Ultra Budget Brews — Die Hard
Hello and welcome back to a special edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the column that celebrates Christmas super early because they want to get a head start on everyone else's Christmas-themed articles. It's also the column that builds entire EDH decks containing no card costing more than $1 American. In lieu of a normal poll, last time I asked you all to vote on which Christmas movie you'd like me to attempt to turn into an EDH deck. Here were the results:
- Home Alone - 20%
- Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang - 2%
- Die Hard - 43%
- Christmas Vacation - 12%
- The Nightmare Before Christmas - 23%
First off, y'all need to see Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. (See that? Look what you made me do. You got me all worked up and my Missouri started to rear its ugly, redneck head. Nobody wants that.) The movie is a national treasure and a Christmas movie to boot. Other than that, the voting went about how I expected. If I'm honest with myself, I was hoping Home Alone or Christmas Vacation would win, as they would lend themselves to some pretty zany decks, but Die Hard is a great movie, so complaining would be a smidge foolish.
A Good Day to Die Hard
With our movie chosen, we need to figure out our deck's commander. I briefly toyed around with making a deck built around Hans Gruber and his gang of goons, but that felt like he'd likely be U/B and most of the budget U/B commanders don't lend themselves to his character. As a result, I ended up going the obvious direction and building the deck around John McClane, our protagonist who does not in fact "Die Hard" as the movie title suggests. Dying is not in his vocabulary. He's nigh-unkillable. Knowing this, my first thought was Mikaeus the Unhallowed. Sadly, he is a zombie, costs almost $30, and doesn't really fit thematically. As colors go, John McClane is definitely not mono-black. He's a cop, and I'd argue that most cops are at least some amount of white. They like law, order, justice, and making sure everyone else follows the rules, for better or worse. We're for sure looking at white. That leaves 4 two color combinations: W/U, W/B, W/R, AND W/G. Let's look at each in turn.
W/U (Azorius) - Really likes rules and enforcing said rules. They like to be in complete control of every situation, think they're smarter than you, even if they aren't. The undercover cop that gets caught when they accidentally refer to pot as 'weed cigarettes'.
W/B (Orzhov)- Dirty Cop. Probably involved with the mafia, racketeering, etc. They are often seen swearing to Batman in some grungy back alley.
W/R (Boros) - Anger issues. Alpha dog. Perpetually having a bad day. Dislikes hardened criminals and the person who gets pulled over for speeding equally, because they are both people, and people suck. Does way more Crossfit than you do.
W/G (Selesnya) - Became a cop to help people. Spends a significant amount of time high-fiving disadvantaged teens and connecting with 'the youths'. D.A.R.E. officer at the local elementary school.
Using the above, John McClane is definitely W/R. He dislikes himself and is an action hero. Sounds pretty W/R to me. Knowing that he is W/R, we are left with one real option: Tajic, Blade of the Legion.
Welcome to the Party, Pal
- Fairly cheap to cast
- Battalion makes him huge
- Has a cape. Capes are awesome
- 2/2 is really small
- Boros colors are real bad
- Not well-liked (all of his buddies totally abandoned him in the art)
- Sword is definitely more flash than function
As mentioned before, our goal is to build a deck themed around the movie Die Hard. Theme decks can be tricky because everyone has a different idea about how to make it a reality. I'm of the idea that deckbuilding is more art form than science. Sure, there are some things that pretty much every deck needs to function (card draw, ramp, etc.), and numbers can help us breakdown decks and find strengths and weaknesses, but a lot of deckbuilding comes down to feel. If something feels off, it probably is.
This is probably even more true for theme decks. There is a balance you have to strike between form and function. If you have too much form (theme), your deck may not function correctly. Explosive Apparatus is thematically on point, but isn't a card that you are likely to want to put in a deck. It's just not impactful enough. If you build too much for function, you'll lose a lot of the flavor and theme you were going for, negating the entire point of the deck. I tried to strike a balance between the two.
Now I have a Machine Gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.
There's a lot to unpack here, so I'm going to start with the section that is most likely to draw some confused looks: creatures. In this case, the lack thereof. Tajic's Battalion ability lends itself to a build that plays lots of creatures and goes wide. This is one of the places I definitely chose form over function. John McClane is basically completely on his own the entire movie. The cops are stuck outside and the only people in the building that aren't actively trying to kill him are a bunch of helpless hostages. This lends itself to a low creature count. In fact the only creature I'm running is Sram, Senior Edificer. He is representative of the only person helping McClane at all, Sgt. Al Powell.
Sure, he's only giving emotional support, but that counts for something. Knowing this, I wanted him to directly support what our deck is trying to do. Our decks main aim is to get a bunch of equipment on to the battlefield and put them on Tajic. He rewards you for doing so by drawing you cards, something that the Boros color combination is notoriously bad at.
Magic, for better or worse, doesn't really have guns. Sure, there are some cannons running around and a few other things like that, but there are no real guns. The problem is that guns are almost exclusively what John used in the movie. While swords, daggers, and the lot are not directly analogous, they're as close as we're going to get. This means that our plan is to get our lone wolf armed to the teeth with every dagger, sword, and axe available and send him careening into the red zone. We're going equipment voltron, baby.
We have tons have artifacts, more specifically, tons of equipment. 18 of our cards can be equipped to Tajic. Cards like Honed Khopesh and Shuko may not seem very strong, but they can get the job done, especially when they are paired up with other cards like Fireshrieker. We also have Worldslayer, because I'm not sure it's possible to build a Tajic deck without one.
