Playgroup Brews - War of the Spark (Pt 1)
The Budget Brewers
Welcome to this set's edition of Playgroup Brews, the series where I, along with three to four members of my EDH communities, choose a bunch of legendary creatures from the newest set, give our first impressions on each of the commanders, and brew decks for them! For this edition, we've chosen a cycle of commanders: the new Gods:, , , and of course, .
PS - Last month you may have seen EDHREC's announcement of a partnership with Archidekt last month, and since this series is all about brewing, and Archidekt was used to brew all these new decks, stay tuned for the brewers' reviews of that deckbuilding website at the end of Part 2!
Today's group of writers hail from our playgroup at Battlegrounds Gaming in Norwalk, CT. We collectively decided to make all of these decks on a budget, with a maximum of $100, not including the commanders themselves. This budget is using CardKingdom prices, and each deck is $100 or less at time of the writing. If there are any obvious inclusions for these commanders that don't appear in the decklists, that budget might be why. Still, we've got five really awesome and fun decks that we hope you enjoy! Without further ado, let's meet the team.
Ray: Howdy y’all, I’m Ray and I like building decks focused around the commander (possibly to a fault), and boy, do I love combos. I chose because nothing says green and stompy like doubling your creatures' power for a turn.
Ricky: Hello, mortals. I’m Ricky. Like the Golgari Swarm, I enjoy strategies based around recursion, destruction, and sacrificing my own permanents for value. I chose for this very reason. I’ve always loved that crocodile head.
Travis: Hi folks! You may remember me from the Core 2019 and the Commander 2018 Playgroup Brews. I've been playing Magic for twenty years, but EDH is where I really found my home as a player. I enjoy finding obscure relationships between cards and challenging myself to win in creative ways. I chose because it takes me back to the days of $3 Urza’s Saga boosters and windmill slamming a .
Matt: I’m Matt, and I like decks that rely on the commander, even to the point where the deck doesn’t function if the commander isn’t in play (looking at you ). I chose because cats are awesome, and really, who doesn’t like free 4/4s?
Christian: I am the head writer for Playgroup Brews. I mostly play casual but tuned Commander decks, straying away from competitive. I am a big fan of cheating cards into play or casting them for cheap, so I chose to go with for this edition.
First Impressions: God-Eternal Rhonas
Ray: My first thought upon seeing Rhonas was that I definitely need to get him for my deck. My second thought was 'how can I flicker him in mono-green?' The doubled power combined with vigilance allows for a powerful offense and defense.
Ricky: He’s big, green, and stompy. Definitely an explosive effect that, given the right setup, can be game-winning. This plus effects are a threat not to be taken lightly.
Travis: At first glance, this card looks right at home in a linear beatdown strategy. However, there is some stiff competition from . Perhaps mono-green Infect?
Matt: A that gives vigilance instead of killing the creature!? To all your creatures!? From the command zone!? Consider me terrified.
Christian: Rhonas is very reminiscent of cards like , , and . I don’t think he is as fun as a commander as the original Rhonas, but I definitely want him in the 99 of a lot of green decks.
Ray's Rhonas Deck Tech
Big. Green. Stompy. That’s the way Rhonas likes to roll. When he enters the battlefield, the power of all our creatures is doubled. We love this ability, so how can we make him enter the battlefield multiple times? Well, stay tuned.
First things first, this is mono-green, so naturally we have our fair share of mana dorks, like , , , and . You can never go wrong with massive amounts of mana, so let's bring in another fine addition to compliment these bad boys: and allow these mana dorks to generate infinite mana, which gets us to our next step.
There are two paths to follow with this infinite mana. and can help us find our friends and/or . and can also help us find our way to this magnificent creatures. Once we've found them, we can cast and put all that infinite mana into its Multikicker ability. Alternatively, use to repeatedly bounce and recast Rhonas, and we're good to go!
As with any deck on a budget, this one is not without its faults. Board wipes are a major threat; unless we have to send creatures back to our hand, there is no way to protect all our creatures. The only way to recover would be to refill the hand. Luckily, the plan with this deck is to draw as many cards as possible to drop those combo pieces. adds passive extra card draw if we control a creature with power four or greater, and allows us to decide if we want to draw a land or a nonland, to filter through our deck a bit faster. , , and all provide excellent card draw, too.
As any green deck should, this deck has plenty of ramp. Five of the nine artifacts in this deck generate mana or lower the cost of green spells. Many of the creatures are mana dorks as well, allowing for early drops of big baddies like . For removal, things like , , and can remove most permanents, while fight effects from and help with enemy creatures. Next, we have our sources of protection. is the budget , while and provide wider protection to the board. Lastly, we have our ways to get damage through. gives all our creatures Intimidate, while , , and all provide trample to our potentially massive creatures. Naturally, found its way into the deck, so we can double our creatures' power even further!
