Ultra Budget Brews — Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient
Hello, and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that (fondly) remembers when fast food places had actual dollar menus instead of 'value menus'. You aren't fooling anyone with that nonsense. Also, tangentially related, this is the article series that builds entire EDH decks that contain no cards that cost more than $1, commander included. So, it's like, you know, an actual dollar menu.
Intros like that are why I'm paid the big bucks and don't have to eat from the dollar menu anymore. Rather, I choose to. Once a peasant, always a peasant.
Speaking of peasants, last time I had a poll for you all to vote on. Here's how it went.
- Shisato, Whispering Hunter - 10%
- Crovax, Ascendant Hero - 7%
- Chisei, Heart of Oceans - 29%
- Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient - 32%
- Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder - 22%
When I decided to make all of the options mono colored, I kind of figured that mono-white wouldn't be very popular. Frankly, I can understand why. If color combinations were super hero movies, mono-white would be The Fantastic Four. That being said, I was surprised to discover Kurkesh's popularity. I probably underestimated exactly how popular artifacts are in EDH. If you look at the top of the EDHREC page, there is a section that says 'theme'. If you click that, you'll see that the far and away the most popular theme is artifacts. It's not even particularly close. Artifacts clock in at a touch over 12,000 decks while the next closest theme, +1/+1 counters, has around 5,500 decks. That's quite the disparity. I guess the lesson here is to never underestimate the popularity of artifacts.
- Cheaply, repeatedly doubles abilities
- Cheap mana cost
- I've seen worse stats
- OGRE TRIBAL! (While I may have briefly considered it, were not actually doing that)
- Can't copy mana abilities (probably for the best as this could go infinite with relative ease if it could)
- What it can and cannot copy can be a bit confusing
- Crushed by EDH All-Star Rend Spirit
When I started brainstorming for Kurkesh, I quickly found a few things. First, artifacts are expensive, especially the really powerful ones. Seriously. I would think to myself, "Man, Lux Cannon seems great here. Removal is always needed. I'm so good at deck building! Wait, it's $3.49? Ok, thats fine. Planar Bridge is a card that is underplayed. It should be pretty cheap and copying that ability really hits the sweet spot between fun and powerful that I like....Mother of Pearl, why is it $2.79?!?"
Honestly, that's me pretty much every week, but it just seemed to come up more often this week, because, as previously stated, good artifacts are expensive.
The second thing I found out is that I was a bit fuzzy on the difference between triggered and activated abilities.
Trigger Me Timbers (A Brief Explanation)
I asked for clarification on the difference between the two from some of the other EDHREC writers, as I was keen to avoid mucking up an entire article because of a lack of understanding about the differences between triggered and activated abilities. For triggered abilities, one of our other writers, Nate Burgess, pointed out the card Strionic Resonator. It gives a pretty thorough explanation of how triggered abilities are worded.
The context of this inquiry was that I wanted to turn Kurkesh into an artifact using Liquimetal Coating in order to copy his own copying ability, because that sounds like exactly the kind of EDH I want to be playing. Sadly, it didn't work like I hoped because Kurkesh's text contains the word 'Whenever', making it a triggered ability.
Activated abilities on the other hand have some sort of cost associated with them and then a ':'. For example, the Lux Cannon I mentioned earlier.
Both of the above are triggered abilities. You pay some sort of cost, in the above case tapping the artifact, removing counters, or both, and then the ability happens. I take the time to explain all of this for a few reasons.
- I want you all to understand why I included the cards I did. It saves you from asking why I didn't add 'XYZ' card.
- It helps you know how to tinker, change, and edit the deck below to your own liking.
- If I, who have played this game fairly frequently since 2013, am a bit fuzzy on this rule, it would be silly to assume that all of you understand it clearly as well.
With all of that out of the way, lets get to the deck!
Kurkesh and Our New Robot Overlords
Price (Card Kingdom) - $29.03
This is the cheapest deck we've built in a while. The reasons for this are two fold. First, we are playing a mono-colored deck, which makes a solid 40% of our deck, lands, cost actual peanuts. Second, WotC has printed/reprinted a ton of artifacts recently (Kaladesh block, Breya precon, Daretti precon, etc.).
