Ultra Budget Brews — Exava

Hello and welcome back to Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that gives the people what they want, overthrowing the Magic hierarchy by letting cheap, unwanted, unloved cards have their moment to shine. In other words, we build entire EDH deck with no card costing more than $1, but that sounds far less dramatic. Speaking of unloved and dramatic, last time we upgraded the newly released dragon deck by giving it a Maze's End makeover.

Life should come with these...

Since the last two articles have been tribal decks (The Ur-Dragon and Neheb the Worthy), I wanted to avoid doing another one even though they are all the rage at the moment. A ton of you voted last time, which is great! It gives me a better sense of what kind of decks and cards you enjoy seeing. Here is how the voting went last time:

From what I can tell, many of you seem to love Rakdos (B/R) colors. Two of the past three articles have had a Rakdos-colored general as an option, and it won each time. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I threw a ton of Selesnya (G/W) generals in to the mix, and they almost always seem to get the smallest number of votes. This shows me some combination of the following: You all think Rakdos colors are far more interesting and entertaining than Selesnya colors, and that Rakdos generals, at least the ones that are budget, lead to fun decks (spoiler alert: you are 100% correct.) It also shows me that I have a bunch of power hungry, selfish, hedonists who revel in pain, suffering, and chaos as my readership.

You know who you are...

So, this week, we are going to lean in to it. We are going to take the Rakdos ideas of ignoring any sort of self preservation, of setting the world on fire and dancing in the flames, and crank it up to 11.

Our Commander


  • A potential 4/4 first strike creature with haste for only 4 mana is a ton of stats
  • Giving all of your other creatures with +1/+1 counters haste is a sweet build around ability
  • Is both a cleric and a blood witch. Theme decks for days.


  • Bad at defense
  • Really wants to have access to white and green
  • Reminds us that Dragon's Maze exists. *shudders*

What we are looking for are black and red cards that enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters, or cards that give those out. Unfortunately, our options are a bit limited here. As I mentioned above, we really want access to green and white. This is not to say we don't have any options, but the best options are typically in those colors. So, what exactly are we looking at?

House Party Exava

View on Archidekt

Total cost (Card Kingdom): $32.44


Well, I didn't want to go tribal, and technically we didn't, but this sure feels a lot like +1/+1 counters tribal. The are a few things to note. First off, we are running basically every single card with the keyword unleash. It helps make our creatures bigger, costs nothing, and makes it where those creatures are unable to block. This felt very on-theme. Exava is the champion of the Rakdos guild, and it's keyword in that block was unleash. Also, not being able to block really emphasizes that whole reveling in pain and suffering thing. It might be dangerous, but that's half of the fun. What's life without a bit of danger?

There are two other minor themes in this deck to discuss. The first is making the combat step difficult for your opponents. As mentioned above, many of our creatures aren't able to block, so it seems only fair that every one else should have to play by those same rules. Cards like Bedlam, Goblin War Drums, and Carnage Gladiator make it some combination of painful, difficult, or impossible to play defense. Since the majority of our game plan involves recklessly charging our creatures into whatever poor patsy has drawn our ire, this seems particularly prudent.

The other theme is group slug. We want to deal as much damage to everyone as possible. It's not a problem if we hurt ourselves in the process. We weren't long for this world anyways. There will be games where getting into the red zone is difficult. These cards help ensure that the pain keeps flowing, even if our creatures are struggling. Cards like Sulfuric Vortex, Ankh of Mishra, and Manabarbs damage everyone and make it where no one is comfortable. It's the gift that keeps on giving! Instead of Oprah giving away cars to her audience, she instead gives everyone gratuitous amounts of damage.

"Look upon my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!"

As I discussed in previous articles, aggro is not typically a dominant strategy in EDH, mostly because of the multiplayer nature of the format, and because of the high starting life totals. This often leads to players having their curve effectively start at 5 or 6 mana and we want to take advantage of those greedy folks. While they are busy playing mana rocks and other 'do-nothing' spells, we deploy hasty creatures and threaten everyone's life total.

Will this work every time? Nope. Not even a little bit. There are times you are going to get blown out by a timely wrath or the combo player is going to draw the nuts. It's Magic. These things happen and you can't win every game. So while this may not be the most competitive deck ever built, that's ok. You will definitely be having a big effect on the game, it's unlikely that you will get bored! When you do win, you get to inform your opponents that they were just beaten with a bunch of Return to Ravnica and Dragon's Maze draft chafe. Embrace your inner Rakdos and burn it all down.

Notable Inclusions

Havoc Festival

This is, admittedly, a pet card of mine. Lifegain strategies are equal parts popular and frustrating, particularly for a deck like this one, but we aren't playing this to hose those decks. We are playing this because it halves everyone's life at the start of every person's turn. That's a ton of damage. All for 6 mana. It hurts us too, but we are the aggressor, so our life total matters less. Also, the art is kind of adorable.

Thief of Blood

Have a friend who loves durdling around with an obscene number of planeswalkers? We all do, because that archetype is insanely popular. Have a friend who loves playing Atraxa, Praetors' Voice? Of course you do. There's at least one Atraxa player at every LGS. There's some unspoken rule that if you don't have a player that is playing Atraxa, your LGS will lose it's status with WotC or something.

