I had so much fun writing the Zurzoth budget article last week that I decided to come back with another $50 budget deck! This time, I’ve managed to include even my commander in the budget! With Core Set 2021 bringing out more of the +1/+1 counter theme, I’ve set my mind on building a deck that takes advantage of counter synergies and fills the board with huge creatures to bash with.
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.
There are a few viable options for +1/+1 counter commanders in Selesnya colors. I’ve limited myself to that color pair because that’s where the theme resides in Core Set 2021, though there are plenty of opportunities to branch out into other colors. I discarded Emiel the Blessed because I didn’t want a repeat of last week – we don’t have that one available to preorder yet, so I can’t put a price on it. Chorus of the Conclave is theoretically an option, but have you ever tried casting an 8-mana commander more than once? Shalai, Voice of Plenty comes in at $5.99, which is an extremely reasonable price for such a powerful commander, but losing all that budget to one card wasn’t palatable. Playing Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel without Nikara to partner with also seemed awkward. That left me with one reasonable option:
Dromoka, the Eternal ($0.35)
Dromoka comes at a decent rate for its stats – 3GW for a 5/5 flyer isn’t terrible, and whenever it attacks, it spits out two +1/+1 counters. While I don’t plan to go full Dragon synergy, adding a few to take advantage of that ability would be wise.
Destructor Dragon ($0.25)
Dromoka Monument ($0.25)
Enduring Scalelord ($0.25)
Eternal Dragon ($0.59)
Irregular Cohort ($0.15)
Jugan, the Rising Star ($0.59)
Mirror Entity ($1.25)
Steel Hellkite ($0.79)
Sunscorch Regent ($1.49)
Only a few of these support the +1/+1 counter theme independently. Enduring Scalelord grows when our other creatures get counters, and with a few spells that put counters on our whole team, it’s easy to make it huge. Jugan spits out counters upon death, and Sunscorch Regent gets counters and gives us life whenever an opponent casts a spell. The rest are simply decent Dragons to go with Dromoka. Irregular Cohort makes the cut because it’s two Dragons, and Mirror Entity has great synergy with the theme – since +1/+1 counters apply on top of the power/toughness setting from the activated ability, it’s easy to make your team enormous.
On a larger budget, it might be wise to include Dragonlord Dromoka or Scalelord Reckoner. I’ve seen the Megamorph Dragons from Dragons of Tarkir in some lists, but I think there are better ways to spend a total of ten mana.
Dragons are likely to be our best vehicles for counters, so let’s talk about the creatures we have set up to distribute those counters.
Good-Fortune Unicorn ($0.49)
Juniper Order Ranger ($0.25)
Renata, Called to the Hunt ($0.25)
When your creatures enter the battlefield, these three are ready to distribute buffs. Renata’s ability is the best of the bunch, as the creature enters play with the counter already on it, but the other two are high quality inclusions as well.
Basri’s Lieutenant ($0.89)
Elite Scaleguard ($0.25)
Rishkar, Peema Renegade ($0.49)
Verdurous Gearhulk ($0.99)
These four distribute counters when they enter the battlefield. On a scale of one to four, Verdurous Gearhulk distributes the most counters, but the other three creatures pull their weight by synergizing with the counters in additional ways – providing tokens, tapping creatures, or making mana.
Dragonscale General ($0.35)
Forgotten Ancient ($1.25)
High Sentinels of Arashin ($0.35)
Loyal Guardian ($0.99)
These four distribute counters on a more regular basis, either via activations or triggered abilities. Loyal Guardian is one of my favorite cards for decks like these, and I think it’s underappreciated – while I understand your commander will frequently be under fire already, it’s a great payoff if you manage to get the trigger through. Dragonscale General does a great job of leveraging big attacks and snowballing them into even scarier turns. Forgotten Ancient does its best Ozolith impression as it collects and disburses counters around your team, and High Sentinels of Arashin is a mana sink when you need one and an impressive flying threat if things are going well. If it weren’t for the budget restriction, you’d see Mikaeus, the Lunarch here as well, and potentially Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, who was a late cut from this version.
