Ultra Budget Brews – Rankle, Master of Pranks

(Rankle, Master of Pranks | Art by Dmitry Burmak)

“I Am That Merry Wanderer of the Night”

Hello, and welcome back to a special edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that builds entire EDH decks containing no card that costs more than $1 (commander excluded). If you’ve read my Talrand or Torbran article, you can skip down a bit as you will already know the goals of this article.

One thing I’ve noticed on social media is that I’m not the only person who’s found themselves with some extra free time. Being stuck at home for long periods of time can definitely lead to bouts of boredom, and one way to battle this is to teach the people you’re stuck with Magic. Between running an after-school club for the last 3 years and teaching a bunch of my family and random friends, I have taught dozens of people to play Magic, and I have almost exclusively used EDH to do so.

If you’re reading this, you’re either very experienced with EDH or very excited to learn; people don’t often read articles about EDH if they aren’t one of the two. If you’re the former, it can be difficult to realize how much you know and take for granted. Magic is a huge game with a lot to keep track of, and EDH only amplifies this by giving you twice as much to track. In short, it can be difficult to teach.

My goal is to build a few decks that would be useful to those who might be interested in getting someone into EDH or in having a deck that’s at an appropriate level of power and complexity to play against someone who’s just getting into the format and is new-ish to Magic. The goal of these will be to have something that is fairly intuitive for someone to pick up and play, or, if playing against it, to be able to look across the table and easily understand what is happening. EDH actually goes a long way to help us with this by providing a commander which often serves as a great signpost, giving a lot of information about the goal of the deck.

We want our deck to be doing something that’s easy to explain and understand. If you can’t explain the goal of the deck in a sentence or two, it’s likely a bit too complex. I don’t mean “The deck’s goal is to win the game hue hue hue.” Obviously, we’re trying to do that. For example: one of my go-to decks to teach people to play is a Gisa and Geralf Zombie tribal deck. When I tell people what the deck is trying to do, I tell them they are filling up the graveyard with Zombies, eventually attempting to overwhelm their opponents with a horde of Zombies. This gives them a goal of getting a bunch of Zombies. If they’re able to accomplish this, they’ll likely feel that they’ve been successful even if they eventually lose.

With all of this being said, we still want the deck to be able to compete. Just because we’re building a cheap, simple deck doesn’t mean that we don’t want it to be able to win. Giving someone a deck that is so underpowered that it doesn’t stand a chance will not encourage someone to want to play again.

In conclusion we want our deck to be:

  • Intuitive
  • Led by a commander with a clear gameplan
  • Able to compete

Our Commander

Of all of the mono colors, I have found mono-black to be the most difficult to build on a strict budget. If you look at the list of mono-black commanders, you’ll likely notice that many of them are fairly expensive, over our (admittedly arbitrary) $5 limit for the commander. Rankle is another deck that just so happens to be in my own personal stable and is one that I often lend out to people to play and is one that people seem to enjoy.

If you look at Rankle’s page, you’ll see that the most popular cards for Rankle are ones that encourage a heavy discard build, punishing your opponents for discarding cards or having few cards in hand. Cards such as Liliana’s Caress, Megrim, Waste Not, and Raider’s Wake all have huge synergy scores, and with good reason. Discard is an incredibly powerful way to build Rankle, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we likely know that it’s not a particularly fun sort of deck to play against and is not something we would want to subject new players to, so where does that leave us?

One of the things that I’ve found new players struggle with is the idea of your graveyard being a resource. It seems counter-intuitive at first blush. The graveyard is the place that things go when bad things happen, both in real life and in the game. Raise your hand if, when you first started playing, or when playing with someone new, you’ve thought or heard the following:

  • I had a spell to use, I used it and now it’s gone, never to return.
  • My opponent milled me for five with Tome Scour, and I’m now filled with a burning rage because the cool card I was excited to play is now rotting, unreachable, in my graveyard.
  • My creature showed great promise, attacking and blocking with aplomb, but then everything changed when the Fire Nation Attacked!

Basically, people don’t understand that the graveyard as a resource, but we’re going to build this deck in such a way that a player will quickly learn how useful it can be.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Total cost: $36.22

We’re using Rankle’s discard ability not to punish other people but to dump big baddies into the graveyard to serve as reanimation fodder; any punishing of opponents that occurs is strictly collateral damage. The hardest part about reanimation strategies on a budget isn’t reanimation targets; big, scary creatures are a dime a dozen. You could reanimate Limited chafe like Reaper of Night and Vengeful Warchief and get there some amount of the time. It’s not even reanimation spells that are difficult. Sure, the most efficient options will be out of reach, but cards like Beacon of Unrest and Phyrexian Delver can put a lot of work in. In reality, the most difficult part is often finding budget cards to fill your graveyard, especially if you’re playing mono-black. If you add in green, you get a plethora of cheap, both in terms of mana and money, ways to fill your graveyard, but mono-black makes it a bit tougher, though certainly not impossible.


