The Kitchen Table: From Toolkit To Commander #6

Abe concludes his From Toolkit To Commander series by talking about how his two Commander decks that started as Deck Builder’s Toolkits have turned out.

It’s probably the final edition of this series. Yay! The idea for this series was simple. I cracked open a Deck Builder’s Toolkit from a local store and then traded the cards in it to create a Commander deck. I wasn’t trying to make every trade worth a lot of money and intentionally lost value in some places in order to have a deck that made sense.

Initially I opened an old Toolkit from the summer of 2012 that I picked up at 50% off. I enjoyed that challenge so much I decided to pick up a second Toolkit—this time from 2013—and trade for another deck simultaneously.

The first became a decent Junk Tokens deck commanded by Teneb, the Harvester. The second became a Grixis Control deck with Sol’Kanar the Swamp King as its general. Both decks have done well in various games and play pretty strongly.

Why do all of this? Well, there are two major reasons. First of all, it helps to show that you don’t need to invest a lot of money in order to have a good Commander deck. I’m not the only one to have budget Commander articles, but these decks cost even less than a preconstructed deck from Commander 2013 does. One cost $10, and the other $20. And unlike other fun budget-minded article series like Pack to Power that have been in vogue, this didn’t require me to always be upgrading my trades in order to turn my deck into one laden with a bunch of expensive cards like Sol Ring, Swords to Plowshares, dual lands, and such.

Another reason to do this project is because it’s fun!

Anyway, I’ve kept making a few trades here and there to fix them up and make some minor modifications. I have virtually no trade stock left. After all, you are just starting with a quartet of booster packs to trade out of, and I’m not known as some trading fool or anything. I almost never trade. I just buy what I need, getting it with the money I make as a writer. (My writing pays for my hobby, which is great!)  So trading is not usually my thing, and I had to stretch my trading legs a bit here and there.

In previous articles, I shared with you the various trades I made here and there. You could see the exact trade and the logic behind them. Well, today we’ll skip that since it’s basically the last edition of the From Toolkit To Commander series. It’s possible I might pick it up once more months down the road if the decks alter radically. But otherwise the decks are essentially done, and I have a small stack of uncommons and commons left (plus I can trade cards from the decks themselves if I have a better option).

Would you like to see the latest versions of my decks?

Let’s begin with the deck that I made from a 2012 Deck Builder’s Toolkit I purchased at my local game store for $10.

Teneb, The Token Maker

Lots of trades were made to enhance this bad boy. For example, after a Modern Masters draft I traded for a Cloudgoat Ranger, Kodama’s Reach, and Feudkiller’s Verdict.

I’m still looking for cards like Roar of the Wurm, Grizzly Fate, and such. Rampaging Baloths and Parallel Lives are in the budget of this deck too. Some other cards I’m looking for include Collective Blessing, Leyline of the Meek, and so forth.

I’m still looking for replacements for Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Ambush Viper, but the deck is looking spiffy!

I was able to enhance the token theme in several directions. Ogre Slumlord and Syphon Flesh were added to the black cards. One is a solid edict effect that happens to produce Zombies for you, while the other will spit out Rat tokens. It’s great fun!

Grove of the Guardian and Khalni Garden are lands that will provide a bumper crop of tokens to harvest with our populate and pumping tricks. I also added cards like Jade Mage and Guardian of Cloverdell.

Some of my spells were upgraded too, and cards like Captain’s Call and Gather the Townsfolk made way for Bestial Menace and Spider Spawning. I was even able to trade for a Spawning Grounds that someone opened. She bought a few Commander 2013 decks for the cards and took them apart—didn’t even play Commander. So I got the Grounds for this deck (and Command Tower for the next one). There’s always a way to find hotness!

The deck has become a lot more consistent. For example, mana smoothing is improved. I added the aforementioned Reach along with Gemhide Sliver and Rampant Growth.

There are better removal options, such as the instant Artisan’s Sorrow versus the previous sorcery speed Solemn Offering and Unmake’s addition. Cards like Bojuka Bog, Nihil Spellbomb, and Unburial Rites add some powerful cards that help the deck in normal Commander metagames.

So where would I like to take the deck next? Well, it still has some issues.

First of all, it has some beaters that I was able to acquire. But most have no connection to the theme of the deck; they are just here because they are good. So creatures like Engulfing Slagwurm, Vengeful Archon, and Serra Angel don’t offer the deck much. Ideally, I’d love to replace them with cards that are on theme, such as Armada Wurm, Symbiotic Wurm, Grave Titan, or Craterhoof Behemoth. Obviously some of those are out of the price range (Behemoth), but that’s the idea.

