FABLES FROM KITCHEN TABLES – BUILDING ON A BUDGET

(Before anything, let me put up a disclaimer – this article was written on the 4th of April, 2013. Prices change. Don’t be surprised if a card I evaluate today skyrockets or plummets in price even by tomorrow. Also, I’m grabbing from multiple sources, and the numbers are to demonstrate a point more than anything, so don’t chirp me if you have a problem with the numbers presented.)

So for those of you who don’t know, I’m a bit of a deckbuilding fanatic. It is perhaps my favorite part of the game (but I must say I do enjoy when my pet cards do work, or get recognized for the powerhouses they are by the community at large), and it’s led me to have 12 EDH decks currently in rotation.

Did I happen to mention that I’m unemployed?

EDH, much unlike 60-card formats, is very cheap to get into if you know where to cut your corners. A lot of people who just build goodstuff decks will end up cranking out hundreds of dollars for cards that aren’t vital to the strategy, but if the cards aren’t necessary, you can get away with building a deck for $30 very easily.

The problem with most expensive cards in EDH is that if you buy one, there’s a lot of incentive to buy more, because expensive cards tend to have synergy with more expensive cards. Take Crucible of Worlds for example – the price ranges from $20-22, and its greatest synergies lie with the following cards:

-Polluted Delta, $60
-Flooded Strand, $55
-Wasteland, $50
-Windswept Heath, $38
-Scalding Tarn, $35
-Misty Rainforest, $34
-Wooded Foothills, $28
-Bloodstained Mire, $27
-Verdant Catacombs, $25
-Arid Mesa, $24
-Marsh Flats, $24
-Horizon Canopy, $11
-Dust Bowl, $6
-Strip Mine, $4
-Cephalid Coliseum, $3
-Tectonic Edge, $1
-Buried Ruin, $0.50
-Grove of the Guardian, $0.50
-Krosan Verge, $0.50
-Evolving Wilds, $0.25
-Haunted Fengraf, $0.25
-Terramorphic Expanse, $0.25

So as you can see, while using a budget Crucible package isn’t the worst thing in the world, if you really want to get fancy with it, you really have to dump a large amount of money into it to make it truly effective. And since you have fetches, why not just go ahead and get some duals to go along with it?

-Underground Sea, $138
-Volcanic Island, $119
-Tundra, $114
-Tropical Island, $104
-Bayou, $90
-Savannah, $87
-Scrubland, $63
-Taiga, $61
-Badlands, $59
-Plateau, $44
-Stomping Ground, $14
-Sacred Foundry, $13
-Godless Shrine, $11
-Temple Garden, $11
-Breeding Pool, $10
-Hallowed Fountain, $9
-Overgrown Tomb, $9
-Watery Grave, $9
-Blood Crypt, $8
-Steam Vents, $7

As you can see, the concept of including a Crucible of Worlds in your deck is starting to look like the same concept as straight-up buying a Jace, the Mind Scluptor. While Crucible is extremely powerful in its own right, it is not at all necessary in most strategies – you can get away with a cheaper type of card (especially once Dragon’s Maze comes out and shocklands will likely fall below $5), but unless you really want the card to be central to your strategy, it’s a card you can entirely get away with not running.

Since I have a love affair with lists, I’m going to highlight a point – while the following list of heavily-played EDH cards clocking in at $11 or higher are all powerful, very few are necessary to have in your deck for your deck to win. (That’s not to say the cards aren’t powerful or worth investing in if you aren’t on a budget – let me be clear in saying that if you have the money, by all means – but you don’t have to be so dissuaded from the format just because you can’t afford one of these cards)

