Too-Specific Top 10 – Bargain Bin

(Scrap Trawler | Art by Daarken)

Common Cents

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Rakdos, the Showstopper is the only mythic creature that lets you flip coins?)

So you’re building a Commander deck, but your wallet is looking a little light. No matter, there are any number of creators out there creating Budget Brews! But what are the best cards when you’re on a budget? Which cards can you count on in a pinch to make your deck better? Well, if you have a specific commander (or commanders) like Okaun, Eye of Chaos or Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom in mind, there’s a “Cheap” option under budget here on EDHREC that you can check out for ideas.

If you’d like to work in reverse, however, and find out what the best cards are that you would have available to you if you were building on a budget, then you’d have a bit more research to do.

First off, though, what kind of budget are we talking? For my Elder Dinosaur Highlander “Precon” project, for instance, I set a limit of $80, not counting the Elder Dinosaur commander of each deck or the cycles present in each of the decks. This was a great starting point for each deck in an attempt to keep them on a level playing field, although if I was to do it all over again I would probably include the price of the commanders, as the more powerful ones in general also cost more. Even with that stipulation, however, I’ve had enough experience building on a budget to tell you that these price restrictions only work in the short term, as prices on cards are changing all the time.

For instance, the red deck helmed by Etali, Primal Storm has more or less kept its value, perhaps even having gone down a tiny bit given that Etali is now sitting at $10 while the overall deck price is $80.60 as of this writing.

Etali Elder Dinosaur Highlander Precon

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Whether it be through a single price spike or a combination of several budget cards going up, however, the green deck helmed by Ghalta, Primal Hunger actually spiked a bit over the last few months, ending up at $93.44.

Ghalta Elder Dinosaur Highlander Precon

Commander (1)
Creatures (39)
Enchantments (2)
Artifacts (9)
Sorceries (3)
Instants (10)
Planeswalkers (1)
Lands (35)

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Due to a stolen collection, this is actually my second time experimenting with these Elder Dinosaur Highlander Precons, and the last time several of them doubled in price over the course of a year or two, all with budget cards. While that’s not the intent of these decks, as they are instead designed to be an enjoyable play experience for everyone when I find a table that can’t balance power levels, it’s a nice bonus!

That said, probably the more common budget for a deck is the $50 threshold. The reason? Well, as we saw last week, round numbers have power, and there’s really no rounder number than the number one. If you hold yourself to a dollar for each card in your deck, and are rather debaucherous with the basic land count, then the numbers tend to take care of themselves. Given that you’ll have 62-66 cards, 25 or so basic lands, and many of your under-a-dollar cards will be more like a quarter, hitting a $50 threshold is rather easy. Provided, that is, you stick to that dollar price tag religiously.


Top 10 Rares Under a Dollar

Which is where our top ten comes in this week! While many of the commons and uncommons take care of themselves in the budget world, it can be a little rougher when it comes to rares and mythics. Yes, I’ve lumped mythics in with the “rare” category here in my title, you’ll have to excuse me as I’m a bit of an old-schooler who never got over the introduction of the mythic rarity. With that said, we do have a few more caveats to introduce besides restricting this to rare and above to ensure that we’re not making a top ten list of Negates and Rampant Growths.

First off, I’ve yet again peered through the results and found that there are several lands that would make this list, but they wouldn’t make it any more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, I like Temple of Abandon more than most, but there’s a whole cycle that comes with it and it’s not exactly groundbreaking to say you should be playing duals of one sort or another.

Lastly, the Precon Effect was in stunning display in the original version of this list, and as such, I’ve decided to eliminate all cards that were originally from a Commander precon set. Terastodon is a fine budget Magic card, as is Myr Battlesphere, but when nine out of your ten entrants in the top ten list are from a precon, it’s easy to tell that you have a skewed data set. With that said, it goes without saying that if you’re looking to build a deck or a collection from nothing, a precon is a great place to start.

