Ultra Budget Brews - C19 Merciless Rage Upgrade

Taking Command

Welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that starts writing about one thing and then wildly audibles to an entirely different topic at the last second, to the pleasure of the author's beloved faithful readers (or so he hopes). Originally, I was going to write about everyone's favorite collection of creepy ghost dads, Obzedat, Ghost Council. I was almost done brewing the deck when I realized that this article's release will likely line up nicely with the release of the new Commander 2019 decks. If you were excited about seeing Obzedat, don't worry, they will return to the battlefield, draining you all for 2 in the future.

If you're reading this article, it's probably a fair assumption that you are someone who cares about minimizing the cost of playing Commander. The new precon decks are typically going to run you $39.99, though I'm sure there are places online where you can probably find them for a few bucks cheaper. For some of you, this might be too expensive, but for the sake of this article, I'm going to assume you bought at least one of the decks.

If you're looking for value, the good news is that these decks have it, despite the lukewarm reprints contained in most of the decks. Historically, Commander precons end up being worth quite a bit more than what what you pay for them; last year's decks were largely regarded as the lowest-value iteration of the Commander series, and yet every single one of them is worth more than they were sold for, some significantly so. If you have the means and want any of the new cards, the precons are typically great purchases.

With that out of the way, I had to decide which deck I wanted to upgrade. Once I saw the deck colors and themes, the deck I was most excited for was Jeskai Flashback. Sadly, it didn't live up to the expectation I'd had for it, so I didn't pick that. Sultai Morph seems fun and is likely the most powerful deck out of the box, but... it's the most powerful deck out of the box and I'm typically averse to such things. This left the Naya Populate deck and the Rakdos Madness deck. Both of the decks seemed to be a good mix of powerful and interesting; the deciding factor would be the legends.

The Naya legends are all varying amounts of interesting. Coming from someone that typically despises any deck that includes the colors green and white together, that's saying something. Ghired seems very powerful, and the fact that you can make infinite combat steps easily is cute. Marisi has the Goad ability, which I love dearly. Atla Palani is basically a Naya Polymorph commander, and Polymorph is wonderful. Of these I'd choose Atla Palani because I think it's the most unique and I could build it as a "John Hammond" tribal deck, full of scary Dinosaurs hatching out of eggs.

From the Rakdos Madness deck, Anje is probably the most powerful legend; a 3-drop that enables Madness and can provide card advantage is great, plus the ability to fill the graveyard is very powerful as well. Chainer is incredibly powerful in a reanimator deck, as the ability to basically give yourself a second hand by casting creatures from your graveyard is a fun box to play in. Meanwhile, Greven sacrifices creatures to draw cards and hits like a truck. Of these, Greven is the most interesting to me, especially on a budget, since reanimator strategies often carry a hefty price tag, and drawing cards happens to be one of my favorite things to do in Magic.

This left me to choose between Atla Palani and Greven. I ended up going with Greven because the deck would be a bit cheaper to build and Atla Palani is looking to be the most popular of all the new legends at the moment, so there will likely be no shortage of content produced in the coming weeks surrounding that particular deck.

Merciless Rage

The deck we're starting with, Merciless Rage, is built around Anje Falkenrath and the Madness mechanic. You want to discard your cards that have Madness, then cast them for their Madness cost, generating both value and card advantage. Most of the cards in the deck work best when paired with Anje, so upgrading this deck to work with Greven will require a bit of creativity. For context, here's what we're starting with:

Merciless Rage

Commander (1)
Enchantment (6)
Creature (27)
Sorcery (12)
Artifact (8)
Land (40)
Planeswalker (1)
Instant (4)

There are a lot of interesting, fun things going on here, and the deck features some great cards, both new and old. The most basic question is, "What should I take out?" However, the better question is, "Why should X card stay in this deck?"

I want to note here that I am only planning on changing 25 cards. I still want to use a lot of the cards in the deck, since that's what you spent money on, and to show what would likely be the more natural upgrade path your average player might take. Some players certainly upgrade entire decks in a single sitting, but budget players often have to take their time, slowly acquiring cards through trade, meaning the deck won't necessarily be a completely finished product right away.

Now, onto the changes!



-1 Swamp

-1 Temple of the False God

This was probably the easiest section. The deck comes with a whopping 40 lands. Unless you're playing a deck that interacts specifically with lands, this is likely going to be too many. I typically run 38, which is probably still a bit high. If you wanted to trim that number down to 37, or even 36, I wouldn't think anything negative of it. Also, don't play Temple of the False God. It's bad. Run a basic instead. If I we're a billionaire, my act of charity would be to buy every copy of Temple of the False God that I could, build a life-size cardboard replica of the actual Temple pictured, and burn it to the ground, Temple of Artemis style. #philanthropy


Most of these are cards that are overcosted, outside of dedicated Madness decks, and others simply don't fit the theme. Still others of them are Soul of Innistrad and don't belong in any deck anywhere.

A couple of these cuts are fun, powerful cards (Bone Miser, Archfiend of Spite, and Flayer of the Hatebound in particular) that I would love to play with in other decks, and taking them out of this one where they don't work as well frees them up for play in those decks.