-Mana Drain, $117
-Gaea’s Cradle, $94
-Jace, the Mind Sculptor, $93
-Mana Crypt, $75
-Force of Will, $68
-Loyal Retainers, $35
-Rishadan Port, $33
-Scavenging Ooze, $31
-Intuition, $29
-Maze of Ith, $28
-Mutavault, $28
-Cryptic Command, $27
-Kozilek, Butcher of Truth, $26
-Vindicate, $25
-Elspeth, Knight-Errant, $24
-Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, $22
-Sword of Light and Shadow, $22
-Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre, $22
-Crucible of Worlds, $21
-Damnation, $21
-Exploration, $21
-Gilded Drake, $21
-Snapcaster Mage, $21
-Sword of Fire and Ice, $21
-Doubling Season, $20
-Natural Order, $19
-Time Spiral, $19
-Academy Rector, $17
-Umezawa’s Jitte, $17
-Pernicious Deed, $16
-Vampiric Tutor, $16
-All is Dust, $15
-Linvala, Keeper of Silence, $14
-Mana Reflection, $14
-Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary, $14
-Volrath’s Stronghold, $14
-Bribery, $13
-Iona, Shield of Emeria, $13
-Sarkhan Vol, $13
-Serra’s Sanctum, $13
-Survival of the Fittest, $13
-Tooth and Nail, $13
-Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, $12
-Sensei’s Divining Top, $12
-Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, $12
-Earthcraft, $11
-Phyrexian Tower, $11
-Sword of Feast and Famine, $11
-Sword of War and Peace, $11
-Woodfall Primus, $11

Now, of those 50 cards listed (this was coincidence that it ended up being 50, I assure you), very few stand out as “I am building a deck that does X and I need Y card for it“. Of those cards that meet that criteria, the most expensive is the aforementioned Crucible of Worlds.

See where the budgeting can come in handy? It’s not a bad thing for you to garner explosive turns or have flexible, all-around good cards, but you can get away with cutting corners very easily and still be able to answer most everything your opponents throw at you. Almost all of the cards listed here have less flexible, but much less expensive answers (most spot removal spells and boardwipes listed here have significantly cheaper alternatives), and most of them aren’t even necessary.

With that in mind, I want to go over a portion of deckbuilding that can sometimes be difficult to budget, especially the more colors you add to your deck – the land base. Sometimes, it can be hard to make a manabase work when your deck wants to be playing Counterspell and Necropotence, but if you know where to look, you can get manafixing easily on the cheap. Let’s take a look at the above color combination, U/B, and all their duals, in order of pricing:

-Underground Sea, $138
-Sunken Ruins, $11
-Watery Grave, $10
-Creeping Tar Pit, $5
-Drowned Catacomb, $5
-Darkslick Shores, $3
-Darkwater Catacombs, $3
-River of Tears, $3
-Secluded Glen, $2
-Underground River, $2
-Frost Marsh, $1
-Tainted Isle, $1
-Salt Marsh, $0.75
-Dimir Aqueduct, $0.50
-Dreadship Reef, $0.50
-Jwar Isle Refuge, $0.50
-River Delta, $0.50
-Dimir Guildgate, $0.25
-Rootwater Depths, $0.25
-Waterveil Cavern, $0.25

So if you do the math, the rest of the lands comes up to just over 1/3 of the value of just Underground Sea. Now, that’s not to say you should buy them – always evaluate how much you want to spend on a given EDH deck (I would certainly not want to blow $50 of my budget on just lands), but that’s just food for thought and it gives me incentive to further reiterate my point – you don’t need to overspend to win.

Usually, when I build landbases, I go with an even 40 lands, and I use this formula:

1 color – 10 or less nonbasics
2 colors – 20 or less nonbasics
3 colors – 30 or less nonbasics
5 colors – 35 or less nonbasics

Of the U/B duals listed (because, let’s face it, some of them are just absolutely terrible), I would consider purchasing the following for my deck (assuming I had no U/B duals whatsoever):

-Darkwater Catacombs – it makes your utility lands like Reliquary Tower produce colored mana.

-River of Tears – Personal pet favorite. You can ignore it if you want.

