Ultra Budget Brews - Varchild

(Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor | Art by Lucas Graciano)

Varchild is a Varadult

Hello and welcome back to another edition of Ultra Budget Brews, the article series that serves as your humble guide through the 9 Circles of Budget Building. Sadly for you, we're currently stuck in the second-to-last circle: the one that allows us to build decks using only cards that cost less than $1. Sounds rough, right? Well, we get to use CardKingdom and TCGPlayer pricing. The last circle uses the same restriction, but the prices are given to you by a LGS run by the Comic Book Guy on the Simpsons.

Sketchy timing since it just spiked

As always, last time I gave you all 5 options to choose between. Also as always, I was mildly surprised at the results. Let's take a look at the board.

Our Commander


  • Stats are great
  • Tokens that are created can't be used to attack you
  • Two relevant creature types
  • The token art is crazy rad


  • Mono-red
  • No evasion
  • Creates creatures that your opponents will almost certainly use for devious purposes
  • At first glance, Varchild has a very 'Anthony Davis' feel to it

There are a number of things going on with our commander. She is mono-red, which typically lends itself to a couple of different strategies, most notably artifacts, burn, and aggro. Varchild doesn't lead us down an artifact path, doesn't seem to synergize in any special way with burn, but she does seem to lean aggro, as a 3/3 for three mana are decent stats. The most interesting part of her is certainly the part that gives your opponents token creatures. There aren't a ton of cards that do that, and almost all of them work in strange, fun ways that incentivize you to play in a counter-intuitive way, especially if you can remove your own commander to steal all those tokens back!

Another nice aspect of Varchild is that, even though you are giving your opponents creatures, they can't be used against you in combat. However, any opponent playing an Aristocrats deck is probably going to make you a sad panda. Armed with this knowledge, lets get to our deck!

Our Deck

Card Kingdom: $31.46

This deck was inspired by a deck I played against at GP Kansas City. I encountered a Zacama, Primal Calamity deck, which I immediately considered to be my #1 target at the table. In my experience, this Naya Dinosaur doesn't helm a Dino deck, but is actually typically played as an incredibly efficient combo deck. I was reassured that the deck was not a combo deck, but I've also been similarly told on different occasions by Brago, King Eternal players, "Don't worry, I'm not playing that kind of Brago deck," only to be locked out of the game by Tangle Wire and Winter Orb.

People are the worst. Or maybe it's just Brago players? It's hard to tell.

That being said, the Zacama deck happily played out as a sort of Naya group slug deck, but instead of attacking people's resources and killing everything that hit the field like you'd see in a typical group slug deck, it just played a bunch of cards that did a lot of damage over time to everyone and encouraged everyone to interact through combat. It made for a fast, entertaining, and interesting game. Thus, I decided to make this Varchild deck into something similar.

The deck aims to repeatedly ping our opponents with small chunks of damage from various sources, while also encouraging (and even forcing) combat. One thing we are not trying to do is stop other people from playing Magic. If your playgroup is into that and everyone's on the same page, go for it, but from personal experience, that's a fairly small subset of the Commander-playing population. For everyone else, our Varchild deck seeks to make decisions hard and painful, definitely, but be sure everyone at the table still gets to make decisions and play the game.

Death by Papercuts

One of the things I wanted to do with this deck is to transform our inherent weaknesses (things like ramp and casting huge spells) into an advantage. Cards like Manabarbs punish everyone, yes, but since we are mono-red, we are less likely to be casting huge haymakers turn after turn, since we will likely have access to fewer lands than everyone else. People play fast and loose with their life totals in Commander because they start with 40; make them pay for it.

Burning Earth is another great example of a card like this. Statistically, the majority of decks you will play against will be more than one color and if there is something that people playing multicolor decks love to do, it's play non-basic lands. Basics are just... boring. We run a grand total of 6 nonbasics in the entirety of our deck, 3 of which will be Cycled, and one that doesn't even tap for mana. Burning Earth is about as one-sided as it gets without being outright miserable to play against, like Blood Moon.

Other cards that fall under this category include Spellshock, Citadel of Pain, and Ancient Runes. These all punish our opponents for casting spells or hoarding resources, both of which we are likely to do less effectively than if we were in different colors (and thus, less often) than our opponents. Isolation Cell and Sulfuric Vortex also do a great job at slowly chipping away at life totals.

To Battle!

We want everyone to be attacking each other, and hopefully attacking us a bit less often than everyone else. Thankfully, red gives us ways to encourage this hostility.

War Cadence can be used politically to allow our opponents to swing in for damage against other players. As a side note, this card is terribly underplayed. Reverse Propaganda is as much fun as it sounds like. Bitter Feud makes two players into enemies, hopefully making it more likely that they will attack each other, ignoring everyone else (including you). Curse of Stalked Prey makes it actively beneficial for others to attack whichever player has drawn your ire.

Sometimes our opponents won't want to cooperate, leaving their precious "blockers" back on "defense." Fact: the word "blocker" is derived from an Ancient Hebrew word that means 'one who is a worthless coward.' The idea of defense also used to carry a connotation of weak-willed impotence.

If we are playing aggressive, everyone else should have to join the fun!

