Commander 2020 Budget Upgrade – Arcane Maelstrom

I’ve now gotten a chance to play with the Commander 2020 cards, or at least some of them, so I feel even better equipped to continue this Budget Precon Updates series! 

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 tuning up the Arcane Maelstrom deck featuring Kalamax, the Stormsire.

Kalamax, the Stormsire - Foil

The goal here is fairly transparent – play instants and copy them. The bigger they are, the better it is. Of course, Kalamax needs to be tapped, which means it’ll either need to be big enough to crash in for lots of damage or able to tap some other way.


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 Arcane Maelstrom – 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. I was fairly well behaved this week, only turning one creature into a noncreature, and given that I changed 31 cards, that was a challenge.

I cut eight creatures, and here they are:


Nascent MetamorphEon FrolickerHaldan, Avid Arcanist - FoilPako, Arcane Retriever - FoilXyris, the Writhing Storm - FoilGlademuseWort, the RaidmotherRavenous Gigantotherium

Nascent Metamorph looks like a fun card with random outcomes (i.e. not in the Scrambleverse family) but I’m not impressed with the play pattern. Eon Frolicker is adorable, and the effect is cool, but I don’t really want to give anyone an extra turn if I can help it. Haldan and Pako want to drive – they’re not good passengers. Similarly, Xyris is great in its own deck (which I’ve built, and I love it, and it doesn’t even have any wheel effects) but without a focused strategy around it I don’t think it plays here. Ravenous Gigantotherium is cool, and we’ll be making a decent amount of tokens, but late in the process I needed room, and it’s both expensive and situational. Glademuse is for someone – probably Xyris, again – but it’s not for Kalamax. Finally,Wort, the Raidmother is a card I’ve done my best to play a double digit number of times, and it generally disappoints. You need so much mana, as the best plan is to cast it and then immediately conspire something, and unless you’re excited to conspire a cantrip, you’ll need 9 mana or more to really accomplish anything.

Here are the creatures I’m adding:

Goblin Electromancer ($0.15)

Cost reduction on instants means this deck can do more each turn cycle, and that’s huge. Goblin Electromancer isn’t the only cost reducer available, but it’s the best value for money.

Wavebreak Hippocamp ($0.35)

Kalamax already wants you to cast one instant per opponent’s turn where possible, so cards like Wavebreak Hippocamp fit right in. Unfortunately for the others from Theros, the Hippocamp is the only one really worth playing.

Guttersnipe ($0.25)

This is a classic in these spellslinger decks – why not blast everyone when you cast things? Might as well work those life totals down in the early game. If you can get three or more triggers, this card has done an extraordinary job for the mana investment.

Young Pyromancer ($1.15)

Kalamax can’t win the game on its own all the time, so summoning friends has to be part of the plan. Talrand’s already in the deck, so let’s add this in as a complement.

God-Eternal Kefnet ($4.49)

A sticky threat that provides additional value! It’s important to note that you do not get a counter with Kalamax when you copy something with Kefnet – you’re copying a card, not a spell – but the fact that you can cast some more cheap spells each turn is still worthwhile. 

Torrential Gearhulk ($5.49)

A 5/6 with flash could theoretically ambush an unaware opponent in combat, but even if it doesn’t, the package deal is too good to ignore. It’s so easy to get way more than 6 mana of value out of this card that I’m never unhappy to see it if I can cast it.


We’re now $11.88 into the budget – not bad, though as I mentioned, I’m changing a lot of cards, and in fact, I still have 25 to go.

Let’s take a look at the noncreature spell changes, starting with the cuts:


Whiplash TrapLavabrink FloodgatesPrimal EmpathyPsychic ImpetusShiny ImpetusPredatory ImpetusCommune with LavaTribute to the WildCrop RotationTemur CharmSlice in TwainClash of TitansSurreal MemoirJace, Architect of ThoughtBonder's Ornament

Whiplash Trap is too often overcosted – out it goes. Bonder’s Ornament is definitely overcosted, and it’s getting replaced with a really awesome mana rock for this deck. Lavabrink Floodgates is a card that creates sort of a subgame, and it has the upside of being the fun kind of subgame, so I hate to cut it, but I need that spot. Primal Empathy is not really on-plan unless you want to be more combat oriented, but without access to some more expensive cards I chose not to go the Berserk route with Kalamax. The Impetuses keep getting cut, but I promise I’ll find homes for them! (Zedruu? Tuvasa?) Commune with Lava is a solid copyable spell, but the idea of all those cards just expiring when I can’t cast them is too sad. I’ll replace it with a stronger draw spell. Tribute to the Wild has rotted in my hand too many times due to not wanting to blow up an Oblivion Ring or similar that will unleash an unpleasant permanent. Crop Rotation is good with Kalamax in play, but without it, it’s just not much to speak of without some highly specialized land needs. Temur Charm has never really impressed me. Hunting Pack is just too expensive in a deck that I don’t really think can generate serious storm. Clash of Titans too often fails to do what it sets out to do – kill two things – so it’s easy to bring in a better removal spell. Surreal Memoir is a sorcery, and if I wanted to rebuy something, there are better options, but I’m passing on this effect entirely. Finally, Jace, Architect of Thought is too low-impact unless you can use the ultimate, which you realistically will not do.

That’s a lot of cards. Here’s what comes in:

Pull from Tomorrow ($1.59)

Instant speed draw X is an amazing spell when you can copy it for free, so this is an easy pick. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew or you might find yourself with an empty library.

