Commander 2019 spoiler season has been a lot of fun, but the cards themselves are only part of the fun. One of my favorite things to do is look at the full decklists and think about ways I’d modify them right off the bat. This usually leads to me having piles of cards all over my office which quickly spread out into the rest of my home and cause me no end of confusion as I spend time thinking “Where’s that copy of Aeon Chronicler?”
With that in mind, I want to share some of the fun with you as we get closer to the release of these awesome new decks. Modifying them a little bit can be a great way to get started in Commander or to reset a group’s expectations in terms of power level if you’re trying to figure out what’s fun for everyone. It’s even better if you can do it on a budget, which is why I’m reviving an old series I did from back when these decks were released in their entirety on Magic Online.
The premise is to take the precons and make a decent improvement to them on a budget; in this case, $50 (before tax or shipping as those are obviously variable.) That’s a little for some and a lot for others, but given that it’s not too much more than the decks themselves cost, I think it’s a representative figure that can give you an idea of how much you’d like to invest in a deck helmed by the Commander under discussion as well as what you can get for that figure.
This week, I want to start off with the Mystic Intellect deck, which means our Commander this time around is Sevinne, the Chronoclasm!
That means we’ll be focused on spells with flashback so we can get extra value. The deck is pretty well set up for that, but there are a few cards that are plants for other commanders as well as cards that are good for the wider Commander environment but don’t really work in this deck. There are also a few I think are just not very good in comparison to some low-cost replacements.
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.)
For reference, here’s all the initial decklists we’ll be working with in this series.
$50 Budget Upgrades to Mystic Intellect
Let’s start by talking about what I’m taking out. First stop: creatures!
The creature base in this deck isn’t really built for battle, which is understandable given the spell-related focus, but some of these aren’t really what we’re looking for. Cliffside Rescuer seems like a better card for decks where Gerrard is the Commander, and neither of them really belong in a “spells matter” deck. Wall of Stolen Identity is a cool Clone variant and looks incredibly fresh next to the now somewhat banal Clever Impersonator, but this deck isn’t really focused on that type of effect, making them easy cuts. Pristine Angel is a decent defensive card that has fallen behind the curve, and Pristine Skywise is… not great. Zetalpa is an okay threat, but it’s totally off-theme, and Scaretiller seems better placed in a Lord Windgrace or Gitrog Monster list. If the deck were more retrace-focused, sure, but it would also need ways to tap Scaretiller that aren’t just attacking, and that’s not really present.
So who’s subbing in? For projects like this I tend to follow a “like replaces like” rule–creatures for creatures, noncreatures for noncreatures, and lands for lands–unless I think the balance is way off. In this case, I think it’s decent, so I’ve got eight creatures I think will perform well in support of Sevinne by giving us more value out of every spell we cast.
Young Pyromancer ($1.49)
I remember when this was the new hotness in terms of spellcasting–now it’s such a classic that it got reprinted in Ultimate Masters. If you’re going to spend your whole day casting spells, you might as well make friends along the way, and in this case, those friends are 1/1 Elementals. No evasion, sure, but I view Young Pyromancer as a defensive option that generates chump blockers–at least, until you have the resources to make a critical mass and start attacking.
Kykar, Wind’s Fury ($2.99)
This is actually the new hotness in terms of spellcasting. 1/1 Spirits with flying are a much better offensive force, and they go well with the Spirits from Thalia’s Geistcaller and the drakes from Talrand. Kykar and Thalia’s Geistcaller can even use each other’s spirit tokens, which can be a real boon if you need to save the Geistcaller or make some red mana.
God-Eternal Kefnet ($7.49)
This is the only card I’ll recommend today that costs more than $5. Ordinarily in articles like this I wouldn’t spend so much of our budget on one card, but for Kefnet I’ll make an exception. This card is just so ridiculous–it gives you more value out of every spell you draw, and to make matters even worse for your opponents, it’s incredibly hard to get rid of.
Torrential Gearhulk ($3.25)
If you played Standard when Kaladesh was legal, you either loved this card, got tired of it, or in some cases, both. Regardless, it’s a great card already, but in combination with Sevinne it’s even stronger. Since you’re casting the spell from your graveyard instead of doing some weird exiling or copying thing, you can trigger Sevinne’s ability and get another copy if it’s the first one of the turn. Since Torrential Gearhulk has flash, that should be an easy condition to meet.
Soulfire Grand Master ($2.19)
As you get later into the game, giving your spells bizarro-buyback for 4 mana can be more and more valuable. If the game is somewhat stalled out midway through, turning Think Twice into Whispers of the Muse can be enough to put you over, and later in the game your options get even more destructive.
Melek, Izzet Paragon ($0.35)
Kefnet gives you value when you draw instants and sorceries, but what if you could get that value even sooner? Melek does a Future Sight (or Experimental Frenzy for you red deck lovers) impression that, while it’s more restrictive in terms of what you can cast, adds huge value when it copies what you cast off the top. After all, sometimes one Fact or Fiction just isn’t enough.
Taigam, Ojutai Master ($2.99)
If you can keep Taigam alive by attacking that one player that doesn’t have any blockers in the midgame (and there usually is someone), you can get the rebound going turn after turn. Sure, you have to cast those spells on your own turn to get rebound, but that’s a timing price I’m willing to pay. Making your instants and sorceries (and your one remaining Dragon) uncounterable doesn’t hurt either.
Baral, Chief of Compliance ($3.49)
Baral wants to do more than just sit around in my Storm deck that I never play anymore in Modern. He wants to make your spells cheaper, and that’s what he’s here to do. Alongside Jace’s Sanctum, some huge savings are possible, and the looting ability comes up occasionally with Fervent Denial.