Evolution Sage ($0.49)
Proliferating on a regular schedule is very powerful, and Evolution Sage is perhaps the best proliferate engine around. This deck doesn’t put a ton of extra lands onto the battlefield, but just making land drops is already powerful with this card. Pir, Imaginative Rascal would also go in this counter amplification spot if it weren’t for the price tag.
Now that we’ve talked about creatures that distribute counters, let’s take a look at the creatures that synergize with them beyond just being big.
Champion of Lambholt ($1.79)
Incubation Druid ($1.99)
Vastwood Hydra ($1.25)
Champion of Lambholt makes your whole team difficult (if not impossible) to block, which means your enormous creatures will bash through for tons of damage. Fertilid combines well with any +1/+1 counter effect, but Evolution Sage is obviously its best friend. Incubation Druid also turns counters into mana, albeit in a more limited way. Vastwood Hydra hands its counters off upon death, and the flexibility of spreading them around the team is a huge boon.
Abzan Battle Priest ($0.25)
Abzan Falconer ($0.25)
Tuskguard Captain ($0.25)
These three are classics in +1/+1 counter decks and will continue to outlast the competition as long as lifelink, flying, and trample are things people want on their creatures.
Armorcraft Judge ($0.25)
Drawing cards is rarely a bad idea.
Scavenging Ooze ($2.19)
It doesn’t synergize with counters per se, but it’s a great piece of graveyard hate and it’s much easier to acquire after its recent reprinting.
I also threw in three one-mana creatures to accelerate our mana:
Avacyn’s Pilgrim ($0.15)
Elvish Mystic ($0.49)
Llanowar Elves ($0.25)
Let’s move on to the non-creature spells, starting with one-shot effects that send counters to the team:
Collective Effort ($0.39)
Planewide Celebration ($0.39)
Pledge of Unity ($0.25)
Solidarity of Heroes ($1.15)
Strength of the Tajuru ($0.69)
The Crowd Goes Wild ($0.25)
Together Forever ($0.49)
Unbreakable Formation ($1.95)
Wanderer’s Strike ($0.15)
Collective Effort and Wanderer’s Strike double as removal spells, while Unbreakable Formation is focused primarily on protecting the team and secondarily on adding counters. Planewide Celebration is notable for its wide utility, whereas Strength of the Tajuru and Solidarity of Heroes are blunt instruments that add tons of counters to multiple creatures and scale with available mana. Pledge of Unity is a nice instant-speed surprise, and Together Forever is a god way to make sure you can reload after a board wipe. Getting to replay Verdurous Gearhulk after it dies sound pretty good to me. Finally, I want to give some particular attention to The Crowd Goes Wild. It’s similar to an Overrun, but the lasting effect of the counters is important, and giving trample to an already dangerous board can be the difference between victory and ignominious chump-blocking.
One-shot effects can be powerful, of course, but let’s look at some repeatable options:
Ajani, the Greathearted ($0.95)
Citadel Siege ($0.35)
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar ($2.99)
Retreat to Kazandu ($0.25)
Ajani and Nissa can both pump up the whole team multiple times, and both bring a little something extra to the table beyond that – Ajani’s contribution here is the added vigilance, as the life is negligible, and Nissa’s plant tokens are solid vehicles for counters. The ultimate is tough to achieve, but I’ve heard a rumor that every time you get to ultimate a planeswalker in Commander, the entirety of Dreams by Van Halen plays. Citadel Siege and Retreat to Kazandu are both solid effects that you can apply turn after turn. Think of them as the sourdough starter, where proliferate effects and cards like Solidarity of Heroes are, uh… the dough… gluten… look, I only bake cookies, okay?
If I wasn’t operating under a budget restriction, I’d add The Great Henge as well as Cathars’ Crusade to really amp up the counters, as well as Hardened Scales and Doubling Season to further turn things up to 11.
I wanted some additional ways to make sure our creatures don’t just get chumped by Saprolings for the whole game, so I included a few trample enablers:
Behemoth Sledge ($0.25)
Loxodon Warhammer ($0.79)
Overwhelming Stampede ($0.99)
The two pieces of equipment are around for the long haul, but both are traditional targets for disenchant effects, so don’t be surprised when they draw some hate. Overwhelming Stampede is my preferred Overrun effect – it’s easy to cast and it scales up hard. I also considered Return of the Wildspeaker as a flex between pump and draw, but budget concerns kept me away from it.
