Making Commander Affordable: One Color, No Worries

Looking to get into Commander MTG on the cheap? Jake Browne shares five legendary creatures to build around, one for each color, that can give you lots of fun for your money.

Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, illustrated by Grzegorz Rutkowski

My favorite thing about playing my first Commander deck was that I immediately needed to build five more Commander decks. Sure, I could have run it back the following week with Volo, Guide to Monsters still at the helm, but everyone in my local playgroup seemed to have an endless supply of decks at every power level. Not only that, but three games in, they seemed uninterested in seeing him again, offering me one of their Commanders to play. “Here, try this Vilis, Broker of Blood deck out and see how it goes.”

Volo, Guide to Monsters Vilis, Broker of Blood

Since my collection consisted of chaff from Draft and Sealed events, this posed an immediate social and financial challenge. I didn’t come back for months.

In retrospect, my mistake wasn’t the single deck. Instead, I sank all of my resources into a dude I wasn’t sure I liked yet. I went to Chipotle and told them to put one of everything in my burrito. That doesn’t mean burritos are conceptually flawed, but spending $30 on a heap of conflicting flavors is not a recipe for success. I should also note that the staff at Chipotle does not find this funny.

What I Should’ve Done

If I had sat down at a table before diving in, I would have learned that I needed a few options at different power levels depending on my pod. I’d want some sillier things to do in addition to the competitive, and I’d have stressed less about investing in the perfect manabase. In short, I would have tried something from the kids’ menu.

For those of you who have never played a game of Commander, I want to show you some mono-colored legends you can build a deck around for $20 to $40 initially. If you’re willing to share a Sol Ring like it was a plate of fully-loaded nachos, you could make all five for around $100. 

White: Nils, Discipline Enforcer

Nils, Discipline Enforcer

Welcome to politics, kid. Nils, Discipline Enforcer is a crash course in how to make friends and influence your pod, a concept that was utterly foreign to me. Instead of knowing whom to attack every time, like in one-on-one Magic, there’s nuance and dealmaking depending on who sits with you. Giving out +1/+1 counters to opponents is not the biggest bonus, but those counters make it more difficult for them to attack you.

Making Your Counters Count

Constable of the Realm High Sentinels of Arashin Abzan Falconer Together Forever Collective Effort

Here, we have a suite of spells that serve various utility functions at bargain-basement prices. Constable of the Realm can handle anything on the battlefield that isn’t a land and loves an instant-speed counter, especially if you need to protect a few of your creatures in response to a sweeper. High Sentinels of Arashin is a reasonably priced beater that demands answers, whereas Abzan Falconer makes your whole team a threat for opponents without aerial defenses. Together Forever leaves your opponents very few options when you have mana available, while Collective Effort gives you a toolbox to deal with opposing threats.

Fort Minor

Windborn Muse Archon of Absolution Orzhov Advokist Baird, Steward of Argive

Giving out counters can feel like a risky proposition when those creatures can eventually turn around and attack you. It’s like when Oprah gave out all those cars, and then people couldn’t afford their taxes. We have a package that plays well with the Nils “fort” strategy and raises the price your opponents have to pay down the road. Windborn Muse, Archon of Absolution, Orzhov Advokist, and Baird, Steward of Argive are just a few options at your disposal.

Have You Tried Restarting It?

Ravnica at War Promise of Loyalty Mass Calcify

Of course, giving out a bevy of bonuses can come back to bite you, so let’s include a few innovative options to sweep the battlefield. In reality, they’re soft wipes, as you probably won’t hit everything but will deal with enough to leave you feeling ahead. I would consider Ravnica at War, Promise of Loyalty, and Mass Calcify more squirt bottles than bidets. 

Blue: Jalira, Master Polymorphist

Jalira, Master Polymorphist

One big challenge with playing mono-blue at any table is you’re identified as a threat immediately. Whether you’re doing cool things with artifacts or drawing every card in the known universe, people want to end your fun before it gets started. At least with Jalira, Master Polymorphist, you get to sneak in some goofy, super-expensive (mana-wise) Leviathans, Eldrazi, and heck, maybe a Whale while you’re at it.

Sea (and Land) Monsters

Breaker of Armies Inkwell Leviathan Meteor Golem Myr Battlesphere

Your gameplan is to generate many creature tokens from noncreature sources that you can sacrifice to Jalira. When you do, the only bodies she’ll find are massive—like Breaker of Armies and Inkwell Leviathan—or have a cool enters-the-battlefield effect. Meteor Golem is a favorite of mine for the latter, dealing immediately with your biggest foe on the battlefield. You can’t go wrong with a Myr Battlesphere for $0.50 here, but I think one area you can splurge is for a pet threat at the top end. Of course, you only get so many, so make it a card you love.