We also have a copy of Sunforger. This card allows us to improvise a bit on the fly. It's important to have the right answer for the right situation. Sure, just bludgeoning your enemies to death will work some percentage of the time, but Sunforger is the perfect card for situations where that isn't an option. McClane always seemed to have the right tool for the job, so this card represents that.
All of our instants, with the lone exception of Aurelia's Fury, are able to be cast off of a Sunforger activation. Also, there are a lot of fun Die Hard themed cards here that wouldn't be if not for theme. Retaliate, Swift Kick, Expose Evil, and Pitfall Trap are all fine, serviceable cards, but probably don't get played in your average deck because there are better options. This is an example of where we choose form over function.
One of the thing that playing a bunch of combat tricks allows us to do is randomly win by stringing together a few instants. Double Cleave, Brute Force, andOnward may not be plan A, but they are a pretty explosive plan B.
Our enchantments and sorceries are mainly removal. We have a few boardwipes, none of which effect Tajic. Pariah, Crash Through, and Insult are all cards that work thematically and do fun things in our deck. Open the Armory is a great card to get whatever equipment you might want and Open the Vaults get your equipment back from the graveyard if and when they get destroyed.
This card works on a number of different levels. Stealing the baddie's weapons is pretty standard action hero stuff.
Just because it's standard doesn't mean it's ineffective. Chances are pretty good that someone else at the table will have some equipment you might be interested in. Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot boots, and the various 'Sword of value and stuff' are typically pretty popular. Stealing these not only benefits you, but hurts your opponents who spent mana and a card only to give you a fun toy. At the very least, you can use it to attach one of your more expensive equipment (looking at you Argentum Armor) for the low cost of a single red mana.
There is a point in every action movie where the bad guys realize that the protagonist is not to be trifled with. Typically, the henchmen are the first to figure this out. The leader is normally a bit slower on the uptake. Die Hard is no different. McClane goes from being a security guard to a crazy death machine pretty quick. Pompous smugness turns to terror. Nobody is interested in messing with someone like that. Intimidation bolt does the same. Removal is always great. Make sure to use this on something you can for sure kill.
This might be my favorite card in the deck. Last week, a reader (Eathon Howell) suggested this card as a possibility. It fits perfectly. First off, going 'balls to the wall' with little concern for your own safety screams John McClane. Secondly, the art is just perfect. Reminds me of this:
Sadly, we aren't playing black and can't have Tragic Slip or Fatal Push to represent this moment, but this Glorious End definitely works. Also, in decks like this, sometimes you just need one last attack step to finish someone off. This card is perfect in those situations. Will you lose to it? Sometimes. That's ok. The times you use it to win will be epic.
John McClane, while indestructible was certainly able to be hurt. The scene where he is barefoot in a room full of broken glass shows that. The scene has been embedded (Ha!) in my head ever since I first watched it as a kid. It seems like the more he gets hurt, the more powerful he becomes. This card embodies this idea. Sure, you hurt me. That's fine. It'll end up worse for you in the end. Attach this equipment and take your opponents to poundtown.
I wanted something to represent explosives. Die Hard features lots of explosions.
Sadly most cards that have bombs or explosives just aren't very playable, or they were creatures which I didn't want to play. This however...this is pretty fun. Coin flip cards add a level of zaniness to games that admittedly might not be for everyone, but I find enjoyable. Being able to blow up the world is nice. The fact that it doesn't kill your commander is even nicer.
These are all loosely on theme, emphasis on loosely. If you were building a Tajic deck, these are cards I'd look at adding, Die Hard theme or otherwise.
This card is great because it allows you to attach your equipment to Tajic for free. That's nothing to scoff out. Also, it gives your Tajic DOUBLE INDESTRUCTIBLE!!! Double indestructible allows John McClane to limp his way in to a plethora of sequels which is important.
John McClane is nothing if not ingenious. He makes due with what he has around him, whether thats machine guns, detonators, or just his own bare fists. This allows you to copy any equipment on the field no matter who controls it. This gives you a lot of flexibility which is never a bad thing.
Things blow up often in Die Hard. This blows up all of the things. Nailed it. Really, if you are playing a deck that can support the double white mana cost, this should probably be in the deck. It's that good. In related news, this just got reprinted in Iconic Masters and is likely the cheapest it will ever be. Pick up every copy you can get your hands on before it gets expensive again. I don't even play with white much, and I'm still doing that.
Modal spells are great because of their flexibility. Most of the time you won't be using this to dome a player for 4 damage, but when you do, it's likely to be pretty important. Double strike is a powerful ability to give in a Voltron deck. Making all your permanents indestructible is great for the moment someone tries to Vandalblast away all your equipment or tries to Armageddon all of your lands. Sunforger can search for this as well.
There is no real tie in to Die Hard. I've just always wanted to play this card, that's the tie in. I guess you could say that this is McClane's wife? It would be a stretch. Either way, this card is awesome in any kind of equipment deck. Getting her ultimate off might be a bit magical Christmas land, but it looks like barrels of fun. The best ability is probably the -2. Being able to put an equipment from your hand or the graveyard is very powerful.
Happy Trails, Hans
What did you think? Is there anything super obvious that should have been included that I missed? Let me know below! I'm also curious how you feel about theme decks. Do you have any experience with them? Is seeing more budget theme decks something you are interested in? Again, let me know below. In other news, if anyone is going to be at GP OKC this weekend and interested in jamming some games of EDH, let me know! I would love to meet up and play.
Since Green and Red are Christmas colors, I decided to make all of our options Gruul this week. As usual, vote in the comments. Until next time!