Ultra Budget Brews - Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
(Torbran, Thane of Red Fell | Art by Grzegorz Rutkowski)
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). Normally, these articles are monthly, but as I work in education, for the moment I have found myself with an excess of free time and I wanted to take this opportunity to give back a bit.
If you read my Talrand article, you can skip down a bit as you'll already know the goals of this article.
One thing that I’ve noticed on social media is that I'm not the only person who has 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 are stuck with how to play 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 are reading this, you are 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 latter, 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 keep track of. 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 is 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 is 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. 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're filling up the graveyard with Zombies, eventually attempting to overwhelm their opponents with a Zombie horde. This lets them know what their goal is. 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 we don’t want it to be able to win. Giving someone a deck that is so underpowered that is doesn’t stand a chance will not encourage them to want to play again.
So in conclusion we want our deck to be:
Led by a commander with a clear gameplan
Able to compete
Torbran is actually one of the decks in my personal stable. If it's not the deck I play most often, it's close to it. Not only do I love mono-red and burn strategies, but Torbran tends to lead to quicker games. I'm in for a two-hour slugfest every once in a while, but typically I like my games to last under an hour so that I can be sure that I'm getting to play multiple in a night.
It is also the deck that I use most often when I am playing with students or am teaching someone EDH. When you give someone a Torbran deck, or they see it across the table, even if they're new to EDH, they're going to understand what the deck is trying to do. Torbran is incredibly intuitive. He's an angry-looking axe-wielding Dwarf that makes things hurt you more. Pretty simple. Any deck led by him is clearly looking to deal a lot of damage, giving us a clear gameplan. There isn't a lot of trickery or subtlety, which is perfect because that's what we are aiming for with this. Lastly, if you've ever played against a Torbran deck, you'll likely know that it can compete with pretty much anything.
And My Axe!View on Archidekt
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer
Total cost: $28.31
If you look at this deck, you'll likely notice a large number of ways to deal one damage to our opponents. This is also known as "pinging". Normally, dealing a single damage, even repeatedly, isn't enough to make a large impact in a game of EDH. In a normal 1 v 1 game of Magic, it works better because you have a single opponent you're trying to take from 20 to 0, but with EDH, you're attempting to take 3 players from 40 to 0. That's six times the life you're having to try and work through. Obviously, given the free-for-all nature of EDH, you opponents are going to help by attacking one another, but we still need to be able to reliably deal large amounts of damage. That's where Torbran, Thane of Red Fell comes in.
Adding on two damage to each instance of damage may not sound like much, but it adds up quicker than you'd think. When Vithian Stinger, Vulshok Sorcerer, and Cunning Sparkmage start tossing around Lightning Bolts, things get hairy for our opponents in a hurry. These can even double as removal against smaller creatures.
Our creatures do a little bit of everything for us. Attacking? Hellrider is here to make things obnoxious. Play a land? Tunneling Geopede would love to deal damage to everyone! Cast an instant or sorcery? Guttersnipe, Electrostatic Field and Firebrand Archer are happy to assist you. We also have a few ways to machine gun our opponents down in a flurry of spells with Cinder Pyromancer and Thermo-Alchemist continuously untapping. Many of these also hit each opponent instead of a single target which essentially triples the damage that you'd otherwise be doing.
While I do love the creatures in this deck, my favorite part is far and away the enchantment package.
Manabarbs might seem like a mean card, especially when paired with Torbran, but I've found that new players have reacted much better to it than more-enfranchised players typically do. I'm not sure why this is exactly, and obviously it's entirely anecdotal, but that has been my experience and I've kept it in as a result. Burning Earth is basically Manabarbs, but only for your friends playing greedy manabases, making it entirely fair. Maybe it will help convince them to take the advice of EDHRECast's Matt Morgan to "Play more basics". Sulfuric Vortex helps to slowly whittle down your opponents' life totals while also hosing the strategy that naturally preys on burn decks: dedicated life gain.
We also have a few cheeky enchantments that our opponents have likely never seen: Ancient Runes and Collapsing Borders. Ancient Runes has consistently overperformed for me, as EDH players love their artifacts, and Collapsing Borders seems like it could be a fun way to jank some players out of the game; just don't run it out against a bunch of 4- and 5-color decks.
Every deck needs ways to protect itself, and we've added a few ways of doing so.
Hour of Devastation is the closest thing we have to a boardwipe and is effective with or without Torbran in play. We have a number of other options like Blazing Volley and Dagger Caster which are typically most effective against token swarms, but, with some support from Torbran, become effective against a larger percentage of our opponents' creatures. My favorite cards in this category are Slagstorm and Flamebreak. Both can be utilized to clear the board of problematic creatures, but can also double as damage to the face. It should also be noted that neither of these kill Torbran, which is a huge plus as Torbran only amplifies damage to opponents or permanents controlled by an opponent.
