Ultra Budget Brews - Damia, Sage of Stone
(Damia, Sage of Stone | Art by Steve Argyle)
In a Gadda Damia, Baby...
Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that is absolutely desperate for Ikoria to release so that they can find something new to brew around. I'm currently bouncing back and forth between building a Chisei, Heart of Oceans deck and a Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths deck, but I can't seem to pull the trigger, probably meaning I don't actually want to build either deck enough for it to be worth it to dismantle another deck to make room for it.
Oh yeah. It's also the article series that builds entire EDH decks containing no card that costs more than $1 (commander excluded).
As hinted at above, I really enjoy brewing decks. More often than not, I have some harebrained idea being tossed around in my head, often because of a very specific card interaction, but I'd estimate something like maybe 5% of those lists even make it out of my brain and into something like Archidekt. These ideas flare up, but unless there's something besides a handful of cool interactions, they dissipate shortly after, having consumed all of the mental fuel available and fading into the darkness. Other times, once there is enough of a deck that fits with the starting card interaction, the idea will take root and I'll actually start to put something up on Archidekt (my page is littered with ideas that I've started but never finished). This week's deck is a bit different than either of these. The commander in question is one I've always thought about building but just haven't ever sat down and done it. She also just so happens to have been on the poll from last time.
I've always wanted to build Muzzio, Visionary Architect. It's a card I absolutely love, but no one else seems to, scorning him for splashier, more consistent cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer, but I'm actually here to talk about Damia, Sage of Stone. If I'm honest, I'm not entirely sure why I haven't built her in paper yet, though I have a few guesses. My first reason is that she's Sultai and that Sultai feels a bit like the easiest thing to be doing in EDH (though this crown might now belong to Simic). My second reason is that she seems to invite you to build SultaiGoodStuff.dec, which is not something that interests me in the slightest. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with building a good stuff deck; there isn't. I'm just not interested in doing so.
- The amount of potential card draw Damia represents is HUGE
- Deathtouch is...fine
- As stated above, Sultai colors are arguably the best in all of EDH
- Wizard is a relevant creature type
- 7 mana feels like a million
- If you have a full grip of cards, her ability feels terrible
- Her stats to cost ratio is terrible
- Tribal Gorgons isn't really a thing that's possible...yet
More recent legends typically encourage you to build your deck in fairly specific ways in order to leverage their abilities to take over the game. There might be some leeway, but there will often be 20-30 cards that you simply should be playing, no matter what. If you're playing a Feather, the Redeemed deck, you'd be silly to not add Defiant Strike and Shelter. If you're playing Muldrotha, the Gravetide, you're almost certainly running Seal of Primordium and Spore Frog. If you build a Korvold, Fae-Cursed King deck, you're casting Send to Sleep and Crippling Fatigue whether they're in your deck or not.
It's a bit like chili. Pretty much every chili starts with a similar base. You have to have meat, water, and tomato. After you have that base, you're able to put your own personal spin on it, adding beans, onions, seasonings, etc.
Damia is interesting in that she doesn't really lead you down a specific path and instead leaves a wide variety of strategies open to you. She's a bit like starting with just water. You could make a soup! You could hard-boil eggs! You could wash your hair! This is both a blessing and a curse. If you've ever spent any time in a classroom, you'll probably remember a well-meaning teacher giving you a writing prompt allowing you to "write about anything you want". Instead of leading to students writing about whatever they're passionate about, in most instances it actually leads to decision paralysis because we're wired to like some boundaries, some guidance. The only guidance we have is, "play a lot of cards every turn, and I'll help you draw a bunch of cards". So, what does our deck look like?
Allies of Damia
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Deck price: $38.00
As you can see, we've combined two tribes into what will hopefully be a well-oiled machine: Allies and clones. One of the issues that Ally decks can run into is a lack of playable Allies. Allies have really only been printed in two blocks (both Zendikar blocks), and some amount of them are only going to be playable in Limited. Sure, we could play Kalastria Nightwatch, but is that what we really want to be doing in a normal game of EDH? Restricting our deck to Sultai only serves to exacerbate this problem since white and red have some of the very best Allies available and are also the colors in which support for them is most plentiful. Thankfully, WotC loves printing a clone or two every set, so we have no shortage of options to choose from in that category.
One of the deckbuilding challenges will be balancing the number of clones with the number of Allies. While some of our clones will be able to copy the best creature on the battlefield, full-stop, many of the budget clones available are only allowed to target our own creatures, meaning we already need a bit of a board state before they're useful. Being stuck with a hand consisting of Mercurial Pretender, Mirror Image, and Cackling Counterpart with an empty board would cause anyone to rethink the life choices that had brought them to that point.
Thankfully, building a large board state is exactly what we're trying to do and is one of the things, mainly thanks to a lower-than-average CMC, Allies are skilled at. Each Ally is a bit like a piece of the Megazord. Sure, they're (sort of) fine on their own, but they certainly aren't taking down any huge monsters without some help from their friends.
While decks that flood the board with creatures may not be famous for being difficult to play, there is actually a pretty significant challenge involved. If you're playing against very new, inexperienced players, you're unlikely to see much in the way of wrath effects, but most people will come packing at least a handful of ways to nuke the board. If we aren't careful, we can empty our entire hand and be stuck looking at a bunch of lonely-looking lands, our best-laid plans permanently sent awry by the might of a Day of Judgment or a Toxic Deluge. Avoiding this takes a bit of practice; knowing exactly how many and which creatures you need to take over the game, saving the others in your hand for the inevitable wrath, is more of an art than a science. Overkill is a lot of fun, but it's not always the best strategy.