Here is the list I came up with:
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Rhonas will most likely find his home more often in the 99 of other decks than as a standalone commander, but with deathtouch, vigilance, and power doubling in the command zone, he certainly makes for an interesting brew.
First Impressions: Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Ray: Ah yes, the Boar God of the end-times. Nothing says fun like cheating out big creatures. Red cards with enter-the-battlefield effects like , , or could be pretty strong here.
Ricky: While I understand the need for a mono-red God in this set, I’m still upset it wasn't Gruul. Regardless, this angry Pumbaa makes for an interesting commander. While not as explosive as the God-Eternals, cheating something into combat is sure to lead into some massive damage.
Travis: I, for one, welcome our new pig overlord. Mono-red has been getting spicier as the years go by, so this will be a wild ride.
Matt: Ah, yes, the ol’ command zone . It loses a lot of versatility by only being red (and not having haste). The body is nothing to scoff at, and I’m sure it’ll win a lot of Limited games, but not being green hurts it a lot. I’m not overly impressed.
Christian: This Boar God is one of my favorite cards I’ve seen in a long while. I’m a big fan of cheating things into play, and if Travis hadn't called dibs on this one, I definitely would have chosen him. He seems like a really goofy .
Travis's Ilharg Deck Tech
Let’s paint the picture: You’re eight years old, and you just opened up a red seven-drop in a booster pack. Your older friends say that it’s a dud, but you are STOKED. You jam it into every deck that can play it, until you eventually learn better, and it gets tucked away in a bulk box somewhere. Years pass, and then War of the Spark spoilers come out. You see Ilharg for the first time, and the fire begins to burn again. Welcome home.
is basically a in the command zone, and in a similar vein, Ilharg does a darn good impression. In this case, instead of sacrificing cards for payoffs, we can keep the party going by returning them to our hand. We have an ETB-centric list that aims to maximize the value of Ilhrag’s ability. Just as important, though, we have to pay attention to the shortcomings of mono-red in EDH, and we have designed it with that in mind.
Before we get into the strategy of the list, let’s get one thing out in the open. There will be two types of decks for Ilharg: those that play , and those that don’t. The choice is ultimately yours, but I elected to opt out. The effect is a chore to resolve, and splashy enough to cause a stir. Are the 0-3 random permanents you'll remove worth having the other players turn on you? The effect of randomly removing some nonland permanents simply isn’t worth the shift in table politics that it can bring. For those reasons, I chose not to include it.
There are a variety of other big, splashy payoffs to be had with Ilharg, so let's touch on some of the cornerstone pieces to the strategy. Things like , , and offer repeatable removal, and and can help us two-for-one our opponents. To help out with all the high-mana-cost spells in the deck, and give us some ramp so we don’t fall far behind.
We all know that mono-red has its challenges with raw card draw, so let’s talk about how we get around it. In my opinion, s the person with the “ is underrated in mono-red, because if we're out of cards, it can easily be a two-mana instant-speed . represents another interesting engine, since we’re going to rack up some sizable card velocity by ripping through our deck. With , we don’t have to be too worried about the forced discard clauses of these cards. I've also included to keep up on cards and to provide some politics; a for Everyone!” button, it’s easy to start making friends.
Now, let’s talk strategy here. We don’t want to overextend and get hated out of the game quickly. Luckily, we can’t easily overextend into a boardwipe, since the creature Ilharg summons goes back to our hand at the end of the turn. Since we can’t win early without some sort of combo, this mono-red deck is grindier than one might think. By staying in second or third place as the game progresses, we can keep the heat off our backs and keep pulling rabbits out of our hat each turn.
In the later part of the game, and help us build up a board presence and keep the value train moving, since they can circumvent Ilharg's 'return to hand at end of turn' trigger to keep the creature in play permanently. I also recommend , which can both save our creatures from imminent doom and repeat some of those awesome ETB triggers. We can even give our and Persist when we Evoke them, so we’re getting two ETB triggers for a discounted casting cost. That is some spicy, spicy value right there. Finally, and will help us cover those last remaining points of damage, and will help us get across the finish line.
Speaking of the finish line, here's the finished list:
Ilharg and His Merry Band of Misfits
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The options for Ilharg are wide open. Simply search creatures with ETB effects, and you can tune the deck however you see fit. For those upgrading to a powerful non-budget version, they'll probably look to include the likes of , , , and . Until then, though, live your best life and windmill slam those seven-drops. Your inner child will thank you.
