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Giving Cheap Advice with Budget Grima Wormtongue


One of my favorite things to do as a deck-builder is give myself a fairly strict limitation as I go into the deck. In last week's article, where I admitted I know very little about The Lord of the Rings, I built a deck using Artifacts exclusively. That's what I'm talking about. (I once played against a deck which was entirely modal spells - every spell had an option on it. Super cool.)

A relatively obvious limitation is budget; build a deck to a specific budget amount, and refuse to go over. As a rule, Basic Lands don't count, but otherwise, one must be able to buy the deck entirely for the budgeted amount.

A number of the cards from the The Lord of the Rings set are proving to be... rather pricey. I thought it might be fun to run hard in the other direction, and instead build a deck around a new Legendary with a really strict budget - for fun, I named $25 - and see what we could do.


Grima Wormtongue

Let's start with the list, then walk through it.

I really love the phrase "Your opponents can't gain life." There is a ton of incidental life gain in Commander, and more than a few decks which leverage life gain as a strategy. Turning that off is great fun, and it does something I always want to do, which is accelerate the game.

I also love we have a free sacrifice effect here, and if we sacrifice the right kind of thing, we get an extra benefit. We're going to lean into that ability and attempt to build up a decently large Orc Army by sacrificing a bunch of Legendary Creatures.

It starts, as always, with Land. We have 40. 39 of them are Basic Swamps. That keeps our cost down and more or less guarantees our Lands come into play untapped. We also have a Barad-dur, which will almost certainly come into play untapped, and will often be an excellent use of any extra mana we have kicking around, because we'll have lost a Creature and have an Orc Army ready to be buffed up.

We don't have the world's best ramp, because the world's best ramp is too expensive for this budget. We do, however, have ramp, it's just less common. I like Network Terminal, and Pristine Talisman seems like a fun way to point out to our opponents they can't gain life but we can. Fractured Powerstone is mostly here to tap for mana, but just in case you wind up in a Planechase game you're ready to go with it. Stonespeaker Crystal is really effective; it's expensive for a Sol Ring, but its Graveyard hate ability and that it replaces itself when we no longer need the mana are super strong. The ramp helps us, by the way, not race to our Commander, but rather keep up because a number of our spells are on the pricey side.

We don't have a ton of draw, but what we do have is pretty good. Village Rites is hard to beat, and Nasty End is quite fun here. Feed the Infection is most likely an Ancient Craving, but there's a corner case where some players have poison and get dinged. Mirror of Galadriel is expensive to activate, but we'll often have quite a few Legendary Creatures so we should be able to drive that price down, and Transmogrant's Crown is our budget Skullclamp. We also have a few ways to recover Creatures from the 'yard, which isn't draw exactly, but certainly allows us to gain card advantage by reusing our Legendary Creatures.

Our best threat is probably a big Orc Army, but we're not strictly limited to that. Grond, the Gatebreaker is a cheap Vehicle which will often come online for free for us, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg is rather big, and I suppose Urgoros, the Empty One could get in a few good hits. Graaz, Unstoppable Juggernaut is a fun kind of way to make a bunch of random Tokens really relevant. Mostly, though, we're going to drive attacks and ping, all while threatening with our giant Army and hoping we can sneak it in.

One of the nice things about this kind of deck is we get to play around with Fleshbag Marauder, which is one of my favorite Creatures in the game. And we have a bunch of them now, so we will almost certainly see one! If we manage to flip Nezumi Graverobber into Nighteyes the Desecrator, targeting a Plaguecrafter each turn is a quick way to make sure no one has any Creatures. We can make Merciless Executioner do double duty with Kinzu of the Bleak Coven, since it'll re-enter the Battlefield as a copy of itself, just smaller and more poisonous. We should have a fairly active Vat of Rebirth, too, which can give us a few ways to loop our Chain Devils. We also have Claim the Precious and Defile, the latter of which can kill something indestructible, which is nice. I also love Bloodthirsty Blade as kind of cool removal tech: attach it to something you really don't want attacking you, and now it can't... but it has to attack someone else. Win-win. (For us.)

And we'll get great fun piloting this deck! We have all sorts of silly interactions which will have people asking "wait, how much do I lose? How again?!" Agent of the Iron Throne will count our sacrifices and ping even more. Fain, the Broker is like a weird Trading Post which lets us buff up our Army (or something else) even more, but also lets us generate Treasure tokens or create flying Creatures! Gollum, Patient Plotter is a lovely little Legendary Creature which keeps coming back. We can trade our Orc Army for cards or Treasures with Gorbag of Minas Morgul, and Gothmog, Morgul Lieutenant gives us a body, buffs our Army, and gives all our Tokens Deathtouch. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins is a hilarious follow-up to a Fleshbag Marauder, Mordor Trebuchet gives us extra sacrifice fodder, Sarevok, Deathbringer punishes people for not doing things, and Tivash, Gloom Summoner is mostly there for the Legendary sacrifice, but could wind up pumping out big ol' Demons. And how much fun is Szat's Will? It's a way-meaner Fleshbag which gives us a bunch of little dudes we can sacrifice or turn into Juggernauts or whatever.

There are a lot of ways this deck could be "better", if "better" means "more likely to win" or "win more quickly". Cards that win quickly or do things efficiently are prized highly and therefore cost more. Want to make this deck better? Run better Token generation and better sacrifice outlets to generate more use. Run Sword, Shield, and Helm of Kaldra to make the Token and sacrifice it over and over. Go infinite tapping and untapping Grima so you can kill everyone at once (Gothmog, Ashnod's Altar, and Umbral Mantle would do it).

On second thought, don't do that. Don't do any of it. You don't play Grima Wormtongue because you want to win with him, you play him because you want to do something silly. There are better sacrifice commanders out there. There are better ones which have stronger effects. If I really want to keep everyone off Creatures, I'd rather play Meren of Clan Nel Toth. Teysa Karlov is probably a better Aristocrats Commander. And give me Vial Smasher the Fierce if I want to take chunks out of my opponents' life totals. Play this deck because it'll be fun - fun to pilot, fun to play against, fun to figure out, and absolutely no stress because it cost less than the cost of a precon (by a fair amount) and you're not actually going to try to win, just see what kind of shenanigans you can pull off before you die. Sit back, enjoy a tasty beverage of your choice, and watch the silliness unfold. After all, this is supposed to be fun, right?

Thanks for reading.

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