How to Prank Friends and Influence Opponents

That’s where Rankle comes in. Really, he gives us two ways to put cards in the graveyard on-demand. The first is the aforementioned discard ability. This is the most reliable and straightforward way, but the other method is the ability to sacrifice creatures. Maybe you already reanimated that Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but look at it: it’s sick of the warmth of the sun and longs to be back in its true home. Send it home by sacrificing it.

Don’t worry, you can bring it back later once it’s inevitably sick of the graveyard. You may also be worried about how often you’ll be able to trigger Rankle’s ability since it requires combat damage. Having a combination of evasion and haste goes a long way towards making sure he’ll connect. Also, it’s very likely that at least one opponent will be unable to block a flier. Worst comes to worst, you can always make a deal with an opponent that allows them to help you choose the modes if you’re allowed to hit them for damage.

There are two parts about playing the deck that will take some time to get used to. The first of these is when to play Rankle. You want to play him soon, as his abilities are helpful, but you don’t want to get him removed continuously, either. Running him out as soon as you have 4 mana can work, but it’s often best to wait until some removal has been tossed around. You also want to make sure that you have something worth discarding in hand. Discarding random stuff is fine, especially since you’re essentially getting 3 cards for the price of 1, but you want the cards you discard to be actively beneficial.

The other difficult part of the deck is actually what makes the deck so enjoyable. Rankle is, in a strange, roundabout sort of way, a repeatable modal spell, except that, unlike most modal spells which make you choose a single option, you can pick as many of the options as you want. This can be overwhelming to a newer player, but I’ve found that walking through and and giving basic guidelines, or even giving a default that they can fallback on, helps immensely. The default I often give is simply having everyone discard a card. Having a fallback seems to help give people an opportunity to really think through the other options.

This deck doesn’t simply fold to graveyard hate, but things certainly become much more difficult for you if a Rest in Peace or a Bojuka Bog hits the table… unless you have a Syr Konrad, the Grim in play. Then you get to laugh like the supervillain you are and dome everyone for lots.

Who decided this was an okay card to print?

Every EDH deck needs removal and ramp to function properly. Thankfully, mono-black does a very good job of removing creatures, though it does a poor job of ramping.

When everything must go, you have a couple of solid options. Deadly Tempest can be a win condition against some decks Nightmare Unmaking gives you a bit of control over what goes and what stays, and Massacre Girl typically ends up being the last woman standing once she hits the battlefield.

These are all “conditional” removal spells, but they’re all incredibly effective and efficient. There may be moments when you wish you had a Murder instead, but these will serve you incredibly well 90% of the time.

These are all tried and true methods of getting ahead on mana. Hedron Archive is a bit suspect at four mana, but since the back-up plan of this deck is hard-casting expensive creatures, it ends up being okay here.


One More Thing

Before we move on, I want to discuss something that might seem obvious, but having watched others teach people Magic, apparently it isn’t: it’s really okay to pull your punches a bit when teaching or to play sub-optimally if it makes for a better experience for the person learning. It isn’t disrespecting them or any of the other nonsense I’ve heard as an excuse for why people don’t pull their punches when teaching. If you’re teaching someone multiplication for the first time, you don’t teach them that ‘X’ and ‘*’ both can mean multiply, or discuss the differences between the lattice, grid, and long multiplication. The won’t care because they don’t know what it is. Magic is similar.

For example, if you’re using this deck to teach someone how to play, when you’re doing damage with Rankle, let everyone draw cards. Yes, it’s probably not the correct play. Yes, it’s doing something that you wouldn’t do normally, but they don’t know that, and if it helps them have more fun, they are more likely to want to play again and learn more.


Notable Inclusions


Perpetual Timepiece

This is the definition of a workhorse. It’s not splashy. When you build this deck, you aren’t dreaming of casting this and watching your opponents sag, knowing they are defeated. Instead, this is probably the best play you can make on the second turn of the game, and it’s one that, unlike ramp, won’t turn anyone’s ire towards you. While you’re mostly using it to fill your yard, you can use the second mode in a pinch if a bunch of juicy targets are about to get exiled forever.


