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A Boy and His Box: Budgetary Constraints


It’s a great day, because today we’re going to build a budget version of my Commander Battle Box. This is awesome for people who want to give the format a try without a deep investment. Or if you’re looking for a project that’s a little easier to foil-out. Maybe you’re like me, and you simply can’t afford to build the non-budget version of the Commander Battle Box (Money Box). Thankfully, most of the cards in this box can be found by digging through your friend’s bulk boxes. The most expensive card in the box is under $7. Sounds awesome right?

I started writing this article before working on the box so that you can tag along as I write. I expect you to start with my list, but eventually you’ll make it your own by customizing it. When you do this, it might be helpful for you to have an idea of why I went certain directions so that you can make informed decisions. Speaking of changing things around, let me explain how I plan to approach the budget box build.

I’m going to base the budget build on the Money Box. Which means that a lot of the core design work is done, but I still don’t expect this to be easy. To be completely honest, I’ve been putting off working on this, because I’m a procrastinator who avoids difficult things (that’s a character flaw that I have to work on). I think it might be the fear of failure that fuels my procrastination. What if I post my list and its garbage? Of course I want to give you guys something that is fun, well thought-out, deep, and truly budget. But can I do that in two weeks’ time (that’s when this article is due). The task can be daunting, but I have a saying to help motivate me to start the process:

Q: How do you eat an elephant?

A: One bite at a time.

Before we start eating elephant (I just realized how terrible this saying it!), let's revisit the concept of a Commander Battle Box. If you've been following along, you have a deep understanding of this. If this is your first time dropping in, then I’ll take this time to bring you up to speed. I’ve updated these rules to reflect the Budget Box and the newest developments.

  • Each player starts the game with a land pack. The land pack contains one of each Khans Tri-Lands, one of each basic land, and 1 Exotic Orchard (This is a Mana Confluence in the non-budget box). The normal rules of Magic for playing lands apply.
  • Each player starts the game with 4 cards. There are no mulligans (this is mainly because four people shuffling a 400 card deck takes forever).
  • After each player has reviewed their starting hand, they must select a Commander from the Commander Pool. The person who plays last will get first choice, then work your way up to the first player.
  • There are no restrictions on the mana that your lands can produce, based on your choice of Commander. This rule (#4) was conveniently removed from the official Commander rules.
  • After the Commanders are chosen, each player chooses a utility land from the utility land pool, and a signet. Use the same order that the Commanders were chosen.
  • Players will play from a shared library. The shared library is considered “your library” and “your opponent’s library”. This means that effects that rearrange the top of your library will affect your opponent’s draw. This also means that casting Memory Lapse to place your opponent’s Terastodon on the top of “their library” then drawing a card (or manifesting it) will make you smile.
  • Players will play with a shared graveyard. The shared graveyard is considered “your graveyard” and “your opponent’s graveyard”. This means that you can Putrefy your opponent’s Reya Dawnbringer, then play your Karmic Guide to reanimate it!
  • Because lands are capped at eleven, you commander can never cost more than eleven to cast. If your commander would cost more than eleven, it costs eleven instead. This includes Commander Tax.
  • All other Commander rules apply.

Emptying the Money Box

The Money Box is 437 cards and would cost about $2600 to build. My goal is to shrink that number by a factor of five, and even try to get the entire box to be under $500. We’ll do this by employing some different strategies for reducing the total cost. Like a sculptor we’ll start by knocking off some large chucks of value, then we’ll circle back and do the detail work. We’ll start with two big steps toward our goal, and they are: lower the card count, and remove all cards over $10. This should get us most of the way there. Let’s start by lowering the card count.

The best way to do this is to lower the supported player count from five to four. Commander games are best with four players, but I wanted to leave room for all situations in my original design. Now we’re on a budget, so the fifth person is just going to have to sit out! When designing the Money box, I based the card calculations on non-land cards in a typical Commander deck (usually around 64). Most Commander games end with a good amount of deck left, and that the pace of games is a touch faster in a Battle Box, since everyone is drawing gas. I also add a 100 card buffer to the total. By this method a four-player Battle Box would be around 356 cards. This does not include the pregame selection stuff like Commanders, utility lands, and signets. This breaks down into these numbers for color balance.