With the exception of From Under the Floorboards and possibly Call to the Netherworld, these are cards that don't belong in most Commander decks. Even in Madness decks, unless you are really wanting to stay on theme, I'd play other cards.


See my comments in the sorceries section above.


Both of these cards are powerful. Warstorm Surge sees play in almost 10,000 decks for good reason, and Hedonist's Trove is a fun and flavorful (albeit slow) card. They just don't fit with what we're doing here, so find other homes for them or trade them away.


Armillary Sphere is a card I used to love. I used it in my Borborygmos Enraged deck to great effect and subsequently put it in every deck.

It's not a card that belongs in many decks outside of card availability issues. Aeon Engine is a card I have no idea how to properly evaluate. It seems like fun, I suppose, I just don't know that I want to spend five mana and a card slot on that effect.


Cutting cards is the worst part about building a deck. Adding cards though... that I can do all day! Keeping with the theme of my series, nothing gets added to the deck that can't be found on Card Kingdom or TCGPlayer for less than $1.


With the exception of Thunderblust (which draws so many cards with Greven I simply couldn't pass it up) our creatures either steal our opponents' creatures or sacrifice creatures for value. When we steal a creature, we aren't interested in our opponents getting them back alive. Greven is definitely our preferred sacrifice outlet, but he's only able to sac one creature at a time, and we can't guarantee that we'll always have him on the battlefield. Carrion Feeder and Dark-Dweller Oracle will fill in for him nicely.


This is the largest section by a fair margin, because most temporary theft effects happen to be sorceries. One of the great things about most of these cards is that they're draft chafe. People typically don't want these cards; you could go to your buddy's house thats been playing for a few years and it's likely you'll be able to find almost all of these doing nothing but collecting dust.


Fling is great in this deck. You can either fling a huge Greven at an opponent, or fling an opponent's creature back to them after you're done using them in the red zone. Rakdos Charm probably goes in every deck that can run it at this point, it's simply that versatile. We're also including Act of Aggression and Grab the Reins, two temporary Threaten effects that just happen to be instants.


The starting deck needed a bit of help when it comes to ramp, so that's what most of this section is dedicated to remedying. It's boring, but entirely necessary. Culling Dais and Spawning Pit made the cut over other similar artifact sacrifice outlets simply because they're free to activate.


+1 Captive Audience

This card is absolutely not on theme, but I just wanted to remind you that it exists. It's more cute than good, but every deck needs a personal touch. You should probably swap this out for a board wipe or some targeted removal, but you can't make me and I won't do it.

Our Final Decklist

After all of the edits, we're left with something that I think looks a bit more playable than what we started with.

Greven Threatens a Good Time

Commander (1)
Sorcery (16)
Creature (23)
Instant (5)
Land (38)
Artifact (11)
Enchantment (4)
Planeswalker (1)

There are still some Madness cards in the deck, but I didn't want to cut everything, and we kept a fair amount of the decent discard outlets. We simply trimmed some of the fat.

Notable Exclusions

Below are cards I would add to the deck if budget weren't a factor, if you wanted to up the power level of the deck, or if you simply had a copy laying around.

I have yet to see this in a game, a fact which I'm conflicted about. I love seeing new, fun cards, so that's the sad half. The happy half is that though this demon is expensive, if someone can get it to stick, they probably are winning that game and as a rule, I prefer winning to losing. This draws obscene amounts of cards, kills creatures, and grows Greven into a game-ending threat without any real effort.

They don't design cards like this anymore, with good reason: any card that allows you to turn your life total into a resource is a card you should be paying attention to. Fire Covenant allows you to pay as much life as you want and kill basically everything you want to kill, making Greven huge in the process. Yet another card that I see at tables far less often than I should.

If your deck wants to sacrifice its own creatures and it contains red, your deck will almost certainly be more powerful with a copy of Anger. One of the most frustrating things that will likely happen to this deck is that your opponents will eventually wise up to the fact that they really can't afford to allow Greven to attack. Each opponent will then have an opportunity to ruin your day with a variety of removal options as you wait for him to be able to rumble. Haste lets you get around this. Anger will rarely feel splashy, but it'll often be the quiet MVP.

An enchantment that allows you to pump Greven's power by 4 at instant speed is fantastic. Assuming you don't sacrifice any creatures (which is unlikely), you simply have to pay 12 life to have the ability to casually boop your an opponent for 21 commander damage.

This, but replace the finger with an axe and the adorable kitten with your opponent's very punchable face

This is a card I have never seen in a game or even heard of before I started brewing this deck. If Wrath of God is a nuke, this card is a laser-guided missile. It blows up only what you want, at the cost of a bit of life. At 1 creature, I'm not thrilled about the rate, but anything above that, I'm feeling pretty ok about it; the fact that Greven grows along the way makes this even better.

Clean Up

That's all for this week. I'd love to hear your thoughts about this article. Did you enjoy this deck? Was upgrading one of the decks and taking you through my thought process a helpful exercise, or is there something else you would have preferred? Let me know below! No poll this week, as I'm going to try and really nail down the previously-alluded-to Obzedat, Ghost Council deck that everyone voted for after the last article. Until next time!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.