It’s time for the next installment in my $50 precon upgrade series! I’ll be going through each of the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Commander precons and upgrading them on a $50 budget. As always, I’d like to remind you of a couple of things regarding my budget articles:
- $50 has a different impact on different people, but given that it’s less than the price of a triple-A console game release, I think it’s a price many will be willing to pay for hours of entertainment, which a Commander deck should provide.
- I’ll be using prices from right here on ChannelFireball.com to track our costs. All prices were accurate when I wrote this – apologies if prices have changed or cards have gone out of stock since, but that’s just part and parcel of a budget article.
Today’s starting point is the Dungeons of Death precon starring Sefris of the Hidden Ways:
Sefris wants something fairly simple: put creatures in your graveyard, please, one per turn if possible. Every time you complete a dungeon, which will largely be accomplished via Sefris, we’ll get to reanimate something. Ambitiously, that means one “free” reanimation per turn cycle just from this effect, as we’re well incentivized to choose Lost Mine of Phandelver most of the time. I’ll be focused on maximizing this effect while also providing a reasonable reanimator backbone to allow the deck to stand on its own when Sefris is absent.
Here’s the list as it stands out of the box:
Dungeons of Death
There’s a lot to like about this list out of the box. A solid mana base featuring a lot of ETB-untapped lands, a 3.63 average mana value backed with 39 total lands and a solid group of creatures to play normally, rebuy with Sefris and reanimate otherwise with some additional graveyard-defying effects. Some of the individual selections leave something to be desired though and I’d like to play more ways to reliably trigger Sefris on opposing turns.
I’ve chosen to leave the creature/spell/land balance exactly intact, because with decks like this, that balance is incredibly important. We’re therefore starting with creatures – eight are coming out, as follows:
I talked about this last time, but the randomness and high mana spend on this card don’t inspire me.
This was one of the tougher cuts, but we’re not playing the version of this deck that runs every venture effect it can, and I think that’s the build that would appreciate this card a lot more.
These are commanders in their own right, but they don’t really fit our theme.
A more sacrifice-oriented version of this deck would benefit more from these, but we won’t be playing that version.
Just a little too low-impact for my tastes. We’ll have better ways to do these things, don’t worry.
So what comes in? Well, we have a mix of reanimation targets, enablers, and other effects. Let’s start with the heavy hitters:
|Angel of Despair (UMA)||Archon of Cruelty (MH2 Sketch)||Noxious Gearhulk (KLD)|
We may already have Ashen Rider, but you can’t go wrong with some redundancy in the form of Angel of Despair and, in a slightly different way, Noxious Gearhulk. Archon of Cruelty is my favorite new reanimation target, providing at least a card and probably a three-for-one at minimum for your trouble along with a Lightning Helix to someone’s face.
|Corpse Connoisseur (MM2)||Doom Whisperer (M20 Promo Pack Version)||Undertaker (MMQ)|
These cards specialize in filling our graveyard with goodies. Corpse Connoisseur gives us two Entombs worth of creatures, while Doom Whisperer can help trigger Sefris out of turn via the repeatable surveil – just don’t spend all your life. Undertaker also does a great job of getting Sefris going on off-turns, though it’s not as good as a future card we’ll talk about.
|Nimble Obstructionist (C20)||Sanitarium Skeleton (UMA)|
Nimble Obstructionist and other cyclers are great options for this deck – I secretly think Sefris is a cycling commander but couldn’t get the job done on this budget, so I’ll just have to do that build in paper myself. Sanitarium Skeleton works well with Undertaker and our looters, so it takes the place of the Reassembling Skeleton – unusual, but effective.
So far, we’ve spent $15.55 on our eight creatures – not a bad sum, all told. Let’s take a look at the ten noncreature spells I’m cutting:
These four dice-rolling cards would probably be fine in dice-related decks or if I weren’t trying to optimize and streamline this deck on a budget, but I’m afraid they’re out of place here.
We’re not the all-out dungeon version of this deck, so for reasons of balance in themes, I’ve cut this one.
This is our worst removal spell – it’s not tough to do better.
This card seems like one that snuck in because they wanted to get it out into the world, not because it’s particularly good in this deck, so out it goes.
I’m a fan of this Equipment in Zombie-focused decks, and we don’t have one of those here.
So what comes in? Well, we’ll need ways to fill our graveyard with goodies, ways to reanimate things, and some other utility effects. Here’s what we’ve got:
|Ashiok, Dream Render (WAR)||Dakkon, Shadow Slayer (MH2)|
These two planeswalkers are here to do some serious work. Ashiok can be used to mill ourselves, getting us some solid reanimation fodder and triggering Sefris while keeping others off their graveyard and searching games. Dakkon, meanwhile, lets us surveil a bit and exile some creatures while occasionally reanimating something like a Noxious Gearhulk.
|Key to the City (KLD)||Strategic Planning (KHM)||Tortured Existence (STH)|
Here are some great ways to sculpt a hand and trigger Sefris off-turn. Key to the City lets us loot on a delay while also providing some sneakiness, while Strategic Planning is a solid one-shot effect that can get us a card we need while triggering Sefris. Tortured Existence is easily the all-star of this deck, though – for just B, if you have a creature in your graveyard and another in your hand, you can trigger Sefris reliably on every turn of the game. That’s some good stuff.
|Persist (MH2 Sketch)||Unmarked Grave (MH2)|
Modern Horizons 2 was very kind to reanimator decks, providing this pair of perfect playables. Unmarked Grave sets things up while Persist spikes a creature back into play. Slightly smaller, sure, but some of our big threats are much more about effect than size anyway.
|Austere Command (2XM)||Deep Analysis (C19)||Strionic Resonator (A25)|
Some utility cards round things out. Austere Command is a nice backup wrath effect with some flexibility, while Deep Analysis is a great draw spell to cast normally or to mill and then flashback. Strionic Resonator lets us copy either of Sefris’s abilities (don’t be fooled by the wording of the first one!) as well as the triggers from many of our powerful ETB creatures, so it’s an easy pickup.
We’ve now spent $37.30, which leaves the usual 20ish percent of the budget for land. Let’s see what we can do after we cut these four:
These cards used to pull some serious weight, but I think we may be past them.
I have no love in my heart for Panoramas. Other inexpensive lands have just overtaken these by such a wide margin.
These four come in:
|Brightclimb Pathway (ZNR Borderless)||Clearwater Pathway (ZNR)||Caves of Koilos (MD1 – Modern Event Deck)|
The Pathways do a great job of being flexible in the moment just before you play them, and Caves of Koilos gives you permanent flexibility at the cost of a little life. Where’s the fourth land, you ask? Why, it’s a humble Swamp, chosen to balance things out a little better. It could have been Evolving Wilds or something, but I decided I wanted one more basic.
All right! After spending $48.70, we’ve made this deck appreciably better. The DNA of the overall deck hasn’t changed – we’re still at a 3.65 average mana value – that’s 0.02 more than before – with 39 lands and 33 creatures, but the list is more streamlined and focused. To me, that says we started with a really well-designed preconstructed deck! Here’s the full list – see you next time.
Dungeons of Death Upgrade by Eric Levine