with a mere ninety-eight other cards to fill in the gaps. Thanks for joining me, and we’ll see you back here next week.

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