First Impressions: God-Eternal Oketra
Ray: Creating 4/4 creature tokens feels like a very green ability to me, but I won’t complain. White has a lot of token support as well as creatures that can activate Oketra’s ability. Throwing in an can really make the tokens a threat, since they will all gain Oketra’s double strike.
Ricky: While I question a mono-white commander making an army of black creatures, I dig how powerful of an ability this is. I think there’s a lot more flexibility with her as part of the 99, maybe in a Selesnya or Orzhov token deck. Even so, putting out 4/4 bodies with vigilance for each creature you cast makes her a powerful threat on her own.
Travis: It’s easy to start slotting in your usual token generators in here, but I’d like to see someone abuse the fact that Oketra makes black creature tokens. I don’t know if there is a workable engine in there, but perhaps the interwebs could figure it out?
Matt: I think she’s best in a white-black Aristocrats shell, such as . She does have some competition with , but perhaps this cat can stand on her own.
Christian: It is very weird for a white commander to generate black tokens, but a 4/4 with vigilance is no joke. I imagine this will lead a creature-heavy deck with mostly one-mana creatures; paying one mana for a 1/1 and a 4/4 with vigilance is absolutely insane.
Matt's Oketra Deck Tech
Of the five Gods in War of the Spark, is the most sly. At first glance, Oketra lends herself to a heavy token strategy, but there's much more to it than that. Oketra isn’t just any cat. She’s a cat God. She should be treated with the utmost respect. She should be given a deck that plays on her strengths.
Oketra, meet . This cool cat can save you in a pinch, but its most important function is to repeatedly return itself to our hand, constantly summoning more and more Zombies to join the army. Bouncing our own creatures is the bread and butter of this deck, and the Lion isn't alone. , , and all provide us with a way to abuse Oketra’s trigger, reuse any enters/leaves-the-battlefield effects, or simply to save another creature from pesky removal spells. gives us another way to call the army while also providing insurance against graveyard strategies. Finally, our best card for this is , which acts as a “bounce lord” and makes all our future hit-and-run acts all the more potent. Plus, he laughs in the face of .
As this is budget, we don’t have or at our disposal, so we will do our best without them. Luckily, since the plan is to play roughly a thousand times, our good friends and are here to keep our army fed. Oketra has even called in the favor of her pal to make sure our blue opponents don’t get too out of hand, and and help us keep up with our green enemies.
Speaking of which, how do we keep up with enemy threats? The quickest way of dealing with a dangerous permanent is to simply eliminate the owner, of course, but we can also use cards like . It's slow, but if we bounce it in response to its ability, it's repeatable. removes a threat and provides some much-needed card advantage, and our opponents are going to be hard-pressed to get through our vigilant forces to take the Monarchy away from us. , , and offer versatile mass destruction while leaving the majority of our forces intact.
Here’s the fun part: attacking with our army. This is a deck will mainly win by using the combat step, so we need ways of guaranteeing victory in combat. For this purpose, we call upon and to make combat a nightmare for our opponents. and allow our army to go tall as well as wide. and make sure our forces get through unimpeded. Our opponents aren’t just going to stand by as we create this army, so cards like and are quite important.
However, our true defensive capabilities lie in the hands of our enchantments. Oketra demands nothing less than , and she knows her is just. There are so many tokens that we can expend them to regenerate creatures, give them protection, or make ourselves invulnerable. If and when our creatures bite the dust, we have a bevy of other enchantments to buy them back. Among them, is the most versatile. We can use it to resurrect a fallen , for instance, which in turn can bounce back the Anthem to do it all over again. Nothing short of exile will stop this army; it is as resilient as it is powerful.
I’d like to briefly mention a few cards that synergize with those 4/4 Zombie Warrior tokens. cares about Warriors, and guarantees that our Zombie army will be the only Zombie army. , meanwhile, cares about the tokens' other creature type, and ensures that nothing will stand in the way of Oketra’s army. Sometimes though, Oketra likes to employ some . For times when you really need to end someone, Oketra will get the job done herself. All it takes is two applications of these tactics to bash our enemies for 24 commander damage.
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Now that the cat’s out of the bag, you too can make her proud by crushing your enemies with an endless horde of Zombies. If you'd like to give her treats, consider upgrades like , , and dare I say, . Perhaps you’d even like to go infinite by adding and . There’s still much to explore with this cat and I look forward to seeing other players' takes on her.
The End Step
Thanks for reading! We hope you enjoyed these three budget decks, and remember, this is just Part 1! Stay tuned for our Part 2, where we will discussand !
What did you think of these decks? Would you build them differently, even on a budget? How would you upgrade them? Please let us know in the comments below! Until then, enjoy War of the Spark!