All of the above cards force every creature that can attack to do so. Sure, opponents can get around this by tapping them for other abilities, but if they do so, that's one less blocker to gum up the red zone. War's Toll does something similar while also making it difficult for pesky control mages to leave up huge amounts of mana every turn.

Varchild Shenanigans

Up until now we've mostly ignored Varchild, but no longer. Varchild's token-creating ability is great. Your more aggressively-minded opponents might even welcome a bit of Varchild damage to get a few extra attackers, though this is less likely to happen the longer the game goes. Varchild's token production is directly linked to how much damage she does, which is part of the reason we added as many damage doublers as we did. We also have a slight Equipment/Voltron subtheme which hinges on cards like Strata Scythe, Heroes Blade, and Loxodon Warhammer. It won't happen often, but there will be games that you just ride Varchild's commander damage to victory.

As previously mentioned, our Equipment allows us to deal a lot of damage which makes a lot of tokens. One of the trickier aspects of Varchild is that we get back all of those tokens whenever Varchild leaves the battlefield. This will most often happen when she is destroyed in combat or by a board wipe, but it isn't limited to that. We can also bounce her back to our hand or sacrifice her to reclaim the army of Survivors.

Oni of Wild Places is a narrow card that doesn't see play anywhere, mostly because it's a terrible card from Kamigawa, but it's very powerful here. Voyager Staff does the same sort of thing for significantly cheaper. Dark-Dweller Oracle is, admittedly, a speculative inclusion, but it seems like it could do great here, sacrificing Varchild to get your Survivors back and then sacrificing the Survivors. We also run Endless Sands and Safe Haven to get Varchild off the battlefield in a pinch.

There are also a number of ways we can use the swarm of Survivors we steal back from our opponents. Mercadia's Downfall is probably my favorite of the above, though I've always wanted to find a home for Hero of Oxid Ridge, and was glad to finally do so.

Notable Inclusions

Downhill Charge

This deck loves ways to pump Varchild, and being able to do so at instant speed is even better. Our mana base is almost entirely basic Mountains, so this is likely to pump Varchild a significant amount. The ability to play this for free for the low cost of sacrificing a Mountain is highly underrated.

Rampaging Ferocidon

Behold the scourge of Standard, so powerful it was banned and never heard from again! Thankfully, you now have a use for at least one of the copies rotting uselessly in your binder. Giving your opponents Survivors is already something we want to be doing, but dealing damage on top of this and turning off any lifegain silliness that they might think about getting in to?

Coveted Jewel

This is a pet card of mine. Six mana is a lot, but getting a Gilded Lotus that also draws you three cards is definitely worth it. Yes, it gets passed around the table for your opponents to use, but this plays into our strategy of encouraging an interactive game full of combat. Let your opponents do some of your work for you.

Incite Rebellion

This is a boardwipe that is also a burn spell. It depends on your opponents having creatures, but between the Survivors you will be generously giving to the table and the ins and outs of a normal game of Magic, there are likely to be a fair number of creatures on the board. This is a 'low floor, high ceiling' card and while we only want a few of those in any deck, this one synergizes well enough and often enough that I think it's worth the risk.

Acidic Soil

As mentioned previously, mono-red is typically poor at ramping and ramp is one of the most powerful things you can do in a game of Commander. Punish your opponents for playing more powerful things than you. Sure, it hurts you too, but you didn't just get done resolving a Boundless Realms, did you?

Notable Exclusions

These are cards that I'd add in if I weren't concerned about keeping a strict budget, if I had extra copies laying around, or were looking to up the power level of the deck.

Varchild's War-Riders

I was very sad to see that this card costs as much as it does, mostly because it likely only sees play in this one deck. Such is the tragedy of old cards. This card gives us a way to create more Survivors outside of our commander, and has phenomenal stats for such a low cost. Pro tip: don't give the player with a Viscera Seer or a Krav, the Unredeemed any tokens. It's unlikely to lead to anything but death and misery.

Goblin Spymaster

Another cheeky way of forcing combat and giving your opponents creatures to attack each other with. The fact that it triggers on every opponent's end step is very powerful as you can sit back with your Spymaster and let it wreak havoc on the battlefield.

Conjurer's Closet

This card is what Oni of Wild Places and Voyager Staff want to be when they grow up. Its a cheap way to trigger Varchild over and over, netting you an army of Survivors. If you are going to buy or trade for cards for this deck, this is one of the first cards I would look to pick up as it sees play in so many decks and is not Varchild-specific.

Coat of Arms

This benefits your opponents as well, which is something you can (hopefully) use to curry political favor. This mainly is here to grow our marauding band of Survivors, but it can randomly benefit other creatures that you control as well. Like Conjurer's Closet, this is a card that sees play in a large variety of decks, so finding a copy for this deck is unlikely to feel bad if you ever decide to take the deck apart.

Burn at the Stake

Another nod to our Survivor theme, this uses our scrappy tokens to... wait for it... burn a player out of the game.

Get it? Cuz... Burn at the Stake burns them...?

I'll see myself out.

End Step

What did you think of the deck? Do you enjoy playing aggressive, interactive decks, or do you prefer a more slow-paced style of interaction? Let me know in the comments! As always, below are your options for the poll. Vote to show which legendary creature you'd like to see receive the Ultra Budget treatment


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.