-Underground River – I think all of the painlands are great, they’re useful early for untapped lands that fix your mana and lategame they’re the first option for paying colorless costs.

-Tainted Isle – This entire cycle is an auto-include in every multicolor black deck, imo.  Especially any that lean on Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. A single Swamp means that you have a free untapped dual land.

-Dimir Aqueduct – Lets you reuse your Bojuka Bog, Halimar Depths or Jwar Isle Refuge. It also lets you keep a land-light hand if you have the curve to support it. Admittedly awkward to use at times, but keep it in if you have a good ETB land to abuse with it.

-Dreadship Reef – The blue and green ones are very useful, imo, as they can bluff your reactive spells while getting value if your opponents attempt to play around you. Plus, these are great in green with Seedborn Muse.

-Jwar Isle Refuge – I’m partial to these in any deck that doesn’t mind the CIPT clause. Being ahead on life can attract stray aggro, but every point counts, right?

-Dimir Guildgate – The cheapest option out of this variant. Honestly, these are significantly more powerful in enemy colors, because they have traditionally bad manafixing, but if you want as much manafixing as possible, this is probably your cheapest shot at getting a decent dual. Also synergizes with Gatecreeper Vine, if you want to play it.

So, adding up the total average values of the aforementioned, we total $10.75, which really isn’t bad considering you just added 8 dual lands to your deck for the price of one Sunken Ruins. If you do your research and find decent duals on the cheap, you can really get a solid manabase for a solid price.

The last point I want to make is on “bulk powerhouses” – cheap, flashy bombs that are incredibly powerful in EDH, but in 60-card formats are completely ignored, so they have no value. I’m going to go over 5 rares in each color you should definitely invest in if you want to have powerful, flexible cards for almost any EDH deck.

WHITE

1. Planar Cleansing, Magic 2010, Magic 2013, $0.50
Every good white deck contains a decent board wipe or two. Planar Cleansing takes care of everything on the board, for only six mana, and is incredibly cheap to buy as well.

2. Luminarch Ascension, Zendikar, $2.75
Whether you’re a token deck or a control deck, if you can find a way to defend yourself, Lumniarch is a fantastic win condition. Who doesn’t want to spit out Angels for two mana a pop? Just be careful that you don’t play this too early and get hated out fast.

3. Intrepid Hero, Magic 2013, $0.75
Perhaps one of the best utility dorks in white, slap a Lightning Greaves on this sucker and go to town. Stops certain strategies in their tracks. Keeps board states honest. It can go in aggro, control and even combo, and is a fantastic metagame call against certain generals.

4. World Queller, Zendikar, $0.25
Maybe it’s a matter of personal preference, but I’m a huge fan of this card. He’s fantastic in clogged board states, can grind opponents into the dust, and he’s repeatable removal on a respectable body. What’s not to love?

5. Cathar’s Crusade, Avacyn Restored, $0.75
The token player’s best friend. Sure, the nightmare of “I don’t have the dice to keep up with this” can be frustrating, but have you ever played something like Conqueror’s Pledge with this?

BLUE

1. Leyline of Anticipation, Magic 2011, $1.00
It doesn’t matter what type of strategy you are – this is good with or against control, with or against combo and with or against aggro. Being able to play anything at any time is dangerous for the entire table when they can’t see you coming. It lets aggro flash in their fattie at end of turn, lets you play ETB’s like they were counterspells – this effect is incredibly powerful, even in a draw-go control deck.

2. Devastation Tide, Avacyn Restored, $0.75
Being able to reset the board is an effect every color wants. If you can do it for two mana, it’s an even better bonus. Also, unlike Evacuation, it doesn’t leave Planeswalkers there to continue wrecking the game.

3. Cyclonic Rift, Return to Ravnica, $1.75
Blue is already the most flexible and powerful color in Magic. This effect is probably one of the absolute best the color has. It provides an absolutely crushing amount of tempo if played in a clogged board state, and it’s at instant speed. Seriously, pick these up while they’re still cheap – once Ravnica isn’t in heavy print, these will most certainly go up.

