Brewing on a budget is some of the most fun I have as a writer, so I’ve decided to get back to it this week! Today, we’re building a $50 budget Commander deck from scratch. This deck will look a lot like a preconstructed deck – it might lack some of the extra Commander options, but it’ll have a budget mana base, a few subthemes, and some cards you might not have thought to include in the list.
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 the ChannelFireball Marketplace to track our costs, specifically the lowest available Near Mint price at the time of this writing. I apologize if listings have changed since then, but that’s just part and parcel of a budget article.
But who’s our commander of choice? Why, it’s Isshin, Two Heavens as One!
At just $0.50 for a nonfoil copy, you wouldn’t expect Isshin to be the all-star it is in Commander. EDHRec has it as the most popular Commander in NEO, though, with over 2500 decks featuring this exciting new Samurai! Of course, it’s because of Isshin’s unusual effect that he’s so popular. We saw a similar effect on Wulfgar of Icewind Dale, but two things differentiate Isshin here – first, his ability to double up the triggers of defensive cards and cards that don’t specifically depend on our creatures attacking, and second, his Mardu color identity. His popularity has become entwined with the rising price of Fervent Charge, a card that was rarely played or thought of before Isshin came along.
With a $50 budget today, we won’t be slotting in Fervent Charge, instead choosing to go with a suite of less expensive cards that Isshin will love. I won’t be focusing on a single outcome from the triggers we’ll be getting from Isshin. Instead, I’ll be spreading the love around a few different types of triggers – that way, if you like this idea and decide to build the deck, you’ll get a chance to try things out and figure out what you want to focus on without breaking the bank on cards you end up not loving!
|Adriana, Captain of the Guard (C20)||Coastline Marauders (CMR)||Duelist’s Heritage (C16)|
Sometimes you just want your creatures to get bigger and hit harder, and these three are experts in that realm. Coastline Marauders on turn three followed by Isshin on turn four results in, at minimum, a 6/3 trampler, and if you’re up against a green player who went before you, you could be looking at 10 to 12 damage. Adriana rewards you for playing archenemy and attacking the whole table, while Duelist’s Heritage can turn that Coastline Marauders into a real nightmare. Since Isshin gives you two triggers and doesn’t just copy the trigger, you get to target different things with Duelist’s Heritage – keep this in mind as it’ll come up with other cards as well.
|Delina, Wild Mage (AFR)||Flamerush Rider (FRF)|
These are mostly around to clone our larger creatures (6/6s), but hitting something like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner that has an effect both on entering the battlefield and on attacking can be a great way to push some extra value into the equation. Without the doubling from Isshin, this deck isn’t really taking much advantage of these creatures, so be wary of them if people are just laser-focused on your commander.
|Armory of Iroas (CMR)||Gleam of Battle (DGM)||Sword of Hours (AFC)|
A little permanent growth is a nice dimension to add to a deck like this, especially when the counters come two at a time. Gleam of Battle lets you take a wider approach, while Armory of Iroas and Sword of Hours are great if you have a particular creature that needs to get huge. If you like this part of the theme, adding in cards like Sparring Regimen, Thundering Raiju and similar could work, and leaning in to a counters theme might lead you to Elite Scaleguard, Tenured Inkcaster and even something like Slumbering Dragon. You could also use things that care about “modified” like Kami of Celebration and Akki Battle Squad.
|Emberwilde Captain (CMR)||Hellrider (DKA)||Inferno Titan (M12)|
Dealing some damage to your opponents is usually better when doubled! Hellrider goes nicely with tokens, though be aware that putting a creature onto the battlefield tapped and attacking is different from actually attacking and thus won’t generate triggers – I mention this because that’s where a lot of tokens likely come from in Isshin decks. Inferno Titan’s single Arc Lightning isn’t always that impressive in Commander, so doubling up on it is nice. Emberwilde Captain is one of the few defensive creatures in the deck, though since it puts the monarch token into the game, I think of it as proactive enough. We have Tectonic Giant coming up later, but if you want to go deeper on damage triggers, Drakuseth, Maw of Flame, Fathom Fleet Swordjack and Extus, Oriq Overlord are all solid pickups, with Extus being a lot more focused on the Awaken the Blood Avatar side in decks like this. Again, that one works especially well if you have some tokens, though you’ll be sacrificing them to play Awaken at a discount.
