I had a great time with the first installment of my Commander 2020 Budget Precon Updates series, so I couldn’t wait to get into a second one!
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 Enhanced Evolution deck featuring Otrimi, the Ever-Playful.
That means it’s time to focus on mutate. The preconstructed deck does an okay job of theming around mutate, but there’s a lot of confusion from the other themes – the evasive cards from the Cazur/Ukkima theme do an okay job, but the X-spells aren’t what I want in a deck whose most powerful play pattern tends to revolve around Auspicious Starrix and already has a ton of places to put its mana. With that in mind, today’s upgrade involves changing a total of 30 cards!
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 Enhanced Evolution 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. The preconstructed deck starts with 38 creatures, but I’m going all the way up to 40, so you’ll see a slight imbalance here. Don’t worry about it – I’ll cover that increase by cutting some extra non-creatures.
Here are the creatures I’m taking out right off the bat:
As I mentioned, I’m cutting the X-spell theme pretty hard, which mean the hydras all have to go. I think they’re decent mutate bases, but I’m adding some that I like better, so I won’t miss them. Tidal Barracuda speaks to a vague flash theme, which is fine, but I don’t like the card a lot in a deck that’s this proactive to begin with. Wydwen, the Biting Gale is not a strong mutate base or a mutate creature, so it has to go. Zaxara is not impressive without dedication to X-spells, so away it goes to helm its own deck. Illusory Ambusher is a cute mutate base, but it’s too expensive for my tastes. Ukkima and Cazur also deserve their own deck, and in this deck they don’t add enough to be worthwhile – Ukkima is great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m not ever going to spend four mana for Cazur in this deck, which really reduces the value I’d get from them.
So what goes in?
Again, we’re putting in twelve creatures to replace ten, so don’t be surprised. I’m focusing on stacking up more mutate creatures to take advantage of the increasing value from multiple mutations plus the Otrimi trigger, and with that, I’m adding more creatures that provide fantastic mutate bases – hexproof and evasion are my priorities.
Sea-Dasher Octopus ($4.49)
Ninja of the Deep Hours is one of my favorite cards, so why not play it in Octopus form? Adding this ability to a trampler like Otrimi or something with evasion is an easy way to rake in the cards during combat.
I mentioned we were going hard on stacking up mutations, so much so that I left Insatiable Hemophage, my least favorite mutate creature, in the decklist to synergize with good mutate creatures. Gemrazer is one of the best, as it provides both trample and a repeatable Naturalize effect, and when you’re as heavy on creatures as this deck is, opposing artifacts and enchantments can often bury you in value – stop that by destroying them.
Dirge Bat ($0.79)
Point removal is important for dealing with troublesome utility creatures, opposing commanders, and planeswalkers. Cards like Dirge Bat will make your life much easier.
Brokkos, Apex of Forever ($3.49)
Brokkos is my favorite mutate creature in general, and it doesn’t need to be your commander to be an ever-present recursive threat. If you’re stuck with just mutate creatures and no bases, play a mutate creature as the base and bring Brokkos back to merge with it – you’ll get a 6/6 trampler as well as that good mutate trigger!
Sometimes the plan is to stay home and get value, and Parcelbeast is great at that. My favorite Parcelbeast use case, though, is to mutate it onto something that already has a “when this mutates” ability – since it costs just two mana, it’s almost always a great value proposition!
A one-mana hexproof creature looks innocuous, but since the worst part of mutate is getting your base destroyed in response to mutate and losing your trigger because of it, hexproof is one of the best attributes you can have in a mutate-focused deck.
Silhana Ledgewalker ($0.69)
Combine the power of hexproof with evasion for maximum value – it makes it really easy to sneak Otrimi in and get more creatures with mutate back from the graveyard.
Crystalline Giant ($0.55)
All those ability counters go really well with mutate – that’s the whole point, right? I originally had Invisible Stalker here before some kind folks reminded me that was a Human. Innistrad was weird.
Troll Ascetic ($0.35)
If you were around back when hexproof didn’t have a name (better days, really) and we called it “Troll Shroud”, you remember just how obnoxious this card was. It was so hard to kill, sometimes necessitating a Wrath of God all by itself just to stop the regeneration. I can’t imagine a card I’d rather pair with a pile of Mutate creatures.
Darksteel Myr ($0.29)
This one comes close, though. Indestructible covers some angles hexproof doesn’t but is still vulnerable to effects like Swords to Plowshares that see a ton of Commander play, so watch out for that as you mutate onto this.
Pollywog Symbiote ($0.25)
Between the cost reduction and the looting effect, I can’t imagine leaving Babygodzilla… I mean, Pollywog Symbiote out of the list.
So far, we’ve spent $14.56 of our $50, with the lion’s share of that going to two cards. Not bad for twelve solid creatures, though! Let’s move on to the noncreatures, where we’ll make up for the previously mentioned imbalance by cutting two more than we add.