So what does our $29 get us? In my estimation, a fun and fairly powerful deck. Kurkesh has one word that makes him EDH catnip: "copy". EDH players love copying spells and effects. Cards like Panharmonicon, Riku of Two Reflections, Reverberate, Twincast, and Rite of Replication are all cards you can expect to see at your average EDH game because of that word. If something is good when it happens once, it's logical to assume that twice is nice.
Most of our deck revolves around trying to make those good things happen twice. The deck is definitely an artifact deck. 35 of our spells are artifacts, which given our commander makes sense. For this sort of deck to work, you really need a high density of artifacts. The nice thing is that more than pretty much any other card type, artifacts like having more artifacts around. They make each other cheaper, untap each other, copy each other's effects, and sacrifice each other. When we add Kurkesh's ability to this, things can get pretty out of hand.
One path to victory is by out-valuing your opponents, creating an army of robots, and swinging for lots of damage with cards like Myr Battlesphere, Bosh, Iron Golem, or Metalwork Colossus. There is nothing wrong with this and you'll likely win some amount of games doing just that. I'm interested in doing something a bit different.
The very first card that I thought of when I sat down to brew this deck is a pet card of mine: Aetherflux Reservoir. Paying 50 life and a single red mana to dome two people for 50...
The problem is that red is really bad at gaining life. Really, really bad at it. If there was a Olympic event for life gain, Black and White would duke it out for the gold, Green would get the bronze while Blue and Red would be at the bottom pulling off stunts like this.
Artifacts are a bit better than red, but not by much. As a result, we're running some artifacts that are...questionable. Angelheart Vial, Elixir of Immortality, and Sun Droplet are not cards that you often associate with EDH, and for good reason. Outside of a dedicated lifegain deck like Karlov of the Ghost Council or Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim, they just aren't impactful enough. With a payoff card like Aetherflux Reservoir, these become great enablers. Admittedly, we don't have any ways to tutor for the Reservoir, mostly because of budget, so we will have to rely on finding it the old fashioned way, using an abundance of card draw and card filtering.
Card draw and ramp should be two things our deck excels at. We have quite a few mana rocks, and many of those mana rocks can be cashed in for cards later in the game. Hedron Archive, Dreamstone Hedron, and Commanders Sphere are all great cards to begin with, but they definitely level up when you can draw twice the amount of cards for a single red mana.
The deck also dips its toes into two recent mechanics, namely Investigate and Energy. Investigate is my favorite of the two as it makes artifact tokens that come with an activated ability attached. Magnifying Glass and Tamiyo's Journal are cards that probably could see more play than they do, and are fantastic here.
We only get a handful of energy cards, but the ones we get are very powerful. Neither Gonti's Aether Heart or Aetherflux Marvel require you to play other energy cards. They make all of the energy you could possibly need on their own. Also, both of their abilities are activated, making them copyable, and cost no mana. Knowing these things makes this deck seem like the perfect place for these cards.
The frontside of this card is fine. It gains you a life, you can copy it, and it helps us activate Aetherflux Reservoir if we manage to find it. Really though, we're here for the flip side. Once we are at 50 life, this becomes Chalice of Death. Causing an opponent to lose 5 life every time it's tapped adds up quickly. Untapping it with cards like Clock of Omens and Voltaic Key gets people real dead real fast.
I have never seen this card played. When I read it, I can understand why. It costs a total of 4 turns and 12 mana to create a single 9/9 creature. Yes, 9/9 is big, but when a simple Unsummon will undo all of that work, you aren't looking at a card that is efficient enough to warrant inclusion anywhere but in the most dedicated of Golem decks. Adding in Kurkesh takes this from unplayable to simply good, bordering on great. You get the 9/9 creature twice as fast, at half the cost and you get two of them. That's a huge difference. Give this card a shot.
This is another card that typically isn't very good, but before I get into that, a brief history lesson. The word 'decimate' is one we colloquially use to mean 'total and complete destruction'. It first was used to describe the Roman practice of killing 1 of every 10 men in a mutinous legion, or to describe a battle in which you completely routed the enemy, killing 1/10 of them. 'Deci' typically refers to 1/10th of something (thanks high school chemistry!), and when applied to this card, you'll see that in a normal game of magic (60 cards, 20 life), activating this effect 10 times kills the person. If you found this to be at all interesting, check out Charles Allison's column, "Historically Speaking", as he relates historical things to Magic in a way I couldn't even begin to emulate.
