From the Brim to the Trim - Volatile Threats and Low-to-the-Ground Budgets

(Volo, Guide to Monsters| Illustrated by Zoltán Boros)

E-Volo-ution Complete

Greeting and salutations from England's best frienemy! I'm Arnaud, and I’m thrilled to take you on a journey of uncanny brews, budget cards, and usage of EDHREC’s filtering features.

A month ago, we had a poll featuring Ovika, Volo, and Haktos. While Ovika came ahead by a single teeny tiny vote, I felt that her contender deserved better. Therefore here we are today, to bask in this commander's glorious versatility, shenanigans, and trickeries! All while using only cards costing up to $1.

On to it then, I give you Volo, Guide to Monsters.

Chances are you have already dabbled a bit with this odd commander. Kyle Massa in his The 600 series had this bad boy nailed down: "since all creature types must be different, no two Volo decks should look quite the same." Indeed, most of Volo's spice comes from playing a wide variety of threats that share no common type. Trying to find the best combination of nasties while ensuring that there is as little redundancy as possible is a spicy challenge indeed.

As it stands, Volo's page offers 253 different cards. We'll use that as a starting point, then trim our way down to the fateful 100, hoping that the cuts will leave us with enough meat to swarm the table.

On to it then!

First Trim: The Cardboard Chainsaw Massacre

You know the drill: we first have to get rid of the most expensive cards, before getting to the good part. Off we go. In order to maximize what we can work with, I've used the "Update to Cheapest" feature to keep as many cards as possible. Fun fact, with that enabled, apparently there was a Sylvan Library worth a puny $1. Tempting as it was to use this to bend the rules, I decided to play it fair and remove it from the list. Oh, the pain....

Given the budget constraint, that's not the only staple we're bidding adieu to. We're getting rid of some juicy critters, and we're saying goodbye to most of the efficient card draw engines.

As honorable mentions go, I'd like to highlight the following:

All of these cards stand between $1 and $2, and most of them would be a no-brainer should you wish to make some affordable upgrades.

With all that out of the way, where are we at? 123 cards. Oh. Ooooooh. I'm getting some Belbe vibes here. We'll see how this goes, but we might have to look at the Volo's Cheap section to see if there are some juicy morsels to fill a potential gap.

Why does Magic have to be such an expensive game?

Second Trim: Cardward Scissorhands

Well, I won't deny I was a bit worried after clearing all of the expensive bushes, but this might not turn out to be so bad. We're still left with 20 draw spells, 21 ramp outlets, 16 removals, and 5 board wipes. I'm not saying the battle is won just yet, but it's off to a promising start. All the more so since we still have a decent number of significant threats and a more than decent variety of creature types, but I'm getting ahead of myself. For the time being, let's focus on lowering the count on all of these categories to something more manageable. As usual, I'll also shape up the mana base by adding some much needed basics and removing the worst lands of the lot.

Let's get snippy snappy.

With these cuts out of the way, we're down to 109 cards. I've decided to prioritize creatures with enter-the-battlefield effects in order to make the most of our commander. We're down to 13 draw effects, 13 ramp outlets, a hefty 11 removals, and 3 ways to clean the board. All that's left is getting rid of the last outlying leaves and see if we've missed anything in the process. I'm hoping for some nice surprises in the Cheap section!

Third Trim: Cutting Off the Rough Edges

There are a couple of issues I'd like to address here.

First, the theme. Volo likes nothing more than variety, and I feel like having multiple instances of a single type infringes slightly on that take. It's not a big issue really, as currently the list only has a few redundancies. But precisely because there are so few of them, I feel like it's worth going the extra mile and trimming them off altogether. The only exception I'll make for this are the three legendary Humans in the deck (Volo, Itinerant Scholar, Errant, Street Artist, and Inga and Esika) as we don't really care about cloning them. This is going to be by far the most difficult decisions in the final cuts. But hey, we're already below the 10-card mark, so it only makes sense for these to hurt.

Second, I'm surprised that the general page did not include any creatures with Mutate. I won't go into a detailed analysis of the mechanic, but the ability circumvents nicely Volo's restriction by getting its type safely tuck on the back of its target. You can therefore pile multiple mutations (original and copy) onto one of the many non-Humans in the deck, to get an avalanche of triggers. While I won't make the needed cuts to include these in the deck, I just wanted to point out how efficient the strategy could be.

Without further ado, let's see which cards leave the fray.

And here we are, standing proudly at 100 cards.

But we're not quite done just yet.

Final Touch: Spike Up Those Hairs

By now, you know I like going a step further. So out of curiosity, I had a look at the Cheap section. While the creatures package was quite similar to our starting point, some fantastic beasties stood out, massive finishers that wholly deserved a spot in the final list. Ladies and gentlemen, I give to you:

  • Colossal Skyturtle: Yes, that thing costs seven mana. But 1) it's a Turtle, 2) it has great stats, 3) it can get a better beast back from the bin if need be and 4) IT'S A FRIGGIN' TURTLE! Therefore it'll gladly replace Regrowth.
  • Dawnglade Regent: I firmly believe that this is a vastly underrated gem. It's an 8/8 that gives your stuff hexproof and at least a card to boot. Not to mention having two on the field is a sizeable threat all by itself. In you go; sorry, Croaking Counterpart.
  • Great Oak Guardian: This one ticks many boxes. It has flash, it boosts your team and untaps them all, giving some sort of pseudo-vigilance. That's a surprise finisher right there. I feel like this will do much more work than Green Sun's Twilight.

Finally, a couple of close-calls that did not make the final list by a smidge.

  • Verdant Sun's Avatar: With Volo out, this Dinosaur will net you 15 life upon entering the battlefield. The only problem is that the Dino spot is already taken by Keruga, the Macrosage and the Avatar by Diluvian Primordial. If you're willing to forego the single-creature-type condition, that's a solid inclusion.
  • Thorn Mammoth: That thing is big. If cast with Volo, both instances will immediately fight up to 3 creatures. Is it good enough to replace Terastodon? No. But it's definitely worth a try.

And there you have it, at long last.

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This one was surprisingly easy to pull off. Looks like brewers all around the internet had reached some sort of consensus on the best options for this expert in monsters. But now, it's your turn. Are there any creatures striking you as odd in here? Any blatant misses? Some outsider that's a must-include in your eyes?

Which commander should be featured next time? See you in two weeks!

Arnaud Gompertz has been playing Magic since 4th Edition, back in 1995. He's been an assiduous EDH enthusiast since 2012, with a soft spot for unusual and casual Commanders. He'll always favour spectacular plays against a boring path to victory. Aside from mistreating cardboard, he's a dedicated board games player, loves a challenging video game and occasionally tries to sing with his choir.