Obviously this card is bug nutty against the aforementioned decks, but really, it's great against a wide number of decks. In most 4-player games there is probably going to be some number of counters floating around for it to steal. Also, with Exava out, this gets haste as well. It should be noted that this does steal +1/+1 counters from your creatures, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I'd often prefer to have a giant flyer than a few smallish ground creatures.

Unspeakable Symbol

I enjoy enchantments. I enjoy them a lot. I love having cards that gives me value over the course of many turns. It somehow seems more powerful to me than, say, a creature. I think it's because they are more difficult to remove than creatures. This is exactly the kind of card that I love. It does a powerful thing, making your creatures bigger, but has a large enough tradeoff that it's likely to be ignored, meaning that your opponents are going to let it sit there, accruing value. Paying 3 life to give a creature a single +1/+1 counter seems like a big trade off, but when that counter also grants haste, it seems a lot more worth it. Also, you have a ton of life in EDH meaning you have the ability to pump a ton of life into this, at instant speed no less, which will keep your opponents on their toes. If you plan on doing that, watch out for instant speed removal, as it's a huge blow out.

Pyreheart Wolf

This is a card that has a soft spot in my heart. I started playing Magic during Innistrad block and this is one of the those cards that I got absolutely crushed by on the regular. It just seemed so unfair. God forbid I ever managed to have the creatures out to effectively block it, IT WOULD COME BACK EVEN STRONGER!

This gif brought to you by Pyreheart Wolf, the official Magic card of House Greyjoy

Well, I've since discovered that this card isn't nearly as strong as I originally thought (who knew you needed to run removal in your deck? Sounds boring!), but it's still pretty ok. This card serves a number of purposes in this deck. It makes blocking more difficult for your opponent, it is a self-recursive threat, and is even on theme since it comes back with a +1/+1 counter.

Hellhole Flailer

Here we go. This is a card I can get behind. This is effectively a 4/3 for 3 mana, which is a pretty good rate already, but we're really here for that activated ability. We have a number of ways to increase this guy's power (equipment, +1/+1 counters, etc.) and you can attempt to use this politically. Hold up 4 mana and inform the table that whoever wipes the board is going to take the damage. Obviously, this strategy is far more effective if you have a bit more power as threatening the table with 4 damage isn't likely to be all that effective. Even still, I like this early game, and I like it late game, as everyone is likely to have a lower life total, making his fling ability much more frightening.

Notable Exclusions

As always, these are cards I would add if I were looking to up the power level of the deck, if I wasn't interested in keeping the budget restriction, or if I just had a copy sitting around in my binder collecting dust.

Drana, Liberator of Malakir

This is one of the cards I most wish was bulk price. The ability is interesting, it is super efficient for its mana cost, and belongs to two different relevant, popular tribes. Then again, those previous 3 reasons are exactly why it will never be true bulk. Funny how that works. All of that being said, this card loves swarming with small creatures, which is what we're looking to do. Because of how first strike works, it pumps all of your attacking creatures before they do damage themselves, if Drana does damage to a player. This deck would love that. Try and pick this up off of Standard players since it's rotating, like, tomorrow.

Necropolis Regent

This card used to be bulk, but then something happened...

A new challenger appears!

This is a bit like Drana, Liberator of Malakir, but it gives more counters, doesn't have to attack itself to dole them out, and is a big evasive body to boot. This is exactly the kind of card you want at the top of your curve in this deck. So, go to your local LGS and see if there are any copies in their bulk box. You just might get lucky.

Contagion Engine

This card is a bit on the pricey end of the spectrum, but the effect is well worth it. It works as a slow board wipe against a single player, and adds more counters to your creatures that already have them, making them truly frightening. We are already playing this card's little brother, (Contagion Clasp), so adding in it's big brother seems like a solid plan.

Oona's Blackguard

The rogue text doesn't help any of our creatures, so we are most interested in the second ability. You may have noticed, but a ton of our creatures enter the battlefield with +1/+1 counters on them. Making our opponents discard is a great way to punish them for being slow to set up. This card is likely to draw a ton of hate, so be ready for it, but the effect is well worth it.

Ob Nixilis, the Fallen

I rarely see this card played, and I always wonder why it doesn't see a bit more play. I would guess its the lack of evasion. Perhaps he doesn't have flying because he's...the Fallen?

Behold, my spirit animal

You are likely playing a land most every turn. Making someone lose 3 life and making your guy bigger is a lot of value for doing something you were planning on doing anyway. Yes, he comes in undersized, but this changes in a hurry. This is clearly more powerful in a dedicated landfall deck, but it works great here too.

The End Step

What did you think about the deck? Do you enjoy aggro in commander? Were there any obvious inclusions that I missed? Let me know below! This weekend is the Ixalan Prerelease, which I am incredibly excited for, meaning that we have an entire set worth of cards to scour for future budget all-stars, which is what we will talk about next time. So instead, of the normal poll, I am asking you to give me some ideas of commanders you would like to see have a chance to get the budget treatment! Until next time!

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