With the release of Kaldheim, there are two new preconstructed decks and as usual, I think they’re great entry points for new players to enter the format. They’re also great if you’re looking to add a deck of that particular type to your arsenal but don’t want to start from scratch. Nevertheless, they often won’t hold up against decks built from the ground up by experienced players, even when those players are being conscious of power level. With that in mind, today I’ll be looking at one of the two decks and doing a $50 budget upgrade on it!
Here’s how this process works: I take a preconstructed deck and make an improvement to it 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 I’ll be looking at the Elven Empire deck, headlined by Lathril, Blade of the Elves.
Lathril is fairly straightforward. The plan is to go wide, but that can be accomplished partially by helping Lathril get huge and into the red zone. Menace makes this fairly easy in the early game, though Lathril’s status as a four drop can be an obstacle here. Once you’ve built that Elven empire, Lathril’s activated ability lets you keep building higher while you watch your opponents’ life totals crumble.
Here’s the deck list as it stands right out of the box:
This preconstructed deck is pretty good, but what concerns me is the curve. Almost all of the spells – 45 of them, in fact – cost three and four, and tribal decks like this need to get out early in order to establish a board presence and press their advantage. Elvish Archdruid is a great card, but if it’s in your opening hand, you want to be able to play it on your third turn and amplify the edge you’ve already gained by doing what most Commander players don’t: using your first two turns to get on board. With a budget, there’s only so much to be done, but every little bit helps. I imagine this as the first in what is likely a gradual set of upgrades for a player committed to turning this into a deck that is definitively theirs.
Let’s start with the most fun part: creatures. This deck has 40, which is about right, so I won’t be changing the ratios here. Instead, I’ll be cutting a full ten of the creatures, starting with as follows:
This is just too costly for such a vulnerable card – give me a lord I can leave at home for more consistent gameplay. Maybe it’ll cost two or three mana.
Cards later? No, no, no. Cards now.
I’ll be adding some other self-mill and I’m trying to cut down on costly creatures.
Archers without the decency to have reach are bad enough, but add on the lack of evasion and I’m out.
I’ll just tell you now that I’m going to put a Llanowar Elves in this deck.
If this were a mono green deck, I’d be all about this one, but once you introduce the possibility that this isn’t playable on turn three consistently, I’m out.
A more graveyard-focused deck would maybe appreciate this, but I’m not sure I’m in this business of playing something this slow that’s asking me to toss my best cards in the bin.
This card was a decent rate as a rare in Lorwyn, but by the time it got downshifted to uncommon, it was too slow. Even with that fancy rare symbol, it’s still the same card that has fallen behind the times.
This costs enough that it’s likely to get sniped precombat, and even if it ends up drawing a card before it dies, that’s a Silverback Shaman without trample. Plus, it costs five mana.
So what’s in? Let’s see the lineup.
Skemfar Avenger is a great Wrath recovery tool, as I mentioned in my set review, and it even trades in combat, making it a pretty good proposition. Elvish Visionary puts an Elf on the board and replaces itself on the cheap, while Elvish Dreadlord plays as close to Cyclonic Rift as a deck like this is going to get. Realmwalker accelerates this deck quite a bit, allowing you to play Elves from the top of your library.
Elvish Warmaster is a fantastic new entrant that does exactly what Lathril wants: make more Elves. Wellwisher makes it safer to swing out – life gain may not always sound great, but when you can make this many Elves, I’m a fan. Immaculate Magistrate enables some Lathril plays as well as just some other strong maneuvers, while Ezuri can protect or attack depending on your needs.
This deck already has Elvish Mystic, but that simply isn’t enough. You could go even further if you wanted, but I only had so much room.
The budget’s up to $19 so far, but there’s still quite a long ways to go. Which noncreature spells did I cut?
I’m trying to push us away from the near 50-50 split on mana, and I’d rather not lose life for no reason, so I’ll be replacing this with… well, like the orange juice I bought yesterday, it’s not from Concentrate.
Elvish Dreadlord is the card that really took this spot, and -2/-2 is frequently not enough.
I understand throwing in the removal spell from Kaldheim, but there’s much better options out there.
I’d honestly prefer a regular anthem – I’m not a fan of effects of this nature. Toughness is more important than it’s given credit for in decks that want to stay on the board for the long game.
This card costs too much for an effect that simply isn’t enough. Adding two 1/1s to a Zombify doesn’t change the fact that it’s a five mana Zombify in a deck full of small creatures. Pass.
This card doesn’t have enough impact, and I’ve been diligent in adding other sources of card draw.
I understand the idea here – Barter in Blood is great if you’re the one with disposable creatures – but I needed to cut something, and this was the worst card I could find in terms of rate. Five mana is one too many for this effect, and even the installment plan isn’t palatable.
Here’s what I’m bringing in:
Here’s a card draw suite to work alongside the draw effects I already have. I know there’s quite a bit of draw, but to be honest, sweepers hurt this deck so badly that it’s important to stack these high. Harald Unites the Elves isn’t quite card draw, but rather reanimation, and look at how much better it is than Return Upon the Tide!
Beastmaster Ascension is a great way to go over the top, as it demands not just a creature sweeper, but a piece of spot removal for itself as well. I suppose a premium sweeper like Austere Command can nab it too, but that’s a reasonable trade in my book. Overwhelming Stampede stands alongside End-Raze Forerunners as a game-winner. Hagra Mauling is a removal spell that will absolutely stand the test of time – see that land on the back? Finally, Haunting Voyage is an absolutely incredible card. Foretell it now and thank me later.
The budget’s now at a total of $33.80, leaving a good amount for land swaps. Here’s what I’m taking out:
These enter the battlefield tapped, and this deck can do better. The early game is sacrosanct for decks like this, and these cards do not respect that principle.
I’ve really greened this deck up, so I’ll have to do some work to fix the balance a bit.
I’ve carefully chosen eight lands to replace these – take a look.
These lands produce multiple colors and enter the battlefield untapped. I cannot stress how much of an upgrade this is. I always try to spend about 30 percent of my budget upgrading my mana base in these articles because of what a big deal it is. If I had more to spend, this is the first place I’d make more upgrades.
A single cycling land helps with the mana balance in a pinch and Bojuka Bog is a great way to deal with an opposing graveyard. This deck might need another piece of graveyard hate, but I didn’t have room to make that happen. Finally, two Forests round things out.
I’ve now spent… exactly $50! Incredible! In so doing, I’ve left the ratios intact while fixing the mana build a bit as well as dropping the average converted mana cost of nonland cards from 3.6 to 3.48. That may not seem like much, but it’s a really big step with the resources given. If you’re sad I didn’t upgrade the foretell deck this time around, have no fear, because that’s next week’s article! For now, I’ll leave you with the final deck list for this version of the deck. Have fun building your own personal Elven empire!