With so much mana and so many cards invested in making our team big, keeping that team on the board is a priority. We already have Unbreakable Formation, but a few more ways to protect the team can’t hurt.
Inspiring Call ($0.25)
Make a Stand ($0.25)
Inspiring Call will draw some cards and save the most important creatures, while Make a Stand makes no distinction but doesn’t result in a ridiculous 5-for-1 when nullifying a board wipe. We’ll just have to make do with our creatures staying alive. Flawless Maneuver isn’t available on this budget, but it’s a great potential addition.
We’ve covered most of the internal synergy points here, so let’s move on to the necessities, starting with some ramp.
Map the Wastes ($0.25)
Rampant Growth ($0.15)
Selesnya Locket ($0.25)
Selesnya Signet ($0.49)
Map the Wastes is Rampant Growth with Bolster 1 stapled on, and at one extra mana I figured it was fine to include that over Kodama’s Reach and let Cultivate stand on its own for once. Selesnya Signet is joined by the Locket, which can be popped for card draw later – I tend to prefer lockets over cluestones because when you’re flooded, two cards for one seems stronger. I wanted to include Nature’s Lore to search up Scattered Groves (and if you can find room for it in your budget, Canopy Vista, or even Temple Garden, or possibly even Savannah if you’re extremely fancy) but it wasn’t within the budget parameters, and frankly, with only that land to find, it felt a bit silly to play it. Farseek felt the same way, so it didn’t make the cut either, and Sol Ring is right out at the $50 level unless you’re ready to make some serious sacrifices.
Let’s move on to some card draw:
Shamanic Revelation ($0.99)
Harmonize is nice and consistent, whereas Shamanic Revelation provides a much higher level of potential reward in exchange for some serious risk. Rishkar’s Expertise and the aforementioned Return of the Wildspeaker were both out of budget range this time around, with the latter being much easier to work in if you’re willing to make some sacrifices I chose not to make.
Finally, a few pieces of removal:
Akroma’s Vengeance ($0.39)
Beast Within ($1.79)
Crush Contraband ($0.25)
I actually think Crush Contraband is a great card even outside of budget decks, and Beast Within obviously earns its keep, but left to my own devices I’d probably cut Akroma’s Vengeance for something more flexible like Cleansing Nova or Austere Command and find a way to include a Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares. Krosan Grip is also a great option due to split second, but as you’ll see when we get to the final tally, I really emptied the wallet here.
We’re almost done – just a quick review of some lands.
Gavony Township ($1.79)
Karn’s Bastion ($2.49)
More ways to pump the team full of counters – I can’t imagine not including either of these, to the point where I started the decklist with them and refused to cut them under any circumstance.
Drifting Meadow ($0.15)
Scattered Groves ($1.95)
Secluded Steppe ($0.15)
Slippery Karst ($0.15)
Tranquil Thicket ($0.15)
Some cycling lands to smooth out the mid-to-late game while keeping the land count at a healthy 38.
Command Tower ($0.99)
Selesnya Guildgate ($0.15)
Selesnya Sanctuary ($0.15)
Tranquil Expanse ($0.15)
Finally, some dual lands. With only two colors, I opted for the tapped duals over Terramorphic Expanse and Evolving Wilds, but in a three-color deck those would be right on the top of the list if I were trying to keep things budget. With no access to cards like Temple Garden, Sunpetal Grove, Bountiful Promenade, and so on, I chose to keep the dual land count low to make sure the whole manabase doesn’t enter tapped – I filled out the rest of the 27 land slots with basics to make sure playing on curve is possible.
With some more budget I’d obviously improve the duals while adding some utility lands like Strip Mine or Scavenger Grounds. I couldn’t even shoehorn a Ghost Quarter into the list at the end of the day, which is probably greedy, but Beast Within can perform in a pinch.
Here’s the full decklist – if you like budget lists and want to see more in the future, let me know on Twitter at @RagingLevine!