Ultra Budget Brews — Ixalan
Hello and welcome back to Ultra Budget Brews, the column that plays EDH decks unsleeved like a godless savage, because sleeves are more expensive than the actual cards being played. I could use the previous sentence to segue into a joke about 'protection', but I'd want to find a gif for that and as I work for a school district and am writing this on a school-issued laptop, Google searching for anything like that seems...risky. Instead, enjoy a gif of a panda falling over while eating.
Some of the more astute readers among you may have noticed that I haven't written anything in a bit. I had planned to write this two weeks ago, but my body decided to have a fever for close to an entire week, and apparently I lacked the sufficient amount of cowbell to heal me of the affliction. This is probably for the best anyways. The Ixalan prerelease was close to a month ago, giving some time for cards to come down from their (typically too high) preorder prices as more product gets opened and copies of cards flow in to player's hands. Hopefully this process gave us a few more cards to work with. Also, EDH players are notorious for being slow at acquiring cards, and I would argue that budget players are even slower than the average EDH player. So re-examining these cards now seems like a solid idea, especially since the hype has died down a bit.
This set is a bit unique for our purposes for two main reasons. The first is that there are no Masterpieces, Expeditions, or Invocations to bring the price of other cards down. Without getting in to it too much, having those super rare, expensive chase cards brought the price of every other card in the set down. Normally I wouldn't discuss this at all, but since this article series is based on building decks with budget limitations, I felt that it was worth noting, because it is likely to have an effect on the cards we will be able to use from this set. If you really want to understand more in-depth about the nuts and bolts of how that all works, the are many places to find that information (MTGprice.com, Brainstorm Brewery, various other YouTube channels, articles, and podcasts.)
Second, since this is a tribal themed set, some of the cards will be playable in one specific tribe but not really anywhere else. I want to try and keep my review as broad as possible which means avoiding narrow, single-tribe only cards. Some of these cards will be incredible...in one deck. If you are running that deck, you probably know that the card is good in it. So, if I ignore a tribal card that is obviously good, I probably did so on purpose. Also, as usual all of these cards (with one exception) cost less than $1.
First things first: this dino is tiny. Seriously. It's a 3/3 for 7 mana. That's....bad. Unplayable bad. This thing dies to a stiff breeze, which is not a desirable quality for your 7 drop.
So if its stats are that bad, the rest of it better be that good. Well, it does have double strike, which is one of the most powerful keywords a creature can have. Also, if it attacks, all your other attackers get double strike. Now we're cooking with gas! You clearly want to play this in a deck that is planning on going wide with lots of critters. If you do, this likely wins you the game.
This card is a bit strange. It's essentially a 6 mana do-nothing enchantment. If you are about to die, or someone is about to combo off, this is going to do exactly nothing for you. That being said, if you manage to stick this card and survive til your next turn, shenanigans will ensue. Shenanigans are why we play EDH, really. This card is going to create stories of epic comebacks and crazy board states. It encourages players to be at lower life totals instead of higher life totals so they don't get swapped. You can use this to either cause general mayhem, chaos, and confusion, or use it by getting yourself to a super low life total and then swapping with the person on top. Sign me up for either of those.
One of the great things about playing EDH is the ability to play powerful, swingy cards that are too slow for basically every other kind of Magic. Sometimes there are cards that are almost too powerful and too swingy and they become...boring and commonplace.
So what's a player to do? You want to win, but you want to do so in a way that doesn't make the entire table, yourself included, yawn. River's Rebuke is a great answer to this conundrum. It's a very powerful effect, but it only targets one player making it feel more interactive. Sure, the player you use it against isn't going to like it, but everyone else will probably appreciate the fact that you didn't win by casting Cyclonic Rift. Again.
People love counters. The best feeling in the world is having an entire grip of counters with a Talrand, Sky Summoner on board ready to make an entire army of Drakes...
Wait...this isn't right. Wrong counters. +1/+1 counters. Those are way better than Drake.
There are lots of commanders that care about +1/+1 counters and this card can go in basically all of them. Unblockable is a fantastic ability to have. Playing this card can allow you to alpha strike someone out of nowhere. One thing to be careful about is getting this blown up before blockers are declared. This can lead to some bad blowouts, so be sure to check for open mana before waltzing your entire team into a trap.
As an avid blue player, flash is one of my favorite abilities. The amount of control it gives you is fantastic. You could play your creatures on your turn, but why do that when you can play them on everyone else's turn? Your turn is all of the time! If this was only a 2 mana 1/1 with flash, this would probably see play in some low-powered vampire decks and nowhere else. Thankfully, it has a pretty sweet ability. It gets a +1/+1 counter for each creature that died this turn. Know what color loves blowing creatures up? Black. Know what color likes sacrificing their own creatures for fun and profit? Also black. This guy is often going to enter the battlefield with an entire mess of counters. The fact that it has a relevant creature type is the sausage gravy on top of an already delicious pile of warm, fluffy biscuits.