Reverberate ($1.99), Repeated Reverberation ($0.35), Increasing Vengeance ($0.35)

Copy, copy, copy. For the price, I think these are the three best options available.

Mystic Confluence ($2.49)

What an incredibly flexible spell. It puts cards like Jace’s Ingenuity to shame, does a Dismiss impression, and more – those are just the most common use cases. My personal favorite is Mana Leak + Inspiration, but really, almost every option showcases how ridiculous this is from a value standpoint. Aren’t flexible spells supposed to be overcosted?

Honor-Worn Shaku ($0.99), Paradise Mantle ($2.49)

Ways to tap Kalamax without putting it at risk in the red zone are going to be premium picks for this deck, and these two are fantastic. Getting what we want – a tapped Kalamax – and getting mana in the bargain is an amazing deal.

Cultivator’s Caravan ($0.35), Smuggler’s Copter ($2.19)

Similarly, these vehicles are a fantastic way to put Kalamax at a 90-degree angle. If I were doing a full article instead of a budget upgrade, I’d build Carmax Kalamax. In fact, I’ll do that at some point in the Commander Newsletter, and I’ll see about getting a better name first. Carlamax? 2 Fast 2 Dinosaur? I’ll figure this one out later.

Ral, Storm Conduit ($1.49)

Obviously copying spells and dealing some damage in the bargain is great, but Ral opens up some low-effort infinite combos in this deck. Remember that, depending on your playgroup’s wants and needs, doing this early game could be uncool. Just because you can combo off doesn’t mean you should, although my personal feelings about that are a lot different on turn 4 than they are on turn 24. Games have to end!

Jace’s Sanctum ($0.59)

Another cost reducer for our instants. Primal Amulet didn’t meet the budget requirement, but if you have one, find room for that as well. The scry is a nice bonus, and I think this card pays off its mana investment somewhere between spell 2 and 3, which isn’t too hard to accomplish.

Beast Within ($1.49)

Flexible removal is really important, and a 3/3 beast is a small price to pay. The idea that this could get copied is just icing on the cake.

Whispersilk Cloak ($1.09)

It is sometimes good to get Kalamax in for some damage, especially once you accumulate some counters, and since we’re not in Vines of Vastwood/Season of Growth/Berserk mode here, I’m comfortable with shroud overall.

Expansion // Explosion ($2.49)

Is it a copy spell, or the spell you copy? This is what I like to call the “Ninja Assassin” conundrum, named for the film of the same name. Are they a ninja who is also an assassin, or are they an assassin that specializes in assassinating ninjas? Why did I watch Ninja Assassin in theaters? I have so many questions, and as usual, they are all for me. 

Electrodominance ($1.29)

Another X spell that wants to be copied, and not just because of the damage – copying it gets you another freebie, which is insane. So much value for mana can be generated even without copying Electrodominance that doubling up seems really unfair. 

Metallurgic Summonings ($1.79)

Kalamax wants you to get more value out of every spellcast, and Metallurgic Summonings is on the same page with the X/X tokens. It’s unlikely that the activated ability will happen in this deck, but if it does, just make sure you’re not open to a Rakdos Charm or other instant-speed graveyard removal, because it’s likely to seal the deal if it comes through.

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer ($0.39)

Another token generator in the vein of Young Pyromancer, but this one has a little bit of extra flavor. There’s some small extra value to be generated with the -2, but most of Saheeli’s upside relative to Young Pyromancer is surviving wraths. 


Okay, we’ve made it to lands, and we’ve only spent $35.78. That means I have plenty of room to do what I do best: tell you to buy at least one land you’ll use forever.

Let’s make some swaps! Here’s what’s out:


Mosswort BridgeRugged HighlandsRupture SpireThornwood FallsOran-Rief, the VastwoodMossfire ValleyHalimar DepthsSwiftwater Cliffs

The gainlands just keep getting cut. Alongside them, the unimpressive Rupture Spire needs to get the heck out of this list. Mosswort Bridge and Oran-Rief would both be great in a more combat-focused Kalamax list, but that’s not where we are. Mossfire Valley is a signet in land form, and that doesn’t impress me since it can’t do anything by itself. Finally, Halimar Depths is not a card we can really use well in the list as it stands.

Let’s take a look instead at some stronger options:

Rogue’s Passage ($0.49)

Along the same lines as Whispersilk Cloak, sneaking Kalamax through can be a great way to spend some mana and deal some Commander damage.

Ketria Triome ($7.49)

You will not regret picking up the triomes. They’re amazing, and they’ll be with you for years to come as you continue to build decks. I fetched one in a game last night and it felt amazing. 

Survivors’ Encampment ($0.15), Holdout Settlement ($0.15)

These are unimpressive in the abstract, but then you remember they turn Kalamax sideways. Enablers with a low opportunity cost!

Reliquary Tower ($2.49)

This deck has a decent chance of getting into hand size trouble, and this is an easy way to deal with that.

Temple of Epiphany ($1.99), Temple of Abandon ($0.85), Temple of Mystery ($0.99)

Finally, the temples help smooth out draws while fixing colors. Make sure you sequence correctly – don’t be caught losing a turn to a tapland if you can help it.

The upgrade is complete, and I’ve spent $49.89. I think this is the closest I’ve gotten to hitting the $50 mark, and I’m pretty happy with the work I’ve done on this one. If you’re playing Kalamax, budget or not, and you want to let me know how your deck is playing out or just share your list, I am on Twitter (@RagingLevine) and would love for my feed to be more fun to read. Speaking of lists, here’s the full upgraded deck – enjoy!

Commander Arcane Maelstrom Budget Upgrade - Eric Levine

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