Anyways, back to the card. Copying the activation and untapping it as discussed with Chalice of Life is a solid play. It's a bit slow, but you'll definitely get some style points when you manage to knock someone out of the game with it.
The first mode on this is a perfectly playable, if not incredible, card. Paying 2 mana and tapping the artifact to be able to play a card from the top of your library is totally respectable, especially in a red deck. Copying this makes it twice as good. Really though, we are playing this for the second ability. Once we get to it, we get achieve "Treat yo self" mode.
Copy the ability with Kurkesh? I'm all about that life.
Ah yes. The artifact planeswalker. This card does everything. It's flexibility is only paralleled by a handful of cards (looking at you, Staff of Domination), and it's budget to boot. Need a chump blocker? Got it. Need a bit of life? No problem. Sacrifice outlet? Deal. With Kurkesh, it does double the work which makes it that much better. This card is one that I regularly see cut from a deck to make place for some new splashy card. Heck, I'm guilty of this. In reality, it should be played in far more decks than it is.
These are the cards that didn't make the cut because they cost more than $1, but I would include if I had them lying around, budget wasn't a concern, or if I was looking to upgrade the power level of the deck.
As mentioned earlier in the article, this was one of the first cards I was interested in including in the deck. Blowing up permanents, note the distinct lack of the term 'non land', is something every single deck needs to be able to do. While some groups can devolve in to everyone playing solitaire in their own little sandbox, most decks are going to attempt to interact with you in some, likely negative, way. You better be ready to do the same. The fact that you are able to do it twice as fast and twice as often with an active Kurkesh is awesome.
In my opinion, this card is the most EDH card to have been released in a long while. It does a very powerful thing repeatedly, but it requires a large investment. It's not super competitive, but allows your deck to do exactly what you want it to do. Getting two permanents for the price of one with Kurkesh is exactly where you want to be.
For this particular build, this is the card I was saddest to not be able to include. I built this deck with Aetherflux Reservoir in mind and this card allows you to go find it and put it directly on to the battlefield. We make quite a few artifacts with cards like Shrine of Loyal Legions and Myr Battlesphere so you should have three artifacts laying around to sacrifice. In a pinch, it can even sacrifice itself as one of the three. This is pretty much an auto include in any sort of artifact based strategy and this deck is no different.
This card has a couple of layers that make is better than the sum of its parts. Firstly, the imprint ability says any non token creature. It doesn't even have to be yours. If that Mulldrifter, Noxious Gearhulk, or Cloudblazer your opponent's are playing with die, feel free to exile it under this and proceed to make two copies a turn, becoming the King/Queen of ETB triggers in the process (long may you reign).
Another thing you can do is exile a card that allows your buddy's deck to do degenerate things with their graveyard; cards like Protean Hulk, Saffi Eriksdotter, and Reveilark spring to mind. In this case, you don't even have to use the Mimic Vat to make copies if you don't want to. It's pretty inefficient as graveyard hate goes, but it'll help in a pinch.
I can't believe I'm actually advocating that you play this card. If I'm being frank, this is one of my least favorite cards in all of magic...to have played against me. It's an awesome card to actually play with, though. If you are playing in a normal sized game (somewhere between 3 and 5 players), you typically are going to be ok playing this as the game will quickly turn in to Archenemy, leveling the playing field a bit. If you start recurring it over and over and over, ad nauseam, your friends may die a little on the inside, which isn't ideal. So, as a one shot effect, one that you will certainly try to double with Kurkesh, go for it. Games have to end somehow and this can be a pretty effective way to do so.
What do you think of the deck? Any obvious cards that I missed? I'll be honest, this deck was a ton of fun to come up with. I enjoy mono colored decks and copying abilities, so this was right up my alley. Winning with Aetherflux Reservoir hasn't gotten old yet. Hopefully you feel similarly.
I try not to have cards reappear in polls when they've lost, but sometimes, it's really close. Chisei, Heart of Oceans from last week is a great example. It got almost 30% of the vote, which means many of you were clearly interested in seeing it. I mean, it's clearly an interesting card, but it just didn't quite get there. As such, the next few polls are only going to contain commanders that were close runner-ups. Here are your choices for next week.
Until next time!