Fact or Fiction has long been one of my favorite Magic cards. I find that it leads to difficult decisions and difficult decisions lead to interesting games. Boneyard Parley is not FoF, but that doesn't mean it's not powerful and a ton of fun. What really makes this card work is that you get to pick the cards from all graveyards and that your opponents splits the pile, giving you the final choice. Obviously, you need there to be cards worth stealing in the graveyard, but this is easily done as you are in black. This will often end up being more of a value play, but sometimes it will virtually win you the game on the spot.
Cards like this are among my favorites to play. I always enjoy stealing other people's creatures. I may not be able to afford Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre or Blightsteel Colossus, but the rest of the table can, which means I get to play with them too! This often grinds the game to a halt until it's dealt with since nobody wants to play creatures just to have them stolen. Pair this with sacrifice outlets to make sure nobody get's their toys back.
This is probably the single best EDH card in the set. Really. Have you read this card? I mean, it has a metric ton of text, but it basically is a better version of Maelstrom Nexus, and that card is great. This triggers off of every single card you cast from your hand, not just the first one, and you get to pick which card you want to cast with it. If you are running red, you probably should be running this card, the lone exception being some sort of super low to the ground aggro deck. It's entirely possible I'm overselling this card, but I really don't think so. I'm trading for every copy of this card I can get my paws on. If you ever play red, you should do the same.
Potential Commanders: Red.
I love modal cards, because I love cards that are powerful in specific situations, but are also flexible. This fits the bill. Being able to have all of your creatures block with no consequences is a solid card. Giving your creatures hexproof is great as well. Green typically relies on their creatures more than any other color and they are often huge targets. While this won't save your critters from a boardwipe, it'll save them from all sorts of targeted nonsense that would otherwise ruin your day. Not every deck wants this card, but it will be a solid roleplayer in some creature-heavy green decks
Potential Commanders: Creature-based green decks
Take everything I said about modal spells above and apply it here. Again, this is nothing splashy, nothing fancy. It's a roleplayer that you'll be happy to have in your deck. Green can have a hard time dealing with flying creatures, so this helps cover that weakness, and enchantments are often among the most powerful cards played in a normal game of EDH, partially because they can be difficult to remove. You'll likely find a use for this in every game you play.
Potential Commanders - No specific synergies, play in green decks that need more cheap answers.
Green/White loves big creatures. Big creatures often have big ole booties. Belligerent Brontodon loves creatures with big ole booties. Sadly, this doesn't effect the whole board like Doran the Siege Tower, but it serves as another copy of that kind of effect if it's needed. Also, it's a freaking brontosaurus. All of my childhood Jurassic Park dreams are coming true, which I didn't think was possible.
Remember how I promised that I would make that panda gif from earlier relate to EDH? Here goes. Pandas subsist on a diet of bamboo. Bamboo is a terrible food that provides very little nutritional value, forcing pandas to spend almost their entire day eating. This means they eat a ton of bamboo. Shapers of Nature is like a panda. To do much of anything, they need tons of mana. Also, given the amount of food they eat, pandas defecate up to 40 times a day. So in this analogy, defecation is.......drawing cards. Yep, we're going with that.
You'll likely use this to draw cards more often than adding counters. Drawing cards without having to spend cards gives one a nice and cozy feeling inside. Also, just like a panda.
This card is fun if you are running a Sir Mix-a-Lot tribal deck. Cause, you know, it's got back. 10 toughness is a ton and helps assure you that it'll survive combat and be able to flip. Crew 4 is a fair amount, but it shouldn't be too difficult for most decks to pull off. The payoff for flipping this is kind of absurd. Here is what it flips to since it's a bit difficult to see.
It's like if Trading Post and Staff of Domination had a baby that was adopted by a basic Wastes. All three of the modes are useful at different times in the game and that kind of flexibility is something you want in every deck. The first ability is great in any kind of deck looking for a discard outlet, while the other two are just generically good. Red and White decks in particular will love this card since they often struggle with card advantage.
This card is a great utility land that you can put in basically any deck that isn't 4+ colors. Most mono-colored, 2 and 3 color decks can afford a few utility lands that tap for colorless. One thing that players often don't include answers for are lands. Lands can be incredibly powerful. Lands like Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm, Cabal Coffers, Gaea's Cradle, and Gavony Township are all cards that need to be answered immediately. This does the job admirably, and even replaces itself. This is a card I expect to throw in a ton of decks from here on out. Seriously, run more non-basic land hate.
Potential Commanders: Any deck that needs more cheap land hate.
The End Step
There are many, many cards I was hoping to talk about in this article, but they simply weren't quite cheap enough (I'm far too excited about throwing Spell Swindle in every blue deck I own and Primal Amulet has me fanning myself like a distressed Southern belle every time I read it.) That said, there are quite a few gems in this set that I expect to see in a plethora of budget decks.
Next week, I'm back to writing about what you want to see. I took some of your suggestions from last time and added a few of my own. Here are your options. Let me know in the comments which you'd like to see. Until next time!