Grim Return

Most of the time, we’re going to be reanimating cards from our own graveyard. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but sometimes getting to pick some of our opponents’ toys sounds like fun. Grim Return will help us do that. This will most likely happen after someone wipes the table, and if it does, congrats: you just got the best thing that died. This is a bit restrictive, but it makes up for this by being very powerful in specific situations.


Geier Reach Sanitarium

This isn’t exactly underrated, as it sees play in around 15,000 decks (4% of total decks), but there are many decks that can take advantage of this effect, and I don’t see this nearly as often as I should. Yes, you’re helping your opponents draw cards, but you’re drawing cards and, most importantly, this provides a way to dump reanimation targets into the graveyard. If this were a normal card, you likely wouldn’t play it, but it’s a land, and anytime you can get an effect as powerful as this on a land, give it a second look.


Kaya’s Ghostform

Reanimator decks hate exile effects. A well-timed Swords to Plowshares or Winds of Abandon can absolutely wreck your best-laid plans. Kaya’s Ghostform gets around this by bringing a creature back whether it was killed or exiled. The only way to get around this is by bouncing the creature or destroying the Aura. Bouncing doesn’t happen too much outside of Cyclonic Rift (and if they cast that, you’ve probably lost anyways), and if your opponent is wasting enchantment removal on this, you’re probably okay with that.


Cauldron’s Gift

A five-mana sorcery-speed spell to get a single creature back with a +1/+1 counter on it is sort of like getting a D- in algebra. Sure, it’ll get you to your goal of graduating, but surely you can do better. I mean, did you do any of your homework? Oh, you didn’t? Neat. You mean, when I gave you that entire class period to catch up on homework, you sat there playing crappy, uninteresting flash games?

I may be having withdrawals from work.

The Adamant clause is like if the aforementioned student put a bit of effort in, and achieves a C+. They applied themselves which is more than most people can say, and frankly they deserve to be celebrated a little, even if they aren’t going to some Ivy League school. That’s Cauldron’s Gift. It’s not Reanimate. It’s not even Dread Return, but it’ll get the job done.


Notable Exclusions

As always, these are cards I’d add in the deck if I weren’t concerned with a strict budget limit, were looking to up the power level, or just had the card laying around.


Dire Fleet Ravager

I’m certain I’ve talked about this card in the past, and I will continue to do so until it starts to be played more often. The worst thing about EDH is almost certainly that the games that drag on into the 2+ hour range. Every once in a while, this is okay, even fun, but most of the time, people check out, scrolling through the desolate hellscape of social media as an escape from their current reality of a stalled out game with no end in sight.

Dire Fleet Ravager is here to fix that. The first time he enters the battlefield, some of your opponents may shrug, but this is a reanimator deck. Keep bringing him back and, eventually, the game will be over. You may not ultimately emerge the victor, but who cares. You weren’t stuck in a horrible game that never ends, and you get to shuffle up again.


Vindictive Lich

If there is a better card to sacrifice to Rankle’s ability, I can’t think of it. Every mode is great. Even if you don’t have Rankle, this does great on defense, encouraging players to attack elsewhere, and it’s great as an attacker, as it’s unlikely to be blocked. An incredibly solid card that I wish cost less money.


Doom Whisperer

Creatures have come a long way since the beginning of Magic. A 6/6 flying, trampling critter will absolutely end games if given the opportunity, but the reason this is in the deck is the ability to fill our graveyard and control our draws. If this costed mana instead of life, it would still be very, very playable, but costing only life turns this in to one of the best enablers for a reanimator deck, full stop. This would probably be my first addition to the deck.


Victimize

This has always been my favorite reanimation spell. Sure, it costs three mana and it takes a bit of set up, requiring a creature to be in play, but the power of getting two creatures back can’t be overstated. This was the first card I tried to add to this list and was bummed to discover that it’s now $2.


Bloodsoaked Champion

Having cards that you feel good about sacrificing with Rankle is an important part of the deck. It’s arguably the most powerful part of Rankle’s kit, but it’s also the most dangerous to use and the most difficult to set up. This could just as easily have been Nether Traitor or Bloodghast, but Champion is significantly cheaper and easier to find.


End Step

What do you think of the list? Is this the sort of deck you’d enjoy playing or playing against? Were there any cards that I missed that are slam dunks? Have you used EDH to try and teach people Magic in the past? Let me know below! If you’re looking for more budget content, follow me on Twitter (@brewsmtg)! Until next time!

Andrew is a life-long gamer and has been playing Magic since 2013. He works as an ASL interpreter, enjoys running, and sitting on his porch reading, while simultaneously silently judging his neighbors. He lives in Joplin, MO with his wife.