With the above in mind, the nature of our deck will often lead us to emptying our hand in an attempt to avoid falling irrevocably behind. Allies do a wide variety of different things for us, but (with the notable exception of Sea Gate Loremaster) they aren't particularly adept at drawing cards. Every deck needs ways to draw extra cards, and while Damia isn't our only way to do this, she certainly helps significantly. Looking at Damia as a delayed version of Overflowing Insight is probably helpful.
Outside of our Allies, we also included the building blocks of every EDH deck: removal and ramp. Since we're in green, I'd prefer to not have to lean so heavily on artifacts to ramp, but one of the downsides of the popularity and power of green is that many of the cards that go well in every green deck, including cards like Cultivate, Kodama's Reach, and Nature's Lore, are simply too expensive to be used here.
Reality Shift, Putrefy, and Deathsprout are all removal I'd be happy to run in most any deck. Golgari Charm is eternally overlooked and underplayed. Its tremendous flexibility makes it rarely dead, and you'll almost always be happy to see it. Flood of Tears is our Cyclonic Rift replacement. It's not as good, but frankly, that's okay. It'll still do the job and get you out of sticky situations.
So, why aren't we playing Yarok, the Desecrated?
This is the question I'm expecting to come up most often. The easiest answer to this is that Yarok, coming in at $7+, costs too much for this series. Outside of this, I do think that there are reasons to run Damia over Yarok. Yarok seems like a great fit with this deck since it doubles up ETBs (which Allies have in spades). If there is one thing that EDH players love, it's doubling up ETBs, so I certainly understand the attraction. The question becomes whether or not the ETBs are actually worth doubling up. Some of them certainly are: Turntimber Ranger, Hagra Diabolist, and Tajuru Warcaller are all great examples of cards we'd love to get double triggers on, but I think overall that most of the ETBs aren't worth it, turning in to a bit of a "win-more" situation more than actually advancing your gameplan.
We also have included a number of changelings in the deck, this one being the best of the bunch. This card is a bit expensive to use, but you'll often find yourself in need of a way to get another Ally trigger, and this will accomplish that job admirably.
Normally, discarding your entire hand is not the kind of thing any but the most specific of decks would be interested in doing. Damia drastically changes the math on this, turning this in to discard your hand: counter a spell and draw seven cards. Be careful about when you use this as Damia eating a removal spell shortly after doing this will likely mean your inevitable death.
Damia likes to draw cards. Psychosis Crawler likes it when you draw cards. Psychosis Crawler also enjoys being cloned. The ceiling on this card is high enough that this is the only non-Ally/clone in the deck.
Cryptoplasm trades immediacy for long-term flexibility. Ally decks work best when a card enters the battlefield as an Ally, but Cryptoplasm can become whatever Ally would work best in your particular situation. When you top deck this in the late game, you won't be thrilled, but at any other time, you'll be happy to see this.
Evil Twin is one of my favorite cards of yesteryear. Outside of the fact that it's an absolute flavor homerun, the card is actually very powerful. Slow removal is still removal, and this can also target your own creatures in a pinch. As an added bonus, cards like this ensure that you're playing at the power level that the rest of the table is. If your opponents get salty because you copied their Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, well, they shouldn't have played it in the first places.
As always, these are the cards I'd include if I weren't concerned about a strict budget, had a copy laying around, or wanted to up the power level of the deck.
Rite of Replication
I used to ignore this card. Now, if I'm playing a blue deck, I'm likely including it if I have a copy laying around, and it's all because of Allies. My brother used to play a General Tazri, and the amount of times I was killed by a kicked Rite of Replication targeting a Hagra Diabolist is innumerable. So, if you can add this in, you definitely should.
We run a number of shapeshifters in this deck, and being able to turn them in to a copy of whatever creature you want is powerful. Also, this card seems like a perfect example of the slowly increasing cost of "EDH only" cards. I can't think of many reasons outside of scarcity that this should be $6, but here we are.
This spot could also have gone to Conjurer's Closet, but closets tend to be messy while ocean deities are simply fun. The only reason Thassa is here is because of her ability to flicker creatures, giving you another Ally ETB trigger. The ability to become a creature or to tap down blockers will matter in some small amount of games, so keep that in mind even though it's certainly not the focus.
While this may look a bit like a very expensive way to clone a creature, if you can get it to stick around for a turn or two, you will (hopefully) gain an incredible amount of advantage as you'll be getting both another creature and another ally trigger. If it gets killed right away, and it will most certainly be a target for anyone who has experienced playing with or against it, it'll feel bad, but the potential is too much to pass up.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
Mentally, I had added the word 'green' to the static ability. Thankfully, I was mistaken, and this can see play in a wide range of decks. The +1 is fine, as vigilance and reach are a bit underrated, but giving them to a creature is certainly not anything to write home about. The -2 is very good in a deck with this many creatures in it, but the real reason we want this card is the aforementioned static ability granting our creatures flash. There are a few of our Allies, in particular, that can mess up combat math for our opponents when you factor in flash.
What did you think of the deck? Is it something you'd be interested in playing, or did it seem a bit too durdly for your taste? Let me know below! As always, here are your options for next week. Let me know what you'd like to see by voting below.
Until next time!