|Audacious Thief (M20)||Breena, the Demagogue (C21)||Glint-Sleeve Siphoner (AER)|
|Search the Premises (MH2)||Tectonic Giant (THB)||Thorough Investigation (AFC)|
No matter what direction you want to take, having some card draw in the mix is essential. Audacious Thief and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner are pretty straightforward, while Tectonic Giant is kind enough to provide both some options and a deeper dig into your deck. Thorough Investigation plays into the venture theme we have coming a little further down the line, while Search the Premises approaches Clues from the more defensive direction. Finally, Breena gets you some extra value out of political fun – just be aware that you may be handing out a lot of cards with her sometimes, and if that’s not fun for you, cut Breena sooner rather than later.
|Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant (AFC)||Vengeful Ancestor (AFC)|
Adding some goading to the mix can be fun, and since we’ll be attacking a lot with this deck, it’s an important defensive measure as well. Both Karazikar and Vengeful Ancestor have not just one, but two triggers to double up on – both give you some goading, with Karazikar being nice enough to tap things down, but Karazikar hands out cards while Vengeful Ancestor does some chip damage. You can add some extra goad value to Isshin with the Impetus cycle and Goblin Racketeer, though at some point anything with goad can add to the theme/subtheme.
|Brutal Hordechief (FRF)||Campaign of Vengeance (EMN)||Righteous Cause (ONS)|
Since we’re attacking so much, gaining some life from doing so would be nice as a defensive measure alongside the aforementioned goading. Brutal Hordechief and Campaign of Vengeance both drain life from the defending player, whereas Righteous Cause just gets you some extra life whenever any creature attacks anyone for any reason. Defensively-oriented players will want to grab Revenge of Ravens, whereas those who love attacking could try Wingmate Roc. Patron of the Kitsune also works no matter who attacks!
|Rakshasa Debaser (CMR)||Sun Titan (C14)|
Bring back some goodies from your graveyard or theirs! Each of these cards has a separate restriction, but both serve us well as 6/6 attackers that help us get some extra free resources and function well even without Isshin in play. Alesha, who Smiles at Death, Drana, the Last Bloodchief and Olivia, Crimson Bride all fit this bill if you’re interested in focusing on some reanimation.
|Captain’s Claws (OGW)||Combat Calligrapher (C21)||Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin (WAR)||Launch the Fleet (JOU)|
|Mardu Ascendancy (KTK)||Mardu Strike Leader (FRF)||Sigiled Sword of Valeron (M19)||Skyknight Vanguard (M20)|
Want to get some more attackers that can trigger cards like Hellrider and Brutal Hordechief? Try token generation! Sure, these put the creatures in tapped and attacking, meaning you don’t get the benefit of other attack triggers from those tokens during that specific combat, but future combats where they’re actually declared as attackers will have the outcome you want. I know Launch the Fleet itself isn’t a permanent, but it grants your creatures an ability, meaning Isshin will see the triggers coming from a permanent and double them up for you. This contrasts with Basri Ket, whose -2 does no such thing and, as such, does not work with Isshin. Since Basri’s -2 creates a delayed trigger, the effect that creates tokens is not actually a triggered ability of a permanent per Comprehensive Rules 603.2e. Long story short, don’t put Basri Ket in your Isshin deck and expect to get big value.
|Captain Lannery Storm (XLN)||Fable of the Mirror-Breaker (NEO)||Hoarding Ogre (AFR)|
Getting some extra mana is nice, and one of the best ways to do that is with some treasure generation! Fable of the Mirror-Breaker makes a token with an ability, and yes, that means it works with Isshin. The Reflection is a pretty sweet way to double up on some of your other triggers as well, so don’t sleep on that part of the card. Lannery and Hoarding Ogre are a bit more straightforward. I hope you like rolling dice with Hoarding Ogre – if you want to dig deeper into that theme, you could add in Chaos Channeler, though that’s about where the fun stops given that we already have Delina and Sword of Hours. If you want more treasure from attackers, you can spring for a Goldspan Dragon or slap a Shiny Impetus on a creature.