Free Creatures? Free Creatures!

Lazotep Plating Hard Evidence Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor Flip the Switch

So many great spells out there happen to leave behind a creature token these days, but usually, they’re relatively unimpressive. A 2/2 Zombie that dies when it attacks? No one is getting out of bed for that. Here, they make up our engine. Lazotep Plating can be devastating when used to protect a previously found creature from Jalira while letting you grab another next turn. Hard Evidence (and Scuttletide) are solid inclusions from Modern Horizons 2 that gain you card advantage or ensure you don’t run out of sacrifice fodder. Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor was a favorite of mine in Limited that helps us dig to counterspells like Flip the Switch to protect our battlefield.

Get Back in the Car

Brainstorm Dream Cache Telling Time See Beyond

One big issue is when your deck draws a virtually uncastable creature too early in the game. Thanks to cards like Brainstorm, Dream Cache, Telling Time, and See Beyond, we can play catch-and-release with them, getting actual cards we want while helping set up our Commander for success. While the deck would love a Scroll Rack to assist us as a repeatable effect, we save the $20 that one would set us back. Brainstorm is our most expensive option here, setting us back a nice $0.69 if you don’t mind a heavily played version.

Black: Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Playing a budget deck doesn’t mean we can’t cast expensive cards; it just means we can’t cast expensive cards that we own. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is a perfect choice for someone who’s not looking to make friends with people but is keen on their things. Consider Gonti an OG influencer. Unlike your average influencer, I expect them to have staying power for a while, so this build has a few more bells and whistles than our previous decks. I’m selecting artifacts we can swap into other decks if we wind up hating thievery to make up for it.

Enter Through the Gift Shop

Conjurer's Closet Strionic Resonator Feign Death Supernatural Stamina Kaya's Ghostform Undying Evil

In this build, we’re using Gonti as our prime method of defense because opponents know we love it when Gonti dies. With a cavalcade of options to return them to the battlefield and get a new trigger from their comeback, Gonti does a great job of sticking around. Feign Death, Supernatural Stamina, Kaya’s Ghostform, and Undying Evil are just the start here. Our splurges come from Conjurer’s Closet, allowing us to blink Gonti back onto the battlefield for a fresh set of cards to look at, and Strionic Resonator to copy that effect. They’re neat cards, but also easy cuts if you’re looking to save $10. If you do cut them, I would prioritize cheap mana producers, as you need a way to cast all of these Gonti hits. 

Sacrificing for the Greater Evil

Rescue from the Underworld Morbid Curiosity Village Rites Feed the Swarm Disciple of Bolas

Of course, if our opponents won’t kill Gonti, we’ll have to in a pinch. If we’re running low on options of cards we own to cast, Morbid Curiosity, Disciple of Bolas, and Village Rites offer us card draw whose usual bug is now a feature. Feed the Swarm gives us removal for either creatures or enchantments, the latter being pretty cool for a mono-black deck. Since entering the battlefield is a linchpin of the deck, being able to nab something fun with Rescue from the Underworld while getting to refresh your Lord of Luxury can turn games.

Coming In Hot

Gray Merchant of Asphodel Ravenous Chupacabra Plaguecrafter Phyrexian Delver Solemn Simulacrum

Speaking of utility creatures, we’re packing a bit of everything that can benefit from simply resolving. Gray Merchant of Asphodel can keep you in games you’re behind or win outright. Ravenous Chupacabra can kill a specific threat. At the same time, Plaguecrafter is less discriminate, Phyrexian Delver helps you rekindle whatever magic you’re looking for, and Solemn Simulacrum fuels your fire in several departments. There’s a temptation to Always Be Gontin’ with this deck, so pay attention to when your current grass would serve you better than the presumably greener pastures of your opponent’s deck.

Red: Torbran, Thane of Red Fell

Torbran, Thane of Red Fell

If we’re playing mono-red, I’m going all in, despite my desire to make it hug like a Border Collie on Instagram.

Let’s play with fire and do some burning of our own with Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, a card you’ll play in many red decks you’ll build down the line. I could try to spin nuance into what our plan is here, but Torbran isn’t fooling anyone: he makes minor damage big damage, and we stan our landholding, ax-wielding Dwarf for doing it.