  • 42 of each color
  • 90 multicolored (7 of each two-color combination and 2 of each three-color combination)
  • 50 Artifact or Colorless
  • 6 Flex Spots

These numbers are just a guide, you don’t have to strictly adhere to them. Even I don’t in the final list, but its close. Now that we have some rough numbers to work with, it’s time to actually cut the box down.

In the first pass, I cut all cards over ten dollars. Of course, that was an arbitrary number. I could have started at any number. I figured that most players can work toward building a box of $10 and lower cards. It might take you a good six months before you have it completely built, but it is doable. I've been building the Money Box over the last four months, and I still have 70+ cards proxied — see below for the recommend proxy method @theproxyguy ’s got nothing on this!

Dropping all cards that are over $10, actually introduces another sub-strategy. Most Planeswalkers in the Money Box are above $10, so I decided to just cut all the Planeswalkers, and all cards that interact directly with Planeswalker. I even cut things like, Fated Retribution, which is a fine board wipe, but the mention of “Planewalker” is not aesthetically pleasing to me. Other cuts were less aesthetic and more helpful in our efforts to get the price lower. Swapping out Hero's Downfall, for Murder gains us about $1.50! If you like playing with Planeswalkers, I suggest you roll these kind of changes back, when you add Planeswalkers to the budget box. Also keep in mind that it’s going to add to the cost.

Shaping the Box

After making the changes above, we were left with a pretty decent pile of cards, and a total cost just north of $800 dollars. Being in that ball park is pretty respectable for a budget build, but I’d really like to push the limits here and try to get it under the $500 mark. I made deeper cuts (anything over $7). This hurt a bit. Saying goodbye to cards like Wrath of God and Toxic Deluge was tough. After some hard work we got down to 336 cards and under $500. From this point, I wanted to make sure that certain strategies were represented and supported. These strategies are the ones that you would typically see in Commander, like Tokens, Voltron, Control, and Combo.

Some of these strategies are already built into the lower price point of the box, like control, while other ones, like Combo, and Voltron will need some retuning. Let's start by talking about Combo.

These Go Together Like Peas and Carrots

You’d be surprised at how many key combo cards are also above the $7 mark. Among these are Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Palinchron, and so on. This means that we need to either look for substitute cards, or new combos. We'll do a little bit of both as we plan for what combos we’ll support in the box. The combos that follow are on the cheaper side but are still very powerful.

Pickles Lock (Brine Elemental and Vesuvan Shapeshifter) — The thing that we have to keep in mind about combos in Battle Box, is that the cards should "do something" on their own without the other combo piece. This is a great example, because even making your opponents skip one untap step is great. Also Vesuvan Shapeshifter is a decent clone on its own. I have an unhealthy love for this combo. It's part of one of my fondest Magic memories — meeting Brian David Marshall when I was very young in the game. He showed me his Simic Commander (then EDH) deck which was rocking this combo.

Infinite Mana (Deadeye Navigator + Peregrine Drake) — In this combo we substitute the expensive Palinchron, with the $0.50 Peregrine Drake. Deadeye alone is a great Commander card, and the Drake at worst is a free 2/3 flyer (read blocker). Once you have infinite mana, you can blink any creature over and over again. You don’t need to look further than the next section for cards that are good to blink.

Reveillark Combo (Reveillark + Karmic Guide + Sacrifice Outlet + Combo Creature) The combo creature can include any of these fine targets; Acidic Slime (Blow up all lands), Peregrine Drake (Infinite Mana), Eternal Witness (Draw the Graveyard), Murderous Redcap (Kill everyone), Hornet Queen (ALL the tokens), Baleful Strix (Draw the Battle Box) and the list goes on. I'm also going to add a Body Double to the box to give this combo engine more life.

Triskelion Damage Combo (Triskelion + Scythe of the Wretched + Sacrifice Outlet) This combo is traditionally executed with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, but Scythe of the Wretched is only $1.44! The combo yields infinite damage by "pinging" players with the first two activations, then pinging the Triskelion itself with the third one, and sacrificing it. Because of Scythe’s ability the Triskelion will come back into play with the Scythe equipped, then you rinse and repeat.

As you can see, you can go as deep as you want with the combo stuff. If you like combos, you may want to add more support or ways to use combo pieces from other players (like Regrowth or Steal effects), but that is for another day.

Suit Up!

The other archetype that took a beating in the value purge is the Voltron strategy. This is mainly due to losing the Swords. We could replace the Swords with a bunch of sub-par equipment, but we have some extra space in the box, so I decided to do something that I've been wanting to do in the Money Box — that is add Uril, the Miststalker and Aura support.

