Thin Budget, Phat Deck
Jules Robins wrote about Selenia in an extort deck not too long ago. Because his theme was so focused, all my/Eron’s deck shares with Jules’s is some mana artifacts and lands. There, Selenia’s reusability as a spell gave her the nod over other Orzhov choices. Here, it’s more a flavor choice, although a commander who rarely needs the command zone is useful. Selenia’s not a build-around here, but she’s an effective leader on the cheap. Eron had a few of the cards from Gatecrash, so the cash outlay on this thirty-four-rare deck was $33. And it isn’t going to look like a budget deck on the field; I’m sorta jealous I don’t have this deck for myself. Before getting to the decklist and explanation:
A Word on Saving Money in Commander (a.k.a. Yeah, Like I Ever Stop at One Word)
Saving money in Commander is relatively easy if you understand replacement level theory. In baseball, replacement level is assigned to a level of performance you could get from freely available talent. You know that guy in AAA whom you could get for peanuts while making him happy by bringing him to the majors? That’s replacement level, broadly speaking. Magic has the same thing going on. If Swamp is the basic unit of black mana—replacement level, in a sense—how much extra value is an Orzhov Guildgate or a Scrubland? Is paying for a Scrubland worth the extra value over an Orzhov Guildgate? What about Rout versus Austere Command versus Akroma's Vengeance? Does Demonic Tutor give $10 more value than Diabolic Tutor, or is it better to upgrade other cards by that $10? Sports teams and budget Magic players weigh these decisions constantly, and building a major-league deck requires an understanding of replacement level.
The gaps between price and value above replacement level are starkest in four categories:
- Lands – Terramorphic Expanse is no Marsh Flats, but the turn after you play either, you’ve generated roughly the same effect.
- Mana Fixing – Sisay's Ring does the same thing as Sol Ring once it comes out. If you need the $8 to buy more win conditions, this is where you find that $8.
- Has-Beens – Sometimes, a card pushes another card closer to the junk-rare bin. When it hits that bin, budget players rejoice. Consume the Meek in most instances is a better Culling Sun. This makes Culling Sun cheaper but no better or worse than it ever was.
- Won’t-Bes – The current Limited format provides the freshest supply of cards for the current Standard format. If something’s not being played there, and it fits your deck, now’s the time to buy it. Several cards in this deck are from the last three blocks; people tend to have their fill of these cards, so they’re easy to pick up if you’re building from scratch.
Measuring Sisay's Ring by what it isn’t (Sol Ring) ignores what it is (a source of ramp). Measuring a card in Standard by what it isn’t (a tournament staple) ignores what it is (a card potentially capable of winning plenty of games). Understanding this lets you find good cards for cheaper than if you took high-priced Commander staples and put them in every deck.
Firing up my Orzhov playlist1, here’s the deck:
Given the shifting nature of interests in the middle of a multiplayer Commander game, I favor building decks that are definitely good at a few things rather than try to pack every answer in. If you have all the board sweepers or graveyard exile in your deck, someone might want to be your friend long enough to keep you alive.
And it’s not as though Orzhov minds this; white and black are very good at the few things they do together. It’s tough to build a well-rounded Orzhov deck; I think it’s better to accentuate strengths than make a deck unpredictable for versatility’s sake. So, what did I build this deck to do?
Curve Out with Angels and Demons
If you’ve ever played with or against the Divine vs. Demonic decks, you know they have difficulty with the lower curve. Yeah, there’s Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Reiver Demon at the top, but Icatian Priest and Dusk Imp are miserable to play until then. If there’s one thing in this Commander deck that needs the money, it’s 4- and 5-mana Angels and Demons. Big, high-cost flyers are plentiful in those tribes; midrange is trickier.
Sunblast Angel is starting to stay out of the junk-rare bin; it’s easily among the best combinations of board wipe and flyer ever printed. Kagemaro, First to Suffer, Havoc Demon, Pestilence Demon, and Bane of the Living (a second morph so it’s not always Grinning Demon) complement the Angel in ridding the board of what ails you. All of them except Havoc Demon have some control over how much you kill (call it Xability—“this board wipe is so Xable.” I wouldn’t blame you for never calling it that.) Harvester of Souls and Angelic Skirmisher scale nicely in multiplayer; pick them up while they’re cheap, as you’ll use them in Commander eventually. With so many flyers, Elbrus, the Binding Blade should have no trouble transforming into Withengar Unbound, though I hope that at least once a board wipe allows an Orzhov Keyrune to animate, wear Elbrus, and create a monster.
The other high-cost flyers are normal multiplayer finishers. Lord of the Void is new to casual, but nobody denies its scariness. Blood Speaker doesn’t require many Demons to be a worthwhile inclusion; here, it’s a toolbox for half your finishers. Netherborn Phalanx can transmute for creatures and board wipe, and its enters-the-battlefield life-loss is occasionally lethal.
Clear the Board, Bring Stuff Back, and Exile Graveyards
In addition to the listed cards for graveyard exile, Bojuka Bog, Shred Memory, and Return to Dust can banish unwanted items. Shred Memory is especially important for its transmute, as it can grab Exsanguinate or Profane Command.
Sunblast Angel, Kagemaro, Havoc Demon, Pestilence Demon, and Bane of the Living are already a solid suite of creature removal, and there are plenty of other options. Culling Sun and Consume the Meek hit none of your creatures except a Demon token from Promise of Power and Orzhov Keyrune; neither sweeper does everything in Commander, but when you know they’ll virtually never affect your own stuff, they become better. Akroma's Vengeance, Purify, Martyr's Bond, and Merciless Eviction are best in this deck for answering noncreature permanents, but they have other utility as well.
Keeping the Deck Going
Bonehoard might look out of place in a deck with heavy graveyard exile, but people still manage to put creatures in graveyards, it’s ridiculous on a flyer for almost any pump past +2/+2, and it was fifty cents. Sometimes, there are cards that synergize completely with your deck, and sometimes, there are good cards for cheap. Those don’t always overlap, and on a budget, you take the latter.
1 I have hour-long playlists for every color combination from zero to three colors based on color pie philosophy and how those ideas are expressed in music. My Orzhov playlist is:
- “Break My Soul” by Hybrid
- “Biomantric Life” by The Black Dog
- “Anywhere Out of the World” by Dead Can Dance
- “Icct Hedral” by Aphex Twin
- “Ghost” by VNV Nation
- “Phenomenon” by Monolake
- “Blackout” by Hybrid
- “Light Mass Prayers” by Porcupine Tree
- “Aligning the Daemon” by Monolake
- “Finished Symphony” by Hybrid