Red used to struggle with card draw, but thankfully this has been fixed a bit in recent years.
Thrill of Possibility is the newest addition to the club, and it's likely the best of the bunch as it's instant speed, with Cathartic Reunion and Tormenting Voice likely requiring no introduction to the more seasoned EDH player. All of these also pair well with Glint-Horn Buccaneer. Outpost Siege is one of the most played red cards in the format for good reason, and you are more likely to use it for its Dragons mode in this deck than in almost any other deck, though you'll still almost always choose Khans. Magus of the Wheel is our budget replacement for Reforge the Soul and Wheel of Fortune. I don't love it, but the effect is an important one to have access to.
We don't have a ton of room for ramp, but we did manage to add seven mana rocks. I could see an argument for upping this area, but I felt our curve was low enough (average CMC of 2.97) that we could cheat a bit to add more "fun" cards.
There are two cards that I was hesitant to put in the deck: Immolation Shaman and Harsh Mentor. These are fine cards and probably earn their way into the deck based on merit alone, but as we're trying to gear this deck more towards less-experienced players, there is an argument to leave them out. I see players who have played Magic for more than a decade get confused by what gets around them and what doesn't. I decided to add them in as learning about activated abilities and mana abilities is helpful, but if you want to skip that, I'd replace them with a Comet Storm and a Volcanic Fallout and call it good.
Every word and number on this card is a perfect fit for this deck. A four-mana 3/4 is perfectly respectable (especially when it's essentially a 5/4 with Torbran), and both of the abilities are wonderful. The fact that it does the extra damage to EACH opponent when attacking is huge. It can also help you dig for cards if you're in need of more gas. This is one of my favorite cards from all of Theros: Beyond Death, and hopefully it will work its way onto more lists as people discover just how powerful it can be.
My favorite interaction in the entire deck is this with Flame of Keld
Besides that, as the burn deck, you are more likely than anyone else at the table to run out of cards and to be able to take advantage of the draw three. Yes, it helps your opponents play more lands, but the ceiling of this makes that a worthwhile risk.
While we're not built to abuse this like an actual Storm deck is, with Torbran in play, even casting this as your third spell will net you a bunch of damage. Just because it's fair doesn't mean it isn't powerful enough to win the game.
Dark Confidant this is not, but we're okay with that. Giving your opponents a choice isn't great, but the reality is that it's almost always going to be a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" sort of situation. The other typical downside with this card is that it allows your opponents to deny you lands by forcing you to discard them, taking no damage. With Torbran, they can still do this, but you'll get to Shock them for their insolence.
Thanks to cards like Faithless Looting and Cathartic Reunion, Delirium is easier to turn on than you'd think. This works a bit like an extra Sulfuric Vortex that can rumble in to the red zone for additional damage when needed. Another card that has consistently overperformed in my personal deck.
These are cards I'd look to add if I were wanting to up the power level of the deck, uninterested in maintaining a strict budget, or had a copy laying around.
Neheb, the Eternal
Turning damage into mana is not something you often see, and for good reason. You will often have in excess of 10 mana from this, and drunk with power, you'll want to overextend. I would tell you not to do this, but you're a red mage and are unlikely to listen to anyone encouraging moderation, so I'll save the strategy advice and simply tell you to party like we're no longer under orders to quarantine.
Who says we can't punish the dirty green player?
One of the best wraths in the entire format, I felt it prudent to add this on here as a reminder to play this in every red deck. A little bit of interaction goes a long way, and you'll almost always be happy to see this in your hand.
Players love blinking their creatures to abuse enter-the-battlefield effects. As we're in mono-red, we don't get to join in, but we do get to punish them for flaunting all of that value, turning off any life gain they might have, for good measure. I would say that they didn't deserve it, but I'd be lying.
Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh
This flips with hilarious ease with a Torbran on the battlefield. Once it does flip, it's innocuous enough to be ignored, and will deal a sizable amount of damage over time if your opponents are unwilling to spend the resources to deal with it. Tick her down every once in awhile to make sure she doesn't get close to ultimating, because that will draw your opponents' ire.
What do you think of the deck? Is this something you'd be willing to lend to a new player, or do you think it's too complex? Are they any obvious cards I missed? Let me know below! As always thanks for reading, and if you are looking for more budget EDH content, follow me on Twitter at @brewsmtg, where I try and post about underplayed cards daily. Until next time!