Let’s move on to noncreature spells. What should we cut?
The original flavor of Ral Zarek isn’t terribly impressive, and it doesn’t have any synergy with this deck either. Prismatic Strands is cute, but I have never found it to be terribly useful given how multicolored most decks are these days. Rolling Temblor doesn’t kill much–I understand the attempt to work with Sevinne’s defensive ability, but there are better ways. Bloodthirsty Blade seems fine in other decks but doesn’t have any spell synergy; same with Mandate of Peace. Refuse // Cooperate plays nicely with the graveyard spell theme but fails to impress on the “actually doing anything useful” scale most of the time. Dusk // Dawn, similarly, is on theme but doesn’t work quite hard enough. Finally, the Lockets cost 3, and if a mana rock costs 3, it needs to be better than this.
Let’s bring in the replacements!
Ral, Storm Conduit ($0.85)
This one’s almost too obvious. I understand that the designers probably didn’t want to put a Standard-legal planeswalker in a precon, but it almost seems like this spot was originally for this version of Ral. The synergy with spells and copying spells is so huge!
Call the Skybreaker ($0.49)
Retrace is sweet, and so is a 5/5 flyer. Can it get better, though? It sure can! Retracing it with Sevinne out can give you two 5/5s if it’s the first one out of your graveyard this turn. Obviously, the initial rate on a 7 mana 5/5 flyer isn’t amazing, but the value you can get over time is well worth the investment of mana and extra land.
Primal Amulet ($3.49)
Another way to discount your spells–at least, at first. Once it transforms, it doesn’t save you multiple mana per turn; instead, it generates copies of spells you cast with it, which is even better. This is an easy inclusion in most “spells matter” decks, including this one.
Sometimes Magmaquake isn’t enough and you need to clear the ground. Earthquake does the job well and even kills off other players who are at low life totals while also leaving 1/1 Spirits, 2/2 Drakes, and 5/5 Elementals well enough alone in the sky. Sevinne’s defensive ability means Earthquake will leave your Commander alive, and even though your Soulfire Grand Master will die, you’ll gain a ton of life.
Hallowed Burial ($0.79)
Magmaquake and Earthquake won’t always be enough. For those times, here’s Hallowed Burial. Being able to give it flashback or otherwise re-use it means that one copy is probably plenty, and putting creatures on the bottom of other players’ libraries means you’re not triggering graveyard synergies or worrying about creatures that are indestructible. Even protection won’t stop this one!
Mission Briefing ($1.25)
Another way to give one of your cards pseudo-flashback, Mission Briefing works at instant speed and, with surveil 2 tacked on, might even give you a better choice as it resolves. It also doesn’t target, which means opponents will have to work very hard on your graveyard in response to stop you from getting at least some value.
Thousand-Year Storm ($3.25)
A hefty investment for a card that doesn’t do anything right when you cast it, sure, but this is Commander–the home of six-mana do-nothings! Once you untap, this card turns on. Casting and then flashing back Think Twice with this on the battlefield would get you three cards, and let’s not even get started on how much value you can get with Oona’s Grace. You’ll probably top out at 3-4 spells in a single turn, but that’s still a lot of value if you keep this in play.
The Mirari Conjecture ($0.35)
Another investment-for-later card, this powerful saga lets you rebuy some instants and sorceries over a couple of turns before you get to really go crazy. Sure, this often gets Disenchanted before Chapter III, but that means you still got value. And if no one can get rid of this in time, you’ll probably win once you reach that final chapter.
Talisman of Creativity ($0.99) & Talisman of Conviction ($0.79)
Sure, you take damage occasionally, but these are 2-mana rocks, which is the sweet spot for cards like this. The Lockets don’t impress me with their ability to convert into cards, and cards like the Talismans can help generate better opening hands. Also, Talisman of Progress costs way more than these, which is how we ended up with these two.
Let’s move on to the land base. Obviously the precons are basic-heavy, which is fine, but I’d like to improve the whole thing a little bit. These come out:
Temple of the False God? In 2019? This card looks really good until you get it in your opening hand and realize it’s a speculative hit at best and a blank at worst. It’s so frustrating to have this as your only available land play early in the game. It’s just not that good. Myriad Landscape isn’t as bad, but it takes two turns and an effective four mana to do its job, which is a pretty big investment. The last three are enters-tapped duals, which are fine but can be improved.
Let’s bring these in:
Reliquary Tower ($2.99)
You’re going to draw too many cards at some point. It’s inescapable with this amount of value. Reliquary Tower helps you hold extra cards in hand, which is great at making sure you can respond to different threats and have more resources for retracing.
Desolate Lighthouse ($0.69)
The Loothouse is huge in this deck. You can dump cards with retrace or flashback into the graveyard in favor of additional draws, which means you’re not really losing much value. Looting is always good, but in decks like this, it’s even more powerful than usual.
Temple of Epiphany ($1.79), Temple of Triumph ($1.75), and Temple of Enlightenment ($4.99)
The Temples provide some extra value as enters-tapped duals, and that value is card selection. That’s certainly better than the one life from Tranquil Cove or the nothing from Highland Lake and Stone Quarry!
Okay! By my count, that puts our total spend at $49.05 before tax or shipping, which leaves you an extra 95 cents to buy a fizzy water at the gas station on your way home. That means we’ve done it successfully! I hope this experiment has inspired you to find cost-effective ways to modify these precons as well as your own decks; and remember, this is only part one of four, because there are three more decks!
I’ll leave you with the final decklist. See you next time!