2020 Budget Upgrade – Symbiotic Swarm

Now that I have the Commander 2020 decks in my hands, I’m even more excited about my Budget Precon Upgrades series, so here’s the third installment!

Here’s the premise: I take each preconstructed deck and make an improvement to it on a $50 budget. That budget doesn’t include tax or shipping, and it uses ChannelFireball.com singles prices, of course. I recognize that $50 means a different amount to everyone – for some it’s a little, for some it’s a lot – but given its proximity to the cost of the decks, I find it’s a pretty good amount. To make sure I have a cohesive theme, I stick with the Commander that you see on the front of the box for the deck and use that to guide my choices.

This week, I’ll be working on the Symbiotic Swarm deck featuring Kathril, Aspect Warper.

Kathril, Aspect Warper - Foil

Kathril wants us to focus on creatures with lots of keyword abilities. The goal is to throw those creatures into the graveyard and then cast Kathril to get a nice pile of counters, both ability and +1/+1. As a small subtheme, we’ll also be looking to reanimate some of those creatures. The deck, as it comes in the package, has a small +1/+1 counter theme, and while some of those cards survive my update, the overall focus of my plan is on Kathril itself.

As we go on, I’ll list the prices of cards I intend to add to the deck in order to show you how I kept the budget under $50. Obviously I’m pulling those prices from this very website, ChannelFireball.com, as I write. The prices may have changed as of the publication of this article, which means the overall cost might be lower or higher, and some cards may be out of stock now. Apologies in advance for the mild inconsistency depending on when you read this, but I think the point remains (the point being that you can build a fun deck that can win in non-competitive Commander without spending all your money.)

Here’s the original decklist for the Symbiotic Swarm deck – you can find all the decklists on the Commander 2020 info page here.


As I make these upgrades, I try to keep the creature/noncreature/land balance close to the balance in the original decklist. In this case, I actually swapped three creatures into slots that previously belonged to non-creatures, so you’ll see a slight imbalance early that I’ll correct a little later.

Let’s start by talking about the creatures I cut:

Nikara, Lair Scavenger - FoilYannik, Scavenging Sentinel - FoilTayam, Luminous Enigma - FoilSunblast AngelReveillarkCartographer's HawkKalemne's Captain

Most of the creatures from the initial decklist play quite well with Kathril by adding key abilities. Some aren’t quite as strong. Cartographer’s Hawk may provide flying, but I needed a slot for a stronger accelerator. Nikara and Yannik are more focused on a separate sub-theme that doesn’t really apply here. Tayam… I still haven’t totally figured Tayam out yet, but I don’t think it belongs in this deck because I don’t want to turn my beautiful ability counters into small permanents. Kalemne’s Captain is better in a +1/+1 counter themed deck, so it gets cut here. Reveillark is much better with small creatures we’re not really using. Finally, Sunblast Angel is a solid card overall, but I wanted something that supported the theme better, and you have to cut something, right?

My adds

As a reminder, I’m adding ten creatures after cutting seven, so don’t be alarmed. My priority is creatures that add strong abilities like indestructible as well as creatures that help fill the graveyard for Kathril.

Skull Prophet ($0.25) and Sylvan Caryatid ($6.99)

Two great mana accelerators with separate upside. Skull Prophet fills the graveyard when you don’t need the mana, and Sylvan Caryatid ticks the hexproof box for Kathril when it’s in the graveyard.

Stinkweed Imp ($0.99), Golgari Thug ($2.49), and Golgari Grave-Troll ($1.79)

Dredge is a great way to fill up the graveyard, and these are my go-to dredgers. It’s nice that they’re all so affordable.

Oketra the True ($2.49) and Bontu the Glorified ($1.99)

Indestructible plus a second ability makes these great creatures for Kathril’s trigger, and they’ll even be able to attack sometimes when they’re on the battlefield. Bontu also makes a great sacrifice outlet for creatures you’d rather have in the graveyard, such as the dredgers I just mentioned.

Doom Whisperer ($3.79)

A heavy hitter with flying and trample is a great recipient for ability counters, and surveilling to fill the graveyard is the cherry on top. Plus, giving flying and trample out via Kathril when this is in the graveyard is a great outcome as well.