Criteria: Nonland cards which currently cost under a dollar and which were originally printed at either rare or mythic outside of a Commander Precon. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

10. Mission Briefing

(8,673 Inclusions, 4% of 211,307 Decks)

Because getting an instant or sorcery back from your graveyard for two mana wasn’t good enough, Mission Briefing decided to staple on some card quality as well with a bit of Surveil! Although, honestly, the most impressive thing about this card is that it’s on this list at all. Being a two-mana instant that does this much in blue should have all but guaranteed that this got picked up for wider play in a competitive format, but, at least for now, it’s only $0.96 and is ripe for the picking for budget blue decks that want to get that Negate back in a timely fashion while also putting a Narcomoeba into play.

9. Emeria Shepherd

(8,737 Inclusions, 5% of 184,264 Decks)

Emeria Shepherd won’t be seeing play in a sixty-card format any time soon, but, even in budget white decks, seven mana is fairly easy to pull off in Commander. What surprises me, however, is that I’m not seeing much Selesnya love on Emeria Angel’s EDHREC page. Being able to ramp out this seven-mana Angel in a timely fashion while also being able to keep on ramping after she’s in play seems like it would be quite the combination….

8. Midnight Reaper

(9,033 Inclusions, 4% of 207,969 Decks)

Aristocrats players will need no introduction to Midnight Reaper, the newest addition to the ranks of the three-mana “draw a card when a creature dies” cards.

Players of black decks in general are also fairly comfortable with the all-too-reasonable devil’s bargain of spending life for a card, and, as such, Midnight Reaper gets slotted into just about any black deck that cares about creatures, doubly so if they care about sacrificing them. Combine that with all of the budget Blood Artist alternatives there are out there these days, and budget Aristocrats decks are basically growing on trees!

7. Scrap Trawler

(9,263 Inclusions, 2% of 400,466 Decks)

Speaking of popular archetypes, artifacts remain the most popular theme here on EDHREC. 41% of those play Scrap Trawler, which has now eclipsed the once-staple Junk Diver, although it’s yet to catch up with the 44% inclusion rate of Myr Retriever.

Given that Scrap Trawler can retrieve all of your Darkwater Eggs and Pyrite Spellbombs with other artifacts, however, it seems like it’s just a matter of time before it becomes the most popular recursion option for artifact decks, especially if it remains under a dollar despite only having appeared in Aether Revolt.

6. Smothering Abomination

(9,421 Inclusions, 5% of 207,969 Decks)

Speaking of aristocrats decks growing on trees (or in graveyards), how would you like your Midnight Reaper to also fly over for four in the air every turn? Okay, Smothering Abomination has a bit more stipulation than that, but given that there’s also quite a few good sacrifice outlets for budget decks, you can still draw quite a few cards off of this hovering Eldrazi.

Just make sure that you don’t go too crazy with your sac effects; you still need one creature left over to feed the Abomination every upkeep. You still get the card for it, though, so, all in all, not a bad deal!

5. Insidious Will

(9,558 Inclusions, 5% of 211,307 Decks)

Budget blue decks may not be getting access to Cryptic Command anytime soon, and even Mystic Confluence can be a bit of a Mana Drain on the pocket book. Insidious Will does a reasonable approximation, however, sometimes even being more beneficial for spells decks that are looking for another copy effect.

The real question, however, is whether the $2 price tag of Sublime Epiphany will come down enough that blue players watching their bottom lines will be able to have a six-mana option as well!

4. Rishkar, Peema Renegade

(Helms 171 Decks, Rank #463; 10,123 Inclusions, 5% of 196,563 Decks)

My Ghalta, Primal Hunger “Precon” above is far from the only budget build that has an interest both in ramping and +1/+1 counters. For those decks, there’s Rishkar, Peema Renegade. What’s more interesting to me is how unpopular this combination pump spell and Worn Powerstone is as a commander. I would have figured that a lot more people than the 171 we’re seeing on EDHREC would have had an interest in building around +1/+1 counters as a mono-green experiment. Maybe the hipsters haven’t noticed, however, and the rest are too busy building the two-color versions with Shalai, Voice of Plenty (or more likely, getting on the easy mode that is Simic).

