Today, I will be building a 100-card Commander deck for a mere ten bucks. Why? Well, primarily because I’m bored, and have a couple hours to kill – which I will accomplish by looking at a couple thousand penny-Commons. This exercise does, however, demonstrate why $35-$50 is my preferred baseline for building budget Commander decks, by showing the difference in power levels between what you can get for $35, and what you can get for less. Consider that the MSRP of an Intro Pack deck is $15, and you should get an idea what power level $10 represents. This means that, assuming 39 basic land, the average cost per card of the deck is 6.1¢. Let this sink in a bit before proceeding…
Now, I’m not just going to grab a bunch of commons and throw them into a pile – that’s not how I build. This deck will be built smartly. It will be coherent, have a proper theme, and though the power level of the deck is completely gutted due to its budget, it will have means of actually winning a game – however unlikely that may be. That means it will employ the best practices of budget decks.
Before we even begin, I already know that we will be bested on the battlefield – we cannot interact there, or we will lose, because the difference in power level of the cards will be too high. If we are to interact, it must be on the stack (through counterspells), the hand (via discard), the library (by milling), or in the graveyard (through various means.) We cannot expect to fill the deck with Common creatures and expect to win by swinging away with them. That would be like trying to hit a 98 mph fastball with a Little League bat. If we are to employ creatures, they must universally have some form of evasion – Protection would be my preference, but I don’t think there’s enough in the Common-Uncommon rarity to make a solid run of it. Horsemanship would be my next choice, but I’m pretty sure we can’t afford that. Shadow is good, but we wouldn’t be able to chump-block with it, so we would have precisely zero defense on the field. Fear, Intimidate and Landwalk are not consistent enough in a multiplayer game, so that pretty much just leaves us with flying.
That’s a good start, however. Flying is an excellent area where power inflation has killed the market. See, there exists a great deal of creatures such as Angels, Demons, and Dragons that have excellent abilities, and they just happen to fly too. That makes those cards that just have flying (and not much else) undesirable – and so they can be bought for pennies. Because of this, we have a deck engine that can be purchased cheaply – I’m sold. We’re going with fliers. That puts us in Blue, White, or Blue-White.
Normally, I wouldn’t even consider going two colors in a budget deck under $50, but we have a strange advantage here – because our budget is so low, we’re not going to be looking at very many cards that have double- or triple-mana symbols in the casting cost. So long as we can get one Plains and one Island down, we can cast most of the spells in our deck if we happen to never draw a second producer of that particular color. So, by adding a second color in our deck, we are greatly increasing its power level without sacrificing any consistency by having all basic lands.
Since we’re in blue, we have access to counterspells – which, as previously noted, are pretty cheap. We’re not going to be able to afford the best amongst them, but a handful of the second-best ones will gives us means of interacting on the stack, so we’re not just durdling around with flyers hoping to peck everyone to death 2-3 damage at a time.
Some support cards are going to be necessary too, in order to bind the deck together cohesively. I really like that Favorable Winds, Gravitational Shift, and Serra Aviary provide Crusade-like effects to flyers – and I love that they’re cheap. They’re in. Add some protection, some card draw, and some removal, and we’re pretty well filled out.
At the time of this article, the deck comes out to $9.82 on TCGPlayer.com, after optimizing for card conditions up through Heavily Played. This of course may change, given that almost 25% of our budget is tied up in Windreader Sphinx, whose price may go up or down as the cards of Magic 2014 stabilize in price.
So, just what can we do with this $10 deck? Well, not a great deal, because the power level of the deck reflects what you can buy for $10. It would be a great deck to teach beginners with, since the deck is not terribly complex. It might be fun to invest $50 into building five such $10-budget decks and play them with friends.
You can take it to the Commander table at your local game store and have fun with it, but you will have a great deal of difficulty winning with it, since – and I cannot reiterate this point enough times – the budget for this deck is 1/3 the MSRP of a Commander preconstructed deck. It can still win games, but since the deck lacks any form of claws, sharp teeth, or venom, you have to win with guile and sheer numbers of weenie flyers.
Of course, with all budget decks this could be the start of something greater as well. I really wanted to include Pride of the Clouds, but the budget wouldn’t have it (it would have meant squeezing out both Windreader Sphinx and Emeria Angel.) The deck also wants Magus of the Moat (and of course plain-old Moat, but who has that kind of money?) and Radiant, Archangel.
Over time, you can aquire more cards to increase the power level of the deck. Flyers are coherent enough on their own (and there are some great blue and white flyers available for a couple bucks) to justify keeping the deck and merely making it more powerful. However, you could also take the deck in different directions. For example, you could shift the deck into an Azorius theme, picking up more control options like Supreme Verdict and stronger counterspells. You could turn the deck into a tribal deck, going with Birds, Griffins, or Angels.
Nonetheless, it’s a coherent pile of 100 cards for $10. That ain’t bad.