4. Walk the Aeons, Time Spiral, $0.75
It’s the cheapest Time Walk effect out there, and you can buy it back if you’re far enough ahead.

5. Deadeye Navigator, Avacyn Restored, $0.50
Perhaps the most busted combo enabler ever printed. Ranges from being cute and interesting to downright vile and disgusting. And for being so insanely powerful, it’s pretty cheap, too.

BLACK

1. Avatar of Woe, Premium Deck Series: Graveborn, $2.00
It’s a finisher that grinds opponents into the dust, it’s an easy reanimation target, and it’s cheap to cast lategame.

2. Rune-Scarred Demon, Magic 2012, $1.50
A Demonic Tutor on a very powerful body. What more can I say?

3. Bloodchief Ascension, Zendikar, $2.00
You can make entire decks based around this card very easily. If you can get it active, you can destroy entire tables with impunity.

4. Attrition, Urza’s Destiny, $1.00
A great card to pair with Reassembling Skeleton, this thing can single-handedly answer entire board states if you’re able to target the problem.

5. Life’s Finale, New Phyrexia, $0.50
My personal favorite boardwipe in black, just because you can take out important threats with it. Especially helps if your opponents are light on recursion.

RED

1. Insurrection, Onslaught, $1.25
Yeah, Insurrection’s real cheap.

2. Wake of Destruction, Urza’s Destiny, $1.50
This card is pretty douchey, but in the right scenario, it’s incredibly powerful. Cut an opponent off a color? Seems good to me!

3. Urabrask the Hidden, New Phyrexia, $2.75
This thing does wonders both in and against the aggro matchup. It’s the cheapest Praetor, and I’m not really sure why.

4. Gratuitous Violence, Onslaught, $2.00
My personal favorite damage doubler in red. The triple red can be painful for multicolor decks to cast, but it’s perfectly fine otherwise.

5. Blasphemous Act, Innistrad, $2.50
Probably the best boardwipe red has to offer, just because of how mana-efficient it has the potential to be.

GREEN

1. Sylvan Primordial, Gatecrash, $0.75
I don’t think anyone’s surprised to see this guy pop up on this list. There’s plenty of outcry to ban this thing, and for good reason – it’s incredibly easy to abuse, it’s one of the douchiest effects imaginable (seriously, why couldn’t it be a “may” effect?), and it’s tacked onto a powerful body to boot. Seriously, if this thing isn’t getting banned, pick them up.

2. Terastodon, Worldwake, $0.75
Everybody’s favorite reanimation target! Though Sylvan Primordial is subjectively better, Terastodon is more politically inclined, and you can dismantle one player’s entire board with it.

3. Kamahl, Fist of Krosa, Onslaught, $3.00
Just at the end of the threshold of “great cards under $3” is Kamahl. He’s so incredibly powerful that he warrants inclusion just because he’s cheap for the power he provides.

4. Genesis Wave, Scars of Mirrodin, $2.00
Genesis Wave is not-so-subtly one of most powerful green effects printed in recent years, and it’s not that expensive to pick up, either. If you can fit it into your budget, Eternal Witness is not-so-subtly the best card to pair this with, bar none.

5. Lurking Predators, Magic 2010, $2.50
One of my favorite effects for an aggro deck – you don’t even need to risk overextending, because your opponents cast you into your board state for you!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I know a lot of people who don’t exactly have too much money going around, or have responsibilities or other hobbies that are more important than Magic is to them. I just don’t want anyone looking at EDH to ever think “It’s too expensive of a format, I can’t play it!” Don’t ever get into that frame of mind; EDH is most likely the cheapest format to get into, and if you know what cards to pick up, there are plenty of very powerful options that don’t completely drain you of your allowance. Look up effects on Gatherer, you’d be surprised at what you might find, and how cheap you can find it at.

Until next time,

-L

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