$1 Commander: Szadek, Lord of Secrets

My playgroup has been excited, obsessed even, with deck-building as of late. While Constructed formats like Modern or Legacy have builds to utilize, we’re looking at trailblazing.

I’ve gotten into Vintage Artist Constructed because I like making new decks, finding interactions that become closer to optimal. With no one to compare to, all deck-builds push toward bannings in the format, which shows a healthy diversity. We have those tournaments locally in Minneapolis, but we can’t play all that often. Instead, they’re all hooked on $1 Commander.

I built a deck that surely has all cards under $1, a mill deck. Those decks are notoriously terrible in commander, right? If all decks are powered down, below even the 75% builds, why not mill? Surely a mill with some Animate Dead will be pretty strong, no?

I’ll pick Szadek, Lord of Secrets, a Donato Giancola artwork, and go from there.

Szadek, Lord of Secrets by Donato Giancola
13" x 22" Oil on Paper on Panel

The painting is no more, which you can read about it in an older column of mine. It’s a sad story and I knew one day I’d work out how to play this card in a deck.

I built a quick commander build on TappedOut, then copy pasted the list onto Cool Stuff Inc’s deck-builder. It works incredibly well, able to find the cards under $1, picking version and condition to make it work.

Phenax, God of Deception is how much!?
Consuming Aberration is $1.50? Dang it
Hedron Crab is a few dollars? How?!
Startled Awake // Persistent Nightmare is under a buck? Nice!
Increasing Confusion dropped under making me think, “ok, this is possible.”

Casual mill cards being expensive might make this more difficult than I thought. I knew Glimpse the Unthinkable wouldn’t fit, but I was surprised that Traumatize barely made the cut. A few versions can be found out there.

Startled Awake by Sean Sevestre

Persistent Nightmare by Sean Sevestre

So here’s the build and let’s dive into why.


Szadek, Lord of Secrets

Szadek, Lord of Secrets

Obviously the commander is Donato’s marquee art that’s big, has a great effect and has evasion. That’s the easiest choice here.

For the creatures, I don’t love Ambassador Laquatus, I don’t think he’s very strong, but some repeatable mill strategies are going to be needed like Laquatus and Sire of Stagnation. Again, < $1 options are either shockingly strong like Chancellor of the Spires or just marginal like Balustrade Spy. I tried to find some mega defense creatures like Fog Bank and Guard Gomazoa, just to keep any first strike with deathtouch shenanigans with like Gorgon’s Head at bay. The Pestilence Demon is a wrath effect and a body, as late game, Mindshrieker can’t win every time, despite people not realizing that he doesn’t need to attack to mill cards into the graveyard!

I thought about adding more instants, but frankly, for 1/2 mana, milling a few cards just isn’t worth it. I’ve found Gravepurge to be the Feldon’s Cane of the deck, for a reset. I’m still on the fence about the cycling instants like Traumatic Visions, but they cost a billion for their effect and the mana didn’t need help at the onset of the build.

Szadek Instants — Commander | Mike Linnemann

These are the main win conditions of the deck. Animate Dead or Dance of the Dead will steal an eldrazi and swing at an opponent. I first tried more Encrust/can’t untap effects, but they didn’t feel as flavorful and I’d prefer a wrath, sending more creatures into the graveyard vs. a cute Pacifism. Numbing Dose and Encrust stayed because they take down troublesome cheap artifacts.

Numbing Dose by Brad Rigney

Once milled, how do I steal their best creatures?

Necromancy is too expensive, but Animate Dead and Dance of the Dead are under a dollar. Extract from Darkness looks like a deck all star, as late game, it’s bound to find something good.

Szadek Enchantments — Commander | Mike Linnemann

Are there wraths?

Life’s Finale, Decree of Pain are out. In Garruk’s Wake can work, but all Planeswalkers are over $1, making it less needed than say, Crux of Fate or Extinguish All Hope. They’ll both work.

Shenanigans like Telemin Performance and Startled Awake are also stellar considering they’re barely under the $1 limit. If I can cast Traumatize twice, the deck just swims with reanimation targets for Extract from Darkness. I was surprised to find Destroy the Evidence for dealing with an overpowered land, but with all cards under $1, it’s a better slot for Diabolic Tutor or Increasing Ambition, which both needed to be in. I tried for Fabricate into Sands of Delirium, but even that is over $2 now and Reshape just feels too marginal.

I looked at Rhystic Tutor, which is cheap but it’ll always be countered. Acquire is so close to being included, same with Merchant Scroll . . . that was free up until a minute ago, apparently. A card like Personal Tutor brings this deck over the top, which could occur if it’s printed in anything.

And never forget about Switcheroo. Stealing commanders or a +1/+1 gargantuan creature is just delightful.

Switcheroo by Kev Walker

Blue and Black don’t have mana ramp and with the deck being rather slow, I added a bunch of ways to power out Szadek, Lord of Secrets early. 7 mana was impossible was half the amount of mana rocks. I need to point out how backbreaking Keening Stone is when people scry and the Trepanation Blade with Mindshrieker Innistrad draft combo that is no joke. While I should include Millstone, the card is just too slow and bad compared to other options.

I thought about a Relic of Progenitus but Skred Red of course made it $2. Nihil Spellbomb will do the trick for a Black reanimator player and smooth the deck a tiny little bit.

Milling lands like Nephalia Drownyard are dirt cheap. They’re bad, sure, but they do the job when needed come turn eight+ in the game looking for reanimator targets. The tap for one colorless mana and also do an effect has a ton of space and areas for growth here, as mill will get one or two lands every so often.

As for the fixing lands, I’m all about Tainted Isle and the panoramas. They’re solid to get me colorless mana or support if I need it. You just need to remember that the Torment versions are cheaper than the Planechase Anthology ones.

Tainted Isle by Alan Pollack

The whole deck is under $50, with much of it just laying around in my binders. The other parts are a couple bucks here or there or even mini trades with friends. Trading, remember that?

Take a look at $1 commander, it’s oddly fun to build a deck again!


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