Secondly, the deck needs more mana smoothing in its lands. I would love to pick up Vivid lands or even Opal Palace. Even a humble Elfhame Palace would be welcome. We need better mana in the land base.

And finally, the deck needs to replace cards on theme with better cards on theme. I didn’t find creatures to replace ones like Voice of the Provinces and Goldnight Redeemer. Sure, I was able to pull out some creatures for token makers (like Seraph of Dawn and Briarpack Alpha, which have been pulled), but I still have a lot of needs. These are just not good enough.

So the deck has needs. It’s not perfect. But it’s good enough. It has won several times and rarely gets embarrassed. It has flexible removal and answers for a variety of typical Commander problems while creating problems of its own.

Sol’Kanar Triumphant

One trade story for you. I was playing someone in a duel and played the white-bordered Lava Burst. He just looked at me for a minute and kept on. Afterward he traded me a Fireball for it because the other card "hurt his eyes" and then proceeded to rip up the Burst in front of me. It was an awesome moment!

Some great changes were made to this deck. First of all, it’s gained a bit of an enters the battlefield (ETB) theme. New additions including Deadeye Navigator, Skinrender, Izzet Chronarch, and Shriekmaw have enhanced that.

I’ve also added in better mana. Scuttlemutt, Armillary Sphere, and a more well-rounded land base have helped. This deck was in dire straits mana-wise compared to the Teneb deck, so it has been a point of emphasis. I added in cards like Terramorphic Expanse, Evolving Wilds, Esper Panorama, Vivid Creek, Mirrodin’s Core, and even the Command Tower. It’s been a big help, and the deck is more consistent. Again, it needs more. I’d love the other two Vivid lands, and Rupture Spire and Crumbling Necropolis among others are on my target list. This deck’s mana base still needs some assistance.

Like the Teneb deck, this one has had some polishing. The inclusion of things like Mind Control, Street Spasm, Fireball, and Scattering Stroke has helped the answers increase. I wanted a critical mass of answers since this is a control deck after all. Shriekmaw and Skinrender also help.

The creature base was this deck’s weakness, and I’ve shorn it up. Avatar of Fury (which costs a surprising $0.75) is a huge help, and Shivan Dragon joined the group. And that’s not all I brought to the party! Sphinx of Magosi and Uyo also bring their flying beats. The combination of size, card drawing, and forking are all useful additions to the club. It gives us more reliable and suitable beaters. I needed to bring these beefy dudes on to the level of my Teneb deck.

Where does this deck need to go?

It also needs more mana, as mentioned above. I’m not sure that Opaline Unicorn and Scuttlemutt are long-term answers, and I’d like to turn them into mana rocks like Manalith or Obelisk of Grixis. And if I fix the lands, perhaps they could come out for better accelerants, such as Sol Ring and Everflowing Chalice.

Another issue is the disconnect between the beaters and the new theme of ETB triggers. I’d love to add in bodies that could be used. Perhaps Rune-Scarred Demon, Draining Whelk, or Bogardan Hellkite could make the cut. (Grave Titan would work here too!)  We have the two Primordials and Sphinx of Uthuun as options already. So I’d like to increase my ETB affinity. I could look at bouncing, such as Crystal Shard or Equilibrium. Or perhaps flickering like Conjurer’s Closet would suffice. But I need something to push it to the next level.

The card drawing in the deck is slick. Bloodgift Demon, Underworld Connections, Syphon Mind, Sphinx of Uthuun, Sphinx of Magosi, Opportunity, and such. I’d like to have one or two more quality card drawing effects, like Staff of Nin or Honden of Seeing Winds.

But the Sol’Kanar deck has come a long way. It needed more support since its initial cards were not nearly as good. It has won twice and again is rarely embarrassed.

From Born of the Gods, I think Peregrination, Fated Intervention, Unravel the Aether, and two of the Temples are useful targets. Although Sol’Kanar would certainly benefit from Mogis, God of Slaughter, I doubt that’s a trade that could ever happen.

As you can see, I managed to turn two Toolkits into solid Commander decks. And I did so without knowing a lot about trading or always looking for value. Indeed, many of my trades improved my deck considerably while losing value. These decks pack a lot of quality cards, and while they each have growth ahead, they are smoothly sailing.

You can build a quality Commander deck without spending a lot of money. You don’t even need to buy singles or a preconstructed Commander deck. You can just trade for it.