The £20 Commander Challenge: Yasova Dragonclaw
I have a love/hate relationship with Commander (EDH). I started playing it about a year before the first Commander set was released, as you can probably tell from my calling it EDH in the first place. The idea of building decks around fun ideas, cool themes and explosive effects too expensive for Constructed appealed to my inner Johnny. I mentioned in my articles about Ixalan Limited that I like tribal themes, so it is probably little surprise that my second deck was mono-white Soldiers, and I also have a green/white Elves deck too.
My first ever EDH deck, having played a budget Jund deck in the previous Standard season, was Kresh, The Bloodbraided. No tribal themes there, but I did build it around the theme of sacrificing things to make Kresh enormous. Nearly all of my seven EDH decks are built around the theme of their respective commanders. Indeed, that is the biggest reason I choose the commanders I run in the first place. Very few of my EDH decks have ever been “good stuff” or generals chosen simply for their colour identity.
You can probably surmise from all this that the deckbuilding part of EDH is by far my favourite. You are correct. In fact, playing EDH is one of my least favourite things to do while still playing Magic: the Gathering. I have had some great casual games with groups of mates just dicking around, trying to cast seven drops, don’t get me wrong. But for every game like that, there is at least another where someone goes off with a combo on turn four in their perfectly tuned, legacy-light monstrosity. I’m not here to tell anyone how to enjoy EDH, but it seems like, too often, what I want out of the format is not the same as other people.
The answer is simple, of course: just play with people you know. That is pretty much what I do nowadays, but it seems a shame that the format in which brewing is most enjoyable has been placed in a self-imposed limbo. Then, at Grand Prix Liverpool, a friend suggested something that got me excited for EDH for the first time in years. The original idea, before refinement, was to buy a general from one of the vendors at the event, then build your entire deck over the weekend, but with a budget of only £20. Logistically it wasn’t really feasible; not everyone wanted to spend their weekend trawling through binders and boxes.
The idea had legs, however, it just needed perfecting. In the end, it was quite straightforward: £20 budget, build a deck by December. We allowed ourselves to buy cards from anywhere, or use cards we already had, but the total value of the cards still had to come under budget based on Manaleak.com prices. Basic lands counted as freebies, but assuming my deck would use about 38 lands, that left me looking for 62 cards worth an average value of just 32p.
When we first discussed the idea, my first thoughts were to complete my long term, back-burner project of building a deck for every three colour combination. I had one for every Shard of Alara, but my collection of Clans from Tarkir was sorely lacking. I like the look of Queen Marchesa, so I grabbed one from the GP and put her in the back of my trade folder till we finalised the rules for the contest. The trouble is, Marchesa is £4.99. Not a huge amount, but when we settled on a £20 budget it became very clear that blowing 25% of it on a single card was simply not an option. Mardu would have to wait.
Temur was next on my list, but there are few generals in those colours and most of them are either expensive or not very interesting. Then I remembered turning up early to FNM one time and not having any decks with me. Someone lent me a Daghathar deck which had been fairly fun to play and he was part of a cycle, right? Bingo! The entire cycle, except Tasigur, were pennies. Shu Yun piqued my interest, but I already have a Jeskai deck and, after reading around a bit, he seems like the type of general that could get me killed very quickly.
Then I opened up Yasova Dragonclaw on Gatherer and my decision was made. It was love at first sight. She has a fun ability that screams ‘build around me’. I could continue my own wedge-building challenge while building around a theme, and on a budget. Yasova was my girl, time to get to work.
First things first, what would my mana base look like on such a tight budget? 38 basics was not an option. Land is probably my favourite card type, and I’m a big fan of actually being able to play Magic, but they are also among the most expensive cards on average. Shocks and fetches were out of the question. In fact, most rare fixing was not really an option. Even a Yavimaya Coast was worth the same as three “real cards.” Vivids came in at 49p – a little more than I had hoped, but a necessary evil, I figured. They are easily the best non-artifact fixing available for the EDH player on a budget. Luckily, the lifegain lands from Khans block were 10-20p each, so that helped to get me back on track. I also made sure I had enough room in my budget for a Frontier Bivouac. I’m no Vorthos, but the fixing is good and a little flavour never killed anyone, right?
Now it was time to get down to business. Pete, who came up with the idea in the first place, won’t like this, but I opened up EDHREC for some inspiration. Most people who played with Yasova seemed to have the same idea as me: steal people’s stuff and sacrifice it for value. Alas, most of these people weren’t limited to £20 so they were able to put, you know, good cards in their decks.
Still, I did find some cards that I would never have thought of using in a “normal deck.” One of my favourite things about EDH is finding a use for cards you would never even think about for competitive formats. I had never even heard of Breath of Fury before a friend suggested it. It was a little over my average budget, but I kept on finding bargains to make up for it, and it seemed like a great inclusion in a deck like this. In the basket it went.
Aside from the spicy new discoveries, I knew I was looking for a few different effects in my cards. I wasn’t really interested in straight-up “good” cards. I wanted cards that helped my deck do its thing. Category one was threaten effects. Luckily, I had plenty to choose from here, since there is almost always some sort of Act of Treason at common or uncommon in every set. Even some of the rare ones, Mob Rule, for example, were dirt cheap. In fact, the challenge with this part of the deckbuilding process was to make sure I didn’t go overboard and have too many. I could afford to be somewhat picky, bearing in mind that my general was a repeatable source of the same effect. Likewise, I was delighted to find a use for Captivating Crew from Ixalan outside of being a Limited bomb.
Next up was sacrifice outlets. I didn’t want to build a deck that killed with one big alpha strike (though it was certainly an option with some of the mass Threaten type cards in the deck). I have always been more interested in accruing value than in winning when it comes to EDH, so sacrificing other people’s creatures to fuel my own board is right up my alley. As a bonus, it helps to avoid overcommitting into wrath effects, even if there were likely to be few of those, given the financial constraints.
Fling was an old favourite from Kresh, but I needed repeatable effects too. Ooze Garden was a nice find, serving as both a sacrifice outlet for stolen creatures and also a token generator for the times when I run out of ways to steal things. Jalira, Master Polymorphist was another easy, cheap pickup, as was Scourge of Skola Vale, but a lot of the best outlets are quite pricy. Birthing Pod, even post-ban, was still considerably out of my price range. Even Greater Gargadon was a little too rich for my blood. Thanks a lot, Restore Balance. Still, with a little stitching in the shape of flicker effects permanently stealing creatures, I came up with what I think (or hope) will be enough things to do with the creatures I borrow from my opponents.
That still left me with a few spots open for utility. Signets and a few other pieces of artifact mana came in under budget and I even slipped in a few relatively flexible counterspells to help me deal with troublesome spells. Insidious Will is no Cryptic Command, but 1% of the price it does a decent enough impression. There is plenty of affordable card draw too, without having to resort to things like Divination. Urban Evolution seems like an obvious inclusion in any deck that can run it, and Yasova is no different.
That’s it for this week. My cards arrive soon, and we will play some games in December and I’ll let you all know how it goes. Next week I’m intending to go in depth about some of the best finds, so if you are interested in EDH on a budget be sure to keep an eye out for that on Wednesday. Till then, let me know in the comments about your favourite staples for the frugal EDH player. Better yet, give the £20 challenge a go and let me know how you get on!
Thanks for reading,