|Delver’s Torch (AFR)||Nadaar, Selfless Paladin (AFR)||Planar Ally (AFR)||Triumphant Adventurer (AFR)|
I thought it would be fun to add in a little venture theme! You can’t go too much deeper than I already have here, and I think Nadaar is the real all-star of the group. If you really want to go deep, Acererak the Archlich is a possibility, but that prices you into going through the Tomb of Annihilation before you get to double that attack trigger. Barrowin of Clan Undurr also has some value.
|Cheering Fanatic (BBD)||Etali, Primal Storm (C21)||Fey Steed (AFC)|
Now we’re at the variety section of cards that don’t really fit much of anywhere else. Cheering Fanatic helps us follow up with more sweet plays, while Etali gives us a bunch of sweet plays for free. Fey Steed is just a helpful protective element that can keep some of our creatures with worse stats alive for a few more combats.
At this point, I’ve introduced all of the different types of triggers we’ll have with Isshin, so let’s fill out the deck with some of the things we’ll need to keep the engine running.
|Painful Truths (BFZ)||Read the Bones (THS)|
|Boros Charm (GTC)||Swiftfoot Boots (The List)||Unbreakable Formation (CMR)|
With such a creature-focused list, we’ll want to protect our board investment, and these are some of the best ways to do so in our budget. Boros Charm and Unbreakable Formation both give us some extra value offensively as well as being solid wrath protection, while Swiftfoot Boots keeps Isshin or another key creature safe from point removal.
|Blasphemous Act (2XM)||Damn (MH2)|
We won’t want to be the person wrathing most of the time, though sometimes our board will get outclassed. In those cases, having a cheap pressure valve is key, and both of these cards fit the bill. Damn even doubles as point removal in a pinch!
|Despark (WAR)||Fracture (STX)||Generous Gift (NEC)||Swords to Plowshares (NEC)||Terminate (C17)|
Speaking of point removal, Mardu has a lot of options. I tried to keep these cheap on mana value, but there’s no real wrong way to build your suite as long as you have a few that are flexible and at least one that can exile a problem recursive permanent.
|Rakdos Charm (RTR)||Response // Resurgence (GRN)|
A couple more utility pieces here – Rakdos Charm is graveyard hate with huge flexible upside, while Response // Resurgence is a great extra attack piece that acts as point removal when the chips are down, though they have to be very seriously down for me to spend the card that way. If you and your group like extra combats, there’s a lot of room to grow there, though the budget will have to expand a bit to include cards like Aurelia, the Warleader if you’re really looking to focus on that theme.
|Arcane Signet (CMR)||Boros Signet (C20)||Orzhov Signet (C15)||Rakdos Signet (C17)||Sol Ring (AFC)|
Some mana rocks will help us get things going, and the fixing is important here as well with a budget three-color mana base that, to be transparent, has quite a few basics kicking around.
|Command Tower (C18)||Exotic Orchard (C20)||Nomad Outpost (KTK)||Path of Ancestry (CMR)|
Tri-lands are helpful for this three-color mana base, and while we can’t afford a Triome, we do have these. Command Tower is the only one courteous enough to enter untapped and reliably make all our colors, while Exotic Orchard is here to give us its usual dose of “probably!” Path of Ancestry won’t give us too many scry triggers, but at least it and Nomad Outpost help us play our spells.
|Battlefield Forge (M15)||Caves of Koilos (M15)||Smoldering Marsh (C20)|
|Temple of Malice (THB)||Temple of Silence (M21)||Temple of Triumph (THS)|
Temples are a solid budget choice, and while they’re often among the first to fall in an upgrade, they’re the duals we have room for.
|Evolving Wilds (AKH)||Terramorphic Expanse (CMR)|
When you’re trying to cast your tri-color commander on curve in a budget list and meet some other fairly onerous color requirements as well, these are going to be some of your best friends land-wise.
|Bojuka Bog (C17)||Field of Ruin (THB)|
We don’t have a ton of budget room for utility land, but these two made the cut for defense purposes.
Add in 9 Mountains, 9 Plains, and 6 Swamps, and you’ve got yourself a deck, all for just $49.02! With a 3.36 average mana value ignoring lands and a fairly weak tri-color manabase, I chose to go with 38 lands, but you could go down to 37 if you improved the mana while keeping the curve low and making sure to hang onto the treasure generation aspect. Here’s the full list – enjoy, and I’ll see you next time with another brew!
Budget Isshin Commander by Eric Levine