Ultra Budget Brews - Obzedat, Ghost Council
(Obzedat, Ghost Council | Art by Svetlin Velinov)
The Council Shall Counsel
Hello and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the monthly EDH column that builds entire EDH decks containing no card that costs more than $1. I've been writing this column following these exact restrictions for a while now. In fact, at the time of writing this, I've brewed and broken down 31 decks, which honestly doesn't seem like too many, until I realize that some of those decks were brewed more than 2 years ago.
Frankly, a lot has changed in 2 years, and I'd wager that most of those decks contain a bevy of cards that would no longer be considered budget for the purposes of this article. I've toyed around with the idea of revisiting some of the old decks and updating them, and if this is something you all would be interested in, please let me know in the comments. I've always tried to have these columns be led and guided by readers, because you all know what you want more than I do.
Also, while going back through these decks, I decided to count and see which color combinations I've done most often and which I haven't done at all. I've built more Azorius decks than any other, with Boros, Rakdos, Jund and rono-red right behind. It's almost like red is cheaper than most other colors in EDH. Who knew?
I'm fairly certain there isn't a single four-color deck I can build in the 'ultra-budget' restriction at the moment because the commanders are all too expensive, and colorless decks are difficult on account of the land base, but with the exception of those, I have 10 combinations left to build, one of which we will be checking off today.
But First, a Relatable Story
The year was 2013 and I had been playing Magic for 6 months or so. I was enjoying the game and was invited to the Gatecrash prerelease; My guild choices were Simic, Boros, Gruul, Dimir, or Orzhov. I have always had a fascination with gangster books and movies like The Godfather, The Departed, and The Untouchables. I also graduated from bible college and had the opportunity to study a fair amount of church history, including the vast amounts papal corruption in the 15th, 16th and 17th century (if you love history and Magic, check out this article by Charles Allison). What I'm saying is that the Orzhov were naturally my choice. More than anything though, I wanted this card:
I was still pretty new to the game, but understood just enough to see how nuts the card was. My friend who got me into the game pulled a foil one in his prerelease packs and I, of course, immediately wanted it. Up until that time, my group had mostly traded uncommon for uncommon, rare for rare, etc. In short, we were blissfully unaware of the secondary market. It wasn't until I insisted that my Giant Adephage would be a fair trade for his Obzedat that this illusion was shattered. My friend pulled out his iPhone 3 and showed me that his card was selling for $50 while mine was selling for $2.
That day, a budget player (and writer) was born.
All of this to say, I never did manage to acquire a copy of that card until it was reprinted in Modern Masters 2017, at which point I was almost exclusively playing EDH and never ended up doing anything with it.
Today, that changes.
- Life drain ability
- Protects itself from sorcery speed removal
- While it doesn't have haste the turn you play it, it does every turn after
- Significantly better than Ghost Council of Orzhova
- Color intensive mana cost
- No evasion
- Utterly uninterested in playing defense
- While already dead, Kaya made them significantly deader, as shown in Kaya's Wrath
Obzedat doesn't lead us down any particular deckbuilding path. I'm someone who loves building decks focused around my commander, partially because it's the one card you can guarantee you will have access to every game, and partly because a commander is what makes EDH special. As such, Obzedat presents a bit of a challenge.
Lifegain is a popular, tried-and-true deck archetype, but many of the best cards for this strategy are far outside our budget. Obzedat is a great control finisher, mostly on account of their ability to phase out during your opponent's turns. This turns off all sorcery speed removal that might be used against Obzedat, and many of the most popular removal spells happen to be sorcery speed, notably Wraths. The problem with the control plan is twofold: Obzedat is only a 5/5, meaning its going to take five turns to knock someone out with commander damage, and most of the cards that fit into a control build are outside of our budget.
If we can't go all in on a single theme, then what are we to do? Well, lets see what I came up with.
The Obzedat Octagon of Doom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
If this deck looks like a bit of a mess... well, you aren't entirely wrong. It's doing a number of seemingly disparate things, but I think when we dig a bit deeper, we'll discover that it all plays together quite nicely.
As previously mentioned, Obzedat drains players whenever they enter the battlefield. They do this every turn, so I added some 'lifegain matters' cards into the deck.
We have enough incidental lifegain in this deck that many fun life-based enchantments will be quite reasonable, such as Angelic Accord. Be aware that some enchantments like Sanguine Bond may draw a fair amount of aggro, simply because people will be expecting the other half of the combo (Exquisite Blood). Palace Siege is a great card on either mode, and which mode you will use will vary from game to game, though I'd imagine you'll most often pick the life drain mode, especially if you manage to get an Angelic Accord in play.
We also run a few of the "soul sisters". Sadly we can't include Soul's Attendant for budget reasons, but Soul Warden and Suture Priest work well with Obzedat shifting in and out of the battlefield. They also serve as a great transition into talking about another facet of our strategy: blinking our creatures.