Here’s what I’m taking out:
With 40 creatures in my list, I’m not too excited about playing politics, which means the Impetus cycle doesn’t really fit. Animist’s Awakening falls victim to the X-spell cuts, as does Gaze of Granite – though I’m leaving Villainous Wealth in the deck because I simply can’t bear to cut the best card ever printed. Dredge the Mire isn’t a card I appreciate terribly much, since it’s so dependent on opponents making choices – quantity over quality doesn’t speak to me with a card like this. Bonder’s Ornament is the same card I cut last week. Mind Spring would be a great draw spell for Zaxara, but it’s out here. Propaganda is a great card, and I’m glad there are more in circulation, but I think our best defense is a good offense. Finally, Nissa, Steward of Elements doesn’t mix well with mutate when you examine its second ability, so away it goes.
So, who are the replacements? Let’s talk about some more upgrades.
Mythos of Brokkos ($0.49)
I love getting two permanents back from the graveyard for 2GG in a 40-creature deck, and given that it sometimes tutors up the mutate creature or base that you need right now, it’s an amazing deal at the UBGG cost as well.
I’d rather get the ramp going in the early game than wait for something like Animist’s Awakening later, so Cultivate gets the nod here.
Return of the Wildspeaker ($0.75)
Getting a big mutate stack destroyed might leave this deck with an empty hand and empty board, so draw some cards before that happens with something like this.
Back for More ($0.25)
Reanimate something during the end step of the player whose turn comes before yours, fight something, untap, and mutate onto that creature. That’s value.
Fellwar Stone ($3.49)
You can really never have too many of these in your collection, and I wanted another 2-mana accelerator. This could be Rampant Growth/Farseek/Nature’s Lore/etc, but I had some room in the budget and decided to use it to upgrade our hypothetical budget player’s collection as well as the deck.
Zendikar Resurgent ($4.15)
A self-Mana Flare that also draws cards when we cast 40% of the cards in our deck? Sign me up. This is one of those cards you see all the time that starts to grate after a while, so if you and your playgroup hate it already, play Rishkar’s Expertise here instead if that’s still cool.
Season of Growth ($0.45)
This is a creature-heavy deck where our creature spells often target our creatures. It’s hard to dream up a 2-mana enchantment that’s more powerful for a mutate deck.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds ($1.75)
Cast creatures at instant speed? Sure, that means mutating at instant speed, so I’m absolutely in. Giving a big merged creature vigilance and reach is a great defensive play, and the -2 adds some extra card draw.
After adding these noncreature spells, we’re up to a spend of $27.14, leaving a healthy amount for the manabase. Let’s dive in and see what kind of changes we can make – I’m swapping out ten total cards, so it should be significant. Here are the cuts:
The tap-lands that gain a single life are easy to replace. I’ll just tell you now: they’re becoming Temples. Darkwater Catacombs not operating without another land makes it an easy cut. Endless Sands… it’s cute to exile an entire merged creature and bring it back, but I’ve got utility lands I prefer. Soaring Seacliff isn’t a card I spend time thinking about in a Commander context unless I’m doing some wild thematic nonsense, so it’s out. Finally, Temple of the False God has been the enemy of good opening hands and early-game top-decks for a while, and I don’t like it, so out it goes. A few basics also get the ax in favor of better mana.
Here’s what I’m adding:
Bojuka Bog ($1.99)
Free graveyard hate. Sweet.
Alchemist’s Refuge ($3.99)
Instant-speed mutation can be really powerful, and this land does a great job of enabling that without breaking the bank. Winding Canyons is stronger since we care almost solely about casting our creatures at instant speed, but it’s too expensive for this budget. That said, if you have both, run both!
Bonders’ Enclave ($0.99)
We’ll frequently have a big creature, so this is a great mid-to-late game mana sink for extra value.
Zagoth Triome ($7.49)
It wouldn’t be a RagingLevine budget article if I didn’t recommend one wildly expensive land in the context of the budget, so here you go. Zagoth Triome is a card you’ll be happy to own as long as you continue to play Sultai decks in Commander.
Instead of gaining one life from a tapland, enjoy Scry 1. It’s much better.
Ghost Quarter ($0.99)
Someone else has a nonbasic land you want to destroy. That’s almost always true. Don’t build a deck without at least one effect like this.
Evolving Wilds ($0.15)
I may have upset the color balance of the manabase a tiny bit – not very much, really – and Evolving Wilds helps compensate for that.
Woodland Cemetery ($3.95)
This one’s a combination of mana-base balance and collection management with the remaining budget – Woodland Cemetery and its ilk are cards you want to own long-term anyway, and it shores up the color requirements nicely.
In total, I’ve now spent $49.28, leaving just $0.72 to put in your owl-shaped change jar and forget about until you move and have to figure out what to do with this heavy owl full of coins. This may not be a relatable problem. Regardless, that spells success – we’ve completed the upgrade! I still have three decks to go, so stay tuned for the next installment. Here’s the final decklist for this one!