Stitcher’s Supplier ($2.49)

What an incredible enabler for graveyard decks, right? It fills it up when it enters and when it dies, so you’ll be excited to chump block with this one in the early game.

Gravebreaker Lamia ($0.35)

Entomb on a stick! I’m not usually a big tutors person, but when I’m building a budget deck, I bend those rules so I can up my power level and compete with more expensive decks. It even has lifelink for some Kathril upside.


At this point, we’ve spent $23.62 of our $50 – that’s almost half the budget! Luckily, I’m not adding too many non-creatures, so we should be able to cruise into the land section with something left.

Here are the noncreature cards we’re cutting:


Blood CurdleUnbreakable BondNetherborn AltarAbzan AscendancyMartial ImpetusParasitic ImpetusPredatory ImpetusBonder's OrnamentMimic Vat

Blood Curdle is a decent removal spell, but we can certainly do better. Unbreakable Bond has the same issue – it’s easy to upgrade. Netherborn Altar is such a dangerous card, and without some more serious lifegain, I’m hesitant to slot it into this deck. Perhaps a greater focus on lifelink would make that work better. Bonder’s Ornament keeps getting cut from these decklists because it’s inefficient. Mimic Vat keeps creatures out of our graveyard, which I don’t want to do. Abzan Ascendancy is for the +1/+1 counter deck, and this is a totally separate theme. The Impetus cycle really doesn’t speak to me the more I look at it – I just keep cutting them to focus on my theme, and I feel good about that.

Let’s look at the cards that will be taking the remaining slots!

Mythos of Nethroi ($0.89)

Given that we’re in this color combination, it’s easy to upgrade Blood Curdle into this. WBG for instant-speed Vindicate is an easy sell.

The Ozolith ($4.75)

It’s so sad when creatures with lots of counters die – those counters often go to waste. Avoid this terrible situation by investing in an Ozolith today. Just hang onto those counters until a worthy successor comes along, dump them all onto that creature, and enjoy the efficiency.

Buried Alive ($1.99)

Like I said with Gravebreaker Lamia, I’m more interested in adding some tutors when I’m on a budget restriction, and Buried Alive does such a good job of powering up Kathril that I couldn’t resist.

Return of the Wildspeaker ($1.49)

I keep adding this card to green decks as a huge card draw spell, and I’m starting to get tired of it. It’s not even a year old! That said, the card is great. 

Animate Dead ($2.99)

This is my upgrade over Unbreakable Bond – two mana to bring something back, even with -1/-0, is worth it, and we can all use another copy of this card.

Tragic Arrogance ($0.35)

Yes, I think I’ll keep my Kathril with a ton of counters on it, and you’ll keep your Llanowar Elves. Does that sound fair? 


Okay – we’re now up to $36.08 spent. I have less left for the manabase than I usually do, so instead of going wide, I’m going to do some pinpoint replacements of lands I don’t like very much and bring in lands that might be more expensive than my average selection.

Here’s what’s out:


Blossoming SandsJungle HollowScoured BarrensSungrass Prairie

Out go the tap-lands that gain a life, as well as Sungrass Prairie, which does nothing by itself.

Here are the four lands I’m adding:

Indatha Triome ($5.49)

Triomes are the future in Commander. Add these to your decks. You will not regret it.

Woodland Cemetery ($3.95) and Isolated Chapel ($3.99)

I added the two that make black because I think that should be our biggest focus. I didn’t have enough budget left for Sunpetal Grove, so my last selection is a little worse – if you happen to have a Sunpetal Grove in your collection, use it instead of this next one.

Terramorphic Expanse ($0.25)

When in doubt, fetch it out.

Okay! I’ve now spent a total of $49.76, leaving 24 cents to try that magician thing where you flip them between the tops of your fingers. What is that called? Does it have a name? Do you even know what I’m talking about? Well, never mind, because I’ve finished the deck. Three down, two to go – stay tuned for the next one. Here’s the final decklist!

Commander Symbiotic Swarm Budget Upgrade - Eric Levine

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