Tap, Untap, Repeat

Thermo-Alchemist Spear Spewer Guttersnipe Firebrand Archer Electrostatic Field Blisterspit Gremlin

At its core, this deck is all about slinging spells and getting passive or tapping-based damage from a cohort of otherwise non-threatening creatures. There are incentives to get Torbran out as soon as possible to amplify these effects, as one point of damage doesn’t get you very far in Commander. Make it three, and suddenly, people are looking at you differently. Thermo-Alchemist, Spear Spewer, Guttersnipe, Firebrand Archer, Electrostatic Field, and Blisterspit Gremlin are all relatively simple to get on the battlefield quickly.

Draw Me Like One of Your Red Decks

Thrill of Possibility Cathartic Reunion Faithless Looting Cathartic Pyre Reckless Impulse Tormenting Voice

To make sure our little burners can work to their full potential, we will constantly be discarding to draw additional cards. People generally leave you alone when you’re goldfishing your hand instead of casting a bunch of burn spells in a heads-up game. Hitting the right combination of cards can lead to explosive turns where you’re Faithless Looting into a Cathartic Reunion, then casting two more things for twenty damage to each opponent. I try to lead with sorcery-speed cards like Reckless Impulse or Tormenting Voice, so if someone has removal, you can keep tapping and untapping with your instants.

Sorry About Your Everything

Blazing Volley End the Festivities Electrickery Goblin Chainwhirler Slagstorm Mizzium Mortars

One of the most incredible things about amplifying your damage is that cards like Blazing Volley, Electrickery, and End the Festivities become devastating for opponents but only cost you a single red. Slagstorm and Mizzium Mortars operate closer to traditional sweepers and can be a risky move if you’ve already established a significant battlefield presence with the creatures above. The amount of card draw available to Torbran means that I’m rarely too concerned about how to rebuild, though. No fear, all beard.

Green: Aeve, Progenitor Ooze

Aeve, Progenitor Ooze

You have the rest of your Magic career to build an Elf deck. I don’t begrudge you if that’s where you’d like to start, but it felt a little too on the nose for me. Any Commander veteran has seen any iteration of Elves you can bring to the table, so let’s do something weird and fun and make some sloppy friends with Aeve, Progenitor Ooze. As a less popular tribe, we can pick up a ton of cards on the cheap here.

Ooze That Girl?

Biowaste Blob Predator Ooze Ochre Jelly Experiment One Oran-Rief Ooze Gelatinous Genesis Scavenging Ooze Acidic Slime

Yes, this is the part with the cards with the creature type Ooze in it. I wanted to highlight how versatile they can be, from resilient threats like Ochre Jelly and Predator Ooze to utility goop in Scavenging Ooze and Acidic Slime. All of these will set you back less than a cup of coffee, although I would recommend ponying up for a Biogenic Ooze, which does double duty as a lord effect and Ooze generator.

Elf Not on the Shelf

Fyndhorn Elves Llanowar Elves Elvish Mystic Arbor Elf Reclamation Sage Beast Whisperer

Of course, we’re still casting Elves in a green deck. I haven’t wholly lost my mind at this point, and we could use the ramp with the number of X spells in the deck. They’re not a huge focus, as Fyndhorn Elves or Llanowar Elves is an ideal Turn 1 play but won’t do much for you later in the game. Beast Whisperer is an MVP in a deck that can struggle to maintain velocity without a ton of card draw outlets. Reclamation Sage is here because it’s Reclamation Sage, an auto-include if I need a utility creature.

Go Big or Go Wide

Garruk's Uprising Overrun Charge Through Return of the Wildspeaker Rhonas's Monument

If you can’t go over them, go around them. This deck will spend some games running out a ton of tokens generated by Aeve or cards like Gutter Grime or Gelatinous Genesis, while others will feature one massive Ooze created by a Slime Molding that needs to trample through to your opponent’s face. Overrun is an oldie-but-goodie that works in either mode, but I’ve been very impressed with the versatility of Return of the Wildspeaker

Show Me What You Built

If you created a cool deck and kept it under $40, I’d love to see what you made! Don’t hesitate to email me a list or shoot me a Tweet, and I’ll give you any feedback I’ve got. I wouldn’t worry too much about my opinion or anyone else’s, though. You could make a hundred changes or none, as long as you’re happy with what you sit down with. Even if it’s a rice and bean bowl with no salsa.