We can use these cards defensively, to fizzle removal spells or abandon a bad combat step, or we can use them proactively to get extra enter-the-battlefield trigger from our creatures. Typically, you are going to want to use them defensively, but there will certainly be moments that using them proactively is the correct call.
I should note that a few of these effects don't work quite as well with Obzedat. Obzedat's ability to phase out of existence triggers at the beginning of the end step. A few of our spells (Long Road Home, Otherworldly Journey, Flickerwisp) return our creature from exile in the end step, meaning we would miss the opportunity to allow Obzedat to disappear.
If we are going to be flickering and blinking creatures, then we might as well throw in more impactful enter the battlefield effects.
Luminate Primordial has been a pet card of mine for a while now. Being able to Swords to Plowshares multiple creatures at a time is a great feeling. Gray Merchant has been good for forever, and will continue to be good until the inevitable heat death of the universe. Conveniently, it also meshes well with our lifegain theme. Custodi Lich should see far more play than it does. Monarch is one of my favorite abilities, and the Lich works like a repeatable Fleshbag Marauder.
Obviously at some point, our opponents are going to get sick of our flickering and blinking shenanigans and are going to attempt to put an end to our fun. Thankfully, we're playing Orzhov, and Orzhov is fantastic at bringing our creatures back from the graveyard to keep the party going.
Unburial Rites is powerful enough to see play in Modern decks and while we might not be getting an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite back from the graveyard, getting back an Angel of Despair will certainly do the trick. Ever After is as fun as it is powerful and The Eldest Reborn sees far less play than a card of its caliber should.
First, the downside. Yes, this eventually causes your reanimated creature to be exiled. That being said, the potential upside of this card is large, as it allows you to repeatedly reanimate different cards from your graveyard. The ceiling is high enough on this to be worth the risk, especially on a budget.
Protects your creatures from both death and exile as well as triggers enters the battlefield effects again? This is a great addition to our deck. I was going to say that it is underplayed, but it appears to be gaining traction on EDHREC seeing play in 1,500+ decks. Good job, people of the internet.
Underplayed and basically unknown, this card will absolutely blow people out. Fog effects are always great to 'gotcha' someone, but if a player has gone wide with tokens, you basically get to use this as a win con. Cards like this are the lifeblood of our format and I'd be happy to see it more often than I do.
Angel of Condemnation
I love that this helps us flicker cards as well as serving as a strange, repeatable Fiend Hunter or Lumbering Battlement. It does a lot of the things this deck wants to be doing anyways, though Exert has to be one of my least favorite mechanics in recent memory. I mean, who doesn't want a Lantern-Lit Graveyard ability on your creature? (Entirely unrelated, can you think of a better piece of art wasted on a worse card? I certainly can't)
White can ramp!
This is always a borderline card in my decks. Ramping at four mana is not necessarily what most decks want to be doing, but since we are flickering and blinking creatures, this makes the cut.
As always, these are cards that I would include in the deck if I were looking to up the power level, had a copy laying around, or we're looking to lose the strict budget restrictions in place.
If you've never been on the receiving end of one of these, you have either not played a ton of EDH yet, or you are very lucky. This card costs a lot of mana, but is almost always worth the investment.
Being able to mass blink your entire board is undeniably powerful. Save your whole team from removal or just reuse all of your enters the battlefield effects. Seeing as it only costs one mana more than some of our other single-target options, this is a large upgrade.
Sometimes you won't be able to reanimate a creature from your graveyard, but you still want it back. Enter Phyrexian Reclamation. This card allows you to grind with the best of them, accruing a ton of value and card advantage for a very low cost.
Kaya, Ghost Assassin
Kaya does a little bit of everything. She draws you cards, makes your opponents discard, and blinks your creatures and herself, resetting her loyalty counters. The fact that she lacks a traditional ultimate makes her seem less threatening than she actually is. If you manage to stick her for a few turns, the likelihood you are going to win that game increases significantly.
Vona, Butcher of Magan
This is here mostly to remind you that it exists. It is a five-mana repeatable Vindicate on a stick (sadly, it can't hit lands). Yes, it costs 7 life to do so, but you'll be gaining life in this deck, which will offset the life loss from using the ability, and Vona gains life herself. Of note, the ability can only be used on your turn. It is easy to mentally shortcut that to mean 'sorcery speed'. This can be used at instant speed, it simply must be done during your turn.
The Beginning of the End... Step
What do you think of the deck? Is this the kind of deck you'd enjoy playing, or is it too disjointed for your taste. Let me know below! As previously noted, we have 9 color combinations left to build around, so your options for next time will come from these color combinations. Please vote for the general you want to see receive the Ultra Budget Treatment. Thanks for reading! Until next time!