3. Time Wipe

(10,585 Inclusions, 11% of 98,862 Decks)

Five-mana Wrath of Gods are nothing new (there are actually 13 by my quick and dirty count), but Time Wipe saves one of your creatures in the process, much like the mono-blue version, Flood of Tears. While the same thing can more or less be accomplished with Tragic Arrogance, Cataclysmic Gearhulk, or Single Combat, those all grant that same immunity to your opponents as well in some fashion. Time Wipe lets you be a bit more selfish, all at the low low cost of making your deck better by adding blue!

2. Approach of the Second Sun

(10,845 Inclusions, 6% of 184,264 Decks)

Do you need a win condition? Are you playing white? Well then, Approach of the Second Sun has a deal for you! Similar to Time Wipe, Approach is a favorite of Azorius control decks everywhere, whether on a budget or otherwise. The color combination is notoriously good at acquiring value and staying alive, while simultaneously also being notoriously bad at being able to close out games from that advantaged position. Approach of the Second Sun is an easy solution to the problem, although I can’t help but notice from its EDHREC page that most folks don’t seem to be putting in a backup plan. Remind me to pack more Jester’s Caps in my decks….

1. Gonti, Lord of Luxury

(Helms 693 Decks, Rank #183; 13,569 Inclusions, 7% of 207,969 Decks)

While Gonti, Lord of Luxury is kind of in an awkward spot in our current play conditions, they remain one of the most popular mono-black commanders and are a solid inclusion in any deck looking to abuse enter-the-battlefield triggers. There are also all sorts of folks that enjoy them for their unique board presence, as well as their ability to steal from other players, which can create surprise synergies that may never come about again. With that kind of combination of power and fun, it’s no surprise to see them at number one. And with two reprints in four years, it’s probably a pretty good bet that they’ll remain on budget lists for a long time to come.


Honorable Mentions

There’s a lot of budget goodness to go around. (I highly suggest checking out my search parameters for this one in the Nuts and Bolts section. Just be careful, because I unfortunately filled a twelve-package TCGPlayer cart during the writing of this article). That said, if you were looking for the complete picture, there are some holes that need to be filled in:

Top 10 Rares Under a Dollar… From Commander Sets

  1. Chaos Warp
  2. Sun Titan
  3. Rampaging Baloths
  4. Mentor of the Meek
  5. Steel Hellkite
  6. Shamanic Revelation
  7. Butcher of Malakir
  8. Terastodon
  9. Soul of the Harvest
  10. Loxodon Warhammer

 

Top 10 Rare Lands Under a Dollar

  1. Exotic Orchard
  2. Cinder Glade
  3. Llanowar Wastes
  4. Prairie Stream
  5. Caves of Koilos
  6. Mosswort Bridge
  7. Geier Reach Sanitarium
  8. Scavenger Grounds
  9. Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
  10. Irrigated Farmland

Lastly, I imagine that there will be some demand to see the other three Elder Dinosaur Highlander “Precons” I’ve made. There is still some balancing to do with these, as this iteration has had very little playtesting in COVID times, but here are the lists as they stand now.


Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress, once again, that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.


What Do You Think?

If you’ve ever put a lot of time into a structured play environment like a cube or decks designed to play against each other, you may know that it’s hard not to gush. With that in mind, the reason that I built the Elder Dinosaur Highlander “Precons” was not only to introduce new players and have extra decks to be able to loan out to people, but more importantly to let more experienced or competitive players experience balanced play at a lower power level. It may sound odd in a world where precons exist, but I’ve found that many players jump head-first into Commander, building a deck from an online list that may be too much for their playgroup, or utilizing their large collections/knowledge of Magic’s history to cultivate builds that can be a tad unfriendly or daunting. As a result, I get into deep rule zero conversations rather often, but have never really found any sort of meaningful data on what people actually want out of their playgroups. So, with that in mind…

And finally, what are your thoughts on cheap rares, budget, and power levels? Do you believe that you can build budget decks to play at a high power level, or do you think that budget is an obstacle that can’t be overcome? Have you ever tried to change the power level of your local playgroup to be a bit more inclusive to your desires?

Let us know in the comments, and we’ll see you at the budget cable reel table we got from the lot out back.

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.