My hope is to enable players to suit up a Voltron commander like Uril, or Zurgo with a few of Enchantments and win through Commander damage. The key is to add Enchantments that wouldn’t be a terrible draws for people who aren’t playing Voltron. I've tried to add Aura's that either draw a card, or deepen lines of play to mitigate this. I did make a few exceptions for cards that needed to be in here to make this sub-theme work. Ancestral Mask falls in this category, the fact that I love Magali Villeneuve's version of the art has nothing to do with the addition, nothing at all. I mean just look how awesome that is!

Sorry about the Vorthos moment. I think that happens when you spend more time writing about Magic than you actually play it. Getting back to the topic at hand — we probably won't reach a critical mass of Auras to make Uril (or any other Commander) as dangerous as he’d be in a focused deck, but it should be enough. While playing the Money Box, we were still able to experience Voltron moments, by offering access to things like double strike. There was also the epic moment that Taylor had with Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Sword of Feast and Famine. It's these kind of moments that we want to design for. All that being said, I'd still like to have over 5% of the box occupied by Auras that enhance creatures. That means I'll need over 17.8 — which was pretty easy to do.

The total cost of all the “buff” Auras (over 25 cards) comes to around $13, which is only a dollar more that you’d pay for the worst sword (Sword of Body and Mind). I added other Enchantments, like Underground Connection (Underworld Connections) (instead of a card draw spell) to help support things like Ethereal Armor and Ancestral Mask. Making small changes to the box can lend a lot of support to specific archetypes without impacting the flow of play. For example, having Ertai, the Corrupted in the Commander pool is no accident. With over 8% of the box being enchantments, having access to a Commander like this can make drawing these enchantments even better. I also threw in a small Easter egg for Ertai in the form of Brilliant Halo. C-C-C-Combo! There’s also another small thing I added in the Aura department to help out top-end out, but I’ll talk about this bellow.

Call in the Finishers

In the Budget Box, we lose access to big finishers like Craterhoof Behemoth, and (most of) the Eldrazi. Instead, I’ve filled these slots with creature threats that cost six mana or more. There are many cycles that to pick from to construct our top-end. I picked a sampling from these cycles; Primordials, Soul of  . . . , and the Kamigawa Dragons. I also considered the Titan cycle for cards like Grave Titan, and Inferno Titan, but in the end none of them made the cut, because of space and cost. I wanted to make the top end a touch more powerful, so I’m experimenting by adding the “Dragon Aura” cycle from Scourge. These Auras come out of the graveyard and attach to any creature with a mana cost of six mana or higher. My dream is to see all of five of these come out of the graveyard, creating a Frankenstein-esque killing machine!

The List

This list is just a suggestion that I humbly present to you. I’d love to hear about changes and optimizations that you make to it. I’ll start with the pregame stuff and then move on to the core list. I really hope you enjoy this. The total value of the Budget Box added up to between $480 -$495 dollars depending on where you look.

Pre-Game Selections ? Commander Budget Battle Box | Jonathan Medina

Main Box ? Commander Budget Battle Box | Jonathan Medina


As you know I like to use this section to shout-out cool things that I come across when writing the article. Often times I'll watch YouTube, listen to podcasts, or read other articles on similar topics to prepare my mind for writing. This week was chock full of some very good content to prime my mind with.

Magic Man Sam — I was introduced to Sam by my boys over at the Command Zone podcast. They recently did an episode with Sam called "Straying from Staples". It was an excellent show about lesser used cards, which are great considerations for a budget project like this. After that show I binged Netflix style on Sam's YouTube channel. You should too!

Tolarian Community College — As I was working through the Aura sub-theme in here, I coincidently queued up Prof’s video on building a Sigarda Commander deck. He was going the Enchantress route, so it was great to compare notes.

Commanderin’ Podcast — I listened to the recent two part episode with Jason Alt. In part one, Jason gives some of the most profound collection building advice that I’ve heard in recent history. Check out the episode if you have a chance.

Joshua Olson — He was the first to mention using Exotic Orchard, I’d considered using it before but he actually tested it with good result. It’s a perfect addition to the Budget Box.

My next article will be the last one in this series, please post any question or topics you’d like me to cover about the Commander Battle Box, in the comments.


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